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Student Activity Director

Terresa Amidei – Activities Director for Desert Ridge Academy

Terresa Amidei - Activities Director for Desert Ridge Academy
About Terresa Amidei

Terresa Amidei (@DRAsb2) has been an educator for 23 years.  She grew up in North Pole, Alaska and is currently the Activities Director for Desert Ridge Academy, a public middle school in Southern California. 

She cares about student voice and advocacy and works to be sure every student on campus is seen, heard, loved, and valued.  She says teaching is exhausting, but so, so worth it.  The work all educators do is vital!

Connect with Terresa: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Desert Ridge Academy

California Activities Directors Association (CADA)

What is American Sign Language (ASL)

SAVE Promise Club

PickWaste

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Terresa Amidei. She has been an educator for 23 years. She grew up in North Pole, Alaska, and is currently the activity director for Desert Ridge academy, a public middle school in Southern California. She deeply cares about student voice and advocacy and works to make sure every student on campus is seen, heard, loved, and valued.


Sam Demma (01:04):
She says teaching is exhausting, but so, so worth it. The work all educators do is vital. You can reach her at her email, which she’ll share at the end of this interview or through her Instagram @draleadership. I cannot wait to share this, this conversation with you because it was so inspiring, and so filled with amazing ideas that you can implement into your schools and with your students. I will see you on the other side, talk soon. Teresa, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about what brought you to where you are in education today?


Terresa Amidei (01:41):
Oh, sure thing. Thanks for having me, Sam. This is fantastic. So I am Mrs.Amidei. I am the activity director at Desert Ridge Academy. We are in the Coachella valley and it is hot, it is so hot. Fun fact, summer school last week; 122 degrees. Swear, the actual temperature. So, the next part of your question was for what brought me here? Well, a fantastic thing. Funny story. I went to CADA, which is the California Activities Directors Association, and I happened to hear Sam talk about his amazing PickWaste thing, which is recycling and how he was student voice, student advocacy, making a change for the better. And that’s how I met Sam and how I got into education was this, I thought like this, hmm, what really matters? Hmm, what, what matters? What will make a difference? Where, what should I spend all my energy and talent on? And it was education and then not only being an educator, but then I was middle school because middle school, there’s no one who gets to be an adult that says, you know what, if I could just go back to middle school, bless you. If I could go back to middle school, my life would be so amazing. Middle school is the best years. That’s only true for kids that come here because we really do try to make middle school, not so middle schooly. Do you know what I’m talking about?


Sam Demma (03:02):
yeah, I absolutely. I absolutely love that. And you know, before we even started the interview, I saw this little, what I thought was a tattoo on your wrist. And for those of you that are listening and don’t see the video, there’s this little butterfly on her wrist. And I thought it was a tattoo. And so I asked Theresa what it was. And can you explain a little bit about that, how it originated and how it’s being used within the school?


Terresa Amidei (03:20):
Okay. Well fun. Another fun fact, our school is situated. We’re in Southern California. So we’re in the migratory path of the Monarch butterfly between here and Mexico. So a few years ago we got a grant and we actually had some butterflies. And now I wish I would’ve put that picture up that were painted as a mural on our building. And so the kids were like, wait a minute. I thought we were Diamondbacks. Like, why are we getting butterflies? So my student leaders came up with this way to make our, our butterflies make sense for them. They use this initiative, it’s called the D butterfly project. And it’s like this, you know, there’s a lot of kids, especially post pandemic. And during the pandemic and this year and a half of lockdown, they were struggling, right? Their mental health was suffering. Their emotional health was bad.


Terresa Amidei (04:03):
Their physical health was maybe they, you know, they were stuck middle schoolers. It’s the hardest part because like they don’t have jobs and they can’t drive. So they can’t leave their house. Right. Unless someone’s picking them up or we have zooms like this, where I’m like, come on, we have this activity just come on down. We’ll have a quick dance party. Woo, woo. So my kids noticed the mental health was not so great. Right. But kids, it’s such a hard thing. Like, they’re not gonna say, Hey, hold a little sign. I’m suffering. Like I’m having, I’m struggling. I’m having a hard time. I’m thinking of hurting myself. But what they will do is take Sharpie and make a little butterfly, which is what I do every day. Now, when we see that as a trusted adult, what we do is I look and if, if you were holding it up, I would say, oh, Sam, I see that you have a butterfly.


Terresa Amidei (04:50):
I’m a trusted adult at desert Ridge. Can I help you? I, I can get you any kinda help and I can listen to anything that you need. Right. and I’m happy to say that I, I was in that situation and I was able to get a kid help so that, you know, it just takes one to make it worth the effort. Right. And even if you say, no this is just a support butterfly, cuz you can put one on to say you’re supporting other people. So it’s not so stigmatizing to be like, Hey, I need help. I’m you know, if everyone’s like, oh no, we’re all rocking this. Like we’re all here to support each other. Then I would say, oh thank you so much, Sam, for your support. That means a world to, to someone who’s really struggling. And then I’d also go like this check on Sam next week in case it was a legit butterfly.


Terresa Amidei (05:33):
And it’s just been a really great, great project. It’s so simple. It costs nothing. In fact, some of my students in leadership last year, we presented virtually of course at the national youth violence prevention summit. And we shared this idea and there was a kid in Georgia who was like, miss a, I love that butterfly project. I mean, that’s not exactly how I sounded, but to me that’s how I sounded. And he go and it’s, I mean, everyone has a pin. If there’s kids who are also on distance learning, we also had a thing where if your parents were like, don’t write on yourself, you know, that’s a thing. We just added the butterflies onto our name. So where I have mine with my pronouns, my she and her we would just add a little butterfly fun fact, if you go eight, I eight kinda makes a butterfly. So that was my butterfly when, when we were on distance.


Sam Demma (06:23):
Wow. That’s awesome. That’s so cool. Does that idea or project relate to the hashtag save promise? I saw that in your, your email and I was wondering what that was all about as well.


Terresa Amidei (06:32):
Yeah. Okay. So save promise is another organization that we are a part of and we have a club I’m the advisor for that club as well. Nice. So the safe promise is stands for students against violence everywhere. Mm. It actually came out of the Sandy hook promise group and save promise club was another one. And so they kind of merged and they had this fantastic organization where they’re just saying, Hey, we gotta minimize our gun violence. And to do that, to do that, it starts with eliminating isolation, social I isolation. Like if you, I mean, it makes sense. You’re like, yes, that makes sense. If you feel like you don’t have a place in the world, if you feel like you can’t get any help, if you feel like no one notices, if you’re there or not, then of course you might be, you know, drawn into violence because nothing matters.


Terresa Amidei (07:23):
So for us, we, we were really happy to be a part of that club. In fact we got oh, what was, I, I wanna say it was a relationship. And like like what do you call it when you get like a little award? And we were like, oh, you guys are doing such a great job of like, you know, being innovative and connecting students. And I was like, yes. Because we only just started it last year. We just saw this is a serious need. I mean, not to get all serious on a, on a upbeat podcast. But when we, when the whole nation was closed down, you know, due to COVID wow. The school shootings were dramatically dropped because there were, there were no kids to be engaged in violence. When we started opening up, it was, it was heartbreaking to hear like, oh, there was another case and then another case and then something else.


Terresa Amidei (08:09):
And it’s like, guys, we can’t go back to the same way of operating. We, we have to be there for each other. We have to rise up by lifting others. If you see somebody who’s sitting by themselves, don’t let the sit by themselves. You know, like you can say, like, if I saw you by yourself, Sam, I would say, Hey Sam, do you, do you need someone to stay with you? I mean, some people are introverts, you know? And they’re like, no, I’m really good by myself. That’s great. But I need to ask to be sure, because if you’re like, no, I really just really want, I just feel terrible. Like I’m, I’m by myself, you know, mm-hmm so part, part of that initiative is we, we participated in a start with hello campaign, which is simply like, hi, hello, Hey. Yeah. How you doing?


Terresa Amidei (08:55):
You know, like acknowledging you exist, that’s where it starts. So you don’t feel so isolated. And then later in the year we had a whole districtwide where say something campaign. So it’s like, when you see something, most people who are gonna be drawn into any kind of violence, whether it’s like, oh, I’m gonna, I got some beef. I’m gonna have to fight with that person at the bus stop. You know, they say something, someone hears it before it actually happens almost every time. So part of that campaign is like, Hey, let us know. Like our number one thing is keeping kids safe. Yeah. We wanna educate you. But we I’m, I’m also trying to make fully formed functioning, loving adults, you know? Yeah. So I don’t want you to get a black eye. Like, how are you gonna you’re you’re like all scared of the bus stop cuz you think someone’s gonna try to get you like that.


Terresa Amidei (09:43):
That’s no way to live. So that’s kind of the things we’re trying to be ahead of the game and be like, no, no, no, no, we, we don’t play that game. Like no, no, no, no, no. You don’t have to sit by yourself. Like no, no, no, no, no, no. You need a friend come on over. And the other cool thing we’ve done Sam, like I’m just on a roll I better, I better have some wine keep no, no, no. I’m good. I’m good. Another thing we started is we noticed you know, there was a lot of turmoil in the country. I don’t know if you noticed, have you noticed? Yeah. A lot of divide, a lot of people, like not talking to each other, a lot of people, like, I don’t believe you or you no, you’re this. So you must not be that.


Terresa Amidei (10:20):
Or if you’re this, then you’re all these other things. People are very complex. And I think we don’t, you know, take that time to get to know each other when we realize, oh my gosh, we’re really the same. We’re really the same. Like you care about the environment. I know that from the work that you did. Right. And so I care about the environment. Like I turn on my water, I get wet. I turn off my water. Yeah. I get some soap. I turn it on. I turn it off. Yeah. That’s that’s me. You might, you didn’t know that till now. But we had that love of, of the world and the environment in common. And if we don’t have a chance to ever talk about it, we will never know that we’re really the same. Mm. You know? And, and it’s like, when you know somebody and you care about someone, it’s like, you know, I’m not gonna hurt you or I, I’m not gonna want to hurt you or I’m gonna understand you better.


Terresa Amidei (11:07):
Or I’m gonna be more willing to listen to what you have to say, because we’re the same. Yeah. We have the same things in mind. So one of the clubs that we started when we were noticing all this, you know, national turmoil, people, adults being mean at each other, adults yelling at each other adults like, Ooh, I hate you because we, we just started a club called the rise above club. And it’s a spot where, I mean, I hope I can launch it with like, you know, and make it something great. But it’s the idea that we gotta be better than that. You know? And like kids, adults always think, oh, kids like, you know, kids, they’re little, I’m telling you kid, you’re a kid Sam. Well, okay. You’re probably really an adult, but I’m like, oh, you’re much younger than me. So to me, they’re kids. Right? Yeah. Kids have great ideas. Yep. Kids can change the world. They’re not the future leaders. They’re the leaders now. Yeah. They’re the leaders now. And they need a space to like, figure this all out. Like how are they gonna be able to talk about things if they don’t understand it? How are they gonna change something? If they can’t have a voice, how are they gonna be able to navigate the world when it’s all confusing and scary and make them have anxiety?


Sam Demma (12:18):
Yeah.


Terresa Amidei (12:19):
So for me, the club is it’s about student engagement, student advocacy, speaking up how to have a voice. Like there’s so many kids who don’t even know like, oh, that’s the process of speaking to the school board and getting policy change. Oh, I could write an email to every Senator which I did on my veteran’s day. Cuz I thought, well, this is an important day. I’m gonna use my day to make sure everyone knows what I’m thinking. Sam. It took all day. But you know what? I did it. Why? Because I thought it mattered. I thought it mattered. And, and even, even if no one reads it, I know I have spoke my truth to people who have are in a position to make a change, make some kind of change. So I’ve done what I can do from my little space.


Sam Demma (13:06):
Yeah. No it’s so true. Just so much, so much good stuff. So many cool ideas. Thank you so much for sharing. What led you in education towards the extra mile mentality? It sounds like you’re involved in so many things in the school. You know, you’re making an impact on so many levels as opposed to just being a teacher. No, there’s nothing wrong with just being the teacher and teaching the class and going home. quote unquote, but there’s so much more to it than that, but it’s like, you know, you, you get involved in so many different things. Where did that drive come from? And do you think that’s been a very self-fulfilling experience as well because you probably get more out of being a teacher and an educator as well by getting involved in so many different things.


Terresa Amidei (13:51):
Yeah. That’s excellent question. And here here’s the thing. First of all, I do have a, a wonderfully supportive family, my children and my my, my husband, you know, they, they know that this work is important. Because I always tell ’em this work is so important. Yeah. Like, like I I’m thinking about the work that I could do. I mean, I, I could do so many things. Right. Like I could have any kind of job, but I always say when it comes to education you know, I’m exhausted like on the daily, you know, like when they always do the COVID screening and they’re like, do you have a headache? Do you have muscle fatigue? And I’m like oh shoot. I do. because I’ve been here for like 15 hours. Yeah. And I’m like, wait, is it because I’ve been typing and is this why I have a headache?


Terresa Amidei (14:36):
Oh, is it because I was outside and I was 122. We were doing a tour of the campus. Yes. That is why I have a wait, can I wait? I’m like, okay. I can still taste. We’re good. We’re all good. We’re all good. It it’s I always say this, like, it’s just it’s not supposed to be an easy job. Mm-Hmm like some people think, oh, teachers it’s so easy. You’ve got the summers off fun fact. I worked three sessions of summer school this summer. I, I didn’t have any time off. That was self-imposed because I wanted to help the kids. I wanted to make a difference. Ooh. I wanted, I, I, I, I’m not, I always say this shouldn’t be an easy job. It should be a job. That’s worth it. Yeah. The job is really difficult if you’re doing it, if you’re doing it well, that’s how I see it.


Terresa Amidei (15:22):
If you’re doing it well, you should be tired because you’ve put everything into it. Yep. Like imagine whatever sport that you wanna play. You know, and it’s the, like, we just had the Olympics you know, you have an excellent, like the goat Simone. Right. And she’s doing it even. She’s like, wait, you know, like, wait you know, I gotta watch out for myself. Right. That’s one little side lesson, but, but she’s gonna be tired. She’s gonna be sweaty. Right. Because she’s giving it at all. She’s not coming in. And she’s like you know, she’s, she’s doing like amazing, innovative things that have never been done. Right. So I’m thinking, yeah, I’m in a classroom. But the work that we do, what most people don’t know, unless you’ve been an educator is how many decisions that you’re doing and how many things that you’re man, like my mind is always firing.


Terresa Amidei (16:12):
Like, like this is every, like the Sies right now. It looks like this in my brain. Right. because I’m like, okay, I gotta watch out for this kid. I know that kid’s dog just died. I know this mom is in COVID this one’s battling cancer. Like I’m managing all that stuff and trying to be like, you need to help others because you’re gonna feel better if you help others, if you serve other people. So for me, this job is like, it’s mission critical. It’s mission critical because whatever I do here, if I’m doing a good job, I’m gonna create happy, fully functioning, nonviolent, helpful humans. Mm. And that’s what I wanna see. You know, that thing, like be the change you wanna see. That’s the change I wanna see. I wanna see people who care, but also like have fun. Like I I’m, I work with children, you know, elementary kids, middle school kids, high school kids, even high school kids.


Terresa Amidei (17:06):
Right. Okay. Maybe they turn 18 when they’re in high school. Right. senior year. But are they really adults? Like, do they really understand all this stuff? And like have a driver’s license and know how to vote and pay a mortgage? Like, you know what I mean? How to get a rental application? Wait, the answer’s no, they don’t know any of those things. So it’s like, you still gotta remember they’re still children. Right. They’re still navigating what it’s gonna be to be like, oh, this is the life that I wanna have for myself. Mm-Hmm and this is the things that are important to me. I mean, there’s so many advocates out there, like thank goodness that are young people. Right. even like, I look at Amanda Gorman and I’m like, oh my gosh, that poem was just gives me the chills. Right.


Terresa Amidei (17:46):
But she’s in her twenties. Mm-Hmm , you know, this is a world that belongs to everyone who’s here. So for me, I, I just want, I just want kids to come in and be able to make mistakes, but like, you know, turn it into things that are gonna work for other people. Like, you know, we create the welcome messages and we don’t just make posters and we’re trying to lift people up. Like, we’ve got little secret, you know, like, oh, we’re gonna leave the, okay, I’ll tell you secretly okay. Like Friday, we’re having this welcome back dance. Of course, with the whole COVID like, you know, we’re very mindful of all those rules. And we’re like, okay, 10 of you here and 10 there. And we’re playing the games because they’re just so craving interaction. They they’re just craving this interaction. Right. So, you know, it wouldn’t be a time like, Hey, I’m gonna invite you to dance and we’re gonna do, we’re gonna learn times tables.


Terresa Amidei (18:35):
Cause I’m gonna get you caught up. Like that would not be an event that would go over while. Right. So safely giving them this interaction. But then here’s the secret. We already made these little love notes for every single person at the school and every single adult at the school. And while the dance is going on, we have a secret, you know, happiness ninja team where we’re gonna tape them on every single desk so that when they come in on Monday, they’re gonna go what now? I mean, I hope they do that. Some will be like, what, what is this? Like, you know, and whatever. Yeah. Because they’re kids, but some it’s gonna matter to some kid and some kid is gonna keep this little note and some kid is gonna tape it onto their little Chromebook or stick it in their backpack. And you know what and will probably, and this is the hardest part of leadership. We will probably never know that it made an impact on that. Yeah. We might never know, you know, like in a school, we we’ve got like a thousand kids and, and adults here. Right. And so in that, in that huge number, you know, you, you will not get any kind of feedback. That’s like, I love that. Keep that more of that, you know, they’re, they’re not gonna say anything. Yeah. But I just have to believe like it matters.


Sam Demma (19:50):
Yeah.


Terresa Amidei (19:50):
Being welcome social, you know what I mean?


Sam Demma (19:52):
Yeah. It’s like, you know, a tree falls into forest just cause you don’t hear it doesn’t mean it doesn’t fall. Right. It’s the same thing with student impact like it. Right. Right. You know, just cuz you don’t see the positive mental changes in physical changes that a kid might be undergoing due to something at school they’re still happening. Right. And that’s such a good reminder. You know, I like to think of educators, people like yourself as gardeners, you guys are planting seeds and watering them every day and sometimes you don’t see them grow. Sometimes you do, but they all grow, you know?


Terresa Amidei (20:21):
Well, and here’s the other thing, like what you put into it. So what if I’m, what if I’m like super critical, you know? And I’m like super short with you and I’m like, just sit down, Sam. That’s growing too. Yeah. You know what I mean? Yeah. That grows too. So I mean, and we’re all, we’re all human and it’s hot and there’s lots, lots of moving pieces. So, you know, I, I try to be mindful. I don’t always, you know, hit the mark, but I also try if I realize I’m like, Ooh, I was kind of harsh to Sam. I, I always try to be like, Sam, come on. I gotta make, I gotta make amends on that one. Cuz that I didn’t, I, I need you to understand, like even if you’re correcting a kid, like, I still love you. This is fine, but you can’t do these two things like stop doing this and then I still love you. You’re good. And now it’s over for me. If you stop doing that. right. Yeah. we just gotta have a way that we are like, oh, okay. Communicate, communicating what I need so that you can be successful. I’m just, I, I feel like I’m like the German guard, like help me help you. Yeah. That’s what I’m trying to do.


Sam Demma (21:23):
That’s awesome. Love it. Cool. And what are you most looking forward to this year? I know it’s gonna be maybe looking a little different than the past couple years. but, or maybe not, but what are you looking most forward to?


Terresa Amidei (21:36):
It’s okay. I mean, you know, not to sound so cliche, but it’s, it’s like that it is the little time when you catch a, well, you know what? I’m not gonna say miss a, I love that activity. I love getting my note. Oh miss a. I love that poster was so cute, but what they, what will they will do is they’ll come in and they’ll go like this, miss am. Hi. That tells me I’m doing the right thing. Or I’ll see a kid and they’ll be like, I’ll catch ’em and I’ll see ’em I’m like, I’m like, they’re getting their note and they’re like


Sam Demma (22:06):
Quick little smile.


Terresa Amidei (22:07):
yeah. And then I’m like, yes. When here’s something to happen on Monday. Okay. You ready for this one? Sam? It is. So this is so important because here’s the other thing with leadership. You don’t have to like, I mean, I’m trying to get all kids. I mean all like all of them, I’m trying to get all of them right. To where they need to go successfully, but you gotta do it. It’s like you gotta make those special moments. Like one kid at a time, one kid at a time, like this is, this is how here for me. Like the amount of reinforcement. If I can get one kid that’s enough to get me another week. You know what I’m saying? Mm. So this happened on Monday. My kids were, it was our last week of summer school, right. Of the last session.


Terresa Amidei (22:49):
And we were giving tours to the new kids who were coming in. So sixth graders who had never been here from seventh graders who had never been here because of COVID. Okay. And I was already like, you know, we had practiced in that super hot, hot heat. And I had like Otter pops for after, when it was done, then I’m not being paid by that. They’re just the cheapest Popsicle. I’m just saying Hey. So we were practicing, we’re doing all this stuff. And I had told my kids, look, I, some parents are gonna try to sneak in and I’m gonna be like, no, no, no parents, because I can’t have you lead a tour. I don’t know who those parents are. Right. I gotta keep you safe. That’s my number one job. Yeah. So there was this kid that came in, I’ll have to demonstrate the kid comes in and they’re with a parent and I’m like, wow, like getting ready.


Terresa Amidei (23:31):
Like I’m getting ready. I’m not in my pose, but I’m getting ready. Like, you gotta go, you can’t be here. Right. And the mom says, I’m an interpreter for my daughter. And I was like, whoa. And I’m like, what, what are you interpreting? And she says we’re doing, I need to do sign language for her. Okay. Now this is where it gets really good. Don’t make me cry, Sam don’t do it. I won’t okay. This is where it gets really good. Okay. So everybody’s messed up and you can’t really, you know, you can’t really see how anywhere they’re like this. Right. And so this mom says I’m doing a you know, ASL. And I said, oh my gosh. And so then we’re like my name. And we started doing, and then the girl, okay, you gotta imagine it. Okay. So with her mouth, she goes like this, she goes,


Sam Demma (24:13):
Mm.


Terresa Amidei (24:14):
Like this and it gets better because one of the clubs we have is ASL. So I, I bring over the little QR code where, you know, we have this for all the kids and I find the ASL club and I hold it up for her and her mom. Ooh. Yeah. I’m getting goosebumps. That’s how, you know, it’s the right thing. I pull up this card and I say, Hey, we have an ASL club. And she just went while she’s still like, and she just leans into her mom and her mom and her are like that. Okay. That, that alone will get me two more weeds of effort, because think about it. Are there a lot of kids who are gonna come to our school and need ASL interpretation? No, but this girl came now think about it. She came, it’s a new school. It’s already scary.


Terresa Amidei (25:00):
Anyway, she hasn’t been to campus forever and she now she’s here and, and she’s probably worried, oh my gosh, I’m not gonna be able to talk to anybody. Like no one will understand what I’m doing. Like everyone’s gonna think. I mean, well, plus I just watched Coda last night. It’s so good. Anyway. So I’m, I’m thinking about that. And then, and I didn’t know she was coming, no one told me like, oh, Hey, you’re gonna need to have a, you know, services for this kid. No one. I didn’t know. So the fact that we are like able to accommodate it and I’m like, I have a, we already have a spot for you. We have a spot for you already. You didn’t even have to say anything. We have a club that’s already everything that you like, it’s your field. Like, it’s like, if I was a kid and I was coming to school and I’m like, what?


Terresa Amidei (25:43):
You have a sticker and hot latte club. What, it’s exactly my people with exactly the things that I like and need that I identify with. You already have a space for me. Like, just think about how I mean, and it wasn’t, I mean, just think about how she was like that information to know there would be people and clubs hearing and, and not who could, she could already communicate. Like she wouldn’t already have to advocate for herself because it was already there. Mm we’re already ready for her. What, what do you think? What do you suppose a difference that would make for that family? And, and for that kid, now that she’s coming to our school


Sam Demma (26:26):
Safety, you know, they know there’s a family away from the family, right. It’s like, right. Every student might not need ASL, but every student needs a community where they feel welcomed and involved and loved and you know, included. And I think that’s exactly what that does.


Terresa Amidei (26:42):
right. And I mean, and to me, her face was like, you get me. Yeah. You get me and you have a space already ready for me. You saved me a, a space on the bus. Yeah. That’s what it says to me. So that like, I, it wasn’t, I, I keep a little sticking out. Like I keep all my little inspirational things. Mine is like, okay. It, it didn’t have to be a big thing. It just had to be the right thing. Like nothing heroic, just the right thing. That was, it was the right thing to have that club.


Sam Demma (27:09):
Yeah. I love that.


Terresa Amidei (27:10):
And, and you never know, you just never know when you’re gonna need it. You know? Like I said, I didn’t know she was coming and I’m like, boom, I got you. You know, some other kid came out like, boom, I got you too. Yeah. Oh, we don’t. Oh, we don’t have a club. You know what? Come sit down. We’ll find you advisor. We’ll make it right now.


Sam Demma (27:26):
That’s awesome. that’s so cool. Yeah. So how long have you been working in education?


Terresa Amidei (27:33):
Ooh this is my 23rd year.


Sam Demma (27:36):
Let’s go. Thank you for your service.


Terresa Amidei (27:42):
you’re welcome. That was easy. Yeah.


Sam Demma (27:45):
that was the first time anyone’s ever pushed that button. I love it.


Terresa Amidei (27:50):
It wasn’t, it wasn’t easy. It was hard, but, but worth it, like I said, it was hard but worth it.


Sam Demma (27:55):
Yeah. I hear you. So knowing what you know now and what the experiences you’ve had and the things you’ve learned, if you could go back and speak to Tonya year one, what advice would you give me to yourself?


Terresa Amidei (28:08):
Sam? Why’d you have to go there. Why’d you have to go there, Sam . Okay. Well, so many things have changed right, since that time, but there, if there’s anyone out there who’s listening, who’s an aspiring educator. I say, jump, jump all in and be all in from the very beginning. The, I mean, I see kids all the time, like in this community, cuz I, I live where I work and you know, my, my own children are like, oh mom, we don’t wanna go to the store with you. Cuz people are always like, miss, is that you? Or they’ll be like, oh, was Ms. Like what she got in her cart? I’m like, what? Nothing, nothing gonna see here. Just all vegetables and fruits but what I would, what I, I, when I have seen kids that are now like, oh my gosh it’s so my first job I was doing eighth grade. And so that was 23 years ago. So they were 14. So 14 to 23? Yeah. 37.


Sam Demma (29:01):
Oh


Terresa Amidei (29:02):
Yeah. I, I haven’t had the thing where those kids, kids are in my class yet. That hasn’t happened yet. I’m waiting for that. But, but I see him and like I saw one guy at Costco and like, he was, I’m like, you have a Costco card and I’m like, wait, you’re married, wait, you can drive like, wait, I’m like you. And he had like a toddler. And I was like, oh my gosh, why? And I say then like, I’m like, wow sorry about anything that I might have messed up you know? Cause I just was trying so hard, you know, trying so hard back then, but you don’t have, you really don’t have the skills for several years, like a, a full on, you know, repertoire of like everything, you know, plus I’ve taught like every subject before I got into leadership.


Terresa Amidei (29:46):
So math, science, English, social studies, intervention, computer Jo geography and, and now leadership. Right? So I’m like, oh no, I know. So I would say when I got to year 15, I was like, yeah, I think I’m pretty good. you know, like I’m like, I think I’m, you know what, I think I’m not being doing an right job. Yeah. I mean, yeah, yeah. I think I’m getting this right. And then I would say maybe like by year 18, 19, it was like, I know, I know what I know. You know, I know what I know. I know my value. I know that I understand this I’ve I’ve been around this block. Like, you know, kids are always like, oh, how’d you hear me? And I’m like, oh bro, I’m a mom. I’m a wife and I’ve taught middle school for 23 years. You really think I’m missing any of that. That’s going on in the corner. Cause I’m not, you know like I already know, I already know what you’re gonna do, you know? And so you can plan for it. So my, my only advice for my young self would be like, you’re gonna get there, you’re on the right path. Your, your ideas are golden. You just need to just firm it up a little bit. Right. And then, and then you’ll be here. Woo. With


Sam Demma (30:56):
Sam


Terresa Amidei (30:57):
I’ll be like, know, I’ll be like this one day. You’ll be with Sam, the recycling guy that you met at cat . You’ll never believe it


Sam Demma (31:05):
In 122 degree weather.


Terresa Amidei (31:07):
I know that. Awesome. Doesn’t global warming. Let’s seriously get on board.


Sam Demma (31:12):
Terresa, this has been so, so fun. Thank you so much for taking the time to chat about your experiences, what’s going on in your school. Everything that you’ve gone through and your journey into education, this has been so, so cool. If someone is listening and wants to reach out and just have a conversation, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?


Terresa Amidei (31:31):
Yeah. I would say email. I can, do you want me to drop that to you? And then you can,


Sam Demma (31:36):
I’ll put in the show notes, I’ll put it in the show notes as well, but if you want, you can even say it now or spell it out for


Terresa Amidei (31:42):
All right. Well, do you see my name right on the little thing? So put a . in between there. So terresa.amidei@desertsands.us.


Sam Demma (31:52):
Cool. Easy, simple. Thank you so much again. This is awesome, Keep up the great work.


Terresa Amidei (31:57):
Sam. You’re doing such great work yourself. I just wanna say thanks for reaching out. Like anytime, anytime you need some filler, just call me.


Sam Demma (32:04):
I will, appreciate it.


Terresa Amidei (32:05):
I love it. I love it.


Sam Demma (32:07):
All right. Well talk soon.


Terresa Amidei (32:09):
Okay. Bye Sam.


Sam Demma (32:10):
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 Terresa Amidei

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.

Debbie Hawkins – Campus Culture Director at Sunnyside High School in Fresno Unified

Debbie Hawkins - Campus Culture Director at Sunnyside High School in Fresno Unified
About Debbie Hawkins

Debbie Hawkins (@SHS_Leaders) is the Campus Culture Director at Sunnyside High School in Fresno Unified, but grew up in the south valley and is a first-generation college graduate who after attending Fresno State made her home in the greater Fresno Area.  Debbie is the wife to Jimmy and the mother to Jonah and Noah. Family is a defining factor in Debbie’s life and thus she reduced her teaching load to part-time status in order be home with her young boys while they were young.

Having raised her boys, she finds herself immersed in the work of student activities. This work has become her passion and her home.  Sunnyside is a school committed to the work of developing student relationships, establishing a college-going culture, and being a healthy student-centred environment.

Connect with Debbie: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Sunnyside High School

Fresno Unified School District

CAA Speakers

Capturing Kids’ Hears Program

Phil Boyte’s Podcast

School Culture by Design – Phil Boyte

The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom – Miguel Ruiz

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 Debbie Hawkins, who is the campus culture director at Sunnyside High School in Fresno Unified, but grew up on the south valley and is a first generation college graduate who after attending Fresno state, made her home in the greater Fresno area. Debbie is the wife to Jimmy and the mother of Jonah and Noah. Family is a defining factor in Debbie’s life and


Sam Demma (01:02):
thus, she reduced her teaching load to part-time status in order to be home with her young boys while they were young. Having raised her boys, she finds herself immersed back into the world of student activities. This work has become her passion and her home. Sunnyside is a school committed to the work of developing student relationships, establishing a college going culture, and being a healthy student centered environment. I know you’ll enjoy this interview with Debbie because I enjoyed chatting with her and I will see you on the other side. Debbie, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here this morning. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about what brought you to where you are in education today?


Debbie Hawkins (01:40):
My name is Debbie Hawkins. I have a very fancy title called Campus Culture director at Fresno Unified’s largest high school in where I’m located, obviously in Fresno. Our, our student population pushes 3000 so we are the biggest. What brings me to the moment of campus culture or what other people would call student activities is when I first got into education I was a coach, but really everything I’ve ever done in education’s really about mentorship and mentoring kids and investing in kids like you know, who they would become as an adult. So I find myself in this world of student leadership, because that’s always kind of been my passion and it just, that trail led me here.


Sam Demma (02:24):
Did you have educators that kind of pushed you in this direction? Cause caring for kids could have brought you into different roles. I’m I’m wondering why it specifically brought you into a school


Debbie Hawkins (02:34):
I guess complicated childhood, but easiest to say that school was always safe for me. Mm. And I had hero teachers who very, I’m a, I’m a first generation college student. I’ll and if you knew my whole story and we had like a lot of time maybe perhaps some wouldn’t see me in the seat I’m in today because I probably never would’ve got go to college. So those teachers, those heroes of my childhood passed very much pushed me eventually into the classroom once in the classroom and coaching. I don’t know. I always found myself when the crowd of kids having a good time. And there was a point at which I was at a site and I was a little burned out with being an English teacher. If I’m being honest. And the principal flat out, looked in the eye and said, what, what, what can I do to keep you? And I said, I need to do something where I’m investing in kids as people where I care more about their story than whether or not they know a list of conjunctions. And she approached me with student activities and, and that’s where it started 16 years ago. It was just a principal trying to keep me on campus.


Sam Demma (03:48):
That’s amazing. And tell me more about how do you define a hero teacher? What does that teacher do for you that has such a big difference and impact on you?


Debbie Hawkins (03:58):
I think as much as you can, like strips down everything, I came from a really small town. Yeah. So like when you’re from a small town, everybody knows the legends of your family and your cousins and you know, all that stuff. But, so I think my hero teacher saw me individually as a person and, and none of the backstory. Mm. And like, let me start from that point on. And in a lot of ways, never saw me as broken, but saw me as having potential. Mm. So to me, a hero teacher, as somebody who gives you a clean slate from day one, and it it’s, it’s harder to do than it sounds like it really is because Def kids definitely come with stories and brothers and sisters and cousins. And you, you know, things about kids before you ever meet them. I mean, I can log into student profiles and read all sorts of things, which by the way, I don’t do intentionally and never did, even when I taught English. But I always appreciated those teachers who, who just gave me a chance to be me.


Sam Demma (05:02):
Yeah. That’s such a cool perspective. And if a teacher is listening to this in the classroom and you know, they wanna make, they wanna make their students feel the same way you felt in those classes, like what would you kind of advise or tell them that they could try and do you know, is it to make sure you set aside time to get to know each student make time to hear, hear their stories and share their experiences and upbringing or, well, how do you think that looks in the classroom or school?


Debbie Hawkins (05:30):
What I think it looks like in a classroom at a school in general is you have to be very people first. You have to be very relationships oriented first. My son’s high school English teacher, her name’s SCR and officially, and, and I will love her forever because she changed my son’s life. And what she did is in Fresno unified, we’re a restorative practices school, which has all sorts of things that go with it. But one of the things that happens within restorative practices is that the idea of circle time, which I use in my classroom every week, we call it family Fridays. But it really is, is a restorative circle where kids get an opportunity to have a voice. Well, miss officially at Bullard high school does that every week in her English class. So she pauses her curriculum to put kids in circle and, you know, really dive deep into who each other are as people and what they think and, and what I think miss officially does.


Debbie Hawkins (06:23):
And what I I do in my own leadership class too, is, you know, that whole idea of start slow to go fast. You, you gotta like slow down and let kids know you as they need to know us as people too, like as an instructor, they need to know things about me because that’s what builds trust. And you do, you have to slow down. And I think when you’re a core content teacher, it’s scary because you don’t have many instructional minutes and you have a lot of expectations of you. But I have found that in education that once a kid trusts me and they have put me in their corner as somebody who’s gonna defend them I can get 80% more out of them academically, cuz they follow me off a cliff. If I told ’em to go, you know, I guess a bad analogy, but it’s true. They’d follow me anywhere. And once you’ve built those relationships, where are kid gonna follow you anywhere? Because you’ve slowed down, you slowed down and you took that time. You actually get more done academically.


Sam Demma (07:21):
I love that. That’s such a unique way to look at it. And I think it’s so true. I had one educator come on here one time and tell me that there was one student in his class that he was struggling with and the way that he won the heart and mind of this student over was by giving the student responsibility that this student thought he would never give him. And the situation was the keys to his car to go grab his lunchbox in the front seat and you know, and it, the story just hit me in my core. I was like, wow, that’s such a cool example of building a human to human relationship, not a teacher to student one. I think that’s amazing. Where do you think these philosophies and ideas came from? Was it just from your personal experience from other teachers? Like how did you come up with these ideas and these teaching philosophies?


Debbie Hawkins (08:08):
Well, everything’s, I, I guess seated in personal experience to some extent, I mean, there’s great educators in my past when I was a student and then you get involved and you start listening. You know, you it’s, the organization, CAA is an amazing one. So many speakers there. I, I would say that on my personal journey for development as a, as a leadership teacher there’s a program called capturing kids’ hearts, which was an early program in my career that really drew me in. And then fast forward, I, I meet a guy named Phil Boyt who is Phil, boy’s amazing. He has his own podcast. Everyone should be listening to Phil Boyt, read his books. And then you, you know, there, there’s just speakers and that come into your life. And I have the privilege at working at Sunnyside. And when I was hired here, there was a man named Tim Lyles, who he lost this year.


Debbie Hawkins (09:03):
And men talk about just an amazing person to learn from what you find out in education, which I’m going to assume applies to any profession out there is that once you have an ideology of who you want to be and what you want within this setting, you surround yourself with people whose core values begin to align with yours, right? So like you go find your tribe. So I found my tribe, you know, I listen to T street speak at kata and, and now, now that I heard her at kata, I’m gonna follow every talk. I find of hers on YouTube, you know deep kindness by Houston craft my class, read that together last year. Nice. You just, you began to, you know, you hear of this person who tells you about this person who tells you about this book and you begin to seek it out. It’s personal work though. If, if you wanna be that kind of educator, it’s personal work, which I think it’s personal work, no matter where you are in life.


Sam Demma (10:01):
Yeah. I love it. And people leave behind such amazing principles and values. I think more than everything else, when someone, you know, passes on, we can look at the things that they left behind and something that sticks out for me, even, you know, you talk about service a little bit and great people to learn from like, after my grandfather passed away, I was 13 years old. And the thing that sticks out in my mind are the values that he passed on to me as a young child. And it, it sounds the same with your colleague who passed away. Sorry to hear about that. And yeah, I’m sure your school is doing a great job of celebrating his, his life and his legacy. That’s amazing though. And did you ever have any doubts growing up as a, as a young educator and what were some of the things that went through your mind? Because I think it’s a very common experience for all educators to go through.


Debbie Hawkins (10:47):
Well, I have an atypical educator story. I mean, I failed the third grade and I’m I’m dyslexic. Oh, so yeah, I I had some challenges and in, in high school I remember my very favorite high school, creative writing teacher, like on my college application to the educational opportunity program at Fresno state saying student has unlimited potential. If she can get some support with her writing. And interestingly enough, as soon as he said it, it became this quest to be good at it. And like academically after my freshman year in college writing became my strongest thing. Wow. So, you know, it’s, it’s almost like when someone shines a light on it in a way that is soft and trying to guide you rather than like light you up and blow you up, but rather a guiding light. Yeah. It inspires you to kind of go on that path and take that journey because ultimately as a, you know, a 16 year old kid, I, I wanted to be successful and change my family’s narrative. Yeah. You know, I, I wanted it badly. So this man whom I trusted his name was Greg Simpson from ex or high school, amazing educator just gently said unlimited potential with a little support in writing. So I joined writing lab. Like I went and found some people to help me and ended up being a game changer for me.


Sam Demma (12:10):
I find that. So fascinating how someone that you trust, very few words have such a powerful impact on your mindset of how you view yourself and also the actions you took in your future. And it goes to show us how important it is that we choose our words and our actions both extremely wisely when working with any human being, doesn’t matter if it’s a student in your class or a stranger on the street. Do you think that the words of educators and students have such a massive impact on each other? And have you seen in, in reverse scenario where your words or your colleagues’ words have had a huge impact on students in your school and do any stories stick out in your mind?


Debbie Hawkins (12:51):
Well, since you wanna call me on the carpet on that one today, yeah. Honestly I’ve only been at Sunnyside for four years and cool. My first year here, I, I received an email during homecoming because I did something a little different that how don’t know maybe it was because I was new or, you know, and when you’re new, you’re a little unsure and you know, I’d never been at a high school. It came from a middle school and man, that email shock me to the core. Like I never had anyone talk to me like that. So I became like this head trip thing I had to come over and I overcome like it taught me a lot though, like in reflection. Mm. I am extremely cautious about what I say to people via written communication. Mm. I try to not be short and if, if I’m gonna be short, I try and go walk over and speak to them face to face. Yeah. Like lesson learned. And then, so this week we actually had two rallies before we had a rally on day one and day two of the school year.


Sam Demma (13:51):
Nice.


Debbie Hawkins (13:51):
So day one of the school year, I told my, my little commissioner, Hey, you know, don’t play YouTube videos because the signal’s gonna drop when everybody comes into the gym. Yeah. And the hustle and bustle of it, I didn’t check in with him and he didn’t convert the file cuz he ran out of time. So sure enough, we get to this part where these very adorable little mom, girls are supposed to go dance to promote our diversity assembly. Mm. And the video wouldn’t play. so, yeah, I mean day one and I didn’t snap at him in the moment, but I also didn’t build him up. What I should have said was him and let it go. There’s always something that fails. This is our thing today. Of course. Yeah. And helped him like move through it. And I, you know, we haven’t been here for almost two years. Yeah. I didn’t coach him well enough. Like, so I’ve been spending the last I’ve spent the last week and a half now trying to build him back up, you know? Yeah. Cause it’s gonna take 20 or 30 interactions for him to be brave again.


Sam Demma (14:53):
Well, I applaud first of all, your responsibility. Thanks for sharing. I was also curious about the positive side of how words have affected students or


Debbie Hawkins (15:00):
Wouldn’t oh, positive. Okay. Positive side. Positive. Side’s easy. Yeah. I, I don’t know how I’ve become the, the teacher who, who attracts a lot of our foster and homeless youth kids. Mm. I don’t know how, but one, one philosophy I say leadership’s about what you do, not what class you have. Yeah. So a few years ago I had this one kid just show up in my room every day and just make artwork. And I just looked at him and I said, Hey, you, you have the ability to show up and be positive. You know, you should join my class. Mm. I don’t remember saying it to him, by the way. I just said it one day while they, I don’t know, coloring with markers. And anyway, Damien did join my class. The following year. He became my spirit commissioner. I didn’t know his whole story until almost the year was over. But wow. His words back to me were really powerful. He’s like, he, he basically said, your first impression of me is you should be a leader. Like you belong here. And for him, it, it made a difference cuz it came at a real critical time when he was doubting where he was. Mm. So I, I there’s, there’s a million instances where I could say I’ve said something to a kid, but here’s the funny thing. I very rarely remember the words I used.


Sam Demma (16:11):
Yeah.


Debbie Hawkins (16:12):
So you just always guard them and keep ’em positive. And, and the one thing I will say, and that I, I need to get back to doing, I used to keep a class list and I would mark down like an X mark, like, so for an for that week I had to give one overtly positive statement to each kid on my roster. Mm. And I made it like anecdotal where I would check it off.


Sam Demma (16:34):
Nice.


Debbie Hawkins (16:34):
Because you know, life’s busy. Yeah. So that’s one way that I I’m gonna get back to that this year, but that is huge. And I’ll tell you another huge one that we all overlook. I also try and call three parents a week just to tell ’em their kid’s amazing.


Sam Demma (16:48):
Ah I love that. That. And what is the, what is the, what is the usual parent response to those phone calls? how does the phone call start? I’m sure it starts with oh is everything okay?


Debbie Hawkins (17:00):
50% of the time. It’s what do you do?


Sam Demma (17:02):
yep.


Debbie Hawkins (17:04):
What’d she do now? What’s going on? It’s always guarded at first and it’s really funny that if I don’t use my personal cell phone, 50% of them don’t pick up. And then, and I give ’em my cell phone number and tell ’em, if you have any questions, feel free to call me. And it’s odd because I will get random sets of parents who will text me and ask me a general school question because I just called them to tell ’em, Hey, your kid’s amazing.


Sam Demma (17:28):
That’s awesome. That is so good. I,


Debbie Hawkins (17:29):
I, I try and I’ve, I try and do at least three kids a week for the first month of school till I get through everybody.


Sam Demma (17:35):
There’s a, there’s such a cool story behind the idea of appreciating other people that I heard on a recent podcast as well. There’s a, there’s a gentleman named Jay Sheti. Maybe you’ve actually heard of him. Heard the name. Okay. So he has a podcast. He was a monk. He went to the mountains for like three years, came back and now he makes what he says is it makes wisdom go viral. And he has all these like cool videos and that’s awesome. He has a podcast and he interviewed this guy named scooter bran and scooter, scooter bran is the music manager of Justin Bieber and Demi Lavato and all these like huge music artists. And he was on the podcast and he was saying that his grandma did something for him and his family that changed the trajectory of all the kids’ lives. He said there was four grandchildren.


Sam Demma (18:16):
And on separate occasion, she pulled each grandchild, each grandchild aside and said, I have to tell you something very important and very special. And you can’t tell any of your siblings about this. And she said, you’re the special one. and she did it to all four of them on separate occasions and scooter didn’t find out till the day of her funeral while the grandchildren were around. He said, guys, you know, grandma pulled me aside and told me when I was a young kid, that I was a special one. And then his brother said, no, me too. And me too. And, and all four of them went their whole life believing that they had this special ability that they were an amazing young person. And I thought, what a powerful way to plant a positive belief in the mind of a young person. And it sounds like you’re doing the same thing, not only with the students, but also with the parents.


Debbie Hawkins (19:01):
I’m trying. And that’s, that’s the whole thing that I will all educators like, it’s, it’s an awkward time. Yeah. Alls you can do is try and over the summer I read this book called the four agreements and, you know to Miguel


Debbie Hawkins (19:14):
. Yeah. So like, you know, in the four agreements where it says, take nothing personally. Yep. You know, that’s my challenge, this year’s cuz in this crazy world where everything’s, everything’s uneven right now, still, you know, like everything’s still uneven and people react daily at us, around us, within this organization out of a sense of fear and self protection. Yeah. So really take nothing personally. And I’m really talking to my leadership class about that. We’re actually gonna read the four agreements at the end of the year when we do our book study as a class. But Tim Wild’s favorite book, by the way. I, I just, that, that whole that’s resonating with me this year is don’t take things personally because I think when we take things personally, it, it, it holds us back. Right.


Sam Demma (20:01):
It’s true. So true. And I think that sometimes the words of other people are based on one, their past experiences and two, the current things they’re going through, you know, you, you mentioned about the email and writing a short email. It’s it’s funny because whenever we write an email communication, the other person reads it based off the current mental state that they are in. So if they’re extremely happy, they’re gonna assume that your email was, was a pretty happy one, but if they’re struggling and, and then they read a short email, that’s just to the point, they’re gonna think that you’re upset or something and you know, 90 something percent of communication is nonverbal. And so I think, you know, some of the times too, when people attack us or put us down or attack a student or an educator and put them down, it’s, it’s asking ourselves, you know, what do they have to be going through to be expressing this situation like this? And I think that’s where empathy wins, you know, but it’s tough when you’re in the experience. It’s like, it’s a tough one. So if you could travel back in time and speak to your younger self, when you were just getting into education, knowing what you know now based on the experiences that you’ve had, what would you tell your younger self? What couple pieces of advice would you give?


Debbie Hawkins (21:10):
Number one, I’d say quit keeping score. I came in as a coach. Like I was so competitive and not just about like when we were on a basketball court. Mm. You know, I wanted to be the teacher with the highest reading scores. I wanted to be the teacher with the most kids coming to, you know, this or I, I was so worried about being perceived as having value that I think it held me back. I would’ve been much better off to have been more concerned about if I was valuable to at least one kid, you know, let go of those public perceptions a little bit when you’re young and invest in people individually, like deeply in one person at a time, one staff member, one kid my younger self and I would say not to take things so personal. Yeah.


Debbie Hawkins (22:04):
I, I, I don’t know when I was young, I had a lot of pride and, and things would hurt. And, and when you let things hurt, like where they wound you, it literally prevents you from having relationships with kids and being available to kids who need you, because you’ve spent too much time in your own self hurt. Like it was a waste of my energy as a young educator, you know, I, I needed a, I, I, I would encourage every young educator to find a group of two or three teacher, friends who are safe. And when something hurts, you can tell them so you can let it go. Cause you know, there’s something about that whole, like, you know, the truth will set you free. We’ll find people to go tell your truth to yeah. So that you can be free of its damage and move on. Yeah. Sometimes I think your, our pride like makes us put in the negative stuff, cuz we don’t want other people to see it. Like go get that ne get a trusted crowd, share with them, all those, those like doubtful things so that, that you can just be set free from it and move on. Don’t let it hold you back.


Sam Demma (23:06):
I love that.


Debbie Hawkins (23:07):
Trust me. Nobody’s good at this job. I’m 26 years in every year. There’s 10 things I need to be better at.


Sam Demma (23:14):
Yeah.


Debbie Hawkins (23:15):
It, it, it, this job never, it’s a big beast. You will never be perfect. Hey, it’s messy.


Sam Demma (23:21):
Every job. That’s the mindset to have. I mean, the day you think you arrive is the day you shouldn’t ever do it again, you know?


Debbie Hawkins (23:28):
Amen.


Sam Demma (23:28):
We never arrive, you know, like we’re all human beings. We’re all messy individuals going through this experience called life and balancing everything, you know? That’s a cool mindset to have. I call what you just mentioned “Emptying my backpack.” When I feel like I’m holding onto too many thoughts and opinions of others or opinions and, and experiences and situations in my head, I call it emptying my backpack. I’m actually writing a poem about it for kids Yeah, that’s such a cool piece of advice to give yourself and I appreciate you being so honest, vulnerable, and open about this whole conversation. I think a lot of educators will listen to this and will really enjoy it and see a lot of their own experiences in what you’ve just shared. So thank you so much for coming on the show. Debbie, it’s been awesome. If someone wants to reach out, send you an email, bounce some ideas around or chat with you, what would be the best way for them to get in touch?


Debbie Hawkins (24:21):
Just use my staff email it’s debra.hawkins2@fresnounified.org. You could Google Fresno Unified in my name and find me honestly.


Sam Demma (24:41):
Cool. All right, Deb. Debbie, thank you so much. This was great, keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon.


Debbie Hawkins (24:47):
Thank you very much for having me.


Sam Demma (24:50):
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 Debbie Hawkins

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

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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.

Jacquie Pece – Principal at Craig Kielburger Secondary School (HDSB)

Jacquie Pece - Principal at Craig Kielburger Secondary School (HDSB)
About Jacquie Pece

Jacquie Pece (pecej@hdsb.ca) has been in education for 33 years. She began as an Health and Physical Education and English teacher. She also worked in Guidance and as a behavioural specialist in Special Education. She taught AQ courses in Health and Physical Education at OISE for 10 years. She was a vice-principal for 8 years before becoming the principal for the last 6 years at Craig Kielburger Secondary School in Milton.

Jacquie has taught Principal Qualification courses for OPC. She was the co-chair of OPC in Halton for 3 years and is now the past president of the Halton Secondary Principal Association. She enjoys leadership work within the system to help strengthen all schools across the board and to mentor vice-principals and principals.

Jacquie loves working in complex schools that honour all pathways. She cares deeply for her students and staff. She strives to create a school where students feel safe to be themselves and are kind to one another.

Where teachers want to come to work to collaborate, and work in an environment where they are respected and encouraged to try new ways of teaching and learning to improve student achievement. She has coached her entire career in rugby, volleyball, and track and field sports.

She loves getting to know students outside of the classroom and has also travelled all around the world with students to enhance their love for life long experiential learning. She believes in all aspects of physical, mental, emotional, social and spiritual wellness and encourages others to find the balance in their lives.

Connect with Jacquie Pece: Twitter | Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Halton District School Board (HDSB)

Principal Qualification courses OPC

Craig Kielburger Secondary School

Halton Secondary Principal Association

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


Jacquie Pece (00:09):
Well, hello and thank you, Sam, for giving me this opportunity. I’m Jackie Pete. I’m a principal at Craig Kielburger Secondary School in Milton. And I’ve been an administrator now for 13 years here for six. And I love what I do in the Halton district school board here.


Sam Demma (00:29):
At what point in your own career did you realize education was your calling?


Jacquie Pece (00:36):
Well, it’s kind of funny because I was one of those kids that ended up playing school in my basement. So it was the type that I actually set up a little desk for Teddy bears and dolls and gave them actual like worksheets to do and mark them. I I really loved school. I had great friends in school. Played a lot of sports and really felt that I, you know, wanted to make the most out of every day type of kid. And when I played a lot of sports and, and was we were quite good at them in school and outside in sports. And then I suffered an injury. And after I think that injury that really propelled me to work more into a, a coaching aspect of, of teaching. And I ended up going into the concurrent education program at York university to become a teacher and coach, because I couldn’t be an athlete, even though our crew boats were really successful. And one crew, I was in set, a Canadian record that stood for 12 years. Wow. Couldn’t pursue sports at that same level. So the next best thing for me was to coach and coach what teaching. And then after that I became a teacher of pH ed and English and, and teaching seemed to be a natural progression and you get to coach at the same time. So it’s like a win-win for me.


Sam Demma (01:59):
Did you draw parallels between coaching and teaching? Are those, are those similar roles and what do you enjoy about coach?


Jacquie Pece (02:08):
Well, I love mentoring young people and I love to try to get them to see their full potential. Like, so if you, you take somebody who doesn’t understand a sport or a skill and you break it down for them and you make it so that they can do each part, and then you see the progression and they see the progression in themselves, the light kind of goes off and they go, wow, this feels so great. Then you like to work towards something. So you see kids bright and, and they think, wow, I could really work towards this. Sports teaches you about the limits that you think you have in yourself and you, you break through those limits. And so that breaking through that, you could do anything if you’re, it really worked hard, enough mentality transfers to life. And so we hear that all the time that sports builds character, but I love that aspect of coaching and mentoring young people to become their best.


Sam Demma (03:02):
That’s awesome. And what was your first role in teaching and how did your career evolve and bring you to where you are now?


Jacquie Pece (03:12):
My first role in teaching was teaching at pinch and mark Grove in grades 6, 7, 8, right out of university in back in 1989, which nice be there a little bit, but that had a pH ed job as well as a home room. And I really wanted to be in Hilton. So I, I transferred, I actually resigned a, a full six section job, which my mom thought I was crazy doing, but I did be because I lived in Oakville. I, I went to school in Hulton and I wanted to teach in Hulton closer to home. I knew that down the road, I wanted a family and that would be quite easier for getting my own kids involved in sports and all and raising children. So I thought I’ll hop over to Hulton. And so that’s what I ended up doing is getting sort of forcing my way in the board through long term occasional contracts.


Jacquie Pece (04:05):
And, you know, somebody said they weren’t hiring, but I didn’t listen to that. I just kept working my way in and ended up getting great jobs. And often with the students that had students that had special needs and behavioral kids, I was kind of really good with students that, or the behavioral smart alecky kind of kids. They were like, like jam. I love them. And so I, I really wanted to work with them in, in somewhat school, within a school formats where you really concentrate on developing relationships with the, the most needy and in risk kids in your school. And I get to teach them vied and English and make a whole day with them. So that was my first kind of break into teaching. And then I just evolved from teaching more English and more Fette and always working with students with special needs or guidance or any other aspect of student success that was needed. I loved all that.


Sam Demma (05:00):
You mentioned not listening to the advice or, or feedback that the Halton board wasn’t hiring. I find that really fascinating. Where do you think your drive comes from to put aside other people’s limitations as well?


Jacquie Pece (05:17):
Well, they will sort of tow, I think party lines when it comes to we’re closed to hiring, or there’s too many teachers in the teaching profession, or, you know, you, a lot of people can even say that’s not a great profession. You could make more money doing something else or, or so you, you can’t listen to the stereotypical statements that people make about a profession. If that’s in your heart, that that’s what you really wanna do, then nobody can really deter you. So you actually just keep pursuing it and the perseverance to not listen to the naysayers, even if the odds look against you is to find your way in. It’s just like a love to be solved, find your way in. So what, what do you do to, to be known, to, to get people to see that your worth is that you’re really quite good at what you do and then pursue it to the point where you end up getting your way a little bit.


Jacquie Pece (06:10):
And I, I think my older sister, Debbie, she was told that teaching was, again, one of those professions that was overpopulated and she shouldn’t be one when, and she kind of became a nurse, which was fantastic for her, but she actually wanted always to be a kindergarten teacher. And in reality, she could have easily been a kindergarten teacher and she would’ve been a wonderful one if she just didn’t listen to them. So me being the fifth child, I learn from all my other older siblings. And I’m that one that says, yeah, no, I’m gonna go after what I want, who cares what they say?


Sam Demma (06:45):
That’s awesome. I think there is both types of educators, those that love the job and absolutely wanna be there. And there’s also others who may have, have also had a different dream but are in the classroom now. And I think that’s just a refreshing piece of advice that it’s also never too late to make an adjustment. If you think you need to enter this profession or potentially part ways. And


Jacquie Pece (07:14):
We, we do have people leaving business professions, cuz it’s not as satisfying as they thought it would be. And they really found that their heart was in helping people. And so this is a people industry and it’s a helping profession. And so they end up going back to teachers college later and, and transfer over ’em we think that’s amazing. They bring a lot of worldly experience then straight going into teaching from university.


Sam Demma (07:40):
Yeah, that’s awesome. You mentioned making assignments for the Teddy bears in your basement. Did you have parents, teachers mentors in your life tap you on the shoulder along the way and say Jackie, you would make for a photo educator or yeah. What, what was your mentorship like?


Jacquie Pece (08:06):
Well, for me, my mom was critical in helping all five children do well at school or well at anything. She’s a very positive person and she’s a very organized person who breaks down things for you. She was a pretty good athlete in school as well. Mm. So she she’s the type that loves school. So she kind of brought that love of school into our hearts at a young age that, you know, you don’t quit on something. If you, if you put your name on something, it’s always gonna be the best that you can be and do. And so she would say that for me, that I would make a great teacher. I think she wanted me to first to be a dentist and I was like a dentist. I’m not gonna be a dentist. And I had it’s all through your coaching and your teachers at school that say, Hey, you, you know, you’re good at helping other people on a team or lead.


Jacquie Pece (08:56):
So you naturally end up stepping up to leadership roles at some point in your life where you go from being, making a team, which is awesome, but then actually leading a team or being a captain of a team or pursuing that chance to help other people. So coaches along the way, would’ve said, you know, this would be great. It’s a natural progression for you. I think you’d be a great teacher. And I think we all have, have had great teachers in high school too, or in elementary school, even that really you thought, well, this person I remember to this day, or they made a, such a great impression on me and I see how important it is in a child’s life and meant to have at least that one caring adult that really sees them. And so I think we’ve all had those people in our life. And that’s what helps to turn that corner. If you’re really thinking about going into education, if, if that’s the reason you also wanna give back to children and people then makes sense that you go into education,


Sam Demma (09:57):
What, what resources or mindset shifts or things have you found helpful along the way in your own professional development. And, and I’m putting you on the spot here with this question, but yeah. Share anything you might have found helpful.


Jacquie Pece (10:15):
Well, resources for me are always kind of, well, you’re gonna do your education. And if you, if you need help with any step of the way of an education that you’re trying to pursue, then don’t be afraid to ask for help. We’re not expected to know everything first, right at a gate. It’s I tell our teachers and our students here right now, we don’t expect you to be first time smart. You know, you’re here to teach, you’re here to learn. You’re here to make mistakes. So you have to persevere and really pursue what you want to pursue. So that’s, that’s a big, that’s a big thing in education. School can be hard. So if you can get as much of an education as you can, it opens more doors. And if you have more and resources available to you, whether you want to go to right to the workplace or to college or university, then just the more skill you have in general will give you that opportunity to do whatever you want to do and pursue it as a passion.


Jacquie Pece (11:14):
So ask for help for sure. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and do some of your own work and re and research. Sometimes a lot of us feel that what needs to be handed to us or, or given to us. And, and they say, I don’t know where to look or well, do you really care about it? Like rise up and go pursue things in, in the sense of be information hungry, find out everything you can about what you want to do and find your angle in. Because even in, in, in a health sector, let’s say not everyone’s gonna be a doctor, but people wanna be in the health helping profession. So where in that sector are you going to fit? Cause you can be happy doing that. If you wanna give back in the health and science sector. So finding where you fit is really important. And I think finding the balance, we all gotta learn to balance our life, whether that’s managing our social friends and, and people, whether that’s figuring out our physical bodies and what we need rest wise, eating wise and and then our mental health and our emotional health. So you gotta find those balances and really do the work to shore up those resources and all those quads of your wellbeing. And then you can do anything.


Sam Demma (12:30):
Right now. I think a lot of educators are burnt out and balance seems to be extremely difficult especially with the pandemic. And there’s so many things going on that no one expected to happen. What are some of the challenges you see on the front line that staff and even yourself are going through? And then also two part question. What do you think some of the opportunities are that are starting to bolt to the surface because of this huge change?


Jacquie Pece (12:59):
Well, yes, currently we are faced with the years of a global pandemic restrictions that have been placed on our lives is, is hard for a lot of people. School looks different now, and sometimes that can be a good thing. We don’t wanna stay stagnant in education. So however, the speed of which all things are changing makes it challenging. Yes it does. But some things had to go let, go of goodness, we, we cannot stay still. And if you think about it being oxymoron in education, if we weren’t on the cutting edge, so we should continually changing. It’s just that a lot of people find changing hard. It, it comes at you too fast. You’re not prepared, but what it has shown people is the amount of resilience that they do have, and that we always do what’s best for kids. And that’s really important if you keep kids at the center of what we do, then it, it does make coming to school a bit easier because they are struggling as well.


Jacquie Pece (13:54):
And then you’re gonna find new things when you, when you break open that box of creativity, cuz you’re breaking down those walls and dismantling things, even with the equity work and racism and, and, and discrimination. It’s a good thing to blow it up sometimes, cuz of course it’s time and it needed to happen. And that learning is so rich. And so life changing for so many of our students and each other that that’s very important work. See, I, I never mind the the change because I think it, it brings about some very much needed growth and development in people and that’s what, that’s what we’re here for. So we have to reach our students better. We have to actually get them to breach their full potential and make sure that they have equal opportunity in life. And that’s what it’s all about. So how do we overcome these challenges?


Jacquie Pece (14:50):
Well, for me as a leader, we get information from the board who gets it from the ministry. And I do, I steal a little playbook page from your stuff, Sam, that you say, well, if I, what are those three consistent things I could possibly do actions to make a difference? Well, they have to see me as a, as a stable leader. I gotta show up every day and I do show up every day with a, a smile on my face. And I show people that I really care by being kind. And I’m pretty funny sometimes and because I, you know, you gotta keep it real, but they see that I’m here and not a lot of things get to me because they’re outta my control. So I will just control what I can control. And I happen to be very calm, under pressure.


Jacquie Pece (15:39):
I get excited but about things that I need to get excited about. But I think showing up every day and saying, I’m here for you is really important to students and staff and listening to what students and staff are going through, pointing them in the right direction. Cuz I’m the type that feels that there’s a solution to every problem. So I will work with a, a team of people to come up collaboratively with, with problems, to any concern that a student or staff have, because I I’m like, okay, okay, that, that doesn’t sound good yet. You know, I listen, I’m very patient and I’m going, okay, let’s get busy fixing this. Let’s get busy finding out what the barrier is and get rid of it so that you can, can make the most of your life, right? It’s not just about school, you’re teaching them skills for life.


Jacquie Pece (16:26):
And so these days, for sure everything is being thrown at them. So you have to be steady for, for them. You have to be that calm in the storm. And I don’t sweat the small stuff. Small stuff does not get to me. I’m the type that just says, okay, here’s the problem? Here’s the, here’s the solution. Let’s try it. If it doesn’t work, we’ll try something else. But I do very much appreciate my students and their kindness every day and staff and I, and that makes me, that makes me happy. I want, I want a place like a school to be a place where students and staff wanna come to school and they’re happy to be themselves. And that’s really important to me that they feel secure enough and safe to rise and be who they’re meant to be.


Sam Demma (17:14):
And I love the, the ideas. I think they’re so important. Listening, being kind, showing people that you care, how do you, how do you care for yourself as well? Your self-care, as I know, that’s something that sometimes people in education struggle with when you put the student at the center sometimes you, you might neglect your own personal your own personal routines and habits. And I’m curious to know how you, how you balance and also fill up your own cup.


Jacquie Pece (17:46):
Well, the goodness is I was a PHY ed grad. So even though I wanted to play sports and I couldn’t play sports competitively anymore, I do believe in a healthy, active living lifestyle. So I, you know, ran till I couldn’t and then I do spin biking or do an elliptical cuz I feel it’s very important. It downloads my brain, the exercise. So I make sure that I download that stress and anxiety that might build up on me by getting those natural endomorphs to release through exercise. And I do Pilates. I have a little Pilates table at home that I invested in years ago and I stretch, I do all those things. I try to eat, right. I have a wonderful husband who feeds me, he’s a Italian. So he wants to the time. So he allows me to do my thing at work and I come home and I have a meal we’ve always eaten as a family cuz that’s very important to him, especially.


Jacquie Pece (18:41):
But to, to me also, my kids are out of the house. Now they’re 26 and 27. But that balance of knowing you come home to a loving house I never take for granted. And that note when I come home, even if I’m here at school, let’s say, and I start to think, wow, this is really hard day or this is gonna be difficult that comfort and knowing you’re gonna go home and you’re gonna be loved and it’s gonna be okay. And I picture myself sitting and, and decompressing, I do some meditate and that, and that helps. So I balance my life out. I’m a good sleeper, oh my goodness. I can fall asleep. Mid-Sentence if I had to.


Jacquie Pece (19:20):
I can turn it off and go to sleep. And so I love that, but I really do strive that in that balance I have a couple dogs. I walk dogs are great energy. And just knowing that I have a great support system is really, is really great. I have wonderful friends and you can always, you know, that’s that critical friend you can call and talk to. And, and I love movies and I love to read cuz it’s escapism, right? You turn out away from your world and jump into another world. And I love that.


Sam Demma (19:52):
Hmm. That’s awesome. Every Saturday night I go to my cousin’s house for two, three hours and we play FIFA, some soccer on his PS five.


Jacquie Pece (20:02):
See, see, it’s funny cuz I never played video games, but my son does my husband do, but I kind of get the obsession of video games cuz I could sit and do a puzzle for three hours and lose myself. And then when I’m always bugging my kid, get off the game, you’ve been at the game for like three and they’re like, mom, you’ve been at that puzzle for I’m like, oh yeah. Right. Okay.


Sam Demma (20:24):
It’s awesome. It’s funny. I didn’t grow up with video games either and never owned a console. Parents just didn’t buy it and being a high of athlete. I was always outside anyway, but in recent months, literally just these past months I found working at home and then walking upstairs to the kitchen, which is five steps away. And then walking upstairs in my bedroom, which is only another five steps away and just being in this little area and it was really nice to lose yourself in something. And I found it in playing some soccer on a PlayStation. But I think it’s important to find that outlet, whether it’s puzzles, video games, Pilates all these things are important. Invest some of our own time in.


Jacquie Pece (21:09):
Sounds like you need to get out a little bit more Sam too. Maybe you yeah. Take your soccer ball for a walk down the


Sam Demma (21:16):
Absolutely. That’s awesome though. Thank you for sharing some of your own self practices self-care practices. If you could, and you may have already mentioned some of the ideas, so it’s, if you reiterate, but if you could take your experiences throughout education throughout all the years, you’ve been teaching and go back in time, tap your younger self on the shoulder and say, Hey Jackie, here’s what you needed to hear when you were just starting in education. What advice would you have given your younger self?


Jacquie Pece (21:48):
I probably would’ve have given myself a tap on the shoulder to say, just be brave. You, you, you know, I feel I have a, a very strong moral compass, but we do as teenagers and young adults listen too much to the chatter of other people. And I would’ve been a little braver to turn them off sooner because it, it affects your self worth or self-esteem even though I think I was a strong female growing up, they, they still work their way in and create that doubt. And so I think that no one knows yourself better than you. And I think you really honor that about yourself. You know, what other people think is none of your business. So, and they’re not the bossy. So I, I always say to students that I work with too, who cares what they think, because you have to think the most of yourself and you have to connect with your inner self. And I think for all of us, we’ve made mistakes, caring too much about what other people think and not enough about our own gumption, about what we wanna do. And we think is right. And as long as you’re doing what is right, you can’t go wrong. So I think that that’s really important. I would’ve told that girl to be a little braver sooner.


Sam Demma (23:07):
I love that.


Jacquie Pece (23:08):
That’s awesome. You know, get on with it and get busy. Don’t worry about what people think.


Sam Demma (23:14):
Thank you for sharing that. That’s a great reminder for everyone, not just educators. If someone’s listening and wants to reach out, ask you a question talk about this interview with you. What would be the best way for them to get in touch?


Jacquie Pece (23:28):
They can get in touch with me through my board email. It’s the thing I, I read the most, cuz I’m on it all the time. That would pecej@hdsb.ca and I will return your email.


Sam Demma (23:42):
Awesome. Jackie, thank you so much for coming on the podcast. This has been awesome. Keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon.


Jacquie Pece (23:49):
Thank you very much, Sam. You have a great day too.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Jacquie Pece

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.

Craig Zimmer – TED-ED Innovative Educator and Teacher with the DCDSB

Craig Zimmer - TED-ED Innovative Educator and Teacher with the DCDSB
About Craig Zimmer

Craig Zimmer (@dropthedott) has been a history teacher for 24 years, 23 of those at St. Mary Catholic Secondary School in Pickering. He is a TED-Ed Innovated educator, TEDx Organizer and has mentored numerous student and adult speakers in their TED talks. His co-authored book, Canada: A People’s History Emerging Loyalties continues to be a resource for classrooms throughout Canada. In 2021, he was named the Durham Catholic District School Board’s Educator of the Year. He has presented at conferences and continues to finds new ways to bring history to life in his classroom.  

Craig is a firm believer in the power of collaboration to improve the educational system and create a better school environment. By working together, we can improve education and foster educator’s well-being. He also feels that the educator’s role is to recognize the importance of legacy in their teaching. Educators must live up to the legacy created by those teachers they had, to teach those lessons those in front of you and to leave a foundation for students to grow upon. He also promotes the idea that learning, and education should be fun and not bound by the confines of a textbook.  

In his free time Craig enjoys spending time with his wife Andrea, their 3 kids and Juno the Dog and Oliver “The History Cat.”   

Connect with Craig: Email | Twitter | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

TED-ED: Lessons Worth Sharing

TEDx St. Mary Catholic Secondary School

Canada: A People’s History Emerging Loyalties

St Mary Catholic Secondary School (DCDSB)

Write your story, change history – Brad Meltzer

Tim Urban: Inside the mind of a master procrastinator | TED

Raised By Dragons | Jim Zub | TEDxStMaryCSSchool

An Indigenous Journey to Leadership | Eddy Robinson | TEDxStMaryCSSchool

Chasing dreams and beginning again | Kate Drummond | TEDxStMaryCSSchool

The danger of silence | Clint Smith

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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 (01:01):
This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Craig Zimmer has been a history teacher for 24 years, 23 of those at St. Mary Catholic secondary school in Pickering. The exact high school that I went to as a student myself, I, I didn’t have the pleasure of being in Craig’s class, but heard so many amazing things about him from friends and students that were in his period two and three classes. He is a Ted ed, innovative educator TEDx organizer, and has mentored numerous students and adult speakers in their Ted talks. He coauthored book Canada, a people’s history. Emerging loyalties continues to be a resource for classrooms throughout Canada in 2021. He was Durham Catholic district school. Board’s educator of the year at the Durham Catholic virtual secondary school has presented at conferences and finds new ways to bring history to life. In his classroom. Craig is a firm believer in the power of collaboration as a way of improving the educational system and creating a better school environment.


Sam Demma (02:02):
It is by working together that we can improve education and foster educators wellbeing. He also feels that the role of the educator is to and recognize the importance of legacy in their teaching. Educators must live up to the legacy created by those teachers. They had to teach those lessons, those in tho to those in front of you and to leave at foundation for students to grow upon. He also promotes the, the idea that learning and education should be fun and not bound by the confines of a textbook in his free time. Craig enjoys spending time with his wife, Andrea, there are three kids and Juno, the dog and Oliver, the history cat. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Mr. Zimmer as I would’ve called him. When I was in high school, I will see you on the other side, Craig, welcome to the high performing educator. Huge pleasure to have you on the show this morning, please start by introducing yourself.


Craig Zimmer (02:57):
My name is Craig Zimmer. I teach at St. Mary Catholic secondary school in Pickering. I’ve been a teacher for 24 years and, and I love every minute of it. It’s, it’s an amazing adventure to be on.


Sam Demma (03:09):
I’m baffled that you and I have not crossed paths when I was going through high school and up until even right now, Monday morning, you know, of January 31st, 2022, but I’m glad that technology has made this possible.


Craig Zimmer (03:24):
Yeah, me too, for sure.


Sam Demma (03:26):
How did you figure out and discover that education was the thing you wanted to pursue throughout your own career journey?


Craig Zimmer (03:33):
You know, it, it, it really was because of a couple of factors. One, I was terrible at math and my whole life as a little kid, I had two passions. I had a passion for history and a passion for space. And I wanted to be an astronomer and I, I went down to my guidance counselor in grade 10 and she said to me, what do you want? I said, I wanna be an astronomer. She picked up my transcripts cuz I’m that old that they didn’t have computers. And she looked at it. She’s like, not with these marks, you gotta rethink what you’re doing. And I was pretty bummed. So I went back to my history class and my history teacher, great guy by the name of Joe Stafford was teaching. And he took me right out of that, took me out of that depression of, I don’t know what I want to do to this place where it’s like, I wanna do what he’s doing. He’s having fun. You know, and this guy had fun. He was passionate. He made the, the, the subject matter come alive. And from that moment, that day where I should have been like, I’m lost, you know, the, the path was opened up to me. It’s almost like that that obstacle needed to be clear. And from grade 10 on, I was working towards becoming an educator.


Sam Demma (04:50):
Wow. That is such an amazing story. Do you stay in touch with that teacher now? Is Joe still around?


Craig Zimmer (04:57):
Yeah, I I’ve seen him a few times. He, he moved out to king a couple years ago, so I haven’t really talked to him. I mean, he’s awesome. He won the governor, General’s awards for excellence in teaching history a few years back. Wow. you know, he’s, he’s a published author, but besides that, he’s just a passionate teacher. And he’s one of the two teachers that I really try to model myself after who inspired me to, to be where I am, because they showed me learning should be fun. You know, teaching should be fun. And that there’s so many possibilities with what you can do in a classroom and, and in how you can inspire students. So I, I haven’t spoken to ’em. I, I got really lucky though. A few years ago, my, my, my high school had a little 25th anniversary and he was there and, and, you know, we went out in the evening of a bunch of the teachers and some of the alumni went out and he didn’t have a ride home.


Craig Zimmer (05:53):
So I said, I’ll drive you home. Joan, I, I had a chance to kind of say to him, you know, thanks I’m, I’m here because of you. And it was really kind of a cool moment. Cause you know, he’s a really humble guy and he’s like, ah, come on. Don’t, you know, you’re there because of you. And I’m like, no man, you, you, you saved my life. You, you showed me the path, you know? And you, you got me to where I am, you gave me so something to love more than what I thought my dream was, you, you opened my eyes to where I needed to be. And so I I’m grateful to, to him for, for that. Yeah.


Sam Demma (06:27):
Sometimes educators do things, not even realizing the impact it’s gonna have on their students, but I think it takes a, an awareness and, and you know, an intentional action from your practice as an educator to create those experiences for students. Oh,


Craig Zimmer (06:46):
For


Sam Demma (06:46):
Sure. You mentioned, you know, he was one of the educators who really inspired you and that you, you kind of modeled yourself after who are some of the other educators as well. And what did you learn from each of those people that informed them way you teach today?


Craig Zimmer (06:58):
Well, I mean, in terms of high school there, Beth Hawkins, who was my, my drama teacher she was just a ball of energy, you know? And she gave me confidence. I was a really awkward kid. I had body issues, you know, growing up, I had low self-esteem, low confidence and I took drama and she showed me the, the possibilities of being who you want to be through, through being a character. Mm. And just opening up and letting it go and not worrying what others think about you. And, you know, again, it’s that, that idea of having fun. And I think a big part of what I’ve taken from that is, you know, as a teacher, I’ve always just gone for it, you know, really early on in my career. One of the things that I realized that as an educator, you’ve gotta create a character.


Craig Zimmer (07:47):
So I use that drama background to create the character of Mr. Zimmer he’s he’s me, but he’s me outside of my shell. Mm. He, he is, you know, the, this, this creation that I need to be for my kids, you know, who I am when I go home is a lot different than who I am. You know, when I’m standing in front of a classroom and I need to do that because the one thing I know from, from, from Beth and, and from Joe and, and I’ve been so lucky to, to call these people now, my friends was that no matter what’s going on outside your classroom and your life, you owe it to your students to come in and be everything. They need you to be that day. Even if you, you feel like you can’t do it, you gotta give ’em a hundred percent of everything you got that day because they’re worth it.


Craig Zimmer (08:36):
I mean, they, you, you have an off day and, you know, you don’t know what it could do for those kids learning and how, you know, it might turn them off from learning or how many of them just need you to be the energy that they are they’re lacking. So without a doubt those were two of my high school teachers when I got into education. One of the, the smartest things that I did was I realized, first of all, I didn’t know everything. Teachers, colleges often make this mistake of telling their teacher candidates, you know, forget what those old grizzled, cynical teachers are telling you. You know, they’re, they’re, they’re all old. They don’t know what’s going on, you’re on the cutting edge of education. And I never took that approach. I came into to St. Mary and right away, I recognized who I thought the master teachers were, the teachers that I looked at and said either a I’d want them to be my teacher or be, you know, when I have kids, that’s who I want to teach my kids, you know, without a doubt.


Craig Zimmer (09:41):
One of your former guests, Mike loud foot, you know, who, who I know inspired you and, and sent you on the path you’re on. He is one guy that I looked at who just put things into, to a perspective for me, you know, he he’s, he’s the kind of guy that he’s, he’s very calm and centered and very Zen, and you need that in education, you know? And, and he taught me, you know, so many valuable lessons. He taught me, you know, don’t get into a fight unless, you know, you can win. It’s not worth it. You know, you know, he, he said in this, this job do everything you can for, for kids, but recognize there’s only so far that you can go, they need to meet you. And he was just one of those guys that treated me like an equal, you know, I was a 24 year old kid walking in, not having any teaching experience and right away, I felt like I’d been on the team for years.


Craig Zimmer (10:36):
And I other teacher here for sure, Jack Lon, who you know, he’s a, he’s a history teacher here. He was actually a teacher at my high school. You know, my, my final year, my OAC year was his first year as a teacher and himself and Joe, you know, were really great with teenage me. I’d stay after school and talk history with those guys. Cool. And they, they treated me like a peer. You know, and I, I talked to Jack about that. I’m like, you guys must have got sick of an 18 year old kid wanting to sit around for like an hour after school. And he is like, no, we knew you were one of us. And we, we wanted to, to have that there for you and Jack, you know, Jack was the, the kind of teacher that I walked in and he opened up his filing cabinet and his binders and said, you take what you need.


Craig Zimmer (11:29):
He was, was great. So instead of me having to recreate the wheel, there was a lot of stuff there. And that’s, that started a 24 year collaboration between two of us, cuz he’s still here at St. Mary and we bounce ideas off each other and I create things and pass it on to him and he’ll come back and be like, Hey, let’s make it better this way. And I’m like, yeah, that sounds so much better. You know? And collaboration is such a huge part of, of teaching. You know, I, I ran into some teachers when I came in, who were like, I’m giving you nothing, learn, learn on your own. And they were, were not teachers in my opinion, cuz teachers helped teachers, not just students. You know, I collaborate really well with John stanza who teaches here. Yeah. You know, and although John and I have a comparable number of years that as a teacher, you know, he is, he’s really compassionate. You know, there, there are times where he reminds me just by watching him and how he interacts with students, you know, how important compassion is, cuz this is a job or you can get really frustrated.


Craig Zimmer (12:36):
And it’s hard to remind yourself, you know, these are kids who are dealing with things at home. These are kids who have things going on outside. These are kids who feel justified that they might not be getting their stuff in for whatever reason. And you’re like, you get frustrated because you’re like I and everything. And John’s the kind of guy that I watch him with them. And I remember, you know, you’ve gotta have an open heart and you know, I I’ve tried to take from, you know, those, those people you know, besides that my other favorite teacher at St Mary’s Mrs Zimmer, but I, I married her after meeting her here. So she’s my favorite to teacher at the school. I have to say that, but you know, she, she’s also really awesome in the sense that she, outside of the whole marriage thing, the educational side of things, she teaches history and art.


Craig Zimmer (13:26):
She opened me up to a whole other side of history that I kind of pushed aside. Cause I’m like art’s not interesting. And she’s like, what do you mean? Art’s not interesting. So she took me to museums and taught me and I’ve integrated that, you know, and, and I try to get what I can from everybody. I work with something valuable from each of them. So I can continue to build this character of Mr. Zimmer, who can be the best teacher for his students and, you know, by character. I mean, I’m also, I try to be really authentic with them, but have to save me for outside for my kids, for my wife. I couldn’t stand in front of the classroom and be just me. I have to be, you know, Mr Zimmer, does that make sense?


Sam Demma (14:08):
It’s like Spiderman. It’s like bat, you know, like a modern day superhero there’s an amazing book called the alter ego by Ted Herman. And he talks about this idea of building an alter ego for yourself for different situations in your life, even references a scenario or someone from the army, a general would come home and bring the same traits and actions and habits that he had as a general into his health. And it wasn’t working. And Todd coached him and helped him realize you need to have a different personality slightly, still your be your authentic self, but show up in a way that serves the people who live in your house versus the people that live in your army base.


Craig Zimmer (14:52):
Like I can’t be teacher Mr. Zimmer to my kids. Yeah, it does. It doesn’t work. You know, the stakes are different, you know, you got your students in front of you. There’s marks, you got your kids in front of you. And they’re not, they’re not there for marks. They’re there for life and you’ve gotta approach life differently as a parent, you know? So you’re, you, you have to be different.


Sam Demma (15:12):
You mentioned the importance of creation and collaboration. And as a student, that’s something that teachers always share with their students, you know, get involved, you know, do new things, create things, make friends, get, get yourself out there. Sure. What is inspire you to do that? You’ve done so many different projects. You’ve read, you’ve run TEDx events and you sit on the Ted ed council for innovation. Like tell me more about what inspired you to start getting involved in different activities.


Craig Zimmer (15:45):
You know, the, the one thing that I learned really on early on was working with others and, and to kind taking the strengths of others and balancing them out with the weaknesses of others creates better stuff. You know, there’s, I know what my strengths are. And I like to work with a team that basically says, okay, we know what you can bring to the table. Here’s what I can bring to the table. And that’s great. Like, I, you can’t do everything on your own. Mm I’m I’m only so, so good at one thing. And I’m, I’m a believer that we’re all lifelong learners. You know, I’m not one of those educators who stands up here and says, I know it all, you know, I, and I mean, I’ve got 24 years of experience in, and I’m fairly confident in my job, but you know, to quote Socrates, the one thing I know is that I know nothing I’m trying to continue to learn.


Craig Zimmer (16:39):
And I think that the best way to learn is by experience, by working with others and seeing what they bring to the table. It’s like, like I said, with Jack Selan, you know, he brought so much to me, he brought his experience to me, but the one thing he’s always said that I brought to him at that period of time was that, that energy to, you know, to see a young teacher who’s like fired up and ready to go, it reignited him. So, you know, I’ve always liked working with groups of people and knowing when to step up and take a leadership role, knowing when to sit back and to allow others to take that, that role, because I could learn something from them that that’s why working with Ted ed has been amazing for me. You know, I was really fortunate to be chosen, to be part of their first cohort for innovative educators.


Craig Zimmer (17:29):
So they worked with over 250,000 educators around the world and they chose their, of us that they work with to start this program about five years back. Wow. And you know, I got this email just out of the blue and I’d been working with Ted ed and I I’d gotten to know them because I ran the Ted ed club here at St. Mary. And you know, I was running the TEDx events and I went to Ted global in 2014. So I got to see the Ted people there. And I, you know, they, they, I was the only educator at this Ted conference, so, wow. You know, I’m sitting there at, at a table with all these, you know, CEOs of these companies and I’m like, I’m just a high school teacher. Like, that’s awesome. What is it like, you know, the, because it was so far removed from their experience.


Craig Zimmer (18:16):
So the Ted ed people picked my brains and I got to know them and, and they invited me to be part of this. And I was, it blew my mind because I’m like me, come on. I’m just, I’m just some guy who teaches. I Pickering I’m, I’m not, I’m not one of these super teachers who’s like published, but they didn’t want that. They recognized they wanted grassroots people like real authentic educators. And that was probably one of the best collaborations that I’ve had. I’m, you know, as a group of, of educators we got together, we talked, we created Ted lessons. We, you know, worked towards making the program at Ted ed stronger. You know, we, we sent them ideas. I mean, God bless them. They, they got get sick of me because I will just send emails. Like here’s like 20 ideas I came up with and, you know, there’s, there’s so wonderful there they’re, they’re like, yeah, I don’t know if this is something we can do, but Hey, keep the ideas coming.


Craig Zimmer (19:15):
And you know, the, the Ted ed club, you know, I, I helped go through the booklet there and they sent it off and said, do you think this works? And I tried it with my Ted ed clubs. And that collaboration has made me a better teacher. And if I have an issue in my classroom, they’re, they’re a peer group that I can go to and they’re all over the world. And I can say, this is what I’m dealing with. And, and I get that support. And, you know, the other day I had something I was working on. I’m not very good at Excel. So I’m like, does anyone know anything about L and right away, I got videos and links and like, oh, FaceTime me. We’ll, we’ll, I’ll walk you through it. And, and that makes us better. Educators need to educate each other.


Craig Zimmer (20:02):
Educators need to realize that we can’t do it on our own. And until I got into the, the, the process of being part of this Ted ed group, I was, I was at a place in my life where I was doing that. You know, I, I had had 10 years of teaching in when I started Ted ed and, or 12 years, something like that. And I was kind of at a place where I can do it all. I was very confident that I was already there. And I quickly realized that I needed that collaboration, cuz I was running out of ideas and I was running out of inspiration. So, you know, it, it definitely saved my, my career in many ways cuz it, they keep me fresh. They challenge me, you know? And it’s a safe place to, to share and collaborate. Whereas, you know, often when you’re, you’re in a school system, you know, very much so there’s, there’s a vision that comes forward from a ministry or a school board. And you have to conform to this vision where this is a think tank where the sky’s the limit, you know, let’s, let’s throw it all out there and see what people have, have to say.


Sam Demma (21:09):
It’s so cool that you are a part of this Ted ed group. And it sounds like an amazing network for another educator who loves the idea of like a think take and a mastermind who might not be able to just tap into the Ted ed community. What would you recommend? They do like hit, like call upon some of peers form almost like a little bit of a network or a mastermind or what other groups have you leveraged as well that may be accessible for, for all?


Craig Zimmer (21:37):
Well, you know, I think what’s really important is one, thanks to social media. You can start group pages. Yeah. You know, easily and start to, to use those, to, to build network for yourself. You know, I’m, I’m part of a lot of different educator pages on Facebook, for instance, where I may, I might not be active on them, but I’m seeing posts and I’m seeing things. And I know that I can access someone who might have something that I need. You know, I, I want to increase for example the amount of indigenous history it teach. It’s not an area that I’m an expert in and I’m trying to get there. So I can go on some of these networks and say, Hey, I want to teach my kids more about this indigenous experience, which is removed from my own, but I wanna make it something that is accessible to them.


Craig Zimmer (22:24):
What resources can I use? You know, is there a great YouTube video and somebody will get to you because you know, great teachers have these things at their fingertip. I, if somebody said, do you have a great Ted talk on body image, I’m like, boom, right away, I’ve got one. I can send you the link or, you know, the importance of history. You know, I, I’ve got one. And, and I think that’s one thing that, that you need to do. I think you start first at the school, you know, you collaborate with your coworkers, you education is something that you need to put ego aside and recognize that you are only better if, if you you’re working with others. So start that network, you know, first of all, in your school, grow it out to your school board because the, then you have the idea what their vision is that you’re working towards and you can conform to that and then go to the bigger level.


Craig Zimmer (23:18):
Then on the other side of it is get involved in things outside of education. You know, it’s, it’s amazing the people who you will come into contact with who aren’t part of this field, you know, who have different life experiences and have a different point of view than you. And, and you can bring that into your classroom. You know, experience is, is the best teacher. You know, it’s, it’s not about necessarily the content that you’re, you’re teaching it’s about the experiences that, that you can show students. This is what makes education valuable. Your, your experiences in life will be the things that you can use, you know, to grow. You know, as a history teacher, I always tell the kids, you know, remember every day you’re making history, your own history and that’s the most important one. So yeah, getting involved with different groups, just, you know, the planning, the, the TEDx conferences, and I know you’ve spoken at a few TEDxs so, you know, what they, the involvement of that is I have met hundreds of amazing people from outside of education who have given their time and, and I’ve just chatted with in helping them build their talks.


Craig Zimmer (24:30):
And it’s blown my mind, you know, the stuff that I realized I didn’t know about. And in putting those conferences together, you know, I didn’t bring history people in, you know, I tried to bring in diverse speakers. I’ve had everything from like parallel universes to sustainable cities of the future to you know, a former teacher who became an actress who left teaching to follow her dreams. Kate Drummond, her talk is amazing. Eddie Robinson, who’s an indigenous leader. You know, he, he and I had some amazing talks, Jim ZBB, who writes the Avengers from marble, you know, just to name a few every single one of those speakers, the conversations I had with them opened my mind in a new way. And that, that’s why I did the Ted conferences too, because I wanted students to experience something that they’re not gonna necessarily get in the classroom.


Craig Zimmer (25:23):
You know, we have prescribed curriculums and as teachers, you know, we also have timelines. And so often these ideas, which are on the fringes of what we’re teaching, don’t get a chance to get into the class. Mm. So that, that’s, that’s why I thought let’s expose students to something new, something that they’re gonna see when they get to post secondary. You know, let’s give ’em a little preview of what’s at, out there. And hopefully that, that opens their eyes to, you know, get involved in their community. I know you, you know, you got involved in your community and you started cleaning up you know, along the lake Ontario. And that made a difference cuz you, you inspired others to open their eyes, to see, you know, we have to be caretakers of this planet and you know, you can’t just sit back and say, someone else will do it cuz somebody won’t, you eventually have to say, you know, who’s gonna do this me, you know, and, and see, you know, you’re a perfect example of a person who through the teachers exposing you to new ideas and you know, and I’m, I’m assuming it’s Mr.


Craig Zimmer (26:26):
Loud foot. It is teaching you that, you know, it’s not just about learning from a book it’s about getting out there and learning from life and doing something to make a difference. You know, you became who you are now and you’re continuing to grow and go on that journey and it’s gonna take you somewhere. So yeah. Experience is the best thing. Cause I know my experience got me to where I am right now.


Sam Demma (26:46):
That’s awesome. There’s a, a, a book as well titled what got you here? Won’t get you there. And it’s a reminder to myself. I look at it as a reminder every day that be a student, you know, be a student, be a student. And that’s why I think these collaborate, the collaborations, these group chats, these think tanks with other educators and other people who have different perspectives is so important because a new perspective is like a new sun, a new pair of glasses that allows you to see the world in a different way. And for sure, that’s why I love Ted X and Ted events as well. I’ll have to ask you to send over some of your favorite. It talks and I’ll put them in the resource section of this article and the episode goes alive.


Craig Zimmer (27:27):
Yeah, no for sure. You know, and I try to watch, you know, new talks all the time, but nice. I go back to the old favorites cuz they they’re ones that, that constantly remind me what brought me to where I am. And sometimes that message changes as you get a older too. Mm you know, I know I’m a different teacher than I was five years ago, 10 years ago, 24 years ago. Yeah. And it’s, it’s okay to go back and revisit the old stuff. Because you can learn from it. It’s it’s I have fresh eyes now that 26 year old me didn’t have, but 48 year old me does. Hmm. You know, so it’s, it’s, it’s revisiting again, your own history that I think is important.


Sam Demma (28:11):
I, I love that idea of writing your own history every day. That’s a cool reminder. When, when you think about all the experience you’ve had, and maybe this will be echoing, some of the things you’ve already shared, when you think of about all the experience you’ve had, if you could bundle it up, walk back into the first classroom you ever taught 24 years ago, tap yourself on the shoulder and say, Mr. Zimmer, or back then maybe you didn’t have the alter ego. So you would’ve said Craig here’s what you needed to know. Or here’s what I wish you would’ve heard when you just started. What would you have shared


Craig Zimmer (28:45):
Breathe?


Sam Demma (28:47):
Mm


Craig Zimmer (28:47):
Breathe. You know, the, the first years as a teacher, you feel like you’ve got the weight of the world on your shoulders. You feel that, you know, somebody is going to come in at any moment and say, you know what? We made a mistake. You shouldn’t be here. Mm. You can’t change everybody. You can’t do it all. You, you can’t be that teacher. Who’s got 20 years of experience in, you know, so many young teachers and I was there too spend all day and all night just working and it takes the joy out of it, you know, enjoy those moments and breathe. Just take it in, you know, because everything comes once that class in front of you, they will never all be in front of you again. So enjoy that moment to have those kids. You know, some of them, you will get lucky and, and you might teach ’em two, three times, but some of them that’ll be your only chance to, to get to them.


Craig Zimmer (29:53):
So just take it in, enjoy each moment for what it is. Don’t take it all so seriously. It doesn’t all have to get done and, and don’t worry, don’t worry so much, you know new teachers spent a lot of time worry, am I hitting the curriculum? Am I contacting parents enough? Am I doing all the paperwork? Am I, you know, doting the eyes and crossing the Ts am and they end up missing these great moments. And I, I, I, I’ve missed so many great moments because I didn’t take the time to stop and enjoy them. And maybe that’s a little bit of retrospective now because you know, in eight years I get to retire. And you know, the other side of where I am now is I’m like, you know, I’m teaching these courses and it’s like, this might be the last time I teach about Vimy Ridge or this might, you know, I might only have get, get the course where I teach modern history.


Craig Zimmer (30:54):
I might only do the Renaissance lecture five more times and, and, you know, just be in that moment and enjoy it because despite the politics, despite, you know, the negativity that sometimes goes out there for educators in the public, this is the greatest job in the world. Mm. This is a job where I get to interact with so many different people every day. You know, over the years, I’ve taught thousands of kids. And it blows my mind to think about that. That I I’ve, I’ve had thousands of people in front of me and I get the privilege and the opportunity of meeting these people and hopefully inspiring them in some way to look at history differently. I’m so privileged that I, I get to come up here, tell the stories I love, and you know, what other job is gonna pay me to share the history that I love to share the stories that make our country, what it is to see the, the look on, on kids’ faces when they, they hear these stories and be like, that is, oh, cool.


Craig Zimmer (32:06):
Or I didn’t know that there’s no other job that gives me that opportunity, you know? And there’s no other job that allows you to, to kind of pass that passion on to so many. We, we ha other jobs. I know they have a reach where they can do it, but, you know, I, I, I get to say to them, have you ever heard of this, or, oh, let me tell you this story. And it’s, it’s just so cool. Like, I, I have try to have so much fun up here because it is a fun job. You know, Jack Selo told me right at the beginning, he’s like the one thing you gotta remember this with this job is there’s all that noise outside the negativity, the government, you know, the, the, the haters, it’s like, you close your door and that’s your world. And you, you get to play in your playground and he’s so right.


Craig Zimmer (33:11):
You know, and I’m so lucky that I’ve gotten to do this and, you know, and the people I’ve met, you know, I, I’m friends with a lot of former students on social media and you know, unsolicited, they, they send messages saying, you know, Hey, thanks to you. I’m in law school. I’m like, nah, it’s all you, you, you did it. I just, I’m just the guy up there at the front. Who’s telling his goofy stories. You know, but it’s nice to hear that. And it’s, it’s nice to, to see what’s become of them. And, you know, it was, it was talking to one of my former teachers, well, Beth Hawkins, who I mentioned, you know, I, she retired a couple years ago and I sent her a note and I’m like, thank you. And I, I like much like I did with Joe.


Craig Zimmer (33:57):
You know, I told her what she gave to me. And it really kind of dawned on me that, you know, another part of the responsibility I have as a teacher is I have to keep her legacy going and Joe’s legacy going. You know, I am part of their legacy and the job they did, I need to pass on. You know, we as educators, we’re part of have this bigger story of the educators who came before us, and we have a responsibility to shape and mold the educators who come after us, you know that responsibility is, is so important. So I have to try to get kids to love a subject that a lot of them in great, 10 they’re forced to take. So yeah, I’d, I’d go back and, and tell, ’em just breathe. Don’t take everything so seriously, just enjoy these moments more because they will be gone. You will only be a new teacher for so long. And, and that’s that, I think it’s a lesson for life, you know, just, we should all take a moment and just soak it in. You know, don’t, don’t just live, be alive in the which


Sam Demma (35:04):
Mm that’s such good advice. I appreciate you expanding on it and sharing why and how it’s affected, you know, your teaching and the way you approach your work. This has been such a awesome conversation. Time has flown by. It’s almost been 50 minutes.


Craig Zimmer (35:17):
Wow. Already,


Sam Demma (35:19):
If, if someone is wanting to reach out, ask you a question, a conversation, what would be the best way for them to get in touch?


Craig Zimmer (35:27):
I’m I’m on Twitter, that that’s probably the, the best way to be in touch. You can find me at @dropthedott. So it’s it’s cuz that that’s kind of a reference to my Ted stuff. Cause you always stand on that dot on Twitter. That’s, that’s really the quickest way to, to get me. That’s kind of the educational side of things that count there.


Sam Demma (35:48):
Awesome. All right, Craig or Mr. Zimmer depending on what mindset you in right now,


Craig Zimmer (35:54):
You know what I’ve wanted to call you Sam’s for so long too, because that’s when you were here, that’s what everyone calls you, you know? Yeah. But I’m like, no, he’s a grownup now you gotta call him Sam. You know,


Sam Demma (36:04):
That’s so funny. Well, thank you so much for coming on the show. Thanks for


Craig Zimmer (36:08):
Having, you know, and I just wanna say before I go you know, we here at St Mary’s so proud of who you’ve become, you know, I I’ve followed along when you, you kind of started off here getting active in the community and, and doing your cleanup and, and stuff. And you know, I, I, I was just amazed to see, see you doing that. And the fact that you were able to motivate so many other kids to join you and you know, you, you’re becoming a, a positive act of change in this world world, you know, you’re, you’re somebody who’s trying to make a difference. And, and you know, that’s the best gift you can give to guys like Mike, Mike, loud foot, you know, being that, that change being that message, the living message that he’s tried to instill in you. So keep it up, man. You’re, you know, you, you’re sending a positive message out there be be that and inspire others to be that message. So we’re all very proud of you here.


Sam Demma (37:02):
Ah, thank you, man. It means the world to me. And yeah, I, I reflect back on my experience at high school all the time. And I’m so grateful that I was able to go through St. Mary. I think it really shaped me into the person I am today. Not only Mike, but all my teachers and even the teachers I didn’t have because you would’ve told Mike things that informed the way he taught. So everyone has an impact on each other. Hey, it’s Sam again. I hope you enjoy that amazing conversation on the high performing educator podcast. If you or someone, you know, deserves some extra recognition and appreciation for the work they do in education, please consider applying or nominating them for the high performing educator awards, go to www.highperformingeducator.com/award. You can also find the link in the show notes. I’m super excited to spotlight and feature 20 people in 2022. I’m hoping you or someone, you know, can be one of those educators. I’ll talk to you on the next episode, all the best.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Craig Zimmer

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.

Abbey Gingerich – Teacher and Student Leadership Advisor (KCI)

Abbey Gingerich – Teacher and Student Leadership Advisor (KCI)
About Abbey Gingerich

Abbey (@MsAGingerich) is the leadership teacher and Student Activities Director at Kitchener-Waterloo Collegiate Institute (KCI) in Ontario, Canada. Her leadership program includes over 100 students who are involved in planning school fundraisers, assemblies, special events, and daily activities to make the school a more spirited and engaging place to be.

Last year, Abbey and her student leaders were honoured to receive the award for having the most school spirit in Ontario! Abbey believes that small, consistent acts of positivity can change the world. Her enthusiastic and creative approach to leadership has drawn students to her hands-on, spirited, and community-building leadership program that is quickly becoming the leading program of its kind in Ontario.

Aside from teaching leadership at KCI, Abbey has coached basketball and rugby and also teaches English and Art. Wherever Abbey goes, she leaves a trail of glitter; her enthusiasm and passion for student leadership are infectious.

Connect with Abbey: Email | Instagram | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Kitchener-Waterloo Collegiate Institute School Website

English at University of Waterloo

Ontario Student Leadership Conference

Police Foundations at Confederation College

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. I’m super excited to bring you today’s interview, Abby Gingerich. She is a leadership teacher and student activity director at Kitchener Waterloo Collegiate Institute in Ontario, Canada. Wow, lots of words. Her leadership program includes over a hundred students who are involved in planning school fundraisers, assemblies, special events, and daily activities to make the school a more spirited and engaging place to be. Last year, Abby and her student leaders were honored to receive the award for having the most school spirit in Ontario. And I can highly guarantee, and I can highly back that statement because I saw them at OSLC, the Ontario student leadership conference, and they are freaking loud. Abby believes that small, consistent actions of positivity can change the world. I totally agree. Her enthusiasm and creative approach to leadership has drawn students to her hands on spirited and community building program that is quickly becoming the lead leading program of its kind in Ontario. Aside from teaching leadership at KCI, she has coached basketball, rugby, teaches english and art. Wherever Abby goes, she leaves a trail of glitter. Her enthusiasm and passion for student leadership is infectious. Without further ado, please help me in well welcoming Abby to the show. Abby, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. It’s an absolute pleasure to have you, can you start by introducing yourself to the audience and maybe sharing why you got into this work that you’re doing with young people today?


Abbey Gingerich (01:36):
Sure, so my name is Abby Gingrich and I’m in my third year in this role of student activities advisor at Kitchener Collegiate Institute and that’s in the KW area. Ooh, how did I get into this? I, I mean, it would go back to when I was in high school, I, I was obviously involved in, in student leadership. I actually went to another local school down the street; WCI, and I had great teachers and mentors there. And I, I mean, looking back, I should have just gone right into teaching. All of my teachers told me to go into teaching. I think it’s a bit of a personality thing for me that I hate doing what everyone tells me to do so I delayed for a little bit and I thought I would, I don’t know.


Abbey Gingerich (02:29):
I still went for English at UW and things like that which helped me then when I decided to switch over to teaching. But I was working at a bank for a little bit. I worked at a hotel which were all a great, great experiences, but just wasn’t so that like, it just wasn’t lighting my life on fire. Mm. And so I was living with one of my best friends at the time, and I remember, and she was a teacher here at KCI, and I remember seeing her talk about her students and talk about the experiences she was having. And she just loved it. And I had like this moment sitting on the couch and I was like, oh, I should be doing that. And so here I am, and it was I don’t know, I guess I remember looking at the leadership teacher role and think, I probably wouldn’t be able to have a chance at that role until I’ve been teaching for maybe five or 10 years. And then it just sort of worked out I don’t know if you wanna call it fate or destiny at KCI, but like an English teacher, an art teacher and the leadership teacher, we’re all leaving at the same time to other opportunities. And so they were able to package this role for me and it just felt like the perfect fit. And here I am.


Sam Demma (03:50):
That’s awesome. That’s so cool. And you could just feel the energy when you talk about your passion for teaching. So I absolutely love this. This is so cool. Yeah. You know, right now is a little bit different than maybe your first couple years in education. I know there’s a bunch of challenges, maybe share a couple of the challenges you’ve been facing and how you’ve come up with solutions or what types of virtual things are you doing to make up for it?


Abbey Gingerich (04:16):
Yeah. oh, it’s, it’s tough. Yeah. Especially keeping momentum going with school spirit, especially online. It’s, it’s just challenging to come up with fresh new creative ideas online. Luckily I’ve, I’ve always had really great students that I can draw inspiration from. And so one of the first things we did was just start small. Cuz obviously change is hard and it it’s scary to adapt sometimes. And so we figured that starting small with maybe one or two virtual activities a week or something and then building on those and just building up the height and the excitement and, and still saying to our community and to our staff and our students, we’re still here. We still care about our school spirit and our school community. And here is some of the smaller things that we’re doing. So it was just little things like wear some Raider wear and send in a photo online and, and tag us in it or wear your comfy clothes and send a picture of that.


Abbey Gingerich (05:25):
So, yes. We started out with just sort of these small, consistent little events and we’ve sort of grown them into, into bigger things as well. I also had staff send in photos or send in videos of like little tutorials that they at home. So some of our science teachers did experiments at home and we shared those online. Some of our one of our staff members is an expert juggler. So we put a juggling challenge out. And we just took like these every day at home things that students could still be doing and just hype them up and made them into the most exciting thing that we possibly could. I I’m so hands on with my course and with my teaching, I, I like students up out of their seats. I like them interacting. And so that’s been, the biggest challenge for me is to, is to have to stay in my seat.


Abbey Gingerich (06:27):
And so, you know, there are some great programs online that I’ve been able to use. We do a lot of shared documents with the students that are in class and at home home. So they’re still collaborating together even if it is in a, in a smaller virtual capacity. Yeah, it’s, it’s, it’s something new every day and I’ve just had to challenge myself to say, you know, for the students and, and for the staff as well, I’m gonna do whatever I can to still make it exciting and, and do some good KCI spirit stuff.


Sam Demma (07:05):
That’s awesome. Out of all the, I guess, virtual events or, you know, different events that you’ve done so far, what’s one stuck the most, like was there any one particular event that all the kids just loved it and kept wanting to do it again and again, and maybe something comes to mind, maybe not, but I’m curious.


Abbey Gingerich (07:25):
So we’re actually repeating this event on a larger scale coming up, but one of our staff members and his son actually built a Marvel track at home, like a Marvel obstacle course. And he sent me the video footage of it and I just turned it into like this. We were calling it the race, you didn’t know you needed. And, and like we had little videos of each marble and introducing them and then the race. And I think the host had like over a hundred comments on it of kids just engaging and upset that their marble didn’t win or, you know, saying the race was rigged and everything like that. So it, it was just something that you know, was supposed to be fun and bring some, some energy online and had real, no other real purpose beyond just that school spirit which I’m okay with.


Abbey Gingerich (08:26):
And and so we’re doing it again in place of one of our larger sporting events that we would normally have happening right now. We’re doing it again and we’re introducing new racers and we have our football coaches commentating the race. The students who are planning the event have created like over 15 feet of track in their, at home time. And so I think it’s, I think it’s gonna be pretty fun. I hope it’s gonna be pretty fun, but for some, I have no idea why, but for some reason it blew up on our social media which was just a nice experience too.


Sam Demma (09:04):
It’s the whole idea of just taking an idea offline and then showcasing it online and making it kind of funny. Right. It sounds like you’re introducing marbles, right? Like it’s pretty good. Yeah.


Abbey Gingerich (09:16):
I like that. I, I mean, and, and I say to the kids all the time, like if there’s, if there’s a way that we can just add some sparkle to something like, that’s just what I’m known for, like throwing glitter at everything. That’s sort of one of the best examples I’ve had I have is that it’s yeah. Just something that we didn’t even plan it. Right. It was footage. I borrowed from another our staff member and said, I think, I think the kids would be into this. And again, it’s just those moments that say, Hey, here we are. We’re still thinking of you. Hope this brings a smile to your face and let’s have some fun.


Sam Demma (09:49):
I love that. My, my next question was gonna be, how do we make students feel appreciated and heard during these times? Is it just the nudge on the shoulder, the unexpected message? Like how do you make your students feel appreciated?


Abbey Gingerich (10:04):
Yeah, I think, I think acknowledging them as individuals and still showing them that they’re valued especially right now in the, in these COVID times when we’re not connecting the way we usually do. Like I’m I miss a lot of my students. I only really interact with the, the 10 that are in front of me each day. You don’t have those same moments of like walking through the hallways and, and seeing a student you taught last year or seeing the girls from the basketball team that you coach. Right. I, I am, I’m really missing those moments. So we’ve been putting out some smaller challenges to some like to our athletes and saying here, send us a transition video of you. I don’t know, it’s a TikTok trend. I’m not quite up on that, but they’re doing these transitions from their everyday close to their school spirit wear or their athletic gear. And so you’re able to connect still one on one that way. And I can say, thank you so much for the video. And then sometimes it opens a conversation of how are you doing, or I really miss rugby right now. And so I think getting in touch with those students or, or when a student reaches out, really making sure that we take the time to acknowledge that and, and to take it that step further and just ask how people are doing those small moments can make a big difference as well.


Sam Demma (11:32):
Cool. And we talked a little bit about some great ideas and great successes, but it seems like the education state right now is almost like throwing spaghetti on the wall and seeing what sticks. And of course, sometimes things fall. I’m curious to know if you’ve learned from any of your own personal mistakes, and I don’t even wanna call it mistakes, but I want to call it an experiment because that’s really what it is during this time. And is there anything worth sharing with the audience that you think might be valuable to hear?


Abbey Gingerich (11:59):
Yeah, I I think personally the biggest issue I ran into was just trying to do everything exactly the same way, or just trying to if think, thinking I could just convert it to online and it would be totally fine. And, and there are just some activities that don’t convert well. And so a lot of work went into revamping, a couple of my courses and revamping even just projects as well. My leadership course looks to totally different from when it, from how it usually would look. And, and like the stress got to me pretty early on it, it was, it’s very overwhelming. And I, and I know I share this with a lot of other student activity teachers, but you feel like there’s sort of this extra weight to keep all the fun and, and the excitement and the school spirit going.


Abbey Gingerich (12:57):
And, and that’s hard. And, and also respecting that there’s a global pandemic going on, right. Like we shouldn’t be doing everything that we normally do because we need to put student safety and staff safety first. And so, yeah, the wake up call for me, I think, was just recognizing that I was heading into that burnout territory. And, you know, we’re, we’re told to give a lot of compassion to our students and just that reminder that we need to give a little bit of that compassion to us as well. And so doing again, doing those small, all consistent things every day or every other day, I think can have a bigger impact than doing big, exciting things all the time. Cuz it’s, it’s not sustainable right now. I don’t think anyways,


Sam Demma (13:49):
I love that it’s funny, small, consistent things. My grade tall voters should teacher Mike loud foot. The principle he taught me was small, consistent actions and we applied that to picking up trash and let, to pick waste. And now it’s like a guiding principle we follow. So I love that if, if you can just think about what’s the one small thing I can do right now instead of bake the whole pie at once, you know, a week later, it’ll have a pie instead of stressing the whole week. I think that’s an amazing piece of advice on the same top of, of advice. You know, an educator listening might be in their first year of teaching and maybe you can think back for a second to when you first taught your first year. You’re probably super excited. Now imagine if that first year had the global pandemic as well, and you were thinking to yourself, what the heck did I sign up for here? What advice would you give that teacher? I mean, you already gave some brilliant advice around, you know, not doing everything, just taking a small action. What other advice would you have to a fellow teacher?


Abbey Gingerich (14:46):
Yeah, there’s, I think there’s two that I, and I still really carry these close to me now asking for help makes a huge difference. Like you’re kind of just thrown into this role and then, and you’re given all of the social media power and you know, you wanna do all these fundraising activities as well, and you wanna make sure you’re meeting all all the needs in terms of diversity and inclusion for your students and, and that a lot. And so I think the more that you can involve other groups and clubs in the school and talk to your admin team and get other staff on board who are, who are gonna be hopefully just as enthusiastic but as supportive. And I am very lucky at KCI to have an incredibly supportive admin team and a very supportive staff.


Abbey Gingerich (15:38):
And so staff checks in with me constantly on, can I help with something? Are you doing okay? Can my group or my club, or you know, my group of students help with something and those moments of collaboration create really valuable learning opportunities for the students. But also then just help share the burden or the weight. Anyways. I don’t see it as a burden. I, I obviously I love it, but but just help spread that out a little bit. So it’s not as overwhelming and sometimes I forget, right. I forget to ask for help. Yeah. So I think the more you can, you can reach out and ask for help the better the other thing is get your students involved or ask your kids for advice. Anytime we’re doing something that I like, I guess would be on trend.


Abbey Gingerich (16:31):
I only know it’s on because the kids told me. And so I, I, you know, we like to, we like to spoof some of the, the trendy things that are happening. We like putting out really funny videos or, or copying a video that’s really popular. And again, those, those, I wouldn’t know about those without the kids. So ask your kids because it’s, it’s also there your audience, right. Do you wanna know what they wanna see and what they care about seeing, and, and some of that funny, again, popular stuff or the stuff that’s gonna create hype. The, the kids know that far better than I ever will.


Sam Demma (17:10):
That’s so true. That’s awesome. And I think it’s a great, a piece of advice because even myself, you mentioned TikTok, I decided about a month and a half ago to take a year off social media. So I could just imagine I’m gonna come back in a year and I’m gonna be like, what dance are you doing? Where is that from? What is that? Yeah, so that’s a brilliant, that’s a brilliant piece of advice. I’m curious to know as well during your career. You’ve probably had students reach out and thank you for the work you’ve done in leadership. And it’s, it’s, it’s changed their life. It’s helped them find new parts of themselves. They didn’t know existed out of all those students. Do you have a story of one that the leadership work that you guys are doing at the school has transformed someone that’s that’s worth sharing? And the reason I’m asking is because there might be a teacher or educator or principal listening who’s burnt out and is losing faith and maybe considering doing some different type of work. And if they can remind themselves why they started by hearing the story of a serious impact, I think it could really reinspire them and motivate them. And if it’s a very serious story, feel free to change the name for privacy reasons. Of course. But does any story come to mind for you?


Abbey Gingerich (18:23):
Yeah, I mean, it’s, it’s funny being sort of I guess I, I would still say I’m pretty young or new you into the world of teaching. So yeah, the ones that have reached out to me and thanked me are still sort of at that transition point and where they’ve thanked me is that I help them find a path or I’ve helped them. I’ve helped give them the tools to on some of their goals or to decide on a career path. So I did have a student reach out to me last year and he was in leadership. Well, it feels like forever ago, but just last year. And so I, I don’t think he knew when he signed up for leadership. I don’t think he knew what he was getting himself into. Like I I always say that I will give my most, I will give my attention to the students that are gonna put in the most work and not cuz I wanna ignore anybody, but the students that are gonna put the hustle in or have that drive whether they have the skills or the tools or not, I’m gonna, I’m gonna help provide that, but it’s, it’s, it’s that the heart, right?


Abbey Gingerich (19:32):
Those students that come in with that and are just ready to go and, you know, wanna make stuff happen. That’s where my attention is gonna go. And so I had a student who sort of started off pretty quiet coming into the course and then found himself in sort of a lead role in his event that he was planning. And he did a phenomenal job. And so I think where that translated for him though, is that then he went on he’s doing police foundations at Conogo right now and he actually emailed me. It, I, it must have been during during quarantine in March or April time. But he, he emailed me and told me that he was just elected student leader for police foundations at conno SOGA. And it’s, he never thought that that would be a role that he would ever be interested in.


Abbey Gingerich (20:26):
And after experiencing that level of leadership at high school, he just knew that that’s where he wanted to take his life. And you know, and I think the best part was that he felt very accomplished and he was so proud of what he achieved and that’s something I just like, I just want the kids to know how much of an impact they can actually make even as a youth or as a teenager. I mean, I, I don’t think that really matters. I think, yeah, they can just do incredible things right now. And so when a student can come to that realization that’s, what’s most rewarding for me. And I have to remind myself too, cuz we take a lot of criticism sometimes or we have setbacks. And so to get those positive moments from, from past students it was, was special and, and really meaningful.


Sam Demma (21:21):
Yeah. And a lot of educators say that as teachers you’re seed planters and you might not see the plant grow for many years to come. So it’s cool that you’ve already had some students reach out and I’m sure they’ll continue to blossom over the years. If any other educator listening wants to reach out, bounce ideas around with you, maybe hear about some of the cool things you’re working on, what’s the best way for them to do so.


Abbey Gingerich (21:45):
Probably email; I’m just at abbey_gingerich@wrdsb.ca and email is probably the most convenient way to get ahold of me, or I do run the KCI Instagram account. So if they ever, I’ve had other schools message us through Instagram and just say, tell us about this idea or how did you make this happen? And I’m, I’m always more than happy to share resources or ideas as well. Yeah, I think again, those, that collaboration opportunity when we go to, you know, leadership conferences and stuff, I’m, I’m missing that, of course. And I think there’s still definitely some ways that we can do that and achieve that across different schools as well so I’m excited for that.


Sam Demma (22:31):
Well, if you’re listening right now, you better email Abby. She wants to talk. Awesome. Well Abby, thank you so much for taking some time to come on the show. I really appreciate it.


Abbey Gingerich (22:42):
Thank you, thank you for having me.


Sam Demma (22:44):
Typically at this point in the episode, I would be ending it and telling you to leave a review and tune in to the next one. But after our conversation ended, Abby and I went back and forth a little more and there was one more thing she wanted to add to this episode. So here it is. So what other unique ideas are going on right now? Maybe student led projects or staff led projects throughout the school?


Abbey Gingerich (23:07):
Yeah, so it might leadership class because of COVID, we’ve actually half of them are working at home and then I have half in class and they switch. So the at home crew, I wanted to still give them something that was valuable for them for the course. So I’ve actually created I’m calling them community outreach, passion projects, and they have an opportunity to identify a passion that they have which was very challenging for some but then also do research and further their education on that passion. And it didn’t have to be school related at all. Just something that again, you know, brings some fire to their life. And then I wanted them to, I challenged them anyway to find a way that they can convert that passion into something that can positively impact their community.


Abbey Gingerich (24:04):
And so their community might just be home their family. It might be their school community. It might be the KW community at whatever level they were comfortable creating something. That was sort of the added challenge. And then of course you add in all of the health and safety measures of COVID there. So I’m, I am in, I’m just blown away by what they’ve been able to achieve. I have student, I have a student who she sews and she’s been making masks and she’s actually been selling the masks to raise funds for indigenous rights in KW. And she has raised almost $800 on her own just at home. Oh wow. During COVID times. And now she’s even realizing that the fundraising is not enough. She’s ready to turn sort of her awareness into action. And she’s getting in touch with council members and members of, of leadership in the KW community and, and getting in touch with them on how to, again, further this cause.


Abbey Gingerich (25:14):
And that’s just been amazing. And I have another student that is is also a sewer, but is interested in climate change and she’s been collecting thrifted or used fabrics and repurposing them into SCRs and little pouches. And she’s been selling those and working on creating then also information on the fashion industry’s impact on the environment and how to be more sustainable. And so it, it’s so interesting to see the different levels that they’ve been able to take their projects and and these passions and translate them into something that’s gonna make an impact on their community. And then other students haven’t, they, they didn’t have to do a fundraiser component. Other students are creating I have one student creating resources for new youth to Canada either through immigration or just moving to Ontario as well.


Abbey Gingerich (26:15):
And she’s put together full resources community resources that youth should know about when they’re new to Canada or new to KW. And so sort of the, I guess the accomplishment that’s come out of them and to realize that they could still make an incredible impact on their world at whatever level that is. They’ve been able to do that even during COVID and in, in a very short period of time too, it’s only been about six weeks. So that has been one of the most rewarding things that has come out of this time. And I had no idea going into it that it was gonna go that this way. But it’s been incredible.


Sam Demma (26:56):
That is so cool. Thanks for sharing.


Abbey Gingerich (26:59):
Thank you.


Sam Demma (27:01):
And with that final thought, thank you so much for tuning into another episode. I hope you enjoyed this interview with Abby and got something from it. There was so many pieces of wisdom and nuggets and unique ideas that you could take, make your own, and also use for your school. If you did enjoy this, consider leaving a rating and review so more teachers like yourself can find this content and also live out the high performing educator philosophy. And as always, if you have ideas that you think should be shared with your colleagues around the country, around the globe, please reach out at info@samdemma.com so we can share your story with our audience. I’ll talk to you soon.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Abbey Gingerich

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 Kelly – Catholic Educator, Coach, World Traveller, Hockey Fan and Student Leadership Advisor

Michael Kelly – Catholic Educator, Coach, World Traveller, Hockey Fan and Student Leadership Advisor
About Michael Kelly

Michael Kelly (@729Kelly) currently teaches at Michael Power St. Joseph at the TCDSB. Michael is a highly motivated, passionate, inclusive Catholic educator, coach, world traveller, hockey fan and student leadership advisor interested in expanding his professional network and collaborating with like-minded teachers.

He is a passionate and dynamic young educator and life-long learner who works in west end of Toronto. He is very interested in issues of special education, history, politics, experiential learning, community service and civic engagement.

Michael is an Ontario Certified teacher who works for the Toronto Catholic District School Board in the secondary panel. He is a proud graduate of the University of Toronto – St. Michaels College and OISE.

Michael has worked in several placements in both elementary and secondary school settings, and community service organizations in local communities as well as overseas. Experiential learning, inclusivity and community service form his core beliefs and philosophy on education.

Michael is also a dedicated volunteer and board member of a number of community organizations serving in a variety of roles and capacities, and he has played a key role in recruiting young people to vote and become engaged in the democratic process in Toronto.

He is a passionate advocate for Catholic education, Special Education, Cooperative education, athletics and creating inclusive high-quality learning environments and experiences for his students.

He is involved as a Student Council Teacher Moderator, Coach, and Chaplaincy team member at every school community he has the opportunity to serve. He believes in the tremendous potential educators have to shape and mold the minds and character of the next generation of young leaders.

Michael also collaborates and supports English teacher and podcast host, Adrian Del Monte on The Whole Hearted Teaching Podcast.

Follow on Twitter at @podcastforheart.

Connect with Michael: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Michael Power St. Joseph

Adrian Del Monte

Gen School Italian Heritage Foundation

Brene Brown’s Dare to Lead

Brene Brown: The Power of Vulnerability

Dr. Tim Elmore

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):
Do you want access to all the past guests on this show? Do you want a network with like-minded individuals and meet other high performing educators from around the world? If so, go to www.highperformingeducator.com. Sign up to join the exclusive network and you’ll get access to live virtual networking events and other spec opportunities that will come out throughout 2021. I promise you I will not fill your inbox. You might get one email a month. If that sounds interesting, go to www.highperformingeducator.com. Welcome back to another episode of the high performing educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s guest is Michael Kelly. Michael is someone who reached out to me after listening to another podcast and inquired about coming on the show. And he’s a very passionate educator. Michael Kelly, currently teachers at Michael power St. Joseph at the Toronto Catholic District School Board. He is highly motivated, passionate, and in an inclusive Catholic educator coach, world traveler hockey fan and student leadership advisor, interested in expanding his professional network and collaborating with like-minded individuals.


Sam Demma (01:13):

He is passionate and dynamic and a lifelong learner who works in the west and of Toronto. He’s very interested in issues of special education, history, politics, experiential learning, community service, and civic engagement. He is also involved in as a student council teacher, moderator coach and chaplaincy team member at every school community. He has the opportunity to serve. He believes in the tremendous potential educators have to shape and mold the minds and character of the next generation of young leaders. He also supports his good friend and a past guest on this show, Adrian Del-Monte with the whole hearted teaching podcast. I’m super excited for you to hear today’s interview with Michael. It was packed with so much great information enjoy. I will 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, the show after we connected a few months ago. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit behind the story about why you got into education.


Michael Kelly (02:14):

Okay. Well thank you. Thanks Sam, for having me on the show, big fan of your podcast. You’ve got some great, great interviews, great educators, so really happy to be here. So I will work for the Toronto Catholic district school board. Currently I teach on a contract right now at Michael power St. Joseph teaching history and religion. So I’m teaching grade 10 right now. And yeah, I’m, I’m really interested in kind of moving into this this space of podcasts. I think it’s a great kind of professional development resource for teachers and I think it’s a great opportunity to share ideas, share resources. So why I was interested in coming on the podcast and kind of sharing a little bit of my own, my own story. So I, I studied undergrad at the university of Toronto and graduated from and I was actually in the concurrent education program at the time at St. Mike’s college. So you know, we, we did kind of a very like he program where you’re taking undergrad courses at the same time as as your teacher’s college. So it was kind of for folks who knew that they wanted to go into teaching and it was a great, great, great experience. And the last couple years working for the TCDSB has been fantastic, some really great personal and professional highlights which I’m sure we’ll yeah, we’ll get into.


Sam Demma (03:45):

That’s awesome. And how did you actually find the podcast? I know there’s a, it came through an interesting turn of events. I’m curious to know how you landed on it, cuz you, you know, you sent me an email and I was like, oh, this is so cool. And we connected whereabouts to, did you find it?


Michael Kelly (04:01):

So I there were actually two kind of sources initially, I believe it was Mike Michael con who’s the student leadership coordinator and teacher at the board level does tremendous work. And I think he was featured on one of your earlier shows and he’s shares a lot and I connect with him online and on social media, on Twitter. And I believe I saw it there as well as a colleague and friend of mine, Adrian Delmonte, who you may know who we partner with on the wholehearted teaching podcast. He kind of mentioned that he was in conversation with you. So that’s kind of how I more checked out a few episodes on the podcast, really like the kind of theme and direction. So yeah, that’s how I found found the podcast.


Sam Demma (04:50):

So cool. Shout out to both Mike and Adrian. Yeah. If, if you’re tuning in, they have their own episodes as well. You can check ’em out.


Michael Kelly (04:57):

Oh, they’re great guys. Great teachers.


Sam Demma (04:59):

Cool. You mentioned that had some serious highlights in education. Why don’t we just dive into those right now? I’m assuming you’re gonna talk about the Coliseum and Rome and taking some experiential learning trips abroad. And, and you know, when we talked before this podcast, you mentioned that those experience really reignited your passion for learning and teaching. And I’m curious to know more about how those impacted you and why you think it’s important to learn also experientially.


Michael Kelly (05:26):

Well, I think the, yeah, that’s a great point. Like I think my initial kind of connection I, I made between kind of teaching and experiential learning came through my own travel. So when I was in university, I actually you know, taught or actually had a chance to volunteer in a couple of different placements in my program through going over to places like South Africa and Bosnia actually to do some volunteer work. So that’s really where kind of the, the seed was planted. So to speak in terms of connecting how powerful service learning and experiential learning can be for, for myself as an undergrad student. And then by extension, a couple years later, I had the opportunity to, as you mentioned, go, go over to Italy in for a few summers in a row to go to labia and Naru. So the Northern and Southern regions of IItaly with groups, hundreds of students big stellar staff team.


Michael Kelly (06:29):

And we essentially spent the summer teaching grade 12 ancient Civ course. The kids got a credit. They were able to obviously experience the culture, the partnership between our board and the York Catholic Board and the Gen School Italian Heritage Organization. So I had initially connected with that organization through an my own high school trip when I was at student at the Asia Bowen. And yeah, years later I was invited to go on as a staff member. It was a tremendous experience, right? The, the students had, you know, besides the academic immersion and, you know you know, being able to go out to the PIAs and the markets and the restaurants and the site seeing and all the historical sites, they also got some life skill training, which I thought was really like an added bonus to the program where for many of the students on the trip, it was their first time, you know, away from mom and dad away from their family.


Michael Kelly (07:32):

And it was also kind of a, a test run to see whether, you know, they were thinking at applying a post-secondary, they could see whether they could handle the dorm life, so to speak, right? Like they, they had a chance to kind of see whether that was something that was well suited to them or not. And you know, they had to do, you know, in some cases do their own laundry, like, you know, kind of keep track of their assignments on their own right time management you know, learning direction, right. Trying to navigate around places like Rome and Pompe and Florence Positano the multi coast. Right. So it was a really, really great immersive experience. And I think for, for a lot of the students, they found that they actually grew over the course of that trip, even though it was like 3, 3, 4 weeks or so, they actually grew a lot after the experience.


Sam Demma (08:31):

And I’m sure going from traveling through Europe to coming back and hoping to go this summer again, and COVID hitting, you know, every thing kinda, you know, blew up and it, it sucks to a degree, but what does education look like now for you? I know, you know, unfortunately you can’t go back to Rome, but what does it, what does it look like now and what do you think are the opportunities just like they existed in Rome? What do you think are the opportunities that exist today now in this environment for young people?


Michael Kelly (09:05):

Okay. So I think it’s a great question. So the first part, in terms of the challenges, I think that you’re, you’re asking about the major challenge, one of the major challenges I’m finding is just us student engagement and definitely concerns about student mental health would be kind of first and foremost and at the forefront of my mind. And I think I can speak for a lot of colleagues as well to say that they, they would probably say the same thing. You know, there’s a little bit of a learning for even as a younger teacher, there’s a little bit of warning curve adapting to the new technology, getting used to, you know, being on zoom and Google meets all the time and, you know, really multitasking on, on a regular basis. For example, like right now we, we have some students who in the morning we’re are teaching in person in the building, but we’re also live streaming our classes simultaneously at the same time that that has been definitely a new experience in the last few months.


Michael Kelly (10:11):

And you know, just, you know, trying to form those positive student relationships can be a little bit challenging when everyone’s covered with a mask. And you’re, you know, you’re trying to teach, you’re trying to tell a joke, a story to your class, and you’re looking for some kind of facial recognition for them to actually, you know, affirm what you’re saying or, you know whatever it might be. So I think those are some of the challenges that teachers are facing right now. Now I know some, those are some that have come to mind and just the workload. I think definitely teachers find that they’re spending more time trying to convert their lessons into an online format because remote learning is so, so different. And the hybrid learning we’re doing is so different from a traditional classroom model. So being able to adapt and be flexible has been really key.


Michael Kelly (11:07):

But the great to get to your next point about like, what are some of the opportunities? I think one of the kind of silver linings or opportunities here has been the great degree of just like innovation that you see your teacher colleagues are doing, whether it’s in your department or in your school. And we actually had a staff meeting a couple weeks ago where it was great to, you know, see and hear teachers sharing what they’re doing in their virtual learning environments. And it just blows my mind some of the, the innovative practices. Like we didn’t even know that some of these techniques were possible a year ago. Right. so I, I do think, you know, obviously there’s a lot of realistic challenges but then there’s also the opportunities to innovate and use things like Google Jam board or for myself, I’ve been trying to utilize a lot of virtual guest speakers and partner with other outside organizations like that.


Michael Kelly (12:07):

That has been tremendous. Like just one example was when I was teaching my a 10 history course for Canadian history, I was able to bring in a world war II veteran who was living in BC. And we were able to have kind of a live interactive discussion with him and just to enrich the curriculum, enrich the learning experience for the students. So I think that there, you know, there are kind of some, and, you know, as we always tell our own students, we kinda have to take our own advice and adopt a bit of a growth mindset in this environment. For sure.


Sam Demma (12:47):

I think that’s so true now more than it ever has been, you mentioned before we started recording that right before the school board tried transitioned back into in person, it seemed like teachers and yourself were just getting the hang of teaching online and teaching virtually. And I’m curious to know when you say getting the hang of it, what did that look like? Like what did your average day look like? What do you think was helping you teach virtually if someone else is listening right now and still teaching in a, a virtual scenario?


Michael Kelly (13:19):

That’s a great question. So in terms of some of the tips that helped kind of teaching from home and being fully virtual all day, I think, you know, scheduling your day almost to the hour to the minute is extremely important. I think in an online environment, even more so than I would say in person you know, just scheduling your breaks, making sure that you’re, you know, you, you can never pour from an empty cup, right? So taking care of your own your own wellbeing as the teacher in the class is obviously paramount to your student success and to their own health and wellbeing, but making sure that you’re pacing things for yourself and your students. You know, in terms of we had a great teacher on staff at the beginning of the year, and he’s been providing support Jeff bobs here at Michael power, great guy, great teacher who gave us some great tips in terms of scheduling, giving our students an activity in the morning, let’s say in our morning online class, and then giving them time to sit with that, with that virtual work, using Google or zoom breakout rooms to give the kids some time to interact and make sure that you’re not lecturing them for three hours straight or, you know, in the morning in the afternoon.


Michael Kelly (14:42):

So definitely breaking up the variety of activities is really important and provide that kind of differentiated instruction. And that just helps with the general classroom management. I found that you’re not gonna have kids goofing off as much if they know what the schedule is in advance, they know the exact time that they’re gonna be doing certain activities or tests. I found that that was really helpful. And then for sure, like just once again, some personal self care, like going for a run, right. Going for walks hikes you know, during the spring last year, I had a chance to get back more into mountain biking, which I had in cycling, like, which I hadn’t done in years. And that really helped. I, I, I felt with my own productivity right in the downtime and, and then reading and you know podcasts and a big film B and always checking out new things on Netflix and Amazon. So kind of tho those things really helped to kind of refuel the tank so to speak once, once the day was over cuz you know, burnout and kind of taking care of your own wellbeing is definitely critical in, in, in this environment more than ever.


Sam Demma (15:58):

There’s a new movie that just came out and Denzel Washington plays one of the main characters and he’s cracking, he’s cracking a criminal and trying to figure out what this guy did and the movie’s titled the little things. And there’s multiple times throughout the movie where Denzel stops and looks at his co police officer investigator and says, it’s the little things that gets you caught. And I, I made the connection between education and thought, you know, from a teacher’s perspective, it’s also the little things, not that you catch your kids doing, it’s the little things you do that make the biggest difference. And I’m so glad you mentioned being a perpetual learner because I think it’s so important leading by example, and showing your students that you’re doing everything in your power to educate yourself, encourages them to have a desire, to continue learning and, and want to read books. I mean, people can’t see this, but while we’re filming this behind you on your ledge of your chalkboard is a dozen books there. And I’m curious to know what, what are some of the books that you have read, or maybe some of the podcasts you tune into, give yourself a shout out and that you think teachers could check out and, and benefit from, from consuming. I I’d love to, I’d, I’d love for you to share.


Michael Kelly (17:11):

Sure. So some of the content I’ve been consuming lately, that’s been helpful. I, I would say would be first and foremost Brene Brown’s Dare to Lead her audio book. That, that was really helpful for me back in the spring and even teaching summer summer school over the summer that was really instructive, really great book. And she has kind of accompanying podcast that goes along with it, which she’s continually updating with great guests. And it talks a lot about leadership. It talks a lot about kind of organizational culture talks about resilience and empathy and vulnerability. I was introduced Brene Brown initially through her Ted talk on the power of vulnerability, which is also really worth checking out. And you know, a lot of the messages she has doesn’t necessarily speak directly to education, but it speaks to the workplace.


Michael Kelly (18:13):

And I found that her, her writing her books, her podcast were really instructive as well as gentleman from the United States named Tim Elmore, Dr. Tim Elmore. He’s done some work with John Maxwell. Who’s kind of a leadership expert and Tim Elmore has a podcast in an organization called growing leaders. And he talks a lot about different issues that are going on in the education world and that podcast, you know, during my runs or hikes or bike rides, that’s, that’s been a really great resource for me in terms of just giving me some in additional creativity and inspiration. And then, yeah, a, as you mentioned bit of a plug here, but I have to give credit where it’s due. I’ve been working with Adrian Del Monte an English teacher from Bishop Allen.


Michael Kelly (19:15):

We used to work together more directly, but yeah, he started a podcast earlier in the in the fall around November called the wholehearted teaching podcast, which a lot of the inspiration for, from that came from Brianne brown and her kind of discussion of wholehearted living. So the idea of the podcast on wholehearted teaching is really we invite educators people in the education space, whether they be teachers principals people in administration, directors writers, authors we’ve had on people in the educational psychology space different topics to talk about the current issues in education. And I, we have a really great podcast coming out new episode on this Tuesday, March 2nd with an individual named Desante hotten, and he’s gonna be talking all about mental health as well as how that affects black mental health in, in particular and how that connects to our role as educators, as we focus on combating racism in, in our society. So really kind of top of mind since we’ve just finished black history month and, you know, engaging in that kind of work along with Adrian and collaborating and helping out in any way I can and promoting has been really helpful for me, you know, just learning about the stories and the different personal journeys and narratives of other teachers who’ve come come before you has been really inspiring for me and has helped kind of push me along through the challenges of this pandemic.


Sam Demma (21:04):

I love that. That’s so awesome. And I’ve tuned into a couple of the episodes, and I know you’ve been, you and Adrian have been doing a anti-racism like series. I would say there’s a ton of great info on the podcast and the Twitter, by the way, shout out at wholehearted teaching podcast. That that’s awesome. So, so good. If you could go back to your first year as an educator and give yourself feedback like, and, and give yourself advice, what is the main thing you would, what is the main sort of things you would say to yourself, or tell yourself to almost get started in this profession again? If, if you could go back and feel free to just unmute yourself as well.


Michael Kelly (21:49):

Yeah, it’s a good question. So in terms of the advice I would give to kind of a first year educator right now would be really to, you know, first and foremost, just be humble and understand that there’s a lot to learn. And you know, you’re going to need in, in my experience, learn how to identify support systems, identify colleagues who, you know, are gonna be supportive, who are gonna act as mentors to you. Because I think that’s what initially for me anyways, that got me into teaching in the first place is having those really great high school teachers. You back at Bishop Allen, who tacked you on the shoulder and realized, you know, okay recognize there was a talent or an interest or a passion. And that was really for me, what was helpful. So for a first year educator, I would see be, be humble try to be resourceful spend time listening.


Michael Kelly (22:50):

Right. we often listen in order to respond you know, rather than listening to really just understand. And I think that that’s a really important concept to understand as you enter into a new profession. And just be very curious in quiz, ask a lot of questions, right? There’s no such thing as, as a dumb question and really seek out the support from your mentors. And I think that that, that will serve a first year educator. Well, whether it’s in this environment or any other environment and allowing yourself to, you know, understand that it’s a long journey in education and you don’t have to expect to be perfect or have all the answers right out of the gate. Right. and, you know, just pursue an attitude of lifelong learning, I think is really, really, really, really important. Your education doesn’t end after teachers college or after graduation. It actually, for me, it just, it just began like it’s just getting started. Right. And even a couple years in now, like, I feel like I’m just learning so much, so yeah. Just stay curious, stay stay humble and ask a lot of questions.


Sam Demma (24:14):

That’s such good advice. That is awesome. And if, if an educator listened to this interview today and is inspired by anything that you shared or just wants to have a conversation with you, be the best way for them to get in touch with you?


Michael Kelly (24:26):

So best way would be, you can connect with me. I’m on Twitter at @729Kelly. I’m on LinkedIn as Michael, just Michael Kelly, and then by email michael.kelly@tsdsb.org, always looking to connect with like-minded educators and people in the education space and always looking for another, another interesting guest to bring onto the podcast with Adrian. So always looking to learn more. So that’s, that’s where you can reach me.


Sam Demma (25:12):

Mike. Awesome. Thank you so much for taking time outta your day to come on the show. I really appreciate it. I look forward to listening to your future episodes as well. Keep doing awesome work and, and I’ll talk to you soon.


Michael Kelly (25:22):

Thank you, Sam, for this opportunity and keep up the great work you’re doing a you’re doing such great work and I really admire and respect it. So thank you.


Sam Demma (25:31):

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Michael Kelly

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.

Margot Arnold – Entrepreneurship Teacher and Women of the Year Workplace Excellence Award

Margot Arnold – Entrepreneurship Teacher and Women of the Year Workplace Excellence Award
About Margot Arnold

Margot Arnold (@margotarnold) is an outstanding choice for the Women of the Year Workplace Excellence Award. She continually develops an exceptionally supportive, innovative, and creative class environment for her students in the Entrepreneurship 30 class (Junior Achievement Program) and actively contributes to the caring and welcoming environment at school for her fellow teachers at the Weyburn Comprehensive School (WCS).

Connect with Margot: Email | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Women of the Year Workplace Excellence Award

Junior Achievement Program

Weyburn Comprehensive School (WCS)

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):
Do you want access to all the past guests on this show? Do you want a network with like-minded individuals and meet other high performing educators from around the world? If so, go to www.highperformingeducator.com. Sign up to join the exclusive network and you’ll get access to live virtual networking events and other spec opportunities that will come out throughout 2021. I promise you I will not fill your inbox. You might get one email a month. If that sounds interesting, go to www.highperformingeducator.com. Welcome back to another episode of the high performing educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma today’s guest is Margot Arnold. She is a nominee for the credit union workplace excellence award. Margo is an outstanding choice for the Woman of the Year Workplace Excellence Award. She continually develops an exceptionally supportive, innovative and creative class environment for her students in the entrepreneurship 30 class, which you’ll hear about you’ll hear all about in this interview.


Sam Demma (01:04):

It’s linked with the Junior Achievement program. She actively contributes to the caring and welcoming environment at school for fellow teachers at Weyburn Comprehensive School. I had the opportunity to speak to their students a few months ago. And me and Margo connected as a result, she’s had so many different experiences. One of her most proud moments is the teacher project video that was featured in 2017. That highlighted the amazing work that happens in her entrepreneurship class. I don’t wanna get too much into it right now. I’ll give Margo the opportunity to share. And as you’ll hear in this interview with that being said, let’s jump right in Margo. Welcome to the high performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing why you got into the work you’re doing in education today.


Margot Arnold (01:54):

Thank you very much. I’m very pleased to be here. I was humbled when you asked me to come on. So my story I was born and raised in and my grandmother was a teacher in a one room schoolhouse. And so I wanted to kind of follow in her footsteps as she also got married at that time. And during the twenties there, you could not be married and still be a teacher. Hmm. So then she went into business with my grand or for 56 years. So I have the passion for business and I have the passion for teaching and I just wanted to make a difference. So I went to business school after high school, and then I worked in a law firm. Then I worked three years in a private school, came back to work at WCS as an admin assistant and thought, Hey, I wanna be the teacher in the classroom with a degree. The private school didn’t need it. So I went back to school at age 30 and I’ve been teaching now for 20 years.


Sam Demma (02:55):

Ah, that’s awesome. Yeah. And what subjects? I, I mean, I could dive right into the passion for business, but I wanna know where did the journey in education start and what does it look like today?


Margot Arnold (03:07):

So when I was hired on, I took a maternity leave in the business ed area. So teaching accounting, 10, 20 and 30 grade, 10, 11, 12, and information, 10, 11, entrepreneurship, 30 and over the years, I’ve taught online as well. I’ve taught entrepreneurship online and accounting online. So that’s a, a different experience. Although I missed I didn’t do it full time. I did it half so half online, half in the classroom. And that’s a really nice mix cause I, I miss seeing the students faces back when I was doing it. It was a little bit less technology with video and, and whatnot. So that being said over the years, I’ve also taught English and I’ve taught drafting. And that would is interesting because drafting, AutoCAD and learning inventor, which is the 3d mechanical and Revit. And I knew nothing in that area. It was all self taught. So my principal said, well, you teach computers. I said, yeah. And so, so he says, there’s your fit? So that being said, it was pushed personal growth for me. So, but right now I just teach entrepreneurship, accounting and IP, which I’ve renamed as business technology.


Sam Demma (04:36):

I have to imagine that your parents, entrepreneurial spirits inspired you to, you know, take hold of the same sort of ideas and teaching entrepreneurship and running Ja in the school and doing some phenomenal initiatives with the students. Where did that passion internally for you, for entrepreneurship come from? Was it your parents?


Margot Arnold (04:56):

I, I think a little bit growing up in, in a home with a family business like that, I worked at the business, so I understood some of the internal part of it, but my grandmother was a pioneer business woman and I just always strive to be like her. And so she in, they started a gas station and then they added three little rooms at the back, which was kind of cool room and board. They just diversified. And then they got into the car dealership. Hmm. So just seeing all the innovation and the change, I like to be at the forefront of change, which is why I’m on a lot of committees and associations and things like that. So I just love business. It’s always changing.


Sam Demma (05:39):

And you translated that passion for business, this to classrooms of students. I, I watched a couple weeks ago after the speech, you sent me a link to the, the teacher project video, what a phenomenal video that was put together by the Saskatchewan association of teachers or Federation of teachers encapsulating some of the work you’ve been doing. Can you share a little bit about what you do with the students in the entrepreneurship class and with Ja and what that looks like?


Margot Arnold (06:07):

Absolutely. So we were lucky enough to be offered, to have the entrepreneurship program offered in 2014 with the Ja in the classroom. So that means instead of just assignments and textbook and that we went to hands on real learning. Hmm. So with that, they start the first month or so is a lot of what is entrepreneurship? What is an entrepreneur? Different things like that. And then we get into the meat of it as just running the business. So they brainstorm ideas. They come up with feasibility studies, they do some market surveys. They gather that analysis and they analyze that surveys information and they think, okay, this is the idea we’re going with. And then they implement it with the management team. So they either vote or sometimes they work it out amongst themselves. They say, I would like to do this, or I would do that. And if they have two going for the same position, then they’ll do a, do an actual vote. So they write their business plan with or co-presidents. And then they have vice presidents in areas of human resources, sales, and marketing, finance, environmental health, and safety production, and information technology. So they learn if they allow themselves, they will learn so much in class. And that’s usually the feedback I get. It’s not like any other class it’s more relevant, more hands on, more real life. And they have the opportunity to make a profit.


Sam Demma (07:49):

One of the students in the video described it as getting a head start on your future. And I think that’s such a great way to encapsulate what happens in that class based on the videos that I’ve seen. And you mentioned that they make a profit and they, you also donate a profit over the years. How much money roughly do you think has been raised through these companies that were founded by the students and in the class?


Margot Arnold (08:14):

So my first goal was $10,000 when, and I thought that was a really lofty goal. However, I like to set the goals high. Nice. And my benchmark is usually high for the students too, so that they will grow. We have raised in just over six years, just under $14,000 to give back to different organizations. They have to donate the minimum 10%. That’s a da requirement, but other than that, they can donate more or they’ll round up or they can have more than one charity or nonprofit. It just depends on what the company group members wanna do.


Sam Demma (08:55):

That’s amazing. And what are some of the projects that you think have been the most unique or fun to work on? They might also include the most challenges. I saw sweet dreams is a really cool one, but what other projects have been a lot of fun to manage and to watch grow?


Margot Arnold (09:10):

Well, I would say the very beginning one was called kick glass and we took wine bottles and we cut them. And then I learned how many different grits of sound paper. I’m not even sure how to describe it, but there are cuz they had about six different stations where they had to get it, of course, for safety to turn these wine glasses in, into drinkable glasses. So we broke a lot of wine bottles. I tell you that much. However, they it, it was neat to see the progression from how to look at a video and go through it, learn how to do it. And then, okay, that’s not working. How do we have to innovate or change to do? And so they ended up about three or four different processes and they just get it right. And then the business comes to an end and they dissolve the business.


Margot Arnold (10:06):

But students can take on the businesses after I know there was one in Regina, it was a tie dye business, and it’s still operating today. That being said there was one palatable project. I, I enjoyed that one as well, because it also depends on the makeup of your class. There was a lot of creative students in that class. So they made Barnwood signs, free hand and stencil, and they made fire pit chairs from PA pallets. They made wine racks from pallets and they made Barnwood hook shells. And so they had a variety of about four different things, 27 students. And they ended up being a national winner for the chamber of commerce company of the year. Nice. And the other one was overtime and they took brown, new skate laces. It was the idea of one of the gold wing hockey players in eayburn.


Margot Arnold (11:04):

We have a AAA girls team and she came up with the idea, the president was a gold wing and they thought let’s take hockey laces and turn them into lanyards. And I still use my lanyard today. So they had single lanyards, they two different color lanyards together, or they braided them with colors and then they also made the bracelets. So there’s a, a lot of labor in some ideas. And then there’s others where like balanced jewelry, theirs was based on a triangle cuz you think of mental health being the three pillars kind of thing. And so that was their version. They wanted everyone to stay balanced and they made different jewelry right in the classroom and very unique little pieces as well. So I’m it, it’s very exciting to see what they come up with. And every year they surprise me and I learn so much from them. And it’s fun.


Sam Demma (11:59):

I was Gonna say, I’m sure there’s lots of labor, but it’s, it sounds like for you, it’s a labor of love, you know, like it’s a, it’s an exciting labor. What makes you so passionate about teaching entrepreneurship? Like why, why do you think it’s so important to give these students these opportunities to start these little companies in their classrooms?


Margot Arnold (12:17):

Well, I think with this program, the skill sets that they can come out of, it will certainly prepare them for life. Hmm. There’s a lot of communication. There’s a lot of negotiation there’s analyzing there’s parole and solving decision, making all those kind of things and mostly teamwork if they can work well as a team, because of course getting out there in the real world, they have to do that. So that’s interesting at a teenager level and teenagers managing teenagers. So there’s always the strong personalities versus the other personalities. And I just say, you gotta find a way to make it work. And we’ve had some drama I have to admit, but I say work it out and they do.


Sam Demma (13:05):

Oh, that’s awesome. And I know aside from, oh, sorry, continue.


Margot Arnold (13:07):

I was just gonna say lots of great friendships come outta that too, because they work in groups that they may not have ever worked in any other classes.


Sam Demma (13:15):

That’s a phenomenal point. I even think about the little initiatives that we’ve started in Pickering and some of the things that we used to do in high school, it it’s almost like extracurricular activities are an equalizer or like a friendship maker, you know, because you might talk to certain people in class, but then, you know, there’s a, another kid in the corner of the room who has the same interest as you, that you’ve never to, before I went out of your way to talk to, and you’ll meet them at this, at this business idea or at an extracurricular activity. So I think it’s a phenomenal way. Not only to build new skills, but to meet new people. I wish I had your class when I was in, when I was in high school. I think it would’ve been a blast to get involved in that.


Margot Arnold (13:55):

I was just gonna say when I was in high school too, they did it as an after school program. So these students are very lucky that they can take it as a credit program and get an entrepreneurship through 30 credit out of it.


Sam Demma (14:05):

Now, is this something that other school boards or other teachers listening can approach JA and try and do the same thing? Or like how did it start for you?


Margot Arnold (14:12):

It, it started for me in 2014 when the ministry of education came down and, and we had a one-on-one meeting and asked if I would, they wanted to pursue students learning entrepreneurship. So they thought this hands on program is a great way of doing it. I used to have students write fictitious business plans as a final project. So they got to write a business plan and all that’s entailed, but when you can actually implement it and see how it comes to fruition, that makes all the difference in the world. So we do have more schools in the south have taken on JA in their classrooms. I know that in Saskatoon, more in the north, they usually present it as an afterschool program. So it hasn’t flourished there in their entrepreneurship, 30 classes, as much as it has in the Southern part of the, of, but the students that do participate in the Ja are eligible to apply for Ja Canada scholarships.


Margot Arnold (15:20):

Hmm. And only if you’ve taken the class, Ja Saskatchewan then would come out, came out to, after I agreed to take it on Ja Saskatchewan came out to my classroom and they did that. Sorry, can I stop for one moment? Yeah, no worries. Did that ding come through on your end? Okay. That’s okay. I’m thinking I should have maybe closed my email when they, so they came out, Katherine G for vagina was the president at that time and she came out and she explained the whole thing and I thought, okay, this sounds kind of cool. And of course, naturally you’re a little bit leery cuz what you were doing, you thought was working and now let’s try something new. Yep. Which is always scary. So I just see even myself from day one to, this is my 21st company coming up. And that being said, it’s not just one company per class.


Margot Arnold (16:16):

One time I had the, I think the video was focused on my three during that class because you, if they’re willing to take on that leadership position, they could have a group of eight. There was a girl in Yorkton, a group of one and she had her own company and, and she Ja likes you to produce a product or provide a service. And it’s harder to provide a service in a one hour class, but with COVID we are in two and a half hour blocks right now in morning and afternoon. So I have entrepreneurship all morning or all afternoon, like it goes morning, alternates new in the next class. And so that becomes a little bit of a challenge too, because it’s a five day AB block. Mm. So you may not see those students for a good week to 10 days. Yes. So a lot of communication has to be done outside and be on top of that.


Sam Demma (17:13):
I’m sure they create slack groups and, and, and they all have a, a unique way of communicating. I, I would assume that they would work on this stuff even outside the classroom, if they’re super passionate about it, is that what ends up happening?


Margot Arnold (17:26):

Does actually. And depending on the item, as I said, and the amount of time it takes for production pre COVID, we were able to have production nights. And those were a lot of fun because it was after hours or weekends and I would come and, and we usually would have food because food’s a good thing to motivate teenagers. And, and so I would bring in food or we might order pizza in or something like that. And it was fun because they could they were working, but they were socializing. And right now that’s obviously missing right now. But I really was pleased when I was reading my final evaluation questions from first semester and the one student he said you know, most of our classes are pretty silent, pretty quiet for the two and a half hours, but I am so grateful that this class had that socialization and it made you forget you were in a pandemic. And so that one kind of warn my heart when I heard that, because of course anything we can do to build that community relationship right now. So students aren’t feeling as isolated.


Sam Demma (18:40):

That’s the goal that’s so important, especially during a time like COVID 19. And I know that you have also served as the SRC advisor for or multiple years. You’ve organized provincial conferences. You’ve probably seen dozens of speakers. Why, what makes you passionate about student leadership? Also?


Margot Arnold (19:01):

I think I am just really passionate about helping students be the best they can be. Hmm. And I always say kind of an it’s funny analogy, but it’s like a tomato when you are green and when a tomato’s green, it has to ripen, but if a tomato’s red and it sits there and sits there and sits there, it will rot. Mm. So I always say, push yourself outta that comfort zone. It’s not gonna feel good, but you will grow. And I use another analog, yo wipey, you only get out what you put in.


Margot Arnold (19:39):

And that’s what their companies are all about. And, and that’s true for all relationships really, and your schoolwork and everything in life. So just I love business. I love technology. Those are constant changing all the time. So I think that is exciting cuz every day’s different.


Sam Demma (19:57):

Yeah, no, I, I totally agree. And I love the acronyms and the use of the tomato. I have a story that I share with middle school students about my Italian grandfather and trying to get him to quit smoking by burning all of his cigarettes. And then the story I talk about how he comes. So the back of the cottage and his face is as red as a tomato. And I show a picture of him with a tomato head and all these kids just start laughing so much. But analogies are so powerful. Student leadership is, is so powerful. Giving students examples of people who have, who have done things that maybe they’re striving to do is so powerful. What is your advice to an educator who might want to start a JA chapter at their school or, you know, perhaps pitch to their principal to start allowing them to teach entrepreneurship? Like what would be the best way for them to go about it?


Margot Arnold (20:47):

I, I think obviously talk to your principal, get them on board, get your division on board, but contact your JA chapter in the province. And they would be more than willing to come in. And right now Catherine would come in, she’d FaceTime in, she’d Skype in, but she said she’s brought me in to kind of mentor other teachers. We used to get together first and second semester and what works, what doesn’t work in Regina. And so that I could help new teachers get going. So I have done some video calls with other teachers to help, help them get going. And so our province right now is looking at an entrepreneurship 20 and 30. And we’re just trying to decide cuz whether we need that or whether we, we don’t have prerequisites. So the ministry doesn’t, so would you take 20 and 30 or would you just jump into to 30?


Margot Arnold (21:51):

So just some things to consider that we’re working through, but Jas Canada has been phenomenal. Jay Saskatchewan’s been phenomenal and I wouldn’t go back to teaching any other way. Students prefer this business leaders think it’s great. I have business people come in because they do a formal board meeting. They chair it. So they learn about how that works with motions and things like that. And they present their business plan and those business people give them feedback, they share their expertise. And have you thought about this or did you think about that or they’ll come in and help them if they’re having trouble figuring out their startup costs or how to set that sweet spot of price, making sure everything’s covered in the unexpected. So the chamber commerce gets involved in way and a local businessman is on board and he comes to our meetings and then community development community, future sunrise. She comes to the meetings too. So she’s been there from the start. So I have such support from the wave community and they want to help students learn business and they are all, I always think, I wonder if this is gonna be the company that struggles and they always finish strong so far.


Sam Demma (23:17):

That’s awesome. I was knock on wood. Yeah. When you were when you were thinking of, when you were stating that you have so much support, I was thinking of the quote, if you want to go fast, go alone. And if you wanna go far go together and I think it it’s so true that it takes a village of people to bring an idea to life, to support a young person. So kudos to you and everyone involved in the project. I think it’s phenomenal. If someone’s listening to this and they wanna take you up on the offer to maybe just reach out and set up a call with you, what would be the best way for another educator to reach out?


Margot Arnold (23:54):

So I of course, or email, yeah, we could email me. We could, I if we put it on how we do that, but margotarnold@secpsd.ca. It stands for Southeast Cornerstone Public School Division. I’m also on LinkedIn.


Sam Demma (24:26):

No, that sounds great, please. That, that, that works just fine. Margot, thank you so much for doing this. I appreciate you taking the time to have this conversation. It was awesome. Please keep me updated on what’s going on with the students and the projects I look forward to seeing the impact that it makes in the community.


Margot Arnold (24:42):

Awesome. Thank you so much for having me. It was a pleasure.


Sam Demma (24:46):

And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating in 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 to 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 Margot Arnold

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

Karen Kettle – Retired Science Teacher, Speaker and Author of Countdown To Camp

Karen Kettle - Retired Science Teacher and Author of Countdown To Camp
About Karen Kettle

Karen Kettle is passionate about the power of student-led leadership programs. Throughout her career with the Durham District School Board, Karen has been a high school science teacher, a consultant, an international presenter, an author, and a course director for the York University Faculty of Education.

She has worked beside talented student leaders and dedicated colleagues to create and implement the Eastdale Eagles Leadership Camp and the Port Perry Rebels Leadership Camp. In retirement, Karen continues to explore new and creative pathways to share her love of leadership with the next generation!

Connect with Karen: Email


Personal note from Karen

Leadership Camp is a collaborative effort.  I would like to thank all of the people who are partners in making camp happen.

Camp Heads
Camp Committee Members
Team Leaders
Student Leaders
Parents/Guardians
Teachers
Camp & Club Advisors
Camp Program Staff
Secretaries & Custodians
Administrators
Sponsors  

A very special thank you goes out to the two camps that I have had the privilege of working with: Kilcoo Camp (Eastdale Eagles Leadership Camp) and Youth Leadership Camps Canada or YLCC (Port Perry Leadership Camp). Having talented camp staff to work with is priceless!


Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Countdown to Camp (Karen’s Most Recent Book)
The book Countdown to Camp is available at volumesdirect.com for $20

Youth Leadership Camps Canada

Port Perry High 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 (00:02):
Karen welcome to the High Performing Educator Podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about who you are and why you’re passionate about the work you do with youth.


Karen Kettle (00:15):
Okay. my name is Karen Kettle and I am a retired science teacher. I taught for 30 years in the Durham school board. And my passion outside of science education is working with students to run student-led leadership camps. And I’ve had the opportunity to do that twice. I worked with a group of kids at Eastdale and also at port Perry high school. And we ran camps for about 130 or 140 students from the school that were mainly student run. So that’s, that’s my leadership passion outside of the biology classroom.


Sam Demma (01:06):
What brought you to that passion? How did you discover it and why do you think it’s important that students get involved in camp?


Karen Kettle (01:15):
Well, I spent a lot of time at summer camp growing up. I first went to camp when I was nine years old and I really badly wanted to come home on visitor’s day. And my mom left me there crying on the dock and told me I would learn to like it. And after that I went back every summer to that camp and also to the Ontario camp leadership center at bark lake until I was well in my twenties. And when I decided that I wanted to become a high school teacher, I wanted to be able to bring the best of that camp, spirit, that transformative experience into my teaching career.


Sam Demma (02:04):
That is awesome. And what, what, what were the steps you took to start building camp? So I would imagine being involved in a camp as a student is a different experience than organizing a camp as an educator. What, what were the initial steps you started taking to build the camp and tell, yeah, tell me a little bit more about that process on how it turned into its its own thing.


Karen Kettle (02:30):
Well, I was very lucky when I got to Eastdale I knew the principal very well and he was a principal that was a camp director in the summertime. And the year before a very talented leader had started a student retreat as part of a course. And so they wanted to continue it and they were looking for someone else with camp experience, there were some great teachers involved with it. And so I joined their team and then we just started to increase the length of time. We took students away until we were up to a four day camp and involve all sorts of different students from the school, from all sorts of clubs, like student council and music council and meet and we and athletic council and all of the social justice clubs and geeks unlimited and the gay straight Alliance and the ambassadors and the environment club and the business club. And so it became sort of an umbrella training ground for student leaders in the school. So that was my, that was my first experience with leadership camp. And then when I left and went to port Perry high school, I started from scratch again.


Sam Demma (04:06):
And now you are a camp pro or a camp in ninja, or I don’t even know what to call it, but you, you you’ve built out so many supports for camp and encouraging students to get involved in camps and encouraging students to lead camps and encouraging educators to understand the importance of camp. You’ve even, you know, written books about it. One that’s very, you know, new and fresh. Can you share a little bit about what inspired you to write the book and also why you think student led leadership camps are also really important?


Karen Kettle (04:45):
Okay, well in working with students over the years one of the things that they use to say to me is I kind of know what we need to do, but I sort of need a checklist to get there. And so during the, a pandemic, because I had lots of creative alone time I sat down and tried to pull all of the collective wisdom together from all of the other advisors I’d worked with and camp heads and camp committee members and my colleagues and support staff and put it together just in a way that someone who had never run a leadership camp could pick it up and know that they could start with simple steps. And then as their school got more involved and the student leaders in the school got more involved, all they could build it into whatever it was that they wanted and needed for the school.


Karen Kettle (05:51):
I think student leaders are incredible role models for their peers because the camp committee, which works together all year to get camp ready by designing it and implementing it and, and running everything other than high ropes course and waterfront they are just that little bit better at, at some of the leadership skills than their peers. And so it’s kind of like if you’re an athlete and you wanna learn to get better at tennis, you don’t want to play against world champions. You wanna play against someone who’s just that little bit better than you are and makes you stretch your skills. So the senior students are great role models for their less experienced peers, cuz the kids can look at them and say, you know, in two or three years, that’s who I wanna be. That’s what I wanna do. And it also keeps the ownership of the camp program in the, in the school. It, they’re not going somewhere and having someone else run everything, they’re working with a camp staff to, to run a program and, and the program belongs to them.


Sam Demma (07:16):
That makes a lot of sense. And, and I think giving students a voice is so important because thinking back to the educators that made a big impact on my life, their class was more so a discussion than it was a lecture. And because I was given a voice, I was more interested in the content they were teaching and speaking about out. And if I was running or organizing an event, I would be more inclined to get involved and also to promote it to my friends and to get other students in the school involved. Because I, I feel like ownership and interest are kind of tied together. Something you do a great job at, in your book countdown to can a, is breaking down this idea that student leadership is a year long process. What do you mean by that? And what does it look like? Or what does a typical year of planning in a student leadership position look like?


Karen Kettle (08:17):
Okay. well what would happen is at the beginning of the year students would apply to be on camp committee and this would be a group of about 20 students that really wanna put in the time because it takes a lot of time. They, they meet once a week for an hour and a half or two hours as a group. And so they go through a, a process where they start off with lots of team building within their group and getting to know each other, figuring out who has what skills and who can bring music who can bring organization, who can bring humor to the group. And then we basically start through a process where we develop a theme which holds camp together. And some of our past themes have been things like Dr. Sue or Harry Potter or Beatlemania or clue.


Karen Kettle (09:26):
And so they have to brainstorm all sorts of different themes and come up with what it might look like. And we take a lot of time to make sure that all of the themes are, are really, really strong. And then we have a process, a decision making process that we go through to help them come to a consensus on theme. And then after that’s done, we start through the same process again, to trying to decide what workshops we’re going to put into camp. And that is one of the places where you can really tailor camp to your own individual school, because you can pick out knowledge elements that the kids in your are clubs might need, they might wanna learn something about emotional intelligence or mental health. You can pick out skills that they might wanna develop, like communication skills or delegation or creativity.


Karen Kettle (10:33):
You can work on some values like attitude or kindness, and then you can also look at issues like inclusion or consent or anti-bullying or environmental issues. And so that becomes the, the part of camp. That’s the learning part of camp. The, we would then organize students in the teams, workshop teams, and they’d pick from the ones that they’d brainstorm and they’d work to put together their interactive workshops. And then we get to plan all the fun things at camp. And those are things like campfires and large group games and talent shows banquet. So there’s, there’s a lot of organization that goes on throughout the year. We also do a lot of fundraising to make sure that we can support kids financially, who might not otherwise be able to attend and that’s kind of fund too, because there’s a lot of experiential learning in, in running a, a fundraiser.


Karen Kettle (11:45):
Quite often the camp committee takes on some other challenges at port Perry high school. We used to run a minicamp day for the grade eight that were gonna come to our school the following year and run through our workshops with them and just help them come into the high school and feel comfortable in the high school. So all of that goes on throughout the year. And the culminate activity is the three day or four day experience with a camp partner where we take somewhere between a hundred and hundred 40 kids from the school. And, and they get to share in the experience.


Sam Demma (12:31):
What do you think are some of the really positive outcomes on a school’s culture when students within that school participate in a camp experience?


Karen Kettle (12:44):
Well, there’s a lot of them because there there’s individual learning and individual development with the people, especially the people of who are on camp committee. There are the skills and knowledge that advisors can take back with their students in their own clubs and apply those. But also I think students find that it’s, it’s intrinsically rewarding to do something that is sort of in the service of others. And, and so there’s, there’s a, a good feeling there. You get a large group and, and that’s, what’s different about student led leadership camp rather than sending an individual student to a conference is that you come back with like a hundred kids that have shared the experience and that increases cooperation and trust among the students. It increases cooperation with staff cause once you’ve boosted your vice principal up onto the ropes course, or you’ve, you know, what had your principal walk the plank because he was the villain story.


Karen Kettle (14:03):
They come back with a different sense of understanding that, you know, that the teachers and administrators are, are people and they’re there to, to help. So you get this sort of shared vision of, of what you can do as a, as a team. If everybody works together student thoughts will meet and interact and live with students that they wouldn’t otherwise meet at school. And so it breaks down social barriers in the building. It there’s more cooperation between clubs because each club knows what the other club is doing and what their purpose is and why they’re there. And then the other thing I find is that student leaders, when they come back, they look for or understand the deeper meaning in some of the activities that they’re running at the school. So they might be running like something really fun and silly on a Friday, but they know that they’re doing it to build community. Yeah. And they know if they put together something on study skills that they know that they’re providing a, a service for other students in the building, or they, sometimes they do things like they’ll come back and put up a kindness tree or something like that. So they understand that there’s a deeper purpose behind all of the extracurricular activities that, that they’re doing.


Sam Demma (15:41):
And how do you go about selecting what students in a school would get to participate in a camp? I would imagine that’s probably one of the most difficult aspects because you want everyone to have the experience, but you might have a li limited budget and a limited amount of students that you can bring with you to these four, five-day experiences.


Karen Kettle (16:03):
Yes. Well, one of the things is that with leadership camps, again, because you can fine tune it to your school, different schools have slightly different selection criteria. But the way we’ve always gone about getting students is that any student who’s already involved in the leadership club in the school gets an invitation to go grade nine and 10 students who are involved go through that process, or they can also self nominate themselves. So if you have maybe a shy grade nine student, who’s not yet involved in anything, they can just fill out an application form for an invitation and they get an invitation. We all also have our teachers that teach a lot of grade nine and 10 students nominate students that they think would benefit from the experience. And some of our teachers are really good at that.


Karen Kettle (17:08):
Really seeing that, you know, the little kid at the back of the room, who’s got all sorts of energy, but no focus might actually benefit from camp because once they find that focus then, then they’re set. They know what they wanna do. We also go to our teachers and coaches and guidance department and special ed department and adminis and ask if they wanna nominate kids. Sometimes students who are a little bit at risk because they’ve just moved into the area or something has happened in their family life. And they might just need that really to be part of a really supportive group. Sometimes kids who are just sort of there after school all the time, cuz they don’t really have anywhere else to go will get those kinds of students that are nominated. And then it basically becomes a first come first serve basis. After everyone who is interested through those categories receives an invitation,


Sam Demma (18:23):
Got you. And something else. Okay. Oh, go ahead. Some,


Karen Kettle (18:27):
Okay. Some schools because they wanna have they want diversify between grade nines, tens elevens and 12 do first come first serve based on grade. Mm. We, we’ve never done that. And we normally find that about 50%, 60% of our camp is grade nines and tens.


Sam Demma (18:48):
Got you. You mentioned briefly fundraising and you also do an amazing job in your book providing, you know, literally a template that you use in terms of a sponsorship letter. How, yeah. Can an educator who’s listening to this that wants to run a camp. What should they be thinking about in terms of sponsorship, how do obtain it and also what the letter it should include that they’re thinking to send outside of obviously buying your booking, check, checking it out.


Karen Kettle (19:17):
Well sponsorships are a good way to go sometimes what our sponsors do is they just provide items. So for example, our, our camp committee would go down the main street of port Perry with a letter explaining that we’re raising money to provide scholarships for students who might not be able to afford to go to camp. And quite often they will give us, you know, small items like candy or a t-shirt or something from their, their business. And so we put those together into something like a a draw or a silent auction, something like that. So that’s one way of, of finding sponsorship ships. We’ve also had service groups who have provided us with money sometimes connected to a, a, a service. So we went and helped out with a pancake breakfast and that group donated some money to our, our camp scholarship fund.


Karen Kettle (20:30):
I think if you’re writing a sending a letter to organizations, it has to really clearly state what your, what your leadership camp is, how it serves people. We put down a breakdown of costs per individual student. And then we basically just said, you know, if you’d like to make a contribution, here’s the, the camp advisors contact information and it’s sort of a contribution of whatever they would like to make. And we just basically had a bank account and we put money in from that and from our fundraisers, cuz we like to do silly fundraisers. And then on our application form for parents, there was a little line that sort of said we know that economic are tough for people. If your son or daughter requires some financial assistance, please contact. And there was a camp advisor’s email.


Karen Kettle (21:38):
And then when we got in touch with the parent, we basically said you know, what can you afford to pay towards your child going to camp? And then we can cover the rest of it. And, and that worked really well because it let us spread out the funds among the, the students who really needed it. For me, that, that I came to that realization when I actually had a parent call me and ask if she could pay for her son’s best friend to go to camp. Mm. And until that time we had sort of been fundraising to lower the cost for everyone. And after that experience I realized that it was probably better to target the money because some parents could easily afford to send their kids. And for some parents it was prohibitive. Mm. So that’s why we came up with that idea of, of scholarship funds.


Sam Demma (22:41):
That’s amazing. Another great resource that I pulled out of your book. I know I’m referring to it a lot and it’s because it’s jampacked with great stuff, the workshop topics, that was a phenomenal section that you created that, you know, encapsulated dozens of ideas that people could think about presenting or even bringing in someone else to present at their camps. What are some of the ideas that you found the great success with or would recommend that someone who’s planning their first camp should include in the programming somewhere?


Karen Kettle (23:19):
Well workshops that that list of workshops came about because one of the, the issues when you’re working with young people on a camp committee is that the only work ups they’ve seen are the workshops that were presented the year before the, or the two years before. Mm. And so they, and so they kept reinventing the same workshop and just changing its name. And it was normally about pushing your comfort zone. And it got to the point it’s like, we pushed our comfort zone enough. We know now need actually to do something else because you really want to not repeat anything sort of within the four years that that’s students could be in the school because we have some students that go for four, for three or four years. And so what I did is I basically just sat down and wrote like little teaser for 99 different workshops.


Karen Kettle (24:21):
And I think, I don’t really think that there are any, that you are essential that you start with. I think it’s more about giving the kids a, a list of a whole bunch of different things they could do, and then letting them select the ones that they have, that they truly have an interest in. Mm. And quite often what we used to do is we let the camp, if we, if we needed, let’s say six workshops, we let the camp committee pick four. We let the camp heads pick one. And then the camp advisors pick one because they do tend sometimes depending on the, the group of kids to try and they sometimes stay away from some of the more difficult topics. And so sometimes you need a little bit a push in that direction. And then the other thing we did with workshops is that we to connect them to our theme.


Karen Kettle (25:30):
So for example, the year we did Harry Potter, the mental health workshop became defense against the dark arts. Ah, and, and the, when we did Dr. Suess, the environment workshop became Lorax lesson. Mm. So you want tie in and, and tie it to to the theme, but it also, it depends on what the school needs like, do they need to do something on anti-bullying? Do they need to do something on digital leadership? Because really it’s what you do as workshops is completely wide open, as long as you have a mix of some that are really thought provoking and, and some that are, that are fun. Hmm. And we also try to make sure that, you know, if one workshop focused on skits that maybe the next one was gonna focus on a craft activity, or it was gonna focus on some kind of debate or discussion so that when students went from workshop to workshop, they were interactive and they were different. And it wasn’t like they weren’t being talked to, they, they were very HandsOn and involved in, in act in activities that brought them to the point of what the workshop was about. Understand. I don’t know what the, that


Sam Demma (27:04):
Yeah, it does. I don’t think there’s a one size fits all option. I was just really intrigued and impressed by how many ideas you pulled together and was wondering kinda well in


Karen Kettle (27:15):
A lot of the ones in the book we’ve actually done. And, and students come in with very distinct interest. And they take you places that as an advisor, you never thought you would be going because they have an interest in that area that, that resonates with their peers.


Sam Demma (27:39):
And what’s also interesting is extracurricular activities are not only the beneficial for students, but they’re also beneficial for teachers, you know, teachers benefit from being involved. What do you think are some of the benefits of the extracurricular involvement for teachers?


Karen Kettle (27:58):
Well, I think that they brought a lot of a joy in, into my life. I, I love the time that I spent with students outside of the classroom, because it gives you a different opportunity to mentor young people and also to learn from them. As teachers, you get to pick your extracurriculars. So if you are interested in sports coaching, a sport is great. Poor Perry high school had a phenomenal music program. And there were like some of the kids that were in that music program will be musicians throughout their lives, either as a career or as a, as a, as a joy, just for personal growth. So you get to follow your passion as a teacher and you meet up with kids that are also interested in it, and that’s sort of where that mentorship relationship comes from, because it, when you have someone who, who has knowledge in an area and someone who wants knowledge in the same area then that becomes a rich experience.


Karen Kettle (29:16):
It also has tremendous impacts on your classroom. I can remember on a grade eight tour day, listening to someone outside of my classroom going, this is Mrs. Kell’s classroom. She teaches science. I had her in grade nine. I really liked her. And then she takes us to camp. Well, if you have that kind of advertisement going on, when the kids come to your classroom, the next year, they expect that they’re gonna enjoy it. And all sorts of management issues just never come through your door because they know that even if it’s not something they wanna do, they know that you’re are interested in students in the school and that you are willing to put time in outside of the classroom. And it’s fun. Some of the students that I’ve worked with over the year have become really good friends. Some of them have become colleagues because a lot of the skills you learn at leadership camp work really well in the classroom. And so I, I think it’s a, it has a, a huge impact on your enjoyment of your teaching career. Yeah, and, and for kids, it’s great because they really get to interact in something that they’ve chosen, that they have ownership of, and they meet a positive peer group there that has similar interests.


Sam Demma (30:59):
Hmm. Kinda agree more if so, is interested in learning more about camps, more about the work you’ve done, where can they one pick up a copy of your book and two, get in touch with you.


Karen Kettle (31:13):
Okay. If they wanted to pick up up a copy of the book, the easiest way to do it is right from the publisher and the way to do that would be to Google volumesdirect.com. Countdown to camp is listed there. And you can just purchase it from that website if they want to contact me my email address and I’d be happy to talk to people. My email address is Karenkettle@gmail.com.


Sam Demma (32:05):
Awesome. Karen, thank you so much for coming on the podcast, talking about camps, your experience teaching, and also being involved in student leadership. Keep up the amazing work. I look forward to staying in touch and watching your, you know, adventures and work evolve. Thank you so much.


Karen Kettle (32:24):
Well, okay. And thank you very much. It’s lovely to talk to someone who is actually putting leadership into action at a fairly young age. And it sounds like you’re doing a great job.


Sam Demma (32:43):
Thanks so much, Karen.

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