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Principals

Julie Mathé – Principal at St. Mother Teresa High School

Julie Mathé - Principal at St. Mother Teresa High School
About Julie Mathé

Julie Mathé (@JulieMathe66) has been an educator with the Ottawa Catholic School Board for over 25 years. She began her career teaching multiple subjects in the intermediate panel and honed her craft in the secondary panel teaching French Immersion and Religion Immersion. She moved into administration where she began her role of vice-principal at Immaculata High School.

Julie was then assigned to St. Patrick Catholic Intermediate School, followed by St. Francis Xavier High School and finally St. Joseph Catholic High School. With 11 years as vice-principal, Julie was appointed Principal of Frank Ryan Catholic Intermediate School and then St. Mother Teresa High School, where she currently works.

Julie loves what she does and has a passion for uplifting staff and students. She is currently also teaching PQP II for CPCO. Julie is wife to James Paterson and proud mother of two daughters, Anjelia (22 yrs) and Sabrina (20 yrs). She also has two cats and a dog. She loves spending time with her family.

She is grateful that her daughters still like to plan activities with her on a daily basis knowing that this could change at the drop of a hat. Julie also loves music and playing pool. Once retired, Julie hopes to travel with her family.

Connect with Julie: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

St. Mother Teresa High School

The Ottawa Catholic School Board

Principal’s Qualification Program PQP

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):
Julie, welcome to the high-performing educator. Huge pleasure to have you on the show this morning; please start by introducing yourself.


Julie Mathé (00:08):
Oh, my name is Julie, Mathé and I am the proud principal of St. Mother Theresa high school in Neapan, Ontario. And we work under the Ottawa Catholic school board.


Sam Demma (00:17):
Beautiful. first of all, I apologize. I love the way you pronounce your name way more than the way I did.


Julie Mathé (00:24):
It’s all good.


Sam Demma (00:25):
When did you realize growing up that education was the calling for you or the career you would get into?


Julie Mathé (00:34):
Well, like many other educators, I was inspired by teacher at a very young age. I grew up in a French Canadian home and attended a French Catholic school. I only spoke French and when an English Catholic school was built much closer to home, my parents enrolled me in that new school. So entering grade five with all new students, the new French to make, not speaking a word of English was pretty scary to say the least. I was really an English language learner when programming for students like that didn’t exist. Mm. My teacher at the time took the time to get to know me, my interests, my strengths and weaknesses. He made appropriate accommodations for me to reach my personal goals and then got me involved in school activities. He did everything he could to help me succeed. And that’s when I knew I wanted to do the same thing and I wanted to have that positive impact on youth. And as I ruined my career as a classroom teacher in the auto Catholic school board had leadership opportunities and experience working with great administrators. I discovered my passion and vocation for leading.


Sam Demma (01:45):
I love that you mentioned you were really young and that teacher made an impact. Bring me back into that situation for a sec second, and kind of shed some light on the things that that teacher did for you that you think looking back made a really big difference.


Julie Mathé (02:00):
Just really getting the time taking the time to get to know me more on a personal level. And he found out very quickly that I was quite athletic mm-hmm. And so he was one of those teachers that coached a lot of things at the school and just got me out on those teams and participated and helped me make friends. And he, his wife at the time was also French speaking. And so there are times even during the weekends that with my parents’ permission, I would go over with some other students and spend time at their pool. And just, just taking, just really spending quality time with me. And even those accommodations in the classroom were as simple as you know spelling didn’t count as much when I wrote things out. As long as the content was clear he gave me extra practice to do at he worked with my parents to help me get some extra supports and, and some extra learning as an English language learner. Like he was like phenomenal. And, and just to add, he actually, we became very close and he followed me throughout my schooling career as well. Oh, wow. And he actually named his daughter he gave her my name as a middle name, so, oh,


Sam Demma (03:24):
Wow.


Julie Mathé (03:24):
Wow. yeah. Very special relationship.


Sam Demma (03:27):
It sounds like he just really cared about you as a person and went above and beyond to help you.


Julie Mathé (03:35):
Oh, completely, completely.


Sam Demma (03:38):
So tell me more about the moment you got into education. What the journey looked like that brought you to where you are today, like the different schools you worked in and yeah, the different roles.


Julie Mathé (03:50):
So I, I was very fortunate that I worked in a number of schools and one of my goals when I became a teacher was not to stay at the same school for a very long period of time. So I could experience working with different people, different demographics of population working with different administrators. And so I’ve been in above five or six different schools. And I first started as a teacher of many different subjects between grade seven and grade 10. And I actually traveled from classroom to classroom and between school and portable my first couple of years and finally settled down in teaching at the grade seven, eight level for about four years. And I taught all French courses. Nice. So whether it was religion and French, the language itself history, geography and so did that for a few years and then moved into teaching high school and basically taught in grades nine to 12, almost every subject you could teach in French. And then really honed in, in my last few years in the classroom as a grade 11 and 12 French and religion teacher. And I was a department head at the time and I worked with great administrators who maybe saw some potential there and got some practice work in the office as an acting vice principal and decided to do the journey, taking the courses required to become an administrator. And then the rest was history. I became an administrator and I’ve been an administrator for about 16 years. Now.


Sam Demma (05:34):
You mentioned getting into administration helped you realize how much you love leading. What about leadership and leading do you love, what are the things that you think make it such a meaningful role and opportunity?


Julie Mathé (05:51):
I think the great thing about leading is once you’ve gained a lot of experience and had experience in many different schools you’re able to bring things to the table that we call best practices. And so I was able to bring best practices to schools that I’ve that I’ve worked at. And also in being in different schools, every time I joined a school, I learned their best practices as well, and just marrying those together and being able to move a staff along in their journey of lifelong learning in their journey of what it means to teach now in the way we’re teaching. It’s very different from even when I started teaching leading has become more of bringing people along and not shutting people out. And there’s nothing I love more than to see people come together and collaborate and work for the same goal.


Sam Demma (06:51):
I love it. What are some of the challenges that come along with leadership, but also some of the pros or opportunities?


Julie Mathé (07:01):
I guess some of the challenges are when there’s resistance to it and you know, that what you’re trying to do is needed work and good work. And I always say you know, doing God’s work is, has never been easy. And being a leader is very similar. You do come across those challenges and those you know could be difficult parents. It could be difficult students, it could be difficult staff but it’s too hone your skills on having those courageous conversations and still move the, that middle crowd along and hopefully get those that are questioning to start seeing the good that’s being done. So that’s I guess, kind of a, a pro and con in one. Yeah. I have to say that the most recent challenges really have been around this pandemic and how to support students and staff with their morale.


Sam Demma (08:00):
Hmm. With challenges come opportunities, or at least I believe that to be true. yes. What do you think some of the opportunities that are presenting themselves in education are right now?


Julie Mathé (08:14):
Well I think the greatest opportunity we have right now is is this, I call it an awakening that our world is finally having around equity. And I have to say that, you know, aside from youth and, and faith, my faith, this awakening has given me hope, and this is an opportunity for us to work even harder than ever to end racism and promote equity. With the most recent wrongful deaths and accompanying discoveries we’ve been awakened, shaken and forced to take action, and we’re doing just that in our school and, and in all our schools in this board.


Sam Demma (09:00):
I couldn’t agree more, I think being stuck at home and also being confronted with all of these challenges has given us all, hopefully the time to reflect as well on our own actions and our collective actions that have an impact on the people around us. And yeah, diversity and inclusion has always been important, but I’m so glad that a spotlight has been placed on it and actions are being taken to change things and actively work towards improving situations for many different groups of students and learners and human beings.


Julie Mathé (09:33):
Abso absolutely. And, and we have to be intentional about the work that we’re doing. We have to say it out loud. We have to show it in our buildings, in our classrooms. We have to walk the talk. These kids have been marginalized for their entire lives. Yeah. And unfortunately it’s taken, you know, these horrible acts in the world to bring it to light and for us to really take a good look at it and look at, take a good look at ourselves. And yeah. And there there’s, there’s no more excuses for us.


Sam Demma (10:11):
What are some of the things that have gone on in the school or in the classrooms that you’ve witnessed or other teachers in your school have witnessed that give you the hope that things are moving forward?


Julie Mathé (10:24):
Well as I mentioned, we are all doing work in our schools and, and St Mary therea high school is no different. We’ve done a lot of work around equity. And so we’ve taken the time and continue to take the time to educate and inform both staff and students. Nice. We wanna create a better understanding of our student population, which in turn further promotes, respect and kindness. We’ve made our support very visible whether it’s pride posters or symbols in every room, we have a gay straight Alliance. And we, they have a very strong student voice that we support. We have a black student association and they have a very strong voice. We’ve just finished a full month celebration of black history month. We have a, a wall in our atrium called the unlearn wall. Ah, and it’s pictures of different skin tones to show that we are more alike than we are different regardless of our skin color. We have a lot of indigenous art in the atrium. We have a new Muslim student committee nice that just wanna share their culture with everyone and educate everyone. We’re making sure now that our curriculum reflects every student, including their culture and we just, at the end of the day, Sam, we want this to be a safe place for students and families. So everyone needs to see themselves in our school and feel safe.


Sam Demma (11:51):
I love it. I absolutely love it. I it’s funny when you talk about the atrium, I was thinking about like the, the a, I think there’s like a piece in your heart called the atrium. That’s like a valve and it’s like the heart of your school has all this important stuff in it. And that’s what kind of came to mind visually, like you’re working on the heart of the school with these topics and, and projects, which is amazing. What do you.


Julie Mathé (12:15):
Absolutely.


Sam Demma (12:18):
What, what are some of the things you’re excited about in education over the next couple of years that you think will continue to change or grow or evolve?


Julie Mathé (12:28):
I, I think one thing I’m obviously passionate about equity and I think that’s gonna continue to evolve. Yeah. And I’m so excited to see where it takes us. I, I’m excited as an administrator, but I’m excited as a mom. Yeah. You know, just to see where where we go with this. And and I hope we go all the way yeah. The other thing I’m excited about is just the idea of having now our school board has two schools that are virtual schools, one for elementary, and one for seven to 12. And that was formalized last year during the pandemic. And I’m excited to see where that goes because it has certainly helped a lot of our students, especially those that had a very difficult time being in a bricks and mortar type of school.


Julie Mathé (13:18):
Think of kids that have, you know, anxieties or depression or students that have needs at home that is really hard to leave the home. I think this is doing a lot of good for them and giving them every opportunity to succeed. Like every other student in a bricks and mortar type is school. So I’m really excited about that. I’m also excited about where we’re going with the grade nine program being a D streamed coming September, see what that looks like and see what assessment around those courses look like. If that changes at all, just to help improve a student confidence and self worth.


Sam Demma (13:59):
You mentioned earlier, morale has been a challenge. How have you noticed that and its effect on the school community?


Julie Mathé (14:10):
Well it, during the time that we were I’m gonna call it basically in lockdown, even though we had students in the building, but we didn’t have all students in the building at the same time. You could tell students, even walking through the building, we’re happy to be in the building, but just didn’t have that extra hop in their step. You know, their, their movement in the school was so limited because of C and we didn’t have opportu opportunities like sports or committees. And so it, it was challenging for them. And even though they, they did really wanna be here at the school, most of them anyhow. And so we had to do some work around how do we uplift their morale and, and same with staff, you know, a lot of what was missing for staff was that social aspect, because they were in the classroom for long hours with the students as well, without much movement. So we had some work to do around that.


Sam Demma (15:08):
Got you. Awesome. when you think about, you mentioned the one educator who had a big impact on you as a student point, you think about your journey into administration, your journey into education. Do you have any other mentors or resources? Sometimes people are a resource, but also maybe some courses or books or things that you found helpful that you learned from along the way?


Julie Mathé (15:32):
Well, I I’ll say two things for sure. I definitely had like I said, I mentioned before I worked with some great administrators and nice, and you take the best from the best and, and things that you don’t like or things that don’t suit who you are, you don’t take with you. So I got to take a lot of things of how, how they, how they look at the process of, of running through scenarios, how they work with staff little things that they do to uplift staff things like that. Definitely took a lot of that with me. A sec, the second thing is the courses that we take to become an administrator are phenomenal professional development. Even if you’re not going into administration, you learn so much from those courses that you get a better understanding why administrators made certain decisions in a school, and it’s kind of an aha moment that I had in taking those courses and kind of come full circle where I’m now one of the co-instructors for the principal’s qualification course.


Sam Demma (16:40):
Nice. That’s amazing. It’s PQP right?


Julie Mathé (16:45):
It is PQP

Sam Demma (16:49):
I’ve had other guests tell me about it. I did a little bit of research on it just to familiarize myself with it. What does the process look like for an educator who loves their work in the classroom, but would like to maybe one day get into administration?


Julie Mathé (17:04):
Well aside from taking the necessary courses, it’s is taking every opportunity to get some leadership experience and that could be in a variety of ways. It doesn’t actually have to be as an acting vice principal the way I did, but I could certainly look as if you’re leading a large committee on the school. You’re part of a committee at the school board level. You’re, you’re coming in and, and asking questions. You could spend half a day with an administrator to see what it looks like. There’s just different ways of, of learning about the role rather than assuming what it looks like because of what you think you see, cuz there’s so much more that goes on behind closed doors. And, and what I often say to teachers going into administration is first of all, they will love it.


Julie Mathé (17:58):
Mm. Secondly your relationship with students does change. You’re not the quick go- person that you are in the classroom, especially, especially if you were a successful teacher where you were popular and you knew kids wanted to take your courses that relationship changes, but it changes in the way that you’re helping the student as a whole now, and you’re also helping their family. And that’s a different relationship relationship that you start building. And the rewards for that are tremendous. You just feel so good when, you know, you’re making right or better decisions for students and their families. And you’re able to support them in ways that you wouldn’t do as a classroom teacher, you know, whereas you’re connecting them with resources in the community or you’re connecting them with a social worker or you’re providing support financially. It’s it’s, it’s different and it’s really good.


Sam Demma (18:58):
I’m curious to know if you could bundle up all your experiences in education teaching and learning from others and go back in time, tap your younger self on the shoulder and say, this is what this is something that I would’ve liked for you to have heard when you just got into this work, like knowing what you know now, what advice would you share with your younger self? Not, not because you wanna change something about your path, but for another educator who’s listening to this. Who’s just starting in this vocation. What would some words of advice be?


Julie Mathé (19:35):
The vocation of administration?


Sam Demma (19:37):
Mean just education as a whole, like teaching and getting involved.


Julie Mathé (19:42):
As a classroom teacher, it would be to observe other teachers learn about the school culture come in with ideas, but be open to what you’re hearing and try things before you suggest new ideas.


Sam Demma (19:59):
I love that. And it sounds like you may have even had some other pieces of advice for administration if someone was just getting into an admin role, would the feedback be similar or


Julie Mathé (20:12):
It, it would well, they, the listening piece and, and the watching for the first year. Absolutely. Yeah. But the most important piece is to learn to live in the gray. There’s no black and white in administration. And although we do have rules and policies and guidelines, there is a gray area for for extenuating circumstances. So you do treat every student and every family different because they are different, but that’s your work around equity. That’s how it becomes an equity piece. And so you have to be able to work in the gray and you have to be able to listen with empathy at all times,


Sam Demma (20:53):
You exude enthusiasm and positive energy and hope. What, what, what inspires you and motivates you to show up every single day and continue doing this amazing work?


Julie Mathé (21:06):
I absolutely, as you can tell, I love what I do. Mm. I, I say probably weekly to someone who asks me or someone who doesn’t even ask me. I love what I do. I have hope because I have my faith. I have hope because I have a family that supports me. I have hope because I see change in our world for the better. And and I get to work with young people and may keep me vibrant and hopeful.


Sam Demma (21:38):
I love it. if someone would like to reach out and borrow some of your positive energy by ranging a phone call or asking you a question, what would be the best way for a fellow educator to get in touch with you?


Julie Mathé (21:51):
They can certainly access our school website, our St. Mother Theresa high school website. And my email address is right there.


Sam Demma (21:59):
Awesome. All right, Julie, thank you so much for coming on the podcast. It is a pleasure to have you keep up with the great work and we’ll talk soon.


Julie Mathé (22:07):
Thanks so much, Sam. I, it was my pleasure and it was nice meeting you.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Julie Mathé

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.

Peter Bowman – Principal of Orillia Secondary School

Peter Bowman - Principal of Orillia Secondary School
About Peter Bowman

Peter Bowman is the Principal of Orillia Secondary School in Orillia, Ontario. He began his career working with young people as a soccer coach at the age of 12. It wasn’t until 1991 that he began getting paid to work with teens as a computer science and mathematics teacher at Hodan Nalayeh Secondary School in Vaughan, Ontario.

He then moved north to Barrie where he taught science and math at Barrie Central Collegiate and Barrie North Collegiate. In 2007, he had the co-privilege of launching the North Barrie Alternative School program. From there he moved into administration as a Vice Principal of both Bear Creek S.S. and Barrie North Collegiate before being placed as Principal in Orillia. Over the course of his thirty-plus years, he has remained active in the sports community. He has served as Honorary President of the GBSSA, member association of OFSAA.

He has championed the development of Ultimate as a sanctioned school sport since he started playing and coaching it in 1995. He is thrilled that he is still able to help coach the school team today. Additionally he has been active backcountry camping, cycling, coaching soccer and playing drums whenever and wherever.

He is driven to see others reach their potential by providing leadership opportunities as much as possible. He is energized by others but also likes quiet times away – and there’s nothing wrong with that!

Connect with Peter: Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Orillia Secondary School

Simcoe County District School Board

Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations

Georgian Bay Secondary Association (GBSSA)

The Transcript

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

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


Peter Bowman (00:09):
Well, thanks for having me. My name’s Peter Bowman, principal at Orillia Secondary School currently and in my 30 year career as an educator, I’ve been in a couple of different school boards. Started in York region and then moved to Simcoe county and have been a classroom teacher, a variety of things. I’ve done some computer science, some math, chemistry. At one point I was in alternative education. So for five years, I was tasked with opening the Barrie North Alternative school program. Nice. And that was an awesome adventure. And then shortly after that got into administration and I’ve been vice principal at Bear Creek secondary school in Barrie and Barrie north collegiate and presently find myself principal in Orillia.


Sam Demma (00:55):
When did you realize growing up that education was the career you wanted to pursue?


Peter Bowman (01:00):
Well, I’m not actually convinced that it is yet. I’ll wait and see how things go. fascinatingly, when I graduated high school and I had a great high school career but I walked outta that high school and I said, I’m done with high school forever. And I have been there ever since it seems.


Peter Bowman (01:21):
So, so I, I was graduating from university almost on a whim or a dare from my roommate at the time I applied to teacher’s college. I’m thoroughly convinced that I was part of what was communicated as a glitch in the acceptance software and got in to teachers college at Lakehead. I was intrigued at the prospect of going to thunder bay for a year. I loved the outdoors. And so that was an interesting prospect. So I took off did teachers college wasn’t convinced I knew what I was gonna do, whether I would teach or not. But then landed a job at one secondary school sort of north end Toronto, and initially said, I’d stay for as long as I thought it was good. And I’m still, still going.


Sam Demma (02:08):
Did, did you have any educators in your life think and encourage you to think you were gonna get into this work and encourage you to do so or more so founded?


Peter Bowman (02:20):
I mean, my high school days were great. I was in a, a relatively new high school and a lot of the teachers were young-ish and a lot of opportunities, a lot of clubs and teams and activities and stuff. It’s interesting. I was talking with a colleague the other day and, and a name popped in Mar Ross was my grade nine fied teacher. Hmm. A very unique individual and he just had this way of lighting a fire under everybody. And for whatever reason, he, he maybe noticed something in me, but he kind of took me under his wing a bit, I guess got me doing some time keeping for the football team and involved in some other things. And, and, and in time gave me those opportunities for leadership, but also facilitated sending me to bark lake leadership camp. Mm. And so as a youngster, I think I would’ve been 14 or 15, went to bark lake and they taught you explicit leadership concepts mm.


Peter Bowman (03:21):
And gave you opportunities to demonstrate leading. And from that, I then got a job working in summer camps. I spent a number of years working at the Ontario camp for the death. Nice. And learned all kinds of things there and, and had opportunities to to lead, but also to, to struggle through challenges and, and work with teams of young people, as well as campers and, and other other staff. So I, I think it was not explicitly Mar Ross kind of lighting that fire under my butt to do more than just B. But I certainly identify him as one of the players. That was pretty key. And, and what I really like is in our school district, there’s, there’s a Mar Mar Ross Memorial award. Oh, wow. Given to excellent coaches. Mm. And through every year we have, you know, three really, really cool honors that are given out in athletics. And, and it’s really important for me to be in attendance at that annual meeting to, to just see who’s receiving the award and hear the awesome things that they’re doing. And, and I draw that connection to Mar and the impact that he had.


Sam Demma (04:35):
You mentioned Mar had this way of lighting a fire under people. What did that, obviously, not literally, but what did


Peter Bowman (04:46):
That, but I bet you, he would, he’s the kind of guy that I bet you, he would. So the, the one story I tell he, he was a, a unique character. So like literally if there were three guys walking down the hall and you looked up, your eyes would naturally go to him. Hmm. For no really solid reason. I mean, yes. He had really bushy eyebrows and that might have been it, but so one day back in that day, they had what was called level six. It was like an enriched fied class. And so this was all of the top athletes from all the feeder schools. All the elementary schools came in and they chose this level six fied in grade nine. So he had us, and I don’t know what we were doing. We were probably supposed to be lined up in our squads, ready to start the day.


Peter Bowman (05:32):
Obviously we were not performing to standards that he said, and he came in for whatever reason. He had a set of Kodiak boots on what PHED teacher has, Kodiak boots. He was probably outlining, lining the field. And, and so we had these boots on and he was not pleased. And he launched the, the boot across the, the gym. like, I can still tell you from what entrance to what corner that boot the blue. And he immediately had her attention for the rest of the day. Cuz you just, you, you loved what he wanted you to do because you loved him as a, as a leader. He was comfortable with who he was and and was open to, to banter with kids and stuff. So it was just, it was really an authentic, good vibe in that classroom, but he, again, just unique. Right? So he, that character draws you in


Sam Demma (06:26):
A hundred percent. How do you think that those experiences, as well as the other teachers and educators and coaches you’ve had, has informed the way that, you know, you lead today or you try to leave that same impact on other students?


Peter Bowman (06:42):
I don’t think it’s explicitly Mar that did, did this kind of teaching. There’s a lot of influence that I’ve had. But certainly servant leadership is one of the things that I, I cling to. So it’s not a lording over somebody else, an authority position. That’s, that’s gonna backfire way more than it’s gonna work in your favor. And I don’t care if you’re talking, working with adults or kids. Yep. So that servant leadership. So if I’m the classroom teacher trying to teach you how to, you know, expand, binomials I’m there to help you. I’m not there to dictate what your life is gonna look like. So that’s, that’s a big part. And then the other part is authenticity. Mm-Hmm . If I run into a kid at the grocery store, I’m the same guy that was in the math class.


Peter Bowman (07:30):
I’m not, I’m not different in, in one position or place than another, I don’t think. And I’d like to, you know, assume that that’s the way others will perceive me as well. Cuz I think if you try to be somebody you’re not most people see through that very quickly. And, and I mean, it’s not easy to say, but if, if you have insecurities and you try to cover that that’s a formula for disaster. So I think it’s, it’s valid to have your insecurities and, and to be open about where that may play out in your relationship with kids in a classroom or wherever. And so it’s, I dunno, that authenticity is, is so critical because that, that gives people the opportunity to see you wart and all.


Sam Demma (08:19):
I couldn’t agree more. Take me back to for a minute bark lake. Why, why do you think it’s so important? Students have opportunities like that to be exposed to different ideas, perspectives and leadership. I leadership concepts.


Peter Bowman (08:36):
So it’s not even just that bark lake had that program. That was so critical. Mm-Hmm it was also the age. They, they were very uniform that you were, and I can’t remember if it was 14 or 15, you had to be that age. I think it was 15. Yeah. So there was nobody that was 14. There was nobody that was 16. You had to be 15. And that that’s, I think more impactful than people realized, cuz was timing is critical. Mm-Hmm I don’t have my driver’s license yet. I, I may not have had much in the way of part-time job experience. So you’re at a critical agent stage. And so I look at grade nine and 10 in my school and I’m like, you kids have got to jump into something. I don’t care if you end up being a regular attendee at our Dungeons and dragons club or, or if you’re the, you know, the point guard for our basketball team, I want you to be doing something.


Peter Bowman (09:31):
I walked into a drama class the other day and we’re putting on a musical this year. And so it was amazing. I walk in the teachers, the it’s a team teach scenario are kind of at opposite corners in the, in the theater. There’s a student front front row center, you know, elbows on the stage in charge of choreography. Obviously there’s a student that’s sort of center of the audience location. Flipping through pages. That’s kids are reading their lines. Obviously the student director, I, I couldn’t be happier. Like I don’t wanna walk into a class and see that the teacher has to do everything. So in that moment, those kids are being given those leadership opportunities. It, it ties into personal confidence. I, I don’t care if that choreographer student ends up being a choreographer. Mm you’re. You’re comfortable with who you are.


Peter Bowman (10:27):
You’re confident to speak out when, when someone’s not where they need to be. You learn to collaborate cuz you’re not yelling it out. You are, you are trying to coax them into being in the right spot at the right times so that it ends up being a great product. So those, those things I, I value so much. I, I remember when I got the outdoors club going at Vaughn secondary and I was a young pimple faced teacher with a ponytail . And I would wear a dress shirt just so that kids knew that I was a staff member right. Like it was one of those early days. And, and I thought at first I needed to get the canoe trip information and get all the material ready and do all the teaching and instructing and very quickly realized that’s so not what I should be doing.


Peter Bowman (11:14):
Mm. So I, I identified kids that had a little bit of experience or had a little bit of time and, and passion. And we would meet for hours before our, our canoe trip club meeting so that they were prepared to lead them through the sessions on how to pack, how to prep a menu. And what I loved is I, I hear from those kids now, you know, decades later telling me about the canoe trips that they’ve been on. And I want that for my own children. Right. I want them to have done enough on our family to do trips that, you know, they’re now at a age and stage where they’re going off on their own. And I’m not quite at a point where I trust my son to read a map on Georgia bay, but on smaller inland lakes, he’s good to go.


Sam Demma (11:58):
That’s awesome. That’s amazing. It sounds like community is a through line theme through all of this. Like you, you know, students helping each other, everyone getting involved in playing a role. It sounds like the, the school you were at and probably the one you’re at right now, like one of the emphasis is building strong community. What are some of the things you focus on in the school culture?


Peter Bowman (12:23):
So right now I’m trying to push we’re we’re appropriate project based learning and, and again, where possible. Multidisciplines so nice. I met with, with a colleague the other day. We’ve got this beautiful blank brick wall on our third floor that has sunshine almost all day. So I’m talking with, with Philly and I’m saying, is there a way that we can maybe get a living while going?


Sam Demma (12:51):
Mm.


Peter Bowman (12:52):
And so she’s jumped right on board, and that’s the thing like, she, like, we’ve got great people. So she jumps right on board, and she’s already talked to the environ person at the board office. But I love that she and I are on the same page and that we’re thinking, well, we’ve got a Makerspace club and a guy who loves computer programs. So maybe we can get in our Arduino or a raspberry pie to, to program the, the cycling of water for, for hydration. And, and we’ve got a fantastic machine shop here, right? So guys can, can weld up frames and brackets and and build the structure. So that’s where I want to go with that. I’ve got a I’ll call it an art installation in the main entrance way of our school. Hmm. That’s got six old random computer monitors.


Peter Bowman (13:40):
Again, the, the tech guys built the frame to, to Mount all these monitors. And then the computer guys programmed these little raspberry pies to take a kid’s image from our digital media art class and break it up into six quadrants of, of the, of the screen. Yeah. Cool. So that you now have these funky little, so your, your image that you created is then exploded into these six pieces. And that’s three different disciplines that have a project, right. When you walk in the front door. Cool. so that kind of thinking it doesn’t always pan out. Like I have more failures than I have successes, but I like that because then that’s a student that says I did that.


Sam Demma (14:25):
Mm.


Peter Bowman (14:26):
What is, or new kids coming in that can say, I can do that.


Sam Demma (14:31):
Hmm. What is your perspective on failure? Like, I I’ve listened to some people that I respect and they say things like failures or stepping stones to future learnings, you know, and as much as that’s a positive thing, obviously in the moment, it kind of sucks. but how do you perceive failure and, and approach the those actions?


Peter Bowman (14:54):
I’m certainly not, I’m not gonna drop a t-shirt phrase, but yeah, it’s critical. Yeah. I, my alternative school days as you can imagine, these are kids that struggled and maybe didn’t have a lot of encouragement. Maybe didn’t have a lot of success in their time, in and around school. We often referred to ourselves as the land and misfit toys, which I thought was kind of appropriate. But in that we banded together and, and had a lot of fun. But again, it’s the math teacher. You’re almost the, the worst guy in the planet, right? Yeah. Cause I’m taking kids that have very likely had horrific math experiences. And the big thing I always said is if, if you know, we, we look at homework or 15 minutes after class work time if I went around and I saw that the page was blank. And if a student said, well, I tried, I said, no, if you tried, there’d be all over that page.


Sam Demma (15:51):
Mm.


Peter Bowman (15:53):
And so we got into this sort of mindset that you know, and this was before the modern version of the vertical classroom, which is all the rage, but it was every kid at a marker. And every kid who’s up with a whiteboard and you throw something out there and I don’t care if it’s right or wrong, you are going to write something. And, and eventually, cuz it certainly doesn’t happen right away. Eventually every kid is, is willing to take a shot. Hmm. And I think that’s that to me is victory. Again, most of those kids that I, that I taught how to graph a linear relationship are probably not doing that for a living right now. Yeah. but the boldness to make that first step to try and come up with a table of values that I think is something that they’re probably tapping into as a as a skill set or as a, as a willingness to trust themselves to try.


Sam Demma (16:54):
Mm yeah. It’s like a character trait you build through different activities, which is why, when you mentioned earlier saying leadership camp, wasn’t only about learning a leadership concept. It was about being a part of something. It was about getting involved, building confidence in an activity. I think school as a whole does that in so many different subjects. And if we find something that we love doing as well, while we’re there, it’s like added bonus. But the, yeah, I think the skills last a lifetime well,


Peter Bowman (17:26):
And, and the shared experiences. Yeah. Right. Like it is, it’s one of the things I absolutely love is when I, when I chat with former students. And, and sometimes like I’ll still run into kids in Barry cause that’s where I live. And I’ve taught in a couple of schools in Barry. And so you’ll run into kids periodically. And they vividly remember scenarios and situations as, as do educators. But the problem is, yeah, you, you end up with so many kids and so many experiences you, yeah. That those moments may not make your top 10 for, but for that particular student, it, it was and like with the old school man, we did some stuff that was crazy. Awesome. And again, it wasn’t that they’re gonna learn how to parse out the subject and predicate in a sentence. It’s it’s that they know that if you relax and try and enjoy life or we bit sometimes good things can happen.


Peter Bowman (18:24):
We, I think it was at it wasn’t all school. It was at a regular school. We had a field trip. This math class had done way beyond what I’d ever imagined. Hmm. They were just so willing to go on the journey of trying stuff. So I, I asked if we could go on a field trip and the vice principal at the time said help me understand, do you wanna take a math class on a field trip? Where are you gonna go? That is math . So I was able to document it, letting us go to Toronto. So from Barry to Toronto, and this is back in the day when you were allowed to rent passenger van. So we rented the passenger van cause it was a very small class. We drove to Toronto and we were gonna go down to the lake shore and we were gonna figure out how far away center island was from lake Ontario using trigonometry.


Peter Bowman (19:10):
And we were gonna measure certain Heights of buildings using trigonometry trigonometry. So we did a bit of that. Oh. And by the way, it was around Christmas and we were gonna stop at Yorkdale and, you know, wander around a little bit. And that was okay too. So for whatever crazy reason, wherever we parked in Yorkdale, again, we’re all traveling together like who in the right mind wants to hang out with a math teacher, but we all walk in, whatever door happened to be open from where we parked and we follow this long corridor and then we go up these stairs and not this, we ended up on the roof of Yorkdale, you know.

Peter Bowman (19:44):
Well, I’m standing on the roof with, and, and as we, as we come out and we’re realizing we’re on the roof, you know, the, the immediate don’t let that door close. So, you know, we laughed about it and, and then left. I don’t remember what else we did on the trip, but I’m sure those guys remember that experience. Right.


Sam Demma (20:01):
Yeah.


Peter Bowman (20:02):
So I don’t know. I really think those opportunities are so vital. And that’s why when I walk around the school as principal and I see coaches here to the wee hours working on stuff and, you know, teachers lining up trips to Europe and stuff like that. That’s, that’s awesome. I absolutely love that extra effort that goes into things.


Sam Demma (20:23):
Hmm. Shared experiences is a big one. I was, I was listening to a podcast recently and they were talking about building relationships with other people and shared experiences is one of the top ways to do that because you have this memory and moment in time, that’s linked with that other individual. And they were talking about it in a, you know, a relationship like an intimate relationship way and you know, like going on dates and why it’s important to spend with your significant other. But yeah, just as much applies, I think, to just building friendships and lifelong friends. Speaking of like lifelong friends and friendships the educators that had a big impact on you, do you still stay in touch with some of those, those individuals and also do you have any mentors that helped you along the journey that you wanna give a quick shout out to besides Mar?


Peter Bowman (21:15):
That’s a good question. I don’t off the top of my head. I don’t think I have any that I, I seek out. It’s kind of funny because right now as principal there are some supply teachers that are retired, teachers that come in that used to work in the school I was in. So it is kind of funny to run into some of those folks. Mentorship’s an interesting thing, cuz we, we love to formalize everything. Yeah, right. We love to turn everything into a numbered memo and a, and a program and a structured something or other. And I, I don’t see, I don’t see that happening very well as a formalized process in education. Mm. My, my mentorship is, is all over the map. You know, getting into administration is a really significant shift from, from classroom teaching. And so to find people, I, I mean, we always use the phrase, phone, a friend to find people who you resonate with as a, as an approach, cuz not everyone’s the same.


Peter Bowman (22:23):
There are certainly colleagues that I have great deal of respect for, but if the two of us had to run a school together, I think it would be a disaster. Because our, our approach is just so different. There’d be conflict and style and, and, and in some case decision making, mm. So the mentors are, are those phone of friends. That I guess if I checked my phone to see, you know, frequency of text messaging there’s lots. And I think it’s important also to recognize that the formalized mentorship, they always talk about find somebody that is in the position you want to be in and, and aspire to. And then, and then work there. I actually have some mentors that, that are not in that sort of next step mm-hmm they’re, they’re either at the same step or they’re maybe a step behind or two steps behind. And it’s really just somebody that, that similar passion and in a lot of cases that similar lens. And so if your, if your lens is, how can I best help kids? You got a good shot at being on my mentor list.


Sam Demma (23:33):
I love it. I think you, you just got me thinking about a thought I’ve had for a while and couldn’t, couldn’t bring to words and it’s this idea that yeah, mentors don’t always have to be someone in the exact position you wanna be in in the future. It could also be somebody who I think it could also be someone who’s in a totally different field who can bring a unique perspective into the thing you’re hoping to do.


Peter Bowman (24:01):
And I’ve, I’ve read various books on, on mentoring, like iron sharp iron and all these other, there’s a lot of writing that goes into it. And they, they do say sometimes it’s not within your industry. But I, like, I also say in some respects, the kids that I’ve worked with yeah. Have mentored me as well. Like I think of my early days as a vice principal, that’s a, that’s a really tricky role to play at school. Yep. And, and there are some kids that I would say you might call high flyers regular yeah. Interactions and those kids as a new vice principal certainly helped me figure out what would and wouldn’t work. Mm. And so in that case, the iron sharpening iron yeah. That happened.


Sam Demma (24:48):
Mm. Yeah. I love that.


Peter Bowman (24:49):
But only because you’re authentic. Yeah. Right. If I, if I tried to have that, that, you know, rock solid authority position, I don’t think you would ever get to that mentoring sort of relationship with somebody. Or, and again, it, I don’t know if I’m doing proper justice to that concept. I’m sure there are folks out there that have studied mentoring that are freaking out when I say this, but mentoring is really about learning. Yeah. And, and where do you find that learning opportunity? And I, I don’t think we should ever limit where that learning can come from.


Sam Demma (25:19):
Great perspective. Speaking of learning, you mentioned iron sharpens, iron, any other resources that you have read or courses you’ve been through or yeah, just resources in general, they’ve been helpful for you throughout your, your career. I’m just curious. And yeah. If another educators listening, maybe they could look into it.


Peter Bowman (25:39):
So like honestly, the, the biggest resource I have are my ears.


Sam Demma (25:45):
Mm.


Peter Bowman (25:46):
They’re not particularly large. They’re getting a little hairier, but it’s, it’s listening and, and allowing yourself to listen more. The recently the one book I read was white fragility challenging read as a, as a white male and coming from that place of privilege again, I didn’t necessarily follow everything that was being described in the book, but it really forced me to, to not pay lip service, to trying to understand white privilege. Yeah. And, and that, that hit me last year. And I shared with my staff actually, I, I shot a little video and I know you’re not supposed to operate your cell phone when driving a car, but I did shoot a little video while driving. I was, I was going to pick up my, my one kid and I was a little bit late. So I might have been going a little beyond what the speed limit was telling me I was supposed to do. And I actually had this, this thought in my head, ah, what’s the worst that could happen. I’ll get a ticket. And then it hit me that’s cuz I’m, I’m white. Mm. That is not the worst that can happen for a lot of people.


Peter Bowman (27:05):
And, and I was, I was messed up. Like, I was even late because I had to pull over. And even now actually saying this Sam, like it, it Wells me up a little bit because that’s, that’s a horrible thing to have thought. But thankfully as I’m trying to read and trying to understand and try and do better, I’m, I’m getting caught in some of that stuff. Right. And I recognize that other other experiences are, are very complex and, and I need to try and do a little better. So weight privilege was a tough read. It it, it got through to me in, in ways that a lot of other PD and workshops and stuff hadn’t, and again, it, it may not be the, the magic ticket for others, but I, I certainly found it a very challenging read as a white male.


Sam Demma (27:53):
I appreciate you sharing that and I’m sure other people will be encouraged to check it out after hearing this. If someone, you know, listens to this conversation wants to ask you a question, connect or reach out what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?


Peter Bowman (28:08):
I’m happy to chat. Like I, I very much wear my heart on my sleeve and and I’m certainly open to things. Welcome to send an email to me or call the school Orillia Secondary School and askto speak to the principal. We’re crazy busy with all that is school, but I’m, I’m certainly open to, to phone calls and whatever. I do social media, but increasingly I find there’s so much negativity and so much challenge with that, that I’m, I’m trying to back off. I never did get into Facebook. I created an account one year and, and friended my wife. That was what I gave her for her birthday or something. Because she knew how anti-Facebook I was and, and Twitter and, and Instagram I do. But it just, I find that people are just looking for opportunity to make that a, a negative space and that frustrates me because I can’t control it as well. And I, I also feel I do a bad enough job with the friends. I actually see, I don’t need to feel like I’m doing a bad job with the people I don’t necessarily run into.


Sam Demma (29:17):
Yeah, no, I agree. I, I took a year off social media about a year and a half ago now and it changed my perspective a lot.


Peter Bowman (29:27):
Is tricky because there’s, but there’s so much good that can come up. And, and if, if you could be part of a social media platform that forbid darkness and evil and then I’m in cuz there are a lot of great kitten photos and there’s a lot of great sayings and there’s a lot of deep insights that can occur. And these are wonderful platforms to, to challenge your brain and challenge your heart. But man, there’s so much poison it’s it’s really just worth it at times.


Sam Demma (30:02):
I appreciate Peter you taking the time to come on here and chat share some of your own insights and journeys and funny stories. and I, I hope to stay in touch in the future and continue to watch the great things that happen once the living wall comes to life. You’re gonna have to send me a picture of it.


Peter Bowman (30:20):
Knowing, knowing school board protocols and procedures, this could be years.


Sam Demma (30:24):
Yeah. but anyway, keep up the great work.


Peter Bowman (30:29):
I appreciate you doing this and highlighting some of the good things that are going on, because they’re certainly way more good than bad.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Peter Bowman

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.

Lisa Nichols – Vice Principal on Special Assignment GOAL 2 Office/ School Leadership

Lisa Nichols – Vice Principal on Special Assignment GOAL 2 Office/ School Leadership
About Lisa Nichols

Lisa Nichols was born in Daly City, CA and moved to Fresno at the age of three. She graduated from Hoover High School in 1991. Lisa is the first in her family to receive a college degree. She received her Bachelor of Arts and Master’s Degree in Social Work from California State University of Fresno (CSUF). She continued pursing her education and received a second Master’s Degree in Education and an Administrative Credential.


Lisa is a Vice Principal on Special Assignment with Fresno Unified School District’s GOAL 2 Office/School Leadership. She was a part of the team that opened Gaston Middle School in 2014. She plays an important role in creating a culture in which the needs of students, teachers, families, and the community are met through building positive connections. In her first role at FUSD, Lisa implemented and ran two critical afterschool programs at an elementary school site, Girl Power and Boys 2 Men. The Girl Power program taught young girls to be confident, to stand up for themselves, and to be healthy.

The Boys 2 Men mentoring program for at-risk students, taught learning skills applicable for the real world. In addition, students learned to be leaders, self-sufficient learners, resolve conflicts, and resist peer influences. With 10 years working in child welfare, and 8 years working as a social worker in a hospital setting, Lisa has impacted the lives of many adults. She provided resources and emotional support that aided in their ability to get their lives back on track and improved the quality of life for them.


One of Lisa’s passions lies in community work. She served as Commissioner for First 5 Fresno County for six years, served seven years on the Advisory Council for Fresno Institute for Urban Leadership (FIFUL), board member for Tree Fresno for four years, served on the Children’s Movement Leadership team and the Advisor for the Bullard High African-American Parent Advisory Group for four years. She currently serves as a Commissioner for  the Fresno Economic Opportunities Commission (EOC), Board Member for the Marjorie Mason Center, Board of Directors, Member for the Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) Board of Directors, Board Member for the Black Students of California United (BSCU) Co-Advisor for the Black Student Union Club (BSU) at Gaston Middle School and is a chapter member of San Joaquin Valley Alumnae (SJVA) Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Incorporated. In addition, she has served as the co-chair for the Educational Development Committee for 7 years, which has been instrumental in hosting the African American High School Recognition Ceremony for the past 26 years.


In June of 2008, Lisa was recognized as a trailblazer by the San Joaquin Valley Alumnae Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. In March of 2014, Lisa was recognized by the Fresno Black Chamber of Commerce for outstanding contributions to the Fresno area. She received the “Passing the Torch” trailblazer award in February of 2015 from the African American Historical & Cultural Museum and recognized as ACSA Administer of the Year in 2016.


Lisa has overcome many obstacles in her life; however, she believes her struggles have made her a stronger person. She has risen above childhood domestic violence, poverty, both speech and learning disabilities. Lisa contributes her education accomplishments and her passion for community involvement to her grandmother, Ethel Luke, who raised her, and has made her to be the women she is today. Lisa has 2 daughters, Candice, age 28 Bria, 26 and two grandsons, Ellis, age 6 and Adrian, age 1.

Connect with Lisa: Email | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

School of Social Work – California State University

Fresno Unified School District

Gaston Middle School

First 5 Fresno County

Fresno Institute for Urban Leadership (FIFUL)

Tree Fresno

Children’s Movement

Fresno Economic Opportunities Commission (EOC)

Marjorie Mason Center

Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA)

Black Students of California United (BSCU)

African American High School Recognition Ceremony

Fresno Black Chamber of Commerce

Association of California School Administrators

FUSD – School Based Mentorship

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 youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s guest is Lisa Nichols, who was born in California and moved to Fresno at the age of three, and she’s the first of her family to receive a college degree and also a master’s degree in education and an administrative credential. Lisa is the Vice Principal on Special Assignment GOAL 2 Office/ School Leadership.


Sam Demma (01:08):
What you need to know about Lisa is that she is on a mission to help young people, whether it was starting her own program called girl power or boys to men, or whether it’s today using the obstacles that she overcame in her own life. You know, struggles like childhood, domestic violence, poverty, both speech and learning impediments and disabilities. It’s using the experiences and challenges that she went through growing up as a kid that she believes have made her a stronger person. And those are the things that are allowing her to pour back into kids and students, and would inform her educational accomplishments and her passion for community involvement . She’s also very family orientated. She has two daughters, Candace aged 28 and Bria aged 26, and two grandsons; Ellis age 6 and Adrian age 1. Lisa is a beam of positivity and hope, and I hope you feel inspired after listening to a little bit of her story on today’s interview. I’ll see you on the other side, talk soon. Lisa, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show all the way from another country.


Lisa Nichols (02:20):
Thank you. Thanks Sam.


Sam Demma (02:23):
Yeah, it’s a pleasure. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about who you are and what brought you to, to where you are in education today?


Lisa Nichols (02:31):
Wow, that’s a lot. So I’ll try to keep it brief. I’m Lisa Nichols and I’m a vice principal and special assignment with Fresno Unified School District in Fresno, California. We get a lot of heat here, so if you ever come into our neighborhood, you need to make sure you’re bringing a beach towel and a hat to stay cold. But I, gosh, my, you know, it was kind of a fluke because I didn’t come into education by choice. My background is social work, and I knew I wanted to be a social worker at a very young age. So I wanted to help people in need and give back. So it took a situation that happened at my daughter’s school to get involved as a parent advocate, and as a result of being involved as a parent, I was tapped on the shoulder by school officials.


Lisa Nichols (03:20):
They’re like, you would be really great at this as an advocate, as an employee. And I was like, you know what? I have a credential a counselor credential. And so that’s how I came into education. And I actually said, I would never come into education because I had such a bad experience as a parent. I just thought there’s no way I would work in a system like that, but it actually has been the most rewarding job I’ve ever had. And I, and I, I say that with all sincerity, I have really enjoyed working in the district and being able to mentor and empower young young leaders as well as teachers and staff to help support our young leaders.


Sam Demma (03:56):
That’s amazing. And I’m sorry to hear about the bad experience. If you don’t mind me asking like what, what did that entail and how did that experience motivate you to be the change you wanted to see in the school that you’re working in? Now?


Lisa Nichols (04:11):
My daughter was the whistleblower in a situation where there was students that had it was a racial incident and she spoke, got against it. And as a parent you know, you’re advocating to make sure your child is safe, but that the schools are really taking consideration of how that impacts those that have been harmed by the situation. Yeah. As but that, that situation, I always think there’s, you always, there’s good that you can find out any situation, you know, that can come outta any situation. And so as a result of that started looking at the data for African American students and realize as parents, we need to be a better partners at the table. And I know for me, I was going about my business schedule and they making sure my kids were advocat for, but I realized that it takes a village and that I needed to do my part in supporting not only my students, but my, by my black students, my children, but other black students.


Lisa Nichols (05:08):
And so as a result of that, I started an African American parent advisory group to get other parent partners at the table because we needed to understand that the schools can’t do it alone. It really is a partnership. And even when things we may not agree with certain systems or policies that the schools have. We can, if we understand them better, we can work better to look at some systematic changes. And so that’s where I came from that lens. And so that was kind of my journey. And so not necessarily, it was a bad experience as far as at the time when it happened, it wasn’t a good feeling to be a part of that. However, it did teach my daughter how to be an advocate when things aren’t right, how to step up and have a voice and not be scared. And it taught me as a parent on how I could help educate other parents about the importance of how do we, what do we need to do more to advocate for our students and our children and and do our part and that we can’t always point the finger. Again, it, it is accountability from all corners.


Sam Demma (06:09):
Ah, I love that. That’s amazing. Thank you so much for sharing and that’s really cool. Is the advisory group still, is this still a thing that exists and you guys, you know, meet on like a monthly basis or something?


Lisa Nichols (06:19):
Well, and actually, so my, both my girls graduated 10 years ago when this, when this


Sam Demma (06:23):
Project started.


Lisa Nichols (06:24):
So this happened 10 years ago. And so I’ve been in my, I’ve been in my district almost close to nine years. So the advisory council had for a minute it was, it had disappeared, but it, it came back and it’s funny because how it comes back in circle it they’ve now leaned on me as the employee to help support the current advisor, the parent advisor that’s over that, that group at that particular school. And so now I’m working to mentor the parent advisor behind the scenes on some just lessons learned what, what I wish I would’ve had at the time when I was starting this group on my own. So it’s, it’s neat to see that it’s, it’s now in effect and that they’re looking at ways to help support the school.


Sam Demma (07:05):
Ah, that’s awesome. And you know, you mentioned a few minutes ago that you never really saw yourself in education. In fact, you decided you’d never get into it. Growing up, did you have awesome educators yourself? Like, did you have teachers that you can think of or principals or coaches back in, in school that you think motivated you and maybe inspired you to realize that you might want to get into education or was your experience the total opposite as well as a young person?


Lisa Nichols (07:36):
Yeah, my experience was I didn’t, I can’t recall a teacher, which is that. And this is one of the reasons why I decided my main decision to come into education. I had a speech therapist that I can tell you who was very supported and my grandmother who was a strong advocate to make sure that I wasn’t gonna be this child left behind. Yeah. So those two individuals I can, I can recall very supported in my corner, which makes me think about why it’s important that our students have key connections and people they can identify as a person on campus that I can go to that person if I’m having a bad day, or if I feel like I have been harmed or not treated fairly, I have this person I can lean on. And so that was one of my main decisions why I said, okay, I, I got involved cuz of my daughters, but now I need to even get more involved because students don’t always have that relationship with a, a staff on, on campus.


Lisa Nichols (08:31):
Now it has changed, you know, that was 20 some years ago. when I was coming up. Yeah. And so our districts and our community is looking at how do we nurture our, how do we mentor our staff to be those relationship builders for their students. And, and I definitely have seen changes in our systems and we’ve definitely come a long ways. So yeah. So I give a high five to my grandmother who was, who was resting in heaven. Mm-Hmm and the speech therapist who, I can’t remember her name, but who always had that that ability to make me feel like I was going to be somebody, you know, that I, she didn’t give up on me and encourage me. And so I, I wish I knew her name. I can’t remember, but I do remember her, her words and her kind touch and, and those type of things.


Sam Demma (09:18):
Yeah. That’s amazing. I like, I, I think back to my own high school experience, and there’s only one teacher for me that really stood out, everyone was okay. In my experience. But that there was one educator who went above and beyond to make me feel like I could do great things like you’re mentioning who like, and I was going through a really tough experience in grade 12. I played soccer my entire life and was on route to get a full ride scholarship. And in my senior year underwent three major knee injuries and two surgeries and had to stop playing sports. And it was like this like life shattering experience. And he was the one person in my life. No, my parents supported me, but he was one other person in my life who would pull me aside and say, Sam, you’re destined for great things.


Sam Demma (09:57):
You might not see it right now, but I promise you, like, I promise you’re gonna do amazing work. And, and his words stuck in my mind, you know, and it just goes to show how powerful one caring person is in the life of a, of a young person or, or a young student. And that makes me curious, like in your school can you recall any examples on how the positive words of educators or even over yourself has impacted a young person and maybe you didn’t even know about it for like two years. And then they came back and were like, Ms. Nichols, Lisa, like, oh my goodness, you said two years ago made a big impact or maybe some of your teachers that have said those things. Can you think of any stories? And if it’s a serious transformation, you can like, kinda keep it private. I am,


Lisa Nichols (10:41):
I can think of one because I happen to be so my first position in the district was a school counselor and the school that I served at, one of the programs that I implemented was called girl power because I felt there, and it was for students that were behaviorally having issues. And they were academically not doing well. So I started this after school program called girl girls power. And I started a boys, boys to men club as well. So this is at school. Well, I happened to run. I was in a, a, in a line at in and out getting my love in and out by the way. And I pulled up to get my order. And there was a young girl that was like, Ms. Nichols. I’m like, I don’t know who this young girl is, but she goes my name.


Lisa Nichols (11:23):
Right. She’s like, do you remember me? You know, I was in your girl power group. And then, and I was like, and when she said her name, then I knew, I remember right away who she was, but she talked about how, how that group was really it just, she goes, I, I had so much fun in that group and the things that we learned, cuz they learned about being young women and we would bring in speakers to help just kind of uplift them and just give them motivation and inspire them. And she talked about how that was something she took remembered. And so it just touched my heart because you never know the impact you have on kids. Sometimes you see it in the moment and most of the times you don’t right. And you always wonder, you know, did I make an impact on that, those group of students?


Lisa Nichols (11:59):
And, and so she was there, she’s like, I’m working. I, I graduated and which is funny because it tells my age that I was running into an 18 year old at the time and she was in sixth grade at the time. And so yeah, so that was inspiring to hear her say, you know, that that group made a difference at the time in my life. And thank you for that. And so, and I, it’s exciting a couple of years ago I had ran into the program that now oversees it, the department that oversees it and now girl powers in several elementary schools. Oh wow. So yeah, and some, they always keep me adverse to what’s going on, like, Hey, you know, we started a girl power in this school. They’ve changed the dynamics and the curriculum, but the foundation they’ve been able to say, you know, we always go back to the foundation you later. So yeah, that is a, that’s a great story that I always keep because I always wonder if the group was effective. I know it’s in other schools, but just to hear a student that was once in the program is really neat, neat to see and hear how their journey, where they’ve, you know, where they’re going.


Sam Demma (13:00):
And what’s so awesome is like, even if you didn’t drive that in and out and didn’t hear that student success story, it’s still there. Like it’s still exists. It’s just like sometimes as educators, you don’t hear it or maybe you hear it 20 years later. It’s like if a tree falls in a forest and no, one’s there to hear it, the tree still falls, right? It’s like same with student impact sometimes with educators. And you could tell how excited you are about that group, cuz you’re smiling from cheek to cheek when you’re talking about it, which


Lisa Nichols (13:24):
Is, it was such a fun group because we they learned a skill every group, so a perfect things that they need in the real life world, right. How to be respectful and how to deal with confrontation and conflict. And they learned leadership skills and then we would always have a girl power tea at the very end of every session where the girls learn how to be, you know, how to eat and appropriately. And it was cute. So I, I smiled because I remember of all the community partners that came together to make the tea really look like a tea. And there was board members that stepped up to do center pieces and we had people pitching in money to do, you know, cause there wasn’t budgets were really low back back then it’s like, oh I couldn’t get money for stuff. But I, the community stepped up to make sure they had, you know, these little cucumber sandwiches, just really things that really and that it it’s the little things right.


Lisa Nichols (14:17):
And the girls, they got to dress up and they got to, to share what they learned the three months in that, in that group. So yeah, it does put a smile on my face because I think now those students are, the first group are gotta be, at least they’re they gotta be 20, 20 or 19 or 20 at this age now. So I’m wondering where they’re all at. But but just seeing her that wasn’t, that was enough to, to say, okay, that, that, that group did make an impact at least on one student.


Sam Demma (14:45):
Yeah. That’s amazing. That’s so cool. Sounds like you gotta reconnect with them again. Now you have a reason to check in.


Lisa Nichols (14:51):
I gotta go back and see if she’s at the, in out. Yeah.


Sam Demma (14:54):
That’s amazing. That’s amazing. And I wanna go back one more time again to your grandmother. Grandmother. Yeah. It sounds like she had a really big impact on you. And my grandfather actually had a huge impact on me. And I’m curious to know what your grandmother did. I was listening just recently to a podcast called on purpose. This guy named Jay, she host it and he’s like a really cool guy. And he was interviewing someone named scooter bran who happens to be like Justin Bieber’s music manager. And scooter bran was saying that when he was a kid, his grandmother pulled him and his siblings aside one by one individually without the others knowing and would say, Hey, I have to tell you something it’s a very important secret. And you can’t tell any of your other siblings, you’re the special one and they’re gonna do amazing things. And I believe in you and, and she told all the kids and at scoot scooter only realized at his grandmother’s funeral after telling his brother, Hey, you know, she pulled me aside when we were kids. And she told me that I was a special one. And, and then his brother was like, well, she told me that too. , you know, they all realized, and I was just like, wow, what a wise thing to tell a young mind, you know how


Lisa Nichols (16:05):
Powerful that is.


Sam Demma (16:06):
Yeah. And I’m curious to know what your, you know, grandmother did for you that made a, a big difference in impact.


Lisa Nichols (16:11):
Oh, that’s such an easy question. She was very big in, in giving back to your community. And so my sister and I were raised to give back at an early age and we volunteered for advance. It was nothing. And so I am super involved in the community because of the the foundation she instilled in me about, you have to take care of your, your, your village, your community, it’s important that you give back. And so and then she always talked about the importance of connections. She’s like always meet a new person every day, cause you never know how that person, how you’ll need them in the future or how so I have a wealth of networks of people that I can call on if I need something. And so I I’m always talking about the importance of community partners at the table, in our district and how there’s resources that they have.


Lisa Nichols (16:59):
And we may not have as a system and we need to partner with them as well, even when it comes to our parents. And so, and so the community partnerships are key and that’s something that she taught me. And so we always do a community service project with our young kids. I oversee what is called the black student union advisory student council. And these are young young students, black students that were teaching leadership and the importance of giving back. And so that’s what my grandmother has instilled in me and I have connections, anytime I need anything I can go to someone’s community. And I won’t get a, a note for an answer because of the connections I’ve made. And I, I have to give my grandmother all the praise for that for teaching me about the importance of a community and a village.


Sam Demma (17:45):
Ah, I love that. That’s amazing. And when you were growing up I think volunteer is so important. I feel like it’s one of the only examples in life where it’s a win, win, win experience. You know, you win because you feel good about the work you’re doing, the people you’re helping or who you’re volunteer, win, cuz you’re helping them. And then the world as a whole kind of just becomes a little bit of a better place, emit so much negative news and turmoil. Mm-Hmm do you remember some of the experiences or like where you guys volunteered? Like what would you usually do growing up with your grandma?


Lisa Nichols (18:17):
So don’t laugh, but my grandmother was very involved with the senior citizen center. And so that’s where we would hang out with her in the kitchen. She was a cook and so we would help serve the, the elder population. And you know, at our age you would think, gosh, who wants to hang out with older people? Right. But it was a, I love the elder community. And I think because my grandmother started at a young age of us appreciating our elders. Right. And so you wouldn’t think the young individual wanna hang out with older people, but we looked forward to our, our Saturdays and feeding the elders or lunch and reading books to them. And so that’s was where, that’s where we hung out as, as children. And then of course, you know, we grew up in the church and so we would always, you know be involved in our church activities, but the senior citizens center is where we hung out growing up. And so you can never say anything mean to be about an elderly. I just, I just have the highest, most highest respect for them. And that’s kind of where we were raised. Like you just, you respected your elders, you listened to them and no matter what they said, you, you let it go to one ear out the other, even if you disagreed with them, you just, it was just that mutual respect you had.


Sam Demma (19:24):
Yeah. Oh, I love that. So true. It’s similar in like European families, like I’m half Italian, half Greek and it’s like, yeah, we, we were very much taught to respect our elders as well. And hopefully everyone’s taught that, you know? Yeah. But yeah, that’s such a cool, that’s such a cool little story. When you think about education today, what do you think are some of the challenges and how have you tried to overcome some of those and maybe also on a positive note, what do you think are some of the opportunities that exist as well?


Lisa Nichols (19:55):
So at challenges, I think the thing about challenges there’s is the cultural aspect of our students, making sure that that culturally, our students are learning about who they are. And so I think the challenges are that our teachers don’t always have those tools or the resources to be able to have those conversations all the time in their classrooms. Yeah. You know, we, we do a really good job in celebrating black history or celebrating single denial or, you know, those one time events that support cultural, multicultural and identity, but it needs to be something that’s ongoing and all year long because there’s identity issues with some of our students when it comes to their culture and they don’t understand who they know or they don’t know their histories. And so that’s kind of the challenge is just making sure that we are providing those, that space and opportunity for students to learn about who they are so they can be proud and be inspired.


Lisa Nichols (20:56):
I think there’s opportunities for for us to our, our district is doing a really good job in in student of and and student voice. And, and in past years we’ve made sure we provide space and opportunity for, for students to be at the table. And so I think there’s room for opportunities for, for any education system to make sure that they have their young people up up in front, that when they’re making a decision on behalf of students, that they have students at the table helping to map out those plans and those, whatever the plan is gonna be, that there’s a young person at the table in those conversations. And so I think we have many room, many opportunities for room to do that.


Sam Demma (21:42):
I love that. And I think we’re getting to an age where students are, students are so resilient. Like it always, it just excites me so much when I see a young person like battle an obstacle and beat it. And if someone tells them, there’s no space at the table, they pull up their own chair. You know, that’s what it seems like these days. And I think that’s so exciting and awesome, and it it’s, you know, kudos to the teachers and people that are raising them cuz you know, you all are doing a great job. In terms of the difference between, you know, two years ago, education and this year what is like, what are some of those challenges? I know C’s obviously placed some barriers and how has your school tried to overcome those things and still get students the support they need and still just continue giving them an education.


Lisa Nichols (22:31):
Right. so I, I think parent engagement, it would be and I, I think that’s a challenge, especially it comes to our African American parents, I think. It’s like, how do we look at ways to engaging and making sure that that we’re listening to their concerns and we’re again having them as partners at the table. And I think that’s a, a challenge for many school districts, not just ours. Yeah. And so I am actually in the doctoral program and that’s what I’m planning to do. My dissertation on is how do we engage our African American parents? And, and to not necessarily be thinking, well, it’s the blame on, on our, on the African American community. It’s like, what if we, the district need to look at on our end, what are some things that we may need to change or do differently when we’re working with our parents?


Lisa Nichols (23:24):
And so so I think that’s a challenge. That would kind of be the biggest one that I’m thinking, especially now with COVID and you know, now, I mean, for me, I I do a lot of my things virtually still because just because of the, the feedback that I’ve gotten back from parents is like, Hey, can cuz my programs are after school. And so it’s easier for me to do virtual. But I, I think we I think the challenge is how do you keep kids engaged virtually act with after school activities and how do you make sure parents are showing up too as well? How do you engage them that way? So I think that’s gonna be a challenge because I know people don’t like the virtual space, but and so if we ever had to go back to that, you know, how do we make it more engaging?


Sam Demma (24:11):
Mm, got it. Cool.


Lisa Nichols (24:12):
Yeah. And I know nobody wants to talk about like, no, we don’t ever wanna go back to hybrid learning, but


Sam Demma (24:18):
Yeah, no, it’s true. It’s true. That’s


Lisa Nichols (24:20):
How COVID talks taught us something, right? Yeah. I mean, I just learned zoom when COVID shut down, I’m like, what is a zoom? I don’t even know what a zoom is. it took me only a month to learn how to figure it out. But I’m now more tech savvy with that. Right. It, so I don’t, it was COVID was bad. It’s it’s horrible, but we had to go through, but some skills came out of it too. Like I, we learned a lot of new things. That’s gonna make our, our new, just new generation. They’re gonna be popping when they get out there. I mean, can you imagine the skills that they have now?


Sam Demma (24:52):
Yeah. And I mean, sometimes it’s, it’s difficult to facilitate things online. That’s why like whenever I tell bad jokes and no one laughs I just push his button


Lisa Nichols (25:06):
And then I laughed


Sam Demma (25:08):
Yeah. And that’s what happens. That’s what happens with all the kids, you know, like adding in some simple tools can just make it more, more interesting and engaging for, for the kids and students as well.


Lisa Nichols (25:19):
And we learn and we learn some engaging things. You can bring, you bring music and you bring affirmations and games and you there’s ways to make virtual learning, engaging. And so I will be perfecting at because I wanna make sure in the event we ever had to do that again, that I’m prepared. So


Sam Demma (25:41):
Yeah, it’s awesome. And if you, if you could, if you could zoom back no plan intended to like nine years ago and know, give advice to younger. Lisa, when you just, is it nine years you’ve been in education? How long you it’s


Lisa Nichols (25:58):
Nine years. Yeah. I’ve been nine years. Cause I did, most of my life was social work. I 15 years in social work. And so that was hard to switch over. Yes.


Sam Demma (26:05):
So if you could, you know, go back nine years, when you, you made the, made the transfer or the, the, the transfer to education, like what advice would you give your younger self, knowing what you know now, and based on the experiences you’ve had working in education,


Lisa Nichols (26:21):
I had to tap, you know, what my grandmother used to tell me like when a door opens, walk through it, because there’s a reason why, so when someone tapped me to come into education, I question it, you know, and I, and then even I, when I got into education, I was tapped to go to apply for an administrator for, cause I’m a vice principal now. So I went from a C to a vice principal. Yeah. And to go back to school and I questioned it, but there’s a reason why people are tapping you because they see something in you that you may not see yourself. So now when I’m getting tapped I, I tend to like not question it too, too much and be like, you know, there’s a reason why I’m getting asked to do this or why I’m being asked to, Hey, put in for this position, we see that you could make a larger impact. And, you know, coming from the school site, I was tapped to do that too, to come downtown. And I was like, Ugh, I don’t know. But I knew eventually that I was gonna make a larger impact. So that’s what I would tell my younger Lisas, like stop questioning it. There’s a reason for the tap. And others are seeing things that you may not always see in yourself.


Sam Demma (27:23):
Hmm. I love that. That’s a good piece of advice. and if someone’s listening to this right now and thinking to themselves, we need more Lisa in our lives or just wanna connect and have a conversation with you about something you talked about, like what would be the best way for another educator listening to get in touch with you?


Lisa Nichols (27:43):
Oh, they can hit me up at Lisa.Nichols@fresnounified.org, and also on Facebook under Lisa Nichols. And so my name will be changing, so they might see nice Lisa Mitchell cause I’m switching over to a new name, but yeah. So yeah, I would, I welcome anyone reaching out if they wanna just you know, just kind of be a thanking partner because I, again, I go back to the takes of village. I’m always learning from others too, that reach out. And I think we are better in numbers. That’s another thing I would tell the Lisas, like lean on your village. Like when you need support and help, don’t do it alone. You definitely can’t do this work alone. You definitely need a village that are in this work with you.


Sam Demma (28:24):
Awesome. All right well, you’ll you’ll know when this goes live, cuz all those educators, this thing will knock down your front door, asking some questions but this is awesome. Lisa, thank you so much for taking some time to come on the show and share some of, you know, your grandmother’s philosophies, your own experiences in education, what you would tell your younger self, some of the challenges you’re faced with. It’s been a real pleasure chatting with you.


Lisa Nichols (28:46):
Thank you, Sam. I appreciate you having me on your show and good luck with what you’re doing. I think this is great that you’re you’re interviewing educators so we all can learn from each other. Appreciate it.


Sam Demma (28:55):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show; if you want meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Lisa Nichols

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.

Dave Wilson – Principal at Cameron Heights Collegiate Institute

Dave Wilson - Principal at Cameron Heights Collegiate Institute
About Dave Wilson

Dave Wilson is the Principal of Cameron Heights Collegiate Institute in Kitchener, Ontario. He has been Principal at CHCI since January 2020. Before that he was Principal at Glenview Park Secondary School in Cambridge. Both CHCI and GPSS are IB World schools and offer Ontario and International Baccalaureate curriculum.

Dave began teaching in the Waterloo District School Board in 1997, at Southwood Secondary School. He also served as Vice Principal at Galt Collegiate, Forest Heights Collegiate, and Glenview Park. Dave believes in the importance of extra-curricular activities at school to help students engage with school life beyond academics.

Dave enjoys travelling with his family and works towards finding work/life balance by participating in various athletic pursuits.

Connect with Dave: Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Cameron Heights Collegiate Institute

Waterloo Region District School Board

Principal’s Qualification Program PQP

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:02):
Dave welcome to the high performing educator podcast. Pleasure to have you on the show here today. Start by introducing yourself.


Dave Wilson (00:09):
Thanks Sam. It’s a pleasure to be here. I’m Dave Wilson. I’m a principal with the Waterloo region district school board. My school is Cameron Heights collegiate. We’re located in downtown Kitchener and I guess this is my 25th year in education. And I look forward to a few more!


Sam Demma (00:27):
thank you for, thank you for your service, sir. well, when did you realize growing up that education was the field for you and how did that journey unfold?


Dave Wilson (00:43):
Well, I guess I enjoyed school and I enjoyed the experiences that I was able to have at school. And so in high school I enjoyed playing sports and being in bands and other activities. And so I think I always knew I had an affinity for the educational environment. But I was from a family of educators you know, grandparents, parents aunts. So, and so I think, I thought I wanted to try to do something different. And so I, I went into journalism, went to journalism school and was working at a small, weekly newspaper I would in Canmore, Alberta. And I found, I was spending an awful lot of time in the local schools covering sports or education issues. And then I ended up coaching a basketball team and, you know, I kind of looked at what my career was gonna be like. And I thought, you know, maybe I shouldn’t fight it. Maybe teaching is really what I wanna do. So went back to teachers college and I ended up getting a job at my old high school, which was it was great great timing. It was a little odd though. I’m now working with people who taught me.


Sam Demma (01:45):
Oh, wow.


Dave Wilson (01:46):
Sort of 12 years later, I guess it was. But that’s, that’s sort of how I got started


Sam Demma (01:51):
Kenmore, Alberta, such a beautiful place. My cousins live out there. Did you en enjoy your time out there?


Dave Wilson (01:58):
Oh, I loved it out there. Yeah. Yeah, I really did. And one of our daughters is in working in ban right now. It’s sort of, we, we got them hooked and nice. Yeah, no, that’s a great place. Fantastic.


Sam Demma (02:11):
That’s awesome. What piqued your interest about journalism? Tell me more about that aspect of your journey.


Dave Wilson (02:19):
Well, I mean, I’m always interested in what people do and why they do it and, you know, journalism’s a way to be exposed to a lot of different things and you talk to different people learn about what they do. You know, there’s a, a variety to it. You, you get to I mean, one of the good and not good things about journalism, at least from my point of view was you’re you see a lot of things, but you’re unnecessarily part of a lot of things. And so the sort of difference between journalism and education is now I’m, I’m part of the, the sort of action as opposed to the observer of it. But it, it is, you know, that was the part that drew me to it in the first place.


Sam Demma (03:00):
Awesome. Take me back to finishing your credentials and degree for teaching and give us a peek into the journey that brought you to where you are today.


Dave Wilson (03:12):
Well so my wife had gone back to teachers college a year before me. She had also started in journalism and we were living in Ottawa and she has dual Canadian American citizenship. Mm. And there were no jobs you know, it was very difficult to find a job in Ontario at that time. So we considered going somewhere else. You know, somewhere in the states. And I got a call from a former roommate of mine who had always knew we wanted to be a teacher. And so by this time he’s already been teaching for five years and he said, you might not believe this, but there’s gonna be a job coming up. And I, I think you’re qualified. Why don’t you apply? Hmm. And so it was, you know, we got, so we got our applications together and we submitted them.


Dave Wilson (03:58):
It was one of the last times in our board that they used to essentially have like a hiring fair and all the candidates would meet at the ed center. And there were interviews happening all over the place. And so my wife and I came out of that the next day, both with jobs. And so we kind of looked at each other and said, well, we can’t really give these up. Like, you know, this is gonna be great. And we were at the same school and we were at the same school for nine years and, and we’re still married. So that was good.


Sam Demma (04:26):
I was, I was gonna say education during the day education at home education everywhere.


Dave Wilson (04:33):
We’d make rules about talking about school. Yeah. I had to, you had to stop at a certain point.


Sam Demma (04:37):
That’s awesome. So after those initial nine years, what did the remainder of the journey look like to fill the 25?


Dave Wilson (04:46):
Well, I I took some courses so that I could pursue administration. Nice. And so I in our board you apply for a pool. So a vice principal pool. I got into the pool in the next year I was placed. And that was kind of fun. I got placed at the school where my, my father had been the principal and my mother had taught there. So it was it was interesting, you know, there were still a couple people left there that my dad had worked with. And my mom had worked with, so it was, it, it was a fun experience. It things went fairly well. I learned a lot and it was, yeah, I, I enjoyed it.


Sam Demma (05:26):
Was that a inground pool or aboveground pool? Yeah. That’s good thought was just joking. That’s


Dave Wilson (05:35):
Good. That’s awesome. I didn’t, the student here just asked me if we could get hot tubs, but


Sam Demma (05:38):
Really? Yeah. Yeah. Well, how do you respond to that?


Dave Wilson (05:42):
I, well, there is a swimming pool in this building owned by the city of kitchen. And I said, maybe we can just turn the heat off in that for


Sam Demma (05:48):
You. Nice.


Dave Wilson (05:48):
she didn’t like that.


Sam Demma (05:50):
That’s funny. So what are the different roles that you played in schools and of those roles, which have been from your perspective, very fulfilling and meaningful, and maybe the I’ll have, and you can touch upon why?


Dave Wilson (06:04):
Well, it, I mean, there’s certain different aspects to it. When I was a teacher, I coached a lot. I’ve coached a little bit as an administrator and the relationships you develop during any kind of extracurricular activity with kids, they can be the, the most fulfilling, right? Those are the kids that you know, you meet up with 10, 15 years later kind of thing, and see how they’re doing or you see them around town. So those experiences were really rewarding in administration. It’s more there’ll be specific student situations where maybe you’ve been able to help. And when you’re a vice principal, sometimes maybe the student doesn’t realize you’re helping ’em in the moment mm-hmm right. But, but, you know we look at it like, you know, a student might make a mistake, but we want them, we wanna help them learn from it so they can be successful in the long term. Right. So you know, you have to, you have to find your successes and your satisfactions in sometimes small interactions with families, things you can do to help them, that kind of thing.


Sam Demma (07:11):
Gotcha. That’s awesome. Along your journey, through education, working in different roles, did you have other educators that mentored you? And if so, who are some of those individuals and what do you think some of the things you took away from their instruction or example?


Dave Wilson (07:29):
Well, there’ve been too many to sort of count and name them all. You know, I think I had teachers that I would say I used as role models, you know, like I can think of a couple of my history teachers in high school, and I can think of some coaches. I remember when I was filling in as a vice principal before I was a vice principal, kinda learning how to do it. You know guy named Bruce deacon was the principal at the time. And I remember we had a, we had a challenging situation and he, he kind of sat me down and he said, Dave, you have to remember that after all this is done, everybody involved is coming back to the school, right? Like, is there was some conflict involved? I think it was a, a bullying situation.


Dave Wilson (08:13):
And he is like, so you’ve got a plan for what to do to react to it. What are you gonna do? You know, to make sure it doesn’t happen again, or to make sure these kids can get along, that kind of thing. And it was little moments like that he, you know, would take the time to you know, gave me some guidance that helps kind of helps you frame what you’re gonna do. Like you have to do these jobs, kind of you do it on your own, but you do it in consultation with other people, you know, it makes it more fun and you’re better at it. If you do it that way too,


Sam Demma (08:42):
A hundred percent human resources is one resource, right. You can learn from other people. You also can learn from courses, books, other things. Are there any videos you’ve watched or books or courses or things you’ve been a part of that you think had a positive impact on the way you approach education or how you show up every day?


Dave Wilson (09:04):
Well, it’s, this is a fairly recent example, but I’m an instructor for the Ontario principals council teaching the principal’s qualification program. Oh, nice. And, and so, you know, if you’ve ever had to teach anything, you realize that’s one of the best ways to become, you know, more of an expert in that field. Right. So I’ve been watching all those videos and reading things and it’s hard to pick out one in particular, but it’s just that experience of going through the course with my students. It, it helped me as well. Right. You know, it just you know, the number of good questions they ask, some of which I have an answer for right away and others I’m like, yeah, that’s a really good question. I’m not sure what I do in that situation. I’ll get back to it. Yeah. Yeah.


Sam Demma (09:48):
That’s awesome. Not knowing the answer and being okay with it. And honest, I think is a really important aspect of education. Not only education, but any career you get into, because we’ll always find ourselves in situations where we, where we don’t know the answer. How do you deal with those situations?


Dave Wilson (10:07):
Well, I mean, one of the things I tell the principal candidates, and I try to remind myself is that very few decisions that we make have to be made in the moment. Mm. Right. Like usually things you can take your time and, and try to have a more thoughtful approach. There are other other times when you’re sort of put on the spot and if you, if you don’t know, you’re better off just saying, you don’t know. Right. Like it, you if you, if you guess, and paint yourself into a corner that you can’t get out of, then that’s not doing any good. So you know, just, and at the same time acknowledge sometimes, and people might be impatient, right? They, people want answers to things. They want to know what to do. And it’s, you know, you can imagine the last two years of during the pandemic, the number of questions about what we can do and can’t do. And so on,


Sam Demma (10:58):
Got you. That makes total sense. One aspect of education that excites me, and it sounds like it’s something that excites you and everyone else that I’ve talked to is the potential of positive impact on young people, right? Like the, at the heart of education is, you know, helping a student realize their own potential. And in the hope that what you teach them and share with them will set them up for success for whatever path they choose to pursue in the future. I’m curious. If you can remember of a program that transformed a student or a situation where you kind of saw a student trans transform in a school, maybe it was, you know, one of your classes or someone else’s class that you heard of. And if so, share a little bit a, share a little bit of that story. And if it’s serious, you know, maybe change their name and whatnot.


Dave Wilson (11:48):
Well, there was a student at at a school who it has autism and a couple other behavioral challenges connected to autism. And when I got to the school, I was her vice principal and she would have outburst, regular outbursts, maybe, I don’t know, two or three times a week.


Sam Demma (12:12):
Mm-Hmm.


Dave Wilson (12:13):
And, and I’m not taking any credit for this cuz I was really just kind of, sort of managing some of her some of the services she was getting and our staff kind of worked with her intentionally over and over and her, she had great support from home. And by the time she was in grade 12, she was achieving at a high level and was very successful. And it, it, it was rewarding because it wasn’t just one person that had helped that, that kid, it was a number of people. And so there, there are a few stories like that and it when you have someone say, come in in grade nine and they’re having real challenges, it helps drill look back on those kids, you know, came in, in grade nine, had challenges and then worked it out by grade 12. You know, so, so it, those kind of stories, their, their heartwarming, and it’s one of the perks of being the principles I get to sign all their diplomas and, you know, sometimes the opponent you’re like, yeah, I guess we did. We got this kid there, he’s graduating, you know? Yeah. And it’s, there would’ve been moments in the previous four or five years where you would’ve said, that’s probably not gonna happen. So


Sam Demma (13:21):
Something, you mentioned the word perks and it, it sparked my memory, something, my economics teacher, Mr. Belmonte taught me in grade 12 was opportunity cost. When you decide to pursue one opportunity, you’re you cancel out the opportunity to pursue anything else in that time or moment. With that in mind, what is the opportunity cost of being a principal? So share some of the perks and also what you think are some of the more challenging aspects of it. Because I would imagine as a teacher passionate about, you know, teaching kids, it might be hard to leave the classroom at times. But there’s obviously some perks and also some challenges to all rules.


Dave Wilson (14:02):
Yeah. I mean that day to day contact with kids in that, you know, I mean, I have day to day contact with kids. I see them in the school, but it’s not the same as when you’re their classroom teacher or you’re their volleyball coach or whatever. Right. And so I have to kind of go outta my way to, to get to know some of those kids. So for example, you know, I’ll be asking our student council leaders to come to our school council meetings. So I get to know those kids. But that, that is an opportunity cost of being a principal is you, you lose a little bit of that day to day contact or that opportunity to build those relationships. On the other hand, I’ve got a bit of flexibility and that I get to be sort of part of a little part of everything, right? Like I go to all the different games and I see the different performances, especially when it’s not COVID and right. And so, you know I get to have influence on the hiring and staffing of the school, which it seems like a really dry topic, but it helps make all those other things happen for kids.


Sam Demma (15:07):
Love it. And it, for somebody who’s thinking about getting into education right now, there could be an, a potential educator listening. Who’s just finishing their credentials, super excited about teaching, but equally nervous. If you could take all the experiences you’ve had bundle them up almost like travel back in time, tap yourself on the shoulder and say, Hey, Dave, this is what you needed to hear when you were just starting knowing what you know now, what would you have kind of told you younger yourself or for other future aspiring people who wanna work in education?


Dave Wilson (15:42):
I think I tell them that when kids come to school for the vast majority of them and majority of time, they’re not, they’re not coming to school for the math and they’re not coming to school for the French. And they’re, they’re, they’re coming to school for the relationships and the way that environment makes them feel right. And so they wanna see their friends, but they also want caring adults to connect with them and they want to learn. And so maybe you get back that maybe you get to the math and the French and the science, but you you’re teaching the individual right. Each and every one we say in Waterloo, you’re trying to reach them. And you want them to have a positive experience and a positive relationship with you so that you can help them. I think if you, if you get into teaching and you think it’s all about your subject matter I think you’re gonna miss the mark. It’s, it’s about more than that. And it, if nothing else, the pandemic has certainly shown us that, that, you know, it’s the kids for the most part are craving that kind of social connection that they can get at school. And you, you’re an important part of that as a teacher.


Sam Demma (16:54):
How do you think as a teacher, or even as administrator, you build relationships with students, like what does that look like in a classroom or in your role?


Dave Wilson (17:05):
That’s a good question. Because when we’re interviewing people, we ask them basically that same question, like, what exactly do you do? You know? Yeah. Just told me, I just, that same mistake you, you told me you build relationships. What do you do? Well, I mean, there’s some simple things, like you take some interest in, in their lives and what they like to do, you know, if you’re if you’re an English teacher and you’re trying to find texts that kids want to read, you take the time to ask them what they like, and you respond like just basic human things. You, you ask, ’em how they are. And if they, if they don’t seem right, you, you do something, you, you talk to talk to the kids. It’s you know, they, what’s the that’s saying you’ll, you’ll what somebody said to you, but you’ll remember how they made you feel. It’s those kind of moments over and over and over again, that that’s how you build relationships.


Sam Demma (17:57):
I love that. Well, if someone wants to build a relationship with you reach out, ask you a question based on this conversation. Maybe they’re an educator who’s just getting into this and would love to have a conversation. What would be the best way for them to reach out?


Dave Wilson (18:13):
I think the best way probably to use my board email and contact me that way.


Sam Demma (18:35):
Sounds good. I will include your email and the show notes of the episode. So anyone who’s interested can access you there. But Hey, thank you so much, Dave, for taking the time to do this. I really appreciate it. This was a lot of fun. I, I hope you enjoyed the experience and keep up the great work we’ll we’ll talk soon.


Dave Wilson (18:55):
All right. Thanks Sam. It was my pleasure. Take care.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Dave Wilson

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

Ryan McDonnell – Principal at Superior CVI in Thunder Bay

Ryan McDonnell - Principal at Superior CVI in Thunder Bay
About Ryan McDonnell

Ryan McDonnell is very proud to be the principal at Superior CVI in Thunder Bay. Superior CVI is an incredibly diverse and inclusive community rooted in a dynamic culture that promotes excellence in academics, the arts, athletics and technology.

He considers it a great privilege to lead a school of innovative teachers and thoughtful and compassionate students. Ryan believes that relationships are the key to success in education, and he strives to build a community based on high expectations where all students feel valued, connected and empowered.

Connect with Ryan: Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Sunderland Soccer Club

Newcastle Soccer Club

Superior Collegiate & Vocational Institute

Lakehead District School Board

The Transcript

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

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

Ryan McDonnell (00:08):
Yeah, thanks Sam. It’s great to, to have a conversation with you. So I’m Ryan McDonnell and I’m the principal at Superior CVI in Thunder Bay.

Sam Demma (00:16):
How did you get into the field of education? Is this something you knew you always wanted to do growing up?

Ryan McDonnell (00:23):
No. And it’s funny when, when, when I started to think about this, that it, it wasn’t always something that I wanted to do. So I have a, an uncle who is the guy who like everybody wants to be, who was a high school principal. And I thought that that was, was pretty cool, but didn’t really when I was in school or when I was in university, it wasn’t necessarily what I had my mind set on doing. Which is interesting, cuz education is, is really big in my family that it doesn’t matter what you do. But learning, learning is lifelong and learning is really, really important. So kind of a, a, a cool story that I like to tell is that my grandfather, who was an amazing man was from Greece and his family had had eight kids and they saved up and sent him to Canada for, for a new life.

Ryan McDonnell (01:06):
And so he always told this story about how his dad was really big into education and into books. And when they, he would leave the village, he would always come back with, with a book for, for the family. And during during the war, when their village was invaded by, by the Nazis they had a book of German art in their house and that sort of one favor, and, and my grandfather said that that saved our family. That was something. And it shows you that, that education can really, can really make an impact in someone’s life and save someone’s life. And so, as I kind of worked through school, I think I avoided going this route. And then I got to a point where, where I kind of had to dig deep and, and think about why I was really fighting it so much. And so I did a placement when I was in faculty of ed and, and I kind of figured out that, that this was for me and this is where I need to be. And, and I really haven’t looked back or regretted it since.

Sam Demma (01:59):
Tell me about that placement at the faculty of ed. What about that experience really confirmed that this was the path you wanted to take?

Ryan McDonnell (02:05):
I think that it’s, it’s kind of that just that excitement of, of being in a classroom and, and having those really cool conversations with kids that make an impact and, and having those moments where you could see a kid gets it and, and things they’re figuring things out. I think that’s really hard to, to replicate replicate anywhere else. And so I worked with a, a couple of really great teachers who I ended up when I started my teaching career. I, I worked with them and now I continue to work with them. And they’re, they’re great guys who, who really cared about kids and really were always trying to be at the top of their game and, and be really creative and, and meet the needs of kids and, and not just kids who are easy to teach, but the kids who are sometimes the most difficult to connect with that was, that was their focus and their passion. And I think for me, that really inspired me actually.

Sam Demma (02:55):
That’s awesome. So you did your placement realize, yes. This is a path I want to take. What did the rest of the journey look like to, to today?

Ryan McDonnell (03:04):
Well, at the time there were no jobs. Nice. So I actually I went I went with some friends after we finished university to, to the UK and taught in, in the Northeast of England. So I lived in a, a place called Newcastle and taught in a, a place called Sunland which is, is a lot like thunder bay. Right. that in terms of, of the demographic, in terms of like a real blue collar working class town so I, I lived there for a year and, and it was incredibly challenging. Like it was there’s some real flaws from my perspective in the system and the way that kids are, are grouped, according to their scores on, on a test. And, and some days were, were really, really tough, but I, I also learned a lot. So I learned a lot from, from the people in the school.

Ryan McDonnell (03:50):
The teachers that I worked with the kids in, in, in the classes that I was in I really, yeah, I really learned a ton about about what good teaching is. But also in some cases what bad teaching is. So I remember vividly the, the day I decided that I needed to come home. We all had this like it’s called a home form. So you have a group of kids that you’re with for a chunk of the day, for the whole year. And there was a kid in there who had a really, like, he had a life that I couldn’t live like a really, really challenging life. And I remember a teacher coming in and telling him that he was a waste of space and was gonna be just like his dad. And I was like, I’m out. I can’t, I can’t be a part of this anymore. Wow. And that, there was a lot of really good stuff that was happening and a lot of really good teaching. But for me, that was just it was, it was just different that, that there’s that at the time they were kind of stuck in the very I’m the teacher, this is the way this is the way it is. Which isn’t really an approach that works with me.

Sam Demma (04:47):
Yeah. Totally hear you. It’s funny, you mentioned Sunland new castle. Those are both two soccer teams. I sometimes watch on TV. Absolutely.

Ryan McDonnell (04:54):
Yeah.

Sam Demma (04:54):
Did you end up following any of the football when you were out there?

Ryan McDonnell (04:57):
Yeah. Yeah. And so I went to a couple of matches in, in, in Sunland. It’s, it’s absolute loot madness, right? Like when you’re, when you’re on the subway or where you’re at the stadium, it’s, it’s, it’s incredible. Like it’s yeah. People invest their whole lives in it. It’s absolutely. It’s absolutely something else. Like no professional sports in north America compares to it. It is it is absolutely out of this world.

Sam Demma (05:21):
A hundred percent. you mentioned an example of teaching that was not, is not very effective. That actually totally turns you off and probably had a very negative impact on that young person’s life. Give, give an example of some of the teaching you saw and even see today that you think this is what teaching is all about. This is a perfect example of, you know, how we’re supposed to show up for our kids and, and try to make a difference.

Ryan McDonnell (05:47):
And I think we we’ve come a long way in education and we were actually doing interviews the other day for, for a few teaching jobs. Sorry, I don’t know how to mute my phone here. No worries.

Ryan McDonnell (06:03):
Yeah. Maybe I,

Sam Demma (06:05):
It makes it more real is the job of principal, man. Yeah,

Ryan McDonnell (06:10):
There we go. No, so we are interviewing for, for new teachers, which doesn’t happen very often. Yeah. And almost everybody coming into the interview talked about forming relationships with kids and that’s, that’s always been, I think my style and, and, and been important to me. And I think been what, what, what I’m actually have have some skill at. And so I think the, the good teachers that I’ve always always admired and respected are the teachers that are able to form relationships with kids and also have really high expectations and high standards for them. So looking back to where I was when it, when I was in England there was a woman who I worked with who was was, was absolutely incredible. And we, we are actually in the same home form and she would take the kids skating at Christmas time, and she knew who, which kids were hungry and would bring them in food and discreetly make sure that they got it to, to take home and just really, really was able to connect with kids and, and form that, that really meaningful relationship that they may not have had anywhere else in their lives.

Ryan McDonnell (07:17):
But also hold them to account and say, you know what, you’re, you’re, you’re better than this, this isn’t, this isn’t who you are. Let’s figure out how we can make different decisions, which I think the guy who said, you know, you’re a waste of space was trying to say the same thing, but just said in a way that was, was really knocking a kid down. And then when I think of the, the teachers that I’ve, I’ve worked with throughout my career when I was when I was a teacher at, at the school, before I came to this one, I worked in guidance with a, a team of, of all women who are absolutely amazing at what they do and have all these really unique personalities. But I’ve never seen a team work the way that they do and at their focus was always what is, what is best for kids.

Ryan McDonnell (07:59):
And so taking time and some of them were there till five, six o’clock at night, just, just talking to kids and figuring out just listening oftentimes. And I think that that translates into a classroom taking time to get to know the kids before you to know your learners, to let them know that, that you, you care about them, that they’re part of your story. You’re part of their story that you’re really invested in them. That’s to me what good teaching is, and, and good teaching is stopping to talk to a kid in the hallway outside of your classroom. Good teaching is being involved in extracurriculars that’s to me, what good teaching is. And then you bring that into your classroom and, and that’s delivering curriculum, right? Like you, you, you use your relationship and, and you you’re able to, to leverage that, to get kids, to learn that the content of your curriculum. But you’ve already taught them the really valuable stuff about how to, how to be at life and how to be good people and how to make an impact through your interactions with them outside of the classroom.

Sam Demma (09:02):
I’ve heard relationships being a very foundational trait of effective education and effective educators. That idea of relationships has been echoed through so many different episodes. It sounds like you’re alluding to it there as well. What do you think enables an educator to build a strong relationship with a student? How do you build a, a relationship with the, with the student?

Ryan McDonnell (09:26):
I, I think the first thing you need to do is you, you need to talk to kids. So I think oftentimes we’re so pressed that we need to deliver the curriculum. We need to get into the content that taking two or three minutes at the beginning of the class, to, to greet kids at the door, to ask them what they did on their weekend to do a sharing circle where you just ask a topic every, every day that kids get, get 10 or 15 seconds to talk about that’s what, what builds relationships? I think, I think the key to building relationships is, is by having a really solid school community. So by really building a community where, where people know, know what’s expected of them where people know what to expect when they come here, that makes building the relationship easy.

Ryan McDonnell (10:10):
And I think building the relationship is only one aspect of the job. We also need to have, have high expectations for kids as well that often often we sometimes think, oh, you know, that kid has had a really tough life and we lower the standard for them, which I think we’re, we’re doing them a disservice. I think you, you use the relationship as a, as a medium, to, to help that kid learn and to inspire that kid. And sometimes some kids are, it’s a lot more tough to connect with them. Other times, kids are a little bit more open. One of the things that when I was a teacher was I think, I believe there’s power in, in feeding people. So I’d often bring, bring food into my classroom. And that kind of builds that, that culture of community, it lowers people’s guard. It lets them know that you care, care about them. And so since I’ve become an administrator, that’s something that I’ve continued doing the school breakfast program. I think it’s, it’s been one of the, the best part of my days to, to make some pancakes and then have a 32nd interaction with, with a kid that I think is what builds the relationship.

Sam Demma (11:13):
Awesome. relationships, education as a whole has changed, you know, the way we build them has changed, especially over the past two years when things went virtual and school was shut down. I’m not sure if you guys, you know, shut down where you were, but what are some of the challenges that your school community has faced over the past, you know, year, year and a half, and how have you strived to overcome those things?

Ryan McDonnell (11:37):
So our, our board was actually working from home for the, the longest out of anybody in the province, just cause we had a, a local situation and then the provincial guidelines changed. So we were essentially at home from from February last year, right until September of this year. And then the year before there was, was all kinds of stuff going on. And so I think that the challenge that came with that is, is to kind of echo what I was saying earlier, that it’s really hard to, to maintain connections and to, to have a community when, when people aren’t together. And so the past two years have really have really eroded the community in, in our schools. I would say that there’s, there’s definitely a different, a different atmosphere coming in. And so people who, who worked in our schools, but weren’t teachers were, would come in and would say it, it feels different in here that it was very, very flat.

Ryan McDonnell (12:28):
Kids went to class, then they went home. There was no, there was no laughter there was no connection. There was no, no real human interaction. There’s a story of a, a teacher on our board who actually said, you know what I, I miss when the kids were a little bit bad because at least then I knew that they were, that they were engaged and they were doing something. And I think that was something we really struggled with with was that, that loss of community. And then when we came back this year, there was, was all kinds of issues that we we’ve never really seen before in our schools, in terms of behavior and kids buying into really ridiculous TikTok challenges and, and significant mental health issues that, that have really surfaced in our kids over the past little bit. And I think that that’s a direct result of the, the change in relationship and not having that connection with, with teachers and not, I mean, that connection with, with other kids or having a connection in a, in a different way.

Ryan McDonnell (13:25):
I think that’s been a real, a real challenge over the last the last couple years and, and some of the stuff we tried to do like we went to a ton of kids’ houses that we would go there. The kids who we knew struggled with with poverty and food security, we would go to their houses and bring them food. We really focused on, on recognizing student achievement and student achievement beyond academic success. So we did a lot of things where probably over the, the last two years, eight or 10 times, we’ve just bought cookies or hot chocolate bombs or small things with a little certificate to a kid that said, and went to their house to give them when we were working from home to say, you know what, you’re doing a good job, keep it up where, you know, what, we know things have been tough for, you know, that, that we’re on your side and things are gonna get better. And it’s, it’s, it’s amazing how much that small thing makes it makes a big impact and, and was able to draw kids back in and let them know, okay, I, I need to get back to school. And when I get back to school, that teacher, that teacher cares about me and is waiting for me to get back.

Sam Demma (14:30):
Awesome. I think that’s sounds like you guys have done a good job at trying to tackle some of the things that are going on. And yeah, I think every school board is facing similar challenges right now with their return back to school. And some kids not being in a physical building for two years. Yeah. You know, even starting your high school experience late, you miss out on a lot of character, just general character development as a human and social interaction and all those pieces as well.

Ryan McDonnell (14:56):
For sure. And for, for some of our kids, the, the only structure that they had was when they came to school. And so for, for some of our kids, for, for the better part of two years, they, they kind of did what they wanted because they didn’t have someone in their life to, to set a boundary or, or to hold ’em accountable. And, and I think that, that we all in some way, or another kind of crave that and need that. And so coming back in September was, was tough for a lot of kids that we had, the vast majority of our kids desperately wanted to be here and were so excited to be back in the building and in classes and learning face to face and connecting with peers and playing sports and just the whole energy was, was amazing. But then we had a small group of kids that it was a, but a significant number, who it was a real struggle to come back to that, that, that it’s been their life has been very different over the past two years, and now we’re telling them, okay, you gotta come back here and you’re gonna have to sit here for, for 72 minutes, and then you’re gonna go over there for another 72 minutes.

Ryan McDonnell (15:53):
And it was just, it was just too much for them.

Sam Demma (15:56):
Yeah. I follow. And on the heels of op challenges or sometimes opportunities what are some things that you guys have learned through this period of time or spaces that you think have opened up as opportunities because of the situation we’ve all went through?

Ryan McDonnell (16:11):
I, I think we’ve learned a ton about again, to, to come back to relationships and how crucial relationships are, I think it’s reinforced for, for many educators the importance of our job and, and what we do does have an impact. And what we do is a crucial part of people’s lives. And so some of the stuff that we’ve learned throughout the pandemic is, is stuff that will really carry with us and embed into our, into our school communities. And so a couple of the things that, that we focused on coming back, especially, especially that we’d like to carry forward are that it’s we don’t need to test a kid in the first week, two weeks, month, month of school, that, that we know where they’re at, having them sit in a row and slide a piece of paper to, to, to find out what they know there, there’s lots of different ways to do that.

Ryan McDonnell (17:02):
And, and giving them a piece of paper is, is not, is not the most effective way. So we really focused coming back about engagement and taking your best activities and the activities as a teacher, you are most proud of and front loading those to the beginning of the course and, and using them to, to get kids excited about learning and, and really feel that magic of being in a place where they’re excited to find out something new. And they’re curious. And so that’s been a, a shift that I think we’re making as a school community is to really focus on engagement and focus on kids, being connected to each other, and connected to learning, and then learn to assess and evaluate in a different way. And so our board has made some pretty bold decisions, like many other boards in the province to to put exams, to shed those for, for a while.

Ryan McDonnell (17:49):
And so our students have not, not written exams in, in, in two years. So we just came back from a, a couple of days of where we had student success days where kids came in, they worked with a teacher, they got to, to fill in the gaps on some of their learning and the staff staff and kids are saying that was huge. That was, I was able to finally sit down with a kid one on one and explain to them what they were missing. And that’s, those are things that I think we, we need to, to continue to carry with us. That assessment and evaluation looks lots of different ways. Learning should be exciting. It shouldn’t be you standing at the front of the room what we’ve learned, I think from the pandemic. And I think kids kids will become consumers of education.

Ryan McDonnell (18:35):
So if they’re showing up to be right in front of you, don’t give them something that they can do by logging into, to zoom or teams that, that you need to have them there. You need to get them up, you get the need to have them doing stuff. They need to be connecting with others, because if they, if it’s just reading and answering questions, they can do that from home. Yeah. And so I think those are, are shifts that, that, that have happened in our school community. And also the other things, like just the, the importance of relationships and taking time to step back and, and, and have those really important conversations to connect with kids. The, the pandemic has driven mental health and wellbeing to the, the forefront of everything that we do that I think we, we can’t teach without recognizing the, the importance of, of wellbeing and mental health and, and all of us have a responsibility in that to, to really to use what we do to build positive mental health to promote wellness and to do all those things. But also that curriculum is only one aspect of our job.

Sam Demma (19:37):
Awesome. That’s amazing. When you think about all your experience in education, if you could kind of wrap it all together, go back, tap younger. Not that you’re old, but tap younger Ryan on the shoulder and say, Hey, you know, this is what I wish you heard when you were just getting started. What would you have told your younger self.

Ryan McDonnell (19:56):
And it’s and it’s funny, cuz I think it applies in my life outside of, of education. I think that it’s I’ve always been, been pretty driven. And I think what I’ve learned is that it’s, it’s not fair to judge other people by the standards that I set for myself. So I think that that, that people really are in most cases doing the best they can and our job is, is to support them to, to do the best they can and then to do better. I think that the judgment is, is not what, what I needed. It’s not what I needed to do to the kids I taught or, or the, the families that I worked with. It’s just to, to provide support and basically ask, Hey, what, what do you need? What can I do?

Sam Demma (20:38):
I love it. That’s a great piece of advice. And I think other educators will benefit from hearing it. It’s already been 30 minutes flew by really fast. crazy. Yeah. Thank you so much for Ryan take for taking this time, sharing a little bit about your philosophies in education, your journey the little stories about England and you know, where this has taken you, if someone’s listening and wants to reach out and ask a question, what would be the best email for them to get in touch with you?

Ryan McDonnell (21:03):
You’re absolutely welcome to reach out to me at my work email. So it’s ryan_mcdonnell@lakeheadschools.ca.

Sam Demma (21:14):
Awesome. All right, Ryan, thank you so much for coming on the show. Keep up the great work and I look forward to talking to you again soon.

Ryan McDonnell (21:20):
Perfect. Take care.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Ryan McDonnell

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.

Brian McKenzie – Principal at Patrick Fogarty Catholic Secondary School

Brian McKenzie - Principal at Patrick Fogarty Catholic Secondary School
About Brian McKenzie

Brian McKenzie (@pforilla)has more than 30 years of experience in elementary, secondary and post-secondary education. Armed with a B.Ed. From Western in 1992, he joined the staff of Patrick Fogarty Catholic Secondary School in Orillia as an English teacher and enjoyed more than ten years of teaching everything from English to Philosophy to Data Processing.

He moved from the classroom to the school office in 2004 and since then, he has served as vice-principal and principal in 6 schools and at the board office in privacy and information management.

With his wife Christine, a teacher, he has three adult children, two standard-issue cats, and a beautiful backyard where he spends summers watching the Blue Jays. He is currently the Principal of Patrick Fogarty Catholic Secondary School in Orillia, where his teaching career began.

Connect with Brian McKenzie: Email | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Patrick Fogarty Catholic Secondary School in Orillia

Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board

The Transcript

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

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


Brian McKenzie (00:08):
Sure. My name is Brian McKenzie and I’m principal of Patrick Fogerty Catholic Secondary School in Orilla Ontario.


Sam Demma (00:13):
When did you realize when you were a student pursuing careers, that education was gonna be the vocation for you?


Brian McKenzie (00:22):
Well, I think I’d began in high school. I had been kind of a student who liked to help other students with with tutoring and with helping out with courses. I I was I was never really one initially for public speaking or presentations, but I was as a result of taking one of my, one of my high school courses where I was forced to presentation. And I found that I actually had some skill and some talent that you know, leading a class and, and, and doing that kind of that kind of thing. When I got into when I got into university, I took a number of courses where having, again, having to do presentations and seminars, where a component of the course, and I found that I had to talent for it.


Brian McKenzie (01:07):
I became a, a TA in my in my fourth year and a graduate assistant. And I was working on my master’s degree. And then after I finished, I, I became a a session instructor at the university as well for a while. I found that you know, being in a classroom was a, was a natural fit for me. And I enjoyed it and I found that other people recognized my students and my colleagues and the other professors wanted to reinforce and and, and compliment my my, my classroom ability. I just found it was a good fit for me, a very natural fit. And I, and I have always enjoyed it.


Sam Demma (01:45):
Did you have educators tap you on the shoulder and tell you, you, you should consider getting into teaching? Was that something that ever came in your journey?


Brian McKenzie (01:55):
Yeah, I wouldn’t say explicitly. I think that became a little bit later you know, when I was in university where I was encouraged to, to apply, to be, you know, a session instructor and, and as a graduate assistant, I think that came a little bit later. I don’t think it was so much that somebody explicitly said to me in high school or, or university, you should be a school teacher or, you know, get into high school so much as just that I was good at what I was doing.


Sam Demma (02:23):
Got it. Yeah, that makes, that makes sense. For someone who’s listening to this who thinks might be the thing for them, but is on the edge in a nutshell, why do you think education is one of the best jobs in the world?


Brian McKenzie (02:42):
oh, simple question. Yeah. Well, I, I think people often get caught up in in believing that teaching is is, is kind of a day to day activity. And I think we’ve gotta look more holistically at what education is. Mm. I’d heard it described when I, when I was much younger as it’s the process of transferring civilization from one generation to the next we’re engaged in a huge, huge responsibility. And it’s not just about, you know, the, the individual subjects or the individual kinds, the things that we do on a daily basis, but it, it’s more holistically about the importance of ensuring that we’re creating a future that we all wanna live in and, and excuse me. And I, and I think education is, is is a tremendously important part of separating us from are, you know, from, from the distant past of, of of superstition and of primitivism and of a lot of a lot of a lot of attitudes and beliefs that we are best leading behind.


Brian McKenzie (04:00):
I, I, you know, I remember as a, as a younger teacher teaching north prize, the educated imagination, and, and he goes at in great detail into what is the importance of education. And it’s literally, it is about creating the world that we want to live in. And, and again, you know, I, I, I’ve often heard this one too. I, I, I gotta retire into the world that the younger generation’s gonna run. So I’ve got him make sure that I’m setting the conditions for a, for a, a comfortable life for my generation and ensuring that the world is better than we’ve been than I found it.


Sam Demma (04:36):
Hmm. I love that that’s a worthy pursuit. from the moment you decided you wanted to get into education what did the journey look like? So take me back and take me through the steps that brought you from where you started to where you are today.


Brian McKenzie (04:55):
Okay. So, as I mentioned I was working as a as a, as a professional instructor at the, I was at the university of Windsor where I graduated. Yep. And my initial intent was to be a lawyer. I had known a couple of a couple of classmates who had pursued the law. And it, it seemed like an interesting thing to me when I was in high school and when I was in my first couple of years at university. But as I, you know, as I progressed through, I realized that that wasn’t really a good fit for me. So it was it was in it was in my time that I was working as an instructor, that I started exploring what it, you know, what it was required to be, to get into the faculty of education.


Brian McKenzie (05:40):
I don’t come from a family with with extensive education background my, on my mother and my father’s side most of the family were blue collar and and or semiprofessional workers that weren’t necessarily highly educated in terms of multiple, you know, secondary degrees had one uncle who’s who’s a university professor, but that was about, about it. So, so the notion of higher education and extensive multiple, you know, multiple degrees and going on to education, wasn’t really stressed, very highly in my band. This was kind of a, a, a process of self exploration and, and I found, you know, what’s involved in, in, in becoming a teachers, another, you know, going to school for another degree and spend more time. And, and that was very attractive to me, just when I, when I love that what was involved in, in the year of of, of the faculty of education.


Brian McKenzie (06:43):
And I saw what the courses were, they saw what it involved that was really attractive to me. And, and I applied to, I can’t remember what schools anymore. I ended up at the university of Western Ontario for the faculty of ed. And I, you know, I, I immersed myself in that. I had a great time there. And and you know, maybe I was very fortunate that you know, it was in the early nineties when teaching jobs were pretty scarce as they, as they have been for the last few years. But I was fortunate to end up getting a job right out of laid out of my graduate.


Sam Demma (07:23):
That’s awesome. And throughout the experience and the different roles and positions you played in education which of them have been from your perspective? Some of the most meaningful, and I, I’m sure it’s hard to compare the roles , but maybe the, the different pros and cons in different positions you’ve played throughout education.


Brian McKenzie (07:47):
Yeah, well, yeah, I started as a classroom teacher. I became in fact, I started as a classroom teacher at the school I’m currently at where I’m now principal 30 years ago. And, and I very much loved that being in a classroom and working with, especially in a smaller community is is very rewarding because you know, unlike unlike working in a larger city or a municipal school board where the schools are very large, this is a very, a relatively small school at the time. They only about 500 students when they started teaching the class were very small. The, it was very possible to get to know all the kids. It was a fairly close knit community because we are a Catholic high school. We’re the only Catholic high school in town. So we also had some tight integration with our church and with our parish and with our elementary school feeders schools.


Brian McKenzie (08:41):
And so you get to know each other very well and very closely. In fact, some of the students that I taught back in the nineties are parents of the school now. And so I, you know, I’ve known them for many, many years and that, that is a, that’s really exciting. And that’s really rewarding work because getting to know kids you know, not just in, in the classroom, but also seeing them out in the community, seeing them, the church, seeing ’em at the, you know, the Saturday morning market and all those kinds of things. It does foster a much greater sense of community. I left here and in 2002 and went on a, like a 17 year odysey of working in a number of different schools, as well as at our school board. And all of them brought different things in different rewards and, and had to create great advantages.


Brian McKenzie (09:33):
I worked in as an elementary principal, I’ve worked as a secondary principal. I’ve worked as a, as assistant to the superintendents at the board office. I’ve worked in information management and they’ve all brought the different perspectives on education. I you know, I, I, I feel that I’m much better running a school after having at some time working in the board off, being the bigger picture of how our system works from seeing things from the, from the, from the administrative side of the board, as well as from the, from the school side. And it’s given me the ability to, I think to provide a much I don’t wanna say more rational, but at at least a much more balanced approach to, to running a school and, and what kinds of programs and services I can offer to do.


Brian McKenzie (10:30):
I’ve never regretted, not, you know, leaving the classroom and beginning into administration. I miss being in a classroom sometimes. Mm. And I you know, I was a, I was a very dedicat English teacher when I was a teacher. And I know that I could walk into an English class right now today if I needed to and, and, and, and and lead the class and have a lot of fun with it. So I never really felt that I, I lost that that ability, but but I, I, I don’t see it as having lost in any of as much as having gained a lot more and having the, the responsibility for shaping the instruction across the entire school is very exciting. And, and it’s very rewarding work in and of itself because you can see over the course of a, of a school year, you can see the growth and you can see the the progress that the students make.


Sam Demma (11:22):
You’re probably a lot closer to viewing the future of education or how, you know, education is changing and shifting. What are some of the things that you think have changed over the past two years due to the, the global pandemic and moving forward that you think are positively changing in education.


Brian McKenzie (11:43):
But, well, definitely the pandemic has accelerated our, our efforts for what we’ve been calling 21st century learning. And what 21st century learning is about is using much more than just the traditional, you know, teacher in front of the classroom tools and and approaches to, to teaching and learning, and have many more influences on their ability to learn than just a classroom teacher. When I started teaching, if kids wanted to know something about Shakespeare, they had to go to their whole, their high school English teacher, or they had to go to the public library. And there wasn’t a whole lot of other ways, or, you know, or, you know, if their parents had invested in second Britanica, but there weren’t a whole lot of ways to obtain knowledge outside of traditional classroom structures. Now over the last you know, 20, 20, so years as, as with the rise of of the internet, and even more specifically with the rise of specific social media channels, there’s a much wider opportunity and, and much greater opportunity for students to, to, to learn things on their own or to be exposed to different perspectives.


Brian McKenzie (13:00):
So the job of schools now, and we’ve seen this very explicitly occurring over the last couple of years with the pandemic, the jobs of schools now is to harness that and to kind of filter it and to organize it in a way that makes it you know, I don’t wanna say constructivist, but you know, in a way that is provides some logical progression in learning, you know, I have kids of my own and, and, you know, long before they ever got to high school, my, my son’s in particular had in depth understanding and knowledge of physics from playing some some computer games and, and video games, and could rattle off all kinds of things about trajectory and speed and velocity, and, and a lot of, a lot of fairly advanced physics classes. They had no clue of the science behind it, or the math behind, but they kind of understood it.


Brian McKenzie (13:56):
So taking the time now to back up and explain how it all works, the math thing it is, is an important role for a classroom teacher. But we, we, we do have to do it in a, in a, in a very careful and structured way to ensure that the kids aren’t just coming away with, with the head of facts, without any understanding behind it, but going forward. What I, what I really see is, is the potential that’s going to be very positive is the opportunity for teachers to very much be instead of gatekeepers, very much facilitators and very much coaches who help the students to understand and, and and focus on how they acquire learning, as opposed to just simply learning things.


Sam Demma (14:47):
We talked a little bit about alternative pathways on our first planning call also. And it’s understanding that, you know, every pathway is a valid option and every learner might be a little bit different. How do you kind of foresee school supporting those students with the D streaming of, of courses and everything that’s changed now in education as well?


Brian McKenzie (15:14):
Well, pathways have been really important to us over the last 20 years. We’ve really focused a lot on shaping an, an education program for the individual student. Yeah. 30 credit sent out is is, is not any anymore, really the model for a lot of students. We have students who take some credits through the day program here at school. Some they take through e-learning outside of school. Some they take in summer school. We have the opportunity for students to get into apprenticeships, to get into reach ahead credits in their, in their postsecondary, through colleges. The idea of students, again, just sitting passively in the classroom and listening to teachers talk is, is, is long. You know, it’s pretty much long gone. I think even you may have experienced this in your own high school experience, but there there’s much more opportunity for kids to get out of the classroom and learn through experience.


Brian McKenzie (16:13):
So I, I think you know, some changes are coming from the ministry of education, include a greater emphasis on experiential learning, a greater emphasis on e-learning and a greater emphasis on, you know, exploring what not even state exploring of, of, of ensuring that there are stronger opportunities for the, the, or the skill trades. And and technology based programs is, is going to be, is going to be really important too many, too many years in Ontario. You know, and probably by extension, the rest of Canada, the perception has been that the only marker of secondary or post-secondary success is a university degree , and, and it’s an unfortunate belief. You know and, and then even, even in, in terms of a postsecondary degree, we tend to identify a very narrow slice of, of postsecondary education as being valid or valuable.


Brian McKenzie (17:15):
You know, I, I often when we have arts nights here at the school, we have a school called cert, or we have a drama presentation or something. I always remind the parents who are the people that we most admire in society. There are actors, there are musicians, there are artists of all different stripes, but when kids say to their parents, they’re interested in a career in the arts, the parents laugh at ’em and tell ’em, that’s a hobby. You, you get a real job being accountant. I, I think we need to make sure that we’re offering a much wider range of experiences for students and, and a, and a wider range of, of postsecondary pathways to help them arrive at what they see as personal success, as opposed to what somebody else measures as success based on something as narrow as a paycheck or, or a specific post secondary diploma.


Sam Demma (18:06):
Ah, I love it. I couldn’t agree more. I mean, pursuing this podcast is an artistic expression, and some people would say, you’re crazy. This is what you spend your days doing


Brian McKenzie (18:18):
But yeah, well, a hundred percent. Right. And, and, and the thing is, is that maybe you’re not using the specific education you receive, but yeah, I can guarantee that’s not a whole lot of what you’re doing that you, and doesn’t rely on education that you’re receiving


Sam Demma (18:32):
A hundred percent.


Brian McKenzie (18:32):
Do it without having been educated, but you don’t necessarily, you know, and that’s the same thing in my job. I, I don’t really, I was an English teacher, as I said, and a history teacher, I don’t really get to use a whole lot of my knowledge of you know, 17th century poetry in my daily job, but there’s no a way I could be doing my job right now. If I hadn’t been as a as well educated as I was. And education doesn’t necessarily mean, like I said, it doesn’t just necessarily mean a university degree in a very narrow slice of what are considered to be valid. Occupations. Education comes from a lot of different different sources. It includes, you know, like I said, includes hands on learning through the trades and or through technology programs, it includes travel. You know, you can see you know, your listeners won’t see, but you can see I’m wearing a a sweatshirt that says Kenya on it.


Brian McKenzie (19:23):
Our school board has been actively engaged for the last 15 years and what we call service learning, where we’ve taken students to a number overseas destinations to work on school projects. And and we integrated with a multi credit program here at the school, so that they’re understanding the global context with what they’re doing. We’ve had trips from everywhere from China to south America, to Africa, to India where students have explored you know, the opportunity to work in in, in community development project. And, and, and it’s, those, those experiences have changed their, their lives. They have into been the countries that they never could have imagined visiting and seeing things that they never could have imagined seen. And it’s changed. In many cases, it changed the trajectory of their own careers, and they became more involved in social justice and, and development work or, or law or other areas that that have provided them with a much more rewarding and much more rewarding career than they might have initial that they were going to have.


Sam Demma (20:34):
It’s amazing. I know your school does a great job with the social justice programming and programs. I’m curious though, for yourself over the course of your career, what resources, even maybe people resources, but what resources have you found helpful in building your own philosophy and also tangible actions that you’ve taken in education? What resources have helped shape those things?


Brian McKenzie (21:01):
Well, I, I think the the greatest resource that we have in education is our colleagues. Mm. There’s an old joke that that, you know, well, it’s too likely to get into here. It’s okay. But just spice it to say that, you know, that, that, you know, there’s the old joke that you know, those who can’t teach or those who can’t do teach. Right. And, and, and, and that’s not at all, and that’s not at all true. What I do know is that some of the smartest and some of the most capable people I’ve met in my life have been my colleagues in education and whatever, I think I know whatever I think I’m good at. I spend sometimes 15 minutes, 20 minutes chatting with somebody at a meeting or in a conference call or something like that. And, and I learn something new.


Brian McKenzie (21:51):
I come away having learned something new every time because everybody has their own everybody has their own kind of way of learning for themselves as well. So if we take, you know, me sitting home alone or sitting at night on, you know, browsing on my computer and I, and I, and two or three new facts multiply that times to thousands of teachers in, in the system and the thousands of kids. And we’re all bringing that information back to the back to school together you know, education, isn’t just a one way isn’t just a one way thing. Schools are a place for where everybody learn. And, you know, when I, when I, I talk to my colleagues, when I hear ideas, we’ll, we bounce ideas off. Each other people ask for advice and people give advice. There there’s a lot of a lot of really powerful learning that can take place just in a, in a, in a, you know, on a casual conversation more, you know, more formally as I said, I spent a couple of beers in, in information management and several years working, you know, at the board off level doing that kind of stuff.


Brian McKenzie (23:02):
And what I’ve learned from what happens around the world in other places. You know, again, we often have the perception that we’re, you know, here in Ontario, we’re doing everything right. We’re, we’re the, we’re the pinnacle of, of educational achievement, but there are other places around the world that are far ahead of Ontario in, in a lot of areas and and do a far better job than, than we do in, in, in a lot of things. You know, I think of some jurisdictions where kids don’t even start school until they’re seven, whereas the, in Ontario get them into school as early as possible, starting as you as three. And yet schools that start kids later, you know, at age seven, in many ways, our, our have better outcomes for, for students than, than what we have here. When we’re starting in that three.


Brian McKenzie (23:54):
You I’ve learned a lot from studying how, you know, those other jurisdictions do things, how they make up for the lost time that, well, the perception of lost time by having kids start four year later, well, what are they doing for that? You know, from the time between H three agent, what are they doing? What are they doing? yeah, I mean, we are, we all have to recognize that whatever it is that we think we do well, there are other people who do things, do things well and sometimes even better, we can’t be so high bound in our own way of doing things that we can’t we can’t learn from them.


Sam Demma (24:32):
I love that perspective. And even if you approach every situation, thinking, you can learn something from the other party, you’ll probably one enjoy the experience talking to someone else or being around someone else, or being exposed to something new. And the chances are, you probably will take something away from that interaction. So I think it’s a good perspective.


Brian McKenzie (24:56):
Yeah. You know, and I, and I, and I do try to approach things that way when I was, when I was younger, it was, I’m gonna tell you something , and, and now it’s gonna be, can you please tell me something? I, I, you know, I’ve, I’ve learned that as well is that I have to be, you know, much more in a receptive mode than in a transmi mode. And and, and, and that’s where I’ve I think that’s, like I said, by, by just by talking to people, that’s where I’ve gained the most. I used to, I used to go to a lot more, again, when in my information management, I used to go to a lot of conferences. That’s where, that’s where I had to learn to sit down and be quiet. Cause most of the people in the room were a lot smarter and more knowledgeable than I was. And if I was going to be of any value in the role I had to learn to listen more than than talk and then be able to bear my, you know, my, my, my new learnings with with my colleagues.


Sam Demma (25:53):
I love it. Th this probably dovetails really nicely with my next question, which is, if you were able to take all your experiences and in education bundle, ’em up, go back in time to the first class you taught, tap yourself on the shoulder and say, Hey, Brian, this is what you needed to hear when you were just starting, knowing what you know now and the experience you have, what would you have told your younger self?


Brian McKenzie (26:19):
Oh man. Well the same thing that I’m telling my, my teachers here in my school now is that you can’t push students to learn more than they’re ready you to learn at any given time. Mm-Hmm what does, you know? And, and I, and I, I guess what I’m referring to specifically is the experience that we’ve just gone through over the last two years. We have gotten into the, the, into the, you know, into a mindset where we think we’ve lost time. We’re losing time, we’re losing time. And, and that the solution to the lost time is to accelerate base accelerate the, you know, the rate of learning, but it doesn’t work that way. You can’t say to a student who’s behind, I’m gonna, you know, jam you with more work to get you caught up. It just, it just won’t work.


Brian McKenzie (27:20):
You know, back in the, in the early nineties, there was, again, the baby bit of a, a bit of a story. There’s old episode of the Simpsons where the, the family moves to Colorado and they, Homer takes a new job working in a new power plant. And Bart ends up in a, in a special ed cloth because he’s behind the other kids in, in the new school that he’s in and the teacher is doing, you know, it’s a, it’s a silly team. The teacher is doing a joke, or it’s a bunch of kids sitting around the table and she’s gonna teach them to letter a and Bart says, let me get this straight. We’re behind the other kids. And we’re going to catch up to them by going slower than they are. And I’ve always that that line has always stuck with me as a teacher and as an administrator.


Brian McKenzie (28:06):
I, you know, again, it’s a funny throw away kind of line, but there’s some wisdom in it too, because oftentimes this is what the situation we, we, we put our, our students into is that we think that you’re behind so that the, the, the better way, the best way thing we need to do is to jam you with more work, which means slowing you down when students are behind. Sometimes the best thing you can do is stop the bus and figure out where are we, why are people being left behind? If, you know, if one or two kids are, are, are behind, okay. Yeah, we can, we can check into their, their work habits, or we can look into their, into their skills, but if an entire class or an entire school is behind, then maybe we gotta stop and figure out what it is we’re doing and are, you know, what is the, what is the source?


Brian McKenzie (28:57):
What is the cause? And what can we do to help get everybody back on track? Often use the, the metaphor of the, you know, if there’s an old story, I don’t know how true it is, but there’s an old story that you know, the British rail system at one point decided that in order to make sure the buses ran on time, it would stop picking up passengers. Right? So if the bus, if the bus had to, you know, left the Depot at 8:00 AM, and it was due at its first stop at 8 0 5 and then at eight, 10, and then eight 15, or something like that, if it saw too many passengers waiting to get on it, would, it wouldn’t stop and pick them up because it had to be at the next stop for, you know, five minutes later. And the joke is, of course, the, a bus driver would get to the end of the run and there’d be nobody on the bus, but he was on, at least he was on time.


Brian McKenzie (29:41):
And, and, and again, sometimes I think that’s what we do in the classroom. We get so intent on, you know, delivering curriculum and making sure we get all of our lessons in, and we make sure we hammer the kids with work on assignments and tests and, and on and on and on. And then, you know, you get to the end of the semester and you’ve lost the kids. They’re, you know, and, and there’s a lot of different ways that you know, again, you know, from your own experience, there’s a lot of different ways that kids show that they’re lost, right. They stop attending class or they’re, or they’re not doing their homework anymore. They, they shut down or they’re, you know, they’re acting out or there’s a lot of different kinds of indicators that the teacher has lost has lost the class. So we wanna make sure. And, and for me, , I wanna make sure that as we go forward, we’re not, you know, we’re not running the buses on time, we’re picking up passengers.


Sam Demma (30:31):
Mm. I love that. That’s such a cool analogy. And the Bart Simpson story, being someone who wants that every once in a while. that’s awesome. Well, if someone wants to reach out to you based on this interview, ask a question, talk about anything you discuss today, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?


Brian McKenzie (30:52):
You can, well, we have a social media channel for our school. It’s Instagram and on Twitter, it’s at @pforilla. Our school’s website is https://pfo.schools.smcdsb.on.ca/ and you know, there’s contact information for the school on there. And I’m, I’m, I’m I’m available through those channels primarily, cuz you know, I, I get too many emails to try to try to follow, but you know, there’s, there’s a couple of us that track the DMS on the, on the Instagram and on the Twitter channel. So we’ll be able to probably follow what best there.


Sam Demma (31:37):
Awesome. Brian, thank you so much for making the time to come on the show. I hope you enjoy the experience and keep up the great work and education.


Brian McKenzie (31:45):
Thanks a lot. And, and, and good luck to you with.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Brian McKenzie

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.

Mark Cossarin – Principal at Lindsay Collegiate & VocationaI Institute

Mark Cossarin - Principal at Lindsay Collegiate & VocationaI Institute
About Mark Cossarin

Mark did his undergraduate degree with a major in physical education and a minor in sociology at York University. He grew up ten minutes away, so it was nice to save money and live at home. He was a starting power hitter on the men’s varsity volleyball team for four years, and he was also an assistant coach with the women’s program for one year. He moved on to Western University for grad school to complete a Master’s Degree in Kinesiology. He taught undergraduate practicum courses in volleyball, badminton and physiology. He was also the teaching assistant for his thesis advisor’s Canadian Sport History course, which all first year kinesiology students took. During my second year there, he became the head coach of the women’s varsity volleyball team. The Centre for Olympic Studies at Western was just opening as well, and he had an opportunity to work very closely with the founder who was a member of his thesis committee. After graduating, he moved back home and attended UofT to earn his B.Ed. 

Mark Cossarin was very fortunate during his post-secondary education to be involved in many programs that allowed him to interact with a variety of leaders. Whether a professor, coach, teaching assistant or administrator, he always valued his experiences under their tutelage. It made him understand that working hard and sharing your passion for your subject area with others, has a tremendous impact on the development of meaningful programs. In the area of volleyball, we held numerous skills camps for younger athletes as well as the National Coaching Certification Program (NCCP), where coaches, many of whom were teachers, attained their volleyball certification. During this time he became a certified NCCP instructor for indoor and beach volleyball, the Spikes Program, which introduced volleyball to younger kids and the provincial officials’ certification program.

Mark’s teaching career began with an LTO at LCVI two weeks before he completed my B.Ed. in April of 1994  They needed a phys. ed. qualified individual to replace a teacher on medical leave. After 2 LTOs and supply work, he was the second permanent hire at the Adult Ed. Centre in Lindsay when it opened in March of 1995. As the low person on the seniority list, he was bumped to FFSS and then back to LCVI.  From 1998 until 2000, during Mike Harris’ common sense revolution, his wife Mary (teacher at LCVI) and himself taught at the George Washington School in Cartagena, Colombia. Students earned an American and Colombian diploma and many continued their post-secondary education in the United States. Since Italian was his first language, learning Spanish was quite enjoyable. Mary and Mark took Spanish lessons two nights a week during our first year there. He was the head of physical education and the athletic director. He taught every single student from grade 1-12 (approximately 500 students). 

Similar to his post-secondary experiences, Mark had worked with a variety of people in different educational institutions.  He saw firsthand how administrators work and he was able to determine which characteristics are most effective.  

He visited LCVI when they returned to Lindsay after their first year of teaching in Cartagena. Mark chatted with Mike Trusz who was one of the VPs. He was describing our experiences and future plans. At that point, he said Mark should consider getting his PQP qualifications. He had already worked with him and he seemed to think that Mark would be a good fit as an administrator. It is amazing how a short conversation like that can have such a big impact. Mark was flattered because he was a very effective administrator and he had a lot of respect for how he did his job.  

Mark signed up for his junior qualification, which was the first time the Queen’s Faculty of Education offered an on-line course. He was fortunate because he had to do it from Colombia since their second year had just begun in mid-August. When Mark and his wife completed their two-year contract, they came back to Ontario and he did his PQP Part 1 that summer through Brock University and his PQP Part 2 during the evenings through the Durham Board once the school year began.

Mark became a VP at IEW in the fall of 2002. After 4 years there, he moved to FFSS as principal. At the end of 2 years, he went back to IEW, and was principal for 11 years. He am now in my third year as principal at LCVI. Mark would never want to leave the secondary school environment. He loves welcoming kids in grade 9 and seeing them develop over their four years in our school. Mark has worked with wonderful people – fellow administrators, teaching staff, EAs, secretaries, custodians and the great folks who work out of the board offices. Not to mention, he has enjoyed connecting with students and families in all three school communities.

Mark’s immigrant parents always told him, “Mark, we are lucky to be in Canada. Please make sure you listen to your teacher/advisor/boss and respect them. You can learn from everyone no matter how old you are.” He has never forgotten that. 

Connect with Mark Cossarin: Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Lindsay Collegiate & VocationaI Institute

Trillium Lakelands District School Board – Better Together

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People® – FranklinCovey

Four Must-Do’s for Empowered Principals

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):
Mark, welcome to the high performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show this afternoon. Start by introducing yourself.

Mark Cossarin (03:05):
My name is mark Cossarin. I’m a principal with the Trillium Lakelands District School Board. And I’ve been here with the board since gosh, 1995. And I’ve been a principal since two and gosh, when was it? 2000 and two, I became a vice principal and I’ve been a principal since 2006. I’ve had a chance to be a principal at FFSS. I spent a tremendous amount of time over at LE Weldon in Lindsey. And now I’m the principal at Lindsay collegiate vocational Institute, Lindsay Ontario.

Sam Demma (03:41):
At what point in your own journey as a, as a young student, did you realize I want to get into education?

Mark Cossarin (03:51):
Gosh, I would say probably during my undergraduate time at York I, I was fortunate enough to be a member of the men’s varsity volleyball team and I was a starting power hitter for four years. And it was during that time, I had a chance to work with a lot of good leaders in their areas. So whether it was a professor or a coach or a teaching assistant, an administrator, I always valued those experiences on their, their tutelage, I think. And I think it made me understand that working hard and sharing your passion for your subject area with others has a pretty big impact on individuals and by extension programs. So the volleyball program at York, we did a lot of things in the community as well. So we ran a lot of kids programs.

Mark Cossarin (04:36):
We did a lot of national coaching certification program work where even during the summer, we’d run a lot of camps where the ever coaches or people who wanted to become coaches and get certified would come in. And the vast majority of those folks were actually teachers. So it was pretty neat at such a young age to be able to start doing those things. And I realized, you know what, this is something I’m pretty passionate about. I, I like it. I’m pretty good at it. And that really sort of planted the seed for me. I think,

Sam Demma (05:05):
How did volleyball and being in athletics at a high level shape, the way you approach education or your desire to teach and be a part of a team in a school?

Mark Cossarin (05:17):
Right. Well, I would say, I mean, obviously I had a, I was pretty passionate about athletics and sports and things like that. And I thought, you know what? That is an area where I think there is room for everybody regardless of what your area of interest might be. Mm. And, and that’s what I keep telling kids. I said, you know, even though I haven’t played volleyball in a long time, you know, what, you can get involved in so many ways if you’ve become educated in the sport. So you can become a coach, a referee, a, an administrator, and you can still stay involved and get to a pretty high level. If you do sort of, you know, have a passion for it and, and share that with others.

Sam Demma (05:56):
So you went to school to get the educational degree and the, the learning what did the journey look like from that moment to where you are today?

Mark Cossarin (06:08):
Sure. So I, I did my undergraduate degree at York went to grad school at Western. And then I had an opportunity to teach there as well as a TA. So I had a chance to, to get a sense of what that would be like. And then I went to teacher’s college at the university of Toronto, and my wife actually got a job here in Lindsay the year before I finished and I followed her up here. And we’ve never left ever since.

Sam Demma (06:35):
Oh, that’s awesome. A along the journey, did you have other educators, people who had an impact or made a difference in your life mentor you? And if so, like who were those people and what did they do that had a significant impact?

Mark Cossarin (06:52):
Right. again, I, I, I was fortunate enough that when I first got up here, I, I, I did an LTO for contract for someone. And actually even before I finished teachers college, I came up here. And again, I’ve had a chance to work with a lot of different administrators, whether they’re principals of vice principals, department heads fellow teachers within certain departments. And I think everybody, I think everybody has an impact on you. I think my parents always said, you know what regardless of where you are, you you’ll always be able to learn from everybody. You may not necessarily love what you see, but that’s part of the learning where you go, oh, that’s good. That doesn’t work so well. And I just think having had an opportunity to be, you know, here at L C B I, and then at, at, at the adult ed center, and then at, at the other high schools in the area, I always had a chance to interact with a lot of individuals. So there were so many, I think I, I can’t even mention all of them because I think it it’s been a good experience. And, and it’s been very lovely working up in this part of Ontario.

Sam Demma (07:52):
You worked as well in adult education. What was that experience like for you and paint us a picture of the difference between the school you were in now and that experience?

Mark Cossarin (08:01):
Sure. So it was, I was actually fortunate because I think I was the second one hired there. It was opened in 1995 and it was actually underneath LC B’s umbrella. So the board had never had an adult ed center. And these were truly adults, every single person who started with us there was over 20 years and some of them were in their sixties and seventies. Wow. And it was amazing cuz there, I was looking for transcripts from people who went to high school in a, really in 19, in the 1950s sixties. It, it was great because these folks had been away for so long and they were given an opportunity to earn a secondary school diploma. It was just such a meaningful experience to have that opportunity to work with, with folks who had had a tremendous amount of experience in a variety of areas come back and actually finish that chapter, which is something a lot of them never had an opportunity to do.

Sam Demma (08:58):
I have to imagine that’s a pretty inspiring environment. You know, it, it sounds like every single one of those learners is coming back to reach for something. Instead of just not complete that aspect of their life. What would, what was your experience did, did you find it that the learners were, or the people that were in that situation really wanted to improve, grow and continue on? Or was it an inspiring situation?

Mark Cossarin (09:25):
I think it varied depending on who the individual was, but I would say the vast majority, they already had jobs. Right. And they had worked for a long period of time, but they really just symbolically if not thing else, the opportunity to truly finish something, they never had had chance to finish when they were in their teens. Now some of them were younger and needed an Ontario secondary school diploma yeah. To apply for some jobs. So there was quite a range, but literally there was a woman who was 77 years old who was in that, you know, and she ended up going, I’ll never forget. She ended up applying for position. I think it was at a library in COBA Concor just north of us here. And she ended up working there before she passed away. Wow. So it, yeah, it was pretty cool.

Sam Demma (10:05):
That’s awesome. And what is, tell us a little bit about your school, the school you’re working in right now. What is the culture like here?

Mark Cossarin (10:13):
Right. So I’m, I’m at Lindsay collegiate vocational Institute. It’s actually a fairly old school. It, it was found in 1889 here. So it’s been here for a very long time. The school, it it’s, it’s a composite high school in rural Ontario. We’ve got about 500 students now. The numbers aren’t nearly as large as they used to be. And I mean, there’s a variety of things that we offer. So I, this is something we always tell parents at our grade eight info night that regardless of who your child is, regardless of their background, regardless of what their future goals might be, we have something for everyone here. There is a pathway for every single individual in our school, but we try and impress upon in the importance of please show up, please show up every single day, show up, please listen to your instructor, the EA in your class, whoever’s around and try. If you can do those things, we promise you will get your diploma. You will develop skills and you’ll be able to move on and do something else in an area of interest.

Sam Demma (11:18):
Hmm. It’s a really awesome personal philosophy. Is there any mindset shifts, beliefs that you’ve carried throughout your professional career and even also as an athlete that informed the way that you showed up every day? And if so, what are some of those beliefs?

Mark Cossarin (11:35):
Yeah, I, I, I know it sounds simple, but, and I’ll go back to it. Sure. Show up you really, you have to show up and you have to try, you know, you can’t be perfect at everything you do and you can’t necessarily be great at everything you do, but if you want to improve, you have to do repetition. there has to be repetition. You have to do things over and over to get better at it. So even if it’s something as simple as a skill in a sport, I can’t get better at something if I don’t do it over and over. And I would say the same thing in any subject area that you, you just gotta show up and you gotta try and just be, be positive. I mean, I think at the end of the day, you know, know what, when kids come into this building, I mean, this is a bricks and mortar school and it’s a traditional school, but we say, look, you know what?

Mark Cossarin (12:17):
We have a roof over your head. We will feed you and we will make sure you will be safe and we will listen to you, but we need you to be here. Please just come every single day if you can. Cuz I think that’s how kids connect. Right. And I just think, unfortunately, during the last two years, it’s had an impact on a lot of, well, all students, irrespective of age, right where we’re learning at home now we’re here now. We’re not, so it’s been challenging and I’d say moving forward, that’s probably one of the biggest challenges we will have now moving back to some kind of normalcy with students where guess what? We have a four period day again, you know, and we hope that you’re gonna show now it’s a little bit different. It’s not an OK master. It’s not a quad, you know, it’s not a hybrid.

Mark Cossarin (12:59):
Yeah. You’re, you’re back here now. So I think from a curricular perspective, that’s probably the most challenging thing moving forward, but it’s also great because now guess what, hopefully with normalcy, we have extracurriculars again and kids get to be part of clubs and they get to connect with others in areas of interest, you know, and we get to have dances and a prom and field trips and all of those things that, you know, over the last two years for the kids in grade, you know, in grade 10 or even the kids in grade 11, you know, they’ve never really had a chance to experience that very long or at all.

Sam Demma (13:32):
Yeah. So true. I’m sure you’re also itching to get back on the volleyball court with some of the kids.

Mark Cossarin (13:37):
Yeah, for sure. I mean, it’s just a great way to connect right. With kids who have an opportunity to do something they like. And, but again, they put in the time and it’s after school and yeah. So I, I mean, whether it’s a sport, whether it’s a club, just anything where people get a chance to connect with other stakeholders and, and, and just connect with their schools and, you know, and buy swag and wear school colors and, and, and all of those kinds of things that I think have, has been challenging over the last couple of years. But I think with everything that’s happened, I think our, our board has done a really, really good job supporting our staff and our students to get to where we could get. I mean, we never knew what it was gonna look like and on a weekly basis it would change. And even though we’re not necessarily at the end yet I think our board really has done a very good job chatting with all stakeholders to get a sense of what they wanted. And by and large, you know, what all things consider knock on wood. It’s been pretty good, all things considered.

Sam Demma (14:36):
I love it. And I mean, it sounds like you focus on the positives as well. I think it’s very easy to also focus on the things that are extremely negative and your whole life becomes those things. right. So it’s cool. Even amongst the storm, you can find some sliver of sunshine yeah. And, you know, focus on that until it passes. What resources have you found helpful in the, over your career in education? It could even be people resources, but if you found any courses or books or podcasts you listen to, or anything of that nature helpful feel, feel free to share.

Mark Cossarin (15:13):
Sure. I, I would say I’ve worked with wonderful people. So whether it’s fellow administrators or teaching staff, EA secretaries, custodians, people who work outta the board office, if you ever have a question, there is somebody who can help you and can answer that question for you for sure. No question in my mind. And anytime we have a question, somebody will help you. It’s just important that you ask and you know who to ask. I’d say you gotta keep learning your respective of how long you’ve been at something. I mean, I think it’s important that, you know, if you are an administrator, you should be a member of a S C, D or PD PDK international, where, you know, there are excellent resources for administrators that keep you on top of things moving forward, because things change. I mean, even from a technological perspective, things have changed so quickly. And now that we’re teaching generation Z, for those of us who have been at it for a very long period of time, it gets even more challengingSam Demma (16:08):
I, I had a, a past guest on and I, his name is slipping, slipping my mind right now, but he was basically telling me he would tell his students, I will never get mad at you for asking a question. No matter how silly you think the question is, I promise you I’ll never get mad at you for asking a question. So please ask as many questions as you’d like. And he said that that outcome, once kids got comfortable with it would lead him to walk around his classroom for like an hour and a half after saying it because kids had so many questions and he said, you know, I’ll get mad at you if you do something foolish, but not for asking questions. And I think you know, you’re right, asking questions is so important and you don’t always have to have the answer, but someone else who you work with might definitely have the answer. And that’s why I think it goes back to what you said earlier about, well, you have to show up, you have to try. And the third is you have to listen. That’s what you said. And yeah, I think listening is so important. Yeah. Why do you think listening is so important?

Mark Cossarin (17:09):
Why, oh gosh. But I think we’re all so different. And I think sometimes we, we make assumptions until we find out who the person is. Mm. And it’s funny, just you mentioning that teacher answering questions and you, you basically just shared probably the most important thing a teacher can do is use proximity. Mm. You know, don’t just stand at the front, don’t sit at your desk, walk around, communicate with the kids, get, get an idea of what’s going on. Cuz the moment you can get closer to a kid, you get an idea of what they’re writing down, what’s on their tablet. You know what they’re looking at, what they’re wearing, you know, all of those things give you greater insight and allows you to connect with the individual. Right. And I think that’s the important thing because at the end of it, every single class is gonna be different.

Mark Cossarin (17:49):
Right. We’re back to you know, a four, a four period day. So every one of our full-time teachers now has three, three classes. Okay. So you’re gonna have different numbers. You’re gonna have a different course. And even though, you know, the curriculum in theory should be the same, it’s gonna be different because you’re gonna have different kids sitting in front of you. And I think it’s our collective responsive bit, those first three or four days to get an idea of who’s who’s sitting in front of me, who are these folks? Where are they from? How do they feel? You know, what, what are they interested in? You know, what, what are the things that they hope to do? What don’t they like? You know? So I think good teachers do a great job those first couple of days to get a sense of, you know, know what who are they?

Mark Cossarin (18:30):
You know, what, what do they want? And even reaching out to parents, you know, literally just something as simple as hi I’m so, and so just wanna introduce myself if there’s any questions or concerns. And it’s funny, cuz I just did an evaluation for one of our teachers and she shared with me some of the emails that she got from back from parents and they were just so beautiful. Thank you so much for reaching out to me. I really appreciate it. And then even ones that came after the fact, because I knew that, you know what I’m allowed to communicate with this teacher directly.

Sam Demma (18:57):
So cool. Yeah. That’s so it’s just a simple way of opening the line of communication. Like, Hey, I’m for sure. I’m here for you if you need me, you know, and exactly. Yeah, once you open it, it stays open. It sounds like. So yeah.

Sam Demma (19:09):
That’s awesome. And I, I totally agree. I think listening enables us to wipe free of the assumptions we make, because as much as we say, you know, you don’t judge your book by its cover. We still make assumptions about people and about situations before you know anything about it and it’s just normal. It’s a human tendency. I’m curious to know though on the topic of like a ideas to improve as an educator improve your practice. If you could take the experience you’ve had in education, almost travel back in time and speak to your younger self when you were just starting in the classroom, knowing what you know now, like what advice would you have given your younger self? Not that you’re old now, but you know what I mean? right.

Mark Cossarin (19:51):
Yeah. Yeah. I probably, would’ve tried a little bit harder academically in all of my classes. Mm. You know, if I really had an opportunity, I probably would’ve tried in all the courses I was taking all the way, even throughout my undergraduate degree, cuz really, I really didn’t start working incredibly as hard as I should have until probably my third or fourth year. And I think looking back when I think about some of the teachers I would’ve had in some of the subject areas, or even some of the pros I had, I thought, man, I should have showed up and focused a little bit better. But again, as a young person, that’s part of learning. Right. When you realize, I mean, there are a lot of kids that crash and burn a post secondary because they don’t show up cuz they don’t have an interest. Right. And that’s just part of growing up and, and I think statistically, that happens to a lot of kids that we don’t realize that that’s just part of it. But I think, yeah, looking back now, I think I probably should have tried a little bit harder you know, grade, grade 11, 12 and grade 13 back in the day and then yeah. You know, first or second year university.

Sam Demma (20:53):
And I, I would say the same about my student experience. I also took the OAC the, the fifth year grade 13. Right. What about from the perspective of educator, mark? Like when you, when you first got into the, into the classroom, like if you could speak to your younger self and say, Hey mark you don’t know this yet, but this is what you need to hear. when you were just starting and teaching.

Mark Cossarin (21:15):
Right. let’s see, what would I say?

Sam Demma (21:21):
And keep in mind that there might be an educator listening. Who’s just about to get into this profession. right. Who is excited, but at the same time, very nervous

Mark Cossarin (21:31):
Right, right. I would say prepare as best you can and it’s not gonna work out exactly the way you think it’s going to Hmm so you know what, you you’re gonna have a toolbox and that toolbox will get bigger and bigger as you go along and if it doesn’t work per it’s okay. As long as you try and you get the feedback from the individuals you are around, whether it’s the students, whether it’s your department head, whether it’s you know fellow instructors who are teaching the same classes. I think that’s the key where it doesn’t make you a lesser person. If you end up having to change things or improve things or, you know, get greater insights from others who have done that before.

Sam Demma (22:12):
That’s a great piece of advice. Not only for educators, flies to all fields. Mark, thank you so much for taking this time to come on the podcast, share some of your journey, experiences, insights. If someone is listening, wants to reach out, ask a question or bounce of my ideas around what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you.

Mark Cossarin (22:32):
Sure. email again, I get it all the time and I would answer pretty quickly. So it’s mark.cossarin@tldsb.on.ca

Sam Demma (22:48):
Awesome. Mark. Keep up the great work. Thanks again for coming on the show and we’ll talk soon.

Mark Cossarin (22:53):
Thanks for having me Sam. Appreciate it.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Mark Cossarin

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.

Cassandra Tenbergen – Principal at Marymount Academy (Sudbury CDSB)

Cassandra Tenbergen - Principal at Marymount Academy (SCDSB)
About Cassandra Tenbergen

Cassandra Tenbergen (@CassandraTenbe1) is the principal of Marymount Academy.  The only all-girls school in Northern Ontario.  In her 12-year career as a principal, she has worked in schools from JK to adult education and spent two years at the board office as Assistant to the Director.  Her passion is program development, and has worked with her various school teams to create programs such as summer school e-learning, personal support worker, elite sports training program and many specialist high skills major programs.

Cassandra’s passion is student success and thinking of various ways to support each student individually.  She is also always lending a hand at the school; whether it be making costumes for the school play or stepping into coach, she enjoys being a part of the school team.

Connect with Cassandra Tenbergen: Email | Twitter | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Marymount Academy – Sudbury Catholic Schools

Sudbury Catholic District School Board – Schools to Believe In.

What Having a “Growth Mindset” Actually Means – Harvard …

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):
Cassandra, welcome to the high performing educator podcast. It’s a pleasure to have you on the show this morning. Please start by introducing yourself.

Cassandra Tenbergen (00:09):
My name is Cassandra tengan. I’m a principal with separate Catholic district school board. I’ve been a principal and vice principal for many years, since 2005. And my background is every anything from JK all the way up to adult education.

Sam Demma (00:28):
At what point in your own pursuit of careers as a, as a young student, did you realize education is the field that I want to get into in the future?

Cassandra Tenbergen (00:38):
I think I’ve always wanted to go into education. I being young during the summer, I would even play school with my twin sister and any other kid that I could find on the street. And there were tons of kids on the street back then. So we would play school all the time. So that was one of the memories that I, I had. I don’t think I ever wanted to be anything, but a teacher, I think at one point I have a memory of being in an elementary school and my principal at the time was Mr. Griffin. Great. Great man. And I remember walking past his office and I’m like, I wanna be a principal one day. Mm. And even when I went for my interview to become a teacher with sub Catholic I, I don’t remember it cuz you know, you’re so nervous. During interviews you don’t really remember a lot, but the superintendent that hired me at the time reminded me afterwards. She said you, during that interview, you said you wanted to become a principal. And I’ve been supported through this process through the board too to become a principal, you need specialists and you need all those forms. I to get those extra qualifications and they supported me along the way. And I absolutely love being in the field of education.

Sam Demma (02:15):
Tell me about the journey and what it looked like right after you got your degree. So from that moment to where you are now, like what different roles have you worked in? What did the progression look like? All that fun to?

Cassandra Tenbergen (02:27):
So I was hired back in 1997, the day after the poli the walkout and the political protest. Wow. So there were not a lot of jobs back then. I was hired November 11th, 1997. So I didn’t start in September. I kind of started right near, near the beginning of the school year, but in November, the person that I was taking over for decided to retire at the last minute with everything that was happening politically. And I started my teaching career at Marymount academy, which is an all girls school, which is also the high school that I attended. Hmm. Back in 1997 they still had OAC. So there were still five years of high school instead of work. So I taught English, which was not my major in university. My major was in science. But I did get teachables in English cuz I wanted to make sure that cause it was so hard to find a job back then I wanted to have the broadest spectrum being able to, you know, I was willing to teach anything back then.

Cassandra Tenbergen (03:47)
And I, I taught OAC. So there was actually only four years age difference between me and my oh wow. Students. Yeah. Yeah. And then I was surplus at my school. The only thing that there was only one job posted and that was math. So that summer I went to Toronto, got my teachable in math. I just kept getting different qualifications. I have a specialist in, in guidance, a special in special education. I, you know, we have four high schools within our school board. I’ve taught at all three. Wow. And in different areas. So I’ve taught math, science, English. I did guidance. I was actually our school board opened a new high school that would’ve been in 2002, I believe. Hmm. And so we started with five teachers and I was one of those five teachers.

Cassandra Tenbergen (04:59):
Wow. So I had the experience of building a school because we only started with grade nine and then we went the following year, we had nine and 10 and then 9, 10, 11. And, and it, so working, starting with a small group of people with working with the principal I was teacher and had the ability to be teacher in charge back then. So that’s when I got a little of and was got my principal qualifications during that time as well. And started in an elementary school as a vice principal, came back to Marymount , which was a seven to 12 school. Went to adult ad that’s when I had the opportunity to be a principal, spent a couple years at the school board level it’s assistant to the director. So I oversaw student success portfolio for all the high schools. And then I was sent to a school in in the outskirts of Sunbury spent seven years there.

Cassandra Tenbergen (06:02):
And then for the past two years, I I’m back at at Marymount. And I I’ve always had no matter where I went to, I had great experiences. I have great call colleagues, worked with great teacher teams in, in all the the schools. And I really I love working with the teachers. I think that’s an important aspect of leadership learning with them, learning beside them creating different programs, creating things. And I think that that is that’s my passion, one of my specialists, if you like to yeah. Consider it that is developing programs. Even in the adult education setting, I develop the PSW program, so personal support we’re and it’s still running and, and very successful today. So

Sam Demma (07:04):
That’s awesome. What a, what an amazing journey and it’s, it’s cool that it’s come full circle and brought you back to the school where you grew up which is, which is really awesome. You mentioned OAC. I was one of those students that took a fifth year. So you could have been my teacher years ago. but well, yeah, it’s an amazing journey along the way. Did you have other principles, other people in your life that mentored you and supported you? And if so, do you remember who those people were and maybe some of the things that you think they did for you that made a difference?

Cassandra Tenbergen (07:41):
Yes. I, every principal that I worked with, I learned from, mm, and we still we did have a mentoring program too for newly appointed principals and vice principal. So I was a part of that as a mentee and as a mentor. So I , you know, was on both sides of that I’ve learned from each one of them. It’s funny because some of them that have retired now asked me what I thought of their leadership and it is interesting to have that conversation with them and for cuz they all, everybody has a different leadership style. And I remember having a conversation with one of them and I said, wow, you, you kind of left me to figure some things out on my own. Mm. Which is not a bad thing. So at the time, you know, it could be scary for someone new.

Cassandra Tenbergen (08:43):
But you know, their door was always open for me to ask questions and I think that that is extremely important. So I’ve had to train two brand new VPs over the just recent years. And I think that’s really important is always having an open door quality taking the time, having those conversations, bouncing ideas off of each other, even though I’ve been doing this job for my years, it is important for, for me to have a partner that I can bounce ideas off of. Because education is changing, the kids are changing. We have to change our, our approaches to supporting those students, whether it be directly in the classroom in terms of what courses and programs we create. So having that, that partner that we can you know, bounce those ideas off of talk about how are we going to support the students? How are we going to support the parent how are we going to have those difficult convers? Yeah. All those are, are important and, and growth opportunities for both myself and for my VP.

Sam Demma (10:06):
You mentioned earlier programs, creating programs, running programs has been a big part of your education experience. Have you witnessed firsthand the effect that any has had on students within the school culture community? Maybe there’s even a story that comes to mind. Like I would love to, I’d love to hear one or two stories.


Cassandra Tenbergen (10:26):
There’s lots of stories. So the personal support worker program is in our adult education school. And oh, I created that way back when, but I thought it was important. So this people in those the adults in those programs can earn credits towards the high school diploma diploma, as well as a personal support worker diploma. First one out of the, in a school board and in our area. So I had to reach out to colleagues across the province to learn how do they develop it? And I, it was a lot of work, a lot of work and my colleagues across the province that there’s no way you can develop a program and become accredited in one. And I’m like, watch me and I did it

Cassandra Tenbergen (11:25):
I did it. There’s a lot of programs that I developed that came to mind summer school e-learning within our school board. And that’s going strong. I did that as part of my practicum for my tennis qualifications at the last high school I was at, we developed an elite sports training program really focused on not training in a particular sport, but really training the whole athlete. If you are good, if you are a good athlete, you are can be good in any, you can Excel in any sport of choice. And, and that was our philosophy and a lots of those students ended up graduating with scholarships even in the states. Wow. We would have about three, four students a year who would receive sports scholarships, whether it be college university or somewhere in the states.

Cassandra Tenbergen (12:29):
So that was a very successful even developing specialist, high schools and major programs. I’ve developed several of them within the, the high schools that I’ve been at. And a lot of them are those students are working in that area that they that the specialist high schools major in cuz part of the component of the specialist, high schools major program is co-op and I full I’m a full advocate for co-op believe it’s so important, whether you’re in a specialist, high schools, major program or whether you are not I, I will give you an example of my son who was in the health and wellness specialist, high schools, major program, and thought for sure, for sure. He wanted to be a physiotherapist. So I’m like, okay, great. That’s what you’re gonna do your co-op in.

Cassandra Tenbergen (13:25):
So he lasted three days in that co-op and said, I can’t do this. I can’t go back. I can’t do this for the rest of my life. And I’m like, yeah, that’s great. I didn’t spend, you know, thousands of dollars in tuition at a university for you to figure out that that’s not what I wanna do for the rest of my life. So I’m like, what do you wanna do for the rest of your life? And I was always, I, I say it’s, you know, one of those me mom moments where I would never for allow my Stu my child to stay home on an exam day when he didn’t have an exam. I’m like, where do you want a job shadow him? So I gave him lots of opportunities. And so when I said to him, you have to do a co-op, so where do you wanna go?

Cassandra Tenbergen (14:11):
And he’s like, I really enjoyed the placement that I had at the pharmacy. So I’m like, great. So let’s drive there right now and see if they’ll take you for several months instead of a day. So they did agree to take him most places do agree to take a co-op student. And so he was there for several months. It ended up becoming halfway through the co-op placement. They ended up starting to pay him. And he’s been working as a pharmacy assistant you know, during the summer after school hours for many years now. So

Sam Demma (14:53):
That’s amazing. I, I always try and tell students think about life like a buffet. You know, you show up to the buffet, there’s so many different food options. You grab a plate, take as much as, you know, take as as many different options as you can bring it back, you try a little bit of everything and the things don’t like, you make a mental note, not to grab those again, but the things you do, you go and double down. And I feel like, you know, your son went through that exact same situation, which is awesome because it’s just as important to learn what you don’t like as it is to figure out what it is you do. Right?

Cassandra Tenbergen (15:27):
Absolutely. And I think that’s really important for, for people to hear. So he did apply and was accepted into a program a pre-pharmacy program at Waterloo and spent two years there. And this year he was supposed to enter the school of pharmacy. And during his second year at Christmas, he came to me and said, you know, I thought that this is what I wanted to do, but no, I can’t. And I said, that’s fine. So he finished his year and I said, what do you like, what do you wanna do? Like we, we had to have that conversation exactly what you said, what piece you liked it enough to apply to the program, but not to continue in the program. So what piece did you like of that? Right. Mm-Hmm . And so now he’s he’s in a paramedic program.

Cassandra Tenbergen (16:26):
Oh, cool. Absolutely loves it. So he, he liked the he likes the fast pace of the paramedic program. He likes the ability to solve problems. And he talked to me about I love the learning about and figuring out about drug interactions. Mm. So, and he says, you know, when, when you’re responding to a situation, you have to find out what medications are. They are, you know, what is, is this a possibility of drug interactions and just that aspect of it. And that’s why he chose paramedic and absolutely loves it. So

Sam Demma (17:07):
That’s amazing. I’m glad to hear that you know, programs are an important part of school, whether it’s that actual curriculum or other things that is brought in by principals or other teachers programs have been a little difficult to run over the past two years. What are some of the challenges that, that may mountain has been facing? Other schools you’ve heard of in the board that are presently, maybe dissipating slowly, but are still like in the back of your mind?

Cassandra Tenbergen (17:38):
Oh, that’s a good question. That’s a tough question. Because everything is constantly changing. Yeah. and, you know, guidelines are constantly changing what we can do, what we can’t do. So we just, I just wanna say the word creativity, you have to be creative to keep those programs running the best that you can.

Sam Demma (18:12):
Yeah. Creativity is, is key. I I’ve seen some people pivot the way they deliver their programs. Maybe even try to do some of them virtually but you know, at may amount, was there any programs that like, kind of had to stop and the school tried to pivot slightly or do something slightly differently with it?

Cassandra Tenbergen (18:34):
We try to keep things going as much as possible. And that is my mantra for everything that we do here. Hmm. So, you know, Marymount is a school with lots of school spirit. Obviously it’s all girls, it’s like a big slumber party. like, it’s just, it’s that, that great feeling, right? You’re, you’re, there’s no boys around, you could be yourself. The, the school spirit is amazing. And how do we keep that going when you can’t have those assemblies when you can’t get together as a school? So we just find ways around it. We still have our we have our, it’s called a big lip competition. It’s a lip singing competition. Nice. So we, you know, we can’t gather in the gym together and, and ha do performances on the stage, but how can we still keep it going? So the students go up on stage, they tape it. It’s, you know, it’s going to be through zoom. Nice. We’ll try to keep things going as, as much as possible, you know, even with the co-op some co-ops had to move to a virtual platform, but we try to keep those the face to face. Co-Op going as much as we could meeting all the, you know, the guidelines and procedures that we have to follow.

Sam Demma (20:02):
Of course. So got it. And what do you think some of the opportunities might be or things that I feel like with every challenge, there is some form of growth, potential, or opportunity that presents itself. You think there are some opportunity that have come out of this, this situation or this time?

Cassandra Tenbergen (20:21):
Yes. definitely with technology. Mm. So I think that the use of technology really was able to spring even the teachers for it was a quick, oh my goodness. Such a quick they had to pivot so quickly back in March 20, 20. They have to be commended for that because we took teachers outta the classroom and that’s how they they’ve always been in the classroom. That’s you, you, you learn to teach in a classroom and then we’re saying you have to do your job virtually online. You have to do the same job, but in a different setting, using technology. So, you know, they they have to be commended for making that the switch and doing doing a great job at it. And so using technology I think, is really going to, to Excel.

Cassandra Tenbergen (21:29):
Learning for everything is at the fingertips of students now. So it’s not necessarily always teaching them about the content. It’s about thinking about the content and using it differently and really focusing on the six global competencies. So that’s something that we started looking at last year as a, a school team and something that we’re we developed the whole program around it. It’s called the spark program here. Nice. And it’s really focusing on those six global competencies students here really like the opportunity to be able to reach ahead. It is we only offer academic programming here at the like at the academic level university bound courses. So the, the students really like the opportunity to reach ahead in terms of credit accumulation and grade level. So we, this program is based on that based on the global competencies and really helping them develop those those six global competencies about, you know, collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, communication in being a global citizen.

Cassandra Tenbergen (22:54):
And self-directed learning. So some students if you stay in the program all the way to grade 11, they’re really focusing on working on a project that meets their interest mm-hmm . So for example, one student might be wanting to eventually open their own business and they might be developing a business plan and working with community partners. Cause we have a lot of community involvement community partnerships with this program. Another student you know, might be more of science focus and maybe wants to look at the a city’s recycling, a green box program. How could it be more efficient? So, you know, they contact the city and look at that, and then they present their learning and their projects to the teacher and to the the rest of the class. So this classroom teacher acts more of a facilitator for their learning.

Sam Demma (23:53):
Got it. Love it. The, the school sounds amazing. it sounds like a really lively and diverse place with lots of opportunities for growth. If you, you could take all your experiences in education and all the different roles you’ve worked in travel back in time you know, tap younger, Cassandra, not you’re still young now, but tap even younger Cassandra on the shoulder and be like, Hey, this is what I needed you to hear when you were just starting in education. And I asked the question because there’s probably a lot of people listening to this who are just starting to think about getting into education. I’m curious to know what advice you would’ve gave yourself.

Cassandra Tenbergen (24:35):
Never give up.

Sam Demma (24:37):
Mm.

Cassandra Tenbergen (24:38):
Always have a growth mindset don’t and when I say never give up, what, what comes to mind is, you know, there’s always obstacles whether you’re looking at program development or whether you’re dealing with a student and who you know, might find themselves in a difficult situation, may not be succeeding in school. And, you know, you, you work with them, their parents, maybe some community organization, and you find a plan. And if that plan doesn’t work, then try another plan and you try another plan. And I know, like I remember having conversations with, with some parents and then they get frustrated and like, we can’t give up cuz something is going to click. Mm.

Cassandra Tenbergen (25:30):
And I even remember this one girl and she was behind eight credits in her grade 12 year. Wow. And she came to me and she says, I’m determined to get, not only the, the six credits I need, but I’m, I need I’m, I’m, I’m determined to graduate. And I said, okay, so let’s sit down and come up with a plan. And I was lucky enough to have what’s called an open doors program at that school at the time. So there’s a classroom teacher in there, an EEA. It was a place a safe place for, for students who maybe a regular classroom setting, just wasn’t for them. It was work at your own pace. Some worked a little faster than others, but you know what? She did it, she ended up graduating and, you know, it’s, it’s being able to think outside the box, coming up with plans for students that that might not, you know, I, and every student’s different and every plan’s different. And just when you’re just never give up, never give up and continue to have that growth mindset that, you know, everybody can succeed. They might not all in whatever successes is for them. Right. For some student success is just coming to school. and, you know, just being there to support them, supporting them, supporting the parents, you never give up

Sam Demma (27:10):
I love that. That it’s a universal piece of advice. Doesn’t matter if you’re thinking about getting it to education, or if you wanna fly planes or start your own business, there’s no real limit to where that should be applied, but I thank you so much for taking the time to do this. If someone’s listening, wants to reach out, ask you a question about anything you talked about on the podcast, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?

Cassandra Tenbergen (27:35):
They can email me. So it’s cassandra.tenbergen@sudburycatholicschools.ca. I’m also on Twitter. It’s https://twitter.com/CassandraTenbe1

Sam Demma (27:49):
Awesome. That sounds good, Cassandra. Thank you so much again for taking the time to do this. I really appreciate it. Keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon.

Cassandra Tenbergen (27:58):
Okay. Thanks for.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Cassandra Tenbergen

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.

Michael Straile – Assistant Principal Bonnyville Centralized High School

Michael Straile – Assistant Principal Bonnyville Centralized High School
About Michael Straile

Michael Straile has been the Assistant Principal of Bonnyville Centralized High School since 2018.  Previously, Michael taught grades 7 & 8 at H.E. Bourgoin Middle School in Bonnyville.  His passions outside of teaching include acting and film.  

Connect with Michael: Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Bonnyville Centralized High School

H.E. Bourgoin Middle School

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s guest is someone that I actually met speaking at a teacher’s convention last May. And his name is Michael Stralie. He has been the assistant principal of Bonnyville Centralized High school since 2018. Previous to that role, Michael taught grade 7 and 8 at another high school in his city.


Sam Demma (00:58):
and aside from teaching, he’s really passionate about movies, acting, and all things film. In fact, he has his own role in a full length feature film , which is absolutely amazing. so stay tuned for that, but in the meantime, enjoy the conversation that we had about his journey into education and what it was like for him growing up as a high school student. I hope you enjoy this and I’ll see you on the other side. Michael, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show, literally after meeting you less than a week ago. why don’t you start by sharing a little bit about yourself and how you got into the work you’re doing in education today?


Michael Stralie (01:37):
Oh, that’s a long story actually. My name is Michael Stralie. Teaching, so my 12th year teaching and my 3rd year as a, as a assistant principal, actually. I’ve taught from middle school, so I’ve taught grade seven and eight social studies in English. And then when I moved to the high school, I’ve taught social 10/1, 20/1, and K&E, which is knowledge and employability, math, science, English, and social. So I’m kind of go wherever they tell me really.


Sam Demma (02:06):
that’s nice. Nice.


Michael Stralie (02:08):
Yeah.


Sam Demma (02:09):
And, and why education Mike? Like wh when you were younger, did you just know this is what you were gonna do? Did you have someone nudge you in this direction? Did you think that I being the class clown was the calling


Michael Stralie (02:23):
I had, I, this gonna sound bad. I had no thought of being a teacher growing up. Yeah. I wasn’t your strongest student. I was like sixties to seventies. If I really worked hard hit high school and then graduated high school. And it’s kind of, I did what everyone does when you graduate high school, but you don’t know what you’re supposed to do. So I took business school and I went, I did a two year program at gram Cuban imagine studies and nice. But my journey in education kind of begins in my summers in that one where I worked at this place in town called the do center. It’s our bottle Depot. There’s a wood shop. And the do center is people with special needs. And I was working as an educational facilitator for them. Family friend had offered me the job for the summer and you know, school’s not cheap.


Michael Stralie (03:13):
So I took the first job I can get nice. And working with my clients, I was the, I was doing just little educational things on computers and reading and math and all kinda stuff, and just found myself loving my summers more than my studies when I was in university. The weekends are fun. Don’t get me wrong. But so finished my first year and then finished my second year, went back to the do, and I did the same thing and, and tried to enter the workforce. And I ended, the only job I could find was I was a door-to-door salesman. That was wonderful experience. Not really. It was very embarrassing. I felt guilty every time I knocked on the door. So I didn’t last long there. And I ended up coming home to Ville where I live now and I was help running one of the electronics store and I had an amazing boss there, but it just, it wasn’t for me running a business, managing, just not my, not my style.


Michael Stralie (04:12):
Yeah. And I remember having a conversation with my brother who is a teacher and this isn’t a generational thing by the way, teachers just hit in this like generation. So anyways, we were talking in like, I think I was in a drug store when we were picking some stuff up getting ready for Christmas. And I was just talking I’m miserable. Like I, this isn’t what I wanna do. And he was questioned me on like, what were things I enjoyed? And I when I hit high school, I really started to love social studies. And up until grade 12, I actually, it was, I thought it was boring. It was just history. I didn’t really understand it. Grade 12, I had a teacher who made it mean something to me. And so I was like, well, I like social studies and I like movies, TVs, all kinda stuff.


Michael Stralie (04:53):
So I could do a drama minor. So I applied back to grandma. Cuan decided to give up, I was the, I was gonna go to live in Scotland for a year, but decided I’d go back to school instead. And applied, got accepted and started learning all the fantastic things that come with education. And when I got my first practicum, it was awesome. Second one was amazing. My mentor teachers were fantastic. People who taught me so much, and I, I ended up getting hired the day I graduated with the division I’m at now. So was, I had just finished student teaching there that school themselves had already hired me on to come as an educational assistant to finish off my year. But then the principal ATG Bergy had interviewed Meg Bergmans in middle school where I spent the first nine years of my career, interviewed me and offered me a job at their too. And it just, everything lined up. And here I am nine years later, I’m the assistant principal at the high school here. This is my third year doing that. And it’s,


Sam Demma (05:52):
I guess,


Michael Stralie (05:53):
Guess history in the making.


Sam Demma (05:54):
That’s a phenomenal story, right. I wanna go back though. I wanna go back to when you were in grade 12 and you had this social studies teacher who made social studies mean something to you, as you said it, who was that teacher and how did they, how did they grab your attention and deliver such an impactful? What sounds like a life changing so semester for you?


Michael Stralie (06:19):
Yeah. So his name was, he was actually also my football coach. I only played weird 12 year of that, but his name is mark bullion and he was not your conventional teacher. He wasn’t super strict sit in row, be quiet lecture, like, and not, not old teachers like that, but that’s kind of the old school style kind of things. He, he was the first t-shirt I had, that was so sarcastic. And it was just funny. I, I can be sarcastic sometimes I’m told I don’t know if that’s true but just the way he’d bring humor into his lessons, just capture my attention and, and just kind of explaining how social studies isn’t just about history. Like, I don’t know how many times you ask, why do we learn social studies and responses? Oh, so we don’t repeat our past history and I and I’m sorry if I upset social studies teaches on it, but that’s not it at all.


Michael Stralie (07:10):
We’re trying to teach students to understand how the world is the way it is now. Yeah. We’re not gonna repeat those mistakes, but understand who we are and what our role is as a citizen in this world. And we have to understand how we got here. I know the world still has so so much growth. But I think looking at Canada’s history 150 years ago to where we are now, we’ve pro like progressed so much in acceptance. And I’m not saying we have acceptance, there’s still a long way to go, but it’s, it’s the more our students learn to be a proper citizen and what it means to be an active, engaged citizen in the world, the better chance we have seeing that acceptance that should already be in existence.


Sam Demma (07:54):
No,


Michael Stralie (07:54):
That’s awesome. And, and that’s kind of where he started with that is just getting me an understanding why social studies is so important and ended up being my major because of it. Hmm. And yeah, the world wars are cool to talk about. Don’t get me wrong, all that, like the history. Aspect’s awesome, but it’s, it’s so much more, I mean, there’s a reason why this math and science teachers get upset. There’s a reason why social studies is a great 12 or to graduate.


Sam Demma (08:23):
I love it. I love it. Hit him where it hurts. Right?


Michael Stralie (08:26):
Well, no math and science super important. Don’t


Sam Demma (08:29):
Get me wrong. No, I’m just joking.


Michael Stralie (08:30):
Yeah. I don’t wanna get those emails sort of like people who know me, like, wait, what are you saying? My math and science. I think it’s wonderful. I think everything should be great. 12 requirement,


Sam Demma (08:38):
But that’s awesome. I love that. And do you still stay in touch with mark now?


Michael Stralie (08:44):
No. I did see him. We did before COVID hit, we were doing like an alumni football game kind of thing. Nice. And I did have a chance to touch base with him. And I kind of explained like, Hey, you know, like you’re one of the reasons I became a teacher and to which he responded. Yeah. Sorry about that. like I said, he’s, and he’s not the only one it’s like for social studies, that’s, that’s kind of him, but there’s also another teacher. His name is Glen Flyn and he was, he was my computer and teacher . But it was just how he made me feel as a human being, like playing the one year of football. I, my pictures in the paper and he had to hang up in his classroom. So it’s that relationship, that caring thing where you see like, teacher actually cares. Cause I remember autographing it for him and I, I came back a year later after I graduated, just say hi, and it was still up. So it’s like, and people have teachers like that. Have you just take a minute to like, look, you’ll see just how much your teachers like teachers actually care. And unfortunately it, it took me till grade 12 to realize this.


Sam Demma (09:46):
Yeah, yeah. Sometimes it, it takes a student 30 years before they turn around, go find that teacher and say, Hey, I just wanted to let you know how much you change my life. You know, I’ve interviewed so many teachers who tell me that 10 years after a kid graduated or a student graduated, they heard from them. And sometimes the impact you have is never actually known as a teacher. They may, you may never hear from that kid again, but you know, you could have changed their life. And, and now they’re doing some great thing because of one thing you said in class or a lecture of totally changed their perspective. Right now, I would assume things are a little different and maybe different as an understatement but how are you striving to still build, you know, a great school culture and to make sure that students are feeling heard, seen, valued and appreciated, despite the challenges that the world is bringing us today.


Michael Stralie (10:40):
see, that’s a tough one because now you want me to like, talk about good things. I do. No,


Michael Stralie (10:47):
Not just me, but like, yeah. I’ll, I’ll talk about my school in general. Like so we, we do still have in class, like in-person learning going on. Cool. and I think like what most people are doing is just making sure you’re engaging with their students. Like I know personally, like you’ll see me often in like the eating area or the, the hub as we call in the morning and just saying hi to students. And last year, right before the school shut down, I had a group of kids who were like, Hey, do you wanna play Dungeons and dragons you? I was like, no, but okay, let’s try it. and ended up being a lot of fun. I was, I was actually, when COVID got like shut everything down, I was like, oh man, I was just getting into this.


Michael Stralie (11:27):
It was really cool. And I just noticed that like at our school in particular, teachers are starting to share like things that they’re interested in finding like students who, who, who are out for that. And there’s teachers who open up the classroom and me, it’s more just being goofy, walking around, chatting like it. I’m starting, like I said, a stress club, cuz I know it’s a lot of stress going on in the world right now. So students who are feeling stressed, I’m gonna have like new techniques every week that can build on different like remote meditation, yoga music and rhythm stuff. Just nice. Anything to help students find their center, I guess.


Sam Demma (12:04):
Yeah. No, that’s a phenomenal idea. And I know you got it from the convention. I did. Yeah. Yeah. That’s just, which is awesome. I think it’s so cool that there’s a space where teachers from around the province all come together and share unique and cool ideas. What is like one or two of the takeaways you had from the conference? Like any and all I know there are so many different sessions, but what, like I know the stress club was an awesome one, but what, what are some of the things you took away?


Michael Stralie (12:31):
Well I focused a lot on the stress ones. Nice. I, I did a couple of those and that was more just like learning how to, I think I said find your center and, and like in this world I think what people, people think teachers are stress, but I think most of our stress comes from the stress that students are feeling and, and us like, oh, like we gotta make sure that they know we’re here to make them sit, are helping them be successful. And so I think teachers, my nature or humans in general are greater showing empathy and you’re kind of taking on that stress and finding that balance of like, oh, I need to push you because you know, you’re, you’re heading off to university. I need to prepare you, but you’re also feeling all that stress and trying to find ways to help them out. So that’s why I focus so much on the stress. And I also saw this amazing one of social studies where she had basically talked about a whole year of a project. So every time you went through a new concept, you got to add to this big project that they’ll present at the end, at the end of the semester. And I thought that was the coolest thing, cuz I that’s something I wanna see in social studies is more engagement in more real life applications to it.


Sam Demma (13:38):
No, that’s awesome. I love that. Yeah.


Michael Stralie (13:40):
It’s well and of course your speech


Sam Demma (13:43):
Thanks.


Michael Stralie (13:43):
Clearly, clearly here I am. I I was actually thinking, cause I’m gonna talk about you for a second. Look, I’m hijacking your podcast that do that. Cause you talked about about your teacher, who’s also named Mike, so that’s obviously a super name full of cool people named Mike. Yep. And, and he, he would talk to you about like was it small, consistent actions yeah. To change the world. Yeah. And, and I was kind of thinking about this and I, I realized his small, consistent action was probably telling students to make small, consistent actions change the world and it, it worked right. Yeah. Like your story tells all that. So I, that, that really stucked with me is like reflecting on your career, you go back and like, am I being consistent and, and trying to deliver that message and no, I it’s really good. The only thing that sucked what teacher comp this year was not being able to like see people, people


Sam Demma (14:34):
See people. Yeah. You know? Yeah. I I’m totally with you. You and I do agree that the second best name in the world is Mike next to Sam. So , I’m just joking


Sam Demma (14:46):
But and mark would say the third best because it goes mark Sam, and then Mike.


Michael Stralie (14:51):
Whoa. What’s that?


Sam Demma (14:54):
Nah, just totally joking.


Michael Stralie (14:55):
I’ve never been bumped down to third plane. So it’s like when I’m running a race and there’s only three of us right now, I don’t know what


Sam Demma (15:00):
Happened, but no, I appreciate that. It, it was cool. Getting a chance to kind of share the story about how Mike loud fed my teacher kind of shaped my career and my life. And I was not someone who thought I’d ever be working in a school. I mean, I’m not formally a teacher, but a lot of my work is speaking to educators or speaking to students. And I thought I would’ve been a professional soccer player, hopefully, you know, playing in the MLS right now with four, my other teammates who are now playing pro. But things took a change. All thanks to a caring educator or someone like yourself who really cares about the things they’re teaching and, and tries their best to connect with students and build relationships. If you could go back in time though, to your first year teaching and kind of like give your younger self advice what would you say? What would have told your younger self as like a pep talk


Michael Stralie (15:56):
Oh, controversial. Here we go. So when you’re a teacher you’re kind of guided by curriculum. Yep. My advice to my younger self is I understand curriculum’s important. I don’t want teachers upset with me, but the most important thing is an educator’s relationship is getting to know your students and get, letting them know who you are. Not being a stranger, not just being an authority figure though. Yes. You should still be an authority figure, but getting to know them, building those relationships. And then once you have that, the curriculum can follow. Once you get to know your students, lets ’em get to know you. They’re more likely to want to hear what you have to say. You’re not just another adult coming, saying, sit down, shut up and listen to me. I got a story you’re gonna listen to. You’re gonna enjoy. You’re gonna learn from you gotta write test no, that works sometimes, but it’s, it’s about getting to know students even a little bit.


Michael Stralie (16:44):
Like you don’t need to know the whole life story, but like genuine caring is what they need. Mm. And I started middle school too, right? Like grade eight that’s hormones are all over the place. Yeah. so that’s, that’d be my, that’d be my advice is cuz that first year I’ll be the first five years for teachers is tough. Cuz you’re trying to figure out who you are as a teacher. I I, the strict one or I’m like the funny one, I’m like the cool one I’m at the laid back one and about, yeah, with within five years, you’re gonna, if you’re gonna make it or not, and you kind of fall into your own stride and, and then hopefully you get good results. And then also teaching myself that not everyone’s gonna like you


Sam Demma (17:25):
Yep.


Michael Stralie (17:26):
unless you’re me, cuz then you know,


Sam Demma (17:30):
No,


Michael Stralie (17:31):
You can’t win every student, but you can still find a way to relate to every. And so that they’ll at least want to hear what you have to say.


Sam Demma (17:37):
Yeah. I think it’s so, so true. And for teachers who are having the thoughts right now of, oh my goodness. This year has been insane in certain provinces. They haven’t even been in the classroom maybe at like at all and they’re, they’re struggling and they’re considering believing this vocation calling profession or they’re struggling to decide whether they wanna stay doing this. Did you ever have a moment in your career where you might have thought, I don’t know if I’m gonna do this again. And what did you tell yourself in those moments of maybe hardship or challenge?


Michael Stralie (18:13):
Cool. Since I’ve been teaching, I’ve never had that. I don’t want to teach anymore, but I have had days where like I just need a day off. Yeah. And normally I take the day off yeah, I like


Sam Demma (18:24):
It.


Michael Stralie (18:26):
That’s, that’s something that I think is right important is if, if you’re feeling that pressure as a teacher in Alberta anyways, we have personal days use a personal day. Don’t put your health at risk because really if you’re going in and you’re already defeated and you’re tired and you’re burnt out, you’re not helping yourself. You’re not helping your students. Take some time, find a way to calm yourself. Do whatever’s best for you and your students because you gotta find that that balance like a symbiotic relationship. Right. So if you’re not taking care of yourself, it’s going to eventually impact your students and possibly your school culture. So it’s taking that time and that’s my, the division I work for has before Christmas, it was almost directive where like, you guys have administrative, you need to take one before Christmas and I was like, yep. Booked


Sam Demma (19:18):
. So that’s awesome. That’s so cool. And for teachers who might be struggling right now and forgetting the reason why they got into teaching, you know, maybe the reason was they wanted to change a young person’s life or give back in the same way that a teacher, they had kind of mentored and, and, and taught them when they were in high school. Do you have any stories of transformation of students within schools that you’ve taught at or within the high school you’re at now where a student was going through a really tough time and maybe the style of a teacher or a relationship building thing kind of changed the students feelings, emotions, and, and led them down a, a, a brighter path. And the reason I ask is because one of those stories of transformation might remind an educator listening. That’s why I got into teaching and those moments still exist. So yeah, any, and I mean, if it’s a very personal story of a student that was really struggling, you can change their name, call them or whatever . But any of those stories come to mind.


Michael Stralie (20:18):
I, I’m gonna start with, if you are a struggling teacher you should know you’ve already, you already have a story. You just don’t know it yet. Yeah. It’s, it’s almost a thankless job and that’s okay. Cuz you’re doing a wonderful and sometimes like Sam said earlier, it could take 30 years for a kid to realize like just the impact that you’ve had. I, I haven’t gotten many, many letters, but I, I do remember the student when I was in grade eight and we’re just gonna call him Jimmy rough, rough life rough to teach. But liked my sense of humor. And we joked around and kind of gone through grade eight and he ended up moving away. Hadn’t heard from him, thought of him often wondering like, how’s this kid doing? Because I like, I get worried about students sometimes.


Michael Stralie (21:07):
Yeah. Run into him at seven 11. About a year ago, a kid had dropped like 150 pounds. He was in shape. And I’m kind of staring at him and didn’t recognize him. And he goes, STR, is that you like, yeah, yeah. Jimmy , he’s like, yeah. I’m like, well, how have you, how you been? He’s like, wow, really great. He’s like after grade eight, I, I moved to Emington and plea changed my life around started to focus more on school. And right now I’m upgrading and I plan on going to college and, or a trade school and, and try to find a proper career. And I thought that was great. And I thought that was the end of it. And then he had found my wife on, on Facebook. I don’t have social media. My wife does. And just like with the master, like, oh I hope you, Mr.


Michael Stralie (21:46):
Charley’s wife, like just, just wanted to say it was awesome catching up with him. It meant a lot for me to see him again. Hmm. And it’s just something so simple as just taking that rough kid and that getting a chance to know him. This is, this is where I would love to impart some wisdom that one of my best friends in the whole world, I have two of best friends, two best men at my wedding, by the way, one of ’em is famous for saying that the kids that are hardest of the love are the ones who need the love the most. Mm. So that kid that you think you hate, he’s just a pain in the butt and you’re like, oh, I gotta go deal with Jimmy today. Realize that Jimmy probably needs you more than anyone that day. Cuz people don’t with intention to harm anyone. Normally it’s a byproduct of what they’re going through themselves. So that’s the best thing I can say is just always remember a kid having a hard day and you know what you’re allowed a hard day too. It’s straining because those kids are also, like I said, the hardest love, and it’s going to take a lot of effort on your part and Don expect change in a day, but a good morning Jimmy can mean a lot.


Sam Demma (22:56):
Yeah.


Michael Stralie (22:56):
Just finding those things.


Sam Demma (22:58):
That’s awesome. And who’s the second best man.


Michael Stralie (23:01):
Another teacher actually. since Alise just when I moved here kind of met both them one of ’em I was working with he’s a ed teacher. Wonderful man, Dustin Blake. And then the other one my other best man. His name is Justin Barlow. Yeah. I’m using names. They they’re not, they better be listening to this when it comes out. I met him because we were coaching track and field one day and this random guy came out to me and said, Hey, can I live with you? And I was like, sure, I, their bedroom awesome. Justin, Justin Barlow and Dustin Blake had already known each other from all the Fette stuff. So Dustin had told him to go see me. And then yeah.


Sam Demma (23:39):
Long story short, he lives in your house.


Michael Stralie (23:42):
Used to, yeah. Now we’re both married. We have kids. But he’s literally half a block away from me. nice. So, and the other one lives in iron river. He’s been there always, ever since I’ve done him. But that’s another thing as a teacher, surround yourself with positive people who are like you, who can always get you through these tough things because I’ll give credit to those two guys, but, and many others, so many other people profession, but I’m just gonna sing. Cause they’re my best friends that having them like minded and be there definitely helped me progress. Because I’m also a little competitive. So it’s like, oh, you did that. Well, I’m gonna do this. so


Sam Demma (24:17):
That’s


Michael Stralie (24:18):
Awesome. Yeah. I would absolutely say that you need to follow it and then find other teachers another shout out to my friends. So who’s amazing. Social studies find his strategies to just surround yourself with those people you can learn from this guy. So is one of the greatest social studies teacher you’ll ever meet. I’d like to say second to me, but it’s not true. one day I hope that he’s almost as good as I am, but right now I’ve, I’ve, I’ve stole so much from his repertoire. So surrounding yourself as a, with people who are better than you and then try to be better than that.


Sam Demma (24:49):
Cool


Michael Stralie (24:49):
Love. And then list goes on. I, I probably have a hundred people who I can mention my mentor teachers when I came to the school division, taught me everything. I know. I don’t know if they wanna take credit for that or not. but they, they got me my start in this career. So like this just all over the place.


Sam Demma (25:05):
Cool. No, that that’s awesome. And when I think about mentorship, it’s, it’s so true. I, I have a whole list of people who helped me transition from school to work and selflessly just gave their time and energy to teach things and help with, you know, challenges. And I think it’s so true to wrap this up. Do you have any final parting words that you’d let like to share with a colleague maybe as a teacher who’s listening, you don’t even know who this person is and you just want to impart one last piece of sarcastic wisdom to this person.


Michael Stralie (25:38):
Yeah, so you guys will never be as good as me, but you might as well try no, that’s no, for real though, COVID sucks. And think that everything that you’re doing, that you’re struggling realize your students are, are doing it as well. And the best advice I could give, especially in an online classroom is don’t let them shut their cameras off. Mm it’s easy. It’s easy to shut off the camera and just disengage and, and be upset about the world and around it. I make my students turn it on because I wanna make it as, as possible. My camera’s always on, unless we’re doing just independent work. So it doesn’t matter if you’re in person online, just be there for them show ’em that you care, even if it’s something as simple as I don’t care. If you haven’t done your hair, turn on your camera. I wanna see you. I don’t wanna look at a black screen. I miss you guys to be genuine.


Sam Demma (26:24):
And also don’t forget to wear your mask. Right?


Michael Stralie (26:28):
that I was quick that filter. Do you? No. That’s you and your magic tricks, man. This is, this is all that started with your witchcraft.


Sam Demma (26:38):
Anyways, Mike, thank you so much for taking the time to to record this podcast. I so appreciate it and keep up the awesome work. If an educator wants to reach out, you know, crack a joke with you, have a conversation, hear about some of the different things that you’re doing in the school and maybe just learn from each other. What would be the best way for them to reach out to you?


Michael Stralie (26:57):
Well, I don’t have social media, but my personal email is fine. Throw it out there. That’s michael.straile@nlsd.ab.ca.


Sam Demma (27:09):
Perfect. Awesome, Mike, thank you so much for


Michael Stralie (27:11):
Thanks so much, this was awesome.


Sam Demma (27:13):
And we’ll keep in touch.


Michael Stralie (27:16):
For sure, man.


Sam Demma (27:17):
All right. And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show; if you want meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Michael Straile

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.

Barrie Walsh – Retired math teacher in the Halifax Regional Centre for Education

Barrie Walsh - Retired math teacher in the Halifax Regional Centre for Education
About Barrie Walsh

Barrie Walsh (@bwalsh125) has been teaching math for more than forty-four years in the Halifax Regional Centre for Education. Barrie has won awards, including Teacher of the Year, three times at Sir John A. Macdonald High School, now Bay View High School. Although officially retired for several years, Barrie continues to assist students with math every day. Barrie spends all of his time at Five Bridges Jr. High. He works as a substitute but volunteers about one hundred days each year when needed.

During his early COVID days, Barrie set up a video studio in his home so that he could give extra help to students wherever they live through an online setup using Google Classroom. In the early days of his career, he would make home visits to get students caught up. Barrie has a core of beliefs that he believes make him a highly effective teacher. His beliefs emphasize continual patience, kindness, apology, vulnerability, and reflective thinking.

Connect with Barrie Walsh: Email | Twitter

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

Resources Mentioned

Halifax Regional Centre for Education

Five Bridges Junior High School

Website from the University of California greater good website

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Barrie Walsh

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.