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Student Leadership

Lorne “ABE” Abramson – Provincial Advisor for the Nova Scotia Secondary Students Association and Historian 

Lorne “ABE” Abramson - Provincial Advisor for the Nova Scotia Secondary Students Association and and Historian
About Lorne “ABE” Abramson

Lorne has been a lifelong advocate for youth with diabetes as well as youth empowerment. He has been very successful at developing and supporting many programs in these areas. Since the eighties he has volunteered his team supporting dozens of youth programs, camps and positive character building experiences for students. 

He has won numerous awards including the Dalhousie University Coaching Award, for 20 years of service in coaching Nova Scotia youth, and the Frederick Banting Award, from the Canadian Diabetes Association, for significant contribution to the mission of the Association in the areas of education and service.

Connect with Lorne: Email | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Nova Scotia Secondary Students Association

Dalhousie University

Canadian Diabetes Association

Mount Saint Vincent University

Diabetes Education and Camping Association

Before the Parade by Rebecca Rose

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 (00:58):

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 Lorne Abramson. Lauren has been a lifelong advocate for youth with diabetes, as well as youth empowerment. He has been very successful at developing and supporting many programs in these areas. Since the eighties, he has volunteered his time supporting dozens of youth programs, camps, and positive character building experiences for students. He has won numerous awards, including the Dalhousie University coaching award for 20 years of service in coaching Nova Scotia youth, and the Frederick Banting award from the Canadian Diabetes Association for significant contribution to the mission of the association in the areas of education and service. Lauren has so much expertise in the area of youth empowerment and so much energy and wisdom to share, so I hope you enjoy this conversation and I will see you on the other side. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host, Sam Demma. Today we have a very special guest. I met this guest in Nova Scotia at a conference and I’m so glad that we crossed paths. Some people know him as Lorne. Most people know him as Abe. Some people know him as Coach Abe. Abe, I would love for you to introduce yourself and let everyone listening know who you are.

Lorne Abramson (02:22):

Sure. Thanks Sam. Yeah, I’m, I’m my claim to fame was probably as a you know, as a person who started getting into teaching. So I was a math, a math teacher, how I became that is a, an extremely long story <laugh> which I will probably not get into, unless you ask me the appropriate questions. <Laugh> but I ended up becoming a math teacher, which my high school math teacher from Montreal who I, who I loved dearly. He was the one that said to me when I graduated, he said to me, you know, Lauren, he said, “everybody in those days called you by your last name.” You know, you know, I, I think you should consider becoming a math teacher. And I, and I I’ve made the stupidest comment I have ever made in my entire life.

Lorne Abramson (03:26):

And that was, who would wanna be a math teacher? <Laugh> that was like, it was one of those, this is to the guy that I had total respect for. And what I meant was in those days, math teachers, like teachers in general got no pay. It was like, it was crappy, you know, and and I wanted to be a dentist anyway, <laugh> so, so anyway to say the least over a period of years, I changed careers a couple of times and and then became a math teacher and eventually a math department head. And I always felt like I don’t know. I, I always felt that I needed to be more involved with community. And, and so for me the, the extracurricular stuff became almost more, this got kind of weird, but, but almost more important in some ways because I was a very accomplished math person.

Lorne Abramson (04:35):

So it was I went to McGill and did my joint honors in math and chemistry. And that was not a, that was not an issue. So I never had to work hard at, at the math part, but I really wanted to work hard at getting to know kids really well. And, and so I got involved in coaching volleyball, which I knew nothing about, except for the fact there were six on the side that was the limit of it. And and that became a big part of my life. And you know, and then I got involved in theater and, you know, and we did a lot of musicals and, you know, anyway, I it’s it’s and eventually in 1991, I got involved with the starting of the intro Lasse, which which, where, where we met the, you know not in 1991, but <laugh> sorry, Sam, but

Sam Demma (05:43):

I have to ask you though, because when people think about extracurriculars student leadership, typically I’ve heard people talk about the antithesis of it being math and science, and like these super academic courses that happen in schools. And usually those individuals are the ones who want their kids in their classroom, not going to conferences and not getting involved. So like, how the heck did you like have these two seemingly opposite things be so intertwined in your experience? Like what changed you or were you always of that mindset and you just also loved math?

Lorne Abramson (06:25):

The heck, it’s a good question. So I right from the get go I became the student council advisor at the, at Ellsley I at the J Oley high school was the school I taught in. And it’s obviously it’s a school in Halifax and it’s, it had this kind of funny deserved rep reputation of being a, kind of in a tough area. But in actual fact it was ridiculous. It didn’t make sense at all. That being said being the student council advisor I got to meet people like Andy Tido, who you might know and and St. Saunders and Tyler Hayden. And look, there were, there were so many people because of my connection as student council advisor eventually in 1992, mark Fraser who was he? He had been the student council president at Halifax west high school and Andrew Demond, who was the student council president at Parkview education center in, in Bridgewater, in Nova Scotia.

Lorne Abramson (07:53):

They met at a a CSLC or Canadian student leadership conference. They met at that, and they met also at the same time at that a whole bunch of kids from remember, this is 90, 91, I think was when it happened. But, but they met a whole bunch of kids from Ontario who were part and parcel of the O essay. So the Ontario secondary school students association, and and I heard the two of them said we could do this <laugh> it was kinda like, that was kinda like that. And I, I, I had the guy who was my who was the student council, president of Illsley was a guy who now is one of my neighbors. Oh, wow. Is Paul and Paul. He was just a great guy. And Paul said to me, I got this letter from this guy, Andy Kibito and a couple other people.

Lorne Abramson (09:03):

And he said they were there. Apparently they’re having some event at I think it was, it was being held at St. Pat’s high school, which, which now is underground somewhere <laugh> wow. It doesn’t exist anymore. And he said would you, would you be willing to come as our advisor? And I said, well, I am your advisor. What the hell matter with you? And he was really, he, it was kind of like, I think he, he really wasn’t quite sure what anybody’s role was gonna be. We had no idea. This was like, this is so new that nobody really knew. Yeah. And so we went to the conference and I can’t remember, there was probably about, I don’t know, 60 or 70 people at the conference. Nice. It was over a weekend. We held, we all slept on the stage of St.

Lorne Abramson (09:55):

Pat’s <laugh> being a camper that didn’t bother me. Yeah. You know, but and Paul, Paul was the one that, you know, he was the one that got me involved in the first place. And then I don’t know. And then it kind of just, I don’t, it kind of just took over, you know, and, and eventually, I think the next year I became the, the advisor for the Metro region, how that happened. I, I honestly got, I wish I could remember all that, but I think, I, I’m not sure that’s okay. How that exactly happened. But I know that I knew a lot of the people in, in the other schools in Metro.

Sam Demma (10:41):

Gotcha.

Lorne Abramson (10:41):

You know, cause I, I knew a lot of teachers, you know, and so on. And the guy who was the provincial advisor was a guy named cam Morrison. And he was also from Halifax west of course. And he was quite close with mark Fraser. And so at time we, and hi, his wife and my wife worked in nursing together. Ah, and, and so anyway, we, we knew each other outside of school as well. And I think, I think that what happened was he ended up staying as provincial advisor for, I think, I can’t remember it was two or three years. Then another guy took over from SAC high and, and then in 1990 I took over as provincial advisor and right till this year, so. Wow. Yeah.

Sam Demma (11:41):

Oh, that’s awesome. You mentioned earlier that like one of the things you think are so important in connection with student activities and extracurricular activities is building strong relationships with the students, the kids. How do you build a strong relationship with young people in your experience?

Lorne Abramson (12:01):

Well, I think first of all, it’s a matter of building trust. Mm-Hmm <affirmative> with all the nasty stuff that you hear about things that are going on in schools drives me nuts. I, I just can’t that part of it is just see, seems like, I don’t know, I never had, let me put it this way. I never had that, that issue. Whether it was personality or what part of it had to do with the fact that I think was that you know, I had a family my, we had, we had two daughters. My wife was always understanding about why I was going away that weekend <laugh> and and then I, I don’t know. I, I, I remember a couple, I, I eventually ended up being a Canada games coach for, for guys.

Sam Demma (13:00):

What haven’t you done?

Lorne Abramson (13:04):

I always say in the, I, you, if you live long enough, you’ll do a lot of stuff. Yeah. You know, like when, if you didn’t, if, if that didn’t happen to you, what’s wrong with you <laugh>

Lorne Abramson (13:22):

No, I, I, I, I get the question. I I’m gonna say trust was a big thing building that it takes, that takes a lot of, a lot of, I don’t know, desire to, to build that. I had, you know, the alumni of the organization played a big role in that cuz you know, people like, like Tyler Hayden and I used to have this, this very funny competition. And it was just that the competition was how many conferences have you been to? You know, and I, and at some point we were tied, you know, cause he used to come to, he used to come to everything and and he would speak at a lot, a lot of stuff. And I don’t know. And then one day he, I knew he was going away. I think it was one of the provincial conferences and I knew that this is gonna be it.

Lorne Abramson (14:31):

I got him, he was gonna be able to be there. And and so I, I made sure that I called him from wherever hell I was. And I said, okay here’s the deal. So now, now that you’ve been defeated, <laugh> this is it Tyler. And he said, okay. I COE. So ever, ever since then it was kind of, I just built more and more anyway, he, and he would not go to a lot of the regional conferences, but I don’t know. I think, I think people like him and people like, like Andy and, and Stu and, and Phil what was Phil’s last name? He was from Winnipeg. Oh God, he was, he’s also a keynote speaker.

Sam Demma (15:28):

Is it Phil Boyd?

Lorne Abramson (15:30):

Phil Boyd. Yeah. Yeah. And and I, I, you know, there were a lot of people like that that were around Mark Sharon Brock who I haven’t seen forever, like a long time. But there were people that were, there were people in the plus a who became keynote speakers like Paul, Paul Devo and Jeff Bri, they spoke together and we became very, the two of them, we were, we were still very close. Nice. They, they both got married. We went to the weddings, we went to it’s like, yeah. And, and I really like Paul’s wife Mor I like him <laugh> and if he sees this too bad, Paul okay. <Laugh> but I think he likes my wife more. He likes me anyway. I think a lot of it, you know, again, aside from just the trust issue, there’s a lot of testing that goes on, you know, like you can’t like, you know, you can’t develop the trust without some risk associated with that.

Lorne Abramson (16:53):

I think, I think once people who are involved in anything see other people that have faith in their relationship with you, that can’t help, but build, you know, for them, you know a good relationship. So I, I, it’s probably not a very good way of putting it, but you know, over the years, geez. I, I mean, I, all I can say is that it got easier and easier. Let me put it that way. There was expectations that I would always be there. That’s another thing, you know, that you’re, you make yourself available and accessibility

Sam Demma (17:46):

Being accessible to the

Lorne Abramson (17:48):

Students and yeah, so that, that’s, that’s a big deal. And I, I knew that, well, that, that, that was, that was a big deal in good times and bad times. And, and you, and there, there’s always gonna be both, you know, that happen, you know, in a, in an organization like this. And I, I, you know, I don’t know. So for, from that point of view, it got, like I said, it got easier and easier. I, I can’t say it any easier than that, but yeah. But the fact of the matter is, is that you know, there was, there was always someone in the organization or some buddies who who come outta the blue and, and will represent the people that you think that you wanna deal with. You know, like, and I, I don’t mean that to become your, your chosen ones, but, but it look, you can’t help.

Lorne Abramson (19:00):

Sometimes you can’t help that, you know? And so I, I, I guess that’s happened sometimes you, sometimes you think, how the hell did I ever get to know this person? Like, I don’t even know why, and, you know, and, and I, and, and you want, you wanna spend time with them somehow to change in some ways, this is probably totally off the wall, but change the way that they operate. Mm. And you re you realize that something about that is, is you, you, you see something in them. Mm. That, and it’s not just being a teacher all over again, but it’s, it, it has some part in that that you realize that you’re, you’re see an opportunity. Like, I’ll give you example of number of years ago, there was a guy who got elected president. He made a terrible mistake.

Lorne Abramson (20:15):

And that is he, he he just jumped into a situation where he, where, where it was just a bad choice. And I, I was sort of stuck with trying to figure out, well, how, you know, how do I, and I, I, you know, what, what do we do about this? And cuz he really, what he really needed to do is resign. And I didn’t know. That was the first time that happened. I think if I remember right. And I, and I wasn’t quite sure what to do about that. And it wasn’t like I have control over that. I’ve never had control of the organization. But I wanted something else to happen and nothing happened with that guy until years and years later. And he, he went off and became a teacher in Korea. Wow. And and he ended up marrying a Korean girl and they have a wonderful family and I met him.

Lorne Abramson (21:25):

I think they were, they were living in, I think they’s probably gonna know this, but they were living in in Vancouver. I think if I remember right. They moved back to Canada anyway. And I had a conversation with him and he said, and he said to me, I don’t know what was going on in my head in those days. And I thought to myself, oh my God, you know, like, this is, this is a good thing to say to me, it was good. Like it was like, and I, and I remember thinking he’s a really nice guy, you know, that’s like, it was kind like, like all of a sudden there was this, this change of, of, you know, of looking at him and thinking, oh no, he’s not just some jerk. You know, that that’s, that made, that just happened to make a mistake, but it’s also, he actually is a really nice person.

Lorne Abramson (22:22):

And, and somehow this all came out now, you know, like, and it took, it probably took his family in, in being a, being a parent. And, you know, I dunno, like, it just seemed like that was it. So, yeah, I know. I sometimes you’ll, you’ll, you’ll meet people like that. Who’s a girl Rebecca Rose, who was on the conference committee, she, I don’t think she ever became her and I were very close and she she came out of the closet at some point and she wrote a a book last year and the book is called oh shit. Was it before the parade? Hmm. I can’t, I’ve never remember it’s before the parade or after the parade. Anyway, it was a book about the gay community or the development of the gay community in Halifax in. And I went to her book launch. Oh my God. It was lovely. It was just like, it was like one of those. And I, and I was always close with her. She’s just, she’s just dynamite, you know? And, and like I, and her and I, and she ended up speaking, oh, well you, well, you met,

Sam Demma (23:45):

Yeah. I know her, listen to speech. I attended her. It was awesome.

Lorne Abramson (23:51):

Yeah. And she, there’s a person that got badly treated by a couple of people within the inter plus a, I think it was probably had something to do with the time of what was going on in, in, in the area that, you know, there were people that didn’t didn’t have a how to describe it. I was, it was from a, from a, a sociological point of view, you know, the relationship with the gay community was crappy. You know, it was just shitty, you know, and yet she had a lot of friends and, and she’s, Ugh, I love that girl. Yeah. She’s just, she’s fantastic. So when we met at her book launch, I hadn’t seen her for quite a while. <Laugh> and it was really funny. She’s like, like was really, you can imagine this, okay, she’s up there talking about her book, I’m sitting in the audience, which was packed at the Halifax library. And and she looks up and sees me standing like in the back, you know, I’m standing there and she stops what she was doing in the middle of all this. And she waves, hi, you know, like that. Right. It was like in the middle of, so everybody’s now turning around, you know, <laugh>,

Sam Demma (25:28):

Who’s a <laugh>

Lorne Abramson (25:31):

And every was turning around, you know, you know, and I, I threw a kiss, you know, and, and she went, she was great. So it was really funny. So afterwards, we went out for coffee and I mean, she’s, you know, again, she’s just one of those, she’s a, she’s a survivor in some ways. Yeah. I, I think, but also a survivor with a great attitude, you know, as you could tell that so it sounds like I know, I, I feel, I always feel very fortunate, maybe the smart and parcel of this. I always feel very fortunate to have met a lot of the people that I have met through the interse and, and in other, other things that I’ve done I mean, I’ve always been able to stay, I dunno, fairly close with, with people that I was close with and, you know, and just because they graduate and wherever go on, you know? Yeah. It’s, it’s like, it’s like Paul, Gule my, my neighbor, you know, <laugh> yeah. I, now I wave him when he walks by with his dog, you know? <Laugh> yeah. Anyway.

Sam Demma (26:42):

Okay. Yeah. Sounds like trust is a big one accessibility, and then just the general desire of wanting to make a change in other people’s lives. Like it, it sounds like that those are some of the, the big ones. When, when did you start getting involved in camps and on camps and being around camps and involved in camps have been a big part of your, your life as well?

Lorne Abramson (27:04):

Yeah. my camp story is it started in, in Montreal.

Sam Demma (27:13):

Okay.

Lorne Abramson (27:15):

And I was 16 and I had, somehow I had I had my nationals in swimming and I had my my instructors for canoeing.

Sam Demma (27:30):

Okay.

Lorne Abramson (27:30):

And, and I had never gone to camp. It was like, my parents could never afford to send me to camp who was expensive. And so a friend of mine said to me, you know, we were all looking for jobs, you know, I was 16 years old, you know, like, and and I, and this friend of mine says to me, you know, you got swimming and you got canoeing. Why don’t you go to camp? You know, like, and I said, camp, <laugh> like, don’t, they pay nothing at camp. And he said, no. He said, for people that have those, those specialties, you get well paid, you know, you’re okay. So I applied to camp Milwaukee, which was in Northern Quebec and it was a, a tripping camp if you know what that is. And it’s a camp that, that has kids that go and they go out on, on canoe trips.

Lorne Abramson (28:29):

Oh, cool. Yep. They’re there, they’re there for eight weeks. Wow. It’s not just a one week camp. And and so I, I went there and I had a great time and I had five to eight year olds <laugh> you can imagine, wow. I never, in a million years ever dreamed that I’d be working with teenagers. I mean, who the hell would wanna do that? You know, <laugh> and so I, I ended up going there and then the next year I got an offer from a local camp, which was called camp nominating and in a similar job, bigger camp. And I went there and I had a great time. And and then I, the next year I got offered a big job at pine valley camp, which was in the IANS. And I was at pine valley camp.

Lorne Abramson (29:26):

I worked my way up and eventually became the director. Ah, and and I was there for a long time. And then, and eventually I ended up, you know, moving to Nova Scotia, met my wife, and she was a nurse at, at camp. And and I and so I ended up moving to Nova Scotia. And like I said, you know, when I got involved in, in camp camp always played a role for me because I, when I eventually, when I got, got involved I started getting involved with volleyball and, and volleyball became a big deal. And as, as my own skills, as a coach got bigger, got better. There was a volleyball Nova Scotia camp, oh, that had started. And and, and my lady who was the, there were two, two women aside from my wife, but two women in my life that, that were both volleyball coaches.

Lorne Abramson (30:35):

One was Lois McGregor from hou. And she, she’s a very accomplished coach. And and, and Eva Justins who became the technical director for volleyball, Nova Scotia. Ah, and they, they took me little Abe. They took me under their wing and they, they just treated me like their kid, brother. It was just great. And they, they took me to everything. I was like, their, their here, here, go, go get Lauren. He’ll be fine. <Laugh>. And so I ended up with the two of them. We ended up running the volleyball Nova Scotia camps. Wow. For, for, for volleyball. And and then I don’t know, I, you know, as I, and then, then what happened was like, like I said, my wife and I got married and we had our daughter LA was born in 1989. And we had an older daughter is three years young, three years older than that.

Lorne Abramson (31:45):

But Lara was born in 89 and she, when she turned six in 1985, I had been doing all these camps all this time. And she ended up developing type one diabetes. So her doctor just happened at her doctor came to me and said, I heard that you this is the part that’s, that’s kind of a little weird, but he said, I heard you’ve been involved with camp. And I said, how do you know that? And I said, he said, turns out that Lois who I mentioned was one of his patients, <laugh> you, you, she must have said something about me in camp, you know, but that’s the only thing I can think of. Yeah. and so he ended up saying, look, are you you might be interested in getting involved in the diabetes camp. Cause he’s the one that started the camps.

Lorne Abramson (32:40):

Oh, wow. Back in 1961. And so I said, yeah, I might be, but I’m going away with my family to a, a one year program with to teach in, in England with the Commonwealth teachers Federation. And so I’ll be away for a year. And I said, I remember saying him said, do you think we should go, like, we’ll spend our first year with diabetes with, you know, at some, some place in another country. And he said, well, if you don’t go, I’ll take her, you know, <laugh> so, and he, he became very, he and I became very close. Ah, and that when I got back cuz I did, I did a couple of camps in, in England, like volleyball camps. And and then when I got back, he called and said, so cap starts tomorrow.

Lorne Abramson (33:40):

Want to come? You know, <laugh> I said, OK, what would you like me to do? And he said, I want you to, he said, I’ve been doing these caps for a lot forever. And I want you to take a look with your experience, want you to let me know whether you think that something needs to be changed. Mm. Which was a gutsy gutsy thing for someone who was initiator. Yeah. You know, to actually say, yeah, if you think about that. Yeah. And that, that was a big deal for me. Cause I, I thought what a, what a gutsy guy, you know, like, like, and I thought, and I knew him, I didn’t know him that well, you know? Anyway he and I became very close and and of course he was Lara’s doctor and you know, and so on and everybody loved this guy.

Lorne Abramson (34:30):

He was the quintessential camp doctor. He was it, you know? And so that’s got me started in the diabetes camps, which and then eventually when we, when we came back from England Laura had gotten involved in, in writing, in equestrian writing. Wow. So she went, so we got her involved with the Halifax junior Bengal answers and I got, I ended up, God knows how you end up with the Sam. You know, I ended up on the board of directors for the, you know, junior Bengal answers, like knowing absolutely zero, except for the fact that I’d go and watch my daughter ride, you know, that was yeah. And and myself and the writing instructor ended up starting a, an equestrian camp wow. For kids. And mostly it was for the horses, which was <laugh>, which I never, whichever I think back on it that holy crap, what did we do anyway, I did that for a couple of years and also did the diabetes camps. And I don’t know. And then I, I just kept going. And as you know, when we talked, I I’ve been doing it ever since. So I’ve doing the diabetes camps now. I think it’s been 35 years. Wow.

Lorne Abramson (35:53):

All over the world. It’s been, it’s been a, really, a really nice ride. Nice. Like it’s not over, but I had a great time two weeks ago being at the the camp at Kera national park. Nice. And you know, being the head chef

Sam Demma (36:14):

Nice.

Lorne Abramson (36:15):

Which is another thing, you know, I can do with you know, and I, like I said, you know, when inter plus a kids ask me, so, okay. How do you know all these people <laugh> and I, and I said, as I said to you earlier, I said, well, you

Sam Demma (36:32):

Live long enough.

Lorne Abramson (36:33):

Yeah. Live long enough or something might be wrong with you. Yeah. <laugh>. So

Sam Demma (36:41):

If you could, if you could, you know, take the experience and the, the wisdom that you have now, based on all the different experiences you’ve been through over so many years, and you could travel back in time and tap Abe on the shoulder when he was starting his first year of teaching. And first year of being a student, you know, council advisor, knowing what, you know, now, what advice would you, would you give your younger self

Lorne Abramson (37:09):

Just follow your dreams and just I can’t, I can’t say that anything that happened over the years had negative impact, but I just, I don’t, I mean, I, I don’t mean that everything was fantastic, you know? Yeah. But I don’t know, you know, like, like, I, I, I’ve always, like, you know, when I got involved in the diabetes camps, I loved the fact that my daughter who was seven years old at the time that she developed, I don’t know what would happen if we, if she had not developed really good relationships with the, with her friends that went, that were at camp, all who had diabetes and those kids today are 43. Wow. And they’re really good friends. And like, they still are like, it’s mind boggling, you know, like when you think about it. So I feel from on a personal level, you know, I feel like that was a big achievement, you know?

Lorne Abramson (38:21):

And I, I, I, I don’t think, I don’t know. It’s not that I, I did anything extraordinary in that sense. I just feel like though that, that there was a lot there was a, a lot of the things just happened to fall into place. And, you know, and I, I, if I, if to answer your question I don’t know what, I, I don’t know what would’ve happened to me had I not left the whole dentistry dream. Mm. You know there was a, there were a couple of people that, you know, cause I always wanted to be a dentist. I wanted to be an orthodontist. I had a, a cousin of mine who was, who was a dentist and he and I were quite close. And so I, that, that was the reason it wasn’t nothing to do with being a dentist actually.

Lorne Abramson (39:24):

But I, I can’t, I, I if I think back on it, I, when I don’t know, when I made a decision, I was the end of my second year of dentistry at university of Montreal. And I, I think part of me, I loved, I loved being at university of Montreal. I I’m bilingual. And, and for me, I dunno, that was, that was a, a perfect place for me. So I guess when I, when I’m thinking about this, when I made the decision to leave dentistry, people around me were totally in a state of shock. They thought, are you outta your mind? Like, you know, you’re leaving behind the million dollar paycheck, you know, like, what are you crazy? And, and I, and that was everybody. That was my girlfriend, my parents, every everyone that I ever had any contact with, except for one guy, one single guy.

Lorne Abramson (40:42):

And that was the guy who was the, he was the chair of the dental faculty at university of Montreal. And I went to see him, had to go see him, you know, tell I wanted, I wanted to leave or a leave of absence, I guess. And I had, fortunately I had done very well in, in the academic side. So for me, it was, I, it’s still, it’s still a hard thing for me to talk about because I, I know that in today’s world, what I’ve learned from people from younger people is that it’s a different world now. People are changing their, their choices, like all the time. Like it’s like, I, I, I’m always amazed at that. And I, I, I, I’m proud of the fact that they could do that and not fault to pieces. Now I’m sure there are people fault to pieces, but, you know, but then again, you see it a lot, you know, and for me at, at that time, it was such a mind boggling you know, choice that, cause in those days, you know, you, you made a choice in career, you stuck and you, and you stuck with it, you know?

Lorne Abramson (42:21):

And that, that was it. So for me, I, but anyway, at that time, I, I remember thinking, what am I gonna do? And, and I went to see my Dr. Ju his name was and sat in.

Lorne Abramson (42:55):

Don’t do anything that you think that you possibly might not be happy with. And I remember thinking that, I think, well, geez, you know, nobody’s ever told me that before nobody ever said those words, you know? And so I, I said to him, so what, what, what choice he said to me, look, he said, I I’m gonna give you a leave of absence. That’s unlimited. He said, you’ve done. Well. He said, what I’ll do for you is this every five years, I’ll send you to stay in touch with me every five years. I’ll send you a little note saying that if you haven’t made a choice to come back yet, then that’s fine. <Laugh> so I like, this is, this is what went on. This went on Sam, this went on for 20 years. <Laugh> now just think about that. I was a teacher, I, I only became a teacher in 1972.

Lorne Abramson (44:00):

And you know, really, I had no goals of being a T teacher, you know, that was not in my life choice. But I did. And and that’s a whole other conversation, but, but it was, again, a decision that totally made sense, you know, in this, in the sense of what, what kinds of things I was involved in and also, you know, becoming in, in the extracurricular world, it was perfect, cuz I not only did it fit with my going to camp, but also, you know, it had all kinds of other re repercussions. Yeah. And so he and I, Dr. Bushier and I, he was my saving grace. He was at the, there was nobody and, and there’s never been anybody else that that, and from those days, I don’t even know any of the people that I, I, I totally, I, it’s funny cuz my, I think that that time my girlfriend got married and she lives in now.

Lorne Abramson (45:12):

She lives in Florida, I think somewhere. And she and I kind of, you know, we talk once in blue moon and but you know, when I think about it, I dunno, you know, he was it. Yeah. And so, and of course the, the choice for me, I remember about 10 years after I’d been a teacher <laugh> I went to visit my old math teacher from high school who at that point had become the human resources head of human resources for the Montreal Protestant school board. Okay. And so I, I went to see him and he, he, he immediately said, hi Abrams an hour. You know, I was like, you know, that, that gravelly voice. And and I said, look, you know, you were right. I, I went back, made the choice to be a teacher and I’m very happy.

Lorne Abramson (46:17):

So he was really funny. He, I don’t know whether I have this here. Oh, it’s downstairs. He, he turned around and in his shelf he had a bookshelf and his bookshelf, he pulls out this red algebra book. Okay. And he said, I’ve been wondering if you were ever gonna come back and get this book. And he pulls it out and he opens it up and it’s, you know, how they used to have that stamp in the books that you’d have your name and all that, and what grade you were in and all that. And he pulls this thing out and it’s my algebra book, like my algebra book from grade 11 and issues you and I’m thinking yeah, there was all kinds of things like that that happened in my life. That was one of them. I I dunno. I, I can’t, you know, it’s funny cuz part of me, I, those were kind of funny days, you know, where I was making all these choices and and but that being said, it seems to have worked out.

Lorne Abramson (47:41):

<Laugh> just, you know, and I, if I talk to like a lot of times the inter plus eight kids, a lot of them will, you know, will will again ask me about choices. And you know, I said, it doesn’t matter. You know, like you, you can make a choice that you think is not gonna work out for you, but you, you can’t tell, you know, you, you don’t know. I mean, geez, my, my choice of being a teacher was insane. I was working for the department of health and welfare in Halifax for federal government, for family allowance. <Laugh> like, I, cuz I had become, I had become a Stu a social worker. Yeah. Essentially. And and I, I ended up I walked into work one day and here’s this poster on the wall. This is so ridiculous. This post big poster. And it says, do you work for, you know the federal government, do you have an undergraduate degree?

Lorne Abramson (48:54):

Are you interested? And, and, and then tells me that if, if I decide I can, I could go into they’ll, they’ll give me a full scholarship, not gonna cost me anything the full scholarship to do a bachelor of education. And then and then you could become a teacher and, or you could you oh. And by the way, and you’d get, you’d continue to get your full salary <laugh> for the whole year. Right? Oh my gosh. Okay. So I’m thinking to myself, what idiot wouldn’t do this. <Laugh> like, I was just thinking why, why and what it was about was I, later on I realized that the people that, you know, the, the government at the time in Nova Scotia were having a really hard time getting qualified teachers and that they were, they were ending up with teachers who this is not, not really saying anything, but the, the, the fact of the matter is they had a lot of people coming from other countries like India, Pakistan, China the west Indies, you know, a lot who, who didn’t necessarily speak English that well mm.

Lorne Abramson (50:16):

That being said, but they were, they probably had really good math skills. Mm. And but they really needed was a challenge local. Yeah. Yeah. They needed people who were local. And so they were offering this program. <Laugh> God just like, I think, I thought, really this is a program. And so I jumped at it and, oh, and, and then the other thing was when you were finished the year and you became your cuz it was a one year program. When you finished the year, you had the option of not going to become a teacher, but you could just take over your, your old job again.

Sam Demma (50:55):

Oh, wow.

Lorne Abramson (50:56):

I mean, it was, it was, it was such a ridiculous choice that like I thought, like really who, who wouldn’t do this? Yeah. So so I ended up God so I ended up doing that. I went to Mount St. Vincent university in Halifax, which at that time had 10 guys and 1500 girls.

Sam Demma (51:19):

Wow. <laugh>

Lorne Abramson (51:20):

And all 10 of the guys, except for, I think one were all married, had just recently got married. So not, not a good choice, but anyway, at that time and so I had a lot of, of friends that were girls anyway. And a lot of them ended up also at the end of the year, they ended up teaching. Wow. Got jobs at jail mostly. And, you know, so we, we became, we stayed friends for a long, long time. So I, I, and that, that was beginning of my teaching career, you know, and go figure on the first day of, of school, the principal at the time, who was a bit of a jerk, but he, he he actually went thing he was good at was hiring staff. And he, he said first day we had a meeting and he said, okay here’s the things that are available for you to volunteer for <laugh>, you know, was like, you know, everybody in the school was expected to volunteer for something. Mm. And so CA volleyball came up cuz the two volleyball coaches had left the school and they went to teach in the valley somewhere. Okay. In Annapolis valley. And I thought about it. I thought, well, I don’t know anything about volleyball, what the hell? <Laugh> nice. That’s helpful. So that was one of the great choices I ever made. But you know,

Sam Demma (52:56):

I don’t know, it sounds like trusting in your choices is a, sounds like that would be like a piece of advice that you might not know what the end result looks like, but still act confidently now and things will unfold as time passes. It sounds like all of your stories, they often involve other people. So it’s, you know, it sounds like building deep relationships, not only with students, but also with your colleagues and just human beings in general. Sounds like it’s been a big piece of your journey. <Laugh> whether it’s, you know, the doctor of your daughter or, you know the President elect of an association in Scotland. So <laugh> yeah, it’s it’s really cool to kind of hear your stories and, and your pathways and what we could take away from it. If, if there’s a teacher or someone, even if it’s not a teacher listening to this and they wanna connect with you or ask you some questions, what would be the best way for them to get in touch or reach out?

Lorne Abramson (54:00):

Probably just the easiest thing in today’s world would either be by message or, or by email.

Sam Demma (54:06):

Sure.

Lorne Abramson (54:07):

Do you, you, can, you, you can, my email is labramson@eastlink.ca and I don’t mind, millions of people have that email anyway. And so it’s labramson@eastlink.ca. And either that, or if they just looked up the NSSSA or Diabetes Camps, all my information is on there. Okay. So, yeah.

Sam Demma (54:44):

Perfect. Awesome. Hey, thank you so much for taking the time to share some stories. It was really fun and exciting to chat with you, and I appreciate you, you making the time, especially during a very busy time in your own personal life.

Lorne Abramson (54:57):

Ah, well, I’ll come. You can come visit us in our apartment. <Laugh> yeah.

Sam Demma (55:02):

Sounds good. So that’s good.

Lorne Abramson (55:04):

Okay, Sam, thanks very much.

Sam Demma (55:07):

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Lorne Abramson

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.

Scott Johnson – Principal at Bowmanville High School

Scott Johnson – Principal at Bowmanville High School
About Scott Johnson

Scott Johnson (@ScottJohnsonP) is the principal at Bowmanville High School. He started his career as a high school physical education teacher in Ontario and after a 2 year move to Alberta, returned home to a variety of teaching roles.

He has taught every grade other than Kindergarten and Grade 5 and has been fortunate to work in several different school communities. After working in Special Education, Scott became a vice principal and is thrilled to be back at BHS as principal. 

Scott is known for his innovative approach to teaching and for his work in integrating technology and pedagogy. Scott is passionate about equity and student success and works to ensure that all students are supported throughout the school.

Connect with Scott: Email | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Bowmanville High School

Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board

Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE)

Cult of Pedagogy

Revisionist History with Malcolm Gladwell

Wikis, Blogs, and Podcasts: A New Generation of Web-based Tools for Virtual Collaborative Clinical Practice and Education by Applied Research Press

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.

Sam Demma (01:00):

This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Scott Johnson. Scott Johnson is the principal at Bowmanville high school. He started his career as a high school physical education teacher in Ontario, and after a two year move to Alberta returned home to a variety of teaching roles. He has taught every grade other than kindergarten and grade five and has been fortunate to work in several different school communities. After working in special education, Scott became a vice principal and is thrilled to be back at Bowmanville high school as the principal. Scott is known for his innovative approach to teaching, and for his work in integrating technology and pedagogy. Scott is passionate about equity and student success, and works to ensure that all students are supported throughout the school. I hope you enjoy this interview and I will see you on the other side. Scott, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. It’s a pleasure to have you on the show here today. Please start by introducing yourself.

Scott Johnson (01:58):

Thanks Sam, and, and thank you very much for for having me on the podcast. My name is Scott Johnson. I am currently the principal of Bowmanville high school in Bowmanville, Ontario. We are a 9-12 school with approximately a thousand students located right in central Bowmanville.

Sam Demma (02:18):

When did you realize in your career journey growing up that education was the field you wanted to pursue and work in?

Scott Johnson (02:26):

Well, to be honest with you, I, I would be, I, I think I’m fairly late to the game in terms of determining what I I wanted to do. I was a PHS ed student at the university of Toronto and had the opportunity towards the end of my degree to do some work in some local high schools in downtown Toronto. And really, really enjoyed the experience I got to work with. I actually played hockey at the university of Toronto and I got to work with a, a former teammate of mine who had moved on to become a teacher. And I just really enjoyed the experience and thought to myself, this might be a, a, a good career move for me. I, I really enjoyed Fette as a, as a student and played all kinds of sports growing up and thought, you know, maybe I could join the ranks of the PHED teachers of the world.

Scott Johnson (03:19):

And so that’s sort of what got me into education and lots happened between then and now sort of over the last 17 years to get me you know, into the role of principal. And I, I, I’ll be honest, I’ve, I’ve enjoyed every, every step along the way. So I think the goal was to be a PhysEd teacher. I’m not sure if I ever actually realized that because I, I was his ed teacher for a very brief period of time, but I’ve got to do a lot of interesting things in a lot of interesting places and yeah, I’ve really enjoyed all, all the steps along the way.

Sam Demma (03:52):

Let’s unpack some of that journey, the 17 year journey from the start to where you are now, what was the start? What role were you in? What school take us through the journey from then to where you are today?

Scott Johnson (04:06):

Well, it was an interesting journey. I actually went to teachers college directly after university and then took a year off after university to go play hockey over in Germany for a year. Wow. Which was a great experience. It was tons of fun. But probably three quarters of the way through that hockey season. I, I kind of got the itch to, you know, I wanted to get started on this career in teaching. And so made the decision, you know, towards the end of the hockey season that I was gonna try and pursue this, this teaching career more seriously and ended up <laugh> I ended up actually accepting, I was so excited to be a full-time PHED teacher that I applied for and took a job at a school that I, I didn’t know really what the school was. And it turned out that it was a PHED teacher job in a youth correctional facility where I worked for a year.

Scott Johnson (05:03):

And, and I, I, I, it was a, a very bizarre way to start my career in terms of just not being something that I would’ve expected, but it, it couldn’t have been a better start to my career. I learned a ton working in that setting and working with those students and that I, you know, can say quite clearly, that, that had a significant impact on helping me get to where I I am today. You know, just, just dealing with students who had obviously been in conflict with the law and, and had lots going on in all assets or all aspects of their lives and, and seeing how school could, could be a, a positive influence on their life, really, you know, set me on a, a, a, I think a good track teacher wise after that. My, my now wife and I decided to move out to Alberta for a couple of years.

Scott Johnson (05:56):

And so we moved to a very, very rural community in, in Alberta. And I actually ended up teaching at a, at a incredibly small school, K to nine 160 students in a town that didn’t have a single stoplight. And it was just another great experience, just great kids, great families got the opportunity to teach a whole bunch of different grades. And again, really enjoyed the experience after a couple years, my wife and I decided to come back and I ended up teaching grade seven, and then I taught a little bit of special education in high school. And then I taught at an alternative education school. Then I moved to a, a lead teacher of special education role, and then moved into being a vice principal at an ed school, and then vice principal at a large rural school. And then at a small rural school. And now principal here at, at one of the larger urban schools and in our school board. So it kind of bounced around a lot, a lot of it by choice, but I, I think having that varied experience has been very helpful in the role that I’m in today.

Sam Demma (07:08):

What do you think you took away from your time working at the correctional facility with students who might have been in trouble with the law? What are some of the things you learned from those experiences that maybe informed the way that you show up today and in, in the high school you work in now

Scott Johnson (07:26):

To put it in its simplest terms? I learned very clearly that every student has a story, and I can’t tell you how much that has impacted me in my teaching career. It, it, it, I just working with those students, learning, you know, you work very closely with them, you work with them every single day. And you just, you learn so much about their story and you start to understand that there’s so much more to a student than what you, you may see, or what they may present, you know, in, in a 75 minute class. And, you know, now in my role as a principal, every single student, or every single issue that that comes across my desk, I, I get, get taken right back to that sort of touch point. That is, what’s the story here there, you know, you talk about, you know, you might hear things that for every misbehavior, there’s a reason, or, or, you know, if a student’s not being successful, as we think they could be there’s, you know, peeling back the layers of the onion kind of thing, to, to try and sort out why.

Scott Johnson (08:39):

And I go back to that very first year, really starting to recognize there is a story here for every student and it’s our job to try and work with them on, on all levels to try and help them be as successful as they can. And, and that, that lesson, like I said, you know, for, for, to get that as a first year teacher, I think was, it was difficult in the moment but has served me well over the last 17 years and, and will continue to serve me well for the rest of my career.

Sam Demma (09:09):

What resources, including people have been very instrumental or helpful in your own development, professional development in this career and job, maybe it’s some people you can think of who have mentored you along the way, some books you’ve read or courses you’ve been a part of, like, what has helped you show up at your best every day at work. And obviously you’re a human being. So there’s days where you don’t feel your best, but what do you think helps you show up to the best of your ability every day?

Scott Johnson (09:39):

Well, I, I think there’s a lot of things. And, and you mentioned, you know, the human aspect of it. The one great part about teaching is that you get to see a lot of people every day. And I mean, you know, we’ve dealt with this, the COVID pandemic over the last couple of years. And I think if you talk to, to any student, any educator, anybody involved in education, or even outside of it, the thing that they miss is that human interaction. Mm. So, you know, as a principal, I love being out in the halls. I love chatting with kids. I love chatting with teachers. I love you know, having conversations with parents, sometimes those conversations with any of those groups are not the easiest conversations, but they’re, you know, we’re all working in the best interest of students. And that’s, that’s kind of what gets me to work with a smile on my face every day.

Scott Johnson (10:31):

In terms of, of long term impact. I mean, I’ll go right back. They, they, they make you do a cheesy kind of assignment back when you were in teacher’s college, talking about your, you know, the favorite teacher or the teacher that, that inspired you. And I, I can think of a couple of teachers that I had along the way, you know, my grade two teacher, Mr. Jameson, my grade six teacher, Mr. Black, just people that had significant impacts on me growing up and, and, you know, having the hope that maybe I could replicate that experience for, you know, a young person growing up was certainly part of my motivation in terms of getting to where I am today, I’ve had all kinds of people who have been incredibly helpful. I, I, from principals to teachers just people and, and I think this goes back to you, you really can’t underestimate the impact that your words can have on another person.

Scott Johnson (11:29):

You know, I can think back to one of my principals who encouraged me to be a vice principal back when I had never really thought about being a vice principal. And, and she put that in my head and I was just like, oh, and I, I just got a sense of her belief in me and, you know, the, a small conversation on her part at a, you know, a lasting and, and significant impact on my life. So those are things that, that I try and pay it forward for lack of a better term, but there’s definitely been, been tons of people along the way, who, who just through their, their words and conversations have a, have had a big impact.

Sam Demma (12:04):

You’re one of the only guests we’ve had on who pulled out a blue ye USB microphone, and sounds like a radio host. <Laugh> gonna,

Scott Johnson (12:13):

I have been told that I have a face and a voice for radio. So I’m I’m good with that.

Sam Demma (12:18):

It leads me to believe that you might listen to a few other podcasts. Is there any educational podcasts that you’ve tuned into, or people that you’ve listened to that have helped as well as a resource?

Scott Johnson (12:30):

Well, to be honest, Sam, if, if you knew me as an educator one of the things that I like to draw upon is other other areas and bring those into education. Mm-Hmm <affirmative>, I like that you know, I’ve listened to lots of, of great educational podcasts. I mean, I started, I think my first educational podcast was the cults of pedagogy which is a, you know, a wonderful series, but what I’ve really, what I’ve really tried to bring in is some more, some different parts of, of the world and how they relate to education. So you talk about a guy like Simon Sinek you know, and, and his start with why book and, and, you know, he has a podcast. Seth golden, I think has a, a lot to say about leadership that is applicable across disciplines. I mean, a lot of it’s into business and marketing, but you take that and apply some of it to a school setting.

Scott Johnson (13:34):

Those are a couple of the podcasts. I’m sure you’ve heard of revisionist history with Malcolm Gladwell in the way that he, he can look at a seemingly straightforward issue and sort of flip it on its ear and, and you kind of, wow, I never looked at it from that perspective. And those are the kinds of things that I think are important in education. I mean, we’re faced with some fairly unique problems in this day and age. And if you’ve just, you know, that old saying, if you always do what you always done, you’ll always get what you always got, sort of thing. And, and, you know, trying to do things differently, cuz these kids are growing up in a different world in a, in a world that we really haven’t seen before. And I like to, to bring those other discipline in, in just to, to try and get a fresh perspective on some of the issues that we’re facing. And, and I find those people have, have some really quality ideas that can be translated directly to the work we do each day.

Sam Demma (14:36):

I love that if you could travel back in time to your first instance of teaching in a classroom, in a school setting and tap yourself on the shoulder and say, Hey Scott, not that you need any advice right now. Not that you wanna change anything about what’s gonna happen in your future, but this is what I think would’ve been helpful for you to hear when you were just beginning your career in teaching, what advice would you have given to your younger self or another educator listening who might be just starting this work?

Scott Johnson (15:09):

Well, I’ll tell you, I, I, I don’t have to necessarily go back in time because I got that, that the piece of advice that was critical to me. Mm. I got that from another person. And the lady’s name is Dr. Kathy Bruce. And she is I don’t know her exact role at Trent university right now, but she was the Dean of education. And I had the very fortunate opportunity at my old grade eight school to be her final teacher’s college associate teacher before she ended her teaching career and moved on to the world of teacher’s college at university. And I remember Kathy is a bit of a math guru, not a bit. She is a, a definitely a math guru and, and has done lots in the, the world of mathematics. But she had tasked me with teaching a math lesson to her grade seven class.

Scott Johnson (16:03):

And the question I asked her was, okay, where’s the textbook that you use? And she said, we don’t use a textbook. And that to me, that moment, and I’ve used that moment over and over again, over, over the last couple of decades was the, the first, the, the seed that was planted that said the education for these students does not have to look the same as your education. And I think that is the piece of advice. We, most people that go into teaching go into it because they love school and they had a, a great positive experience at school. And so oftentimes we will default to the experience that we had at school and that moment, which terrified me and sent waves of anxiety through my body saying, how am I ever going to teach math to grade sevens without a textbook? Because that’s what I was used to.

Scott Johnson (17:00):

And that’s what I was comfortable with. That is the piece of advice that I needed to say. We can do things differently. And I remember, you know, I use that again, when, when will Richardson I don’t know if you know, will Richardson, but he wrote a book in the mid two thousands called Wiki’s blogs and podcasts. You know, you, you, you mentioned the microphone. And I was, I was presented that by a teacher here at the school and I immediately was like, I’m gonna do a podcast. And I, I look back to that, you know, with my students and we’re gonna start a podcast and we’re going to do those things. And we’re talking, this is back in, you know, 2008, 2009. But it was that moment with Kathy Bruce that said do things differently. It’s okay to do things differently.

Scott Johnson (17:52):

So not only did she challenge me, but it was almost like she gave me permission. It was like, oh, okay. We can bring some of these innovative ideas, you know, into the classroom. And so, you know, I don’t know, going back to my former self, listen to your elders, listen to those people who have experience. I mean, you know, they’re the people who are doing it. And there’s lots of great stuff out there. And, and I, you know, I think of if I was a new teacher starting in 2022, you know, between Twitter accounts and podcasts and you know, other social media groups and websites, there’s tons of great resources to draw on. It’s just trying to find your niche in finding those people that that can help you. And, and I was fortunate to have a couple of those people really early on in my career.

Sam Demma (18:36):

One of the things that I believe is attractive about education is impact on young minds, shaping future change makers and seeing a student progress from potentially struggling to success or some form of clarity where they have this aha moment and a breakthrough because of years of help and support from caring adults in their lives. Could you think of a moment in one of your schools that you’ve worked in, or maybe even when you were teaching where you saw a student go from serious struggle to some clarity and some success that really brought a smile to your face, and if it’s a serious story you can change their name just for the sake of privacy. And the reason I ask you to share is because I think it will remind other educators listening, why this work is so important and inspire those who haven’t got into this work yet to seriously consider it as a pot, a potential career path in the future.

Scott Johnson (19:33):

Yeah, well, I can, I can, I can share an example of one that just happened recently. And as I, I think I started off saying that my dream was to, to be a, a PhysEd teacher and, and, you know, I, I didn’t really elaborate, but I, I, I never really made it as a PhysEd teacher because I think that first experience in the, in the correctional facility led me down a path towards special education which turned into student success, where you’re often dealing with students who have stories and those stories are often, you know, incredibly challenging. They have led incredibly difficult lives and, and have overcome so much just to even be with you in front of you know, in the classroom with you each day. And so I can think of a student and I won’t mention their name, but very difficult life history.

Scott Johnson (20:36):

Very challenging. I met this student back in, I believe their grade nine year obviously had difficulties in school, but again, having that ability to recognize the story there is more to this than what you are seeing each day, and just working with that student day by day getting to know them, working with some community agencies, just reaching out and trying to be that person. And it wasn’t certainly just me. There was a whole team of people that, that got to impact this student over the course of their high school career. And I, I ended up switching schools and, and we ended up reconnecting at, at the, the new school. And again, just continuing to be patient and working with that person. And I, I actually got news just a little while ago that they had graduated high school and were starting college in January.

Scott Johnson (21:40):

And, you know, if you, that, would’ve been a tough picture to imagine way back when we met in grade nine. And I think that’s the power of education. It’s the power of you know, in, in, in my context high school is we, we get four years to work with someone and we can do a lot in those four years. It doesn’t have to all be accomplished right away. But if you look at the, the growth that all students experience, you know, coming in at grade nine at 13, 14 years old and, and leaving high school at, at 1718 we, we have the opportunity to make a significant impact and, and in a lot of cases you know, I, I think we’re able to really help students get on the trajectory that they want to get on. And, and hopefully we, we do our best to, to bring the best out of them. And again, that’s, that’s kind of why we’re here and if you’re interested in helping people out with that, then education is definitely a career that will, you’ll find very fulfilling.

Sam Demma (22:46):

If someone is listening to this inspired, wants to reach out, ask you a question, or get in touch, what would be the best way for them to get in contact with you?

Scott Johnson (22:58):

Just send me an email. I’m on Twitter @ScottJohnsonP, not as active as I once was as, as other things have, have caught up and we’ll see where things go with Twitter, given the, the recent, the news of recently, but yeah. You, you know, my email address is, is checkout Bowmanville high school. My email address is, is there along with my picture and I’d be happy to chat. You know, one of the things that got me involved in education was some chats with some people who were in the business. At the time I was fortunate to go to the University of Toronto and be close to OISE and, and know lots of people that were in education so if anyone’s interested, I’d be, be, I’d be happy to chat. It’s a, it’s a great career. It’s got its ups and downs as all careers do, but at the end of the day, I’m, I, I, couldn’t be more happy with the decision that I made way back when

Sam Demma (23:55):

Scott, it’s a pleasure to bring you on the show here today, to talk about the journey, some of the ups and downs, some of the learnings and philosophies you hold about teaching. I cannot wait to see where the next five years of your career take you and, and what you’ll be working on and doing. Keep up the great work and don’t ever hesitate to reach out again in the future and thanks again for coming on, coming on the show.

Scott Johnson (24:19):

No problem Sam. Thanks for having me and thanks for doing what you’re doing. It’s, it’s a pleasure listening to your show and, and I appreciate the opportunity.

Sam Demma (24:27):

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Scott Johnson

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

Dawn Thompson – Strait Area Regional Advisor of the Nova Scotia Secondary School Students’ Association (NSSSA)

Dawn Thompson - Strait Area Regional Advisor of the Nova Scotia Secondary School Students' Association (NSSSA)
About Dawn Thompson

Dawn (@miztee7) grew up in Scarborough, Ontario and was educated at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ontario. She is an educator with over 25 years of varied teaching experience: from Grade 4 to adults, in public and private schools, day school and summer school, in Ontario, Alberta, Nova Scotia and abroad, and in English and French. Currently, she works in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, for the Strait Regional Centre for Education.

While the subject areas of her classes have varied widely over her career, the one constant has been her involvement with student leadership. Dawn has many years of experience as a school Student Council advisor but has spent the last 11 years working with student leadership outside of school in the NSSSA (Nova Scotia Secondary Schools Students’ Association). She has been the Regional Advisor for the Strait Region and the Sou’West/Valley Region, as well as the Advisor Co-ordinator for the Provincial Conference. This year, she is proud to be transitioning to the position of Provincial Advisor for the organization.

She is a mom to 3 amazing teenage boys who make her laugh every day (and sometimes make her scream in frustration). She is a reader and a writer. She sews and gardens. But her true talent lies in the kitchen . . . and not just because of the food she makes.

Connect with Dawn: Email | Twitter | Instagram

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Lakehead University

Strait Regional Centre for Education

NSSSA (Nova Scotia Secondary Schools Students’ Association)

NSSSA – Conferences and Events

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.

Sam Demma (01:00):

This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest, I had the privilege of meeting this past year in Nova Scotia. Her name is Don Thompson. Don grew up in Scarborough, Ontario and was educated at Lakehead University in thunder bay. She is an educator with over 25 years of varied teaching experience from grade four to adults in public and private schools, day school, and summer school in Ontario, Alberta, Nova Scotia, and abroad, and in both English and French languages. Currently, she works in Antigonish, Nova Scotia for the straight regional center for education. While the subject areas of her classes have varied widely over her career, the one constant has been her involvement with student leadership. Dawn has many years of experience as a school student council advisor, but has spent the last 11 years working with student leadership outside of school in the NSSSA (Nova Scotia Secondary School Students Association)

Sam Demma (01:57):

She has been the regional advisor for the Strait Region and the Sou’West/Valley Region, as well as the advisor coordinator for the provincial conference. This year, she is proud to be transitioning to the position of provincial advisor for the entire organization. She is a mom to three amazing teenage boys who make her laugh every day and sometimes make her scream in frustration. <Laugh> She is a reader and a writer. She sews and gardens, but her true talent lies in the kitchen, and not just because of the food she makes. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Don Thompson. She is filled with positivity and so much high energy, and I know you’ll enjoy it. I will see you on the other side. Don, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Please start by introducing yourself.

Dawn Thompson (02:46):

Okay. I’m Don Thompson. I am a high school English and French teacher in Antigonish, Nova Scotia at Dr. John Hugh Gillis Regional Sigh school. But more significantly, the reason you asked me to be here is because I am the regional advisor for a student leadership organization in Nova Scotia called the NSSSA.

Sam Demma (03:09):

Your heart has been tied to the NS a for many years. Please tell us why it is such a meaningful organization for you and what inspired you to get involved.

Dawn Thompson (03:22):

So when I moved here about 13 years ago, I didn’t know anything about the Ente. It’s a Nova Scotia thing. I’m an Ontario girl. And I had a couple of students in an English class who said to me, miss, we’re going to this leadership conference and we need an advisor. Do you think you’d wanna go with us? And I thought, well, that’s kind of up my alley. I’ve done student council in the past. And I was sort of looking for my thing outside of the classroom. So I agreed to go. And afterwards I found out that it was over the long weekend in may and it was a three hour drive away. And I was gonna have to take some time off of school. And I thought, holy cow, what did I just get roped into? But my principal assured me that it was an amazing organization and that the girls who wanted to go were really great young people.

Dawn Thompson (04:17):

And so he said, just do it. And I got there and about five hours in, I called home and said, I wanna go to this every year. Mm. I have never experienced anything like this in my career, the enthusiasm, the positive energy and just the astounding quality of an event organized and run entirely by students, which was so well done. I thought I have to be a part of this. And then the two girls who asked me to go ran for co premier of our region, they won the election and they said, would you be our regional advisor? And I said, okay, <laugh> what do I have to do? <Laugh> and, and, and then it’s history from there

Sam Demma (05:15):

And N S a stands, can you share what the abbreviation stands for in case someone’s outside of Nova Scotia?

Dawn Thompson (05:23):

Of course it’s the Nova Scotia, secondary school students association

Sam Demma (05:29):

Love it. I, I loved the conference. I think I had similar feelings that you had being there over the summer. I second, everything you say about it. And if someone is in Nova Scotia listening to this and it’s not involved, what are you doing? What are you waiting for? You know, get involved right now. So when did you realize as a student yourself that you wanted to pursue a career and a future in education?

Dawn Thompson (05:58):

In high school, I thought I wanted to be a psychologist and my father kept trying to talk me out of it. He kept saying, oh, Don, you’d be a really great teacher. I didn’t know if that was really what I wanted. I, you know, like I’d done babysitting and I taught swimming lessons and I’ve done summer camps and things like that. So I guess I’d kind of always been involved in teaching, but I didn’t really know if that’s what I wanted as a career. And then in my last year of high school, I had a momentous conversation with somebody who I guess was kind of a mentor. And he said, Don psychologists build hospitals at the bottoms of cliffs and teachers build fences at the top. Which one do you wanna build? And I thought, I wanna build the fence. I wanna catch them before they fall. I don’t wanna fix them once they’re broken. So I became a teacher.

Sam Demma (06:54):

And when you made that decision after these meaningful conversations with people in your life, what did the journey look like from the moment the decision was made in your mind to where you are today?

Dawn Thompson (07:06):

I remember at university preparing for my very first student teaching lesson and I was terrified. I thought, what if I’m terrible? What if I suck? How am I gonna call my parents and say, I know we’ve spent thousands of dollars in a few years of my life, but I, I think I made a mistake. And then that first lesson was incredible. And like, in that moment, I knew that I belonged at the front of a classroom that like I was born to be there. It was the right fit. So I taught in a bunch of different places. I taught in Toronto for 10 years. I taught outside of Ottawa for the upper Canada school board for a couple of years. And then we moved to Nova Scotia. And in the time that I’ve been here I’ve taught at, I think, six different schools. I’ve taught every grade level from grade four to grade 12. I’ve taught English, French history, social studies, art drama. <Laugh> you name it? It’s pretty much been on my plate at some point in my career.

Sam Demma (08:13):

That’s so awesome. And in your role today, what are some of the aspects of the job that bring you the most fulfillment and joy and just fill your heart?

Dawn Thompson (08:27):

Truly my job with the NS a absolutely does every second. A lot of the time I get asked what do you do in, in your role as regional advisor? And I often answer, well, I don’t do much. I go to meetings, I listen to these kids talk and plan. They do all the work. I’m just the backup plan. And the reality is I do the job because I get, get so much out of it. Mm-Hmm, <affirmative>, it is so inspiring to watch young people be so capable to watch them plan and run incredible events and to do it all with no payback for themselves. This is not a job that they’re getting paid to do. They’re doing the work at the conference. It’s not like they even get to go there and just enjoy it. Yeah. It it’s a significant amount of work.

Dawn Thompson (09:24):

And one of the things that I love about it is that as a teacher, I have always wanted, I’ve always felt that it was my job to prepare students for the world outside of my classroom. Yes, I’m an English teacher, but who cares? If you can write a great essay, that’s not gonna do you a lot of good in your life. I would much rather know that I’m teaching you real life skills. And the N essay is a great way for kids to actually get those skills. They learn how to write appropriate emails. They learn how to read a contract and sign it, how to negotiate, how to create a budget how to problem solve, how to hire people and how to fire people. Yeah. So the skills that they get there are always so impressive. And in my career, I hear a lot about what kids can’t do. Mm. And the NS a always shows me what they can do when you give them expectations, they rise up and they meet them.

Sam Demma (10:29):

Yeah.

Dawn Thompson (10:30):

And give me hope for the future. Truly, you know, I think someday I’ll be in a care facility and it’ll be okay. <Laugh> because they’ll be BSA kids there looking out for me. The future of the world is in good hands.

Sam Demma (10:45):

Mm. So the, the students themselves sound like give you a ton of hope. I would assume they’re also the reason you’re fired up every day to get out of bed and pursue this work. What, what, what else keeps you motivated?

Dawn Thompson (11:01):

There’s a lot of joy in a classroom, right? When you can create a really great safe environment where kids come every day and they know that it’s okay to be who they are. And and that I’m interested in knowing them and learning from them as much as they learn from me, then you often get really, really great classroom conversations that go on which, which are so inspirational. And truly, there’s a really, really wonderful sense of comradery that comes with working with amazing colleagues, too. You know, those connections you make with other educators where you can think outside the box and solve a problem for a kid that nobody was expecting that like, that’s a really rewarding experience too, at the end of the day, if I go home and say, well, you know, maybe they didn’t learn how to write a really great introduction today, but I know that this kid felt loved in my classroom. This kid got some support for making a hard decision. You know, I connected with a colleague and we found a solution for a kid who’s gonna be away for three weeks or something like that. It just, those are the little things that really make every day matter.

Sam Demma (12:21):

I’ve spoken to many people in education over the past two years, and something many of them have had in common is there’s been moments of challenge, especially throughout the past two years personally, with the pandemic. And, you know, thankfully things are changing hopefully for the better for the rest of our lives. <Laugh> school will never go back to the way it was before, which I believe is a really good thing. You know, it’s challenge us to think outside the box and maybe change some of our focuses and practices, but I’m curious to know what you think some of the opportunities are that are coming outta this interesting time.

Dawn Thompson (12:55):

Hmm. Opportunities. I worry that we are not taking advantage of the opportunities that are coming here. We’ve got kids who are really, really connected to technology, and I hope that we find a way to use those opportunities the right way, because I’m a little concerned that right now we’re not preparing kids for how to handle the technology that they’re suddenly so well versed in. They don’t have some of the skills. I think that they really need to navigate that in a healthy way, but a lot of them have become in some ways independent learners. They’ve had to be if they’re doing online learning, if they’re missing classes, because they’re homesick, there’s a lot of independence there that I think we can really cultivate in them and that we need to cultivate in them a sense of personal responsibility for their achievements and their success. And more importantly, a hope that we find a way for them to recognize that what they do at school is really about preparing them for the real world, that there shouldn’t be that disconnect between your classroom and the job you might have someday. Mm

Sam Demma (14:09):

That’s a really great point. I think there are so many pathway opportunities that exist that even when I was a student, maybe we weren’t talking about as much in school and the whole pandemic has really shined a light on the, the flexibility of education or the ways it can exist. And I think it’s given students a chance to, you know, explore the world for maybe a year. Some, some schools in Ontario didn’t even actually go into a classroom for like eight months. And so, yeah, I think you’re absolutely right, like shortening that gap or that leg between what’s getting taught and what’s happening in the world. It sounds like more real world conversations are getting pulled into classrooms, even when we were at N say, the conversations that are happening are so forward thinking and based on current events. So I, yeah, those are, those are great opportunities for learning. What, what, yes, go ahead.

Dawn Thompson (15:05):

I would love to see a four day school week

Dawn Thompson (15:11):

Where kids are in classes four days a week, and there’s one day where they do all the other stuff. They do the extracurriculars, they don’t miss any class time. They get extra support. So they’re not being pulled out of a class to get support in another subject area. I would love to see education seen in a different light. We’ve been doing education the same way for hundreds of years, but the world we’re looking at today is not the same as a hundred years ago. And so I think hopefully the major changes, the, the spotlight that has been Sean on the current challenges in our whole society will allow us to be able to say, okay, we need to really make some bold moves here. If we can survive a couple of years of major changes with no preparation, you know, no, no reports written and no experts hired and no warning. And none of that stuff, if we can manage, then we can do a lot more and we should do a lot more to actually tackle the major challenges that we’re facing in our education system. For sure.

Sam Demma (16:25):

Time to push the limits. That’s the thing that comes to mind, you know be, yeah. What, what do you do to fill up your cup when you’re not at work or in the classroom to help you show up at the best of your abilities?

Dawn Thompson (16:43):

I read I’m an English teacher, so I have a real passion for literature to start with. But to me that’s a really, really great way to decompress get lost in a book, get lost in the life of somebody else, forget your own troubles for a little while and, you know, worry about how they’re gonna manage theirs, which are so much worse than yours. And <laugh> enjoy like I have a passion for language. So I love to see how a writer creates language and controls it and shapes the world, using words. That’s exciting to me. And I make sure that I try to balance that with physical activity and with time in my kitchen, I cook, I bake, I dance at the same time sometimes <laugh> and you know, I try to make sure that I spend time with my kids and I laugh and, and hang out with my friends and just, it it’s, it really is that balance in life, all the things in moderation.

Sam Demma (17:44):

Mm. I, I support the dancing and cooking at the same time. Sounds like a party. <Laugh>

Dawn Thompson (17:51):

You have to be careful though, and you should definitely wear an apron.

Sam Demma (17:54):

Yeah. <laugh> I should get food everywhere. That’s awesome. Well, when you think about people who have had a significant impact on you as a person and your professional development as a teacher who are some of the individuals that come to mind and what do you think those individuals did for you that had a significant impact?

Dawn Thompson (18:17):

There was a teacher in high school. I took political science in grade 12, and I remember walking in to his classroom every day, thinking I know nothing <laugh> and then I would leave going. I only know what I learned today in this class from him, but he never ever made me feel like, I didn’t know anything. In fact, he was the one who started calling me a political animal, somebody who was really passionate about that. And he made me actually want to live up to that. He got me interested in politics, and so I know that a lot of what I do in my classroom, I have shaped around trying to give kids that same feeling, trying to get them to see themselves in a way that maybe they have not in the past, trying to get them to say, well, it’s okay if I’m not an expert or I’m not perfect as long as I’m always trying to grow and, and learn and be better.

Dawn Thompson (19:14):

So I definitely would consider him to be a, a role model for the kind of teacher I became and have a very long relationship with the woman who was my cooperating teacher when I was a student teacher, ah her name is gay Thompson, no relation to me. Oh, wow. <Laugh> but I actually kind of think of her as a second mom, you know, we’ve known each other for 25, some odd years now, and it was amazing to be in her classroom and see what she did and then to work with her again, later on in my career and to watch the environment she created for teachers in her presence and to call her up during the course of my career, when I was facing a job crisis, should I take this job? Should I take that job? What am I doing in my classroom?

Dawn Thompson (20:11):

That’s not working anymore. And to be able to call her up and, and talk to her, not just as somebody who understood my profession, but also who understood me as a, a friend has been really, really extraordinary. And I hope that I pay that forward to young teachers who come into my space as well. And into my teaching world, I, I hope that I give them what she gave me. And then, and then someday when I am retired, I hope that they also call me up and say, Hey, I have this really great thing that happened. And, and, and I can celebrate it with them.

Sam Demma (20:52):

Ah, I love that. Are these individuals that you stay in? I mean, it sounds like you and gay Thompson stay in touch with, do you stay in touch with these individuals often?

Dawn Thompson (21:02):

Well, I don’t talk to her as often as I probably should. That’s okay. But I, we do, we, we call at least two or three times a year, major life moments. You know, she sends my kids birthday cards, which is so lovely. And, you know, just the, the little things that make sure that you stay in touch so that we know what’s going on in each other’s lives.

Sam Demma (21:22):

Nice. Well, this interview gives you another reason to reach out to her <laugh> so hopefully it facilitates a connection. So

Dawn Thompson (21:30):

When tell her, she will be,

Sam Demma (21:32):

So it’s obvious people have played an impact. Are there any resources that you think have also played an impact, maybe that’s books you’ve read that really provided unique perspectives or courses you’ve been a part of, you know, you mentioned the conference NS a, so that’s a big resource. What else?

Dawn Thompson (21:54):

Well, the N plus a I, I know it’s a student leadership organization and it really is designed run planned. The whole thing is for students, but teachers get a lot out of it too. When we go there as advisors, if, I mean, you did a session with advisors, you spent time with advisors over the weekend. You know, how important that time is for them. There are advisors who have been going to conferences for years, and it might be the only time that we see each other, but there’s such a really great sense of family that comes with that. We’re teaching in different places in the province, we’re teaching different levels, different subjects. And yet there’s a connection that we make that is really rejuvenating for a lot of us. And having that provincial conference, especially in may leading into that really rough part of the year, which is June there’s something that really fills up your tank to help you get through the month of June.

Dawn Thompson (23:00):

So it is definitely a huge resource for me, especially because I get energy from that. But I also have an opportunity to dialogue with colleagues, which is not something that happens on an everyday basis, often in a school, you know, you’re locked in your own classroom, doing your thing, that there is not a lot of opportunity to meet with other teachers and say, Hey, what are you doing in your space? Or I’m trying this, and I don’t know if it’s working out. What do you think have you had had experience with this? So certainly the S a has given me that the other thing that I would say really, really shaped my career in terms of a resource many years ago, when I taught in Toronto at Asian court collegiate, we had a principal who was kind of visionary, and he decided that he wanted to train everybody on staff.

Dawn Thompson (23:53):

And I’m not just talking about teachers, I’m talking about TAs caretakers in the building, secretaries administration, everyone who worked in that building was trained on a program, which was called tribes. It’s no longer called that now. It’s peace learning groups. I think I’m not sure that’s okay. Because I think that they’ve recognized that perhaps the name while it was well-intentioned was not necessarily a good choice, but really it’s about cooperative learning in your classroom. It’s about creating a community of learners who support each other for their success. And it’s about the teacher as much being a part of that community of learners as the students are. And so I took the training, but I was initially very skeptical because it was really designed for elementary students and they were trying to run this program with high school teachers. And I thought, oh, really, you think I can play that game with my grade twelves, are you crazy?

Dawn Thompson (24:57):

They’re not gonna wanna do that. And I asked a lot of questions and, and I was probably a little bit difficult. But at the end of the training, I committed to giving it a shot the next year in my classes. And so in September I started it up and I’ve never looked back. Mm-Hmm, <affirmative> the difference that it made in my classroom. Every single time has been tangible. It makes kids comfortable with each other. It makes them feel safe. It creates a relationship between me and them that is so necessary if you want real quality learning to happen. So during the pandemic, it was more challenging to do that because a lot of the activities required contact and they’re supposed to be sitting in groups and working in groups and they weren’t allowed to, and they had to wear their masks and they couldn’t see each other’s faces and they couldn’t touch the same ball.

Dawn Thompson (25:57):

So you can’t play the game where you throw the ball back and forth. Like it was just, there was so much about it. That was so hard. And I felt it because the environment that I created in my space was not the same. Mm-Hmm <affirmative> it was missing something. So getting back to it this year, just renewed how much that had such a gigantic impact on me as an educator. I would love to become a trainer and train other people to do that someday. But in the meantime, I make sure that I use it in all my classes, and I talk about it with my colleagues. I have the book that has the whole program laid out. I bought it, I consulted on a regular basis. I check out new activities that I might try from it. And I think that that was a really huge component for developing me into the educator that I am.

Sam Demma (26:49):

Isn’t the book, the same title of the program? Like what would the title of the book be if someone wanted to try and find it, or

Dawn Thompson (26:55):

The, the, I don’t, I’m hoping that they’re manufacturing a new version of it. Okay. But the old version was tribes, TLC the tribes learning community and it’s I think if you go online, they have a website, but I’m pretty sure exchange if you search up tribes, it’ll take you to peace learning groups now. And I think that they’re revamping a lot of stuff, so I don’t know how many of their resources their books are available anymore.

Sam Demma (27:26):

Okay. When you say using it, is it more so a collection of exercises and activities that you could implement in your classroom or what exactly is the program?

Dawn Thompson (27:37):

Well, the program has, it’s an approach really cool to how you run everything in your classroom. Okay. So I spend a lot of time at the beginning of a course, really making sure that I’m creating that space for students, getting them comfortable. They’re sharing information about themselves. I’m learning about them as individuals, as learners. They’re learning about me. We’re developing our four agreements, which basically set the rules for the classroom. You know, it’s about being an attentive listener. It’s about being mutually respectful to each other. It’s about the right to pass or participate, meaning that there are some times where if you don’t wanna talk today, you don’t have to. But recognizing that the more you don’t participate, the less other people get to know you. And then that’s not such a comfortable space for you. So understanding that you have to make choices and really building this sense of community in the classroom respect and celebrating the differences in our space and amongst our people, but also looking for the connections that draw us together and, and help us make a community.

Dawn Thompson (28:50):

So it’s a bunch of different activities that you can do. And then it’s sort of an approach to even how you run the lessons. If I really wanted to, I could structure all my lessons that way I don’t. But often I do have activities that we do on a regular basis that build that sense of community. And then eventually, probably about six weeks in when I feel like kids know me and I know them I ask them to give me a collection of probably about five names of people who they would like to have in what I’m now calling guilds instead of tribes. Nice. because it, I think a Guild is a really great name for what they’re doing. It’s a group of people who are not related by blood, but who have a common goal, their own success. Yep. And who have things in common.

Dawn Thompson (29:41):

So I’m calling them guilds now. So they tell me five people they’d like to have in their Guild. I put those guilds together and I promise them that at least one person that they have asked for will be in their Guild. So everybody has a safe person in their Guild. But I put those guilds together thinking about genders. I think about strengths and weaknesses. I think about personalities. I think about learning styles. I think about all of the things that contribute to how they might successfully work together. And then they sit with that group. They often work with that group. They don’t do everything with their group, but many things. And what I hear usually at the end of the year is how much they loved their group, how tight they became. You don’t have to think of a name for their group and they’d come up with crazy stuff all the time. And <laugh>, it’s, it’s just, there’s so much positive about it that I think if I create that in my space, then all the learning that happens in the room afterwards comes out of the fact that this is a good place to be.

Sam Demma (30:45):

Mm. Sounds like a conference in a classroom. That’s what came to mind. <Laugh>

Dawn Thompson (30:49):

I hope

Sam Demma (30:50):

<Laugh>. Yeah. It’s so that’s so cool. It sounds like it’s had a really big impact on your beliefs and philosophy and approaching education, which is awesome. I’ll definitely hyperlink it down below so people can check it out. If you could take all of your experience in education, all the wisdom you’ve gained and all of your years teaching go back in time and like tap down on the shoulder. When, when you were just starting to work in a school, knowing what you know now, not that you would change anything about your path, but what advice do you think it would’ve been helpful to hear when you were just starting?

Dawn Thompson (31:25):

You don’t have to mark everything.

Sam Demma (31:29):

Hmm.

Dawn Thompson (31:31):

As a beginning teacher, there’s this sense that you have to be on top of everything students are doing and everything they do matters, and you have to have marks for everything and you have to be accountable and guess what you don’t, mm-hmm <affirmative> sometimes you just have to relax and let the learning take place that there are other ways to assess the learning that’s happening and to check in with kids that has nothing to do with marking the work.

Sam Demma (31:59):

That’s a great piece of advice and I’m sure people who just started teaching over the past few years could have used that maybe two years ago before they jumped in so thanks for sharing. If someone is listening to this conversation, has been inspired by it, wants to connect with you, join your personal Guild, or ask you a question, what would be the best way for someone listening to get in touch?

Dawn Thompson (32:25):

Well, I I’ve got my social media, so I am on Instagram. I think I’m @miztee77. You’d have to request to follow me because I do keep it private, teachers have to do that. I’m on Twitter, so you can find me there too. I’m pretty sure I’m @miztee7 there, and obviously I’m happy to get emails too. So you know, if you wanna talk about teaching, you wanna talk about the NSSSA? My email address is kuzykmommy@gmail.com.

Sam Demma (33:10):

Awesome. Don, thank you so much for taking some of your time to stop marking some exams and you know, join me on the podcast to share some of your experiences and beliefs around education. It’s been a pleasure chatting with you and I can’t wait until our next conversation,

Dawn Thompson (33:27):

Sam, it was a real pleasure for me too. It was so nice to reconnect with you. I, I had a great time.

Sam Demma (33:35):

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Dawn Thompson

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.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd – Superintendent of the Victoria Independent School District and Adjunct Faculty at the University of Houston, Victoria

Dr. Quintin Shepherd - Superintendent of the Victoria Independent School District and Adjunct Faculty at the University of Houston, Victoria
About Dr. Quintin Shepherd

Dr. Shepherd (@QShepherd) is in his fourth year as Superintendent for the Victoria Independent School District. When he came to Victoria, his first priority was to listen to the voice of the community, parents, staff, and students.

From that, he invited those stakeholders to be a part of shaping the future of the District. Members of those groups have been, and continue to, work collaboratively with District leadership to make recommendations as we build that future to meet the current and future needs of Victoria students and the community.

Dr. Shepherd also serves as Adjunct Faculty at the University of Houston, Victoria. Recently, Dr. Shepherd published the popular “The Secret to Transformational Leadership.”

Connect with Quintin: Email | LinkedIn | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Victoria Independent School District

University of Houston

The Secret to Transformational Leadership Book

P-Tech Schools

Advanced Placement

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 the high performing educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. The High Performing Educator was created to provide you with opportunities for personal development directly from your colleagues and peers. Each episode is like sitting face to face with a colleague in education at an amazing conference and chatting about their best practices, their learnings, their philosophies, and the mindset shifts that allow them to be successful in education today. If you enjoy these episodes that air Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, each week, please consider leaving a rating on the show on iTunes, so more educators can find it. And if you would like to receive emails that include inspiring videos for your students and actionable ideas for yourself and your staff, please visit www.highperformingeducator.com. Sign up, join the network, and I will see you on the other side of this conversation. Welcome back to the High Performing Educator podcast.

Sam Demma (00:59):

This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Dr. Quintin Shepherd.. Dr. Shepherd is in his fourth year as superintendent for the Victoria Independent School District. When he came to Victoria, his first priority was to listen to the voice of the community, parents, staff, and students. From that, he invited those stakeholders to be part of shaping the future of the district, which you’ll hear all about in today’s interview. Members of those groups have been and continue to work collaboratively with district leadership to make recommendations as we begin building that future to meet the current and future needs of Victoria students and the community. Dr. Shepherd also serves as adjunct faculty at University of Houston, Victoria. And recently, Dr. Shepherd published the popular book, the secret to transformational leadership, which we will talk a lot about today. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Dr. Shepherd and I will see you on the other side. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today we are joined by Dr. Quintin Shepherd from San Antonio, Texas,. Quintin, please start by introducing yourself.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (02:12):

<Laugh> my name is Quintin Shepherd. I’m currently in San Antonio by I, I, I reside in Victoria, which is a few hours east of here, southeast of here. I’ve been a superintendent for 18 years in three different states. Prior to that, I was a high school principal. Before that I was an elementary principal and, and what seems like almost a lifetime ago, I got to teach pre-K through 12th grade music every day, and it was awesome. Seeing the three year olds all the way up through the 18 year olds. I guess the other thing that’s that’s relevant is in my spare time, I, I teach at the University and I get to teach ed leadership for folks who are aspiring to be principals or, or superintendents and I also get to teach school law.

Sam Demma (02:53):

When did you realize growing up as a youngster, that education was gonna be the pathway you would take in the future?

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (03:01):

One of my, one of my favorite sayings of all time is that little boys grow up to do what their mothers want them to do, but they do it in a way that their fathers would’ve done it <laugh>, which I think is like appropriate for a lot of men that I know. My mom was a school teacher. My grandfather actually her, her, her dad, he had an eighth grade education and lived on a farm, a working farm, and he was a school custodian. So he would get up at four o’clock in the morning and do chores, and then he’d go off and be a school custodian all day and then come home in the evening and do chores. And so I guess education is sort of in my blood. And like I said, my mom was a teacher taught kindergarten for a number of years, almost her entire career.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (03:42):

And I sort of resisted the call into education, but I think it was a foregone conclusion that I was gonna get into education. And shortly after I started as a teacher, I came to realize that there’s really only two groups of people who work in schools. There are those who teach, and there are those who support teachers. And I was a pretty good teacher. I think I was a pretty good teacher, but I wasn’t my mom, like my mom was an amazing teacher. She was one of these walk on water teachers. And I recognized that my calling and education was to be the number one chief supporter of teachers, and to try to make their job as easy as possible, try to keep the, you know, the, the politics away from the classroom and the, and, you know, do what I could to support, support what needs to happen in the classroom. And that’s where I found my calling.

Sam Demma (04:29):

You realize education is gonna be your pathway. What did the journey look like from that moment forward?

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (04:37):

It was when you’re first outta college, it’s you know, you, you’re, you’re trying to sort out what direction is, is, is your life gonna take? And at the time applied for just about every job you could, you could imagine. And I landed in a small country school in rural Illinois, and it was, it was from there it’s, it’s a matter of one foot in front of the other, every step along the way. It’s, it’s recognizing that, you know, you, you have this dream and you have this vision and you want things to go a certain way, but sometimes life doesn’t see it that way. And sometimes life throws the opportunities that you didn’t see coming curve balls, for instance. And so you, you take a swing at every one of those and you miss some, you miss a lot of them, but then some of them you hit and it’s, it’s things like that.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (05:19):

That’s, that’s how I ended up at Victoria, Texas. Quite frankly, I was a superintendent in Illinois for a number of years. And then I moved to Iowa and, you know, things were going along splendidly and, and this opportunity came up to come down and meet the school board in Victoria, Texas. And you swing it, you swing at the pictures that are thrown at you. And it, it was the best move I could have possibly made. I’m doing some of the best work of my life and, and, and really feeling great about, you know, the work that’s happening.

Sam Demma (05:47):

Tell, tell us a little bit about why you’re in San Antonio, Texas right now. I know we talked about it before the podcast started, but what’s going on?

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (05:55):

Yeah, so summer for for school administrators, a and for school board members, we try to focus on some pretty deep learning. So right now what’s going on in San Antonio is a statewide Texas conference for school board members. It’s designed for school board members, TAs V, Texas association of school boards. And it’s called the summer summer leadership Institute. And so school board members from all over the state of Texas come together for this conference and do some pretty intense learning for, for three days, which seems kind of unremarkable because educators do it all the time. Right. But you have to remember, these are volunteers. Yeah. These are people who have real jobs that pay real money, that they need to support their families. And they choose to come here for three days during the summer to keep up their learning. And that’s just a Testament to, you know, how, how committed they are to making sure that we have great public schools. And I just, so, so for a superintendent to be here and support their board, it’s just, it’s, it’s an awesome experience.

Sam Demma (06:49):

You mentioned that you realized shortly into your journey in education, that leadership was going to be your calling, or should I say supporting teachers and being the chief supporting officer <laugh>. I love that phrase. Yeah. When you realized that, what transition did you make and what started your deep interest and passion for leadership itself?

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (07:13):

So my passion for leadership was, was really just this recognition that pretty, pretty soon after I started as a principal. I mean, when you’re doing the job as a principal, essentially, there’s a couple of things I’m gonna say. The first part is it’s a performance, just like when you first started as a teacher, like the first day in the classroom in front of kids, <laugh>, you’re performing a role in your mind, you know, what a teacher should be doing and what they should look like and how they should dress and so on and so forth. And you’re performing and you don’t know what you’re doing, you’re just doing the best you can. And and I recognize that the same is true for principles that when you start as a principal, there’s no, you’re, you’re playing by the rules as they’re handed to you.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (07:54):

Right. And so you do what your principal did or what the principal before you did. And that’s how a lot of leadership training takes place is by mimicry. Frankly. And then I, I became a superintendent and same thing, same exact thing. And after a year or two of figuring out how to play the game by the rules, as they’re handed to you, then you come to realize this, the same thing as a teacher, it’s true for a superintendent that maybe these rules aren’t right for me. Mm. Like they’re not the way that I’m supposed to be doing it. And the best way to describe it is, is it was like a suit that didn’t fit. Mm. And so start to change rules a little bit and say, look, we can do this thing differently. And when I started to do that, I, I came up on this, this recognition that I think a lot of how we’re doing public school leadership were just doing it wrong, quite frankly, mm-hmm <affirmative>.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (08:46):

And I couldn’t articulate it any better than that at the time. But I just felt like when I was reaching out to my community or when I was reaching out to my teachers, it just wasn’t working. I didn’t feel like I was connected to them because we’re gonna adopt a new curriculum here. We went out and did all this research. Here’s a curriculum, and we need you to do the summer professional development or training or whatever. And it’s like, it falls flat on its face. And you start to hear that the, you know, district office is disconnected from what’s happening in the classroom. And like all these things that, you know, it’s, it’s happens everywhere in education, and this is fairly, fairly commonplace. And so I started to flip the paradigm on its head as far as how I do leadership. And when I, when I came to recognize that is as a superintendent, there’s only two types of decisions that ever come to my desk. They’re either complicated or they’re complex. Now, if they’re complicated, there’s just one right. Answer. There’s one way to do it. So like a math problem, they’re complicated, right? Disassembling an aircraft engine and putting it back together. That’s complicated. Like, I’m not gonna ask you do that. Right. I’m guessing you, you’re not an aerospace engineer.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (09:53):

Complex is inherently unknowable complex. Doesn’t have one right answer. Mm. So what’s the best way to educate kids during a pandemic? Well, that’s a complex question. So what I committed to in my leadership is that anytime I’m faced with a complex issue, I will go to the people who are gonna be most impacted by that decision and give them the greatest voice. Mm. So for instance, with the pandemic, for a pandemic response plan, we went to the teachers first and we said, what would you do? How would you address this problem? And so we had about 700 teachers help us write our pandemic response plan had about 500 kids had over a thousand community members. So imagine this over 2000 people, co-authored this document. And we literally took their language and put it into the document. And then when we represented it to the community, the community’s response isn’t to judge the superintendent on his ability to write a pandemic response plan. Cause I didn’t write it. Yeah. The community says, we wrote this and this is pretty freaking awesome. Let’s get the work. And so really the, the leadership journey for me has been around. That’s how you support teachers, you support teachers by giving ’em a bigger voice in the complex issues that are facing education.

Sam Demma (11:03):

What an awesome way to craft a response plan. I would assume other districts heard about the success and maybe ask, how the heck did you facilitate this? Like, can you give me an, an idea of how long it took to craft that or how quick the turnaround was? And were there any challenges through the process?

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (11:23):

It was couple, two or three weeks, at least from start to finish, which seems remarkably fast, but essentially, and we were doing it during the pandemic, which remember that meant that we were having these mega zoom meetings of 5, 6, 700 people at a time. Wow. And when we went to the students, that was crazy. I mean, imagine putting 500 middle school students in one zoom <laugh> and we did crazy, right. I mean, but we, we did it. And part of what we, part of what we did was not just let somebody come off mute that wouldn’t make any sense at all. What we wanted to do was crowdsource good ideas. So we’re, we worked with a company called thought exchange and we pitched the question to our kids and to our teachers. And, and there were lots of different questions, but as an example, what things should we focus on?

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (12:06):

So that students have access to technology or what are biggest barriers to technology. And then every single teacher of the 700 who logged on, had a chance to respond. And then they had a chance to read the other 699 teachers. Wow. And what they said, and they could give them stars. So they were like, oh, that’s really, really smart. I didn’t think about that. Or no, that’s kind of dumb. We don’t need you to think about that. And it doesn’t matter because the whole thing’s anonymous. But by doing that then of 700 people who shared over a thousand thoughts, the, the smartest in the room go to the top, the stuff we should most focus on because they got the most stars. So that’s literally crowdsourcing great ideas. And so that was the language say top 15, 20%. That was the language that we then put in the pandemic response plan.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (12:51):

And then when we went to their students, we started with that and said, okay, students, this is what the teachers have said, what are your thoughts and questions about that? And then we crowdsourced that, right. And made the document that much more robust. So it took on like almost this three dimensional that shape. And then when we had done that, since we knew the kids were gonna be probably second most impacted by its decisions, parents would be third, most impacted. So then we went to the parents’ third and said, okay, now we’ve had teachers and students, what are your thoughts and questions? Mm, well then it turned into a whole other conversation about what needs to happen at home to support learning. So Sam, it was just this really interesting, fast and iterative process where we were constantly adapting and evolving in a, in a really rapid cycle. And we do that for any, anything that’s complex, which could be bonds or redistricting or closing schools. I mean, we’ve tackled some things that typically get lots of people fired and communities in an uproar and in our community largely says, Hey, thanks for giving me a voice in the process. This has been awesome.

Sam Demma (13:52):

I’m thinking it would’ve been really nice if I interviewed you two years ago. <Laugh> <laugh> because this, I mean, the cool thing is that this process is something that could be repeated with tons of complex issues. But I know being in Canada, there were so many school districts and superintendents struggling to find a way to create a really great response to the COVID pandemic. And in Canada, it was really bad. Like we, you know, everything shut down and stayed, shut down for a very long time. Students fell behind on learning. You know,

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (14:27):

Well, but even, even now though, I mean, we’re, as we’re coming out of the pandemic, this is still like, we’re doing the exact same thing now. But the new question is what things should we do to post the learning gap for those students who are behind more importantly, like there’s, there’s so many iterations on this. We’re also talking about what sorts of things should we focus on when it comes to student wellbeing and mental health and we were, we’re going directly to the kids. Nice. And so, so I’m, we’re actually kicking off. I’ve been told that we’re kicking off the largest participatory budgeting experiment in the history of the United States. Wow. We set aside 5 million of our Sr funding and we’re, we’re literally gonna go to each of our high schools and say here’s $500,000. And we want it to focus on student mental wellness and mental health.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (15:12):

And 250,000 is carved out for the kids themselves. So we’re basically gonna take this pile of cash to our high school students and say, how would you spend this money in a way that helps us solve the mental health crisis? So like the timing couldn’t even be better to share ideas like this, because I think this idea about mental health or closing achievement gaps or learning gaps, or what students are worried about as they transition into college or on and on and on the number of questions out there is endless. And what, what better time to just tackle them

Sam Demma (15:42):

Tackling tough questions over the past two years sounds like something you’ve done a lot of, and I’m sure it consumes a ton of your time. You also found the time to write a book <laugh> like, tell me, tell me about it, what inspired it? And what’s it all about?

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (15:57):

I think the, the book had been on my mind for about a decade, as I said previously, I I’ve just, you know, been doing D leadership differently and, and seeing others, I’m not the only one doing it this way. Yeah. But seeing others do leadership differently, but that we lack maybe a common language around what it is that we’re doing and how we’re doing it. And so I’d been kicking around this idea of, of writing a book for several years, the pandemic just presented itself as a great opportunity to sit down and actually get my thoughts down on paper and or digitally, I guess <laugh> dating myself a bit. But, but essentially I wanted to make it very approachable. Like I tried to make this because if, if you’re steeped in leadership theory, then you can, you can, you know, see transactional versus transformational leadership in this book.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (16:42):

Or you can see technical versus adaptive, the work of Hz and Linsky, or you can see elements of power. I talk about power and Ross’s notion of power and so on, so forth, but that’s all the theory. That’s all the stuff that leaders learn, you know, as they go through university, I wanted to just make this approachable by saying, well, what’s common language. That’s that differentiates complicated versus complex. And it’s interesting because they’re almost two completely different. They’re two completely different languages. And the one that I like to use to explain it is so applicable at the classroom level, but it’s also about the leadership level. Is that a complicated way to look at your classroom is to tell the students, this is what I want from you because it assumes there’s one right answer, right? Mm. Or there’s a way to do this, and this is what I want from you.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (17:27):

And so we tell them, and when you’re in complicated, it’s all about judgment. So this is what I want from you. And if you don’t deliver it for me, I’m gonna judge you and you’re gonna be strong, or you’re gonna be weak, but either way, you’re fragile because it’s always complicated. And that’s how this works. And that’s what I, if a stands up in front of group of students and resists the urge to say, this is what I want want from you. And then they can focus on this is what I want for you. Mm

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (17:54):

Oh. Now that’s a conversation. What I want for you is to have a sense of autonomy. I want for you to have a sense that you’ve mastered the content I want for you, the opportunity to have worked in the best team that you’ve ever worked on to create this project. Well, that’s complex. There’s not one right answer. There’s not one way to do it. And the nice part about that is it resists judgment. I want these things for you. How can we make that happen? And so what I’m asking you to do is to suffer. I’m asking you to share your suffering. Like, I don’t know how to approach this project. I don’t know if I can work with this team. Awesome. So now what we’re doing is we’re in compassionate versus competent, right? And the, and that’s the juxtaposition because compassion, if you break that word down, passion is to suffer.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (18:37):

Compassion is to suffer with mm it’s. Empathy plus action. And so I, I try to create the language that says, look, you get whatever you’re asking for. Based on the language you use and too many leaders stand up and they use complicated language when they’re actually trying to do transformative and complex work. And as a result of that, the community has been trained to recognize complicated language to mean, oh, you want us to judge you <laugh> oh, so you wrote your pandemic response plan. Well, I think it sucks. I went to Google and this is like some other school district that did something. And so I’m like, well, use the right language, use the right language.

Sam Demma (19:10):

How long did it take to crystallize the ideas and get the book on paper? What was the start to finish process like?

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (19:18):

It was just about a year start to finish. It was, I had taken a couple of false starts before, and then I met Sarah who helped me with the book, pulling it together and doing some of the vignettes. And what have you, Sarah Williamson. And she just helped me put together a structure. What I really needed is as I, as I shared sort of my background as a superintendent and I’m teaching university and so on and so forth, I, I, I stay sort of busy, I think is the word for it. And she, she helped me set up a timeline to say, no, you’re gonna sit down. You’re gonna, you’re gonna write, and you’re gonna turn these in. And these you deadlines and so and so forth. And so having an accountability partner really helped me. And I think the other thing that helped me, and this was a, this was a light bulb moment for me, I’ve, you know, over 40 years old and have had a pretty successful life, but just had this amazing light, light bulb moment that will transform every decision in every goal that I make for the rest of my life, which is the recognition that all of us have been taught to set goals.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (20:12):

Right. And so we try to create these goal habits, but the truth is that most of us truthfully fail at most of our goals. Like I would say the failure rate is probably close to 90, 95%. And it makes sense because we’ve designed our entire lives around the life that we’re living right now this very second. And if you set a goal that’s outside of that life, that you’re living a hundred percent of your life is working against that goal. Right? And so you’re, you’re destined to fail when you have goal based habits. And if on my goal based habit was to write, I was probably gonna fail. And then if you flip that goal based habit with something that’s completely different. So I’m gonna take a quick aside to prove a point here. Mm-Hmm, <affirmative>, I’m guessing that every day when you wake up, you brush your teeth.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (20:59):

I do. It doesn’t matter if you’re on the road. It doesn’t matter if you go visit your parents’ house, it doesn’t matter if you’re visiting a friend. It doesn’t matter if you’re home, you brush your teeth every day, right? You take a shower every day. Mm. And this is not a goal based habit. This is an identity based habit. Like, I don’t wanna have the identity of someone who has a bad breath or who stinks, right? Yeah. So I have an identity based habit. And the aha for me was, oh, no, no, no. I want to set my identity as someone who is a writer. So what does a writer do? Oh, well, a writer would get up every morning and they would write because they’re a writer and they would set aside a place in their house where they’re gonna do their writing and they’re gonna do this.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (21:38):

And all of a sudden these identity based habits. And then I never had to create a goal. I never had to carve out space. I never had to make the effort because I was living the identity of being a writer. And it, it kind of just took care of itself. And so like now I’m like, why have we not talked about this for fitness or health or nutrition or yeah. Getting a doctorate or just about anything goal or even teaching. If we try to have students have goal based behaviors to study versus identity based behaviors of, I am a scholar and a learner,

Sam Demma (22:07):

It sounds like you identify as a reader as well. I first learned about identity based goal setting in James Clear’s book, atomic habits. Yeah. It really resonated with me and changed the way that I think about things. I actually use a similar analogy. When I talk about brushing your teeth as a way to prove that we are never too busy when someone gives me the objection that I’m sorry, I can’t take this or do this. It’s because I’m too busy. What I actually start to understand is that even if I have the most busy day of my life, I still brush my teeth before I go to bed one, because it’s a part of my identity, but two, because it’s something that I prioritize right. It’s a priority. So if someone tells me they’re too busy, it just means that the thing that I’m asking them for is not of the similar priority as a task they’re already doing, or even more priority that they would switch their schedule for it.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (22:58):

That’s, that’s a very polite way of saying it. I think a little bit more harshly, they would say it is when somebody says I don’t have time valuable is I don’t care <laugh>

Sam Demma (23:09):

Yeah. Just of no value to me. <Laugh> that’s right.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (23:12):

That’s

Sam Demma (23:12):

Right. So am I correct in assuming that you like reading and like constant learning?

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (23:20):

Yeah. I’m a, I’m a fairly voracious reader. I work with an executive coach and I, I didn’t realize this, but she had been in our conversations over the course of this past year. Just every time I referenced the book, kinda kicking it off or so, and I I’ve come to the I’ve come to the assumption that I read between 40 and 60 books a year on average. So yeah, pretty, pretty avid reader.

Sam Demma (23:39):

What are some of the resources that, of course your own book is gonna be a, an amazing one and teachers should consider picking it up, which books have you consumed or resources in general that have helped you develop yourself, turn into the leader you are today that you think other educators would benefit from consuming.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (23:57):

So for me on my leadership journey, lots of leadership biography, I take, I take great inspiration from leadership biography. So I read a lot of leadership biography. I also read a great deal of innovation work on innovation, anybody who’s writing about adaptive innovation and creativity, but specifically I stay away from education. Believe it or not, because I think that we, I think we understand creativity or entrepreneurship or innovation, but we have a, a somewhat slanted view of it. I think there’s a much better view view of innovation and creativity that comes from the business world. So I’m always kind of scouring for what’s out there in the business world, in that area. And I’ve learned a ton and I brought to, to education specifically in our space as we, when I got to Victoria, we didn’t have a department of innovation. We now have a department of innovation with the whole we’ve written, you know, approximately 15 million in grant funding every year. Wow. Just from the department of innovation alone. And it’s transformed the way we, you know, work with some of our schools, but virtually everything I learned about innovation, I learned outside of education and just applied to education.

Sam Demma (25:02):

Very cool. Speaking of innovation, creativity moving forward, what are some of the things you are working on right now with your school board school districts, superintendents that you’re excited about in the coming years or next next fall?

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (25:20):

So, so I think that some of the stuff that I’m working on is obviously getting the message of this book out. Like, and that’s actually, I’m focused on that and getting this message out there because I think I have something that people can understand and I love to do it in medium size groups or even large group formats. Where, where we create, I create this space called house of genius. And I just, it rather than tell people about it, we actually do it like whatever group I happen to be in front of. We just solve a massively complex issue for that group right there in the room, and then we solve it and we go through it and it only takes, you know, 40, 45 minutes, depending on what we’re talking about. And then I back away from that and I talk through, well, this is how we did it.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (25:58):

This was the language. And this was the framework, and this is all the stuff from the book, but you just experienced it. You just lived it and you can live it, you know, any way you want to. So that’s, that’s kind of fun. And I’m excited about doing that in, in our district. We’ve launched a number of pathways. So for instance, our kids essentially we’re transforming the, the simple way of talking about it is that we’re trying to walk away from this notion of elementary, middle, and high school. Now let’s still have elementary schools, middle schools and high schools. Everybody’s gonna have elementary, middle, and high school. That’s not gonna change because that’s the way education works. But let’s just talk about what elementary school really should be right now. Elementary school. If you think about it is all about exposure. Mm.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (26:38):

Exposing kids to different learning pathways, different learning styles, different interests, trying to find their genius all about exposing, exposing, exposing, and then middle school. Once kids start to figure out what they’re good at and what they like and how they like to learn you move from exposure to experience that’s middle school. So how do you experience things like internships or job shadows, or how do you experience a, a profession or a unique way of learning? We, we just launched one of our stem middle schools just this last year. So we have a stem based middle school. That’s open enrollment for any kid that wants to go there. We have a project based learning school as well, but it’s all about exposure experience and then rethinking high school as pursuit. So pursuit means like I know I’m college or university bound, so this is the courses I need to take and so on and so forth.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (27:23):

So for our district, but that means more kids taking AP than ever in the history of the district. And the scores are higher, more kids taking dual credit than ever in the history of the district than their scores are higher. But we also have more kids doing CTE coursework, cuz they want to go right into the world of work. Nice. And so we’re trying to create pursuit opportunities and we’ve launched several Ptech high schools so that kids can their associates degree as, as they, as they move forward on their launch, which is pretty cool. And we’re all about this one simple, simple, simple concept, and that’s the concept of the, and the Amper sign, right? And so when you think about the Amper sand and it’s become a sign for our district, we even have it on shirts and stuff, all kinds of stuff. But essentially our goal is that every student finds their and which is a way of saying, we want you to find your genius, right? And we also want to guarantee that every single student who walks across the graduation stage has a high school diploma and university acceptance letter, military recruitment letter, or industry certification. So that on Monday morning they have work, they have work waiting for him. And we’re just over 92% right now of our high school, graduating seniors who graduate with their aunt. I’m not gonna quit until a hundred percent. I’m not gonna quit until I can guarantee parents a hundred percent successful launch rate.

Sam Demma (28:36):

Wow. That’s awesome. How many students are there in the district or the, I guess the area in total?

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (28:41):

Just under 14,000.

Sam Demma (28:43):

Wow. That’s a, that’s a success story in itself. Yeah, on a large scale, it seems like the programs, ideas that are being implemented are having massive success. I want to talk about for just a moment a story of how something someone did in a school, maybe yourself or someone, you know, had a serious impact on one individual. And the reason I know sometimes it’s hard to remember these stories, but there’s probably hundreds on them. Oh, I’ve got one. Yeah. the reason I ask you to share it is because when teachers are feeling burnt out, sometimes it’s because they’ve forgotten why they even started this work in the first place. And I think stories of genuine impact relight that fire and helped them remember why they got into this profession anyway. So please feel free to share. You can change your name if it’s a serious story. Just for privacy.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (29:31):

I love, I love the story. It gives me cause sometimes when I tell it I get goosebumps and sometimes when I tell I can’t help, but cry. So in the, in the, at the start of this last school year, one of our middle schools was invested with mold and we didn’t have an extra facility. So we had to pull every one of our middle schools out of this kids out of this campus. And we needed to put ’em somewhere. And the only facility that we had available was all our alternative high school, which is a smaller, much smaller campus, but we just had to have a place to put the kids, but that displaced the alternative high school. So alternative high school, these are kids who are in credit recovery. These are kids who are disciplined placement. So they’re, they’re essentially on the dropout track.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (30:10):

Mm. These are students who failed out of traditional high school. They have very little credits or no credits and they’re in a dropout track and we’re just trying to get ’em to the graduation stage. And so we, we went to our, some of our community partners and we said, look, what if we could give these kids the golden ticket of a lifetime and a fresh start? Hmm. And if we can help these kids in a way that we’ve never helped them before, by giving them unprecedented levels of support, giving every one of them, an academic and life success coach. And could we put 120 of these students on the community college campus? Can we rent rooms from you? And so the community college president said, sure, this is interesting. I’m, I’m, I’m up for this so that they’re going to community college. Now these are kids on the dropout track.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (30:56):

These are, these are kids who failed out of traditional high school with zero credits. And so then our next wonder question, cuz I love wonder questions is I wonder what would happen if we help these kids apply for college? And I wonder what would happen if we gave ’em a success coach and you know what, I wonder what would happen if we we went ahead and enrolled them in a class just to see what happens. And so we we were very slow and deliberate and thoughtful and all the great things to happen. But outta the hundred 20 students who were on that dropout track 120 of them, a hundred percent successfully enrolled in college and passed their first collegiate course. Wow. And they’re all gonna graduate high school and they’re all college bound, 100% of kids who were on the dropout track.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (31:40):

And so we got to take them to a school board thing in February, which for the entire state of Texas. And so we took seven of the kids from that group to give a presentation. And there was one gal who stood up in front of that group. And she said, when I was a sophomore, I had a baby out of wedlock. So I was a single mother and I had approximately zero credits in high school. And she said, and I am now a college student. Wow. That’s amazing. Our success rate with our kids is so great. This is a, a great statistic. I’ll leave you with a statistic and it’s connected to dropouts, but it’s with homeless students. So we have hundreds of homeless students in Victoria Texas. And if you happen to be a homeless student and unhoused student in Victoria and you go to our schools, your chances of graduating high school are actually better than if you went to any school, anywhere else in the entire state of Texas, our homeless, our homeless student graduation rate is higher than the average for the state of Texas.

Sam Demma (32:42):

Wow. I I’m wondering, you mentioned success. Coaches who are the people that would be paired up with a student in that program to help them apply for college and you know, pass.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (32:54):

So we actually went to the community college counselor structure. So they, they already have academic coaches and support and so on and so forth. You know how community college works. Like there’s all this support structure in place. Yeah. Yeah. We’re like, let’s fold that over to the high school and pull kids up rather than push them.

Sam Demma (33:10):

Cool.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (33:12):

It worked like, who knew, we didn’t know it was gonna work, but that’s what innovation’s all about. Like try crazy stuff. And so we tried it and it worked,

Sam Demma (33:20):

It sounds like innovations in your experience. Start with the, I wonder questions. Is that something you explore a lot?

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (33:27):

Yeah. We talk about it all the time. It’s either I wonder. Or what if those are the two best sentence starters.

Sam Demma (33:32):

Lovely, cool, cool. Well, we’re getting close to the end of the podcast here. This has been a phenomenal conversation because we’re close to game seven and the NBA finals. I wanted to play some throwback music. <Laugh> what we’re about to do is do a quick five rapid questions. Are you ready?

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (33:56):

I’m ready?

Sam Demma (33:58):

Question number one. <Laugh> question number one is what is the best advice you’ve ever personally received?

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (34:07):

Oh, wow. Best advice. Yeah. It’s it’s so cliche never give up,

Sam Demma (34:12):

Love it. What is the I’m putting you on the spot here? What is the worst advice you’ve ever received?

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (34:20):

Worst. <Laugh> the worst advice I forgot was go to medical school. <Laugh>

Sam Demma (34:25):

<Laugh> Hey, you have to, you have to know your path, right?

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (34:28):

That’s right.

Sam Demma (34:29):

<Laugh> I like that. If you could have everyone on the planet have to follow this one rule the way they live their life, what would the one rule be that everyone would have to follow? Non-Negotiable

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (34:45):

Start with vulnerability.

Sam Demma (34:47):

Mm, love it. If you could travel back in time and speak to Quentin, when he was just starting in education, what would you have told your younger self that you thought would’ve been helpful?

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (35:01):

Don’t don’t lose hope.

Sam Demma (35:04):

Final question. If someone wants to buy your book, reach out and ask you a question, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (35:11):

So they can buy the book through amazon. Easily found, it’s the secret for secret to transformational leadership, or they can go to our website; compassionate leadership. And I’m sure you can put that in the, in the talking notes for sure. Yep. That’s and that’s the best way to reach out to us.

Sam Demma (35:27):

Awesome. Thank you so much for taking the time to come on the podcast today. It’s been a pleasure to chat with you and meet you. I don’t think this will be our last conversation. Keep doing amazing work and have an amazing summer.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (35:40):

Thank you, sir. Great to talk with you. Thanks Sam.

Sam Demma (35:43):

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Quintin Shepherd

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.

Melanie Randall – Dance, English, Canadian & World Studies Teacher at Chatham Kent Secondary School

Melanie Randall - Dance, English, Canadian & World Studies Teacher at Chatham Kent Secondary School
About Melanie Randall

Melanie Randall has been teaching and coaching dance at the LKDSB for over 20 years. Her lifelong passion for dance began at the age of two, continued as she attended Canada’s National Ballet School at age 9, and inspired her to earn teaching certification in Ballet with the Royal Academy of Dancing and National Dance with the British Association of Teachers of Dance.

She has also studied and performed jazz, tap, and Modern dance and choreographed and produced numerous musical theatre and dance productions. Randall started teaching dance professionally in grade 10, completed her Honours Bachelor of Arts in Dance at the University of Waterloo, her Bachelor of Education at the University of Windsor, and her Honours Specialist in Dance at York University. She is a founding member and current vice-president of the provincial dance education organization: Ontario Secondary School Dancefest.

Randall founded the CKSS Dance Program in 2001, and the Dance Team in 2002, and she has been the head coach of the team ever since. Under her guidance, this student-led team has won dozens of awards, including a provincial championship in 2007. Randall has a passion for helping students improve their technique as well as providing opportunities for student dancers to become confident, creative leaders through choreography and teaching. In addition to dance education, Randall is passionate about literacy, employability, social justice, and supporting student mental well-being.

She is a member of her school’s literacy and antiracism committees and advises the GSA and student well-being council. She incorporates literacy, career studies, social justice, and well-being in the dance classroom as well as when she teaches English, Civics, and Careers.

On a personal note, Randall is a partner, mom, stepmom, sister, daughter, and grandmother. She loves reading, listening to podcasts, travelling, visiting galleries and museums, camping, hiking, and canoeing.

Connect with Melanie: Email | Instagram | LinkedIn

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Lambton Kent District School Board (LKDSB)

Canada’s National Ballet School

Royal Academy of Dancing

British Association of Teachers of Dance

Honours Bachelor of Arts in Dance at the University of Waterloo

Bachelor of Education at York University

Ontario Secondary School Dancefest

CKSS Dance Program

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):

Welcome back to the High Performing Educator podcast.

Sam Demma (00:59):

This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is a good friend of mine. Her name is Melanie Randall. Melanie Randall has been teaching and coaching dance at the Lampton Kent district school board for over 20 years. Her lifelong passion for dance began at the age of two, continued as she attended Canada’s national ballet school at age nine, and inspired her to earn her teaching certificate in ballet with the Royal academy of dancing and national dance. With the British association of teachers of dance, she has also studied and performed jazz tap, modern dance, choreographed, and produced numerous musical theater and dance productions. Randall started teaching dance professionally in grade tent completed her honors, bachelors of arts and dance at the University of Waterloo, her bachelor of education at the University of Windsor and her honours specialist in dance at York University.

Sam Demma (01:52):

She is a founding member and current vice president of the provincial dance education organization, Ontario secondary school dance Fest. Randall founded the (CKSS) Craig Keilberg Secondary School dance program in 2001, the dance team in 2002, and has been the head coach of the team ever since. Under her guidance, the student led team has won dozens of awards, including a provincial championship. In 2007, Randall has a passion for helping students improve their technique as well as providing opportunities for student dancers to become confident and creative leaders through choreography and teaching. In addition to dance education, Randall is passionate about literacy, employability, social justice, and supporting her student’s mental wellbeing. She’s a member of her school’s literacy and anti-racism committees and advises the GSA and student wellbeing council. She incorporates literacy, career studies, social justice, and wellbeing into the dance classroom, as well as when she teaches english, civics, and careers. On a more personal note. Randall is a partner, mom, stepmom, sister, daughter, and grandmother. She loves reading, listening to podcasts, traveling, visiting galleries and museums, camping, hiking, and canoeing. I hope you enjoy this interview with Melanie and I will see you on the other side. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today we are joined by a special guest and a good friend who rocks the be someone’s taco merch. Her name is Melanie Randall. Melanie, please start by introducing yourself.

Melanie Randall (03:31):

So my name is Melanie Randall, as Sam said, and I am a 21 year high school educator. Although my education career started way before then, about the age of 12. And let’s see, I have three kids and I coach the dance team at the school and life is busy and wonderful.

Sam Demma (04:01):

When you say your educational career started much longer ago, in fact, when you were 12 years old, what do you mean by that? Tell me how it started when you were 12.

Melanie Randall (04:11):

So my mom thought I would be really bored at home all summer. Okay. So she signed me up for the summer that I was 12 and 13 as a counselor in training a volunteer. So I didn’t get paid. Okay. But a counselor in training for a camp for kids from age two and a half to five. So I really feel like I started back then. And then when I turned about 14 is when I started teaching dance to young children. And eventually I was students just as a high school student, middle school student.

Sam Demma (04:56):

Awesome. Yeah. That’s so cool. So it went from volunteering at a camp to teaching dance, to transitioning. At what point did you realize? One day I see myself working in an actual school setting. And once you made that decision, what did your educational pathway look like?

Melanie Randall (05:18):

So I didn’t make that decision until later I kind of have an unconventional pathway to my career. So I started out I, I, wasn’t a very good high school student myself and I was pulled aside by my guidance counselor who had caught me skipping again,

Sam Demma (05:43):

Skipping rope. You mean? Right. Skipping rope. <Laugh>

Melanie Randall (05:46):

Right. I shouldn’t admit that, I guess.

Sam Demma (05:48):

No, it sounds man,

Melanie Randall (05:49):

But it’s going somewhere. It’s going somewhere. So he pulled me aside and he said, I’ve looked at your file. What are you doing with your life? You know, you’re in grade 11, you’re in grade 12, like, this is ridiculous. What’s going on with you? What do you wanna do? And I said, I have no idea. So he haul me down to his office and he said, what do you like doing? And I said, the only thing that I like doing is dance. And he showed me brochures from post-secondary schools that offer dance programs. So I thought, wow, that’s interesting. I better get my marks up. Mm. So that really all of a sudden engaged me. And I just that’s when I set the goal just for postsecondary. And yet, while I was at postsecondary school, majoring in dance at the university of Waterloo, I still had no idea what I wanted to do with my dance degree when I was done. Had originally thought that I wanted to start my own studio, open my own studio, but then I realized that people who run their own studios work evenings and weekends, and I wanted to have a family. I was pretty traditional. I’d always wanted kids. So I thought that schedule probably isn’t going to work out.

Melanie Randall (07:24):

So, and, you know, went from job to job like retail, restaurant services hospitality, things like that just while I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do. And then I ended up getting married and having two kids and staying home with them for a couple of years. And then my sister was graduating from her undergrad at Brock. And my dad was picking up back in the day they were paper applications. Nice. So my dad was picking up a paper application for my sister to apply to teacher’s college. And he brought one to me too. And he said, you know, I think this would be a really good fit for you. And so I basically applied for fun. My dad said if I applied, he’d pay the 75 bucks or whatever, it was nice to apply to teachers college back in the day. And yeah, I got in, so it was kind a, I took the long way, but I got there and yep. Been doing that and loving it ever since

Sam Demma (08:39):

Every pathway is a valid option. So there was no right or wrong choice, just how it unfolded for you, which is awesome. And thank you for sharing. It sounds like one of the key aspects of your story was that one individual who made education personal to you by asking you, what are you passionate about? Mm-Hmm <affirmative> and when you said dance, you kind of connected the dots to, you know, there’s a future and a career doing that in this system, if you would like to tell me about how some of your educators or teachers you had growing up made an impact on you. It sounds like that individual did, is there anyone else that you can think of when you think back to your own educational journey that stood out? And if so, like what did those people do for you that made a big difference?

Melanie Randall (09:26):

So it’s been a really long time and I don’t remember any specific teachers remember that there was a Fette teacher at one of my high schools cuz they went to three different high schools. Oh wow. Yeah, dad was opp, so we got transferred a bunch. Got it. And and there was this P teacher and it was like a leadership course that we were taking and he really helped me to see leadership potential in me where I had never seen that in myself before. I also had a couple of English teachers who really had an impact on me. The, my favorite course I probably ever took was an, it was an O cause I’m really dating myself. Nice. <Laugh> so back, back in the day, O just in Shakespeare and yeah, I just, I, the teacher let us pick what we wanted to learn and she took us on field trips and you know, she appreciated my writing once she copied my essay onto transparency paper and put it up on the overhead projector <laugh> oh,

Sam Demma (11:06):

Wow.

Melanie Randall (11:07):

<Laugh> to show that rest without my name on it or anything. Yeah. So no one knew that it was mine, but you did, but but yeah, to show the other students what the expectations were. So that was pretty exciting. I really felt like someone believed in me.

Sam Demma (11:24):

That’s awesome. And

Melanie Randall (11:25):

That, yeah, it’s really important.

Sam Demma (11:27):

I think one of the most important things we can do working with youth is put the battery in their back, not just teach them curriculum, but help them realize that they can do the things they envision themselves doing, no matter how difficult it might be or how long a road it might take to get there. Because even if they don’t accomplish the big dream or goal, they tell you about just pouring self-belief in their brain will help them accomplish. So other tasks and activities in their life that just require that extra ounce of self-belief. And self-confidence mm-hmm <affirmative> when you think about your journey in education, you know, once you started, what are all the different roles you’ve worked in? Like tell me like kind of chronologically where you started, what you’ve done and where you are now.

Melanie Randall (12:15):

Okay. So when I originally went to teachers college, it was at a satellite campus of the university of Windsor. And there were only about 20 of us in the class. And it was teaching primary junior, which is BA basically JK to grade six. And I found out pretty quickly that I did not want to do that. <Laugh> it was, it was, that was not my path. Yep. But I still worked really hard and I did my best for the children and did my best for other professors and you know, all of those things. And the summer that I graduated, I headed to Western university to upgrade, to teach high school right away that first summer. And I got hired right away as a supply teacher. This is another neat story in my pathway. So I was supply teaching different courses, kind of all over the county and nice, you know, going to different schools. Everyone knows how supply teaching works. And I had a couple of long term supply gigs and that was cool. And then one of the high schools here in town the parent, the president of the parent council said, you know, she was saying to the

Melanie Randall (13:48):

Princip Thursday could be offering that here. And the principal said, well, yeah, but who’s gonna teach it. And my sister who had been hired full time, right out of teachers college with her high school qualifications happened to be walking by when they were having this conversation. Whoa. And she said, she said, my sister has a dance degree and she’s a qualified teacher. Wow. And I got her phone call that afternoon for an interview. Right. <laugh> and the interview was like very informal. It was, we hear you have a dance degree and teachers college, would you like a job? <Laugh>

Sam Demma (14:27):

Wow.

Melanie Randall (14:28):

<Laugh> yeah. So I started teaching it actually after school and in the evenings at two different high schools in town. Okay. And then they were kind of test driving it to see if there would be any interest. And there was a lot of interest. I think I had 60 students. Wow. sign up from both schools total. And yeah, I was still supply teaching during the day. And then I was teaching those courses at night and you know, it was a lot but really worthwhile because both schools ended up offering the program full-time during the day. Nice. So then though,

Sam Demma (15:15):

Yeah. A mom teacher

Melanie Randall (15:16):

<Laugh> right. So for two years I drove back and forth and taught at both the schools. And at the end of, I guess my third year of teaching, I wrote a letter to a superintendent and said, you know, I’m exhausted. I’ve been through three sets of breaks. <Laugh> wow. I didn’t tell ’em that, but you know I said, you know, I don’t mind which school you assign me to here are the pros of working at both schools. And I don’t mind which school, but please just assign me to one. Mm. And the one school had built a brand new state of the art dance studio. And at the other school, the principal was retiring. So the principal with the dance studio went to the staffing meeting and said, we want her. And we’re gonna take her at our school. And the principal who was retiring said, eh, do what you want <laugh> <laugh> cause he was retiring.

Melanie Randall (16:28):

He didn’t care as much, no longer invested in it. Yeah. So he yeah, he didn’t fight for me. And the other principal did, so I’ve been there full-time for 17 years and part-time, well, I guess, 18 years and part-time for three. So yeah. And then it wasn’t full-time dance. So my other qualification is English. So I was teaching English and dance at the same time and yeah, it was wonderful. And then about eight years ago, I was assigned civics and careers, which a lot of teachers don’t enjoy teaching or don’t want. And I was really nervous at first, but I love it. I absolutely love teaching those courses, especially the careers. I, I like civics because I really get the kids engaged in social justice and you know, their role in society as an active citizen of the world and the O you know, I can them to so many diverse topics and they get to choose what they explore.

Melanie Randall (17:54):

And, and that tells me so much about them. And you really get to know your students and these classes and the careers I love for the reasons you already said, you know, you get to know the students really well. You know what great things they’re, they’re going to accomplish, and you can fill them with so much confidence to follow their goals. And yeah, it’s great. Having them come back. A lot of them will come back at the end of grade 12 and they’ll say, guess what, miss I got into that program that I always wanted to get into. And I’m like, I teach 75 of you a semester. And I don’t remember what college program you wanted to be in, but that’s awesome.

Sam Demma (18:44):

That’s, that’s, that’s phenomenal. Taught dance, still teaching dance, also teaching English. How do you fill your cup outside of work? So when you’re not dancing, teaching dance or teaching English, what does Melanie do to make sure that she can show up at the best of her ability?

Melanie Randall (19:05):

So lifelong learning is really important. And so I like to take courses I’m actually in the middle of one right now, or actually I’m in the last week of one right now taking courses through the faculty of education, nice at various universities, just to, you know, either upgrade or know something new, or be able to teach something new.

Sam Demma (19:31):

What course, what course are you taking now or working through

Melanie Randall (19:35):

Senior social science. Cool. So it would qualify me to teach like sociology, psychology, anthropology, nice challenge and change in society, social justice and equity studies, gender studies. I, I’m kind of, there are so many I’m listing the ones that are world religions, things like that. Nice. We don’t offer all of those courses at my school, but you know, the, those are all part of the curriculum. So that’s the one that I’m working through right now. And then in the fall, I’m going to take a course called teacher leadership, part three, and I’ve already obviously taken one and two did really well. And I’m considering potentially taking principal course in January. Now I’ve put it out there.

Sam Demma (20:34):

TP some P QP

Melanie Randall (20:35):

P QP. Yeah. Yeah. it’s offered by our board in January 20, 23. Nice. So yeah, I think I might try it. I, I work really well with my administration and I have, you know, all these connections with students and, you know, I don’t, I don’t see the, the students as, you know, bad kids who need discipline in the office. I see troubled kids who need help from the office. Mm. You know, and I really think that I can help them. Not everyone, you can’t help everyone, not everyone wants your help, but if you can reach some or most yeah. Of the students, then, you know, that’s, that’s where you can, and you can do that in the classroom. Absolutely. But you know, next year I’ll be in year 22 and of teaching. And I just think maybe it’s time to try something a little bit different. Sure. And, and I feel that I have the skill for that position and it’s just a matter, sorry. Someone just started their lawnmower.

Sam Demma (21:53):

Can’t even hear it. Don’t worry.

Melanie Randall (21:54):

Okay, good. Yeah. It’s gonna get louder though. I think it’s okay. Yeah. So I forget where I was. You

Sam Demma (22:05):

Have the skillset for the job and yeah. Something that you,

Melanie Randall (22:09):

Yeah. So the course, because it’s offered by our board, I feel will give me a lot of opportunity to network and for the superintendents to get to know me and see my potential. And then I can decide after that, whether or not I want to actually interview to go on the list.

Sam Demma (22:33):

Nice. So, so many different roles, different opportunities. You, you, you said lifelong learning is one of the ways you fill your cup. Is there anything else you do, like aside from books and learning? Cause I feel like you can only do so much reading before. You’re like, I need a break, you know, <laugh> right.

Melanie Randall (22:52):

Well, you know, I love my Netflix. <Laugh> nice.

Sam Demma (22:55):

Hey, that’s, that’s valid. That’s, that’s valid. <Laugh> I do too.

Melanie Randall (23:05):

But not too much. We don’t watch too much TV. And because my partner is a teacher also, we talk a lot about work.

Sam Demma (23:16):

Yes <laugh>

Melanie Randall (23:16):

And you know, we count on each other for that support too. I love to travel and I like to do more of that now that my kids are much older and more independent, two of them are completely independent, but nice. The one, you know, and yeah, just traveling, camping, getting outside, going for walks, hikes in the woods are the best going to the beach with a book. Nice. I love that just by myself. I’ll do that quite a few times in the, in the summer. Oh, nice. And yeah, think that’s,

Sam Demma (24:04):

Those are great. Those are great outlets. Thanks. Thanks for sharing and digging deep <laugh>. When you think about your journey in education, if you could wrap up your 21 years of experience travel back in time, tap Melanie on the shoulder when she was just starting. Not that you would change anything about your path, but if you could take all the wisdom and go back, what would you have told your younger self in the form of some advice that you think would’ve been helpful to hear when you were just starting

Melanie Randall (24:36):

Not kind of to follow up with what you said, not to stress so much over the curriculum and you know, the curriculum, it all comes. It all happens anyway. But to really focus on not so much teaching curriculum, but teaching human beings. Mm. And really making that effort to connect with students as you deliver curriculum and, and allow them to explore the curriculum as well. And yes, just take advantage of all the professional development opportunities that are presented to you. And it’s all so useful and yeah, just don’t stress as much. I used, I used to be super uptight and now I’m chill.

Sam Demma (25:33):

<Laugh>, <laugh> love

Melanie Randall (25:35):

It. That’s what my students, well, that’s what my students say that I am, they say MROs so chill <laugh>. But you know, I have high expectations for my students because I believe that they all can reach those expectations, but I’m not an intense teacher. I’m not in their face about it. Cool. Just provide the opportunities. But I used, I used to stress out about every lesson and every every over schedule every second and make sure that I was doing everything by the book and I still do everything by the book, but I realize that it’s not as hard it’s, it’s easier than I thought.

Sam Demma (26:24):

Mm.

Melanie Randall (26:24):

You know, and I think you just get better at it. So it comes more naturally and that’s experience.

Sam Demma (26:32):

Yeah. Right. Less, I guess, I

Melanie Randall (26:34):

Think, yeah. We all need experience to get to the point where everything’s kind of second nature. But that’s what I would tell younger me is just connect with students and relax a little bit, just enjoy it

Sam Demma (26:49):

And empty your backpacks and eat some tacos. <Laugh> <laugh>.

Sam Demma (26:53):

Yeah. That’s awesome. Yeah.

Sam Demma (26:57):

Mel, thank you so much for coming on the show. This is a great conversation about your journey in education. Some of your beliefs around education, some of the things you’re working on or resources. If someone’s listening, wants to reach out or ask a question, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?

Melanie Randall (27:13):

I would say Instagram probably. And that is @_melrandall.

Sam Demma (27:25):

Awesome. @_melrandall, hit her up. She’s super chill. <Laugh> ask the questions. Connect. if you are a teacher who also teaches dance, you know, reach out or you’re looking for dance ideas, reach out. Mel’s an awesome person and a friend, and I know she’d be more than happy to chat with you. Mel, thank you so much for coming on the show. It’s been a pleasure to have you keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon.

Melanie Randall (27:52):

Thank you. It’s been great talking to you as well.

Sam Demma (27:56):

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Melanie Randall

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.

Larry Paquette – Principal at Northern Secondary School in Sturgeon Falls

Larry Paquette - Principal at Northern Secondary School in Sturgeon Falls
About Larry Paquette

Laurent (Larry) Paquette is the Principal at Northern Secondary School in Sturgeon Falls. He started his career at L’école secondaire catholique l’Horizon in Val Caron in 1992. Since then, Larry was a Physics, Math, Computer Science and Communications Technology teacher at Saint Charles Garnier in Whitby and then Northern Secondary School.

Upon moving to administration, he was a vice principal at Northern Secondary School and then Widdifield Secondary School in North Bay. For the past 10 years Laurent was principal at Northern Secondary School, the school at which he graduated from as a student. While at Northern Larry brought in two High Skills Specialist Majors (SHSM) into his school; one in Hospitality and Tourism and the another in Mining.

He also brought in Lego Robotics and Vex Robotics into Design Technology courses at the school. The favourite part of his job as a principal was the mentoring that he got to experience with his various vice-principals.

He is looking forward to retiring at the end of the August after a long successful career. What he will miss the most about his profession is the time that he spends with countless number of students. In retirement he plans to focus on his firewood business, travel and spend more time with his family.

Connect with Larry: Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Northern Secondary School

L’école secondaire catholique l’Horizon in Val Caron

Saint Charles Garnier

Widdifield Secondary School

High Skills Specialist Major Program (SHSM)

Lego Robotics

Vex Robotics

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 the high performing educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. The High Performing Educator was created to provide you with opportunities for personal development directly from your colleagues and peers. Each episode is like sitting face to face with a colleague in education at an amazing conference and chatting about their best practices, their learnings, their philosophies, and the mindset shifts that allow them to be successful in education today. If you enjoy these episodes that air Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, each week, please consider leaving a rating on the show on iTunes, so more educators can find it. And if you would like to receive emails that include inspiring videos for your students and actionable ideas for yourself and your staff, please visit www.highperformingeducator.com. Sign up, join the network, and I will see you on the other side of this conversation. Welcome back to the High Performing Educator podcast.

Sam Demma (00:58):

This is the first episode of season number three, with your host Sam Demma. Today our special guest is Larry Paquette. Larry Paquette is the Principal at Northern Secondary School in Sturgeon Falls. He started his career at L’école secondaire catholique l’Horizon in Val Caron in 1992. Since then, Larry was a physics, Math, Computer Science and Communications Technology teacher at Saint Charles Garnier in Whitby and then Northern Secondary School. Upon moving to administration, he was a vice principal at Northern Secondary School and then Widdifield Secondary School in North Bay. For the past 10 years Laurent was principal at Northern Secondary School, the school at which he graduated from as a student. While at Northern, Larry brought in two High Skills Specialist Majors (SHSM programs) into his school; one in Hospitality and Tourism and the other in mining. He also brought in Lego Robotics and Vex Robotics into Design Technology courses at the school. The favourite part of his job as a principal was the mentoring that he got to experience with his various vice-principals. The favorite part of his job as a principal was the mentoring that he got to experience with his various vice principles. He’s looking forward to retiring at the end of August after a long successful career. What he will miss the most about his profession is the time that he spends with countless numbers of students. In retirement, he plans to focus on his firewood business, travel, and spend more time with his family. I hope you enjoy this reflective episode with Larry as he is now retired, focused on his business, and I will see you on the other side. Larry, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Please start by introducing yourself.

Larry Paquette (02:39):

So I’m Larry Paquette. I’m a principal at Northern secondary school in sturgeon falls. I’ve been here as a principal for 10 years and this is my last year before I move on to retirement. So it’s, it’s been a great journey for me and I’ve, I’ve spent most of my career in this school. And actually I was a not only a principal here. I was also a vice- principal for four years, a teacher for twelve years and, and a student for for five years. So this has been my home for, for, for a long while.

Sam Demma (03:16):

That’s, that’s amazing. Thank you for your service. <Laugh>.

Larry Paquette (03:20):

You’re welcome.

Sam Demma (03:21):

When did you realize growing up that you wanted to work in education? Was there a special moment? Was it gradual? Tell me more about that.

Larry Paquette (03:31):

Yeah, so, so that’s a, that’s a great question. And, and for me, it’s going way back, right? So I can attest this to to probably some teachers of mine who were awesome and there’s a number of them along the way. And I struggled when I was in elementary school, but flourished in secondary school. And for me English is my second language. So I, I learned English in high school and I went to a French elementary school and then came to Northern to learn English that that was, you know, back in that day, we didn’t, we didn’t have the internet, we didn’t have that, that many opportunities to learn a language. And, and I came to Northern and I, and I had many great teachers here. That’s not, when I decided though I kind of, you know, went off to university studied engineering for a bit and then went into computer science and, and that’s my background, computer programming and software engineering.

Larry Paquette (04:31):

And I graduated in 91 and back then we were kind of in a recession and, and a bunch of us all French speaking. I went to a French speaking university in Subbury loon university, a bunch of us decided, Hey, let’s go to teachers college for a year. It’ll give us an extra year, something else in our backpack. Maybe a little more employable and ended up doing teachers college for a year and ended up in teaching. So there was no aha moment. It’s just, I gradually stepped into that role and, you know, enjoyed working with with students. That’s always been my passion.

Sam Demma (05:09):

Where did your interest for computer programming and computer science come from <laugh>?

Larry Paquette (05:13):

Oh my God. That, that, that also goes back to the mid eighties. It started here at Northern actually we had we had Vic twenties back then with a, a tape recorder and I had this awesome teacher, Mr. B Brenner was my teacher. And we learned about programming in basic. And actually I didn’t do well. I, I, I, I almost flunked the class, took it again in grade 12, my dad had encouraged me to keep at it for some reason. He kinda felt that computers would be the wave of the future. And my dad had a great eight worked in the mines and said, Ray, I’m not sure what he saw in computers, but he said, you know, you should keep at it because that’s gonna be, that’s gonna be taking over the world one day. And, and if you zoom back to 1985 not many computers around, I kinda lucked out. My mom bought me a, a Commodore 64. And that’s how it started for me. It’s just that passion of coding and, and getting a computer do to do things for me. And it went from there and, you know, I studied computers in university and I, I even had my my business at one point when I first started teaching and wrote some software for the ministry and wow. It was awesome.

Sam Demma (06:31):

What a awesome transition and initial starting point in education. Well, what are the different roles you’ve worked in since you started what schools, like, tell me a little bit about your journey chronologically.

Larry Paquette (06:44):

Yeah, so, so I first started teaching adults at night back then we were teaching word. Perfect.

Sam Demma (06:50):

Okay.

Larry Paquette (06:51):

And, and the funny thing about that story is that my girlfriend at the time took the course with me and we ended up getting married <laugh> so she’s, we’ve been 20, well, we’ve been married for 29 years this year. And, and I always joke about it. Like, I must have done a half decent job cuz she’s still around <laugh>. So that’s how I started teaching adults at night. They were mainly secretaries from the Subbury board. Okay. and then moved into a long term occasional position teaching computers and Ft. Even though I’m French teaching FCE was very challenging for me, but you know, it was a job. It gave me a couple months experience and moved into an LTO, a long term, occasional position in computer science. I think I was teaching some physics in, in a school in Whitby.

Larry Paquette (07:48):

Nice. So I spent a year there and then, you know, I was desperately trying to get back to to Northern and I knew the principal at the time. He was one of my teachers and I actually, I called him every two weeks on a Friday at two, just to connect with, ’em asked about the school and back then, like there were so few jobs. They hired three people that year. It was our board hired three people and I was one of the three and you know, more or less like the HES, the rest is pretty much, much history, but I, I moved into admin early on into my career just because of the opportunities. Right. So I, I ended up being a teacher in charge. I think I was about maybe 32 years old. Ah and then went and got qualified as, as an administrator and became principal here at Northern. And I was principal, I mean, vice principal here at Northern for, for four years. Then I was moved to north bay in a big school and worked there for two years. And actually I was fortunate because the principal who I worked with here at Northern as a vice principal, moved to Whitfield in, in north bay and I, I moved and worked with him there. So, and then came back here and then became principal. And, and I’ve been principal in this building for, for 10 years now.

Sam Demma (09:10):

What are some of the most rewarding aspects of the role you’re working in right now? And soon to be retired from <laugh>,

Larry Paquette (09:20):

It’s such a rewarding career overall and, you know, people will ask me, what did you like the most? Actually, I love being a vice principal the most, that was my favorite part of the job, because I got to work with kids on a one to one basis. As the principal though, you, you, you even have a bigger effect because you’re working with teachers also. Mm. and the community. So everything’s a a reward, right. Just, you know, knowing that you’re making a difference in your, your community. And, and this is my community. I grew up here and I’ve spent most of my life in this community and, you know, everybody knows you <laugh>, you know? Yeah. I’m the principal in my, in my community. There’s not 10 of us. Right. Yeah. So it’s and people reach out to you and, and, you know, I bump into people that I taught back in the day and they remember things and it’s, it’s, it’s such a, a rewarding, but challenging profession.

Sam Demma (10:21):

You mentioned your first role was teaching adults. How did that come about? Is that like typically a way that teachers usually start or tell me more about that experience?

Larry Paquette (10:35):

Not, not necessarily. I was kinda I kinda got into that by luck. I had a friend who was teaching adults who said, Hey, Larry, you wanna, you know, they’re looking for people who have that computer science background to teach to teach secretaries. Cool. And, and, you know, there were not that many of us in that, you know, in that, having that knowledge and I was still in university, I was like a computer science student when I first started teaching. Right. So it kinda gave me a taste of what teaching was all about. So, and also I ended up paying into my pension early on, so I kind young, still to retire, which is a real bonus. Right.

Sam Demma (11:15):

That’s awesome. Very cool. Along the journey, you mentioned you had some teachers that inspired you, impacted you along the way. I’m wondering if you can recall who some of those people are, and I’m sure there’s way too many to name, but maybe one or two that had a significant impact on you and what they did for you.

Larry Paquette (11:34):

Well, yeah, for sure. So, so the first one ISPR new, my grade eight teacher, and he probably doesn’t even know that he still lives in our community, but he kind of, you know, it’s just that patience, right. Cause I was a bit of a squiggly kid grew up on a farm. So, you know, sitting in a classroom was not my big thing, but I, I, I understood the importance of school. But, but that grade eight teacher was probably the first person that kind of made me realize, you know, I could do it. And then, you know, zoom forward to to high school. I, I had a couple the principal that hired me his name was Don Cole and, and Don taught me drafting in grade nine. And you can imagine moving from a small com small, small, rural school community into a bigger school.

Larry Paquette (12:27):

And I call this a bigger school, but it’s not a big school. We, we were maybe 400. Okay. and I took drafting with Mr. Cole. And, and I remember that first assignment, I got a hundred percent came back home and told my parents, man, I’m good at something I’m good at drafting, not knowing that every kid in the class got a hundred percent on his first assignment, that was kind of his shtick of okay. Of getting us to believe that we could do it. Ah, I shared that story with my staff. And, and I had a, a math teacher. His name was Ken Brener and I kinda replaced him here when I, when, when I got first hired, Ken was so patient and spent so much time, you know, he was always available at lunch before school, after school.

Larry Paquette (13:13):

Wow. if you wanted to learn more about Matt, Ken was your guy. And then I had a couple of university professors. One was his name was Dave Goforth was one of my computer science professors, just a, a all round nice guy. And then one of my faculty teachers who, cuz I was about to quit in November, in October and November, I just said, I’m done I’m I’m gonna go start my business, do my own thing. And he kind of took me a aside and said, Larry you know, you’re, you’re two months in. I think you’re gonna be a great teacher, just stick with it. And I did, which thank God he had that conversation with me.

Sam Demma (13:52):

Wow. And I love that story of giving every student a hundred percent on their first test quiz. When you realize that everyone got that, what was the Le like what lesson kind of came to mind or how did you perceive it?

Larry Paquette (14:07):

I, I was a little young to understand why that had happened. Really. Yeah. I understood that actually it took a while. I was probably well into my teaching career before I really realized, Hey, that’s like, that’s a nice little trick. Right? Yeah. Doesn’t cost you anything. And why be stingy with marks they’re just marks. Right. So yeah.

Sam Demma (14:28):

I love that. That’s such a great way to put the battery in the kids’ back and help them believe in themselves. You know,

Larry Paquette (14:35):

That’s, that’s, that’s exactly it.

Sam Demma (14:38):

Cool. thinking about your journey through education if you could take the wisdom and experiences you’ve had and bundle them up into a piece of advice for your younger self travel back in time and tap Larry on the shoulder in his first year and say, Hey Larry, this is the advice that would’ve been helpful for you to hear when you were just starting this career. Not that you would change anything about your path, but what advice would you give to your younger self?

Larry Paquette (15:08):

Forgive yourself for making mistakes. Don’t focus on those mistakes run with your horses. You’ll always have people who will challenge you, but they keep you honest. Mm. and, and, and zoom out. And, and actually for me, that just came about in the last month, <laugh> where I’m zooming out and, and saying, Hey, I’ve got, I’ve had an awesome career. And, and actually I’ll, I’ll give credit where credit is due on this one. They’ve parachuted in a vice principal into our school at the start of may. And she’s the one, you know, she’s, she’s, she’s younger than I am. And she just said, you know what, Larry, you’ve had a great career focus on that, going out and, and keep your head high because we tend to be critical. Right. We tend to focus on the negative instead of celebrating all the great things that we do. And when we do zoom out, all those little things that happened along the way, they made us better people and they’ve kept kept us honest. So that, that’s what I would say. Just be forgiving of your, your, your challenges, your mistakes especially if you have like, you know, if you, if you have noble intentions.

Sam Demma (16:18):

Yeah. I think we spend so much time focused on all the things we have yet to accomplish yet to do. Whereas there’s so many things we have accomplished and achieved and we forget to give ourselves the flowers for those things, or don’t reflect on them enough and celebrate them for a small moment in time and then never revisit them again. Right. speaking of some ch I mean, we didn’t really get on the topic, but along with successes and accomplishing things, I know the past two years have been a little bit difficult with the global pandemic that no one knew was gonna come. What are some of the challenges your school community was faced with over the past few years? And along with the challenges, what are some of the opportunities that you think came out of the situation?

Larry Paquette (17:08):

Well, so, so many challenges, it’s hard to zoom in on, on the one thing, cuz we’re kind of in the middle of it still. Yeah. And I kind of feel someone said at one point, like, we feel like we’re building a plane at the same time as we’re trying to fly it. Mm. so you know, the mental health issues are, are certainly coming to, to, to the forefront. And the importance of supporting kids, mental health is more important than actually the curriculum that we’re trying to teach. So yeah. So that’s a huge shift for us, for us as, as principals, but also for our teachers especially the ones that are, are kind of stuck, like in a bit of a rut in the classroom where they’re not seeing the bigger picture. Mm. so that’s been a, certainly a challenge and we’re really filling it with, you know, there’s about 12 days left before the end of the, the school year.

Larry Paquette (17:59):

Nice. You know, the wheels are coming off, right. The kids are really struggling right now. And, and so are the staff and everybody’s so tired, we’re just trying to get to the end of the year. You know, and part of my job is, is, is to to keep the focus right. To stay calm if, if I lose my wheels, then for sure things are gonna go south. Yeah. and staff look up to their principal to get us a pulse of how they should feel. So it’s, it’s been it’s been interesting and how I go about trying to keep that, that even keel is I, I I, I do I produce firewood <laugh> of all those things. And I think Sean might have mentioned it in his podcast. So I go out there and I, I work in the backlog, I cut wood, I split wood. I sell with customers. Nice. And I, you know, it, it keeps me active, keeps me in shape and clears my mind. Right. So I, I think that’s, that’s pretty much I, and I’m, I’m fortunate. I, I have I have an awesome family. I have five children wonderful wife. I, I rely on my faith to, to get me through the, the, the stormy waters

Sam Demma (19:16):

Love that. I, I love chopping wood. We, we have a little cottage about an hour and a half from our house. And from a young age, my grandfather had taught me how to, you know, safely swing the ax and we would chop up logs and, you know, use ’em for the bonfire pit. And it’s such a therapeutic activity. <Laugh> so you don’t do that a part as a part of school though. You do that outside when you’re not working outside of the classroom, like outside of the office.

Larry Paquette (19:49):

Yeah. I’m just gonna check. Can you still hear me?

Sam Demma (19:52):

Yep.

Larry Paquette (19:53):

You can hear me. Yeah. It was telling me that the microphone disconnected. Okay. We’ll back up a story about that. That’s okay. Yeah. No, this is totally separate. It’s it’s a separate business. There’s a bit of story behind that is just, it’s just like, instead of seeing a therapist, I go chop some wood and actually like I’ve got machinery. I’m not doing everything by hand. Yep. Yeah. I’ve got tractors and the processors and all this nice jazz, so yeah.

Sam Demma (20:17):

Oh, it’s cool. When did that begin and why what’s the, what’s the story behind it? <Laugh>,

Larry Paquette (20:24):

It’s a long story. As I told you, I grew up on a farm. Yep. and I have four brothers and, and we always worked so back in the eighties times were really different. We, we work together regularly and at one point my dad told me, like, he, he noticed I was struggling in, in, in being a principal. It was, it was a grinding job, not much. I, I wasn’t feeling like I was successful. And you said to me, you need to go back to your roots. You love producing wood. Maybe you should start producing wood, like just even for yourself. And that’s how it kind of started one little chainsaw with one ax and slowly built, you know, started selling a bit of wood, bought a wood splitter, bigger chainsaw tractor. And it just mushroom. So in retirement, I’m, I’m, I’m gonna be doing that full time.

Sam Demma (21:15):

Why do you think it’s important people working in education also have something like that. It doesn’t have to be wood cutting, but a hobby where they can forget about their work during the day, let their mind run loose. Like, how has that been helpful for you?

Larry Paquette (21:33):

Well, you need to recharge. And that was one of my biggest mistakes. When I started as a principal here, I was working 70, 80 hours a week. I was in six days a week and I was frustrated because nobody else was doing that. I, it was a choice that I had had made. Mm. And it came to the cost of my, you know, my family, my personal relationships. And I don’t think I was a good principal because, you know, I, I, I never took that time to rest and recharge and, and come back on a, on a different angle almost. Right. So, and I was fortunate, my, my superintendent took me aside and said, you know, Larry, I don’t even work 70 hours a week. So why, why are you working so hard? And I kinda learned to work smarter, right? Yeah. To delegate, to get people, to to, to take on some of those some of those pieces and let them run with with it.

Sam Demma (22:28):

One of the most rewarding aspects of a career in education is the impact you get to make on the lives of thousands of young students and young minds. And for those people who are listening, and obviously can’t see this, cuz there is no video <laugh> big smile across Larry’s face. When I said that, I’m curious to know over the years, if there are any stories of students who you can recall that were seriously transformed due to education. And if it’s a serious story, you know, you can change their name and explain it with a totally different name just to keep their privacy respected.

Larry Paquette (23:04):

Yeah, no, absolutely. So couple weeks ago I bumped into a parent and we are a small community. So, you know, I, she said, Hey Larry, how’s it going? Remember my son? And of course I did remember her son. And, and she had come to a parent teacher interview night and she said, you remember that parent teacher interview night? I said, no, I don’t. I remember your son, but don’t remember that teacher interview night. And she said, you know, you had told me that my son was great in math and her son, like not, not the type who would sit down in the desk. He was really active, a sports kind of guy like football, hockey, but in the classroom, not so much, didn’t do that well on tests, but I knew he was smart. I, I knew it because he would choose the toughest question on the test.

Larry Paquette (23:56):

And he’d answer that question. And not just the one question and hand in his test. Now, if I would’ve marked him, you know, usually traditional ways of marking, he, he would’ve failed because he would’ve only gotten that, that one question. But I knew he knew all the question. He knew all the answers. Anyway, she, she kind of, you know, she, she, she’s kind of beaming with pride when she was sharing that, that, that that experience and so fast forward about 30 years now I won’t, this kid now owns a, a company in our community, a big mining company and wow. You know, he, he runs that. I’m not surprised. I, I knew this guy was going places. You know, if I would’ve judged him on, on traditional ways of, of evaluation, you know, he, he, he wouldn’t have done well. And there’s so many stories like that.

Larry Paquette (24:49):

<Laugh> like, yeah. And that that’s, that’s the piece. And, and, and I’m sure I will be bumping into people for the rest of my life. People that I’ve taught. I’ve had one kid come back and said, remember that game doom. We used to play back in the nineties. Yeah. Yeah. Well, you know, we had used that game to learn about 3d modeling in my class. And he said like, that’s the one thing I remember from high school. I is learning how to use doom to like, we created like the school, we built the school.

Sam Demma (25:19):

Oh, wow.

Larry Paquette (25:20):

As a 3d model.

Sam Demma (25:21):

Okay. So

Larry Paquette (25:22):

It was outside the box thinking, but I have to give credit to my principal Don Cole, who I was talking about to gimme that, that leeway, that permission to trust me, to try something different. And I’ve tried to emulate that as, as a principal. If I have a, a teacher who comes in here with an outside the box idea, I run with it. I let them run with it. I encourage them to try it. The worst thing that could happen is we fail big deal.

Sam Demma (25:50):

Yeah. I, I love that. And I think it’s so important that we actually give ourselves the opportunity to fail. Because most of the time, before we try something, our brain actually stops us and we hypothetically fail. We don’t even actually know what the result’s gonna be, cuz we don’t even do it. <Laugh> I think. Well,

Larry Paquette (26:09):

Yeah. And I’d even add to that Sam, like if you’ve never failed, you probably haven’t tried hard enough. Right? Yeah. You’re always down that safe road where there’s, no’s no, I’m success meed many times and I’m okay with that.

Sam Demma (26:28):

Yeah. Because you keep picking up the acts and trying again, it’s like exactly, you’re gonna keep chopping away until we figure it out. Right. Yeah. That’s awesome. I’m excited to see your transition after you, you know, retire and it’s not, I don’t think retire is the right word. Just it’s a transition of your time and, and your efforts, right.

Larry Paquette (26:46):

It’s a change, right. It’s part of like being a principal is, is very demanding, very rewarding. But you know, you get to a point where, okay, I, I I’m, I’m getting there. I’m I wanna leave on my, my terms on high. I feel really good that Sean is gonna be taking the school over. Nice. and Sean’s excited too. And I I’m gonna be in the wings. Right. I, I told him if you need help, I’ll, I’ll, I’ll be happy to help out, but there’s, he’s coming to an awesome school. There’s a lot of great things happening. And, and I, I know I’ll hear about it and, and I’m glad for for him.

Sam Demma (27:22):

Awesome. Ah, I’d love to hear it. Thank you so much for taking some time to share some of your stories and wisdom today on the podcast. Thank you for your 29 years of service. I wish you the best in your transition. If there’s an educator who’s listening to this right now, wants to reach out, have a conversation or ask you a question, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?

Larry Paquette (27:42):

So there’s two spots, I’m at on Gmail. So it’s laurent.paquette@gmail.com.

Sam Demma (27:51):

Sure.

Larry Paquette (27:52):

If you look me up on Facebook, you’ll, you’ll, you’ll find me, you’ll see my picture there. I usually have drone pictures up on my Facebook page and I, my business is on there too. So if you want to chat, I’m we didn’t talk about this, but my favorite part of being a principal is also mentoring VPs and moving them into into the leadership position of the principal. So I would love to help out in any way

Sam Demma (28:28):

Teachers, VPs, reach out, reach out. You heard it here from Larry himself. <Laugh> Hey, it’s Sam again. I hope you enjoyed that amazing conversation on the High Performing Educator podcast. If you or someone, you know, deserves some extra recognition and appreciation for the work they do in education, please consider applying or nominating them for the high performing educator awards. Go to www.highperformingeducator.com/award. You can also find the link in the show notes. I’m super excited to spotlight and feature 20 people in 2022. And I’m hoping you, or someone you know, can be one of those educators. I’ll talk to you on the next episode, all the best.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Larry Paquette

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.

Reg Lavergne – Superintendent of Instruction, Innovation and Adolescent Learning and Student Success at the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board

Reg Lavergne - Superintendent of Instruction, Innovation and Adolescent Learning and Student Success at the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board
About Reg Lavergne

Reg Lavergne (@RegLavergne) is the Superintendent of Instruction for Southeast schools and for the Ottawa-Carleton Virtual Secondary School (OCVSS). Reg supports innovative and alternative approaches to Student Success and Adolescent Learning within this role.

For 23 years, Reg has served students in Kindergarten to Grade 12 in rural, urban, large, small, adaptive, and community schools as a teacher, department head, Vice-Principal and Principal. He has also served as the System Principal of Student Success and Innovation and Adolescent Learning.

Currently, Reg is working on an Educational Doctorate degree focused on increasing student voice and identity in student learning experiences. He is also designing and implementing the Authentic Student Learning Experience framework to embed student voice and is working with SSTs to build a model for Student Success for students in grades 7 and 8, and grades 9-12.

At the OCDSB, Reg has greatly enjoyed working with teachers to build and implement learning models and approaches that help students see their own genius.

Connect with Reg: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Ottawa-Carleton Virtual Secondary School (OCVSS)

OCDSB

Hero on a Mission by Donald Miller

Russ Interview by Jay Shetty

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:01):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast.


Sam Demma (01:00):
This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Reg Lavergne. Reg Lavergne is the Superintendent of Instruction for Southeast schools and for the Ottawa-Carleton Virtual Secondary School (OCVSS). Reg supports innovative and alternative approaches to Student Success and Adolescent Learning within this role. For 23 years, Reg has served students in Kindergarten to Grade 12 in rural, urban, large, small, adaptive, and community schools as a teacher, department head, Vice-Principal and Principal. He has also served as the System Principal of Student Success and Innovation and Adolescent Learning. Currently, Reg is working on an Educational Doctorate degree focused on increasing student voice and identity in student learning experiences. He is also designing and implementing the Authentic Student Learning Experience framework to embed student voice and is working with SSTs to build a model for Student Success for students in grades 7 and 8, and grades 9-12. At the OCDSB, Reg has greatly enjoyed working with teachers to build and implement learning models and approaches that help students see their own genius. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Reg, and I will see you on the other side. Reg, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show this morning. Please start by introducing yourself.


Reg Lavergne (02:21):
It’s fantastic to be here and I really appreciate you reaching out to me. So my name is Reg Lavergne. I’m a superintendent of instruction with the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board which is a public school board in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. I support a number of schools, but I also support the innovation and adolescent learning department and the student success programming across our district.


Sam Demma (02:44):
At what point in your own career journey did you determine that education was the field you wanted to pursue and work in?


Reg Lavergne (02:53):
Okay, so this might sound sad. I always wanted to be a teacher. My mother tell you if she was here right now, that when I was a very small boy and people said, what do you wanna do when you grow up? I said, I was gonna be a teacher. And I always did say that that I was gonna be a teacher. I, so that, that truly has been, was always, and still is my main goal. I like working in education. I like working with, with kids. I like helping and working with adults who are working with kids. And I have always naturally gravitated towards kids for whom the system didn’t necessarily work as well as we might like it to. So I’ve always gravitated towards, it’s not working. Why is that? What can we do differently?


Sam Demma (03:42):
That’s awesome. Tell me about the journey from five year old reg that always told his parents and everyone in his life that he wanted to be a teacher to reg today. Like what were the different positions and roles you worked in? Where did you start and what brought you to where you are today?


Reg Lavergne (04:01):
So I, I, I, I think I’d have to say that my, my journey hasn’t been exactly linear. Although I I’ve always been connected to education, so I was in school and then I’ve worked in, in schools and, and in education, my entire career. I actually when I was in school I was very fortunate. School worked for me. I really enjoyed school. I got a lot out of it. I actually went to university and I, my first degree was in music. So I was a music teacher first and I loved that. I got to work with kids in a very different environment to help them celebrate strengths that they didn’t know they had in a way that many people weren’t looking for and, and to help them see how they can contribute in ways that to be perfectly Frank society doesn’t always put on the forefront.


Reg Lavergne (05:00):
So when I was watching kids, we would often work with I, I was a high school teacher for the most part. I actually started working in a private elementary school. And then I got hired with public board, the secondary level, and I was working as a music teacher and we would go to the local elementary schools and I would watch kids who didn’t always have the easiest paths and had lots of different things. They were working through flourish when they were working with younger children and helping them, helping them grow and helping them overcome challenges that they were working with. And I really, really loved that. And from there I became a vice principal. I, I I worked actually, I should take a step back when I was in taking my my degree, my education degree. I sought where, where I, where I could sort of put my voice in what type of placement I, I was asking for.


Reg Lavergne (05:57):
I worked with children who were suspended or expelled from their schools or districts and, and helped their, their learning. I also volunteered in a program that was designed for kids who’d been suspended so that they didn’t stay at home all day. They came, we helped them with their schooling, but we also helped them with why they were suspended and how can we not get there again? I became a music teacher after that. When I became a vice principal, my first school was working with the student was in an adaptive school. So was working for students who had lots of different types of challenges social as well as cognitive, as well as physical and I, and I worked with with them. And then when I became a principal, I worked in an inner city and a rural school.


Reg Lavergne (06:43):
But I brought a, a very strong student success link to that, to those discussions, to those schools, those situations when a student was struggling, stopping and saying, why are they struggling? What can we do differently for them asking them to do the same thing multiple times when they’ve struggled on it on the first time, probably isn’t going to make them feel better about themselves. They may learn the skill, but they’re not going to feel better about themselves as they go through that. So how do we also take into account their thinking their their feelings about themselves? Do they think that they’re a capable learner? Do they think they’re smart? How can we make sure they do see that way? And how can we make sure that they do see that there are lots of options available to them and how can we help them get there?


Sam Demma (07:25):
Mm. I love that. And they’ve gone continue,


Reg Lavergne (07:31):
Sorry. No, I, I may have gone a little off topic there, but, but that was where sort of my thinking went. And actually one part I, I actually then started I moved out of working in a school and I was working centrally. I was assistant principal for four years of student success and adolescent learning. And I supported, I think it was 96 schools in our district on school student success programming and, and looking at, at options and opportunities for students outside of the, the, the norm outside of the traditional box that we might work in.


Sam Demma (08:04):
You mentioned that you had the opportunity to see students flourish in a different environment to uncover strengths, that they didn’t even know that sometimes they had. Can you share an example of what you mean by uncovering strengths? They didn’t even know they had, because I think that’s a beautiful thing to help a young person or a student realize,


Reg Lavergne (08:26):
Mm-Hmm, , there are so many I have a couple from my past, that’ll be more general. And then I can speak to one specifically that I’m thinking about from last year. Mm. So Stu students who that I was working with, who may not have had clarity on their strengths. I spoke very vaguely to say that they may not have thought they were very good at very much. And I remember, again, I was in a high school going to local elementary schools and intentionally partnering students up with, with younger children who needed help in different things. If it was music, they may have needed help playing their instrument or setting their instrument up or trying a new instrument or working through something that they were working on, but they were struggling and giving. I, I I’m, I’m seeing several in my mind right now, and I’m years giving, providing the opportunity for them to step up, to be a leader, to show their strengths to help someone else.


Reg Lavergne (09:36):
And I think that brought in the idea of contribution, right? As soon as you can bring in the idea where a person feels like they’re contributing in some way, they feel valued, they feel valuable, they feel important. They know that they have strengths that they can bring. And I would watch these teenagers working with these younger students and suddenly see them light up as the younger student achieved, what they were working on. And I could see that the, the older student realized, wait a second. I helped them do that. Right. I was able to, to share with them some of what I know, some of the skills I have, I was able to motivate them and make them feel that they can do this. They knew it was possible. And suddenly they did that. And I would watch the kids light up. And to me, I don’t think I have the words to describe how I felt on the inside, nor how the kids felt as they were going through that.


Reg Lavergne (10:32):
Because then all of a sudden, as we’re heading back to, to the main high school, I’m watching the excitement in this young person’s eyes, I’m hearing them talk about what they did and, and how they helped the other student. I’m hearing them talk about the other student’s achievement. Like it really wasn’t all about one person. It was about the different pieces. And I remember watching kids suddenly be willing to try more and to do more back in the classroom after that, because they sudden they saw that they had a strength that they, they could contribute. They could help someone else. And we’ve seen that in a program that we actually started last year in our district, it’s, it’s a, a ministry supported provincial program. So we did not design the entire program. We did design what it looks like for our district.


Reg Lavergne (11:25):
And we started a program with one teacher. And she started reaching out to students who had dropped out of high school without graduating and talked to them about a different approach and a different type of program. And it it’s called a SW program. So that school within a college, like I said, it’s a, it’s a provincial program in Ontario. It is situated to support students who are at risk of not graduating high school and connect them to pathway options. We took a, a slightly different approach to it. In terms of, of, again, reaching out to kids who were at risk of not graduating and finding out what are you doing right now? How can we connect that to your formal learning? So basically we were, we, we did. And when I say we, I mean, the lead teacher who is the most brilliant educator you have ever met she connected with kids who, who were not at school and started talking with them just to find out more about them.


Reg Lavergne (12:21):
What are your interests? What do you like to do? What do you do outside of school? You know, when you do that, that’s actually this part of the English curriculum. And it’s this part of that math curriculum. And at this part of the history curriculum, and she was able to, to show the students who, the structure that we developed together, that they were smart. They had talent, they had strengths. It may not manifest itself in a way that we would normally capture it in a school, but they were demonstrating learning in, in in, within their life. And she was, she was able to engage with them to, they came back to work with us. Now, this was in remote last year. So they actually did not return to a traditional school, but they did engage in some traditional school structures and different things.


Reg Lavergne (13:10):
They were engaged in outside the school. The teacher captured because they captured this demonstration of their learning. They had learned, they had developed a ton of skills, maybe not sitting in the classroom at 9:00 AM on Monday, but maybe at different times. And they were able to demonstrate that learning. And she worked with, with students capturing evidence of their learning. So she did not create lessons for them every day, the students from their interests and then where they wanted to go. So meeting their pathway goals developed learning experiences. And as they were doing that and demonstrating different learnings, the teacher was, was connecting that to different curricular expectations. And the students were accelerating the, the credits that they were earning. And at the end of June last year, 22 students graduated from high school. And I believe 18 of them are in college right now. These students had dropped outta previous.


Sam Demma (14:05):
Wow. That’s such a cool story.


Reg Lavergne (14:08):
Oh, get goosebumps. When I think of that story all the time, that teacher and that program approach changed those kids,


Sam Demma (14:20):
It’s a case study of how to deal with students of whom school is not working. Right. Like you mentioned earlier, sometimes school doesn’t work for everybody. Well, I think the question that came in my mind was like, how do we help those students who school is not working for? And it sounds like this program like fills that void. Is it continuing this year in person? Or like, tell, like, tell me a little bit more about it.


Reg Lavergne (14:45):
Yeah. We expanded it three teachers this year. And the program is full again. They’ve reached out to different groups of students and they’ve intentionally reached out to students that might not reach out to us to make sure that they are aware of those pieces and that, that, that there is an opportunity. And sometimes they situated from why not give a shot, try it out. If it doesn’t work, you don’t have to stay, right. We’re not, we’re not holding you here, but if it does work, this could be changing for you. And, and something, you said it, it made me, it made me think of something else that the, the teacher engaged with as well. In that program, we’re not saying that traditional learning structures are not engaged, right. They’re not out the door, they’re still there. Yeah. But they’re engaged differently as the student needs it.


Reg Lavergne (15:34):
And I remember talking with the teacher again, brilliant educator. And she was telling me this story about a student who had struggled in school for many, many years, obviously had dropped out of high school, was back into this program. And they needed a very solid, theoretical understanding of mathematics for the program they wanted to go into at the college the next year. And so the teacher engaged in some more traditional learning so that they could understand the theoretical underpinnings of the mathematical concept they needed to go in. The difference was the student knew why they needed it.


Sam Demma (16:11):
Mm.


Reg Lavergne (16:12):
And it was connected to their goal. It was connected to their pathway. It was connected to their passion. So they were, they were there, they were into it. They were working on it. I don’t believe six months earlier, the student would’ve engaged to the same degree, but because of the approach that that program provided and that educator provided for the student, they saw meaning and purpose for their learning as they had never seen it before. So that theoretical piece that possibly, and I, I, I can’t guarantee these pieces, but possibly before they may have thought, I don’t want that. I don’t care about that. Like, I’m not doing that. They knew it was important. It was important to them. It was part of their pathway goal. So they were totally engaged and worked very diligently with the teacher to learn in that way. So it is a balance of sort of a authentic in school and outta school experiences with some very traditional, theoretical learning opportunities as well.


Sam Demma (17:07):
There’s a really phenomenal new book called hero on a mission by an author named Donald Miller. And in the book, he talks about the importance of setting goals in the context of stories. Like he believes that the reason why most people don’t bring their goals to life is because the goal isn’t actually baked into a story about how their life could change or what it is they’re working on. And when you mentioned that student who didn’t understand why they needed this, all of a sudden realizing that it’s a key component of bringing their future goal to realization it just, it like compels you to, to do it and take action because no longer is it just a math class, it’s a stepping stone in your goal or your future, you know, story. Which I think is a really cool realization. And that’s what came to mind when you were explaining that, what do you do you, what’s the teacher’s name that runs this program? Does she also does she also teach like a grade or is she solely dedicated to running and organizing this, this program?


Reg Lavergne (18:10):
So she teaches she taught all the students last year. She teaches a third of the students this year, but she’s, she works with the other two teachers and they they’re very collaborative in their approach. Cool. In terms of bouncing off each other’s strengths so that the students can maximize they’re learning off of the, the strengths from the three teachers that are, that are involved. We have a fourth teacher that helps liaise with the college, the local college we have as well. Nice. because part of that program is the students. I call it tow dipping, but they, they engage in some college courses as well. And while they’re engaging in the college courses, they’re earning a college credit and a high school credit at the same time. Nice. to try to explore different options, they may not have considered the lead teacher in the program.


Reg Lavergne (18:57):
She is extremely humble and will not be happy that I have said her name. But her name is Donna. And and she was an exceptional educator. And she you know, she was the one working directly with the students last year. Helping them see their genius, which is a saying that I captured from another one of our, our educators to see their genius and to see the possibilities before them. And you know, she has, has dramatically changed and the colleagues she works with have dramatically changed the lives of children.


Sam Demma (19:31):
I’m getting goosebumps. It’s such a good feel. Good story. And it’s so cool to hear that the program is growing. I’m sure other boards might be reaching out to you after listening to this podcast, to ask some questions and connect with Donna too. about this, because I know it’s not an isolated problem or challenge. There are so many challenges in education, especially with the pandemic, but with challenges, come opportunities being on the cutting edge of innovation and student success, what do you foresee? Some of the opportunities being in education, things that are unfolding and the school board is working on that you think are really great opportunities for the future.


Reg Lavergne (20:11):
I will never say that COVID has been a great thing. It’s been a horrifying thing. It has caused so much harm. I will say that it created the opportunity to look at things outside the box. Mm that’s my very gentle way of saying sometimes we have to knock the lid off and push the wall over. Mm. And look outside the box. Traditional approaches to learning work for some and need to be available for some, they don’t work for everybody and we need to be more attentive to, and more responsive to and proactive to different ways of learning that engage people in different in, in different ways. I, I am very focused on who is the student? What are they doing? What do they want to do? What are their strengths? How is the learning environment set up to help them see meaning and purpose in their learning?


Reg Lavergne (21:18):
When we first went into shut down because of C learning, didn’t go into shut. Buildings did congregating together, did, but learning didn’t stop. And I was so privileged at the time. I was the principal of student success and innovation and adolescent learning at the time. And at first I remember thinking, what are we going to do? The way we’ve done everything. Our entire system can’t function right now, the way we’ve done it, what are we going to do? And I have to tell you how blown away I was with students, families, and educators, as everybody morphed into doing things in a very, very different way. I had the privilege of working with all of the student success teachers in our district. Every school that has grade seven and eight or grade nine to 12, has a student success teacher assigned a, a specific position for it.


Reg Lavergne (22:15):
And I was so privileged to get to work with all of them, incredible educators, incredible credible people. And we started doing a lot of brainstorming because those are the teachers that also support the students that are at greatest risk of leaving us, having not completed their courses and completed their diploma. And so we spent a lot of time talking back and forth. Well, what does this look like when you’re talking about students who don’t necessarily want to engage in learning every day, because they haven’t had success in it, or they haven’t felt good in it. Then when they’re sitting at home, it’s even more at risk that they’re not going to engage. So what are we going to do? And we built an approach, a philosophy, excuse me, and a framework to really take a look at all right, what are you doing right now at home?


Reg Lavergne (23:08):
You are learning. You are learning in very different ways, but you are learning. It just doesn’t look like it did the previous week when we were in a school building. So what are you doing? Talk to me about that. We had one student I’ve, I, I don’t think I’ll ever forget this. A teacher shared I’ll speak generally because yeah, I don’t, I have share name, but had contacted a student who had had a variety of different experiences in schools and not all of them. Good. And, and they were now at home as, as everybody was. And the, the teacher, the, the student success teacher asked the student what they were doing and the student was tearing apart a trailer and rebuilding it with his dad at home was just something they wanted to do at home by talking with the student and finding a little bit more about what they were doing.


Reg Lavergne (23:57):
And, and he engaged in regular conversations with the students. So to, to hear what they were learning, talked to me a little bit, suddenly we realized the student was actually doing two tech education courses with his dad at home by tearing it apart. And the teacher was able to capture evidence of learning through the conversation and the student would take pictures of what he was doing and share it with the, with the teacher to say, this is what we saw today. So we had to do this for X reason. That is not my area of strength. So I can’t give you the exact specifics on what they were say. But what I do know was that the student was engaged in activity. They really loved, they were working with their dad and they were able to explain why they were making the steps they were making.


Reg Lavergne (24:41):
And the teacher actually asked the student at point would write down the steps of what you were, why you were doing it. The student was like, sure, why? Well, there’s a grade 12 technical English course that would meet the criteria of, so by building a manual on how to tear apart and rebuild a trailer, the student was also working on a technical English course. This wasn’t a student who necessarily loved writing or loved literature, right? At that point in his life, he may at one point, but at that point he didn’t necessarily enjoy that, that approach, but he was totally on board with writing down what he was doing and why he was doing, we were capturing his thinking. It was important to him. It mattered to him. He was creating a technical manual. That for him was really, really important. And that connected some credits. So during the, the initial closures, and that’s what sort of inspired and led to the development of our approach with our program as well it was very much looking at well, what are they interested in? What are they good at? What do they wanna be working? That’s where we start. And that’s how they get that spark to continue pushing themselves even further.


Sam Demma (25:57):
It sounds like flexibility is such an important part of this process. Like the, the student being flexible, but also the, the teacher and maybe in the past flexibility has not been the most utilized idea when it comes to projects or completing assignments or the way that you complete the assignment. How did, like, how do you build a culture of flexibility where, where, like an educator is proactively looking for those ways to connect real world experience to specific students learning or is this like situation you’re explaining more used for the students who school is not working for?


Reg Lavergne (26:42):
That’s a great question. I think the flexibility piece is, is key. Yeah. How do we build the environment for it?


Sam Demma (26:51):
I’m putting you on the spot. not that you have to have the perfect answer.


Reg Lavergne (26:57):
No, it’s a great question. I think, I think it’s a, it’s a brilliant question. I I’m going share some of my initial thinking. And then this is the question I’m gonna walk away from thinking even more on, I’ll be honest with you. I think, I think part of it comes down to what’s the goal and who decides the goal and who’s decided how that goal is achieved. And we have we have a society, our, our, our society, and some may argue that it has to be this way for a society. As, as, as large as our planet is to function together that there are certain goals and there are certain ways that we’ve decided over a series of years or decades that work mm. I have to talk about that, that work to achieve those goals. And I think what we’re seeing, and I think COVID has helped illuminate this it’s, it’s put a spotlight on it.


Reg Lavergne (27:55):
That practices that work, we have to stop saying that we have to start saying they work for some and other practices work for others, and we needed to be more open to a diversity of practices that are going through. I think that certainly the approach we took in the district, I was working with student success teachers who I was very fortunate. We’re very engaged, very flexible, wanted to try different things to support student achievement in different ways and move that forward. What we’re seeing is that that thinking philosophy and the use of this framework is, is expanding in the district. As people are seeing that it’s working. Because I think something that just jumped into my head after what you said was the idea of permission.


Reg Lavergne (28:41):
Do we give educators permission to go outside the box to try things that are safe, appropriate, but that engage students in ways that engage them. So rather than it being an approach that I’m confident in, because I’ve seen it work a number of times, if I see it not working for a student, do I feel that I have the permission to try something different with them, especially depending on where they’re going with it. We all, depending on geographically where you lived, the people who were in the same area with you took the exact same courses through high school, had the exact same learning, delivering models in place. I’m guessing they didn’t all do exact, the exact same thing. So they took those learnings that they had and have tweaked them to has, and it tweaks them, adjusts them and applies them to where they went with it, what they wanted to do with their learning, what they wanted to do with their life.


Reg Lavergne (29:43):
So I think a part of it is giving that permission to, to, to dip into different ways of doing things, to saying for this student, that approach is appropriate and it supports where they want to go. It supports what they wanna do. So we don’t have to follow necessarily in, in sort of a, a, a very structured manner, traditional approaches, traditional approaches work in many cases. And so this isn’t a case of throw all of that out and try this instead, this is a case of, for this person who they are, their identity, their experiences, their goals, what about this? And I would even put on the table, imagine if we started saying to the student, well, what are you interested in? Well, what would you like to work on right now within the parameters of, of the, the the, the courses that we’re working on to say, how would you like to engage in that learning?


Reg Lavergne (30:42):
There are lots of different ways of engaging in learning that is embedded within English curriculum or science curriculum or math curriculum. I think we can give permission. And I’m, I’m in a, I, I’m very fortunate. I’m in a position where I can work with a number of schools and principals and vice principals and teachers, and, and I can establish the environment that provides for that position. I don’t mean for that to sound power trippy in any way. But when I, when I say it, I’m having a conversation with someone and, and I say, why not? That gives that permission to say, it’s, it’s okay to go outside of what you may have normally done, because you’re engaging with that student in a way that is going to be more effective for them and is ultimately going to enhance their wellbeing and their achievement. And I remember that when I was a teacher asking, you know, talking with my principal and when my principal said, why wouldn’t you try that? If you think that’s gonna work, knowing that my principal was supporting my thinking was very powerful for me. So that’s something that I try to do. And I’ve always tried to do in my roles as I’ve gone through. My career is, is to make sure that we’re engaging in those conversations and that we’re providing that permission because the permission is needed for us to change the way it was to the way it could be.


Sam Demma (32:06):
There is an American hip hop artist named Russ, and he was being interviewed by this guy named Jay Sheti one time. And Jay Sheti said, what is the best advice you’ve ever received? And he said, it was a question, what if it could turn out better than you ever expected? And when you approach situations with that mentality, what, like, what if it could turn out better than you ever expected or ever imagined, instead of what, if this goes wrong and terrible, you build some courage to try new things, to take new things on. And I think the, why not question becomes even more powerful. When you look at it from that perspective and back to your toe dipping analogy, you know, if you do try it and you dip your toe and the water’s really warm, and it’s working out, you dive in and, and, you know, you scale the program, get three teachers involved. And then, you know, five years from now, maybe the program is going throughout the whole board, and there’s like dozens of teachers organizing it and running it all because of a test, a pilot project which is really cool and exciting. This has been a really awesome conversation. I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. If someone is listening to this Reg, wants to reach out, ask you a question, talk about this program or your experiences in education, what would be the best way for them to get in contact with you?


Reg Lavergne (33:27):
The easiest way would be to go to my board’s website ’cause you can find my email. I’ll spell my email over in a second, but you can find it there. My board’s website is ocdsb.ca and then you can do a search on me and you will find I’ll pop up. My my email is reg.lavergne@ocdsb.ca, and I’m more than happy for people to reach out and have conversations because as we look to what could be and what the possibilities are, that’s what I find is really, really exciting and and can truly change kids’, change kids’ lives.


Sam Demma (34:07):
Awesome. I agree. Thank you so much, Reg, for taking the time to come on the show. I really appreciate it. Keep up the amazing work and we’ll talk soon.


Reg Lavergne (34:15):
Thank you. Take care.


Sam Demma (34:18):
Hey, it’s Sam again. I hope you enjoyed that amazing conversation on the High Performing Educator podcast. If you, or you know, deserves some extra recognition and appreciation for the work they do in education, please consider applying or nominating them for the High Performing Educator awards, go to www.highperformingeducator.com/award. You can also find the link in the show notes. I’m super excited to spotlight and feature 20 people in 2022, and I’m hoping you or someone, you know, can be one of those educators. I’ll talk to you on the next episode, all the best.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Reg Levergne

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.

Laura Briscoe – Learning Coordinator of Innovation at the Thames Valley District School Board

Laura Briscoe - Learning Coordinator of Innovation at the Thames Valley District School Board
About Laura Briscoe

Innovation, experiential learning, and global citizenship are at the heart of Laura Briscoe’s teaching philosophy. Laura is a forward-thinking educator who collaborates with teachers and community to build learning environments that exude energy, ignite critical thinking, and embrace risk taking to create spaces that are inclusive, relevant, and innovative. Laura is currently the Coordinator of Innovation for Thames Valley District School Board.

Previously, Laura was a Global Competencies Facilitator for the board, and Visual Arts Department Head of Oakridge Secondary School in London, Ontario.  Laura has been recognized as a leader in education locally, provincially, and nationally. In 2015 Briscoe was awarded the Prime Minister Certificate of Achievement Award, 2016 the Leading Women, Leading Girls, Building Communities Government Award, the national Classroom of the Future Spirit Award, 2014 the Innovative Teacher of the Year Award by the Ontario Business Educators’ Association, and 2016 Bishop Townshend Thames Valley Award. 

Laura Briscoe stimulates imagination and empowers people to make relevant connections through building relationships, interdisciplinary approaches, and community partnerships.

Connect with Laura: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Thames Valley District School Board

Oakridge Secondary School

Prime Minister Certificate of Achievement Award

Ontario Business Educators’ Association

XR Studios

Art of Math Education by Laura Briscoe and Jeni Van Kesteren

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:01):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast.


Sam Demma (01:00):
This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Laura Briscoe. Innovation, experiential learning, and global citizenship are at the heart of Laura Briscoe’s teaching philosophy. Laura is a forward thinking educator who collaborates with teachers and community to build learning environments that exude energy, ignite critical thinking, and embrace risk taking to create spaces that are inclusive, relevant, and innovative. Laura is currently the coordinator of innovation for Thanes Valley District School Board. Previously, Laura was a global competencies facilitator for the board and visual arts department head for Oak Ridge secondary school in London, Ontario. Laura has been recognized as a leader in education locally, provincially, and nationally. In 2015 Briscoe was awarded the Prime Minister Certificate of Achievement Award, 2016 the Leading Women, Leading Girls, Building Communities Government Award, the national Classroom of the Future Spirit Award, 2014 the Innovative Teacher of the Year Award by the Ontario Business Educators’ Association, and 2016 Bishop Townshend Thames Valley Award. Laura Briscoe stimulates imagination and empowers people to make relevant connections through building relationships, interdisciplinary approaches, and community partnerships. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Laura, and I will see you on the other side. Laura, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Pleasure to have you on the show this morning. Please start by introducing yourself.


Laura Briscoe (02:25):
Thank you for having me. I’m really excited for this conversation. Yes, so I’m Laura Briscoe. I’m currently working in Thames Valley District School Board as a innovation coordinator; Kindergarten-Grade 12. So it’s a big loaded title to me what innovation is, but yes, that is kind of who I am and the role I’m currently in.


Sam Demma (02:45):
What the heck is innovation?


Laura Briscoe (02:49):
So I’m, I’m starting to feel like it’s an incubator, cause I’m, I’m finding lots of connections with all different portfolios for innovation, but specifically interdisciplinary connections. So all subjects, all grades partnerships with community to encourage student engagement and, and make learning relevant and with big connections as the world that we’re living in to technology. And so there’s lots of those aspects of how we can support personalized learning with technology and experiences. So that’s kind of a description of, of what it is, but it changes to me every day, depending on the initiative I’m working with,


Sam Demma (03:25):
growing up in school were always asked, what do you wanna be when you grow up? Did, would you write down innovation coordinator or like when did you realize that working in education was for you and how did you also from that point forward end up in this role?


Laura Briscoe (03:43):
So my, my answer to the innovation question was, no, I wouldn’t know that I feel like we’re always creating in these roles opportunities for students to be prepared parent for jobs that don’t exist yet. And I, I don’t know if this job existed when I was in school. But I did know that I love, I love change and I love ex experimentation and new ideas. So I could see myself going in that direction. But when I was younger my mom was a teacher. And so I, I appreciated how she really connected with interest students. I like, I, I looked up to her as a role model. But for my own personal experience as a teacher, I was in high school and I was teaching gymnastics and I had a student who was deaf and, and trying to find ways to create an equitable approach in, in the gymnastics experience was so rewarding with where that relationship went.


Laura Briscoe (04:38):
And it, it really touched my heart and inspired me to wanna go into education. But then as many youth will say, you never really know what you wanna do when you grow up. I feel like that that’s a question that’s always changing because when I went to university, I did not go in for education. I was interested in experiential marketing and, and that had to do with creating memorable experiences. And, and that kind of led me into, if we can do this for marketing, what does this look like for school? And so it kind of, I went through this roller coaster of pathways before I got here, but I I’m so excited to be in the role that I am.


Sam Demma (05:17):
What does a, what does a project in experiential marketing look like? that sounds so cool.


Laura Briscoe (05:23):
Well, well, you know, when we think of our traditional, like marketing old I don’t wanna traditional marketing would be like a commercial or an ad, and it’s kind of like a sit and get experience where as, when you look at experiential you’re, you’re, you’re involved and you’re an active participant in engaging with something. And, and that experience triggers something that becomes memorable, that you associate it with maybe a product mm-hmm . And so if we look at something like that for education instead of our students sitting in classes and, and just being like offloaded information from their teacher is how do we get them to learn and, and retain that information because of the experience they associate with it. So that that’s kind of what, what it would be for marketing or in this role for education.


Sam Demma (06:13):
Is innovation coordinator your first role in education or


Laura Briscoe (06:18):
No. Okay. What did the


Sam Demma (06:19):
Journey


Laura Briscoe (06:19):
Look like? Oh my gosh, my journey, I was some teachers might call it a backpack teacher because when you, when I first started jobs were not necessarily readily available, so I was willing to teach anything. I’ve taught in seven different subject areas running from one class to the next and then moved into visual arts department head specifically with connections again, to technology and business as well. And then from that, I was a global competency facilitator. So I was teaching part-time and then going to different schools, supporting educators on how do we integrate the core global competencies? So these are like the skills we want kids to have in the real world beyond just curriculum specifics like critical thinking and problem solving and, and global awareness and creativity, all of those other skills. So I had that role prior to innovation as well.


Laura Briscoe (07:18):
And then the last piece that I just add to that my classroom teaching experience was in high school. So grade nine through 12 in art, as I mentioned, but I was noticing a lot of students with anxiety and struggling in math. And so the, I got to be part of this pilot project where we partnered art and math together. So, so team teaching and students were getting math credits and art to be responsive to that the need for us to kind of de silo and make connections to the real world and different subjects. So that kind of a as, from that own experience, it’s like, how can, we’re doing this at one school and how can we do this bigger and how can we connect more educators? And so this was kind of a system initiative and I’m very passionate about supporting that and the educators who are involved in, in that type of thinking,


Sam Demma (08:11):
When you talk about system level programs or board wide programs, I’m sure how many years have, well help. Let me ask, how many years have you worked in the innovation role?


Laura Briscoe (08:21):
So this is my third year in the innovation role. But it’s been very different because I transitioned into it during COVID in full remote. I had previously just been on Matt leave when the role first started. And then it’s been interesting to, to look at how we create these experiences and collaborative opportunities when many of us are in full remote situations and, and going back between school and it’s been, I know we hear all of the, the challenges and hardships that so many educators have overcome. It was, it’s been really exciting to be in this portfolio during that time for change in ways that we could bring in industry and community experts at the push of a button and everyone has access. So it, it was interesting to be in this role at the timing that I have been in opening, even more opportunities.


Sam Demma (09:16):
What are some of those opportunities? what are some of those programs that you are passionate about that you’ve worked on over the past three years?


Laura Briscoe (09:23):
So I can give you they’re, they’re very, there’s there there’s a lot of different ranges of experiences. One that I’m super pumped about where it’s going right now is aviation school. So students throughout our board can go for a semester and we have an air hanger where they’re getting five credits instead of four, the teachers are team teaching. So interdisciplinary learning, supported by our industry leaders in aviation. And so the, the subject areas have a focus on aviation and it’s out near the airport. So that’s one example of kind of like rethinking how we have a, how we’re doing education. So it’s like a bundled program with industry. And then there’s the ones where the students can’t just leave their homeschool and go to these types of experiences. So, most recently we’ve brought about 22 classes together in a virtual conversation with a panel of community partners.


Laura Briscoe (10:19):
And we talked about how can we form human connections and how do students wanna see themselves represented in the community directly sharing this? And, and we had grades seven to 12 from all different subjects, because what it looks like in construction class versus what it looks like in English or drama might be different. But the idea is that this community project is like the vehicle for connecting everyone together with different entry points. So my job would be to kind of connect with community, facilitate those conversations, and then the edge educators take it with whatever entry points that they each have. So that’s a, like two different examples. One we’re going to an actual changed environment. And the other is where we’re bringing people together towards a common goal. And often it’s a community impact project that I’m doing that with.


Sam Demma (11:14):
Very cool. The team. Yeah. That’s, that’s awesome. That program sounds amazing. Aviation one. when you think about the programs you’ve run, I know you mentioned the first two years, it looked a little different because things were, you know, COVID and pandemic times what did you try and pull together, or what was the focus during the first two years when leaving the classroom or even doing things together in public? Was it, was it challenge?


Laura Briscoe (11:42):
So the one that I just ex shared was an ex a recent example. But it was similar to what we were doing in full remote, because we could bring everybody together. We had classes that were talking about, you know, what is community when we’re all isolated. And we were working with professional artists, for example, and students wanted to have a more inclusive representation of themselves in, in a smaller town. And they weren’t seeing that diversity represented. So we talked about with several different classes, what a mural could look like, and because we couldn’t get together in person, the artists could go and create that mural. But the students from different subject areas were able to contribute and research and give ideas about what that could be. So there’s an example of, we can physically see it in action, but at that time, because we were virtual, we were able to do like digital collaborative boards and planning all online.


Laura Briscoe (12:42):
And then we had a community person that could bring it to life. And so that’s one example. We, we have some exciting events coming up may where schools that we’re doing things virtually were finally starting to open things up, which is amazing. So some stuff with augmented reality where the kids were working with industry virtually again, but now all of the city of London will be able to go to the coven garden market and see what these kids had created with, with our XR studios, industry partner, for example to create the augmented reality experiences. So a lot of it was virtual and we are trying to find ways to make it come to life. And oftentimes that was with community partnerships.


Sam Demma (13:26):
That’s awesome. Very cool. Throughout your journey in education, have you had mentors people who kind of tapped you on the shoulder and said, Hey, Laura, you should explore X or consider looking at this slightly differently. And if so, who are some of those individuals, if they come to mind and what are some of the things you kind of take away from them or learn from them?


Laura Briscoe (13:51):
Yes. So absolutely. I have mentors. I feel like every time you make a new connection, you learn something and take away from it. Like right now, I feel like I’m, I’m just so inspired by what you’re doing. And, and so I, I could speak about so many people because none of this work can happen on your own. Yeah. A first person that comes to mind was my principal, Tracy Langland when I was an art teacher, because she was somebody who was willing to challenge traditional structures in order to allow some exploration opportunities and risk taking to happen. And I feel like sometimes when we hear no, especially in education because of bureaucracy and, and, and just like the, the world that we’re trying to work within and be innovative, can be very challenging. And so when you find people who are willing to take that journey and, and challenge your thinking and help you break down some of the barriers to make it possible that is so that would be what makes me think of when I think of Tracy.


Laura Briscoe (15:04):
And also when I’m thinking of students students are often the ones that are bringing new ideas of what they’d like to see happen. And then all the educators who are wanting to be responsive to those ideas, that’s kind of who I try to align myself with, because I, I feel like when you work together on some of those the students bring the heart and the motivation to make something happen. And, and then the educators who are working with them can make it possible. So, yeah, I have, I have a lot of people I could list. I don’t know how much time we have or how specific you want me to get with name, name dropping, but one more person I’m gonna have to mention sure. Is cause I mentioned team teaching art of math, and that was as an educator when you’re used to kind of running your classroom and you know, how you, how you work basically to team teach was a very eye opening experience for me, especially as an art person teaching with math. And so when I started team teaching with Jenny van Kerin we didn’t really even know each other that well. And I feel like she’s become such a mentor and almost best friend to me for, through the journeys that we’ve taken and our abilities to challenge each other and learn from each other through that whole experience. So that’s another person. Yeah.


Sam Demma (16:31):
That’s amazing. You, you mentioned art a few times. You mentioned that you love change. No one can see this, but there’s like a picture of the globe behind you. are you someone that travels a lot or do you have an itch for travel?


Laura Briscoe (16:45):
I do have an itch for travel and, and you know, when I think of travel of education too, I I used to always take students on March break to, to different trips. So I’ve, I’ve done a bunch of those like Italy and Greece and England and and myself like backpacking type of travel and adventure is definitely my personality to immerse myself in different cultures in a different way. So yes, I would say travel is definitely a passion of mine.


Sam Demma (17:15):
The reason I bring it up is because like travel and even art or artistic expressions, whether it’s making music, art, all these things, some part of society still views it as a hobby and like not a, a, a field or a thing you can pursue. And I totally, this disagree strongly , I think there’s so many benefits to art and also travel and like exposing yourself to new perspectives and ideas. And I’m curious to know what your perspective is on the importance of artistic expression and travel when it comes to like educating a human being.


Laura Briscoe (17:54):
Wow. That’s a big question. OK. So I think, you know what, I, I, I, there’s so many, you’re gonna have to, like, if I miss anything in my answer here, you have to re repeat the question for me. But one thing I do know about like travel and experiences and the arts is there’s not one right answer mm-hmm . And when we look at things like we can go to the world economic forum of what do students need to be successful in the future. And we look at those skill and we think about how do you develop those skill? I would go back, okay. We have math that could have one right answer that you’re working toward. Yeah. Whereas art it’s, it’s very arts in general exploratory and, and, and you develop that innovative creative mindset and, and where we need those types of thinkers.


Laura Briscoe (18:45):
So I feel like when you’re, when you’re traveling or when you’re creating, you’re ending up in places that you don’t expect. Mm. And that is when true innovation can happen. When you, when you take all of these different experiences and come up with something to enhance them, or a new idea or approach to something. So I feel like that exposure is something that is very powerful and, and really important to education. I also think it, it puts people in like a little bit of discomfort, like to get you out of your comfort zone. It’s interesting because when you’re a personality that needs to work towards the right answer and there really isn’t one, it can create a different type of challenge for you. Yeah. And I, and I really do see that when the more we do things in an interdisciplinary way, specifically with the arts, you start to see that little bit of discomfort of uncertainty, but then the best results afterwards. Hmm. So that’s kind of where I would make those connections to education and how valuable it’s.


Sam Demma (19:52):
I love the perspective and I mean, I also love traveling, so


Laura Briscoe (19:57):
Okay. Well, where, where’s your favorite place that you’ve traveled?


Sam Demma (20:00):
Yeah. Good question. Probably Costa Rica. I have this music a few years ago, me and my family, we went this is before COVID and I fell in love with like BHA and salsa and the Latin culture. So yeah, that was a eye opening trip for me. I, I haven’t traveled too, too much outside of that and also just driving places, but I’m super excited to, to continue traveling once COVID is fully gone. I mean, it’s, we’re pretty much there now, but yeah. Yeah. That’s so cool.


Laura Briscoe (20:35):
My connection. Yes, I have spent some time in backpacking in Costa Rica. I, I did surfing lessons there actually. So I feel like trying to learn something new, but I also think when, like going back to travel experiences, what technology has allowed us to do the, the virtual experiences now an augmented reality. Yeah. So when we can’t physically get to certain places, it’s way better than a textbook to actually go through like a virtual guided tour with a real live person and, and looking at how we can create those travel experiences, obviously going to the place is the ideal. Yeah. But looking at different opportunities wherever they are. I think that, that is interesting too, to explore.


Sam Demma (21:21):
You mentioned that when you lean into arts and go on experiences where you’re not sure where they’ll bring you, it exposes you to new things and it, it, I would argue it like, it makes you curious because you come somewhere or you end up somewhere where you didn’t expect, and maybe now you have a new question or a new perspective. Which makes me wonder, like, is the beginning of innovation, like a question, like what starts an innovation cycle, or like, what, what starts changes in education,


Laura Briscoe (21:57):
Like the two things that really stood out to be in that question that you just asked isuriosity and fostering curiosity, and, and you also mentioned questions and asking questions, and there’s a technique called the question formulation technique. Cool. Where when you’re teaching something, you’re, you’re presenting an idea, a challenge or a problem, and just asking questions about it and where those questions might lead. You will be different for every person that might be introduced that problem or challenge. Hmm. And I think that that is really where you get that intrinsic motivation where you’re doing something because you’re you’re passionate and you’re working towards something that you’re curious about. So for innovation, that’s also why I have a really hard time describing what the portfolio is, because every time there’s a new connection, it’s different for each group of educators and students. Ah but one thing is often like a prompt of a community challenge or looking at the UN sustainable goals or looking at something, and then just asking questions about it and figuring out what, like really strikes you personally to pursue.


Sam Demma (23:13):
Yeah. Got it. Yeah. I love it. Cool. this has been an interesting conversation, travel innovation, art experiential marketing. yeah. If you could, actually, before I ask that over the past three years, you, you mentioned some of the programs you’ve run. I think one of the coolest things about education is you get to, you know, organize programs and facilitate learning for students that has an impact on the end user. And most of the time you can see the impact of a student or you, or at least you hear it. And I’m curious to know if any of the programs you’ve run, if there’s any stories of students. And I know you’re at the system level, so it might be harder to name like a specific individual, but if there is a story of a program that really transformed or changed the student’s life or experience, I would love for you to share it. I, I think an educator listening, considering getting into this field or one who’s already in education and burnt out those sorts of stories really reinforce the idea that this work is important. You know,


Laura Briscoe (24:14):
So this is a great question, and I think it’s so important. And I don’t know how well we are at like, tracking where student impacts have gone. And I personally have now so many former students on LinkedIn because I feel like they have lived experiences to advise us back in, in their own educational journeys and where they are now. So I can give you a story of student who wasn’t actually a student that I taught in my class. It, when we talk about like system initiatives. Yeah. So when I was teaching visual arts, we started a video pilot program where every student had a community client, it turned into a film festival. And then I was part of COFA, a co-founder for the forest city youth film festival that has now gone, is going all Ontario for, to basically empower student voices through film.


Laura Briscoe (25:09):
Wow. And, and that could be connected to any different subject area based on the type of film they’re creating, whether it’s documentary or experimental or, or like fiction or nonfiction. But there was a student who had had an interest in film and, but didn’t have experience in it and then ended up winning so many awards at our, our film festival, the, for Southwestern Ontario, and now he’s going off to make larger pictures. And I, I just think about in a very short amount of time from being exposed to industry supports and being part of something beyond the walls of the school, it kind of amplified his own experiences. So that example would be Ethan Hickey. And he was from a school in London. And I just am so excited to see where his career goes, because when, when we have these industry supports championing students early on, it really creates more pathway opportunities. And I find as educators, we can intentionally find out what kids love, connect them with the people that they need to know who are doing that in the real world and, and support them to build those connections. So that’s one example of kind of a huge long winded story of, of how I, I connected with that student, but it was through the film festival and I’m just excited to see his career take off,


Sam Demma (26:38):
Shout out Ethan Hickey


Laura Briscoe (26:40):
yeah. Shout out, Ethan HIE.


Sam Demma (26:42):
Are you still involved in the film festival?


Laura Briscoe (26:45):
I, I do support that, so yes, I am still involved. I’m not technically on the board or anything cuz of my role now. It started as a volunteer bunch of passionate educators, all working together as a committee and it’s because it’s grown so much. I now work with them in support and supporting educators and students to be involved, but I’m not an active director anymore because of too many balls in the air at once. But I, so yes. So yes, I’m still supportive and working with them, but not directly every day.


Sam Demma (27:22):
Awesome. when you’re not working and Mo probably spend like every second of the day thinking about work and innovation, cuz you’re passionate about it, but when you’re not physically working or answering emails or focused on school work, where do you get your own inspiration? What keeps you motivated and inspired to show up with a full cup and attack these challenges and opportunities?


Laura Briscoe (27:49):
Hmm. Friends and family. I love like for a passion. I love the outdoors and being active. But I also look at, you know, needs of friends and their children and, and family and being in this role when I hear of different needs or gaps in those experiences, it’s always like, well and what are we gonna do about it? Like, why don’t we try something if this is something that I’m hearing. So that’s kind of where some of that passion comes from is just in, in local networks and hearing different challenges and trying to be a solutions person of what we can do with that. But yes, like in my free time I have two young children. And just, you mentioned that word earlier. Curiosity. I feel like when you’re two and five years old, you’re asking a lot of questions. Yeah. And that definitely keeps me motivated and on my toes. And then that probably trickles into my role as well.


Sam Demma (28:51):
Cool. that’s awesome.


Laura Briscoe (28:54):
I can give you a question actually. I like my son asked me how come as we all get bigger? How come adults, when you’re big, you don’t get bigger every year. Cuz every time we have a birthday, we’re bigger. Why do we stop growing? And if we kept growing every year, would we be extinct like dinosaurs so there you go. When you ask about questions, like now we need to look up, why do we stop growing and what happens?


Sam Demma (29:21):
Yeah. That’s awesome. Well,


Laura Briscoe (29:23):
Yeah, things like that. How can we keep that and adults, how do we get better at that as adults to, to be asking questions?


Sam Demma (29:30):
It’s so funny. Not only asking questions, but using the imagination to full ability, right? Because he tied your, is it, was it your son or daughter or


Laura Briscoe (29:39):
Son? My son. Yeah,


Sam Demma (29:40):
He’s fine. Like he tied together like five different things. Like the fact that we stopped growing and if we did, we would turn into dinosaurs. Like, you know, there’s like things, so many different things tied together in that question. And it’s funny, I was talking recently with my own friends about this idea that when we were young, we would get back from school, go into our forest and pretend we were fighting some imaginary army and we’d be like kicking the air. And like, you know, there’s no one there and we were having the funnest experience ever. And then my dad would whistle really loud and we’d all know to run back for dinner. And that child like curiosity and imagination at some point, like gets buried. So I think it’s so cool to kind of even get inspiration from that, that experience and, and younger people, you


Laura Briscoe (30:27):
Know? And, and you know what I appreciate about that story too, like not just that you’re outside in nature. But I feel like with this constant over stimulation that we all experience, it’s really hard to be. I wanna, I don’t wanna say bored, but it’s really hard to just pause everything and turn off everything. And what I’ll realize that some of the best ideas happen when you do are able to do that and you need to do that for certain amounts of time for that to happen. Some people will say their best ideas come to them when they’re driving and that’s that, you know, your logic brain is turned on cause you’re focused on the rules of the road, but it allows your mind to get in your head if you turn off the radio and you’re just alone without your phone on or Bluetooth or whatever it is. So try to find moments to pause in order to use your imagination, whether it’s fighting an invisible person or thinking about missed my exit once on the 4 0 1 when I was driving, cuz I was so in my head D which is different. I think it’s really hard to, to force ourselves to do that because it seems like a never end of list of things that you have to do.


Sam Demma (31:41):
Yeah. So I agree. I couldn’t agree more and thanks for sharing that little story and the questions. What if you were just starting your first role in education again, with the experience you have now and the knowledge you have, not that you would change anything about your path, but what advice would you have given your younger self that you think another person getting into education could benefit from hearing?


Laura Briscoe (32:05):
Just because it’s always been done that way doesn’t need to doesn’t mean it needs to continue to be done that way. And I feel like that advice is so empowering because as a new teacher you want to be almost like a people pleaser, cuz you’re trying to prove yourself in a new role and keep up with what everyone else is doing. And, and there’s a lot to be learned from people with experience, but there’s also a lot to be learned from people who are, are new to the system because they’re coming from a whole different experience. So I would tell myself to not be intimidated to share ideas and explore ideas that I felt would have a positive student impact. And the best people to ask those questions to are often the students themselves, about what they’re interested in and then, and then connect with the educators who also are interested in that type of approach.


Sam Demma (33:02):
I love it. Cool. that’s not only great advice for education. I feel like anyone can take that advice, especially if you’re pursuing a path where the entire industry seems dominated by one demographic. , you know, film art. My sister works on film sets and it’s, it seems like, and it’s changing now and thank, thank goodness it’s changing. They seemed like it was a male dominated industry and it’s like, no, it shouldn’t be. And doesn’t, you know, just cuz it was like that in the past doesn’t mean that has to be like that now. So I feel like that advice can be so reassuring, no matter what path you’re choosing to take.


Laura Briscoe (33:43):
I, I, you know, it’s funny I didn’t today when we planned this meeting and I know, I don’t know, it’ll be shared later, but it’s international day of the women. And, and so I didn’t, I didn’t realize that, but I thought, oh, what a great day to, to do our, our podcast. When we talk about different careers and, and different experiences recently it’s funny that you mentioned that I was in a conference on stem and education and all the presenters were women and somebody commented on social media. I see a lot of gender inequity in here because it’s all women. And when we look at the need and the detriment in our society, not as many women in stem, of course we have a conference with women presenting stem because in everything that we do, we want everyone to see themselves in something, if they care about it and something else in innovation that I’ve really championed and worked and collaborated with is supporting newcomers. And when you mention travel, you don’t have to necessarily go somewhere when you have people with lived experiences right. In our own worlds that we have a lot to learn from and to support. So I know I’m going off onto another conversation. I feel like I can keep talking to you, but yeah. Yeah. So I, I just making that connection to looking at opportunities for all students specifically, for me, I’ve worked very closely with newcomers and indigenous students and, and creating opportunities that connect with them personally.


Sam Demma (35:17):
I promise you, this interview is gonna end at 1245 and we’re 10 minutes over


Laura Briscoe (35:21):
I know, sorry.


Sam Demma (35:23):
No, you don’t have to apologize. I’m asking the questions. You did ask a question though that we didn’t have the answer to, and the question is you know, why do we stop growing when we get older? If someone out, out there is listening to this and , they love the conversation and wanna provide you with a brilliant answer, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?


Laura Briscoe (35:43):
okay. So if they’re on, the easy way is how we found each other, on social media @Briscoeclass is my Twitter. If people follow me, I always follow them back ’cause I hope for those deeper conversations or my email’s l.briscoe@tvdsb.ca is another way to, to find me. And in my role @tvinnovates is a Twitter account that celebrates what all these amazing passionate educators throughout our system are doing.


Sam Demma (36:14):
Awesome. Laura, thank you so much for taking the time today. It’s been a pleasure. Keep up the amazing work and we’ll talk soon.


Laura Briscoe (36:21):
Thank you. Nice to, nice to meet you in real life.


Sam Demma (36:25):
Hey, it’s Sam again. I hope you enjoyed that amazing conversation on the High Performing Educator podcast. If you, or you know, deserves some extra recognition and appreciation for the work they do in education, please consider applying or nominating them for the High Performing Educator awards, go to www.highperformingeducator.com/award. You can also find the link in the show notes. I’m super excited to spotlight and feature 20 people in 2022, and I’m hoping you or someone, you know, can be one of those educators. I’ll talk to you on the next episode, all the best.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Laura Briscoe

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.

Shane Beckett – Principal at Donald Young School/Sturgeon Creek Alternative Program

Shane Beckett - Principal at Donald Young School/Sturgeon Creek Alternative Program
About Shane Beckett

Shane Beckett (@MrShaneBeckett), is the Principal at Donald Young School in Emo, ON. He started his career as a teacher at Onigaming School at Onigaming FN and then moved to Fort Frances High School where he was a Physical Education teacher and a Guidance Counsellor. Six years ago he became a Vice Principal at Robert Moore School before moving to Donald Young School where he has been the Principal for the past four years.

He enjoys working with students of all ages and has really learned to enjoy leading an elementary school. Shane still coaches high school athletics (football and soccer).

Connect with Shane: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Donald Young School

Onigaming School

Fort Frances High School

Robert Moore School

Natural Helpers Program

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast.


Sam Demma (00:59):
This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Shane Beckett. Shane is the Principal at Donald Young school in Emo, Ontario. He started his career as a teacher at, Onagaming school, in Onagaming FN, and then moved to Fort Francis high school where he was a physical education teacher and a guidance counselor. Six years ago, he became a Vice Principal at Robert Moore school before moving to Donald Young school where he has been the principal for the past four years. Shane enjoys working with students of all ages and has really learned to enjoy leading an elementary school. Shane still coaches high school athletics, along with his teaching career, coaching football and soccer. I hope you enjoyed this conversation with Shane, and I will see you on the other side, Shane, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show. Please start by introducing yourself.


Shane Beckett (01:54):
Yeah, sure. You bet. Thanks for having me on. My name’s Shane Beckett. I’m a Principal at Donald Young school in the small town of Emo Ontario, which is about halfway between Winnipeg and Thunder Bay. We’re a little rural school, K to 8 and I’m excited to be on the show.


Sam Demma (02:11):
When did you realize throughout your own journey as a student looking for careers, that education was the field for you?


Shane Beckett (02:19):
Well, I mean, for me, I guess it started, I had some you know, traumatic stuff happen as, as a kid and school was a safe place for me and teachers were kind of that inspiration. And so always growing up, those were the, those were the people I looked up to. Those were the people that made me feel safe. And so I guess it would, you know, in, in a, in a way when I was little thought about that, I wanted to aspire to be those people. And now it’s more me thinking about wanting to give that back to to kids and help motivate kids to move forward to


Sam Demma (02:48):
When you say it was your safe space, what do you think made it a safe space and those educators that contributed to you feeling that way? What did they do that helped you feel that way?


Shane Beckett (02:57):
Well, you know, what was interesting as a kid, I didn’t really know any better that things weren’t going well for me as a kid. Cause I just thought that all kids were going through the same thing as me, but now when I, when I look back at it, you know, these these teachers accepted me for who I was and for some of the behaviors I might have had at that time, didn’t single me out. Didn’t make me feel like I was any different than any of the other kids. And, you know, sometimes when I was getting into situations as a, as a young kid rebelling a bit, they you know, they’d sit and they’d listen to me. They’d they’d I guess, relate to where I was coming from. And sometimes, you know, maybe gimme the benefit of the doubt or gimme that motivational talk you know, some of that nice sports chatter. And I think some of those things really helped me to feel safe in that Mo in that moment. And then being able to have some of those teachers be involved in sports for me too, really was a, was a, was a key thing for me. I got to be around the right group of people and got to get some of that aggression and behavior out on the sports field rather than having it own in the playground.


Sam Demma (04:04):
I love it. We definitely need educators who accept human beings for who they are and hear them out and listen. And it sounds like the ones you had in your life did an amazing job at what point. So growing up, you know, you aspired to be like, like, like the educators you had, at what point did you formalize it and start making the decision to pursue the path. And from that moment forward, what did the journey look like?


Shane Beckett (04:29):
Well, so high school being an athlete and, and probably doing fairly well in, in athletics, the goal was to be a PHED teacher. That’s what I was gonna do to grow up nice. And a BU my buddy, and I mean, my best friend and I were both, that’s what we were gonna do. We were gonna grow up to be, you know, the, the high school PhysEd teachers in a way we go what was great was that we had an opportunity to do co-op placements when we were in grade 12 and I got to do the first semester and he hit the second semester doing the co-op placement in, at an elementary school with seven. And eights really helped me to realize, yeah, this is exactly what I want to do. And then my buddy, when he went into it, he’s like, man, I, I don’t like kids, like, and it was an opportunity for him to realize that rather than going through, you know, four or five years of university, and then realizing that he doesn’t like kids.


Shane Beckett (05:16):
So I’ve always kind of thought that I wanted to get into education in particular into the Fette into things and be able to coach and give back in that regards too. And co-op gave me that opportunity to really solidify. Yeah, that’s what I want to do. And then the process was really a roundabout way. I was a football player and had some looks in the states and blew up my knee and, and then bounced around a couple of schools in, in Canada and ended up at the university of Manitoba. And from there got some pretty cool exposure got to volunteer with a Paralympic sport called gold ball and took my coaching career kind of in that regards became the national coach of the, of the Paralympic team and got to travel the world. So I got some cool experiences there that helped me as a PHED teacher to learn how to adapt programs and specialized programs in that regards.


Shane Beckett (06:07):
And then PHED naturally leads it to guidance, I guess, is kind of a natural thing when you’re doing all of that coaching and you get those connections with kids and got into, got into guidance and really felt that I was making a difference in that regards, not just so much on the sports field, but now making those connections that educators had with me as a as a student. And so I never thought I’d get into being a principal. It was never something E ever, ever wanted to do. My wife gave me a little nudge and cause it was something she was aspiring to do and I thought, well, I’ll go for it and, and, and see what happens. And just as the wheels kind of kept moving it it seemed to work one of the real cool, cool moments.


Shane Beckett (06:52):
And as I said, we’re going through the show notes. I was kind of saving the story for later, but I’ll jump into it now. Yeah, please. Yeah. So I’m a, I’m a guidance counselor and I went into went to a workshop about some local resources and not resources. I’m looking you know different programs and you know, government programs, those types of things that can help kids. And I saw they did a presentation on a program called natural helpers and it’s a big program in the states and there’s some school in CA schools in Canada that run it. And this there, the mom was from thunder bay and she mentioned that there was a double suicide at the high school and this natural helpers program really helped to support the kids and get, and kind of keep school normal and, and, and rolling.


Shane Beckett (07:42):
And so I went back to my administration and said, so like, what would happen at our school if we had a double suicide? And, you know, we talked me through some of these processes. And so I started to think, you know, what would we do at the school? Then I got to go to a, an anti-bullying workshop. And it was really based on the attachment theory. And I started to see myself in a lot of the discussion that they were having, cuz as a young kid, I was I was a bully and I could see that, that connection between having a caring adult and you know, and, and that student that needs it. So I went to my vice principal at the time and I said, Hey, do I got a deal for you? You give me one section per semester and I’ll be a caring adult for for kids that are coming into the schools in particular, we were thinking grade nines at the time they’re transitioned from elementary and you know what, you go to your administrator, that’s never really gonna happen.


Shane Beckett (08:39):
And he came back to me a couple weeks later and he goes, you got it. And I said, what do you mean? I got it goes, you got it. I says, what do I do now? He goes, I don’t know, you’re the one who wanted the time . So from there we, so from there we developed, we developed this it was kind of like a, a coach for kids and then moved into natural helpers program. But as I got to talk to this vice principal a little bit more, who’s now a superintendent in our board. It, he said he never wanted to get into administration either and it, but he realized that the higher he went, the more impact he could have on kids, not necessarily that direct impact, but through programming through these types of opportunities. And I thought, you know what? I’d like to be that guy that provides that spark for a teacher who comes in and has a crazy idea and then try to fight to get that, that idea rolling. And the program, when I ran, I mean, we, we saved lives through, through those years 110%, and we can get into those stories too, if you want. But it was that, that idea of being able to give people that opportunity, like he gave to me that really did spark my move into administration.


Sam Demma (09:48):
I had a pass guest and I mentioned this a few times now who told me the best candidate for principals are teachers who don’t wanna leave the classroom. And the best candidate for superintendents are principals who don’t wanna leave administration. You know, when you love the work you’re doing so much it, it means you’re in a good position, but it, you know, if you love it and you truly enjoy it, you could probably make a bigger impact. Like you’re saying in a, in a, in a much larger way at a higher level where you’re seeing, you know, this Eagle view or bird’s eye view, as opposed to on the ground, which is still very important. They’re both extremely important jobs. You mentioned saving lives and I would love to hear maybe one of the stories that comes to mind. I think something that really inspires educators who are considering this vocation and people who are in it, who need a little reminder is a story about how a program changed the student’s life. And if it’s a serious one, absolutely changed their name just for the privacy.


Shane Beckett (10:46):
Oh yeah. I’ll leave I’ll I’ll yeah, I’ll definitely do that. So this natural helpers, program’s pretty, it is a pretty cool program because it, it basically takes kids who are naturally helping their, their peer group and it teaches them to be better helpers. So we would, we made a little tagline in our group, you helping helpers be better helpers. And so what we did is we used our school climate survey. And again, this administrator that I worked with, he moved into being the principal of the school and I said, Hey, can I get on the school climate survey? Like, I just want, I need names of kids. I, I need to know you know, it, you know, Johnny goes to Sally for all, for all of her his problems, right? Like that’s the go-to person in this group. And I need to find those 20 kids from all walks of life around the school so that we can pull them and help them be better at helping their friends, being able to see the red flags, know the resources and people to go to, and also having a contact point, like someone like myself, that they can come to and say, Hey, you know what, like this is what’s going on.


Shane Beckett (11:46):
And I need a hand on trying to fix it. So we, we got on the school climate survey and for we, we started this program where you do a, at the beginning of the school year, you do a retreat with these kids, no cell phones, no whatever. And we, we learn how to be better helpers. And some of the best moments in that retreat is around the campfire at night when these kids don’t really know each other, cuz they’re coming from all the different corners of the school, they start to share and start to become this cohesive group, which is a really cool thing. Like, you know, after two nights kids are crying cause they don’t wanna go back to school because it feels so safe to be in that group. And then we do monthly check-ins and, and training. And so one of the, one of the training pieces that we did was around teen suicide and we did kind of a modified version of safe talk and talked about the process that this is, you know, too much of a load for kids to carry.


Shane Beckett (12:44):
They need to be able to, you know be okay with their friend being upset with them, for going to an adult and saying, this is, this is too much for me. And then we worked on that process. And so where you see where it really worked was one night I got a I got a phone call from one of my students and he’s like Mr. Beckett, can I can I come see you in the morning? I said, sure. What’s going on? Oh, not, no, no big deal. We got this figured out. I, I just want to come and touch base with you. I said, sure. So the way the story went was we had two grade 12 students, overachieving kids. They weren’t necessarily friends, but they would Skype together and, and do homework together in like, you know, for you physics.


Shane Beckett (13:26):
And one of the big things we talked about with these kids is lots of times when you’re talking to your friend and they say, you know, something’s going hard. We like to come back to them with, oh yeah, we understand. Cause it’s hard for me too. And we don’t ask that, that why question. So this kid they were studying away and, and you know, one of the kids says, oh man, I’m so tired. And so rather than, you know, the student is part of my program saying, oh, I know me too. I was up late last night. He said, oh really? Why? And just like that, this kid said, well, last night I tried to end my own life. And so, wow. So now my students freaking out that he doesn’t know what to do for me. So he caught, he texts his buddy and says, Hey, what are we gonna do?


Shane Beckett (14:11):
He goes, we’re gonna go talk to Beckett in the morning. That’s what we’re gonna do. And we’ll get this all figured out. So they came in, they spoke to me, I spoke to the guidance department and the the school counselor. And without me ever talking to that student who said that they were talking about ending their own life. We got help for that student. And and got him the counseling that he needed and everything worked out a few weeks later, I ran into that student. I know he knew, I knew. And I knew that he knew that I knew and right. And so we were at I think it was an elementary Christmas concert or something. And I ran into him and I just said, Hey, you have a really good friend in Johnny. And he just smiled. And he said, yeah, I know.


Shane Beckett (14:53):
I said, are you doing okay? He goes, I’m doing great. And that’s it. I never had to talk to the student. I didn’t, but the process was in place. And we established that as part of this program. And we saved that kid’s life without me ever having to be directly involved in it. And so it just spoke so, so loudly about the importance of the program and what it was doing for kids and the awareness that these high school kids were having around those situations. So that’s the story. One, one particular story of saving a kid’s life without me directly doing it.


Sam Demma (15:22):
Tell me a little bit more about the program itself. It sounds really impactful. What does it look like? Is it something you still do in schools today? Like tell me more about


Shane Beckett (15:30):
It. Okay. Well, Matt, it’s, it’s a can program. Like I Googled it and it’s these two binders you buy for a thousand dollars, right? And then you kind of morph it into your own. It’s pretty big in the states. If you Google natural helpers, you’ll see that there’s a lot of school districts in the states that have these natural pro helpers, you know, websites and programs and whatever else, but we hadn’t seen it in our school district. Now the unfortunate part is I guess, twofold. About four years into the program, we had to work rural situation where we weren’t allowed to do extracurriculars. And so this was deemed an extracurricular. And so, because we went on retreats and we did those things. And so I wasn’t able to continue the program that one year. And the following year I switched positions and moved to as a technology coach out of the board office, cuz now I’m in the principal’s pool and all of these things and no one picked up the slack behind me.


Shane Beckett (16:26):
And so after that story, basically the program kind of died, but one of the cool things too, that it did for our high school getting on that school climate survey and let that administrator allowing me to get onto that survey. One of the questions was named two teachers that you go to. And at that point in time, I mean, sure, I had lots of hits. Okay. But that was my role. Our principal had more hits than our entire guidance department at that time. Wow. Cause our guidance department was really geared towards the academia, the post-secondary, the paperwork side of things, but not the, you know, heartfelt touchy, feely part of it. And that was an issue. But because we got that data, it, it started to morph how our guidance department looked. And so they brought in new counselors that did the academia part of it, but also then provided more of a counseling part of it on that end. And so now I feel even though at our local high school, we don’t have that program in place. We have changed the way that that pro the, the actual department runs. And so it is still a safe place and it’s a, and, and a secure place for kids to go a supportive place for kids to go. And maybe there’s not as much of a need for that natural helpers program anymore because we help change the face of that department in general. So if


Sam Demma (17:49):
That that’s awesome it makes total sense. What keeps you personally inspired and motivated with a full cup to show up and try and make a positive difference on so many young people’s lives?


Shane Beckett (18:01):
Well I have on my whiteboard at work there’s two, two quotes that, that I have on there. So that’s the first thing I see every time that I, that I walk in. And so the, the the first one is the good is the enemy of great and the sports kind of quotes that I’ve used when coaching, but it works for school as well. And it’s that idea of if things are going well and things are good, we’re afraid to make changes because we don’t wanna wreck good. Right. But we’ll never get to great unless we make those changes. So being able to just kind of see that and remember that when staff is coming in and saying, Hey, I’ve got this idea or when students are coming in and, and having ideas for clubs or those types of things, like being willing to be flexible enough to make some changes, because things are going well at our school, but we’ll never get to great unless we make some changes.


Shane Beckett (18:52):
And then the other quote that I have up there that we developed as part of my coaching is the ABCs of win. And so ABC is anything but chance and win is what’s important now. So what’s important now is anything but chance. So there was one thing that I used a lot in my counseling with kids too, is like, let’s not leave it to a coin flip and say like, am I gonna have a good day heads or tails? Let’s let’s do all we can right now, so that we’re not leaving it to chance that, you know, so it’s that kind of proactive approach and that, that empowering approach too, that I, it, it’s not just chance that life doesn’t happen to me. I happen to life. And so those are two things that every day I see up on my boards, that help to inspire me when working with kids or working with teachers.


Sam Demma (19:34):
I love that being a sport, having a sport background, my myself also blowing out my knees and my senior year of high school and having three surgeries losing out on a full ride scholarship to Memphis, Tennessee, like, oh, awesome. We have some similarities. That proactive mindset I think is so important. What resources have you found helpful in terms of your own professional development and learning? That’s helped you in education that you kind of proactively Seeked out and maybe it’s well, you shared one, which is a natural helpers course, which is amazing. Yeah. And people can definitely check that out, but I’m wondering if there’s any other philosophies, people, you follow books, courses, things that you’ve been exposed to throughout your career that you really resonated with or found helpful.


Shane Beckett (20:22):
Well, you know, it’s that’s a tough question as far as resources. Yeah. But not much of a reader. Like that’s just not my jam. And I think that if I was to write the literacy test right now that I’d have a difficult time passing a literacy test, just cuz it’s not, not my thing, but it, I mean, I’d use that as an inspiration too, because I have other skills that allow me to get to where I am. Like I don’t have to have that skill. I can use, you know, Grammarly to help me do my writing and, and that type of thing. So not much of a reader, but it’s I mean, learning from the kids really has been a big resource for me and actually sitting and, and listening to them. And then what’s been really empowering for me too, is when you’re in the high school and you’re teaching and now we’re in a small town and I see those kids that I didn’t know, I made an impact with that now, you know they’re running the local gym and my kid’s now going to that gym.


Shane Beckett (21:14):
I know you can sit back and say, Hey, you know, Mr. Beckett, like it was a really big deal when, when this happened and, and learning, learning in some of those decision points that, that I made, whether I went the right way or the wrong way, it’s been a real valuable, valuable lesson for me. So it’s that, that reflection part. And then my brother-in-law, who’s younger than me and wise, beyond his years has really got me thinking into those, you know, Shiism and some of those types of things and, and the, the power of being in the now, you know, and being the master of your own destiny. And those are some really big things for me. And then, geez, now you’re gonna put me on the spot. I don’t know the name of this newsletter. I, I, I subscribed to one newsletter, man. No worries, but it’s, but it’s a leadership, it’s a leadership newsletter that has a sports reflection on it. Nice. So it talks about, you know, bill Belichick and, and how he does this with his players to motivate them. And it’s a quick little snippet, you know, once a week kind of a hit. And so that resonates with me because it’s sports leaders and then being able to learn from their leader leadership abilities and bring that back into the school.


Sam Demma (22:21):
Love it. I love it. And it sounds like you’ve had some great experiences learning from the students themselves. I’m sure you’ve probably also had great experiences learning from colleagues, whether it’s other principals you’ve worked with even teachers you’ve worked with. I think if you approach every situation with an open mind, knowing that you can learn something from every person you meet, you grab a lesson from anything you experience, which is really empowering.


Shane Beckett (22:50):
Yeah, absolutely. Like, like talk about this superintendent that we have now. Like I’ve just learned so much from him in where he inspired me by giving me that opportunity to then talking to me about being able to be a, a bigger impact, the higher you go, the less direct and the less of those like interactions, but then at the same time, being able to provide those opportunities. It’s, it’s people like that. And it’s nice to be able to, again, in a small town, be able to have that opportunity to go back to him and say, Hey, I want you to know the impact that you had on me. And the reason I am where I am today is because of some of the things you did for me, whether you knew you were doing it for me or not.


Sam Demma (23:29):
I love it. What if you could go back to your first year in education, what advice or feedback would you have given to your younger self that you think would’ve been helpful to hear when you were just starting and not that you would tell yourself anything to change your path, but advice you think that would be helpful for someone who’s just considering getting into education or that you would’ve liked to have heard more of when you were just starting?


Shane Beckett (23:56):
Well, I mean, I think some of the, some of the mistakes I made in my first year was trying to be friends with the students rather than friendly with the students. Mm. And it, and it’s tricky when you’re, when you’re coaching and you’re teaching PHED it’s that different environment. Right. But I think sometimes being young and being new and teaching 18 year olds, it’s it, it’s hard to differentiate, differentiate that. And I made the mistake, I think a few times of thinking that you know, being friends and then we’d do the right thing and then it wouldn’t come back to bite me did come back to bite me. Like I had some early times in my career where I got written up by administration because of the decisions that I made that I, you know, and maybe being a little bit too open and honest with, with my students where, because I’m thinking more of the friend line than I am, you know, that, that separation between teacher and whatever.


Shane Beckett (24:52):
So learning some of those things. And the, the other thing too, was really that the face to face communication, some, you know, earlier in my career as a athletic director, you know, sending the email rather than talking to the person, you know, and the way that you text on a page can be misread or misunderstood or tone can be misunderstood. And not having that face to face or even the phone call where the tone of voice can, can come in. And one thing I learned from teaching career studies as part of my high school career was that seven per 7% of your message comes from the words that are said, and the other 93% comes from your tone of voice in your body language. And so the words on the page just don’t do enough. So that was one thing I really learned too, is sometimes you need to have that face to face, even if it’s not the diff the, you know, the challenging conversation, it may end up being a challenging conversation because of the way that people read, read the words on the screen.


Sam Demma (25:52):
Something one of my mentors always tells me is people will interpret your written words, whether email or text based on the emotional state that they’re currently in. Yeah. If someone is really upset and it has nothing to do with you, they’ll open your email and read it from a more upset lens or a frustrated lens. And yeah, you’re absolutely right. I even think about a recent situation where I had to break bad news to somebody in my life. And I was thinking about writing an email and then I thought to myself, no way, cuz this could be interpreted in so many different ways. And you know, you take that time and that at first, what feels like an uncomfortable situation to have the phone call and have the real time conversation. How did you get over those situations where you knew making the phone call was the right decision? Although it was uncomfortable, you know, you do it anyway.


Shane Beckett (26:43):
Well, I, one, there was something that I read somewhere. I think my quote unquote online boyfriend is Tim Ferris back in the day. And some of the things that he would talk about in his podcast or some of the readings that I would do was challenge himself to be an INCOM uncomfortable situations every day. You know, if it’s walking in the mall and making eye contacts with someone and playing chicken with eye contact, who’s the first person to look away. It’s not gonna be any sort of conflict with that person, but it’s challenging you to feel uncomfortable and be okay with that. And so having some of those moments where you it’s okay to feel uncomfortable, it helps you then to make that move. And then ultimately it’s experience like you, you just gotta bite the bullet and do the first one, then the second one’s easier.


Shane Beckett (27:29):
Right. And then the third one’s easier. And then I guess finally being prepared sometimes for those difficult and challenging conversations. The little piece of advice we, we did a, when I first got into the leadership pool, we did a a workshop on challenging conversations. And I can’t remember who the author was. I’ve got the book at the school, but I’ve opened it one time and it was for a challenging conversation and it was to look at it. But in there it really did lay out how to set up yourself for that challenging conversation. And then the piece of advice that she gave. And I’m a softie, I’m an emotional guy and very quick to like even move the tears when I’m feeling challenged. Her suggestion was to spin her up when you’re in that situation. And so what, and so we asked what that meant and she said like, if you literally, and like spanked her up, like puck her up the bottom end there it’ll actually make it biologically almost impossible to cry. And so by like squeezing your cheeks, like that’ll take that opportunity that, that, you know, it removes that from you. And so I’ve actually tried that a couple times and it works. So hopefully I don’t make a face when I do it so that the other person on the other end knows that I’m doing that. But some of the, you know, you need some little, little tips and tricks to be ready to have those things. And so being prepared for the challenging conversation is, is definitely a big one too.


Sam Demma (28:54):
I love that. That’s a cool, it sounds like an awesome book. I definitely want you to email it over when you go back to school. I’d love to include it in the show notes. This has been a, a great conversation. I appreciate you taking the time this evening to hop on here and chat. If someone wants to have a conversation with you, reach out, ask a question, bounce some ideas around, what would be the best way for them to get in touch.


Shane Beckett (29:14):
Well, I’m, I am on Twitter. So it’s @MrShaneBeckett, just as it is with two ts at the end. Sometimes people make that mistake and I mean, I’ll fire up my email. That’s fine too. So it’s basically my name, shane.beckett.rrdsb.com. Yeah. And I’m, I’m always available to chat, to try to figure things out to bounce ideas off one another. It only makes us better in the long run.


Sam Demma (29:42):
Awesome. Shane, thank you again for doing this. I appreciate you. Keep up the great work you’re doing in education and we’ll talk soon.


Shane Beckett (29:49):
Yeah, absolutely. Thanks so much, Sam. It’s been a, it’s been a lot of fun. Thanks.


Sam Demma (29:52):
Hey, it’s Sam again. I hope you enjoyed that amazing conversation on the High Performing Educator podcast. If you, or you know, deserves some extra recognition and appreciation for the work they do in education, please consider applying or nominating them for the High Performing Educator awards, go to www.highperformingeducator.com/award. You can also find the link in the show notes. I’m super excited to spotlight and feature 20 people in 2022, and I’m hoping you or someone, you know, can be one of those educators. I’ll talk to you on the next episode, all the best.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Shane Beckett

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.

Robyn Hollohan RMSS B.Sc, B.Ed, M.Ed – Junior High Science Teacher at Roland Michener Secondary School

Robyn Hollohan RMSS B.Sc, B.Ed, M.Ed – Junior High Science Teacher at Roland Michener Secondary School
About Robyn Hollohan

Robyn Hollohan (@kathholl99), is a junior high science teacher at Roland Michener Secondary School in Slave Lake, Alberta. She recently finished her masters of Education in Leadership and Inclusion. Her thesis on the “Impacts of Restorative Practices on a Northern Secondary School” is currently on the waitlist to be published by the Alberta Journal of Education.

While finishing her masters of Education she welcomed her son Bryce into the world during the chaotic pandemic of 2020. She has been teaching in Alberta for 9 years and has also taught in Nova Scotia and in Kenya. While in Kenya she worked under Canadian International Development Agency to work with students with disabilities in the low-income areas of Nairobi. She enjoys coaching basketball, volleyball and is the teacher liaison for her school’s student council.

This year her student council had the 2nd most money raised for the Terry Fox Foundation in Alberta (4,100$) and they have also raised over $5,000 for Movember, and other local charities this year.

Robyn’s focus on education has been from a restorative practice pedagogy where she believes that every student is a valued member of our community and we need to support their growth by providing safe, meaningful and impactful relationships in their learning journeys. She hopes to one day soon be a vice-principal in a school and build capacity within schools to increase student success. 

Connect with Robyn: Email | Instagram | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Roland Michener Secondary School

Alberta Journal of Education

Canadian International Development Agency

Terry Fox Foundation

Teachers These Days by Jody Clarington

Careers at the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP)

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.


Sam Demma (00:59):
This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Robin Hollohan. Robin is a junior high science teacher at Roland Missioner Secondary School in Slave Lake, Alberta. She recently finished her masters of education in leadership and inclusion. Her thesis on the impacts of restorative practices on a Northern secondary school is currently on the wait list to be published by the Alberta Journal of Education. While finishing her master’s of education, she welcomed her son Bryce into the world during the chaotic pandemic of 2020. She has been teaching in Alberta for nine years and has also taught in Nova Scotia, and in Kenya. While in Kenya, she worked under Canadian International Development Agency to work with students with disabilities in low income areas in Nairobi. She enjoys coaching basketball, volleyball, and is the teacher liaison for her school’s student council. This year, her student council had the second most money raised for the Terry Fox foundation in all of Alberta; $4,100.


Sam Demma (01:57):
And they have also raised over 5,000 for November and other local charities this year. Robyn’s focus on education has been from a restorative practice pedagogy, where she believes that every student is a valued member of our community, and we need to support their growth by providing safe, meaningful, and impactful relationships in their learning journeys. She hopes to one day soon, be a Vice Principal in a school and build capacity within schools to increase student success. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Robin, and I will see you on the other side. Robyn, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show this afternoon. Please start by introducing yourself.


Robyn Hollohan (02:38):
I’m Robyn Hollohan. I’m a junior high teacher in Slave Lake, Alberta. I teach science and I’ve just recently, I guess, finished my masters of leadership in inclusion education.


Sam Demma (02:50):
When did you realize throughout your own student journey and career journey that education was the calling and vocation for you?


Robyn Hollohan (02:59):
I think that was a tough one. Originally in school. I wanted to be a police officer and cause I always just valued how much they give back to the community. And then through my biology degree in university, it just struck me that kids were the way the future. And I think during that time I was reflecting back on the, the passing of an a relative and then how much they had changed everyone’s life. And I really wanted to do the same that she did.


Sam Demma (03:21):
Was she in education by any chance?


Robyn Hollohan (03:24):
Yeah, she was, she was my grade 8, 9, 10 teacher for home economics. And then when I was in grade 10, fortunately my auntie passed away very suddenly. And then at her funeral there was a lot of people there. So at the time I was just kind of like, wow, she had really, you know, made a difference, but now farther as an adult, it was like, yeah, she definitely made a difference. Cuz even when I’m now as a teacher in slave lake, I actually have a, a group of kids who I taught their parents and I’m not from Alberta. I’m actually from


Sam Demma (03:51):
That’s awesome. That’s so cool. And I mean, it sounds like your made a really significant impact among your own, amongst your own school journey as a student. Did you have any other teachers that had a significant impact on you personally? Yeah. That you could think of. Definitely.


Robyn Hollohan (04:09):
Yeah. I had this grade four teacher, Mrs. Weam. She was super, super stickler and she had helped me significantly. Remember my multiplication tables. I remember getting frustrated and not wanting to do it, but so many times she was like, Nope, Robin, you are going to do this, sit down and stop crying.

Robyn Hollohan (04:27):
She was just stern. And then I remember like hard work makes it, makes it happen and you know, yeah. At the time I definitely didn’t like her, but as an adult, I was very thankful.


Sam Demma (04:36):
So the, the sternness sounds like it helped, it sounds like sh as much as she was stern, she was probably also patient like willing to sit by you and help you kind of figure it out. Like, what are some of the things you think that she did and other educators you had that made an impact on you in terms of like the, I think it was


Robyn Hollohan (04:53):
The way that she cared about us and it wasn’t just that we were students in our class, but we were her own kids. Like she, I think had three or four kids of her own, her sons, but she also every day came in and just say, Hey, you know, Robin, I have a twin also, Rebecca, how are you doing guys? Like how’s everything at home. And she just genuinely cared, even though there was a lot of sternness and like I remembered the finger, she would point at you . But it was just that you tell, you could tell from her heart that she really wanted you to be successful.


Sam Demma (05:20):
Mm. So you got the glimpse in biology when you were going through your biology experience in university what did the journey look like once you kind of made the decision? I want to pursue this from that moment to where you are now?


Robyn Hollohan (05:36):
Well, the journey was a little different, cuz at first I was pursuing an RCMP occupation and I got all the way to the end of almost a depo posting. And I realized at that point it was just, my uncle had sat me down and said, well, Robin, I really don’t think this is for you. Are you sure you wanna go? I said, well, you know what? It’s, it’s a great career. They get back to the community. I said, yeah, but in the long run, do you ever wanna have to harm another human? If that’s what you have to do? And I just broke down and cried and I was like, no, I can’t do it. I honestly don’t think if I had to weight, raise my weapon, I’d be able to do it. He’s like, all right, you better call them back and figure out what you’re doing.


Robyn Hollohan (06:09):
And then I had more conversations with him and he was like, why did you never, ever want teaching? I said, well, I’ve always thought about it. I just didn’t think it was for me. I was like, yeah, well you’re patient, you care. You wanna give back? So why not teaching? So I had talked to some friends who were teachers and then I started to apply to a couple universities. And then I guess I just started to realize how much teachers make a difference and it’s not, you don’t have to be the author, you know, the, the dictator or the, the leader in every classroom. But it’s just how much that I remember teachers cared about me and it helped me be successful.


Sam Demma (06:42):
So you transitioned from the RCMP job. And did you have to go back to school to get more like education? Like what exactly was the path?


Robyn Hollohan (06:54):
Yeah, so I was in my last year of my biology degree. Would’ve been my fifth year and when I applied for all that stuff for the RCMP, and then during that time I had just had said, all right, I need to, I wanna be a teacher. I need to figure it out. So I had to go back to teaching school for two years and Halifax, Nova Scotia. And that was an interesting path. Cause I ended up playing university volleyball for the two years I was there just because I was tall and I could play. And the coach was like, you better be trying out girl


Sam Demma (07:22):
that’s. That’s amazing. And then, so you finished you finished school, you finished volleyball. Did you start applying and landed in the position you’re in now?


Robyn Hollohan (07:33):
It was an odd journey. So where I was in Halifax, they do like a teaching job fair from everywhere at west. Basically Northern communities come into Halifax and do a job fair for teachers. Okay. And I had done a couple interviews and then I got offered a position for a school division in here in Alberta, but in the Northern parts, it’s called the for Vermillion school division. Nice. It’s quite remote. It’s about an hour and a half from the Northwest territories. And within hours of doing the interview, they offered me a contract, asked when I could come. And I was like, well, September. And it was pretty exciting and that, I didn’t know where up there I was going, but ended up in a beautiful little town called high level Alberta and made some incredible, incredible context. And then two days later I actually was on a flight to Kenya where I didn’t the rest of my teacher practicum in Nairobi in Africa.


Sam Demma (08:24):
No way. Tell me about that experience. You, you kind of just, that was a, that’s a big, that’s a big journey. Tell me what brought you out there and what that experience was like. My, my sister in her fourth year of film and media production did a documentary just outside of Nairobi. I can’t remember the name of the city, but they were there for three weeks and she said that the interactions with the people and the, the kindness and the generosity and the humanity like changed her life and perspective. I’m curious to know what brought you out there to finish it and what the experience was like.


Robyn Hollohan (08:57):
Well, just before Christmas, that year I went, we applied for a grant with the Canadian international development agency and myself and three other, my colleagues my Stu I guess my classmates at the time had gotten the position to go. So we left, I think the beginning of February to go for eight weeks, no, nine weeks. And then we got over there and we were working with mostly with students with disabilities. So we started off, like, we lived on campus at university, which is quite different because it’s, it’s not like a campus life that everyone pictures everywhere else. Cause I I’ve lived on that. It’s, you know, it’s very rough and different environments. And then we had taken like little either motorbikes or taxis or these little tutus. They’re like little tiny minivans with like a driver to different schools, different like cuz they don’t have like inclusion there.


Robyn Hollohan (09:48):
Any of the kids with disabilities are either unfortunately not treated very well or if they are in education, they’re in a separate building in like a completely separate school than anyone else, which is quite different and it was quite shocking. And then we visit a lot of the slums and we did get to visit like a private school, but we didn’t stay there long. We really didn’t enjoy the atmosphere. It wasn’t what we were there for. And then we worked with a non-for-profit called start small and helped them with children who were victims of abuse.


Sam Demma (10:17):
Wow. what was the duration of your entire trip and how do you think those experiences kind of shaped and informed the way that you look at teaching and education to today?


Robyn Hollohan (10:27):
So I ended up staying there for almost 12 weeks. I stayed for a couple weeks after and traveled around. But it completely changed my outlook. I didn’t, you know, we didn’t have a lot when I was a kid, but I, we, we had enough and it, it was so different to see children, either being treated differently because they had disabilities or not having the things we’d had, you know, like we brought crayons and all the kids stood up and cried. They haven’t seen full crayons. Like just, I don’t know. We take for granted at the little things or even pencils. They were like writing with the tiniest little nub of a pencil and just tell the absolute end. And I remember kids in my first practicum in Halifax just snapping them. Wow. So that was super hard. But then the way students also responded to authority was much different.


Robyn Hollohan (11:09):
You know, they, they stood when you entered the room, they wouldn’t sit down until you said you could sit, which I found hard in one day. I actually didn’t believe it. So I just waited a second and I was like, oh, oh my God. They’ll stand until until I tell them to sit. I was like, okay, sit. And they’re like, thank you, miss. Yes, miss no miss. And it was just, it’s different, so different, but they love not that all kids don’t love school, but they genuinely loved being there cuz not everyone could get to go to school. A lot of the kids walk a really long distance or they’re at a boarding school and they don’t see their families for months on end.


Sam Demma (11:45):
Wow. Yeah. That’s a, a unique experience and I think a really helpful one before you get into education in north America, you know? And do you think traveling, if you can, when you’re just getting into education is a worthwhile thing to do or an opportunity to take for someone who’s just considering getting into teaching.


Robyn Hollohan (12:06):
Yeah. And even just get outside of where you’re from and where you would wanna teach, you see different parts of our country. Like I grew up in Newfoundland, so I was fortunate to be in their school system. And then I did my teaching degree training in Nova Scotia and then my then Africa and Kenya. Yeah. And then I taught in high level in Northern Alberta. So seeing the other settings kind of made me understand that not every system is the same, but all of our kids really in some way are the same. They wanna learn. You just have to find someone who cares about them.


Sam Demma (12:33):
I love it. So you, so you went to Nairobi and you spent 12 weeks there, you came back, you applied you got a fulltime position. Not in the school board journey now. So what was the journey from that to today?


Robyn Hollohan (12:49):
I actually met my spouse when I was in high level. Nice. we’ve been together nine years now. So then his son actually lived here enslaved lake Alberta with his mom. Okay. So after we were up north for a couple years, we wanted to be closer down here to him. So we moved down to slave lake, which was also hard. Cause you go from like, there was nothing in high level. They got a Tim Hortons my second year there. And that was huge because there’s no Walmart, there’s no Costco. There’s nothing like it’s dark by two o’clock in the afternoon. The sun might come up at 10 in the morning for some days in the winter. So it was really isolating. And then coming here, we have Walmart, the school is massive. The school is 700 kids from seven to 12, which I was used to maybe 300. So it like doubled.


Sam Demma (13:33):
Wow. Wow. Cool. And have you been in different roles in the different schools you’ve worked in or what is your yeah. What is the role you’re in now and what various roles have you been in? Pretty easily.


Robyn Hollohan (13:46):
Okay. So when I was up north, I was still like, it’s hard up there cuz a lot of the younger teachers tend to take on leadership very fast because the turnover’s really high. Not a lot of people stay in Northern communities very long and even my four years there I think most years on staff, we had at least six or seven brand new teachers, like just out of university where that’s quite rare in most teaching practices. So even in my second year I was mentoring a first year teacher. Wow. And which was different. Cause I still felt, I wasn’t really, you know, I didn’t have the ground underneath me yet. But then since I moved here, I have been mentoring other teachers. I was active administrator before I went on maternity leave last year. I’m a 20, 20 pandemic mom.


Sam Demma (14:27):
Woohoo. yeah.


Robyn Hollohan (14:29):
That’s and then now being back this year, I have a student teacher she’s actually in my class today. I’m off for some medical appointments. So I’m mentoring a student teacher.


Sam Demma (14:37):
That’s awesome. Very cool. This, yeah, that’s great. It’s cool that you hear that you’ve done some different positions and also mentored some educators. I know mentorship is a huge part in no matter what career you choose to get into, but especially in education, it’s a big part of the journey. Do you have some people that have mentored you? I know we talked about teachers earlier that have had an impact. I’m curious when you started going down this path what other educators have been impactful on your professional development or mentorship?


Robyn Hollohan (15:08):
I guess like when I was up north, one of the vice principals, her name was Anna, she just had a harder gold. And I remember telling her, I don’t know how long I could live in the darkness. And it was just hard. Like, you know, the, the cold it’s minus 40, most of the winter, your eyelashes freeze, the kids and the culture was so different. There’d be times where like most the class would be absent because they’re gone hunting wow. A large indigenous population or some kids just hated school and they just didn’t come. And so she just said, talk to me and asked me what were my long term goals? And I said, well, my spouse and I, we do wanna be near his son eventually. And I do wanna be a leader eventually. So she had like gave me the ins and outs of leadership and evenness like just a person and just, you know, she was always there to listen to. And when you had a bad day, she’d, you know, pull up a chair, get a coffee and like cry, which is great. And sometimes people to do that for you and helps you just see it’s okay to be upset. And that we’re human too.


Sam Demma (16:02):
Yeah. A hundred percent. I love that. When you think about that, that idea of it’s okay to not know the answers and it’s, it’s also okay to, to be human. What other pieces of advice kind of come to mind that you have? Cause that’s obviously a great learning. What other things kind of come to mind that you think have been helpful for yourself throughout your journey in education and maybe the way you can think about this is if you could speak to yourself when you were just starting knowing what you know now with the experience you have, like what would you have told your younger self or someone else who’s just getting into this work


Robyn Hollohan (16:39):
Say no more often.


Sam Demma (16:41):
I love it.


Robyn Hollohan (16:43):
I think a lot of new teachers like are always looking to impress and they’re always looking to take on, you know, how many teams can I coach? How many clubs can I run? Yeah. And it’s great to like give back, but you also to take care of yourself and that like statistically one in five teachers in their first five years burnout and stop teaching. So there’s a reason, right? And the system is hard to get in to get your permanent certification. So I mean, it’s pick a couple good things and stay good at them. Don’t overwhelm yourself and take the time for yourself. Like your mental health is so important. It is so tough now, especially with, you know, the pandemic slowly, slowly trickling away. But a lot of teachers and staff are just exhausted and you’re taking care of your mental health and yourself is the best thing you can do.


Sam Demma (17:26):
Such a good piece of advice, just don’t say no to Sam demo’s podcast interviews. That’s the only thing


Robyn Hollohan (17:31):
Yes. Do those


Sam Demma (17:34):
But I love that advice. I think I struggle with that. Some part of us feels guilty when we, you know, turn someone else down or turn down an opportunity for our own mental health reasons. We might feel like we’re letting somebody down, but really I think it’s beneficial for everyone involved you benefit because your mental health is, is better and you’re not biting off too much than you can chew. And there’s probably someone else who has the capacity to fill the role. If you say no, that could even potentially give it more energy time and do a better job. So I think no is important for everyone. Not just not just the person saying it or the person receiving it.


Robyn Hollohan (18:11):
Yeah. And it’s, I’m not perfect at it yet. It’s still hard, but like my, my sons will be two in July, but I start to think about, you know, like there’s only so much of me I can give and I wanna make sure my son gets enough. My spouse gets enough and my students and you know, you only have so much on your plate and that you gotta take care of yourself is really important


Sam Demma (18:29):
And you get enough of yourself. yes.


Robyn Hollohan (18:31):
And yes. And you know, and you gotta your own, your own self, your own body and your mind and your soul.


Sam Demma (18:36):
Yeah. Speaking of taking care of yourself what keeps you motivated and inspired and you know, showing up with a full cup when you’re not working or in school virtually or in person, what do you spend time doing to kind of refuel and take care of yourself?


Robyn Hollohan (18:51):
I read a lot, like I’ve been reading a lot of Dr. Jody Carrington. She’s like a psychologist who tells like teachers basically to like with a lot of cost words, to relax and to think about why they become teaching. She’s great. I won’t mention any of the things she talks about, but


Sam Demma (19:05):
What are some of the books? Do you remember any of the titles of the books or


Robyn Hollohan (19:07):
One of them is called teachers these days. I just


Sam Demma (19:12):
Read after Jody Carrington. Cool teachers.


Robyn Hollohan (19:14):
Yeah. Kids. It keeps Kesy stays and teachers, these days is the new one and it’s great. Cuz it just, it kind of make, have you have, have a good laugh about your job, cuz sometimes even in the hardest moment you do need to unwind and relax and think about everything and I don’t know what else do I do? I love craft beer. We have a local brewery here in slave like dog island brewer is really good. So we go there and just try to relax. Try not to think about life too much and prepare for our next travel or my next goal on my massive checklist, whatever it may be.


Sam Demma (19:44):
That’s awesome. Very cool. And if someone is listening to this right now, thinking to themselves, they would love to chat with you, ask a question, have a conversation. What would be the best way for them to reach out and, and get in touch?


Robyn Hollohan (19:59):
I’m on Facebook, Robin Hallahan they can message me Instagram. I think it’s @kathholl99. I tried to avoid students searching me and just email on my emails too; RobynKHollohan@gmail.com. Cool. But I’m always easy to chat. I always like to talk to other educators just to see what they’re doing and to, you know, figure out the balance. And that’s the most important thing, you know, like I think I mentioned to you before my interview, I also finished my masters during the pandemic when my baby was at home. So trying not to overwhelm yourself, but you know, pick the goals that are achievable, but you know, within a certain, you know, stretch, you don’t wanna make yourself too burnt out.


Sam Demma (20:35):
Yeah. How, you know, before we wrap up here, how do you balance all the different, you know, containers you’re juggling master mom, teacher, like what has been helpful in managing time and energy organization?


Robyn Hollohan (20:49):
I have like a massive checklist in our kitchen of like things that are coming up and then sticky notes. I think I need to invest in the sticking out stocks I just honest to God use probably hundreds a day and my students think it’s hilarious, but that’s you just, you know, you think of something that you’re not sure when you’re gonna remember it. So it’s a sticky note and it’s bad. Cause it’s, I don’t even go into the note section on my phone. I put the sticky note on my phone or it goes on my computer screen or it goes on my mousepad or wherever it may end up there’s it’s just reminders and organization. And then I think the biggest thing is to just make sure whatever you choose to do is making you happy. And at the end of the day, you’re not like, why did I decide to do this? Why what’s the reason so that you’re not completely upset with your choices.


Sam Demma (21:36):
I love it. One final question before we wrap up here. You mentioned reading a lot, you mentioned Dr. Jody Carrington. Have you found any other resources helpful among your, your journey in education, whether it’s courses, books, people, things you’ve watched, things you’ve read, that you think would be worthwhile to share?


Robyn Hollohan (21:56):
I guess it’s a lot of stuff. Depends on where you are in your life and stuff. I’ve been doing some like just self searching to try to figure out I have like a, really A type personality overachieving. So I try to find some stuff to dial that back. I’ve always been a fan of Bill Nye the science guy. I don’t know why. I just find no matter how old or young you are, you can listen to him and have a laugh so any podcast that he’s been posting out oh my goodness. My brain’s not quite sure.


Sam Demma (22:23):
No, those are good.


Robyn Hollohan (22:23):
There’s a lot out there. Or even just like, not necessarily the stuff online, but your colleagues or people around you. Sometimes they have the wealth of information and the capacity building that you may never ever ask any. They can be there one day for you that you might, you know, they take the chance to take the offer or be there for them.


Sam Demma (22:40):
Love it. Love it. If anyone has any questions, I’m sure they’ll reach out. I’ll include your email in the show notes of this episode and also on the article we post on the High Performing Educator website. Robyn, thank you so much for taking the time to do this. I appreciate you. Good luck with the rest of your endeavors in education and the family. Keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon.


Robyn Hollohan (23:00):
Thank you.


Sam Demma (23:02):
Hey, it’s Sam again. I hope you enjoyed that amazing conversation on the High Performing Educator podcast. If you, or you know, deserves some extra recognition and appreciation for the work they do in education, please consider applying or nominating them for the High Performing Educator awards, go to www.highperformingeducator.com/award. You can also find the link in the show notes. I’m super excited to spotlight and feature 20 people in 2022, and I’m hoping you or someone, you know, can be one of those educators. I’ll talk to you on the next episode, all the best.

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