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Claire Kelly (OCT) — Assistant Head of School: Student Life at Appleby College, an independent grades 7-12 school in Oakville, Ontario

Claire Kelly (OCT) — Assistant Head of School: Student Life at Appleby College, an independent grades 7-12 school in Oakville, Ontario
About Claire Kelly

Claire Kelly (@ClearGreenDay) serves as Assistant Head of School: Student Life, at Appleby College, an independent grades 7-12 school in Oakville, Ontario. Her responsibilities include leading a portfolio of outstanding student-centric experiences in Arts, Athletics, Service, Student Leadership, and Boarding Life, supporting coaching and leadership development experiences for faculty and students, and facilitating opportunities for student growth and school culture.

Claire teaches English and AP Capstone Research, where she has supervised over 70 academic Research studies, an array of which have been published in external peer-reviewed journals. Claire earned her PhD from OISE/UT (’19), in Leadership, Higher, and Adult Education.

Her interests include leadership development and organization change, career patterns, and gender representation, and Independent school headships in Canada. Claire has co-led affinity groups for women leaders and taught the Women in Leadership module each summer since 2019 with Canadian Accredited Independent Schools (CAIS). She has written three children’s books (Rubicon) that combine her love of travel with her passion for Arts, Literature, and Social Sciences, all designed to cultivate young readers.

Claire loves to run, paddle, dance, and play sports. Her love of learning continues beyond the classroom with hobbies such as learning guitar, enjoying music, and travelling. She lives with her husband, Nicholas, also, an educator, two sons, Julian and James, and mini-Doodle, Piper, on the beautiful Appleby campus.

Connect with Claire: Email | Instagram | LinkedIn | Twitter | Facebook

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Appleby College

Leadership, Higher, and Adult Education – OISE/UT

Canadian Accredited Independent Schools (CAIS)

Rubicon Publishing

Student Leadership – Appleby College

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. Today I’m very excited, we have a special guest, Dr. Claire Kelly. Dr. Kelly, please take a moment to introduce yourself to everyone who’s tuning in today.

Claire Kelly
Hi Sam, it’s great to be here. Please call me Claire. I am a teacher going into my 25th year of teaching, which is amazing to me. I don’t know how that happened. And I am currently an assistant head of school at Appleby College, and I’m head of student life there. So I work a lot with students and very closely with all aspects of the student experience.

Sam Demma
When did you realize in your journey as a student and young professional that you wanted to work in education?

Claire Kelly
Yeah, that’s a great question. As in like what got me into this work?

Sam Demma
Yeah, well, everyone has a very different pathway. Some people tell me they built dollhouses in their basement and taught the toys class. Some people told me that their family worked in education and they followed that pathway. What was your journey into working in schools?

Claire Kelly
Yeah, I guess, you know, ultimately, I started, I became a teacher because I love working with students, with children, with adolescents. You know, unlike many people, I love adolescents. I think they’re really amazing and they have so much to teach us. So, but yeah, going back to the start, I guess my father was a professor, my aunt was a school teacher, so I had some familial influences. However, yeah, I think, you know, teachers in high school certainly left strong impressions on me. I had some great teachers, they helped me better understand myself. I was also an athlete for much of my schooling. I spent a lot of time out of school in some ways, but a lot of time with coaches. And I loved working with people to accomplish goals, like whether it was as an athlete or as whether it was like individual athlete or on a team. I just loved being able to make those connections through sport. And I love the drama that you get from, you know, going through a game together or I was a figure skater for a long time, so like a four minute solo and all the preparation and all the people that go into making that happen. Yeah, and I think, you know, ultimately I like movement, I like variety, I love that teaching is never the same day twice. And we have this incredible ability to meet so many people, which is incredible. And I love the rhythms of the days and the years. So, yeah, I have to say I’m really happy where I am. I’m really glad I chose this. It just seemed like a natural part of – natural place I would end up.

Sam Demma
The rhythm and changes and movement as a school teacher are very vast. I’m sure it’s very similar with the role you’re in right now in student life. What does being the head of student life look like? What is the day-to-day in this position currently, what does it entail for someone who’s never been in that position or doesn’t know too much about it?

Claire Kelly
Yeah, that’s a great question. It’s an incredible role. I absolutely love it. I’ve been, this is my third year in that role. So I’m relatively new and it involves arts, athletics, service opportunities and running the co-curricular program for students, which is at our school is mandatory. So we have a very robust co-curricular program with, you know, approximately 60 different opportunities for kids. We also have a student leadership and a fantastic student leadership program with, you know, so many formalized responsibilities that are graduated really from grade 9 to grade 12. And then we have the Boarding Life program, which is, you know, our school is a day school, but it’s also a boarding school and we’re one of the only schools in North America that has mandatory boarding program for all their grade 12 students, so they move on campus and then they and then they get they stay and they live that year and understand you know a little bit more about themselves and what they need to prepare for classes and get ready in the morning and you know feed themselves and all sorts of life skills, as well as a fantastic university prep experience. So, a lot of our parents will say things like, you know, this is almost like the dress rehearsal for going off to university, which is really an incredible opportunity. So student life looks like having a sense of really getting to know students really, really well from breakfast in the morning through study in the evenings, certainly at this school, and having a good sense of what they need and what drives them to be the best they can be.

Sam Demma
I felt very honored that I was able to visit the school and tour campus when it was around Thanksgiving time and I had this beautiful potato lunch. And it was delicious. It sounds like there- I love this thing.

Claire Kelly
There’s an exo group that runs our dining hall. It’s incredible.

Sam Demma
It sounds like there are so many unique opportunities for the students, even the staff, as a part of student life on campus. One of my favorite authors is a gentleman named Jim Rohn. He talks about the seasons of life and how they can be tied to the seasons of business or just like the idea that there’s rhythms to things. And he has a phrase, he says, you know, after opportunity is always adversity in some way, shape or form. You know, with lots of opportunities, there’s also challenges. And I’m curious, what are some of the challenges that you think you’re faced with right now at school or on campus?

Claire Kelly
Yeah, that’s such a great question. How long do we have? Yeah, I mean, there are always challenges. So we could name off. There are some significant challenges that our students are facing. There’s eco-anxiety, there’s mental health, there’s DEIB, how to better integrate and have a more just world. There’s Indigenous reconciliation, especially in Canada. It’s hard not to think of that as top of mind. University admissions, that might be not as grand a scale as some of the other challenges, but it’s certainly a significant landscape for our students and it’s a very changing landscape right now and with the latest news from federal government and it will be interesting to see what that means in terms of the impact even on undergrad students and the available programming. So, kind of watching that closely. Socioeconomics, you know, it’s really hard to buy a house right now. It’s hard to buy a house anytime, but certainly it’s very challenging for any student growing up in this generation is looking at some big challenges, how to fund the life that they want to lead. You know, increasingly VUCA world every time I turn on the news. So, there are some big, big challenges.

Claire Kelly
I guess how do we deal with that? Well, you know, day by day as much as possible. We hope there’s a strategic plan of some sort. And that helps. And like ultimately, like, I guess a lot of people have seen opportunity in challenge and there is always opportunity in challenge. You know, the Dalai Lama talks about that. Whenever there’s a challenge, there’s an opportunity to face it, to demonstrate it, to develop our will and determination. I’d also say, like, as school teachers, we’re kind of right in the rhubarb. We’re dealing with some of this every day because this is the student world. And I’d say that, you know, humbly, we continue to work on these. We have time, we have space, and we have these incredible moments of dialogue that we get to sit and work with a huge collective of youth. And that’s a pretty magical place. So we learn from them, they learn from us. It’s a pretty neat thing. So and then, you know, we have these great opportunities as well, certainly at our school, where we bring in highly motivated and motivational speakers like yourself. So that was really wonderful to have. But, you know, I think, you know, I work with some really incredible people. I work with motivated, kind, talented people, and they see challenges as opportunities to do things better. That’s really the only thing we can do is try to find the opportunity in it. We think certainly for teenagers, challenge is an inherent part of being a teenager. You’re always challenging, challenging yourself, you’re challenging other people, you’re pushing boundaries, you’re trying to find that light. It’s a pretty exciting space when you think about it. It’s like that liminality, you know, you’re in the middle of something. And it’s really essential to growth. So the question is really for me is how do we tackle the challenges and how can we have impact in our school’s culture? How can we arm these kids with the skills that, you know, they have nascent within them? How do we, how do we develop those and give them to them so that they can have an impact on their larger worlds? So I don’t know if I fully answered that, but that’s kind of what we do. I try to do everything.

Sam Demma
Yeah. I love the idea of seeing opportunities within the challenges. The same author I mentioned, Jim Rohn, he always says, we can’t change the seasons, but we can change ourselves. And if we do change ourselves, everything changes. And it’s like the challenges are gonna be there, but it’s our perception of them that makes all the difference. What of the programs you ran last year, or even in the past couple of years, do you remember having a really positive impact if there are other people tuning in thinking, oh, maybe they can consider this for their school or their community as well?

Claire Kelly
Yeah, that’s a great question. Well, as I mentioned, we have a very robust co-curricular program, so that’s pretty amazing. Students can choose from, you know, participating in a sports team or joining an all-school play, or trying their hand at robotics or design or working with seniors. We have a group, or several groups, that go out actually into the community and work with seniors and work with school children and try to find time and space to work together and learn from each other. So that’s pretty neat. Other programs that were really successful, I did mention the Student Leadership Program which certainly I’m really proud of, spending a lot of time with motivated kids gives me a great deal of hope. I think, yeah, when we talk about programming, it’s really about giving students opportunities, especially I think in that early teen time, you know, that tween, pre-teens or tween time, when they don’t really know who they are, finding time, finding space, finding people who will give them something to help them think a little bit more or discover something new. So one of the things we do pretty well at our school is we have a significant breadth of opportunity and we try to offer, we offer so much. Sometimes it’s challenging to do so, but the breadth is really to really offer students an opportunity to try something new, get to know themselves, get to maybe change their mindset about things they thought they didn’t like or areas where they didn’t think they that, yeah, give them that time to really dive in. And it’s okay if you don’t like it, it’s kind of a, it’s a very low risk, very safe opportunity. But really finding those moments to, yeah, to realize that, hey, you know what, I’m not just an athlete, I really like singing, or I want to try stand-up comedy, or I want to try to see if I can plant a sustainable garden. So how are you going to spend your time? How are you going to spend your life? That’s really it in a nutshell. So we try to challenge them through opportunities to help them discover a little bit more about themselves. And it’s pretty neat to see in a teenager’s life to change from say, grade eight to grade 12. It’s sometimes it’s, well, it’s always remarkable. And sometimes it’s really, really surprising.

Sam Demma
When you think about seeing those changes in students, what does that look like? Is it a change in behavior? Is it, they start very shy or uninvolved and the time they’re graduating the school, they’re involved in everything? What does that actually tangibly look like in your experience?

Claire Kelly
Yeah, I think that’s a great question. It is all of those things. I guess it’s a change very much in confidence, and it’s that confidence to, it’s okay to be myself, it’s okay to try things, it’s okay if I’m not cool, because actually like embracing that and recognizing that you’re trying something new and there’s a chance you could fail, that makes you really brave, that makes you really cool, ironically, right? And then it’s really neat to see the shift in students, both in terms of individual but also in collectives where they’re like, oh, that is, it’s amazing what you did. It’s incredible that, you know, you want to lead the academic council. Good for you. Let’s all jump on board because you’re doing some really neat things there and I want to be part of it. And I think that’s something that comes with confidence. I think, you know, grade seven, grade eight, grade nine can be tough. Those are tough years for students. And we need to give them a lot of support. We need to remind them that they should be trying new things. They don’t know everything about the world yet and challenge them to engage. And I think as long as we can keep them engaged and keep them talking and keep them with an eye towards the future, that they can really start to thrive. Yeah, so I would say that students… I’ve seen… well, last week, let me think of an Last week I was at a karaoke show that was run by some students and we had significant participation from students in the evening, it was a fundraiser, and they had to do a little bit of preparation. And we must have had 12 acts that were coordinated, planned, choreographed, and I guess the thing that struck me, and several of the other teachers there, if I can speak on behalf of a few of us in the audience was some of the students that I saw in grade 9 who were quiet and shy and reserved and really trying to find their place. We’re up there in the middle of it all, taking the lead, feeling comfortable, really owning that stage and you know that would be, that’s a very visual example.

Claire Kelly
It doesn’t always have to be, you know, someone who seems introverted becoming an extrovert because that’s not necessarily what we want either. You know, I have a lot of time for introverts and I think being able to stand on stage and perform is not necessarily what everyone needs to do, but I do think that it was a pretty great reminder of how confidence can propel students to new heights and give them the self-awareness that hey maybe I already had that in me. I had those those really nascent performing skills or I really wanted to show off my dancing and having my friends around me doing the same thing allowed me to do that or the environment was safe and it was low risk and I could do this. And maybe it took four years to get there, but it’s a memory that they’re going to have. And I think it’s also a skill that’s going to propel them forward. So that’s really what I saw. I think about a little talent show I had when I was in elementary school and I rapped a song by Eminem with two of my friends

Sam Demma
I think about a little talent show I had when I was in elementary school and I rapped a song by Eminem with two of my friends. It was absolutely terrible but I still think about it and I remember the feeling I had personally when I walked off stage and felt so proud that I did it Knowing that I was really nervous knowing that I was really Embarrassed even a little bit about the performance, but that I still showed up anyway. And I’m sure so many students built so much confidence as a result of that event. And if you’re listening right now, thinking about doing something similar, use this as a case study. I think it provides such a unique opportunity for students and staff to introspect and reflect being a part of the experience. Something you said earlier was that students throughout school are learning so much about themselves. And I believe that all humans are consistently learning things about themselves as they go through life. And one of the greatest teachers is our own mistakes, our own learnings. And I think about myself, you know, I just organized a cross candidate trip, and I was a pretty terrible manager of others. I tried with my limited skill set managing others, and it all went well from other people’s perspectives, including the people I managed, but I learned a lot. And there’s a lot of things I would do differently if I did something like that again. I’m curious, what are some of your learnings in education as an educator that other educators tuning in might be able to learn from your experiences?

Claire Kelly
Wow, well that’s a great question, Sam. And thank you. I like your little anecdote of bringing everyone across Canada. That’s really, that sounds like an amazing trip. That was cool. I guess in terms of mistakes, I’m sure I’ve made many and probably on a daily basis. So I’m pretty comfortable with most of them, I think. I think, you know, there are always an opportunity for learning. And as educators, you know, I think we go into education because we like learning, we were lifelong learners and there’s nothing like experience. So I think like personally, yes, of course, lots of mistakes professionally. I’d say that, you know, one that comes to mind for me is in the beginning of my career, I taught English and history. I still teach English, but not history. And I teach a little bit, not as much as I used to now that I’m in an assistant head role, but in the, yeah, at the very beginning, in the first few years, I talked far too much. I just, I thought, I don’t know what I thought. I, I, I, you know, too much lecturing, too much standing in front of the class or sitting in, sitting with the class and, um, you know, too much, uh, stage on the stage behavior. And what I think I, like, I think I know why. There’s a sense, certainly when you’re starting out, you want to show these kids who you’re not that separated from age or you don’t think you are, although I think they always think, oh, she’s so old. She is as old, even though I was probably 25. I think I wanted to show that I knew what I was doing and that I belonged there. I belonged I belong there with my own classroom. And I had knowledge and yeah, I’m sure that’s where it was coming from. But certainly in the last 20 years or so, I’ve been using the Harkness method as an English teacher, certainly at our school, and it’s really changed the way I teach English. And it’s one of our certainly foundational programs at the school that we’re very proud of, but it’s really changed the way I think I do a lot of things. Harkness, I don’t know if you’re familiar with it, it’s a very constructivist and democratic sort of way of teaching, where you’re all sitting around a table and I facilitate, so I set it up, I draw maps, I keep track of who said what, and I inject things here and there just to kind of prompt and see where the conversation will go. But ultimately, it’s not about me. It’s really all about the students and how they build on each other and what they’re able to share and debate and critique and extend and all that. And I think the best conversations really happen when I’ve set the stage, but when I just sit back and listen.

Sam Demma
What a powerful lesson in teaching. I drew some parallels immediately to speaking on stage and how powerful silence is for audience members because it gives them an opportunity to digest the information you’re sharing or answer the questions you’re asking and engage with the stories. And I think there’s a cool parallel there too. I was at Crofton House in Vancouver. They had a lot of classrooms with oval shaped tables and they’d have these really cool conversations where everyone feels engaged because you’re all looking at each other. There’s a formal name for it and I’m forgetting it, but maybe you know.

Claire Kelly
Yeah, it might be like the Harkness Method. 

Sam Demma
Okay. Yeah. Yeah, so I appreciate you sharing that and I love the reflection of speaking less and allowing the students to be more involved with the content and with each other. What is something that keeps you hopeful, like keeps you motivated and keeps you showing up? 

Claire Kelly
Yeah, that’s a great question. Another great question. So, like what gets me out of bed in the morning? I think you always have to have an answer for that, right? And it’s a good reminder, especially as you get further on in your career. I think for me, this is going to sound really Pollyanna-ish, but I love my life. I love what I do. I love that, as I mentioned earlier, like every day is different. So even though I’ve been at this school, I’ve worked at two big schools in my career, and I can honestly say like every day is different. I’ve never had the same job two years in a row. Not because I keep moving around in any way, but just the job is different. It’s so dynamic to work with students and to work with children and to have, you know, we must have 150-200 interactions a day. So, what, you know, there’s the plan and then there’s the reality of the up and down and the crossfire dialogue and and all the things that happen and it’s just a, you know, it’s really an incredible experience to work in a school if you like students and I think, you know, they just have so much to offer. I love working with teenagers. Yeah, you know, also I have a family that I love. I love my husband, my kids. One of my sons goes to our school as well. He just started, so that’s been really powerful for me to see my world through his eyes and to experience a little bit more. I feel like I get the full student experience through him. And he’s new this year. He’s, I guess if our school had used those terms, he would be a freshman. He’s brand new and he’s in the first year we offer. He’s in grade seven. So he’s learning all about the rhythms of the school day, but rhythms of the year, the programming, the teachers, the other students, what to expect, what he should be striving for, what he really likes himself. So it’s been really, really, really, yeah, it’s just an incredible education for me to see that through his eyes, and I’m really looking forward to this journey together, if you will.

Sam Demma
That’s awesome. You get to hear about the impact of the structure of the school and the opportunities and the programs in student life, right in front of your own eyes with your son, which is awesome.

Claire Kelly
Absolutely, and you know he tells me if I’m wrong too, which is also really important.

Sam Demma
That’s cool. I really appreciate you taking the time just to talk a little bit about your journey, some of your beliefs around education, some of the opportunities you believe that exist right now, some of the challenges. You’re doing a phenomenal job and there’s probably educators right now listening to this thinking to themselves, wow, this, Claire’s inspiring, you know, especially those that are just starting in the journey themselves. If there is an educator listening to this thinking that and they want to reach out and ask a question or just share some gratitude after hearing this interview, what would be the best way for them to get in touch?

Claire Kelly
Oh, thanks, Sam. Those are really kind words, first of all. And yeah, I love connecting with people. So I’m always happy to answer emails or, you know, be on social media. So probably through my email is the best way, ckelly@appleby.on.ca or through LinkedIn. Yeah, those are probably my go-to’s.

Sam Demma
Awesome. Claire, Dr. Kelly, thank you so much for coming on the show. It’s been a pleasure. Keep up the amazing work and I look forward to crossing paths again soon.

Claire Kelly
Thanks so much, Sam. It was a pleasure and really nice to see you again.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Claire Kelly

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

Charle Peck — Keynote Speaker and School Mental Health Consultant

Charle Peck — Keynote Speaker and School Mental Health Consultant
About Charle Peck

Charle Peck (@CharlePeck) is the co-creator of Thriving School Community, a revolutionary program designed for schools to improve the mental health of staff and students. She holds an MS in Education and an MS in Social Work as a 20+ year veteran in education (K-12).

As a global keynote speaker, she delivers powerful messages of hope to educators and facilitates meaningful professional development to equip adults with tools that integrate into everyday practice. Her unique lens as a high school teacher turned clinical therapist who has worked closely with adolescents and families in crisis makes her stories relevant and captivating to those struggling in today’s system.

You can purchase her book “Improving School Mental Health: The Thriving School Community Solution” on Amazon. You can also listen to Charle’s podcast “Thriving Educator” and connect with her via email charle@thrivingeducator.org, on Twitter + LinkedIn @CharlePeck.

Connect with Charle: Email | Instagram | LinkedIn | Twitter | Facebook

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Thriving School Community Program

Graduate Programs at Niagara University

Master of Social Work (MSW) – Wilfrid Laurier University

Improving School Mental Health: The Thriving School Community Solution

Thriving Educator Podcast

TSC Virtual Summit

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
Welcome back to another episode on the High Performing Educator podcast. Today I am so excited. I was connected to this amazing human author and speaker through a past guest named Darren. Today’s special guest is Charle Peck. Charle, please take a moment to introduce yourself to all the educators who will be tuning in today.

Charle Peck
Hi, you guys. Sam, thank you so much for having me. It’s so nice to be connected by people who are genuinely good people like Darren. And, you know, I’m just coming to everybody from a background in education, K through 12, for the past 20 years but I taught high school for 18 years, really saw my students struggling. So I got a Master of Social Work, became a clinical therapist, and I’ve been working with schools and districts across the country to help them solve this darn youth mental health problem. So I’m coming to you with that lens. I’m also a parent. I’ve got three boys, and I just want to make sure that our educators have simple tools and strategies that they can just infuse into everyday practice to manage their own mental health and well-being and then respond effectively to their student needs. That’s what they need the most.

Sam Demma
Well, something that makes you very unique is your specialization in trauma in becoming a clinical therapist. Tell me a little bit about that journey of yours.

Charle Peck
You know, I realized that understanding that brain-body connection through a trauma lens was essential to help mitigate the problems our students are having. And by the way, our educators are coming into our buildings with these same problems that are unprocessed. So once I learned what that was all about neurologically and emotionally how people are responding with that emotional charge as a result. It helped me develop the skills and tools that could actually adapt to the classroom setting. And that’s why I love doing what I’m doing, because it does work. And it works even in crisis. I worked at a crisis unit in a hospital, Sam, and I worked with teens who were really struggling and with their parents and families. And these skills and tools work with them too. So I’m excited to roll it out.

Sam Demma
Tell me more about the tools. As someone who’s excited to hear some of the things that you’re sharing, I’m sure the educators are also.

Charle Peck
Yeah, well, I developed them with Dr. Cameron Caswell. She’s an adolescent psychologist and she and I hooked up because we knew the problems were very similar with what we were each working with. And we had to come up with something that was evidence-based, so they absolutely are evidence-based, but something that would easily be able to recall and use and have visuals that can work for not only the adults, but the kids. So they can work with kids as five years old, but also 15 years old and adults. And I’ll give you an example, Sam. So one of the problems we have is dealing with anxiety, right? Anxiety and then avoidance and so in therapeutic sessions what I would do is talk with talk with people about this and they have what’s called their own narrative now We all know what narrative is right? It’s a story that we tell ourselves And there’s lots of things that are brought into that story But oftentimes they are just a bunch a bunch of lies like we’re not basing them on facts And so we’re walking around our buildings, emotionally charged with these unresolved traumas and all of these thoughts and feelings that are triggering us throughout the day. And it’s based on a story that we’re telling ourselves. So I teach them about the story spiral and how our thoughts and emotions, our responses, or really reactions, are all linked together. And then how people are responding to us can keep a spiraling into that story. Again, that’s not based on fact. We might think somebody is upset with us or mad at us or think that we’re dumb or incompetent, but they’re not actually thinking about us. They’re thinking mostly about who? Who are they thinking about, Sam?

Sam Demma
Themselves.

Charle Peck
Yes, of course, of course. But we’re all egotistical as human beings. And so helping people reframe their thoughts and feelings, emotions around those stories. And really unraveling that story can be so helpful with anxiety, which can apply to anybody. So that’s just one little tool that we use.

Sam Demma
One of many tools that you and many other educators and speakers will be sharing at your upcoming virtual conference. Can you please tell us a little bit about the summit happening on April 16th and how educators can get involved if they’re interested in learning more

Charle Peck
Yes. Okay. So Dr. Kim and I said, listen, we’ve got to provide support to people free, virtually, easily, anything that’s accessible. We’ve got to get it out there as much as we can. And so we decided that we’re going to do a virtual summit. We’ve done it several times before. It’s been great. And so we’ve got eight awesome speakers. We’ve got a speaker talking about crisis response, like how do we respond to youth in crisis? We’ve got a speaker talking about how to manage big emotions so that it will help us as educators, but also we can translate that to parents and students easily. Also leaders are a part of this too. They need to help with that as well. And they absolutely can.

Charle Peck
And so we just, we have like one of my sessions is about how to assert your authority without being mean because we do have struggles with students in that authority position, but we still have to stay connected, Sam. And if we don’t, we’re shutting them down, shutting them out and helping create that disconnect and that divide that is not working in our education system. We need to bring people together and have trust and connection. And so the expert speakers we have are there bringing their true insight and skills and tools, but briefly. So each of them have 20 minutes to talk and share resources. We’re doing giveaways. It’s fun. Dr. Kim and I engage people and people leave with real tools that they can immediately use. And so if anybody wants to register again, it’s absolutely free. You can be a parent or an educator or leader. And if you just go to thrivingschool.org forward slash TSC summit, you can just register for free. So thanks for bringing that up because we do want to support our teachers big time.

Sam Demma
And I know it’s not the first. So there’s a lot of people that are already involved. You’re building the momentum and doing such an amazing job at providing all these resources to so many educators across the country. I think everyone listening right now should pause this recording and go and check it out. It’s a amazing experience from what I’ve heard and I’m excited to hear more about how it goes this year. Tell us a little bit about why. Like why do you do this work that you do? You’ve done a great job explaining some of the things that you do and the tools. Tell me the reason behind it all.

Charle Peck
Oh my gosh, okay. So when I got to teach, I loved what I taught. I got to teach kids about their brain. I got to teach them about their development. I got to teach them about why the heck they were feeling what they were feeling and experiencing what they were feeling and experiencing based on their developmental stage of life. And also all of those influences that they got along the way. And so what that did for them is it helped them learn about who they were, and a lot of forgiveness happened with themselves. So they weren’t carrying the weight of the guilt and the shame and pain that society has put on them, and they were able to make sense of it. And so I knew that after I became a therapist, I knew that this work had to be done on a more massive scale because the youth mental health crisis is everywhere. I mean, it’s global. It’s global.

Charle Peck
And so when I realized I had some great tools that could easily infuse into everyday practice and really work well in a classroom and support staff at the same time with their own mental health, because they’re struggling too, I knew I had to step out of the classroom and just do this work. So I do get to speak around the nation about, and internationally about these tools. One of my sessions is called SOS for School Mental Health, Strategies for Staff and Students in Crisis, because we’ve got to address it. We’ve got to give relief to the whole system. So that is my why I’ve got to do this on a massive scale and help others get the relief that I was seeing in my own students.

Sam Demma
And did you struggle with mental health growing up or have you seen it in your family? Like, I would love to hear a little bit of your personal story as well that brought you into education and even brought you here.

Charle Peck
Yeah, you know, first of all, I’m the baby of six kids. So I had some interesting experiences in the position of my family. And even we had a great, I had a great childhood and a great family system, but I felt alone a lot. And I had a lot of people around me a lot And I was involved in a lot of sports Informing my identity. I wasn’t really sure like am I Only good when I’m playing well in my sport in my I didn’t think I was a good student I could have been but I thought I was dumb and there were lots of things that went on I absolutely struggled with mental health and I think adolescence is something that I always knew I would participate in, in the learning piece there to help adolescents because it’s such a tricky time of life and I think there’s such a disservice out there that they’re not involved in understanding what’s going on with themselves. So I was always compelled to work with teens, but I also have a child development background so that I understand not only as a young child, like what’s important for us to do to support them when we’re pregnant. And I’m not afraid to say that because it’s super important that people understand how impactful it is forever. Okay. And so that’s one of the things that’s a disservice I think I’m doing by not being in a classroom again with teenagers.

Charle Peck
I don’t get to teach them every day about healthy and unhealthy relationships Because we had some really important Conversations there that I wish I would have had So that’s something else that I’m trying to do on a global scale is help Adults teach kids about these healthy and unhealthy relationships and friendships And what does that look like because I don’t want anyone else getting stuck, you know, my first year of teaching. I was not only planning sessions for my students, I was planning an escape to a women’s shelter. And I did that while I was still teaching and holding it together. But I was able to do that because I felt confident about who I was and I had a ton of supports. So yes, I struggled, but the good news is, Sam, we can prevent these problems from happening in the first place. And we can also help people manage that when they’re in it and learn to step out of wherever they are if they’ve reached their limits. I mean, there’s a way to do that and still feel good about who you are. And so that’s why I’m doing this work too.

Sam Demma
There’s the speaking, there’s the summits, and then there’s the book. Tell us a little bit about the journey of the book and what you’re hoping that resource will do in the world.

Charle Peck
Well, it’s meant to be something simple that has a framework that’s easy to relate to, especially in the education world. And so there are nine skills. And the reason there are nine is because we identified nine different areas that were contributing to the youth mental health crisis. For example, insecurity, not recognizing our own strengths and getting stuck in that. Like when I was felt like I was a poor student, I got stuck there. And so that shapes how I performed in school. I mean, I later went on and did better, but that was what I wish I had is that particular skill or polarization, right? There’s so many of us who are polarized and guess what? We can actually work and engage with others, even if we don’t like each other or believe in the same things. But there’s a way to do that, to meet our own needs in that exchange. So that’s another thing. So all of the skills are in the book that explains the rationale, but also we wanted people to walk away being able to use them immediately. So it’s kind of a reference guide that way. That’s what the book is, so anybody can use it, parents, students, but we say educators, you need this. We need to start with you because I think our schools are absolutely the keys to make any kind of change, like, in the masses.

Sam Demma
What can people listening expect from you and the team in the near future?

Charle Peck
Well, we’re doing a lot of professional development in equipping our teachers across the nation with these tools. So if anybody wants that, please, please, let’s help. Like we all need to help you. There’s something for every budget. I know budget is certainly an issue, but there’s something for every budget. And in fact, we want to promote sustainability and autonomy in the schools we work with. And so we have a program for that so that we can equip school counselors, school mental health team members, so they can roll it out. And it’s not even as big as train the trainers, Sam. That’s way too much for people to handle right now. So we know what we can provide is affordable, but also sustainable. So that’s one of the things we’re doing. And I’m also doing some keynotes.

Charle Peck
And so if anybody wants that message of hope, that’s one of the things I’m doing, but I’m really excited to share, and I haven’t said it too much yet, but I’m actually working on another book with a former principal who has a trauma lens and is a foster parent and understands the system really well too. And we’re actually talking more about behavior and how to respond to behavior and where the heck it’s coming from. So I’m excited about that because people need those tangible tools and principles to kind of go by. So yeah, that’s coming up too.

Sam Demma
And if they wanna reach out, ask a question, follow your journey online, what would be the best place for them to get in touch?

Charle Peck
They can just email me charle@thrivingeducator.org or they can just go to my website thriving educator.org. I’m on social media. You can find me @CharlePeck. Just connect. The thing is, don’t let this go. Like if you need some support, let me help you.

Sam Demma
Charlie, such a pleasure to have you on the show. Thank you for taking the time. I look forward to our paths crossing at some point in real life offline. And I’m so excited for your new book, your educator summit, everything that is yet to come.

Charle Peck
Thank you so much for all you do too, Sam, thank you. Thank you so much for all you do too, Sam, thank you.

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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.

Pratima Burton  — Student Achievement Leader for Equity, Inclusion and Anti-Racism at the District School Board of Niagara

Pratima Burton — Student Achievement Leader for Equity, Inclusion and Anti-Racism at the District School Board of Niagara
About Pratima Burton

Pratima Burton is the K-12 Student Achievement Leader for Equity, Inclusion and Anti-Racism at the District School Board of Niagara. She has been with the DSBN for 26 years and has held a diverse array of roles that underscore her commitment to redefining excellence. Having dedicated 15 years as a secondary school English teacher, Pratima transitioned into pivotal roles such as instructional coach, secondary English consultant, and vice-principal. Her current role in equity is a testament to her dedication to creating safe and inclusive space for students and fostering a genuine sense of belonging for all.

Pratima’s dedication to equity is deeply rooted in her lived experiences, propelling her advocacy for students with diverse backgrounds and identities. While she thoroughly enjoys her current position as an administrator, Pratima fondly reminisces about her 15-year tenure as a classroom educator, where she found immense joy in inspiring student development, fostering learning, and witnessing growth. However, she also realizes the importance of the work the equity team does and the impact on building schools that are safe and inclusive spaces for all students, where their identities are affirmed in the curriculum and throughout the school, and where barriers for success are removed so all can achieve.

Connect with Pratima: Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

District School Board of Niagara (DSBN)

Future Black Female

Equity, Inclusion & Anti-Racism at the DSBN

National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM)

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
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator Podcast. This is your host, Sam Demma. And today we have a very special guest, Pratima Burton. Thank you so much for coming on the podcast. Please take a moment to introduce yourself to the listener.

Pratima Burton
Hi, Sam. Thank you for having me here. My name is Pratima Burton. I am a student achievement leader for equity, inclusion, and anti-racism for the District School Board of Niagara. So basically what that means is I’m a System Principal. So I guess what that comes down to is I’m a principal without a school. So I’m kindergarten to grade 12, but I don’t have my own school. So I think that’s probably the hardest thing about that role. I don’t get to engage with kids regularly, but that’s not my daily experience. But it is definitely a joy when I do get to work with kids.

Sam Demma
And the work you’re doing reaches so many young people and impacts all the schools. For someone who’s not familiar with the role, what does the day-to-day look like?

Pratima Burton
The day-to-day is very different every single day. We may have planned meetings where we’re collaborating with educators, with student groups around initiatives that they want to do. We may be working with teachers around resources for their classes. Sometimes we go into schools and work with students who want to start affinity groups. So it could be, you know, something different every single day. Sometimes we’re supporting administrators because something’s gone away that you don’t want it to go, and then we’re there to help with considerations and for teachers. So that’s some of the work. But it’s different every day, and I think we love it that way.

Sam Demma
Sometimes it’s challenging to show up. We are busy, we’re overwhelmed, and the thing that gets us through those difficult moments is our personal reason why. I’m curious, when you think about the work you do in education, why do you show up every single day? 

Pratima Burton
Oh, there’s so many ways we can go with this. I’ll tell you a little personal story. When I was in grade eight, it was that time of year where your teacher helps to decide where you’re going to go in grade nine. And back in my day, the options were basic, general, and advanced. And although I was a really, I was a bright student, I worked very hard, I thought I was going to go into academic, or sorry, advanced, as it was called back then. But the teacher recommended me for general. And I don’t know why I never asked. Culturally, my parents wouldn’t have asked because it would have been considered disrespectful, right? I had a friend who advocated for me and said, look, she can go to advanced, and then if she doesn’t do well, she can go down general, but it’s not easy to go up to advance. So although my self-esteem was impacted, I went into advanced and I did very well on a roll all the time, graduated, you know, near the top of the class with everybody, you know, with my peers. But it was something I never, ever forgot. And the interesting thing is that I came into this role four years ago, but this time it was her story. Same thing, very bright student, and at the time when she was going to grade 9, it was academic and applied, and the teacher recommended her for all academic, but except for math, which was ironically her favorite subject. So I just don’t want to see students experiencing things like that. I don’t want students to have the same experiences that are grounded in bias that maybe their families encountered. So I think that’s my motivator. I think that’s why I stay in the role. I just want to see some change. I don’t think change is gonna happen from my generation. I think adults sometimes, some adults are stuck in their ways. They just like things that are, that have always happened the way that they have. And we might not even be able to explain why they happen or why we keep doing some practices. But it’s the kids who are going to use their critical thinking skills and ask why do we do this, why hasn’t this changed. And I just want to support them in giving them the tools and strategies to ask those questions and look at things through an equity lens.

Sam Demma
Amplifying student voice is so important, and you’re a massive champion of doing just that. Can you think of a question a student asked or a recommendation a student brought up that sparked change within a classroom or a school board? There’s probably so many, but is there one in particular that maybe comes to mind when you think about that question?

Pratima Burton
Yeah, I could share with you something that’s very recent. At our school board, one of the learnings that we do for educators is something called an equity cafe. And an equity cafe is an opportunity for educators to come online and have casual conversations with my team about equity topics that are pertinent to their classrooms, to their schools, to their students. And this is where we share considerations and strategies around those topics. And it’s a great opportunity for them to ask questions.

Pratima Burton
Well, we just did our Equity Cafe for Black History Month. And what we did different this time was that we actually had students come and present. So, how did that come about? We have an organization, a community partner named Future Black Female. And I have an individual on my team who is the Black Youth Engagement Coach, and they go around to schools supporting students, starting affinity groups. And one of the common narratives that was coming up was that students felt that in some schools, Black History Month wasn’t being celebrated in a meaningful way. And they wanted to do something about that. So we got together, we did some brainstorming, and these were all your ideas, into a kit, you know, flags, balloons, banners, posters, a QR code that took you to a resource list of, you know, uplifting songs and daily announcements, a book list, videos about history. And the idea was that at the very least, this is what schools should use to celebrate the excellence, the joy, and the achievements of Black history. And, you know, we grappled with the idea of this being just performative, a checkbox item. But then we came to the conclusion that in spaces that maybe there isn’t much happening, this is a start. And we always get asked by educators for numerous topics, like, where do we start? So we’re saying with this Black History Month kit that this is where to start, at the very least.

Pratima Burton
Start here, put out an announcement, say, hey, any students, all students who want to come and be on a Black History Month committee, come, we’ll put our ideas together, we’re going to start with this kit and see where it goes. So back to the Equity Cafe, talk to educators, and it was like a panel and they answered four questions. Why is Black History Month important to you? Why is it important to celebrate Black excellence achievement and joy at school during Black History Month? Why is it important to celebrate Black excellence and joy and to affirm identities, Black identities, all year long? And finally, what do you as students want to see happening in your schools? And the students were absolutely fantastic. They just blew everybody’s minds. It was so impactful for educators. I mean, I can go on and say a lot of stuff, but when you hear it from the voice of students sharing their experiences, it just means so much more. I mean, I really think that sometimes as educators, we have an idea of how students move through our spaces, but it’s so different from the way that they actually move through school spaces. And I just want to elevate those voices so that students could share that. And at the end of that session, we used this Black History Month kit to challenge schools that the next Heritage Month, why don’t you create something like this? Get student voice, take it away, and share what you’re doing.

Sam Demma
There may be an educator listening to this thinking, oh my goodness, this is absolutely amazing. I want to do something similar with my schools. Is the Black History Month package a resource that is publicly accessible or is it just within the school board?

Pratima Burton
Actually, it’s within the school board. We just got together. We just Googled some things. What do we want on this kid? You know, we found a few things, put it together, and printed things, made sure they were accessible, packaged them up, and sent them away. I mean, who knows? Maybe it’s a possible retirement plan. Very huge month, kid. Obviously, that’s probably not the route that I’m going to go, but no, it’s the idea of just asking the students. I don’t think you need to have a pre-packaged kit. Just ask your students, because what students will ask for in one classroom or one school is going to be different than another.

Sam Demma
Fair. It’s so important to give students a seat at the table because it builds responsibility responsibility and ownership. And when they have responsibility over the outcomes and ownership of the ideas, they’re more excited to bring them back to their schools and take action on bringing them to life. The work that you’re doing to amplify student voice is so important. There is also right now in education, many opportunities and with opportunities are challenges. What do you think some of the challenges and opportunities are that exist in education right now?

Pratima Burton
I think one of the challenges are like all the competing priorities, right? There’s so many things that are looking for space, looking for time, and I think sometimes what happens is we focus on, you know, like literacy, numeracy, we have to get kids ready for post-secondary, and of course all of those things are important, but if kids don’t feel safe, they don’t feel they’re included, there isn’t a sense of belonging, then I don’t think they’re going to achieve as well as we want them to. They’re not going to reach their potential. So, I think one of the challenges would be time. And there’s always so much to do. Like for my team, time definitely is a challenge because we’re often asked by people to come collaborate. You look at this resource, can you come create a resource? And there’s five of us on our team. And we try to overcome that challenge with collaboration. I mean, you can’t do this important work dealing with equity, inclusion, anti-racism in a silo. And we try to be very efficient and very effective. You know, we call on our supports. If there are several schools asking for the same kind of resource, then instead of working with the schools individually, we bring them together. We do an equity cafe. We offer a workshop. And as I mentioned, we don’t do the work alone. We have wonderful community partners. We have Niagara College. We have Brock University.

Pratima Burton
I mentioned a local organization, Future Black Female. We do a lot of learning with Facing History and ourselves. And even within our school board, we have the Mental Health and Wellbeing Team, the Safe and Accepting Schools Team, the Indigenous Education Team, Spec Ed Team, Curriculum Teams. We have a wonderful seniors team that supports this work. So when you put all those people together, we’re able to overcome the challenges because we do need to elevate each other’s work, right? And when it comes to challenges and hard questions, I always remember advice that our former director gave us, and I think I heard this from him about 10 years ago, and he said, no matter how hard the challenge or how hard the decision is that you have to make, you’re going to get clarity when you frame it a certain way. And the framing question would be, what’s best for kids? So what can’t you overcome when you come together and you put it that way?

Sam Demma
On the other side of every challenge is also an opportunity. When you think about the opportunities that exist that align with what’s best for kids, like what opportunities come to mind?

Pratima Burton
Well, earlier you mentioned the idea of like the table, right? Coming to the table. So again, when I got into this role, one of the things my team and I tried to do was listen to students and see what they were asking for. And one of the things they asked for was like a student group, like a student council, but not at our schools, like us coming together, like the whole board. And so three years ago, we started the process to launch like a student alliance. And we’re doing it with secondary schools. And as you said, the idea of the table, we didn’t want to create an alliance, a group, something already structured, and then have the students come apply and join it. What we wanted was to build that table and have the students build it so they can sit at their table and to learn alongside with us. And so we started with focus groups. We had about four or five focus groups and we had students, secondary grades nine to 12, lots of representation come and let us know and share with us what they thought this group should look like.

Pratima Burton
They had ideas about who should be in it and what grades and when we would meet and what some of the focus would be and what the process, what the application process would be, how to make it equitable. So now we have this group of like the powerhouse of passionate kids, you know, real advocates who are really dedicated to reshaping and revitalizing their schools and their communities. There’s 50 students. And, you know, we are, as some graduate, we bring on new students, but this is our second full year, and they are really dedicated to creating inclusive spaces. And their vision is to be changemakers who represent and advocate for sovereignty speaking and equity deserving students. And, you know, when you give the students a voice, this is what can happen. And it’s almost like you give them a voice, they’re heard, they are affirmed, and then they come up with the next big idea. So this group then came up with an idea, we now call it the Inclusive Schools Poster, is what we call it. It was an activity that we did last year with the group, and we just basically said, like, let’s do some brainstorming. Let’s come up with what are all the criteria that you think a school needs to have so that it is safe and it is inclusive so everybody has a sense of belonging. And so, you know, 50 students, lots of chart paper, lots of markers, in groups, writing down all these ideas. I think we ended up with like over 300 points. It’s a lot.

Pratima Burton
And we weren’t sure at the time where this was going, but then they started chunking all the ideas into themes. We took all those themes, we narrowed them down to, you know, probably about 75, down to 50, and we ended up with 20 points. And we looked at it and we thought, this is incredible. These are 20 things that are telling us, through student voice, exactly what a school needs to be in order for it to be safe and inclusive, a place of belonging, so that now we can learn and achieve. We have a wonderful communications team who took all those 20 ideas and put them into this beautiful poster. And we did not want it to be decor. So now, it’s this group, the DSBN, and they call themselves DSBN IDEA. So it’s Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity Alliance of Students.

Sam Demma
Nice.

Pratima Burton
They love the acronym. So they are now wanting to create a video. And in the video, they are going to talk about the why, the importance, the process, which I think is very important, and how to use the poster. It’s not decor, it’s a teaching tool. It shares their values and it’s what we should all be aiming for. And some of the things on the posters are like, in an inclusive school, we do better when we know better. We are mindful of our words and their impact. We ensure everyone is safe and belongs. We question, we interrogate, and we take action on injustice. Like, these are student words. They’re not student words that adults recrafted. These are their words. And it’s pretty powerful. We’re hoping to launch the video in March. And we’re just so excited for administrators and teachers and parents, councils and students to see that this is what we believe in.

Sam Demma
What a beautiful testimony to student voice and case study for other school boards to involve their students in creating policy and ideas, guidelines and principles to live by. I am so excited to hear that your school board has put this together, and I hope that other school boards and educators tuning in are writing down these ideas to implement with their students. Did this alliance of the students also come up with the Rise Up Conference? And if so, tell us a little bit about that, that annual event.

Pratima Burton
Yes, it did. It did start from them. That’s why last year was our first one, because they had said, you know, like, can we do a conference? And I think it came up at our first meeting, which would have been in October. And these conferences take like so long to plan. We had 200 students at our first one last year. And although I hadn’t planned anything or my team hadn’t planned anything of that size, we knew it was going to take a long time. So we just got right to it. So the kids were like, let’s do this conference. You know, I’ve heard of conferences where kids come together and they do this learning, there’s presentations and activities, and we’re like, okay, let’s do it. So we started brainstorming ideas. Okay, what are the topics you want to learn about? And that’s where we started. After we got the topics, we started looking for workshop ideas and for presenters. We just put out all of our feelers, the people we know, you know, in the community and throughout the province, but at other boards and just friends and family just to tie in whoever we could to help us. And we offered students lots of opportunities to help us as well. But we were getting the sense that, you know what, they didn’t really want to be involved in the planning. And that’s okay, because you know what they wanted? They wanted something for them. They did not have that before them before. So we wanted to create something that was a celebration for them.

Pratima Burton
And although they did, you know, introduce the speakers and thank them and that kind of thing, we wanted them to come into a space and see that this was created for them, all of their accommodations met, and that they wouldn’t have to ask for anything. So this year, we are hosting it again. It’s our second annual. As you mentioned, the DSPN Student Equity Conference, Rise Up Students Leading the Change. rise up students leading the change. And the intent is to create a space where all students are going to feel valued and respected and supported. We’re going to work together. We’re going to share ideas. The idea is for them to also network with other students, so that when they go back to their own schools and they may have a social justice action plan in mind, the staff leaders that come with them could, you know, help them connect with other schools and work smarter as opposed to harder, right? Especially if they all have, if they have similar initiatives. So just to walk you through what that day looks like, you know, the students arrive this year, we have 240 students. They have a very special keynote speaker to this time, Sam. We’re so happy you’re joining us.

Pratima Burton
We have eight workshops, and we have lots of variety. We have someone talking about loving yourself and never giving them back. We have somebody coming and talking about having special education obstacles and the way that they’ve overcome them. We have Justice for Children and Youth coming because we have some students who are really interested in knowing what their rights are and how to advocate. We have our Indigenous Education team coming and they’re bringing a panel of their students, which is exciting for students to learn from students, especially in their first voices. We have future black female coming and the Canadian National, sorry, the National Council of Canadian Muslims coming to do a session as well. So we have lots of variety for students to choose from. So they get to attend two workshops and lunchtime is always fun. We call it our community mingling. So we have community partners that come and set up tables and offer students information on student-centered resources. And when we did that last year, we didn’t know how it was gonna go because the long table of community partners was what was standing between the kids and their lunch. So we thought the kids were gonna go right for the lunch, but when they saw all this table set up, they were so engaged and did not realize that there was so much available for them in their community. We’re also intentional in making sure that spaces are safe. So we have a youth counselor, social worker. We make sure that we have a multi-faith meditation room available for anybody who needs to take that time. This year, we have a dance group coming. We’re going to be doing a little bit of Bollywood and Afrobeat.

Pratima Burton
And we have somebody doing a mindful art activity. And of course, the food is always a big hit. We have an inclusive buffet. So regardless of your dietary accommodation needs, you can walk up to the table and there is plenty for you to choose from. We want students to know that we created this space for them so they wouldn’t have to ask. And I think one of my most memorable moments last year was just something I had the luck, the honor to overhear. A student said, I wish school could be like this every day.

Sam Demma
It is overwhelming to hear about the beauty of this event. It’s so obvious care, love, and collaboration was fostered in creating it with all the moving parts and pieces, the thoughtful accommodations for everybody to feel welcome and included. Again, I hope other educators are listening, taking some inspiration from this idea to see if they can create similar experiences or spaces in their schools and in their communities. You mentioned it takes a pretty long time to plan something like this. What is the planning process for an event of this size?

Pratima Burton
As soon as the last event was over, we contacted the facility and asked if we could book for this year, right? Because the space was ideal, it’s big, it’s lots of light, and just the movement throughout the day was so easy. They were wonderful in accommodating the spaces we needed and helping us set up. So a year in advance and then we start, you know, putting out our feelers and keeping our ears open for possible topics and speakers. And the first time that we have our meeting again with our group, as we did this year, we ask them, okay, who do you want this year? What do you want to learn more about? And we know that we have some students who are returning, but we’re also going to have new students. So we like to change it, change it up. I think we have almost all of our workshops are new this year.

Sam Demma
Thinking about experiences where students have been impacted by the conference or their experiences at school, can you tell me of a story where you heard of a student situation that was impacted by education or by an event? And if so, you don’t have to share that student’s name if it’s a serious story. But I’m curious, what example comes to mind for you?

Pratima Burton
So one of the first experiences I had in this role, we were asked, my colleague and I, to come to a school to talk to a group of students. They had been experiencing some discrimination and they felt that every time they were sharing what happened to them, they were having to almost justify their feelings. And so, you know, I’m South Asian, my colleague is a hijab wearing Muslim lady, and she’s a wonderful colleague. And we walked into the room where there were a couple of students. And there was, I believe, a South Asian student and a black student, two young ladies, and we walked into the space and we had our meeting, they did their sharing, we intently listened, and at the end of the meeting, one of the girls made the comment that, when you walked in, we knew that it was going to be okay.

Pratima Burton
And I think what she was expressing to us, and what she did go on to elaborate about is that by looking at us she knew that we had some experiences that would have been similar to hers. So all she had to do was just explain. She didn’t have to justify, she didn’t have to rationalize, she just had to say it and knew that we believed her. And that’s why I think representation is so important as well. So that is something that sticks with me.

Sam Demma
I really appreciate you sharing that story. I think it’s so important students can see themselves in their teachers, in their staff, not just the educators in the school building, in their peers, in the role models that are shared in the community. And I appreciate you sharing that story. It’s unfortunate that students even feel like they have to justify, you know, certain situations and stories, but in certain situations, it is the reality. I hope that happens less and less as we move forward as a result of having your poster in every single school, not only in the Niagara Board, but hopefully elsewhere in the future. If there is an educator listening to this podcast who’s felt inspired, motivated, energized, or curious based on our conversation and they wanna reach out to you and ask a question, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?

Pratima Burton
Well, that would be by email. It’s pratima.burton@dsbn.org. I’ll spell my name. It’s Pratima.Burton.

Sam Demma
Pratima, I look forward to seeing you in the spring. Keep up the amazing work. You’re doing a great job, and I look forward to connecting again soon.

Pratima Burton
Thank you so much for having me, Sam. And you are doing inspiring work as well, and we are so looking forward to having you join us in April.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Pratima Burton

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.

Crystina Cardozo — Math Coach at Pine Grove Manor School (NJ), Speaker and Real Estate Investor

Crystina Cardozo — Math Coach at Pine Grove Manor School (NJ), Speaker and Real Estate Investor
About Crystina Cardozo

Crystina Cardozo is a current math coach at Pine Grove Manor School. She started her career teaching high school and college level math. She also worked as a director of a tutoring math center for k-8 students. She is currently working as a math coach at an elementary school. Because she has worked with kindergarten to college students she knows where their math journey begins and where math will take them as an adult. Crystina has a heart for education and has always enjoyed numbers.

Stemming from her love of numbers and passion for educating people on finances Crystina has also built a business where she teaches parents, children, and teachers the importance of personal finance and the practical math needed in everyday life.

With a degree in mathematics and a masters in math education she is making it a priority to end the stigma that complicated math is needed in order to be financially literate.

Connect with Crystina: Email | Instagram | LinkedIn

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Pine Grove Manor School

Ed.M. with Certification in Mathematics Education – Rutger University

Bachelors Degree, Mathematics – Rutger University

How to become a better Financial Role Model for my child

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
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is a new friend of mine, Crystina Cardozo. Christina is a current math coach at Pine Grove Manor School. She started her career teaching high school and college level math. She also worked as a director of a tutoring math center for K-8 students and is currently working as a math coach at an elementary school. Because she has worked with kindergarten to college students, she knows where their math journey begins and where math will take them as an adult. Crystina has a heart for education and has always enjoyed numbers. Stemming from her love of numbers and passion for educating people on finances, Crystina has also built a business where she teaches parents, children, and teachers the importance of personal finance and the practical math needed in everyday life. With a degree in mathematics and a master’s in math education, she is making it a priority to end the stigma that complicated math is needed in order to be financially literate. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Crystina, and I will see you on the other side.

Sam Demma
And today I’m very excited to bring a special guest that I met through a mutual friend of both of ours, Jasmine Paul, shout out Jasmine if you’re listening to this. Today’s special guest is Crystina Cardozo. Crystina, can you please, for all the educators tuning in, quickly just introduce yourself.

Crystina Cardozo
Yeah, so thank you so much for having me on the show, Sam. I’m super excited, especially because this is for educators. So my name is Christina Cardozo and I am a math educator. I started teaching high school, college level math. I was a director of a math tutoring center, but now for the last eight years I’ve been working as a math coach in an elementary school. So I’ve really seen it all from like kindergarten to college level math. Where did your passion for numbers start or come from? Yeah, so I can blame that on my mom because she’s a CPA and she always, you know, she would talk about numbers. She would show me numbers in terms of budgeting and so forth and money, but I just always had a thing for numbers and a passion. And I also found it, it came pretty easy for me. And I think that’s why I gravitated towards it.

Sam Demma
And you can tell that Christina loves numbers because her social media handles are, @sherunsthenumbers.

Crystina Cardozo
Yes.

Sam Demma
Across all platforms. A passion for numbers could take you in so many different directions. You could have ended up as a CPA. Did you know growing up that you wanted to teach and be working in education?

Crystina Cardozo
Yes, so because I watched my mom work as a CPA, I remember back in the day she would bring me with her to work on Bring Your Child to Work Day, and she would actually put me to work. And I just realized that as much as I love numbers, I don’t want to just sit still and kind of work behind the scenes or behind a computer and just, you know, work on numbers like that. And the more I was enjoying math in my math class, I was like, wow, I really like numbers and I really like how, you know, my teachers are teaching or specifically it was one teacher who I was just like, man, I could do a better job than him. That was actually in high school. And he is the one who inspired me to become a math educator because he was actually that bad.

Sam Demma
Was it struggling with the way he taught his lessons or a lack of knowledge?

Crystina Cardozo
No, it wasn’t a lack of knowledge, but it was how he presented it to the class and he wasn’t really engaging. He didn’t connect with us. Meanwhile, I’m tutoring all my friends in that class, but I had to kind of teach it to myself and then help my friends. And really, it was a high school class and I’m like, if I could do this, then maybe this is my calling. Maybe I should be a math teacher.

Sam Demma
A lot of math teachers ask themselves the question, how do I make math fun? How do I make math engaging? How do I get students excited about math? In your experience, how do you do that?

Crystina Cardozo
Yeah, so I think you really have to connect to your students and you have to do some hands-on activities, you know. It’s easier depending on what the subject is. So for example, I remember specifically when I took a geometry class in high school, that was actually one class I struggled in. And it’s funny because a lot of people who like geometry usually don’t like math or algebra. And I loved algebra and every other class but geometry. And then I took the class in college, I had to take a geometry class. And then when I student taught, that was one course that I was required to student teach. And my love of geometry completely switched. Like I was having the students really do hands-on activities, and it became one of my favorite classes to student teach. And then when I became a high school math teacher, that was actually a course that I was teaching on a full-time level, and I enjoyed it even more. So I think when you can really, like I said, connect to your kids and just do fun things, hands-on activities where the kids can actually do something physically that they’re going to remember later, then it just makes it a lot more fun.

Sam Demma
Out of all the hands-on activities you’ve done or continue to do with students, what is one that you enjoy the most or return to if you’re with a new group because you know it’s really impactful and people love participating in it?

Crystina Cardozo
Yeah, so I’m going to think back to when I was teaching algebra at the high school level and I remember teaching slope. And I actually created this big board where there was a car. And it’s funny because it was with high schoolers, but I literally took like Velcro and I had this car like driving up the slope and I was trying to explain to students, you know, from left to right, you know, this is a positive slope or left to right if it’s going down the hill is negative And then I just saw the kids like, you know as if a light bulb went off like oh I get it now So I literally had to physically I created this, I Created this project and then I remember doing it with my class and I did it every year with my class So they watched me do it and then it just it stuck with them, you know? And they ended up telling me, man, you know, we’ve been learning algebra, let’s say, since Algebra 1, I think this was an Algebra 2 course that I was teaching, and they also are, they also talk about slope and geometry as well. So I think it was like two or three years that they had heard of slope, but it just wasn’t clicking. So when you do these hands-on activities, something fun like that, then I know it was an activity that they probably didn’t ever forget and then it just stuck in their mind what it really represented. 

Sam Demma
I love the idea of building a visual that people can hold, grab, and interact with in the classroom. I loved those types of experiences. I never had them in math class. So math teachers, there’s one great idea right there. When you think about your role teaching in the classroom versus your role today, what is the main difference? Because there might be some educators listening who don’t have math coaches in their buildings and would love to be one, propose it to their school boards, or just better understand what the role is. 

Crystina Cardozo
Yeah. So, a lot of people, when I talk to teachers and I explain to them what I do, that I support the teachers, right? So I run grade level meetings. Let’s say I have a first grade level meeting and we’re talking about data or we’re talking about their timeline and we’re talking about activities and we’re talking about all the things to prep or things that they’re struggling in and we’re literally meeting with other teachers too but I’m facilitating that meeting. It’s just a time for them to reflect, to talk to other people and then I can give them ideas. I feel like as a math coach, I actually learn so much because when you’re a math teacher, you’re really just stuck in your one class, right? And you don’t get to see all the great things that other people are doing. So as a math coach, luckily, I’m able to go into so many other classes. And then sometimes during a grade level meeting, I’ll share it with other teachers. Like, oh, I just saw this one teacher do this amazing thing, so I can bring that up. But yeah, it is really like a luxury, people tell me, because we also create assessments as math coaches. And that’s something that if you don’t have a coach, sometimes you, and you’re teaching all these other subjects, but sometimes you’re also responsible for teaching your own assessments. You have to figure out your data on your own. So if you do see that position, and you have some experience as a math teacher, then I would definitely look into that.

Sam Demma
What does the day in the life of a math coach look like from start of the school day to end of the school day?

Crystina Cardozo
Yeah, so every day it’s different. Some days we might meet with other math coaches. So we specifically, we have seven elementary schools in our district, so there’s seven of us math coaches, so we’ll all meet together, and then it’s ran by the math supervisor. So she’ll have a message for us, and then we make sure that we relay those messages to our teachers in our own buildings. And then mostly in our own buildings, we are meeting a lot with the principal because we wanna make sure we’re on the same page with the principal, and our principal always wants to make sure, like, she knows what’s going on because we have more insight into, let’s say, the math classrooms than she might be able to know. You know, we are also working, like I said before, on assessments, on data, looking at preparing for our next meetings. And then when we have more free time, if we’re not, you know, looking at budgets and orders and so forth, then we can actually go into the classrooms. And then we also meet with teachers one-on-one, specifically new teachers. But what’s also nice is we can just pop in in a classroom and we can be a second pair of pants for those math teachers.

Sam Demma
It sounds like the numbers are a big part of your life, not only with teachers, but with students, with assessments. Tell me a little bit about, and the educator listening to this, all the different ways you use numbers in your everyday life, including some of your own ventures.

Crystina Cardozo
Yeah, so I do love numbers, and I think what I love most about it is just the real life application. And so I get excited when I’m looking through a math problem, and sometimes you see silly math problems, like, you know, if Johnny’s going to the supermarket and buying 50 cauliflowers, right? Like that’s not realistic. That’s not a real life application. But sometimes you come across these math problems where they are real life application. And personally, I’ve actually taken it a little bit further. I think it’s this combination of growing up with my mom as a CPA and always working with numbers, but with money, I specifically have grown this business where I teach parents, teachers, and children about personal finance, and so the math you need in financial literacy. And so many people, I believe, so many people have this math anxiety, and that’s what hinders them from actually getting comfortable with money, because they just look at it like there’s numbers, right? And because they have this math anxiety, they’re thinking and they say, I can’t do numbers, I can’t do math, right? And they just accept that. And so that means they won’t even try and look at a budget or they won’t even try to look at a spreadsheet, right? Because they just associate that these numbers and I can’t add and subtract, right? Or so forth are all related when it’s not.

Sam Demma
I remember the first time I got a credit card and my dad sat me down and gave me a good lesson on ensuring I make my monthly payments or else. And I’m curious, what are some of those real life application scenarios you would be sharing with educators, parents, and students? It’s definitely different because they’re in different age ranges but what are some of those examples you share with them and talk through during your sessions, your workshops, or even just one-on-one conversations?

Crystina Cardozo
Yeah, so one big thing that I do talk about is credit cards, and the reason why is because I know for a fact, because I know people who were victims of this, that when you go off to college, sometimes there are events hosted at the college, and there are many credit card companies, and they’re actually telling young adults that, oh, you just need to pay the minimum. So if you, as a parent, don’t give your child that lesson, you know, then what’s going to happen is they might hear that for the first time from somebody else, like from a credit card company, telling them the wrong things, and then that can just change the trajectory of their life, right? And then they might not be comfortable with talking about money. So that’s another big thing that I talk about, making sure that money is not a taboo topic in the house. I really stress that. So I have two young boys, they’re six and ten, and they know that we can just talk money, right? And not like I’m lecturing to them, but they just feel comfortable enough with me that they can ask me, you know, my six-year-old just asked me like, where’s your money? Because he has money that he saves in a jar and he’s just like looking through my drawers like where is your jar? Where is the money you keep? And so it’s just, you know, we’re really comfortable about talking about things and he’s not too young. You know, a lot of times people think that kids are too young if they’re six, but there’s actually studies that kids as young as three years old know the basics of needs versus wants, right? And that’s where it all starts. And then kids as young as seven actually have the skills that will carry with them through adulthood. So, and they’re learning all these skills just by watching parents. So again, talking about money, like a non-taboo topic, and then something as simple as like credit cards because that’s pretty huge.

Sam Demma
What do you think educators need to hear when it comes to financial literacy, or what are some of the things you would share in a workshop for teachers? 

Crystina Cardozo
Yeah, so the workshops that I do with teachers are actually for personal finance and business teachers. So they’re the ones that are teaching those high school students anyways. So yeah. So I make sure that they’re doing something that’s relatable to students, right? Like we’ll talk about crypto because a lot of times kids are talking about crypto anyways to their friends. So, you know, that’s a conversation. Let’s have a conversation with other teachers because you don’t want to say the wrong thing or you don’t want to say, you know, I don’t know and you don’t want to be open to learning because what’s going to happen is they’re going to get their news or their information maybe from a wrong person or from social media. And we can’t guarantee that that is always the right information.

Sam Demma
I love that. It’s so important that those conversations are had so that we make educated choices. I think back to a time in my life where I had a group of friends who were like, Sam, you got to invest in these four stocks. I did the research. It’s going to be amazing. And I guess I was just absorbed by the energy of these folks and invested in some stuff and totally tanked. I had a terrible financial disaster from that little situation. Luckily, it wasn’t a crazy amount of money or anything like that. But I think having conversations like the ones you’re mentioning in a classroom setting, in school, would have helped me make a better choice in the future. I’m curious, have you had any financial challenges yourself? Sometimes when we want to help other people with certain things, it’s because we’ve had previous experience in our own lives. And of course, only if you’re comfortable sharing. I’m just curious if there’s any personal connection to finance. Yeah, for sure. So I think I was really good

Crystina Cardozo
Yeah, for sure. So I think I was really good with saving my money. As a kid, I had a journal. Well, first of all, let’s say my mom actually introduced me to the envelope method when I was a child. So I had an envelope for saving, spending and for giving. So I knew the basics of savings at a really young age. She opened up a bank account for me and I remember, you know, stocking my coins and, you know, any allowance money or any money that I got, birthday money or whatever, and bringing it to the bank. That was fun. I worked as early as I could. So for me at the time, it was age 14 was the legal age for me to start working, and that’s when I started working. And I had other extracurricular activities, but for me, it was really important that I wanted to work. And so I wanted to make my own money. So fast forward many years, I got really good with saving, and I was able to save a good chunk of money, but I didn’t really learn the power of investing, right? And I find that I wasn’t really financially whole until I learned the power of investing. And what I did learn in my journey is that you can’t save your way to wealth. And that’s a message that I tell parents because sometimes parents or adults they think, you know, well I can’t reach that amount of money, I can’t, that goal is too big or it’s non-realistic. But the thing is if you don’t start somewhere you’re never going to get anywhere. And also you have to realize that now we have the beauty of investing, like fractional shares, and you don’t need a whole lot of money to get started investing. There’s not the fees that there were just a few years ago. And so, that’s one thing that I didn’t know until later was the power of investing. And once I learned that, to me, I just want to make sure that I share that message, especially with parents, because parents can start so young for their kids. Like for my son, he already has a retirement account already open. And that’s going to be huge, because he has so long to go.

Crystina Cardozo
But if you are, anyone listening, is a business owner, you can have your child work as an employee. And there’s no age requirement to be an employee. So you’re able, once you establish your child as an employee, then you can open up a Roth retirement account. It’s actually a custodial Roth retirement account. Besides other things like 529 plans for colleges and so forth, which is what I had right when they both were babies, but that’s one thing. A retirement account is just going to grow for decades for my kids. So that’s an important thing that I love to share.

Sam Demma
I love the idea of getting started as early as possible. I also love the phrase, you can’t save your way to wealth. How do you personally define wealth when talking about it with other people? 

Crystina Cardozo
Yeah, so for me, being wealthyis just kind of enjoying your life, right? So you’re not stressed out with the day-to-day, I have to work, I have to go maybe to this miserable job or I’m living paycheck to paycheck, right? And also I think about wealth and being financially literate as just having this plan, right, you have this plan of action, you know when you’re gonna retire, you know what is coming in in terms of income, you know what is going out in terms of expenses, right? It doesn’t mean if you’re wealthy that you’re not working, but you have a plan in action of maybe, you know, when you’re going to retire, maybe that’s retiring early, and there’s this whole movement with that as well. And so I believe really, if you can reach the point that you know, you have multiple sources of income, that’s another thing. You have things that are working for you in case you might lose that job. And I think we all learned that with COVID, right? It’s important to have other sources of income. Then I think you’re on your path to, you know, wealth.

Sam Demma
You’ve toyed with the idea of creating books on financial literacy. You’ve developed programs locally in your community. What are some of the resources that you’ve drawn on or found very valuable when educating yourself about financial literacy?

Crystina Cardozo
Yeah. So, podcasts are huge. I do love listening to podcasts. And it’s funny because that’s actually, while I was listening to a podcast, my son was absorbing information as well. He was seven at the time. He’s 10 now. And I was listening to a podcast in the car and I was really thinking about making the shift of just being in control of my own retirement accounts instead of having a financial advisor I was just like oh I can do this by myself and I was just reading different books and learning and so forth So I’d say books, podcasts, YouTube. Those are all great information, you know talking to different financial advisors as well Just to be educated on the topic. But it was a podcast that I realized my son was absorbing this information. And then I heard him talk to other family and friends about investing in real estate and investing in stocks. And I’m like, the boy is seven. I haven’t even sat down and talked to him about this. And then he told me that he wanted to open up an investment account. And I looked at him like, what? And he was like, yeah, we heard on the podcast. And again, I’m thinking he’s not paying attention. But he was like, no, I was listening and I wanna open up my own, you know, brokerage account and invest. I remember asking him, what do you wanna invest in? He’s like, Tesla. And so I wish I would have invested, you know, a significant amount when he said that. Because this was, you know, this was three years ago, over three years ago. But anyways, you know how they say, the kids will do what you do and not what you say. And so I think that’s an important message to really just listen, be open to learning different things. If it’s, you know, if books are your thing, you know, audio books or podcasts, I think there are so many great resources to just expanding your knowledge.

Sam Demma
I love it. Podcasts is a great one. People that are listening to this right now are getting some of that information through the Podcast Avenue. Books are awesome as well. Can you talk a little bit about your book concept or idea? I know there’s a lot of educators that are listening to this that would just love to hear about that brainchild of yours.

Crystina Cardozo
Yeah, so the book that I’m writing. So I’m writing a fictional graphic novel for children. Hopefully it will be out within the next month or two illustrations are taking a little bit longer than expected. But the whole idea behind it is a fictional book, so kids are actually, hopefully they’re like hooked to this storyline. And it’s about kids who love soccer, but there’s so much more that I’ve attached to that. So they go to this Academy and they also learn of financial literacy skills that are also associated with the game and the sport of soccer. And so I tied those two together because there’s so many life skills that you can get from both soccer and financial literacy. So I was able to try to merge those skills together. And yeah, so I’m super excited for it. And the person who I was writing the book for is my son, who is 10 years old. And so that’s really the age group that I’m gearing it towards. Maybe 8 to 12 year olds would still enjoy it. But yeah, I’m super excited for that.

Sam Demma
I’m sure I’m super excited about it. I’m sure I speak on behalf of everyone who’s listening. They’re also super excited about it. When it’s available, they would love to grab a copy and reach out and ask questions. What would be the best way for them to follow along your journey to see that and other things that you continue to work on in 2024 and onward?

Crystina Cardozo
Yeah. So, I’m also a real estate investor. I do love running the numbers and those aspects. I do also talk about personal finance with my own kids. So, I’m mostly active on Instagram. You can find me at She Runs The Numbers on Instagram, or you can find me on LinkedIn. I’m a little less active there, but yeah, definitely feel free to send me a message. I will always respond and I can connect with you or help you with any questions that you have.

Sam Demma
If you could go back and speak to your younger self when you maybe had some hesitation around getting involved in your own finances because of the fear that surrounds the space, knowing what you know now, what advice would you give your younger self when you were just getting into it?

Crystina Cardozo
Yeah, I would say definitely have a plan. So I also knew at a young age, I’ll share this story. So when I was studying to be a teacher in college, there was a time where we had a specific retirement age, I think age 52 or 55. And then while I was in college, like it was literally like the last year that I was graduating, they upped it. And then I think a few more years they upped it again. And so all I kept saying was, I, then they changed different things. Like before health insurance used to be included when you were to retire. And that still was the case when I was in college. So all the teachers knew that they didn’t have to pay health insurance when they retire, but then things change and so forth. So anyways when I graduated from college, I kept saying I’m not gonna work until I’m 65 You know like how you know They just increased it by 10 years and I kept saying I’m not going to work until this age But I didn’t have a plan and so now if I can go back, I would have started my plan really early and say, okay, I can be on track to retire at a much earlier age, but I need to have a plan. How much am I investing? How much am I putting away into multiple buckets to guarantee me to not work until I’m 65? And I didn’t learn that until later on to really make that action plan.

Sam Demma
And you mentioned it just briefly that one of the buckets you spend most of your time investing in learning about is real estate. Is there a reason why you dove so deeply into real estate as opposed to all the other options? 

Crystina Cardozo
Yeah, so I kind of stumbled across real estate maybe 12 or 13 years ago. My husband and I were looking for a place to live and we’re looking for an apartment. And then I was also doing some math and figuring out, well, if we put down this amount of money for this house, which is a really, you know, the lowest amount possible, which was 3.5%, if we only put down 3.5%, our mortgage and the current rate of rent is going to be the same thing. And actually we’re gonna get so much more if we buy this house. And so we went down that path and we actually decided whatever place that we buy, we wanna make sure that we can house half, where we can have some area of the house that we can rent out to other people. So we found this house and we closed on it and it actually had a walkout basement. We created like a three bedroom apartment downstairs and it pretty much paid for our mortgage. Really early on, I found the power of real estate. Even at that point, I realized, wow, my mortgage is almost paid for, but I didn’t realize until years later about the power of appreciation. When you combine having your mortgage almost paid for and you have the power of appreciation, then that was a no brainer. Like, wow, real estate is something that, you know, it just had the light bulb go off. Like, wow, this is something that we can feasibly do at that time. Now it’s a little bit more challenging, right? But it’s something that we can do that’s going to get us closer to, you know, creating this, you know, building wealth for ourselves. And I still believe that real estate is the way to go. I think you just really have to be careful with like running your numbers and just analyzing deals before you make a decision. And this can go for your primary house too, because just because it’s your primary house doesn’t mean that you want to make a bad decision. And a lot of times we make emotional decisions when we buy that primary house. So I would say make a rational decision, still make sure that your numbers make sense, still think about the appreciation in the area before you make that big final purchase of a house.

Sam Demma
It’s such good advice to keep in mind, even for myself as I’m entering into my mid-20s, not quite there yet, but I’ll be thinking about that. For busy educators listening to this who might be overwhelmed with the idea of diving into buying properties or fixing up properties or hunting down cool deals, maybe the first step is house hacking. Can you talk a little bit about what house hacking is, just in case there’s any educators that aren’t aware of it?

Crystina Cardozo
Yes, so house hacking is where you literally have a portion of your house that generates income. Now for some people, that might be you get a three-bedroom house and you rent out two of those three bedrooms to your friends. Or it might be like you are renting out your garage or your driveway or your backyard pool. There’s so many apps nowadays that allows you to rent out different portions of your house. But if you have this space and you can actually generate income from it, then that’s always the first approach that I think that I would suggest. And I did it with kids. My son was, up until he was two, we were still house hacking before we moved to the other house. So I get it. Some people are like, oh, I can’t do that. I have kids.

Crystina Cardozo
I did it. I had a newborn, even though we had somebody living downstairs. It’s kind of like apartment living in a way, but you think about what sacrifices are you willing to make. If I told you that you could have almost your whole mortgage paid off, would that be a sacrifice that you would be ready to commit to? So you have to weigh your options.

Sam Demma
Is there any odd part of the house you’ve heard someone rent out or house hack before that made you laugh or chuckle because even you thought, oh, that was impossible?

Crystina Cardozo
Yeah, I mean, I think when I heard about the driveway, I was like, really? Like there’s an app to rent out your driveway? And I will tell you, my neighbor does that too. And so he actually has two driveways, which is just amazing. Because he can literally keep two of his cars on one side and then he rents to a landscaping company for the other side. So they have like their landscaping trucks, like a few trucks on his driveway, but he rents that out.

Sam Demma
That’s so smart. And it’s such an easy way to get started with making another little stream of revenue and investing your money and your time somewhere. This has been a phenomenal conversation. So many ideas. My mind is going in a hundred different directions. I’m excited for your book. I’m excited to hack my house when I make a rational decision to make my first home purchase. Just again, reiterate, where can educators or any of the listeners connect with you online if they want to ask a question or follow your journey?

Crystina Cardozo
Yeah, for sure. Connect with me on Instagram @sherunsthenumbers. Again, my name is Crystina. And you could also connect with me on LinkedIn and you can find me at Crystina Cardozo on LinkedIn.

Sam Demma
Christina, this was such a great conversation. Thank you so much for taking the time. Keep running the numbers and I’ll talk to you soon.

Crystina Cardozo
Thank you so much for having me, Sam. It’s been a blast.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Crystina Cardozo

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.

Kim O’Brien and Lori Friedman — Literacy and Match Coaches at Claremont Elementary School (NJ)

Kim O'Brien and Laurie Friedman — Literacy and Match Coaches at Claremont Elementary School (NJ)
About Kim O’Brien and Lori Friedman

Kim O’Brien is a veteran Elementary teacher of 35 years. She is currently a Math Instructional Coach in Franklin Park, New Jersey. Kim has taught in Texas, New York, and New Jersey. She has a Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Instruction. Kim is currently seeking a certificate in Dyscalculia, difficulty in performing mathematical calculations resulting from damage to the brain. She hopes to provide early interventions for students in need.

Lori Friedman (@LFriedman_FTPS) has over 40 years in education. Lori has two masters degrees, one in Creative Arts Education from Rutgers Graduate School of Education in New Jersey, and one in Reading Instruction and Supervision from Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey. Lori is a certified reading specialist. Lori began her career in 1982 as a Kindergarten Teacher in South Plainfield, New Jersey. Lori was the owner director of “Play and Grow Learning Center” in Somerset, New Jersey, for 12 years before going back to being a public school teacher in 2006. Lori has spent most of her early career as a preschool and kindergarten teacher. In 2015 Lori became an Instructional Literacy Coach in Franklin Township, New Jersey and is currently working at Claremont Elementary School. Lori takes pride in the daily work she does helping teachers be better reading and writing teachers!

Connect with Kim: Email | LinkedIn

Connect with Lori: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Instruction – University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA)

Creative Arts Education – Rutgers Graduate School of Education

Reading Instruction and Supervision – Fairleigh Dickinson University

Play and Grow Learning Center in Somerset, New Jersey

Claremont Elementary School

Franklin Park Public Schools

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and keynote speaker, Sam Demma. Today we are doing something different. We have two guests on the same episode. Tuning in today is Kim O’Brien and Lori Friedman  from New Jersey. Lori Friedman has been teaching in education for over 30 years. She has two master’s degrees, one in creative arts and education and one in reading instruction. She’s a certified reading specialist. She began her career in 1982 as a kindergarten teacher. She was also the owner of Play and Grow Learning Center in Somerset, New Jersey for 12 years before going back to being a public school teacher in 2006. She spent most of her early career as a preschool and kindergarten teacher, and in 2015 became an instructional literacy coach in Franklin Township, New Jersey, and is currently working at Claremont Elementary School. She takes pride in the daily work she does in helping teachers be better readers and humans for their students. Our second guest is Kim O’Brien. Kim is a veteran elementary teacher of 35 years, and she is currently a math instructional coach in Franklin Park, New Jersey. She has taught in Texas, New York, and New Jersey, has a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction. Kim is currently seeking a certificate in dyscalculia, difficulty in performing mathematical calculations resulting from damage to the brain. She hopes to provide early interventions for students in need. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Lori and Kim, and I will see you on the other side. From New Jersey, we have my good friend, my new friend, Kim O’Brien and Lori Friedman. Thank you so much for coming on the show today. Please take a moment to introduce yourself.

Kim O’Brien
Hello, Sam, and greetings to your lovely listeners. Thank you so much for having us on Performing Educators today. My name is Kim O’Brien, and I’ve been in elementary education for 35 years. I’ve taught grades one to six in Texas, New York, and New Jersey. I hold a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction, and I’m currently a math instructional coach for the last 17 years in New Jersey, where I currently reside. And I’m actually in a process on my own of getting a certificate as a discalculate tutor or specialist, which is when students have difficulty performing mathematical calculations resulting from brain damage. Oh wow. Coming soon and so hopefully I could like diagnose and put a plan together and do that as well.

Sam Demma
I love it, that’s amazing. And one thing that’s not on Kim’s intro is she is also a tea specialist. They have this nice tea machine in their office and any tea you want you can get. Lori, introduce yourself for everyone tuning in. 

Lori Friedman
It’s hard to follow up with Kim, but I’ve asked. So I’ve been in education for over 40 years. I’m older. I have two master’s degrees, one in creative arts education from Rutgers University and one in reading instruction and supervision from Fairleigh Dickinson University. I started teaching kindergarten in a public school in 1982. I took a break from public school for a bit and I owned my own preschool for 12 years. And then in 2006 I decided to go back to public school teaching and most of my public school career has been in pre-k and kindergarten. After getting my reading certification from Fairleigh Dickinson, I decided to get myself out of the classroom and became an instructional literacy coach in 2015. And I’ve been doing that since then and now proudly continuing to do that.

Sam Demma
I think I’m going to just leave the podcast and allow you two to interview each other if that works. I’m feeling a little bit like I can’t follow these introductions.

Kim O’Brien
Listen, we’ve been working together for a long time. So we only had like two years apart, your whole career as a coach, right, Lori? Yeah. So yeah, she’s my partner in crime.

Lori Friedman
Kim and I are, I was just sharing with somebody, we’re complete opposites. For everything that Kim is, I’m not, and for everything that I am, Kim’s not. And I think that’s why we work together very well. We’re not at the point where we complete each other’s sentences, but we probably definitely consider Kim my work wife.

Sam Demma
That’s amazing. For everyone tuning in, especially, you know, north of the States, who is unfamiliar with having literacy coaches and math coaches in some of their school buildings. Tell me a little bit more about the role of being a math coach and the role, Lori, of being a literacy coach.

Kim O’Brien
Okay, well, I mean, coaching in general is just to improve the quality of instruction, which therefore leads to student achievement, and that’s why our district has coaches. We help teachers stay fresh with the latest techniques and technologies in the classroom. We do it in three ways. We do it directly where we actually model lessons for them so they can see what’s expected. We do it indirectly by discussion, providing materials and ideas, through grade level meetings and PDs that we do on site, and collaboratively, we do it with co-teaching and planning together. And this is where we can talk to teachers and their colleagues about what we’ve noticed while we visit their classrooms, we review the curriculum and the standards that they’re currently teaching. We answer any questions or concerns they might have. We do sometimes faculty meetings, district PDs, analyze and review data. I think we kind of cover it all. We’re even counselors to the teachers when they want to have a breakdown, which just happened today, by the way. But we do family nights. And so, you know, yeah, there’s a lot going on in our roles.

Lori Friedman
Yeah, we’re definitely not, on any given day, we could be doing any one of those given things. So it keeps our job responsibilities fresh. It keeps us fresh, keeps us on our toes. I mean, as a literacy coach in our district, we’re rolling out a brand new curriculum this year that the literacy team has been fighting for for about the past 10 years. Wow. It’s pretty exciting for me to be part of that process after fighting for it for so long and then finally having it happen. So, you know, as a literacy coach, my role is to teach teachers how to teach reading, writing, and foundational skills. Can’t do anything else, math, science, social studies, without reading, right? So I take my role as a literacy coach seriously. And then this year, especially, with rolling out a new curriculum, has been extremely rewarding, but at the same time difficult. Nobody likes change. It’s always difficult at first, messy in the middle, and hopefully by the end it’s beautiful. Well, that’s another thing about instructional coaching.

Kim O’Brien
We’re not administrators. We are teachers. It’s lateral move, actually, coming out from the classroom into our position. It’s just different. And so we don’t have an authority to make anybody do anything. That’s our administration. We could just bring to the table what we’ve learned, what we’ve read, and all that, but we can’t make them do it. They closed their doors, they could do what they want. We hope that they trust us enough to listen to us and take our advice, but it’s basically a no-judgment zone, totally a collaboration, because if you have that, no one’s going to come to you.

Lori Friedman
In addition to that one of the biggest things that we have to get through as an instructional coach is that building of trust in a relationship Confidentiality. Respect all those things that make you know working partnerships Difficult but also very beneficial. I think trust is one of the biggest things that I strive for in confidentiality. I want my teachers to know that when they come to me with a concern, whether it’s professional or personal, that I’m gonna be there to listen, not to judge, and to kind of help them through the growing pains.

Sam Demma
What do you tell an educator who is struggling or having a meltdown? Because there’s so many educators that feel burnt out and overwhelmed at Different times in their careers, and I’m sure you deal with those situations a lot even today. 

Lori Friedman
Yeah, I mean, I think it’s you know take a deep breath You know it’s validating how a person is feeling whether you agree with them or not. It’s letting them share, being a good listener, validating how they’re feeling, and collaboratively coming up with a plan, collaboratively coming up with strategies that can help the teacher or staff member feel better in their own skin or better in the moment. It is, like Kim said before, I mean, our office sometimes can be a therapy session, where somebody comes in with a personal or professional problem, and they trust us enough to have those conversations. And usually, after conversations and validation and brainstorming and collaborating, it’s helpful. You know, it’s helpful for them. It’s exhausting for us, but it is helpful. It’s one of the better parts of our job is being able to be there for teachers. I mean, having just gone through the pandemic and COVID and having to transition to, you know, virtual learning and then coming back and the emotional roller coasters of students and of teachers. I mean, it’s been a it’s been a trying couple years for educators.

Kim O’Brien
I mean, you’ve seen our office, right? So, we have a nice space, but we try to make it welcoming, right? That’s why we offer, we have snacks and we have coffee and we have tea and a microwave and a refrigerator and, you know, I decorate every holiday because I’m sorry, every month. I’m thinking this holiday. It’s a living decorator. But they come and it’s just a place where you just kind of want to be. And that’s part of developing relationships with everybody. So they want to come in. They want to talk to us personally. That’s fine. Professionally, that’s even better because that’s what we’re there for, right?

Lori Friedman
every month.

Kim O’Brien
I’m sorry, every month. I’m thinking this holiday. It’s a living decorator. But they come and it’s just a place where you just kind of want to be. And that’s part of developing relationships with everybody. So they want to come in. They want to talk to us personally. That’s fine. Professionally, that’s even better because that’s what we’re there for, right?

Kim O’Brien
But when we go into classrooms, the students get to know us as well. It’s like the visiting grandparent. We get in, have a lot of fun, and then we get out. We’re the teachers, they’re all there, like the parents, like, yeah, this is great. I loved it, you know, but we don’t have to deal with the behaviors for the next six hours. And it’s just I Miss working with the students because I primarily work with this with the teachers but it’s good when we go in and model and co-teach because then we get that experience all over again and And we put ourself in the position of the teacher so we could actually say oh I did that lesson or I know what you’re talking about. It’s not that easy or you know, what did you think? Because I need big feedback too.

Lori Friedman
Also part of our role is we do something in our district for students who are struggling and teachers are struggling with strategies to help them. So it’s our job to be part of the conversation between the administrative team and the teachers and sometimes parents to kind of brainstorm strategies to help the students who are struggling prior to that special ed, you know, child study team referral where we kind of front load with the teachers who are, you know, I’ve done everything that I can to help this student and they’re still a struggling reader. What can I do to help them? So we get to know the students better by doing that too, when we’re called in to do those kinds of things, which are pretty regular, especially after COVID.

Sam Demma
Gotcha. Laurie, you said you owned a preschool for, I believe you said 12 years. Tell me a little bit more about how you think, as educators, we build relationships with students?

Lori Friedman
It’s funny because the preschool that I owned I taught at for many years before I bought it. Oh, cool. So, I was an employee and then Labor Day weekend I found out that the school was for sale. So, I purchased the school over Labor Day weekend and on Tuesday after Labor Day we came back into session. I was no longer a colleague, I was a boss. So that was kind of an interesting part of my educational tenure as far as rebuilding relationships. And I’m no longer a peer, I’m your boss. But I think that part of relationship building, I think, and Kim would probably agree with me, is that getting to know, and we do this, the teachers do this with our students too. We call it being culturally responsive. Getting to know the teacher on a personal level, so like when you have a conversation with them, you know, a teacher who might have been out because a child was sick, you know, starting off the conversation with how is your son? How is your daughter? How was your vacation? Or I know you’re you know, you just had a parent that passed away like Meeting them at where we’re what’s important for them, right? So getting to know that personally before you get to know them professionally and Then I think just building on that there is the respect and the trust is just huge in building relationships with teachers. And it’s not a straight road. There’s bumps in the road. Kim and I have both had situations where we’ve not made the right wrong choices, but might not have handled something the right way. And I can remember a situation when I first became a coach where I called a teacher out on something and she was upset with me and went right to the principal and shared the situation with her and the principal came to me and basically said, Lori, please tell me that you didn’t just tell so-and-so to put their big girl pants on. So, I mean that was a learning experience for me. I’ve never told anybody to put on their big girl pants.

Kim O’Brien
Right, so it was a shock for me just to hear that she said that, because I was like, you know, this is not you.

Lori Friedman
Right, I consider myself imperfectly perfect, even in the professional world. And I had never yet, I think we used to have a sign in our office that said something about putting your big girl pants on. But I’ve never told a teacher that since then. You know, that was, you know, a couple years ago.

Kim O’Brien
I couldn’t believe it came out of her mouth. I just couldn’t.

Sam Demma
It was a learning. We all, we all, we all make mistakes and learn from them right.

Lori Friedman
So, I mean, with every mistake or flounder that you have, you learn how to be a better coach and how to be a better colleague and be a better partner. It’s just part of the process. 

Sam Demma
I think even humanizing that is really important. You know, we’re not perfect and sometimes there’s this pressure placed on us that we have to say and do the right thing at all times and one error in our actions is gonna define our entire lives and careers. No, it’s okay if you make a mistake. You know, it’s something that will help you grow and something to learn from. It’s just not okay if you do it another 50 times, because then it becomes a choice.

Lori Friedman
I think what you do with that mistake, what you do with the learning part of that, that makes you a better person. It makes you, right? We all have flaws. We all have mistakes. If you take those mistakes and learn from them, then it makes you a better person and you hope that you don’t do it again.

Kim O’Brien
Well, teachers definitely understand that concept because they teach it to the kids all the time. But for themselves, they have higher expectations and know they can’t, you know, and that’s the hard part. They have the A-type personality usually and, you know, things have to sometimes be too much order and so they’re hard on themselves. So part of, you know, the social-emotional learning that we give to the students, we as coaches try to give that to the teachers that we meet and open a meeting with, like how are you feeling today, or what was your best accomplishment, or name something good that happened in your content area, or something to that, you know what I mean, to get them a little bit more relaxed and in tune to themselves.

Sam Demma
How do you two stay energy filled? How do you take care of yourself so that you can pour into others?

Lori Friedman
Chocolate.

Lori Friedman
I mean, I think that, you know, we’re also pretty good at taking time to have conversations within ourselves, right? So, at the start of a day or when we came back from a vacation or at the end of a day or when we know that we’ve had a difficult situation or something, even something positive, I think we are good at taking time to have those social-emotional conversations, professional-personal conversations amongst the two of us. And we’re friends outside of the building. So, you know, that helps. We kind of, like I said, we’re each other’s work wife, so we know how each other ticks. And we know when one person needs just some space and quiet, and we know when one person needs the opposite.

Kim O’Brien
We know when one person shouldn’t send an email when they’re heated? I’m pressing it! I’m pressing it!

Lori Friedman
I know to completely stay away from the decorations that go on in our room because that’s all Kim stuff and if I do something wrong or put something in the wrong place, so I’ve learned her thing. You know, it’s just, I guess, with any working relationship, we’ve had to work at it. You know, I don’t know if I’ve ever told Kim this story, but the first time I ever, I think I have, but the first time I ever met Kim in district was at a PD. And I was intimidated by her. Like, totally intimidated. Oh my God, I’m going to be working with Kim O’Brien. It wasn’t a positive or a negative. She’s not me. I’m a very quiet person, and she’s the complete opposite. She was intimidating, but we just clicked from the very beginning. Just worked.

Sam Demma
It sounds like it’s important to just recognize your strengths and the strengths of others and balance those two things, right? You’re both different personalities and it fits because you don’t try and be something you’re not. You own your strengths and other people own theirs. I think that’s really important for teachers to remember that there is no one way to be to have an impact on the students or even the teachers you’re serving. You just, you have to be yourself and lean into your strengths. What are some of the strengths that you would say about each other if you had to say, hey, you know, Laurie, I think your strength is this, and Laurie, you could say Kim’s strength is this. What would those things be?

Kim O’Brien
Okay, I’ll go first. I have to say Laurie’s strength is being a phenomenal listener. Be patient. She offers great advice. She is very accommodating. She will, she does put others way before herself. She volunteers And I mean, there’s just, it’s funny because she just had a big birthday recently. I had to write down some things, you know, about her. And then she posted, they played a game within her family to see like who said what. And she knew right away that was mine. I’m not like the best writer and explaining my emotions, but she got me right on the sheet exactly which comment was mine. But that’s what I have to say. I think those are Lori’s, and very confidential.

Lori Friedman
Yeah, I finally turned 21.

Sam Demma
Let’s go, Lori.

Kim O’Brien
That means I’m 18 because I’m younger than you.

Lori Friedman
Well, I mean, a lot of the things that Kim said about me, she is too. I mean, she’s very organized. She’s great at problem-solving. She’s also a good listener when a teacher needs her to be or when I need her to be. She’s also good at thinking out of the box. She’s a better planner when we need to plan something. It’s like all right when are we going to do this because we need this to be done by X, Y, and Z and we need to make sure it’s done. So she’s more I’m more of a procrastinator when it comes to plans And she’s more of a let’s get it done now. She’s definitely a hundred and twenty five percent better when it comes to budgeting for anything we do We had to do a whole big title one budget this week and And she was insistent on finding $10 that we were off, and I walked away from it, and she found it. That’s cool. But obviously, she’s better at math than I am. But she’s a good collaborator. I mean, a lot of the things that she sees in me, I see in her. But again, there are things that I’m a better revision and editor and writer and she’s definitely better at anything when it comes to math or budgeting or ordering. She’s the go-to when it comes to us putting orders in for anything. I love spending money.

Sam Demma
Well I got more products if you’re trying to buy. I love this little activity that we just did during this podcast because sometimes educators forget their values and their strengths and what makes them so special and unique. I think it’s so important that we spend moments each day recognizing the greatness in others because what often happens is they’ll create moments to recognize the greatness in us. And it was so cool to just watch you two recognize each other real quick and I’m sure it slightly changed the way that you feel, not that you were having a bad day, but I just think of all the educators that forget how special they are and how a word of encouragement like that could go such a long way. 

Lori Friedman
Yeah, we’ve done activities like that as a building where you either like, one activity we did was everybody had a piece of paper taped to their back, and people had to go around and write things about the person whose the paper was on the back for, and just like positive things. And then the first year or two that we were here, we had big anchor charts around the gymnasium with our names on it,

Lori Friedman
and everybody kind of did the same thing. We did a wrap around the cafeteria and just wrote down something about that person that was positive In my office because it’s probably one of the most Meaningful things that I’ve done as an instructional coach is to look back on those and see how everybody thinks of me, you know, without having to say it.

Sam Demma
Right, I love that a great idea to if educators you’re looking for things to do with your colleagues steal that idea This has been a really fun and insightful conversation Thank you both for taking the time to talk a little bit about what it means to be a coach math coach literacy coach sharing some of your beliefs around building relationships and supporting educators if There is somebody listening to this. Can I share and they reach out asking for your information. Are you okay if I share your email address so an educator could reach out to Ask some questions. Yeah, absolutely Okay, awesome. Well, keep up the great work keep decorating the office space and I look forward to seeing you both again, hopefully in March Okay, awesome. Well, keep up the great work keep decorating the office space and I look forward to seeing you both again, hopefully in March.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Kim O’Brien & Lori Friedman

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.

Lindsay Reynoldson — Leadership and Physical Education Teacher at Rutland Senior Secondary

Lindsay Reynoldson — Leadership and Physical Education Teacher at Rutland Senior Secondary
About Lindsay Reynoldson

Lindsay Reynoldson is a Leadership and Physical Education teacher at Rutland Senior Secondary School in Kelowna. She was the chairperson of the 2023 British Columbia Student Leadership Conference hosted at RSS, and she is a member of the British Columbia Association of Student Activity Advisors.

Lindsay has been teaching for 10 years in Kelowna and Fort St. John, B.C. She is a strong advocate for creating connections with students, and she believes that every student has the ability to achieve greatness. Lindsay works to create a culture in her classroom where students feel safe and heard, feel comfortable trying new things and making mistakes, and where everybody feels welcome. Lindsay also coaches rugby and volleyball at her school, is a curricular leader, and is currently in her final courses of her Master’s of Education Program at UBC O.

Connect with Lindsay: Email | Instagram

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Rutland Senior Secondary School

British Columbia Student Leadership Conference

British Columbia Association of Student Activity Advisors (BCASAA)

Bachelor of Kinesiology (BKin) – University of British Columbia

Canadian Student Leadership Association (CSLA)

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
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator Podcast. This is your host, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is a good friend of mine, Lindsay Renoldson. Lindsay is a leadership and physical education teacher at Rutland Senior Secondary School in Kelowna. She was the chairperson of the 2023 British Columbia Association of Student Activity Advisors. Lindsay has been teaching for 10 years in Kelowna and Fort St. John, B.C.

Sam Demma
She’s a strong advocate for creating connections with students, and she believes that every student has the ability to achieve greatness. Lindsay works to create a culture in her classroom where students feel safe and heard, feel comfortable trying new things and making mistakes and where everybody feels welcome. Lindsay also coaches rugby and volleyball at her school, is a curriculum leader, and is currently in her final courses of her Master’s of Education program at UBC. I hope you enjoy this insightful conversation with Lindsay and I will see you on the other side. Lindsay, please for everyone tuning in, take a moment to introduce yourself.

Lindsay Reynoldson
Hi, Sam. Yes, my name is Lindsay Renoldson, and I am a teacher at Rutland Senior Secondary in Kelowna, BC. I teach leadership and physical education. I’m also a volleyball and rugby coach, and super excited to be here with you today.

Sam Demma
We met at the British Columbia Student Leadership Conference, and you teach leadership. It sounds like that is a big part of your experience in education. Why do you love the work that you do in student leadership and how long have you been doing it?

Lindsay Reynoldson
So I’ve been doing student leadership since I first started teaching actually. My first job was PE in leadership in Fort St. John and I really love it because I find I get to connect with the kids in a different way than I do in academic settings. And I also love leadership because there’s a spot for everybody to contribute in the class and really just seeing the growth of students through their four-year span where I’ve had students that come in super timid not really wanting to talk to their peers and by the end of their fourth year in grade 12 they’re running a pep rally in front of 500 plus students. So it’s really awesome to see the growth that students have and just see all the opportunities that it can provide for students. 

Sam Demma
When you were a student yourself, were you in a leadership classroom?

Lindsay Reynoldson
So I was in a student council classroom, so I was really big into student council. When I was in school, I didn’t have time to take leadership in my courses because I was taking all the sciences and everything else, and I literally had no room. But we did, our leadership teacher from my school also did student council, so I was always doing student council. I was involved in like the orientation stuff. So anywhere I could get involved in my school, I did. Yeah.

Sam Demma
Okay, cool. Awesome. And when you think back to your own experience through school, was there a teacher you had that had a big impact on you? And if so, what did that teacher do that made a big difference? 

Lindsay Reynoldson
Yeah. So I actually had quite a few teachers, I would say, that made a big impact on me. I know I had one physical education teacher that was, she was also one of my coaches. She was just amazing. And I had another French teacher and rugby coach that’s just amazing. And I think the big thing about them is they just really cared about their students as individuals and not like, they weren’t just there to do their job and go home. They really took an interest in their students and just provided us with so many opportunities that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. Like our rugby coach took us to Disneyland was one of our trips and she made that possible. But she was just one of the most incredible human beings I’ve ever met in my life. And she was one of the like key contributors, I would say to want to go into education too and to have students have that person. Because I find sometimes we have students that not fall through the crack, but they don’t, maybe they don’t excel in certain places in the academics.

Lindsay Reynoldson
And finding, like a passion, finding a niche for all students is so important. And I think she was one that really made sure that all students had somewhere to belong in the school.

Sam Demma
You mentioned just now that she was a contributing factor to wanting to get into education. Did you know when you were a student, did you know when you were growing up that you wanted to be a teacher? Did you play house or where did that realization come from? When did you decide? 

Lindsay Reynoldson
So my mom was a teacher. So growing up I was just always around her and her teaching and from a young age, I always wanted to be a teacher. When I was in grade one, I would pull all my stuffed animals into the living room and have spelling tests for them and like set up my classroom and have that ready. And from the time from grade one to grade 12, I always wanted to go into education. And that was a big passion of mine. And I was super excited And then I actually did some summer camp in my grade 12 year that didn’t run as smoothly as I wanted. And after that, I was like, I don’t wanna do this. I don’t wanna go into education.

Lindsay Reynoldson
And I completely changed my career path into wanting to go into physiotherapy. And I went to school, I went and did kinesiology at UBC and was super into physiotherapy. And I was in a mentorship program and I was being mentored by a physiotherapist. And going through that process and looking into her job and going through some different job shadows, I realized that I wasn’t passionate about it and then came back to education and had some amazing university professors, got some experience in high schools, in university teaching, and realized again that that was really where my passion lied.

Sam Demma
It’s awesome to hear your journey because every person’s journey into education is very different. They’re not all a straight pathway. And there’s never a wrong time or bad time to reignite that passion if it’s something you truly want to do. I think one of the reasons most educators get into this vocation is because they want to make a positive impact on the lives of human beings, on the lives of students and even their staff members.

Sam Demma
Can you recall a story where a leadership experience or a classroom moment where something that was taught or something that was said had a very positive impact on a student? The reason I ask is because I think people love hearing those stories. Is there any that come to mind? 

Lindsay Reynoldson
I’m just thinking that’s a good question. I think, I’m trying to think of a specific story. And one thing that really sticks out to me is I have had I had a student that I taught from grade 9 to 12 that graduated last year. And at the end, she wrote. Mia Karr and in it, she was just talking about some specific experiences that I didn’t even remember, but just about how much of an impact that it had on her life. And if she hadn’t have done it, her life would have been completely different.

Lindsay Reynoldson
So I don’t know if I can think of a big thing, but I’ve heard a lot, just kind of those small things add up all the time, which is interesting. And I know one of my students just did his capstone presentation. And I heard afterwards that he said, going to leadership was one of the defining moments in his high school path. And he found somewhere that he finally felt like he could fit in, which was really interesting to hear.

Sam Demma
Oh, that’s amazing.

Sam Demma
When you think about the conferences students attend and the activities, I think what ends up happening is they build so many deep relationships, not only with the other students that are attending, but also with the advisors. How do you think, as an advisor, you build a strong relationship with a student? Like, what do you do to cultivate that?

Lindsay Reynoldson
I think a big thing for my classroom is having a safe space where students can come, and I’m really big on team building, especially at the beginning of the semester. So we do a lot of classwork, I would say, at the beginning of the semester, and it’s all about building those relationships with myself and the students and with the students and each other. And going to the different conferences and having those opportunities, I find just really solidifies that with the students. And even just before I came on this podcast, I had one student that was asking about BFLIC and CFLIC for next year, and if we had figured out when we’re registering and he was making sure I’m on that because he’s super interested, he did BFLIC this year and he’s ready to go again, he wants to go back and he had such an incredible experience. So I think for me, the biggest thing is relationships and carving out that time and understanding that if things don’t go exactly the way I want or if the lesson doesn’t work out for that day, and we just have to switch it up and just have a moment to kind of talk and breathe and go through what everybody’s going through, then that’s okay. And things need to change. And the most important thing is being able to have those talks with the students and understanding that At the end of the day, we’re all human and we need to treat each other with kindness and just providing that space to do so.

Sam Demma
How long have you been attending the conferences CSLC and be selected? I know you said you started teaching leadership right when you started teaching or getting involved But have you been attending all the conferences since then as well?

Lindsay Reynoldson
Well, when I was in Fort St. John, we didn’t go to the BSLCC or CSLCC. I was at a middle school there, and they just never had done that before, and because it was my first contract, I didn’t really know anything about it. So I didn’t get into the conferences really until I came to Rutland. I went to the CSLCC in Abbotsford, but when I was in high school, I also went to BSLCC. So I had attended them in high school, but I just hadn’t actually been able to experience a B-SLIC until this year as an educator, which is shocking because the first one we went is the one, or the first one I attended as an adult is the one that we hosted, but it was a really amazing experience. I’ve also taken students to the CADAA summer camp though. So I have had different experiences bringing students to different places, but I would say the big turning point is working with Al Hopkins and Ryan Wakefield, who are two amazing educators, when we were all at Spring Valley Middle School together, and they really got me into it, and reignited my passion, I would say, in leadership. That when a position came up at Rutland Senior for a leadership teacher, immediately I was like, I know I need to do this, this is my passion, this is where I need to go.

Sam Demma
Sometimes people assume that these student leadership conferences are exclusively for the students, although I know that the advisors also leave with so much. Not only do they have a chance to connect with all their friends that they haven’t maybe seen in a long time, but there’s advisor sessions. And I’m curious, what are some of those advisor sessions like?

Sam Demma
What are the things that you walk away from that event with? And I know that you personally were organizing it, so maybe you didn’t have as much time to sit in on them, but what have you heard?

Lindsay Reynoldson
Yeah, I would say looking back on the CFLIC one, the advisor sessions were super important to me because they took away so many different things that I could then bring back to my school, and I think it’s a really great way for advisors to also fill their cup because a lot of times we’re focusing so much on others that, and we tell the kids that they always need to make sure their cup is filled before they can fill to others. But I think as advisors, sometimes we don’t take that message to heart and we don’t focus on that. So I think the conferences are such a great place for advisors to get that refresh and to fill your own cup and to connect and network with other advisors because leadership is such a fantastic way to share ideas and going to the first piece like that’s where I was able to meet more leadership teachers in my school district that I didn’t know and now I have a really good connection so I’m constantly texting, emailing, I need to do this, what are your thoughts on this and also I know that this year we had Andy and Stu who were running our advisor program and we had so much great feedback from the advisors about things that they could practically bring back to their classes immediately, different ideas, just different events, different ideas, different things to try with their students. And I think it’s so important as advisors for us to have that professional development as well as our students.

Sam Demma
Not only are you involved in leadership, teaching, but you also coach athletics. How do you refill your own cup when you’re exhausted or things are overwhelming? What do you do to take care of yourself?

Lindsay Reynoldson
I really try to focus on my own physical health too. Teaching physical education, I feel that’s really important. And if I’m stressed out, having a bad day, go for a workout, go for a run. That was something my mom always used to tell me anytime I phoned her stress, she would just say, go for a run. And I’d be like, no mom, I don’t want to go for a run.

Lindsay Reynoldson
She’d be like, no, just go for a run. I’d be like, blah, blah, blah. And I would go for a run and then everything was better afterwards. So for me, I find the physical exercise really helps me. Another thing is just surrounding myself with people that I can count on, people that will always be there for me. I’m very fortunate about where I am that I work with a fantastic leadership partner at my school. I also work in a physical education department with amazing human beings, so I’m really fortunate that I always have somebody to connect with if I am having a bad day. Another thing too is I can be having a really bad day and I’ll show up in one of my classes. I’ll put some music on We’ll do a little dance party talk to some of my kiddos, and I’m like it’s all good. It’s all good.

Sam Demma
Okay, cool. So it sounds like physical activity is a big tool that you use in your own toolkit to improve how you mentally and physically feel Yes, I would say I’m very similar I’ve noticed that when I’m not feeling the best, if I move my body, my mindset almost follows the movement.

Lindsay Reynoldson
Exactly.

Sam Demma
And improving and lifting my spirit. So that’s really cool to hear that. Are there any resources you found really helpful or mentors that have been instrumental in your development as a teacher? And if so, you don’t have to name them all because I’m sure there’s like lots of different people who you’ve leaned on, but maybe some of the lessons they’ve taught you that you’ve found really helpful. If anything comes to mind, it’d be really cool to hear your thoughts.

Lindsay Reynoldson
I would say some of the things that have really helped me is reminding, I’m thinking of my class and my leadership class, reminding me that it’s student leadership. And like, not everything needs to be 100% all of the time. And if things don’t go 100% perfectly, that’s okay. Because that’s where we learn. And understanding too that because it’s student leadership, to really focus on the students and help guide them to do the events and it’s not, it’s not teacher leadership and really teaching the students to do that and helping to support them. I think that was a big thing to remind myself of because just in my daily life, I’m very much a perfectionist. I like everything to be 100% perfect all the time. That’s not realistic. So to remind myself about that all the time. And I all often have mentors, just if I think something doesn’t go wrong, just to kind of talk it out, and really refocus and refresh my mind on what’s important. And one thing my mom always tells me if I’m really stressed, too, she’s like, is it life threatening? I’m like, no, it’s not life threatening. She’s like, okay, then we’re good. It’s not life threatening.

Sam Demma
Yes, mom, you’re right. That is so cool. I was recently attending a conference in Quebec city and there was a speaker and he was talking about the difference between the fear of danger and the fear of uncomfort. And there are two different things. You can be afraid and it not be a legitimate fear, it’s just a fear of change. Whereas if there was a bear turning around the corner and you’re walking some path in BC, that’s real danger and you should be very uncomfortable, you know.

Lindsay Reynoldson
Exactly.

Sam Demma
And so just to ask ourselves those questions just like your mom does is such a great way to reground ourselves and move forward. Those are great pieces of advice. It is, has CSLA been instrumental? That’s like, I know a big resource for schools across Canada. Is there any books that come to mind? Is there any other resources that sometimes you lean on or pull from?

Lindsay Reynoldson
For sure, I really look for the CSLA. There’s the Google Drive with a lot of different ideas, talking to Ash and Dave there. We hosted a Horizons conference last year as well. And looking at all the resources they have on their website to help. I’ve also been reading a book, just The Culture Coach, is what I’m reading right now. And I find it really, really interesting.

Lindsay Reynoldson
And it has a lot of practical, practical lesson and practical things that I’ve been bringing into my teaching right now. So, that’s been pretty awesome too.

Sam Demma
Oh, it’s amazing. You mentioned that one of the big reminders you tell yourself is that it’s student leadership. It’s led by students and helped and organized by adults and teachers. I saw that firsthand when I was at BCSLC and how many students were helping out with the British Columbia Student Leadership Conference. How they all stayed after and arrived early and volunteered all day and were running around. Can you give an example to a teacher who is listening to this, who has no idea what a student leadership conference entails, just some of the roles and jobs that students would have filled in during that three-day conference?

Lindsay Reynoldson
Yeah, so our students had such a big role in that conference, and I give so much props and kudos to those kids because they were there for hours. And leading up to the event, we had training days on the weekend. They were there Mondays after school, setting everything up. We had our students, they were the MCs, they were in charge of their spirit groups. They ran the talent show. They got everything ready for our reflections. They organized and planned a pep rally during the conference.

Lindsay Reynoldson
Really anything at the conference that could be done by students was done by students, which was so important for us to be able to give them that opportunity to lead on a grander scale. And I know a lot of our students, that was the first time that they had those opportunities. And just talking to the students after, they really appreciated getting the opportunity to do that because sometimes we have amazing leaders in our school, but they’re not given the opportunity. And it’s so important to provide these opportunities because then you just see students flourish and do amazing things. And just understanding that they are capable of so much and giving them and providing them to do that. And I know for our MCs too, we had two amazing MCs and we had an issue at Beast Lake where and and we hadn’t even talked to them. They were like, everybody come in, we’re gonna do a dance party. Like they had already thought of things, they were already going, and Ryan and I just looked at each other and we’re like, they’re fine, they’ve got this, they’re crushing it. So that was really awesome to see. How many students were volunteering? It seemed like a pretty large group. So we had 40 from our school and we had about 10 from Spring Valley Middle School. So I would say we had about 50 students volunteering in total.

Sam Demma
I think what’s so amazing about that is that when you give a young person or a student a responsibility, an important responsibility, it shows them that you trust them because you’re placing something of importance in their hands. And I had a past guest come on the show and he was telling me that he had a student in his classroom who was challenging at times. And to help this young person realize that he was important to the teacher, the teacher one day pulled out his car keys and said, hey, to this young person, can you please take my keys, go to my car and grab something out of the passenger seat?

Sam Demma
And the kid was like, me? Like, you want me to go do this? And they had had challenges and things before and he said yep here’s my keys I trust you go grab it out of the yeah you can bring it back and he said you wouldn’t imagine how much that small decision meant to this young person in my classroom I think that’s what leadership does it gives young people this opportunity to take on responsibility and build trust in themselves and also with the people around them would you say that’s what you see happen as young students take on these roles and responsibilities at conferences?

Lindsay Reynoldson
100 percent. I think providing them these opportunities just makes them feel like you were saying, just the trust. As soon as students know you trust them and that you care for them, like things completely change. And by providing them these opportunities, just seeing them in the hall, seeing how they interact with other students now, it’s just really amazing to see and how important these conferences are for young students and how much that it can really help and change their lives. And I received, I’m just going to read it out, I received a text message from a family member of mine who had their son at the conference. things that she said to me afterward, see if I can find it, and something that just really stuck with me, sorry. 

Sam Demma
No, pull it out. These are the things that educators always look for. 

Lindsay Reynoldson
She said, “I hope it warms your heart knowing what a huge difference it makes to kids. Having my own personal child there gave me a completely different take on it. Changing the trajectory of kids’ lives, and in this case, those that carry the light in each school.” It’s a big deal. So things like that and understanding how you don’t know the little things that just make such a big difference and can really change somebody’s life. So I think that’s super important to provide these opportunities for kids. And like you were saying about your other guest who used to give his car keys to students, I do that all the time. And even today we had to bring something to the food bank.

Lindsay Reynoldson
And I was like, okay, here are my keys. Don’t judge me that I still have my golf shoes in my car. Like, can you go stick these in for me, please?

Sam Demma
For the educators listening, what this means is if there is a provincial conference, leadership conference happening in your province, send some of your students, get involved. It’s gonna be a life-changing experience for them. And students of Lindsay’s are already asking for her to re-sign up.

Lindsay Reynoldson
100% yes it’s so important if you can go go go I highly recommend it because it’s not only amazing for your students as we said it’s amazing for the advisors as well and you’ll get so much out of it and it’s amazing yes send everybody.

Sam Demma
What is something that you’re very excited about in 2024 that you’re looking forward to?

Lindsay Reynoldson
2024, there’s a few things I’m really excited about. We’re starting quite a few things. We’re starting rugby right away. I’m super excited. My students have been asking me since the first week of September when we’re starting rugby. So they’re ready to go. So I’m super excited about the teams we have this year. I’m super excited, hoping to bring some students back to the Cata Leadership Conference in the summer, bringing some students to C-Slick and B-Slick this year. Well, next year, but 2024. I’m also finishing my master’s in April, so I’m really excited about that, too. So there’s quite a few things to look forward to, yeah.

Sam Demma
Awesome. Well, I wish you the best of luck in all your adventures in 2024. It’s been such a pleasure having you on the podcast. Thank you for taking the time and yeah, keep up the great work, know that you’re making a difference and I hope that we cross paths again sometime in the new year. in the new year.

Lindsay Reynoldson
Thank you, Sam, as do I.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Lindsay Reynoldson

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.

Christina Holston — Executive Director of West Virginia HOSA-Future Health Professionals and a Career Technical Education Teacher at Ben Franklin Career Center

Christina Holston — Executive Director of West Virginia HOSA-Future Health Professionals and a Career Technical Education Teacher at Ben Franklin Career Center
About Christina Houston

Christina Holston is the Executive Director of West Virginia HOSA-Future Health Professionals and a Career Technical Education Teacher at Ben Franklin Career Center where she teaches Secondary Honors Medical Assisting. She is a recipient of the 2017 West Virginia HOSA Secondary Advisor of the Year.

Prior to her career in education, she worked as a Patient Care Coordinator/Medical Assistant for an OBGYN medical practice for seven years. She started at Ben Franklin Career Center eight years ago and became the WV HOSA Executive Director in 2017. Christina also serves as the National Technical Honor Society Advisor for Ben Franklin Career Center as well as the CTSO Coordinator. She was a graduate from the program she teaches as well as a HOSA alumni.

Christina enjoys watching students blossom into young professionals. She encourages them to get out of their comfort zone and strive to be the best they can be. She believes CTE is for all students and would love for all students to have the opportunity to be involved in CTSOs. Christina believes advocating more for CTE and CTSO would help spread the word and have more opportunities for the youth.

Connect with Christina: Email | LinkedIn | Facebook

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

West Virginia HOSA-Future Health Professionals

Ben Franklin Career Center

National Technical Honor Society

National Coordinating Council for Career and Technical Student Organizations

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
Welcome back to another episode on The High-Performing Educator. This is your host, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is an exceptional human being and a new friend of mine, Christina Holston. Christina Holston is the Executive Director of West Virginia HOSA, Future Health Professionals, and a Career Technical Education Teacher at Ben Franklin Career Center, where she teaches secondary honors medical assisting. She is a recipient of the 2017 West Virginia HOSA Secondary Advisor of the Year. Prior to her career in education, she worked as a patient care coordinator and medical assistant for an OBGYN medical practice for seven years. She started at Ben Franklin Career Center eight years ago and became the West Virginia HOSA Executive Director in 2017. Christina Christina also serves as the National Technical Honor Society advisor for Ben Franklin Career Center, as well as the CTSO, Career Technical Student Organization Coordinator. She was a graduate from the program she teaches at, as well as a HOSA alumni. Christina enjoys watching students blossom into young professionals, encourages them to get out of their comfort zone, and strive to be the best they can be. Christina believes advocating more for CTE and CTSOs would help spread the word and have more opportunities for the youth. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Christina, and I will see you on the other side. Christina Holston, welcome to the show.

Christina Holston
Thank you for having me.

Sam Demma
Thank you so much for being here. For everyone listening, can you please just introduce yourself?

Christina Holston
My name is Christina Holston. I am a health science educator here in Charleston, West Virginia. I teach honors medical assisting, and I am also the executive director of West Virginia HOSA, Future Health Professionals.

Sam Demma
For a lot of people that are tuning in from Canada, they might not even be familiar with HOSA and all the brilliance that it is. Can you just give a breakdown on what HOSA is and why you’re so passionate about the work that you do with them?

Christina Holston
So, HOSA is a career tech student organization and it’s 100% healthcare. So there’s over 75 different competitions that students that are passionate about healthcare are going to pursue a career in healthcare can utilize and improve their worth ethic from team building to leadership skills to public speaking as well as those health science events that can help improve their skills. So overall HOSA is just an amazing organization to make the young leaders a better health healthcare professional in the future. 

Sam Demma
I’m gonna make make the assumption that you’re very passionate about health care yourself about healthcare yourself and there was probably a point in your own journey where you were deciding do I get involved in healthcare full-time or do I teach kids in school and it seems like you’ve married both of those passions but tell me a little bit about your own career journey and what brought you to education?

Christina Holston
So when I was in high school I took the program I currently teach. No way. So my senior year in high school I took a medical assisting program. I absolutely loved it. I completed my clinical hours, which was 100 hours in a medical office with a OBGYN in the area. And after I completed my hours, I was hired right on the spot. I was his medical assistant and then I moved up to his office manager. And then my teacher that I had in the program that I’m currently teaching, retired. And she contacted me and she said, Christina, I think that you would be great for this position. And I was involved with Ben Franklin, the school

Christina Holston
that I teach at, for quite some time. I served on their advisory committee. So I was still keeping up with the school because it’s helped made me the professional I am today. So I decided to apply for the position. And I told the physician that I was working for, hey, this is something I want to do. So got the position. And then being involved in HOSA again was very important to me because I’m a HOSA alumni.

Christina Holston
So when I was in this program, I also competed in HOSA and I placed in job seeking skills both years. I represented the school nationally in Nashville, Tennessee. Career tech education has always been a big part of me. And the fact that now I can deliver that to the youth makes it even better.

Sam Demma
I know that one aspect of the amazing experiences that young people have attending CTSO events and joining them is the mentorship that comes along with it with your advisor. A lot of the times people’s advisor is not only their teacher, but it’s like a second parent or a confidant or someone you can ask advice from. Did you stay in touch with your advisor when you were going through the program in high school? Do you still talk to them now? Are they still around?

Christina Holston
I still do, and she is doing absolutely amazing. She serves now on my advisory board. So being a CareerTech educator, you’re required to have advisory members to help keep your program to the standards that it needs to be. So I keep her on board because she’s a registered RN. Even though she’s retired, she’s still very well-knowledged

Christina Holston
whenever it comes to this program. And I’ve tried to keep this program as much as what she kept it, but just continue to add to it a little bit more. And she always makes me strive to be even better. And she’ll say, well, Christina, I wanted to do that, but you know me, I didn’t have the energy. Meanwhile, this woman can outrun me.

Christina Holston
Like she’s so fit. You wouldn’t even think that she, I still don’t know her age and I’ve been trying to figure it out for 15 years, but she’s living it up on the retirement life with her grandbabies. I actually just talked to her Tuesday this week. We had a luncheon for Christmas at work and we invited the retirees and she wasn’t able to make it. But she does come to my advisory committees and she still helps me out whenever I need it. So, she’s like a second mom to me.

Sam Demma
Can you think of a moment when you were working with her or she was your mentor that just had a big impact on you, like a specific situation where something was going on and you talked to her and it just opened up new perspectives and changed the way you were thinking. And then also, if you can’t think of a specific scenario like that, tell me about one more recently with some of the students that you help and you mentor as part of the HOSA program?

Christina Holston
Well, with the teacher advisor that I had, she always believed in me, like to the point where I thought she was crazy sometimes because that just wasn’t me. Believe it or not, when I was in high school, I was very shy. I hated public speaking. I disliked it. I didn’t want to do projects in front of the class.

Christina Holston
I was just so shy and so backwards that I’m like, why is she wanting me to do all this stuff in this organization? So she wanted me to run for state officer and state officer is an executive committee of high school and post-secondary students that run the organization because HOSA as well as other career tech student organizations are student led. So she really wanted me to run for state officer. And I said, no, I said, there’s no way I could do this. I can’t give a speech in front of 700 people. There’s no way. However, I did compete. And now I take it back to with me being an advisor and with me being an educator

Christina Holston
for this program. And I always tell my students, get out of your comfort zone. If I could go back, I would have done it. And then I tell them how shy I was and how backwards I was. And they’re just in awe because they’re like, you, like, you talk all the time. You talk too much. So she always believed in me and she always gave me that push. And she still does. And here we are 15, almost 20 years later, and she’s just still one of my number one supporters. And then with regards to my students, I have two state officer candidates running as well as several competing and competitions. And this is my favorite time of the year because I see these students put in the work and they’re going to deliver that in March at our state conference. And these are kids that didn’t think that they can do anything. And then they just blossom into this young professional. And then if they place, we’re taking that to Houston, Texas this year for the International HOSA Leadership Conference.

Christina Holston
So right now, definitely when we get back from holiday break, it is going to be such an amazing time for my kids and I get to sit and just watch it all.

Sam Demma
That is absolutely awesome. I just sneezed. 

Christina Holston
That was a good mute.

Sam Demma
I did mute it on point. When you were working with the students, I was honored to be at the State Conference. I got to notice how receptive they were to you and how much they look up to you. How do you think, as an educator, you build relationships with young people?

Christina Holston
You always have to have that barrier and those boundaries, of course, because you’re working with the youth. However, as an educator, it’s okay to listen to them. It’s okay for them to have a shoulder to cry on. It’s okay to give them that extra push and to be a little hard on them. I don’t wanna say be their friend because that’s not what we need to be. But we definitely need to be there for them. They’re young, they’re going to make mistakes. Just give them that opportunity. And in CareerTech Education, we’re like the best kept secret with CTE. And I hear the Department of Education say this all the time. CareerTech Education and CareerTech Student Organizations are the best kept secret because they do so much for students and that’s on the high school level and even the post-secondary level but with me being in the high school setting I see these kids that have struggled in their home high schools and There’ll be teachers that I know at these schools say Good luck with that student Don’t know if you should do this, give them a chance and they’ll be the best student that I had in that class. So just be there for them and give them chances but still be hard on them.

Sam Demma
I think it’s so important we don’t write students off before even giving them a chance just because another teacher, another person said, this is a difficult young person. And I think a challenging young person is a massive opportunity. Like the reason sometimes people are challenging to work with is because they have things going on. And I think more challenges lead to greater impact. Like some of the most impactful people in this world had challenging upbringings and were difficult to deal with growing up. And I just think there’s so much power in just seeing the human behind the challenges and behind the behaviours. Have you had situations where you’ve had difficult students? And how do you work through those specific examples?

Christina Holston
I have. Now, with being in CareerTech education, it is a little different because the students that are here at the Career Center want to be here. Ah, fair. So they try, I mean, they will do anything and everything that they can to make it through our programs and to get the trade and to get the certification, definitely in the health science education, the kids want to be here. However, I’ve had students that I’ve lost due to poor attendance. We do drug tests here. So we have them like they’re on the job. So it’s a requirement for them to have a drug test. I have lost students because of positive drug screens. It breaks my heart, but they know. They’re with me for two years. They know attendance, grade, and drug screens, part of the program. However, I’m still there for the kid because even though they can’t complete my program, I’m going to still be there for them. And I’ve had to deal with this recently with one of my students. And, you know, I told this individual, I’m still proud of you. I’m not upset with you. Am I hurt? Yeah, but this is going to be your comeback. You know, you’re going to graduate high school. You’re going to go into health care still. This is just your wake-up call. And I’m going to still be here if you need me. So it’s just that learning curve for them. And I’m not going to belittle her, I’m not gonna think less of her just because of this incident that she had. I’m going to still be her cheerleader. 

Sam Demma
You have this positive perspective of seeing difficult decisions that people make as learning experiences instead of failures, which is beautiful. Where does that positive outlook come from? 

Christina Holston
I would have to say I picked that up from my dad because my dad, if I made a silly mistake when I was younger, he was never one to really get on to me. He would just have that serious talk with me in the kitchen and just say, Christina, you’re gonna learn from this. It’s gonna be okay. Meanwhile, if my mama bear came in the kitchen, it was a different story. Her and I would just go at it. But no, my dad was just always more calm and it’s life. We make mistakes. We have obstacles and we learn from them. So we just take it from that. So I really give that and a lot of my worth ethic to my dad because he was such a big part of my life and really helped me be the professional that I am today.

Sam Demma
I remember coming home from grade seven. I made a terrible decision and was actually suspended. And I haven’t shared this story many times. But the thing is, I wasn’t initially suspended. Someone else got in trouble for something that I did and didn’t tell the principal that it was actually me. And so my friend went home with a suspension, I went home without one, and I was sitting on my bed, and just out of integrity, I started crying. And my dad walks in, he’s like, what’s going on? I was like, dad, I did something, someone else got in trouble for it, they didn’t say my name, so now they got a suspension, I feel terrible. He’s like, come on, son. And he brought me into his van, and he drove us back to the elementary school, and walked me into the principal’s office and I sat down and told the principal everything. I got in trouble, the other person was off their suspension. But it was one of the biggest learning experiences for me. And I go back to that moment and I think, what would have happened if my dad ran in and got extremely angry? Would I ever have been vulnerable enough again to own up to a mistake that I made in the future, knowing that I did something wrong or would I have kept it to myself because I was afraid. So I think it’s so important that when people do make mistakes, we don’t necessarily punish them for them but instead hold them to a higher standard and give them opportunities to make their decisions right. And it sounds like your dad did the same for you. And so there’s that cool similarity there. Did your parents work in CTE? Where did this passion come from?

Christina Holston
Well, my dad was involved in diesel technology. So he was a manager for a diesel shop. So he has that trade, that CTE background. And then he also was an advocate and a judge for SkillsUSA, which is another career tech student organization that’s pretty popular for the CTE world. So I remembered my dad would come here to Ben Franklin at the school that I’m teaching at, and he would judge those competitions for diesel. And a few months ago, I was going through one of his old suitcases that he had, and I actually found a thank you letter from Ben Franklin when I was in high school, because normally when you think of career tech education, you think of the bad kids. And he said, well, Christina, I just don’t know if that’s the setting for you. And I said, well, this is an honors program. I can help my GPA. It’s a health science program. So he ended up saying, okay, you can go ahead and do it. That’s fine. And I think that’s another stigma that CTE has too, that it’s only for those kids that struggle. You know, if you’re going to college, you don’t need to go to the career center. And all of that does not pertain to what career tech education is. And that’s another thing too that I’m really passionate about is just advocating and letting people know that it’s okay to send your student here. Even if they’re going to college, several of my students go to college, you’ve met a ton of them and know that they all want to be registered nurses. This is that foundation that they can get ahead of their peers and excel even more when they go to college.

Sam Demma
Not to mention the leadership skills, right?

Christina Holston
Absolutely.

Sam Demma
Communication skills, friends, lifelong relationships.

Christina Holston
The networking in general is just outstanding. I mean they’re not going and they’re in high school and then now we’re going into the middle schools with CTSOs. So I mean this is just a great learning experience for our future youth and I will advocate for it as long as I can.

Sam Demma
What are some of the opportunities you see in education right now? I know that the world is always changing and student needs are changing and opportunities are changing. What are some of the opportunities you’re excited about right now in education?

Christina Holston
With regards to opportunities, I love what I do and I love my job. And I can’t speak for academic teachers because the career tech education world is just so different. Because again, my students wanna be here. We’re working with our hands a lot more. So they get into it a little bit more than your traditional English class or your math class. So with regards to opportunities, I mean, of course they’re there because we need teachers, we need educators, we need good ones, but we just need educators that are going to understand the kids and to be there for the kids and make that path for them to take. Will it be bumpy? A hundred percent. Definitely post-COVID, you’ve seen a difference in the adolescents. But I feel like this year it’s slowly getting back to normal. The kids want to be in the classroom. Their attention span’s improving a little bit. So with regards to opportunities, I think that there’s just a wide variety, but of course there are opportunities in education because they’re needing educators to educate. But it’s just gonna take that certain special someone to be able to juggle all the struggles that you may have while you’re being an educator. I know that really didn’t answer your question, but it…

Sam Demma
No, it gives a great perspective. Like, from the way you position it, it sounds like the opportunity is to connect with the kids. I mean, that’s a consistent always. And sometimes I think whether you’re in a CT classroom or a traditional classroom, it’s like, that’s always the magic, is let’s connect with the kids. Whether the world’s changing, it’s like connect with the kids. Whether technology’s changing, connect with the kids. I just think it’s important to reiterate that. And you, I mean, you have kids in your classroom that you support and then you have a kid at home. How do you make sure that you take care of yourself, balancing so many different responsibilities with teaching and raising a kid and the work you do volunteering and even the work you do with HOSA? 

Christina Holston
I love to be busy. I always have. I was an athlete when I was younger, so this is just part of my life. I educate, help my students out through the day, whether it’s pertaining to our CTE coursework or to HOSA. My students know I’m available in the evenings as well, too. I communicate with them with the school-approved app. And then, of course, I have my four-year-old at home. And on top of that, I’m a fitness instructor. So all of this keeps me going. It makes me happy. So just juggling through that, I don’t know what I would do without it. And during COVID, it was basically that way. Like I was going crazy. You couldn’t go to the gym. I couldn’t see my students. I had to do everything virtually. Like it was, that was a big wake up whenever we were shut down for the pandemic. So it’s just something that I love to do. I’ve always been busy and I added on the coordinator here at my school now to so not only do I help with the post on the state level, but I also help. I’m going to start helping with skills USA for our students upstairs as well as FFA for our animal systems program. So, you know, I’m just adding, adding to my resume.

Sam Demma
One of my mentors says, build a life you never have to retire from or take vacation from. Now, I of course would still go to beaches and swim and dance bachata and all this fun stuff. But that sentence resonates with me because if you love what you do, you enjoy showing up, you enjoy being busy because you’re looking forward to the work, you’re looking forward to the service to others and it sounds like you found a few buckets in your life that just fuel you the more you do them, which is awesome because I think a lot of people are still looking for that, whether they’re in education or not, just human beings in general. On days where you don’t feel like showing up, where you’re like, ah, I just want to sleep in today, like I don’t want to get there. Like what on those days gets you through?

Christina Holston
The overall… depends on the day. Yeah. Depends on the time of the year. What gets me through is is knowing my students’ overall goal. So with my students, they’re going to be certified medical assistants. They can get other certifications as well, too. So even though they may be struggling right now and they don’t wanna do all the work, when February’s around the corner and I give them their certification test and these kids pass it, it just makes me so happy. And not only that, but this year, my students, I have partnered up with a local hospital and my students are getting paid to do their clinical hours. Getting paid to do a hundred hours in a medical office. And then right after they’re finished with that, they’re eligible to be hired. And then not only do they have a good paying job right out of high school? But they can also get scholarship opportunities. So if they are going to nursing school, then this local hospital is gonna be there to support them. So this year is really exciting for me because even though the seniors right now are driving me a little crazy, I know that we’re getting to that end and that’s what we’ve been working on for two years. And then here in a few years when I check on them, because I keep up with all my students. I make sure that I communicate with all of them. If I had a student from seven years ago that still needs me, they know to contact me.

Christina Holston
And it can be pertaining to work or just pertaining to their mental health. Like I’m here for them and I will always be here for them. So right now it’s been a little bit of a struggle before break with my senior class, but I know when we come back in January, it’s going to be their time to get ready for that test. And we’re going to do it. They’re going to get certified. They’re going to get paid for clinical, and they’re going to get hired, and if they want to go to college, they can. If not, they have a good paying job.

Sam Demma
In the context of business, people often say, build a vision so big that other people, other team members can see themselves in that big vision. So get to know each of your team members’ dreams and aspirations and goals and find a way to help them reach that thing by working with you, through working with you. It sounds similar in your classroom. You figure out what each of the kids actually want and then try and create a pathway to help them get there. And on those days where you don’t feel like showing up, you remind yourself of each of the students’ goals. You’re like, why are we here in the first place? And I think that’s a really good reminder to educators to get to know their kids, connect with the kids. And then also to just remind yourself why you’re showing up each day. This has been an amazing conversation. It’s already been over, I think, about 30 minutes. If you could- Are you serious?

Sam Demma
Yeah, if you could travel back in time… 30 minutes? I know, isn’t that crazy? If you could travel back in time to the first day you were teaching a CTE classroom and you had all the knowledge and experience that you have now, what advice would you give your former self?

Christina Holston
Well, being a CTE educator, you get the job, they hand you the keys, and you walk into a classroom. You know nothing about lesson plans. You know nothing about curriculum maps. You know nothing about standards or CSSs. So luckily for me, I completed this program. However, stepping in a room full of high school students was a whole different ballgame. I know medical assisting and I can train a new medical assistant, but you want me to train all of these high school students? So luckily in our state we have a great system and we have a great workshop that we have to go through in order to get our teaching license because again, we’re not that traditional classroom teacher. However, I had to wait a whole year before I was able to do it. So I just winged it and with the help of my former teacher.

Sam Demma
Everything went great.

Christina Holston
And some coworkers here as well, too. So if I would give advice to my former self, stepping into a classroom, again, just be patient. My advisor that I had, my teacher I had told me, cause I like to plan and I like to be on top of things. She said, Christina, three years. Give it three years. I’m like, three years? I can’t wait that long. Like, it has to be like three days for me to have my ducks in a row. She was 100% right. I finally got it in year three. So I mentor new teachers here in our building. And I tell them the same thing. Because again, we know what we are supposed to do. But we don’t know the teaching part because we’re CTE and we came from working in industry. So just be patient, jump through those obstacles, research, be involved, continue your education, do professional development, do as much as you can because that’s overall going to make you a better educator and make you better for the students.

Sam Demma
Sometimes I get impatient too with the things that I want to happen, whether it’s speaking at a specific event or finishing a book. I’m subscribed to this newsletter and there was recently an idea that resonated with me. And the idea was that sometimes, certain activities don’t actually require any action on our part, just patience. And his example in the newsletter that he shared was massive ocean waves. At any point in time, during any day, there is at least 10 hundred foot ocean waves somewhere in the middle of the ocean that are smashing down, that are continuously rising and falling without us even doing anything. And he said, take your intentions, take your goals, take the aspirations you have and act like you’re throwing them on top of one of those waves and eventually the wave will reach the shore or it’ll come back to you. And so if you feel like you’ve prepared the best you can and you’ve done the test and you’ve studied, maybe the last thing to do is to just release it to the ocean and let it come back to you when the time is right. And for you, it sounds like that was the three years.

Christina Holston
Yes, yes, yes. And it’s true. And I would say that to all educators. I really think three years is just that good mark to really figure out, oh, okay, I’ve done this in the past, I’m not gonna do this anymore, I’m gonna take this out of my lesson, let’s add this, or I’ve done this for too long, let’s switch it up. So I think that that would just be a good rule for all new educators that are entering education and that way it can better not only themselves, but also their students.

Sam Demma
This has been an energizing conversation. I’m so excited that we set aside some time to chat about your journey through education, the different roles you’ve done, a little bit about HOSA, your beliefs around connecting with kids, building relationships. What is, to wrap up here, what is one thing you’re looking forward to in 2024?

Christina Holston
One thing I’m looking forward to in 2024 is this senior class actually getting the paid externship. A lot of our students here in West Virginia have to work. They have to pay for their cars. They have to pay for their cell phones. So this local hospital said, you know, we want them. We need good employees. We know we get good ones from this program. We want them for clinical and we want to pay them.

Christina Holston
And then that way, if they are working, then maybe they can keep that job after their clinical hour, or they don’t need that job after hour, and they can just do their clinicals and then just go home, do their homework, because they’re still high school students. So I’m really excited to see this partnership with local hospitals pick up, but I’m super excited to see my students get that certification and add those credentials behind their names and then graduate high school. So that is one thing that I’m really excited about. And then of course, the state leadership conference for HOSA. I have several students that are competing and I have two state officers, one of those state officers you’ve inspired, which I’ve shared with you. So come March, I’m really excited to see them finally show the work that they’ve been putting in for their competitions and to show the judges that they’re the best of the best. And yeah, this has been an exciting time of the year for me. Even though I was struggling right before break, I’m like, I can do this. I think all educators were. It’s just time, we gotta get to break. But then once we get back in January, we’re refreshed, we’re ready to go, and hopefully the students will be too.

Sam Demma
It’s waves right? Sometimes it’s waves. You feel great, sometimes you feel down, but you show up and that’s what brings you through it and I’m sure 2024 is going to be amazing for you. I’m excited for you and I look forward to crossing paths again at some point. But keep up the great work. Thank you so much for taking time to join me on the show But keep up the great work. Thank you so much for taking time to join me on the show and I look forward to talking again soon. Thank you.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Christina Holston

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

Michael Saretzky — Recipient of the Prime Ministers Award for Teaching Excellence in STEM

Michael Saretzky — Recipient of the Prime Ministers Award for Teaching Excellence in STEM
About Michael Saretzky

After graduating from the University of Victoria’s Education program in Cranbrook, BC, Michael Saretzky started teaching in Fox Creek, AB. Michael spent three years there teaching a variety of grades from grade 5 to grade 11. After his time there, Michael moved with his wife, Shauna, to Hinton, where they both taught for 9 years, even teaching PE 8 together. While in Hinton, Michael taught mainly grade 8, and social studies. It was also in Hinton where Michael started his Master’s in Educational Technology through UBC. Also in Hinton, Michael and Shauna had their two children, Peyton and Macy.

In 2017, Michael and Shauna made the move to Red Deer, AB, to be closer to family. In Red Deer, they both teach at St. Patrick’s Community School, the only year-round school in the city, and where both of their children now attend. Michael completed his Master’s in 2021, while implementing a variety of technology programs within his own classroom, as well as his colleagues. Michael has taken many of his classroom practices and presented on them at different teacher conventions. He has spoken about video games in the classroom, using cooperative games to teach, setting up an esports team and using a classroom government to link the federal government system. This spring, Michael will also be presenting on running a media program at a middle school, something Michael has been doing at his current school with students from grade 6 to 9. Since first implementing this program, which started as an idea during online learning, it has morphed into a student led twice a week announcement program. Furthermore, Michael was recently recognized for his use of technology in the school by being awarded The Prime Ministers Award for Teaching Excellence in STEM – Certificate of Acheivment.

Connect with Michael: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

University of Victoria’s Education Program

Master’s in Educational Technology at UBC

St. Patrick’s Community School

The Prime Ministers Award for Teaching Excellence in STEM – Certificate of Acheivment

I Love it Here – Clint Pulver

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
Welcome back to another episode of The High Performing Educator. This is your host, keynote speaker and author, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is a new friend of mine, Michael Saretzky. After graduating from the University of Victoria’s education program in Cranbrook, B.C., Michael Saretzky started teaching in Fox Creek, Alberta. Michael spent three years there teaching a variety of grades from grade five to grade eleven. After his time there, he moved with his wife Shauna, to Hinton, where they both taught for nine years, even teaching physical education grade eight together. While in Hinton, Michael taught mainly grade eight and social studies. It was also in Hinton where Michael started his master’s in education technology through UBC. Also, in Hinton, Michael and Shauna had their two children, Peyton and Macy. In 2017, they both moved to Red Deer, Alberta to be closer to family and today, they both teach at Saint Patrick’s Community School, the only year-round school in the city and where both of their children now attend.

Sam Demma
Michael completed his master’s in 2021 while implementing a variety of technology programs within his own classroom and as well with his colleagues. Michael has taken many of his classroom practices and presented on them at different teacher conventions. He has spoken about video games in the classroom, using cooperative games to teach, setting up an eSports team, and using a classroom government to link the federal government system. This spring, Michael will also be presenting on running a media program at a middle school, something he has been doing at his current school with students from grades 6 to 9.

Sam Demma
Since first implementing this program, which started as an idea during online learning, it has morphed into a student-led twice-a-week announcement program. Furthermore, Michael was recently recognized for his use of technology in the school by being awarded the Prime Minister’s Award for Teaching Excellence in STEM, Certificate of Achievement. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Michael, and I will see you on the other side. Today we have a very special guest that I had the pleasure of meeting more recently toward the end of the school year here.

Sam Demma
And our guest today is Michael Saretzky, from, born and raised, Vancouver Island. Michael, how are you doing?

Michael Saretzky
Good, thanks. How are you?

Sam Demma
I’m doing well. Thank you so much for coming on the podcast. I know that you were born and raised in Vancouver Island, but where is home for you now?

Michael Saretzky
Right now, my wife and family were in Red Deer, Alberta.

Sam Demma
What brought you from the beautiful Vancouver Island to the beautiful Red Deer in Alberta? 

Michael Saretzky
A lot of different paths along the way brought me out to Alberta initially and then we eventually settled down in Red Deer. So, story’s kind of long, but my wife was finishing up for practicum on Vancouver Island and I got a phone call on, I think it was a Wednesday that I had a job offer up in Fox Creek, just between Edmonton and Granbury. And they asked me if I could be out there for the Monday. So we, I said yes. And so we drove from on Friday after she was done her last day of school, drove from my hometown of Gold River down to Victoria about four hours to say goodbye to my grandma.

Michael Saretzky
And then from there, we drove up to Cranbrook to her family because she had to get ready for her wedding that was happening in a couple weeks. And on the Sunday I drove from Cranbrook to Fox Creek, which was probably about 14 hours, and I got the last hotel room in Fox Creek. It was during the break-up in the oil field. And the room was only available because the guy couldn’t come in that day. He actually canceled his room. So it was literally the last hotel room in town.

Michael Saretzky
And so the next day, he was supposed to be coming in. So I had to pack up all my stuff and moved everything to the hotel room, went up to start teaching my first class of high school English. And that was my introduction to professional teaching. And did that for three days and had teacher convention on that weekend. And I was still living in and out of hotel rooms. And went to teacher convention up in Grand then was able to actually go live at a vice principal’s house for a couple days there. And then on Tuesday, I think it was after school, I drove from Fox Creek down to Red Deer, where my dad and stepmom live, and stayed here. And then went and met my wife down in Calgary and her family, and then we flew to the Dominican Republic to get married. So yeah. And then, yeah, we were down there for a couple of weeks, got married, a bunch of family down there, came back up, went to my wife’s convocation in Cranbrook, and then I introduced her to Fox Creek.

Sam Demma
What a story. So you redefined what it means to couch surf. It’s not just about bouncing around. You literally, you bounced around working, like finding a job, finding a permanent place to work. And so tell me a little bit about why you wanted to work in education. Did you know growing up that you wanted to be a teacher or how did you, how did you find this vocation?

Michael Saretzky
Another long convoluted story. Now I had a lot of great teachers in my schooling. My grade three teacher, Mrs. Erb. My grade six teacher, I remember she was brand new to the profession, Ms. Fisher. We were her first class. And a bunch of other ones in high school, my stepdad included. And my mom was an EA, so I had that introduction to school, but I always wanted to be a pilot. And unfortunately, well, I guess fortunately now, I’m colorblind and I was told I could not be a pilot. So, I decided to go into school for business and I want to work in the airline business, but obviously just not as a pilot.

Michael Saretzky
And I was walking down from Camosun College in Victoria down to the mall with this guy. I can’t remember his name. He was in school with me. I think his first name was Chris. And we’re walking down and I was deciding if I wanted to get into education or if I wanted to continue with business. And he said, well, which one’s going to make you happier? And I remember crossing the road and by the time I crossed the road, I said, you know what? I think teaching. And that kind of got me into the path of education. Just a random conversation with a friend from university.

Sam Demma
There is an individual who is a speaker and author by the name of Clint Pulver. And he has a very inspiring story about wanting to be a pilot since he was a little kid, but having a decline in his vision and not being able to actually fly. And he pursued it for something like 10 years before he had to give it up and he was so upset. And he ended up pivoting, taking a different pathway. And today he speaks all over the globe and he’s a professional drummer. And just recently he launched and announced that he was releasing a YouTube special about his journey back to flying.

Sam Demma
Apparently he’s had some special operation on his eyes and it was a very inspiring story. So I don’t know, when you mentioned the pilot situation and things not working out, like yourself, this Pathways probably brought you so much fulfillment in the same way that Clint’s Pathway has and it just made me immediately think of his story. So I appreciate you sharing that.

Sam Demma
It sounds like business was also a passion of yours. How do you integrate your passion for business into the work that you do in education? Is there any way that you do that? Or are you involved in extra curricular stuff with students? Like tell me more about what you love about school. 

Michael Saretzky
Well, one of the things like during COVID, I remember we were doing our online teaching, the grade eight team, and during the first half an hour of the classes, we were getting the students ready and the teachers, we’d just talk online. And I remember the students saying, no, you guys should have like a TV show. And so we started talking, oh yeah, we could call it Wake Up St. Pat’s. And that’s just when we came back in the classroom, we had to do options and the option classes had to be in your cohort, you could like the students can leave. I was like, you guys came up with this idea of having a talk show. How about you guys have the talk show as your option class? In doing that, I structured as a business. That’s probably where that idea of structure came from, just from my experience in business courses. We actually have a COO, we have a crew director, and we have a whole hierarchy in the class where if you’re in charge of the class, you actually need to be able to do everyone’s job, and you need to be able to step in if someone else is absent. You actually were able to meet our two CEOs of our class. They were the ones that interviewed you when you were in here.

Sam Demma
Yeah, that’s awesome. I didn’t know there was an entire structure to the two students that I met who conducted a phenomenal interview. For everyone listening, I met Michael at a presentation in Red Deer and two of his students interviewed me following the presentation and it was a phenomenal conversation. They had amazing tech equipment. How long have you been operating that show and this hierarchy of students in the classroom?

Michael Saretzky
So that would be, sorry, I just got to think. Those students are now in grade 11 that were in grade 8 at the time. So, about three, four years, and now it goes all the way down to grade six, and we have – it’s running three, four days a week now with different classes doing it. Some of the grade sixes are doing an awesome job with interviews, with their part. And what’s interesting is I’ve kind of let the students kind of morph it into what they want. My idea when I brought it to them was sitting behind a news desk, just a very traditional news program.

Michael Saretzky
But they’re each in charge of a segment if they’re part of a production crew. So in the production crew, you have your production crew director who’s in charge, and then you have your camera person, and you have your anchors. And sometimes the anchors are in front of the camera, sometimes they’re behind the camera, kind of prompting questions. And they kind of just come up with their own segment ideas. Last year we had, I think it was grade 6 and then grade 7, say, let’s do finish the lyrics. So now they have a, they’ll play a song and then students as young as grade 1s, maybe even kindergarten, all the way up to our staff have to finish the lyrics. So it might be Taylor Swift or it might be something from Disney, but it’s pretty entertaining.

Sam Demma
How have you witnessed student change throughout being a part of this class in terms of their leadership abilities and personal development? 

Michael Saretzky
Just, yeah, some who kind of might sit in the, I’ve had the opportunity to teach a lot of these guys in a variety of different subject areas. Those grade 8s that started this program actually taught them in grade 6, some in grade 7, all of grade 8, and even some in grade 9. And teaching them in grade 6, I know some were much more quieter in the traditional classroom setting, but they’ve just taken on a leadership role and taking on different responsibilities on their own with editing. Our editors are some of the strongest students, but they’re also some of the quietest ones. And it’s just been amazing to see how strong they are in these classes. And it’s been interesting, too. Some of them have actually come back and offered to edit.

Michael Saretzky
When tvhey’re in high school, they’ve come back and done volunteer hours so they can do a grade nine farewell video and stuff.

Sam Demma
Oh, wow.

Sam Demma
That’s awesome.

Sam Demma
If someone was listening to this and wanted to replicate something similar with their classroom, what are a sequence of steps you would share with them to encourage them to get started doing something similar? Listen to the students and be willing to let control go.

Michael Saretzky
This generation is so powerful with technology and they have amazing ideas. I know sometimes, I know for myself, from my experience as a teacher, you don’t want to sometimes let go of the control of the classroom, but it’s amazing what sometimes, what can develop when the students are in charge.

Sam Demma
Oh, I love that. Thanks for sharing. When you think back to your own, you mentioned grade three teacher who had an impact on you, what do you think they did that made a big impact on you that educators listening can strive to provide to the students in their classrooms? 

Michael Saretzky
I don’t like my grade three teacher. She was a very traditional teacher, but she just had expectations that you’d need to reach. My grade six teacher being new to the, um, education, she was just, it was a very unique setting where she was willing to try different things. She brought different ideas into the classroom. I remember we were in a split class and she actually had like a different area for the grade sevens where they’re learning about Egyptian tombs and stuff. And so they had like their own little sitting area around the library that was kind of more, there’s hieroglyphics that the students were creating and stuff.

Michael Saretzky
So I don’t know, it’s always interesting what new teachers bring into the classroom. I’ve had a lot of student teachers come in and they’re just a wealth of, like a breath of fresh air, I guess, and a wealth of knowledge. And it’s always neat to bring in ideas off of them and keep them. I had a student teacher last year, she’s actually a teacher here now, and she set up a Sudoku board in my classroom just this year. And it’s a big board on the bulletin board and the students just spend time making their own Sudoku’s. It’s pretty cool.

Sam Demma
Oh, no way.

Sam Demma
Yeah.

Sam Demma
That’s awesome. Is it like a trivia you start with the beginning of classes sometimes or they fill it in at lunch or how does it work?

Michael Saretzky
A lot of times it’s free time they have in the class that they can work on on their own. Because I know some of them get a little frustrated. They’re working on it, someone else comes in and they make a mistake. But it’s an interesting process just having them realize that people are at different levels of learning

Sam Demma
and not everyone’s familiar with the Sudoku. Yeah. It sounds like you’ve done a great job of building relationships with the students in your classroom by providing different learning opportunities, whether it’s with technology or creating puzzles on the wall. How do you think you build a relationship with a young person, with a student in your classroom? I think the biggest thing is listening to them.

Michael Saretzky
I know I came into the profession and I was very traditional in my teachings where I’d stand at the front, maybe rows of students, and it was, you know, I’m teaching and then here’s your work to do. But getting to know the students as an individual, they have so many different stories that we can learn, we can use that in the classroom, we can just get to know who they are and maybe maybe what they have to bring or what needs you can also help them with.

Sam Demma
I love that. I think when I think back to my experiences in school, I think it was the teachers who listened the most to me, that I felt understood me the most, and therefore I paid more attention to their class and the material they were sharing with us, which led to a greater experience and a better relationship with those individuals. So I think based on my experiences, that what you’re sharing had a big impact on me and I hope other educators listening take that into account.

Sam Demma
What are some of the things that you try and do in your classroom to foster that space where students wanna listen and you wanna listen to them, just to make students feel like they’re safe and understood and appreciated?

Michael Saretzky
it’s kind of different this year because I’m in a new field. For several years I’ve been teaching language arts. Yep. And building that trust with them, with their writing, it has been a big value. So students, I always used to have a, like when I was teaching language arts, I would have a journal and we’d do a topic every Thursday. And their journal was between, like, they would write in the journal and they knew I would read it. And they were quite honest, especially once they knew that it was, like, not for everyone else to read. being in math, it’s been a little bit different because it’s not the same sharing, I guess. But it’s also, I mean, math is different from when I went to school because we were always taught like this is the right way to do things. And I was quite, I always enjoyed math, but there’s so many different ways to learn math. And so just giving students the different ways and allowing them to explore that way that they learn best.

Sam Demma
I guess math can be an analogy for building relationships. Like there’s many different ways to build relationships with students. That’s just one. Tell me a little bit about, oh, sorry, go ahead.

Michael Saretzky
Well, it’s just not always being in the classroom. Like I mentioned, like we have this field trip tomorrow and allowing students to see you outside of the classroom. I also coach a bunch of different activities such as eSports and volleyball. And I mean, eSports has been so huge because now you have the students who might not typically want to join a sports team coming out for a sports team. And there’s so much that you can build with eSports. And like last year was our first year having an eSports team.

Michael Saretzky
And now it’s moved into option class from grade six all the way to grade nine. And you have a lot of interaction between students from grade six and seven, from eight to nine. And it’s just, yeah, there’s so much value in those extracurricular activities and stuff that like, that’s where you build a lot of connections with students.

Sam Demma
Did you get involved in extracurricular activities as an educator first thing out the gate when you were just getting settled? Did it take you a while to say, let me try this? I think there might be some newer educators listening wondering when’s the right time to put your hand up and get involved.

Michael Saretzky
Yeah, I was probably I started coaching volleyball at my first school, but probably it wasn’t until my second or third year. And then at my second school in Hinton, I took on one of my first jobs there was as a phys ed teacher. So that just naturally came. If a coach was needed in a specific sport, then I would take that on. But as you get more and more comfortable in the profession, then I think it comes more naturally to take on that extra responsibility.

Sam Demma
Have you had any teachers or educators that mentored you, or any books you’ve read or conventions you’ve attended that have been instrumental in your own development as an educator?

Michael Saretzky
Oh, there’s countless teachers who have helped me along the way or administrators. I could start listing them, but it would be… I’d feel badly about leaving some out, but definitely my stepdad, as I said, he was a teacher.

Michael Saretzky
He taught me… He was a teacher librarian, and so I was in his class for that. But he’s just been a wealth of knowledge for, getting into the profession. And then my wife is a teacher. We actually teach in the same school. And so, I mean, she’s always being such a strong supporter. And then a lot of admin have helped me along the way, but also all my colleagues. Curious.

Sam Demma
Curious, when you think about the things that they’ve helped you with or shared, are there a few key cornerstone lessons that you go back to or things that you think really make all the difference?

Michael Saretzky
The biggest thing I think like with my wife, we’re both very different teachers. And we were both actually teaching the same subject and just seeing it from a different perspective. And we’re able to communicate like I’ll do things quite differently in my class than she would, but then I also make sure I come back to some of the more like some of the things that she might be teaching. Actually, this tomorrow we’re going on a field trip to a Christmas carol. And although I’m not teaching LA anymore, she’s the one that got me doing that in my class. But she kind of got me going a different avenue.

Michael Saretzky
She always used to take her students to the play in Edmonton.

Sam Demma
Ah.

Michael Saretzky
And so she kind of suggested, like, maybe look at it as a play. So rather than being the traditional text, we would do kind of a reader’s theater in the class. And it’s just, the kids love it. You got your performers who can take on the bigger roles and then you got other students who might take on a smaller role but might do the first time reading in class. So it’s kind of better I think than maybe reading the traditional text because if a student has to read a whole paragraph but they don’t want to read it in front of the whole classroom, it’s kind of a safer environment.

Sam Demma
Sounds like the big lesson is to be open to teaching differently. Have that perspective that you could be teaching the same subject but doing it totally different than somebody else. So even if you have the opportunity to sit in the back of someone else’s classroom and see how they teach it, to have conversations about what you’re teaching, is that a common practice? Like sharing what you’re teaching in your classroom with your other colleagues that are teaching the same things and then sharing ideas?

Michael Saretzky
Yeah, and actually our admin team, they’re big advocates of collaboration.

Sam Demma
Cool.

Michael Saretzky
Actually, once a week we are meeting with our grade team or PDs. If there’s time available, we will meet with our subject team. So, you’ll be able to connect with different people. And actually, they just had us going in and observing our, our grade team. So I would go into like another grade eight teachers class. And it was an excellent experience and just being able to see how people do it differently with the same students.

Sam Demma
If someone is listening to this in the spirit of collaboration, if they want to reach out to you and me too, or have a conversation, ask you some questions about your journey through education, or some of your philosophies and beliefs around teaching, what would be the best way for them to get in touch or reach out to you?

Michael Saretzky
Well, my social media is put up pretty tightly. I use Twitter a bit, but probably email. Just, yeah. Yeah. Which would be michael.saretzky@rdcrs.ca. Awesome. Yeah. Perfect. 

Sam Demma
I’ll make sure to put it in the show notes of the episode just so people can reach out to you if they have a question.

Sam Demma
It’s been an absolute honor having you on the show, Michael. Thank you for taking the time. So close to the holiday season. I hope you enjoy the field trip. By the time this is released, the field trip will have been long gone, but I know it went really well. It was a pleasure chatting with you. Thank you for making the time to come on the show. Thank you for making the time to come on the show.

Michael Saretzky
Thank you for having me.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Michael Saretzky

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.

Jeff Madsen — Retired teacher and veteran of high school English

Jeff Madsen — Retired teacher and veteran of high school English
About Jeff Madsen

Jeff Madsen is a veteran of high school English having taught Hamlet more times than even the old bard read it himself. However, he also energized his mind by teaching Junior High (aka. middle school) in all subjects excluding Math (thankfully, for the students’ sake). His first teaching position was outside of Wainwright, in a K-12 school situated in the “Friendly Oasis” leading eight years later to Edson, and four years after that to Red Deer, where he taught for 21 years. He retired in 2021 and while he waits for his wife, also an English teacher, to retire he works full-time at a bronze Foundry outside of Ref Deer.

Through it all, he has been an ardent believer in multiple intelligences within the classroom requiring diversity and choice. Whether it is assessment or sources used or writer approach, students don’t learn in the homogeneously nor in the same way. Critical-thinking is the perpetual goal and a skill set that’ll be used way beyond grad day. For that to work, there has to be student buy-in. Stand & deliver pedagogy is moot.

Connect with Jeff: Email | Facebook

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

blurb.ca

The Rhodes Scholarship

Small Consistent Actions | Sam Demma | TEDxYouth@Toronto

University of Alberta – Bachelor of Arts Programs

HARMAN SCULPTURE FOUNDRY LTD

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
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator Podcast. This is your host, keynote speaker, and author, Sam Demma. Today’s episode is a very special one. Our guest is Jeff Madsen, a veteran of high school English, having taught Hamlet more times than even the old bard read it himself. However, he also energized his mind by teaching junior high, AKA middle school, in all subjects excluding math (thankfully for the students sake). These are his words, not mine. His first teaching position was outside of Wainwright in a K through 12 school situated in the friendly oasis leading eight years later to Edson and four years after that to Red Deer where he taught for twenty-one years. He retired in 2021 and while he waits for his wife, also an English teacher, to retire, he works full-time at a bronze foundry outside of Red Deer. Through it all, he has been an ardent believer in multiple intelligences within the classroom requiring diversity and choice. Whether it is assessment or sources used or writing approaches, students don’t learn in the homogeneously nor in the same way. Critical thinking is a perpetual goal and a skill set that’ll be used way beyond graduation day. For that to work, there has to be student buy-in. He strongly believes that stand and deliver pedagogy is moot. I hope you enjoy this energizing, insightful, inspiring conversation with the one and the only Jeff Madsen. I’ll see you on the other side. Jeff, welcome to the High Performing Educator Podcast. It is a pleasure to have you on the show, especially after our previous episode was with a former student of yours. Please start, and all good things, but please start by introducing yourself to the audience tuning in.

Jeff Madsen
Certainly, I am Jeff Madsen. I call it a veteran teacher of English, high school English. But I cut my teeth in a small school outside of Wainwright. It’s called the friendly oasis. People have to look that up now. And I’ve always maintained that was Wainwright. And then I went to Edson and I’m in Red Deer, was in Red Deer. Now I’m retired. But I still have the allegiance to all the classrooms I was in. I’m a firm believer in the belief that students should not only see their writing or hear it, hear their voice, they should see it in print. That’s really where I started with creative writing and saw a lot of growth in a lot of students and man, they lit up when they can self-publish. So that to me was a, what was that, small, someone once said small, what was that? Steps, small consistent steps, someone said that to me. I forget, I forget where I got that from. But so that was a big thing to just get the creative juices going in the students. And the other one is I’m a firm believer in choice, lots of choice, like in the classroom. So that’s my philosophy. I carried it for 32 years and put that handle down after probably going through Shakespeare a few times too, like 70 times through Hamlet. And people kept saying, why? Why don’t you change play? And I’m going, because I’m Danish. It’s all about Danish. Are you kidding me? Anyways, that’s me in a nutshell.

Sam Demma
So, two firm beliefs that you shared, the one around choice and the belief that students should hear their voices and see their voices in writing. Let’s start with the hear and see their voices in writing. Why do you believe that that is so important?

Jeff Madsen
Well, I think that basically education system has to change a little bit because the student buy-in is so important. And if we gave them opportunity to see their own voice, I think it would really enhance critical thinking because they now are part of the system instead of here’s your assignment, hand it back to me, I want you to espouse what I said to you and you get check marks if you can copy me. That’s not how the world should work with them. Like I couldn’t sit, I have ADHD I know, but I could not sit for 80 minutes in an English class, even if Madison was there, I couldn’t do it. So you have to get them to buy in. And so if you can get them to see that the English experience instead of notes and questions and whatever, that buy-in will allow them to see that they’re connected to the work. But then, I mean, it all came about because, you know, I was in Red Deer and there’s some really good writing that came across my desk and it’s okay, and then I handed it back to them. So I thought, wouldn’t it be cool if we collected all these and then put it into print? And so I would collect for three years and then we published a 125-page book with the student writing and their photography and whatever. And that became like every three years until micro-publishing hit the scene and then we published every year. Because just for them to light up and see it, to me that was engaged thinking and engaged writing and that their opinion was respected. So in a nutshell, yeah, that’s what it is. And along the way, I developed the mantra shut up and write because we are so, they’re so, how can you say, conditioned that everything that hits paper has to be perfect. So I’m not going to hit, I’m going to delete all the time. So I would always say in my classroom, just shut up and write and then get some writing done.

Sam Demma
I started journaling in 2017 and was very inconsistent with it for a few years. More recently, I’ve journaled every single night before going to bed for the past couple of years. And it has brought me so many insights about my life. And when I look back at some of the entries that were almost impossible to read because it looked like chicken scratch and I was so emotional and I was just pouring it all out on a piece of paper, it gives me goosebumps. And I read about the things that I desired in life. And if some of those things came to fruition in the future years, I look back and it just makes me feel so grateful. And writing is such a powerful tool. And it’s just so cool to hear how passionate you are about it. Tell me a little bit about the publishing of books. Like what would the student reaction be when they held their own work in the form of a book in their hands?

Jeff Madsen
Oh, yeah, it can get emotional because, you know, I would ship it away. I’m not going to advertise the micro-publishing place that we have, but I’m connected and they bring it back on UPS and it’s always, it was always addressed to me. So I’d get it, staff room, and then I’d walk down the hall to wherever room they were, and it’s like Christmas, and they’d open up, or it’d be in the creative writing class, and we’d celebrate it. It was, for them, it was totally like, oh my god, like I taught the fifth grade entry level one, we call 15 and then 25 and 35. And I made it mandatory in the 35 that they had to self-publish. And sometimes that’s what, you know, they need in a sense, because you put the deadline in front of them, they go, yeah, yeah, writers are procrastinators, you know, like nothing, no, okay, whatever, I’ll do it, I’ll do it, do it. And in the case of the student you just finished talk to, it, as an example, she had to self-publish. And the Christmas present lights that went on in those people’s head when and emanating these big miles. It’s something that they still talk to. To this day, I have a tiny little anecdote. It was funny in a sense because there’s a neurologist at the Foothills Hospital in Calgary and he was a former student and he was applying for the Rhodes Scholarship. So he contacted you to verify that I’ve been published. Of course. Can you put me at the footnote? It’s crazy eh.

Jeff Madsen
So it’s part of the resume, like really you self publish that takes a lot of courage, but as overdue for some, it’s like you were talking about, you know, you have, you just put it on the paper, I bet you couldn’t even read it fast enough.

Sam Demma
I was so excited to jot the dots down. And I just, I think about my experience with English, and I struggled. That was one of the challenging subjects for me when I was going through high school. And it, my English teacher did a great job of meeting me halfway and meeting my needs. But if I had a project like the one you’re describing now, I think it would have just lit a fire in me to create my best work. And I appreciate you sharing that.

Jeff Madsen
Who says it’s too late?

Sam Demma
And I write a lot now.

Jeff Madsen
Yeah, but the publishing place that I deal with, they handle JPEGs. I’m not trying to convert you, but you can snap pictures of your cursive writing and then insert them as pages. And I’ll guarantee you that if you have 26 pages as the minimum, some of these students said, I’ll never get 26, and then they mail away 125 pages right and you taking a jpeg of each of your pages Shoving them in and it auto Populates it you probably could set up a book Inside of 20 minutes and then you yeah. Yeah, it’s really really wicked So there’s there and that’s what I wanted that Not only did they get a chance in their school. I was trying to set them up for, you know, craving that addiction again. So they keep writing and they keep writing and nothing is ever, ever useless. I followed the readings, writings of Julie Cameron. She said it’s always, never discard, always keep it. old insights even now. Therefore, I’m going to guilt you. Don’t you deserve to see those in print? Because in print, you can actually flip quicker. Going through past journals, you don’t want all this stuff, but you can select some big chunks and put it together. It’s marvellous and marvellously fast. You can make hard covers and soft covers. And you can do the design. It’s just so hands-on. And my whole course was therefore developed that yeah, that’s part of it. You are your own worst critic, which is why your writing or your insights don’t get public knowledge. Like you could go back, you could go back, Sam, and just cut lines out that you think are really good. Stick them on a page, change it up, and then put some sort of maybe an artwork that it reminds you of, or a photo that you snapped. And that’s it, that’s as easy as it is, but it just creates this zest for learning. Like I had horrible English during my high school and this was not modeled on being an E.T. ad. It just kind of like popped into me when, in my head, when I saw all this good writing. And they need to celebrate. So, that’s it.

Sam Demma
What is this software program called for all the teachers who are salivating.

Jeff Madsen
Can I say it over? Okay. It’s blurb.ca.

Sam Demma
Gotcha. Thank you for sharing.

Jeff Madsen
And yeah, and you go on to their site and you download their software program called Book Right. And it’s amazing, you can get it to just do it on its own or you can actually arrange it. And I think the greatest first victory on that was a young writer, Michael. And he had a novel that he’d been reading, writing along the way. This is in grade 12 and he said, you know, do you want to read my novel? I went, that’s kind of like, he had 460 pages, right? And he wanted to get a critical look at it. And he, he was frustrated because he kept going back in his doc. Do you see it? And he was distracted. So he accessed blurb.ca, Okay, 20 seconds? I’m not even, probably 10. It was all on the pages, all numbered. He inserted his cover, sent it away. When he got it back, he was pretty happy. 

Sam Demma
That’s cool, man.

Sam Demma
You mentioned that it would be challenging for you to sit in a classroom these days, if for 80 minutes. What did a Jeff Madsen classroom look like when you were teaching? Tell me a little bit about the experience of the student.

Jeff Madsen
Oh, you got me.

Jeff Madsen
Because I’m ADHD, I’m very visual and I need lots of artwork. So the students contributed the, we call them project-based learning, but I used that PBL derivative and I made a choice. Here’s 70 ideas. We’re studying Hamlet. Here’s the question you have to answer. Choose the format. And then you’re going to critically think through your format. So it has to be done. And you can’t just build me a CAS form, bring it in. So I had a huge proportion of artwork from students over the years. And I just, it was massive. It was like this huge display board. And it wasn’t a typical square classroom, so it’s kind of like angular. And then it also helped that one of my former students was a manager at a local theater, so I had the brave poster, it was 20 feet long and 5 feet high. It had to be colourful. And then I decided that we call it now a soft start for a classroom. I just called it common sense. You can’t get the kid coming in from the cold or just talk to their friend about something. And then they sit in class and then you start in on how this, well, so we, I always had logic quizzes. And that’s the trivial pursuit, because it’s the old me remembering the guys who put Trivial Pursuit together were Canadian. And we just have a, I’d give them 10 questions and they’d have to work at a table. There’s the interesting concept. I was teaching in classrooms, classes, with desks for the first 12 years. I came to Red Deer and they put me in front of circular tables and I went, what, like, can I get some desks? And they said no, and I went, oh, okay. And I will never teach, I’m retired, but I’d never teach again in desks because they’re so disconnected. When they’re sitting at a table, they do these logic quizzes, start the day and they’re connecting with one another very quickly. So it’s a little mini community. And I think that that’s one thing that’s really important is I was the student in my high school journey where I would come in and I wouldn’t know anyone and I wasn’t in the pack. So, you know, finding a way to sit with dignity in a classroom that you didn’t really have anybody hanging around with you. So I made it mandatory that there was a seating plan because then everyone had a place to go. And even if they didn’t know the people at the table, they were going to. And then I rotated seating plan every two weeks. So what was it like? Number one, I couldn’t mark anything in a classroom. I’m so distracted. I could hear them talking about the party plans in the back table. It’s like, ah, you know, so yeah. So it interpretation. I taught Disney unit one time. The film is a big thing. I think visual learners are overlooked. I think they’re the right brain art enthusiasts would never get Hamlet unless you give them a visual of Hamlet before. And it’s like my wife who is also an English teacher would always say, and in the theaters in Edmonton, the Citadel Theater, never says as you come in, oh, here’s a copy of Julius Caesar, you need to read it before you can see the play. Plays are to be experienced, oh, and then we have a script. So what was it like in the classroom? A lot of visuals, a lot of broken up, not stand and deliver, man, stand and deliver.

Jeff Madsen
Man, stand and deliver.

Jeff Madsen
Here you go. Here’s my voice of wisdom. Now, now, can you recite it back to me? You get the marks. Like what what is that setting up for future citizens? There’s no critical thinking there. It’s just rote. Right. And we need to engage them. We need to see and it’s small, consistent steps. I agree with you. It’s just small, consistent. So, could I convert the people around me? Well, I didn’t try. If they picked up on some of the stuff I was doing, great. But I wasn’t out to change them. I just wanted to give students a chance to look at literature through their eyes, not my eyes, because could you imagine? I am now, let’s say I’m 60 times through Hamlet. Okay, A, why would I do that? But B, what are they learning? They’re learning my 60th time through, which they haven’t read it even once. So our master teacher concept is basically over there and we should evolve to bring them to the forefront so they can teach their peers. I mean, the stats, a teacher saying something to the students, they pick up 10%. A peer talking to the students, they pick up 90. I mean, your high school experience, do you remember what subject sticks in your mind?

Sam Demma
The Most? Weight training. 

Sam Demma
Wow, was there a weight training 15, 25, 30. That was a fun class and funny enough, students are always correcting my form. But I think the subject that had the biggest impact on me was my world issues class and it was the teacher I spoke about in my TEDx talks, Small Consistent Actions, and he taught us but then gave us an opportunity to ask so many questions and he shared so many visuals and videos and we had open debates and discussions like it was a little bit well compared to my other classes it seemed it seemed to lack structure but we liked it 10 times more than any other class you walked into.

Jeff Madsen
Great, because you walked in and you felt engaged right away. Like you were salivating, you’re going, what are we going to talk about now? Instead of going, oh, we’re doing 20 questions in Act 1. Okay, well, yeah, I’m excited. But good on you, you remember that. There is no hesitation for you to say, oh, I remember that class. And good on that teacher because that’s a road less traveled.

Sam Demma
Yeah, your past student told me just recently, in fact, an hour and a half ago, take the road less traveled, it has a better view. But I enjoy the insights that you’ve shared so far with relation to writing and getting student buy-in. Like how do you think you get, how do you get student buy-in?

Jeff Madsen
They have to, you have to be mortal. You have to own up to mistakes. You have to go, no, you’re right, I was wrong there. I mean, I still remember the young lady who I was teaching to other salesmen for whatever, a gazillion times. And I always, I don’t know if you’re familiar with that play, but there was always, there was two characters. And I said, in the presentation material we’re going through, and I went, well, that the youngest son is blah, you know, blah, blah, blah, blah. And she goes, I don’t think so. And I went, okay. So it’s like, and she stayed her point. So then I’m going, oh, as usual, I learned from the students and I acknowledge I’m learning from the students. And then it becomes my next class. I’m gonna use her input or her insight into it. And to just be able to say to the students, like I had the Dean’s vacation after my first attempt at university. I mean, I came from a junior college where there’s a, you know, kind of like a lackadaisical attitude. I got to U of A and I got body slammed, like seriously body slammed. So I passed two of the eight courses. And so I got the Dean’s vacation as they call it, and I was more successful. So it wasn’t like I got out of high school and went, oh, I want to be a teacher. You know, it was like, oh, I got out of high school and I went, oh, now what? But my parents have degrees, so it’s assumed that I would. I went into sciences, Like biochemistry and inorganic, oh man, I was so lost. So unbelievably lost. So, you know, did I go, I’m going to go into education because teacher? No. Oh, I’m going to go into education because I have a Bachelor of Arts. No. I actually, ironically, packed my entire car up with all my possessions and I head out to Toronto because I was going to be in the magazine or newspaper industry and I was going to start ground up and, no, yeah. So I got to Toronto, drove all the way across Canada myself in May. Yeah, that was an experience. And I get there and I go, oh, way too big. And I came all the way back.

Jeff Madsen
So now I’m back. I remember my dad, first thing he said when he saw me roll in, why are you back? Oh, well, yeah, it didn’t fit. So it was a real circuitous route that I used, including lots of failure along the way. And I’m a believer that yeah, it’s Why do we make high school three years? Why not four? Oops. Yeah, that was Ontario. But why why four why five? because That’s part of being mortal. That’s them saying Hold it. He failed and Hold it. I guess he was wrong that’s how They need to see you so that you can connect to them human to human, not, you know, master to or Yoda to Luke, like not, you know, grasshopper, you know, like I’m not, I want them to feel like they’re coming in with something. They’re besides you, not behind you. Yes, good way of saying it. And then because they have that confidence, watch in your classroom, teachers, how it just ripples. Because now they’re going to stand up and say things, or they’re going to be at their table, which is more secure, and they’re going to not discuss, not argue, they’re going to discuss. And they’re going to find their voice. And when they find their voice, yeah, you can see where I’m going with this. When they find the voice, they’re going to unleash the voice, and they’re going to judge the characters and evaluate the characters based on how they think. And when, as a teacher, you accept that, then they’re going to go more. And that’s the confidence that they need, because 90% of writing is confidence. Just to put it down on page and walk away and say it’s done. If you shut up and write, it’s going to hit the page. And then what you do with that, I mean, yeah, we journal, but it’s like the old era, well, not old era, but we had slides. And the only way you could see slides is if you get a projector out on the screen, everyone’s there, and then we went, oh, we’re going to have phones. So now we capture all this photos on phones. It’s still hidden.

Jeff Madsen
It’s still hidden.

Jeff Madsen
It’s like writing. You write it, it’s hidden. But could they not develop the confidence, start to unleash their insights, build momentum, go, okay, I’m going to look around the world and I’m going to say on paper what I think about this character, about this play, about the writer, and then carry it forward to themselves. I think it really snowballs. But they have to have a secure environment, that’s number one, secure environment where they are respected for their opinion. So there can’t be an atmosphere where they’re worried about what they’re going to say or they’re heckled about it. It has to be the teacher saying, good point, approbation, good point. You should work with that through the play. Okay, then I will. And you couple that with choice. Here’s 25 novels. Choose which one. Instead of going, oh, everyone’s going to like Gatsby because I like it. So everyone’s going to take the Gatsby on and it’ll illuminate. No, it won’t. There’s going to be people that are going to be way ahead of you on AI through the computer or they’re going to cut and paste or they’re going to, you know, fill in the blank with their friends’ words. They’re not involved. You know, I had a student, grade 12, Joe, big, excellent football player. And at the end of it all, he said he read Gatsby, actually. And because the way that I allotted time for them to read, and it was, you know, you can read on your own pace. That’s the other thing, you flip the classroom. So if you need your lava lamp and your bean bag and you know, your reading atmosphere, then why do we make them read in class? As long as they have it read by a certain day, they can read. If they want to flip the classroom, that means they’re going to read at home. So that normally would have been when they did physics. So they’re going to do physics in the English classroom while everyone’s reading and then they go home and read because now they’re free to read and then come back. So I just remember Joe saying, it’s grade 12, Sam, grade 12. And he goes, that’s the first book I ever read. Pin drop? What do you mean? Oh, yeah, all the other ones I, you know, I got, I didn’t like, but because he had a choice, he chose Gatsby, which is right. So his buy-in, again, his buy-in is his motivator. I have all these. Yeah, you can, you pick up the novel, you don’t like it, you return it the next day, get another one, and you keep swapping that off, and I’ll just adjust your deadlines. And then when you get it, start reading. And that is an unbelievable, powerful tool of self-worth that students pick. I guess, and I have been all at the start of the course and after that, tell me what you think, brings on a whole new response.

Sam Demma
Your second belief was that students need choice. And you painted a clear picture as to why that’s so important. What other thoughts come to mind when you think of the importance of giving students choice?

Jeff Madsen
Well, you’re in a conversation on a podcast. You ask your question to the participant and they go, what do you want me to say? And you go, but I want your opinion. Oh, well, what kind of opinion do you want? Or do you give them the opportunity for choice, it comes back tenfold. It just, what is needed is the teacher to back away from being, I don’t want to use the word eagle, but they’re well-meaning, but they have an adult perspective of that novel, from all their life experiences they’ve been through, or the play, or a short story. And that will taint, if you, you know, expound that to the class, that will taint their interpretation of it. Because there will be a whole group of keeners that will give you back your answers, but they won’t have a chance to experience it by themselves and draw their own conclusion and feel worthwhile to put it down on page. So you give them choice, you’re actually giving them confidence. So choice, there’s another c word, confidence. They will take it and run with it and I think that’s what freed up a lot of right brain individuals that took my class because I was not standing to deliver and that frustrated some students, they transferred out. That’s okay. I would always say I can, if you don’t like the way I deliver the content in the first week, let me know and I will help you find another class. I’m not offended. It’s because brain, it’s neurological, it’s our brain wiring has to be recognized, and we have to. That’s how I learned. Okay. So choice, right across the board, whether you’re a physics student, or you’re you’re focused on the liberal arts. Once you got choice, you got armor. Because then you can take a, let’s say everyone dealt with Hamlet, which I don’t know why, but you would take an opinion of Hamlet and know it was worthwhile because it’s your choice that has been galvanized and therefore you can put that out there in safety and security and stand behind it. And you talk about small, consistent steps. A student has no voice, gets the choice. Oh yeah, that wasn’t supposed to rhyme. But they get the choice and then they feel like they can do more. They might not in that course, but man, you have given them a trigger mechanism. And it’s, it, it might see it. So it creates, you go ahead.

Sam Demma
No, continue.

Jeff Madsen
Well, it gives them something that you can’t tangibly see, and something that you can’t put a mark on. And isn’t that about education? I will never forget we had a scholar in one time for profession development and he asked everyone, what does education mean? What the root word, the Latin word, what is education? And you know, all of us teachers go to impart knowledge to, and he goes, you fail. All of you fail.

Jeff Madsen
And I’m going, okay, we failed. That’s what education means. And he said, it’s to pull understanding out of it.So you have to ask yourself, are we putting information in? Are we pulling understanding out? Because once you pull understanding out, you have buy-in. Once they feel good about their opinion, they abide. Once they can choose their curriculum, they abide. I mean, yeah, we’ll do a short story. I’ll show you what I’m looking for in a short story. I will teach you, you know, the strengths of what the technique is and then I want you to apply it to your novel. It’s yours. These are the things. I’d always divide the novel into four sections mathematically, regardless of the novel you have. In section one, you’re responsible for blah. And so when that, I told them in advance, okay? So when they got to the quiz or their assessment, that’s what was being assigned. There’s no surprise, they had all their notes. They can use notes, that’s the other thing. In my course was closed book. It was always open book because that rewards them for their own words. So yeah, I think that the choice gives so much because eventually they’re going to risk their critical thinking and, hey, isn’t that good citizen?

Jeff Madsen
Critical thinking. They’re out there.

Sam Demma
And to think that the choice of what book to choose connects to the way they evolve as critical citizens in society. Some people wouldn’t draw those two things together, but they are so connected, and it’s so beautiful to hear you talk about these concepts. So I appreciate you for sharing them, and I hope that a lot of teachers tuning in are shaking their head and nodding as you share some of these things the same way that I am, because you can’t see the video. Something else you can’t see is that my good friend, Jeff Madsen made a choice to wear a Habs jersey during this podcast interview, which I have no comment about.

Jeff Madsen
But, but, but, look, come on, who doesn’t like the flower? Come on.

Jeff Madsen
Come on.

Jeff Madsen
I was in the era where you’re just hoping there’s lots of penalties so the floor would get on the ice. Just give him a chance. Fight him, fight him. Okay, now it’s clear. Go ahead.

Sam Demma
I’ve been hooked on every story and every concept you’re sharing. I really appreciate your time and And just the ideas you’ve shared. I’m curious, now that you are retired from teaching formally inside of a classroom, what are you spending your time doing?

Jeff Madsen
Well, there’s a gentleman, former neighbor who has a foundry outside of Red Deer. And he is such a talented artisan. He can create his own, but right now it’s project. So there’ll be a 3D mold cut styrofoam of a large Easter Island head. It’s sent to him. His job is to make a bronze exactly like that. A bronze plate creates inch thick. So his, and his skill set, have you been to BC Place at all? Okay, there’s Terry Fox. Terry Fox running towards you.

Sam Demma
Yep, I’ve seen it.

Jeff Madsen
Yeah, that’s his.

Sam Demma
Wow. 

Jeff Madsen
And then there’s the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. That’s his and his dad. Is that Ottawa? Yeah. Yep. Yep. There’s probably two or three others that are in the heart of Ottawa that I sent to a former colleague and she said, Oh my God, yeah, I walk past them all the time. So this guy is absolutely amazing with his talent. He’s younger than me. Yeah. And so every day, a lot of people are. So every day, a lot of people are, but every day I drive out to this foundry and right now we’re making four big huge Easter Island sized heads with each head has 16 pieces. Each of those pieces has to have a box in it, has to be cast and whatever. And it’s such an incredible creative process. And it’s fun. It’s fun in the sense that, is it as intense as teaching? No. Do I have two hours of marking because I’m ADHD and can’t concentrate in the classroom every night? No. I’m out there with my headphones on, sometimes classical music, sometimes, you know, whatever, my era music, which is 70s and 80s and it’s just contentment. Wow! Okay and then you’re making things. It’s going to be there for a few hundred years because it’s all bronze. But yeah, his name is Harmon. Harmon Foundries, Sculpture Foundries. It’s a great gig. I really think about why, but I know it’s because I’ve had my own classroom for 33 years. I don’t know if I can waltz into someone else’s classroom, but because and this is my retirement gig.

Sam Demma
Yeah, and I think it needs no explanation. It’s just it’s beautiful and I appreciate you sharing a little bit about it.

Jeff Madsen
You come to Red Deer, you gotta come out and see it.

Sam Demma
Well, I’ve been many times, but I just never crossed paths with you yet. So next time I come, let’s make it happen. I was there recently, I had lunch at Cilantro and Chive and the Italian restaurant called Forno. I took some local recommendations from some folks. But I would love to see some of the work and see you working on some of the work.

Sam Demma
So that would be cool.

Jeff Madsen
And a good Danish person like me, Heritage, there are certain beverages that I will offer because they’re Danish.

Sam Demma
That sounds good to me.

Jeff Madsen
I’m holding you to it, man.

Sam Demma
I have a question, another question. You can choose to answer however you’d like.

Sam Demma
Do you think that everybody is creative?

Jeff Madsen
Yes.

Sam Demma
Yeah, I didn’t think much about that one. What has been proof of that in your experience teaching for 20, 30 years and even just everyday life?

Jeff Madsen
Okay, so if you give them opportunity to reflect their understanding in a visual. I’ve had, I forget, I know I can picture the name, but she was She was amazing in physics and math and she’s going to go into engineering. I kid you not, she made a line graph of a novel. She put the high points on and then handed in. But she had to explain what that was because that was the question. You just don’t hand in a project, you have to answer the question via your project. That proved to me that you’re creative, but you’re creative in your own realm. It doesn’t mean you have to paint. It means that a good engineer can think outside a confined box or question. You have to find if the customer comes in with a low income, they’re not wanting to have the finest caliber repair. You are going to create. You’re going to put things together. mechanics are creative. I mean, we are all creative. It’s just, what is our creative wing? And are we maximizing it? Because maximizing creativity creates the balance. Right? You’re, we have our job, but what nourishes us, what creates that, what gives us energy, and what we have for energy is what makes us tick. What makes us tick is what we like. How is that not creative? What sport were you in? I played soccer. Oh, you guys aren’t creative at all. You just run up and down. I don’t know where creative comes in soccer. How are you? Right?

Sam Demma
Yeah.

Jeff Madsen
The bicycle kick didn’t happen because he slipped on the grass. I mean, it was purposeful and it became a signature, right? I mean, good athletes are creative, like totally creative. I mean, I’m a Chiefs fan. I’m watching Mahon’s, he is amazing. Creative solutions. So what do we do with it? I mean, that’s the retort question. Why don’t we in a capitalist society, why don’t we just give ourselves time to slow down, see, and maybe write, and maybe get it published. Just saying, I’d like a copy when you do. It’s really easy. Sorry, my ADHD. But it creates balance. It’s something that nurtures us. You can be married to your work, but it doesn’t really fill you. You stand in front of an audience.

Jeff Madsen
Can’t tell me that that’s not creative you read the audience you you you connect with the audience So it might not go to game plan but you are you are connecting with the audience and and you’re going to steer it this way because That’s where it needs to be so Okay Creative yes you are I’m creative.

Sam Demma
If you could share one habit that you think every single human being would benefit from practicing in their day-to-day life, I have an idea of what I think it might be. Well, what do you think is the habit that you would share with others? 

Jeff Madsen
That’s a hard one to answer. You know, Julie Cameron said that she wrote three pages longhand, cursive, every morning. And she’s a professional writer, granted, but why do we say it has to be, okay, cursive handwriting, great. and create. But I also remember the novelist who wrote his novel on his notepad going to work every morning on the subway. So you can’t tell me that in our age of, you know, time where we’re traveling or downtime or you’re waiting for a call, that there’s not opportunity to write what you think. It could be a reaction to war, because we always have war somewhere in the world on a daily experience. Or, I hate the price of gas. Okay, put it on there. I think that we would have our opinion validated personally. And it would flush out like we carry concrete cisterns in our head of all the stuff that has gone We carry concrete cisterns in our head of all the stuff that has gone wrong. You do a hundred things, you remember the one thing that went wrong. We put all of that into our cistern and it overflows, but we just keep pushing it down. And then we go, cool. have to go if you just continually shut up and write. If you just put it on page, if you take your notepad, and just I’m a one finger text or some of these people are like, well, you could write probably 400 words in a minute with some of those thumbs going. And it’s about why it might be our frustration might be our celebration. It’s our brain. And we only know 10% of it. But here’s the part we do know, you need to think and you can’t think and clutter. And you declutter by getting rid of some stuff. The stuff you can’t control. Okay, great. Put it to the side. But here’s what frustrates me. I’m going to write down. And when I have a collection of it, I’m Oh, I don’t know. I’m, I’m going to, I’m going to take my journals out and dust them off this hypothetical now. I’m going to take pictures of them. And I heard that you can import those JPEGs. And I’m going to design the cover. It’s going to have me on the TED talk with a great backdrop of black and I’m silhouetted and I’m gonna say I’m gonna have a clever title and I’m gonna put that on a hard copy and I’m gonna give it to mom and dad for Christmas or and by the way that the cost of something like that is like seven bucks. That’s crazy. That kid who sent them all the way, that’s 460 pages, that was $7.95.

Sam Demma
Wow.

Jeff Madsen
Okay, it’s not a book. They’re called, if anyone’s listening, they’re called trade books, but they’re 5×8. So let’s say hypothetically you do put all those JPEGs in, you print it, you hand off your insights to someone and they now know more about you by what you thought and what you’re thinking and what matters to you. So create, create, create. Maybe it’ll land on as a book. Maybe it’ll be like my dad who went to preach for 50 years. When he passed away, I have all of his sermons. They’re so creative. Like he was, he’s an amazing orator, you know, and yet very practical because when it was Grey Cup Sunday, the service was short. It was like, there’s 40 minutes, kickoff is at noon, guys, okay? We are going to get going.

Sam Demma
That’s beautiful, man. If someone is listening to this and has enjoyed the conversation as much as I have, and they want to reach out to you and ask a question or publish their book and send you a copy of it, what would be the best way to get in contact? 

Jeff Madsen
Yeah, that’s a good question. Probably my email. Well, no, probably Facebook, I guess. I just got on Facebook a year ago, so I’m not really like, you can tell. You asked on your forum, Twitter? I went, nope.

Sam Demma
If it’s okay with you, can I share your Facebook link in the description of the podcast?

Jeff Madsen
Yeah, I hope it connects. Again, I was a newbie, so I went, I think that’s the link I’m supposed to if it doesn’t work let me know and I’ll get you to get the link. Sounds good. Awesome talking to you. Yeah this is you do marvelous things you do you you are you’re rejuvenating the process of matter. The students will go and the people that you touch with your TED Talks and your thinking, they will remember. And then if you say, you know, a slide mantra, you say, shut up and talk, shut up and write. I mean, either way, they’re going to be moving forward too. I was thinking that might be the title of the JPEG collection of mine.

Sam Demma
I was thinking that might be the title of the JPEG collection of mine.

Jeff Madsen
Yes! Make it shut up and write and then the subtitles it shut up and talk. 

Sam Demma
This has been so much fun, Jeff. Thank you again for making the time and I look forward to burning your jersey when I come to Red Deer.

Jeff Madsen
I have an extra one for you.

Jeff Madsen
That’s awesome. Keep up the great work, my friend.

Sam Demma
That’s awesome. Keep up the great work, my friend. I’ll talk to you soon.

Jeff Madsen
Yes, thank you. Okay, you as well. Okay, bye.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Jeff Madsen

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.

Ireland Black — Success Coach in Bowden and Spruce View

Ireland Black — Success Coach in Bowden and Spruce View
About Ireland Black

Ireland Black, is the Success Coach in Bowden and Spruce View. She facilitates the Youth Empowerment & Support (YES) program for both schools which uses a positive mental health focus to provide universal programming to students in Grades K-8.

After receiving her degree in Psychology, Ireland chose to step away from her job as an Advanced Leader 1 Lifeguard in order to find a position that was better aligned with her future goals. The YES program is a perfect fit for her as she has not only been able to utilize her knowledge from obtaining her degree & to use the skills she developed volunteering with the RCMP but it allows her to continue to foster healthy and positive relationships with the students, staff and communities.

Ireland believes that each child should have a good understanding of what it means to have positive mental health and continues to encourage students with her motto “You can do hard things.”

Connect with Ireland: Email | Instagram

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Youth Empowerment & Support (YES) program

Muriel Summers – Leader in ME

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

Red Deer Polytechnic

The Bubble Gum Brain by Julia Cook

Royal Canadian Mounted Police

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
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator Podcast. This is your host, keynote speaker, and best-selling author, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is my friend, Ireland Black. She is the success coach in Bowden and Spruce View, Alberta, and facilitates the Youth Empowerment and Support Program for both schools, which uses a positive mental health focus to provide universal programming to students in grades K through 8. After receiving her degree in psychology, Ireland chose to step away from her job as an Advanced Leader I lifeguard in order to find a position that was better aligned with her future goals. The YES program was a perfect fit for her as she has not only been able to utilize her knowledge from obtaining her degree and to use the skills she developed volunteering with the RCMP, but it allows her to continue to foster healthy and positive relationships with the students, staffs, and communities she serves. Ireland believes that each child should have a good understanding of what it means to have positive mental health, and continues to encourage students with her motto, you can do hard things. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Ireland, and I will see you on the other side. Ireland, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. Please, let’s get started by having you just quickly introduce yourself to the listeners.

Ireland Black
Awesome. So thanks for having me. I’m Ireland Black. I’m a success coach out of Bowden in Spruce View, Alberta. So what that means is I’m a facilitator with the Youth Empowerment and Support Program, which is the YES program. So that’s about my role. It is formulated to support resiliency skills in kids from K-12. So we support students with their mental health awareness and to enhance their social and emotional skills.

Sam Demma
I’m kind of jealous I never had my own success coach when I was going through school to be honest. Is this a newer position within the school board? Like, tell me a little bit more about how you came to becoming the success coach. I believe the program’s been around for quite some time now, at least within Chinook’s Edge?

Ireland Black
I can’t speak for other divisions. I started in May, so I’m still pretty new to the position, but I have a degree in psychology, so I was really looking for a role where I could use my degree and I love working with kids. So this was just kind of the perfect fit.

Sam Demma
Awesome. Tell me some of the things that you would be talking about with a student and how the role actually operates. Do you walk into a certain amount of classrooms each day? Is it more like a guidance counselor role where they walk into your classroom and you help them through things? Like, tell me a little bit more about what it looks like day to day.

Ireland Black
Yeah, so it’s a little bit of both. I’m responsible for universal programming. So that means every student K to eight in the division is receiving the same like programming within their classrooms. So I think that’s really cool. That kind of looks like me. I come in with a PowerPoint, I have games, activities. Um, just yesterday I taught one about flexible learning. So we read a book called The Bubble Gum Brain, and I had them all like try and squish a piece of gum between their like two peace sign fingers. So that’s a lot of fun, but I also have my own classroom in each building. So students are always welcome to come in, have a chat. I’m in the, I call it the first line of defense. I find that kids, because of the role I’m in, are very open to having chats with me. They’ll come in and ask for hot chocolate, they’ll sit on the couch, but they can’t take on that counselor role. So if it’s just like they’re having a bad day, I absolutely am there for them, but if it’s anything bigger than that, then I refer them to the family school wellness worker. Outside of that, I put on lunchtime programs, so that’s anywhere between small targeted groups for maybe anger management, friendship skills, or at something fun like Lego, coloring, and crafts. And then after school is the same. So we try and pick kids. We call them our yes kids. The kids who might need that extra support, um, need a safe place to land after school before they head home. So we range from a variety of topics between sports. We’ll do mini sticks in the hallway, we’ll do bake clubs, we do craft clubs, basically whatever the kids want, I will provide.

Sam Demma
It sounds like, although you’re not the counselor role, you create so many safe spaces for students to explore their skills and to feel like they belong or are a part of something. Can you think about an experience you’ve put on that has had a big impact on students, maybe one that you consistently like doing over and over again with different groups because it just works so well?

Ireland Black
I found recently that the baking club has been a huge hit. I’ve ran three of them now. I have one coming up in December for Christmas. And I thought it was simple enough. I used to love baking cookies, but those kids come in and I vary the age groups when I run them, but it takes patience

Ireland Black
when they come in because they’re so excited and they don’t always understand like with cooking and baking comes the cleaning and comes measuring and so When I walked into it, I was just expecting you know, like here’s your recipe. Here’s your ingredients Go ahead have fun. But then it was like sitting them each of them down and being like, okay, like this is a measuring cup and this is what the numbers mean. And, um, this is why we do it this way. And this is how we have to preheat our ovens. And so I found that it was super impactful for them because they got to not only learn that skill, but it’s also like I saw them work through and problem solve. And there was some frustration when things didn’t turn out. But it’s the one that they keep coming back and being like, can you do this again? Like it was so fun. And so I think they get the most from it. And being in the position I am and with the knowledge I have, I get to see like the skills that they’re practicing and that they’re learning. So that’s beneficial for me to see as well.

Sam Demma
And you get to eat some of their creations probably?

Ireland Black
Absolutely.

Sam Demma
Which is so great. For someone listening who is thinking right now, oh my goodness, baking club? That sounds amazing. I’m stealing that idea. What does it look like in terms of preparation, facilitating that, and how often would you do it? Like, paint a little bit of a picture so if there’s a teacher listening, they could take some of these ideas and implement them in their own school.

Ireland Black
Absolutely. So I have implemented this year, I try and run each program for a month length. So I pick one day of the week after school, usually two and a half hours for the big club I find to be enough, especially for those kiddos learning how to clean and wash dishes. But yeah, so I’ll pick like a Monday after school, I have them sign up two weeks in advance. And then I, once I get those forms back, I usually ask them what kind of recipes they want. I start with something very minimal, simple. I don’t even jump to cookies right away. It’s like box cake, just so we can practice measuring and following instructions. And so I think no matter what age group you pick, you have to be really mindful that you might be getting the kids who don’t know how to measure and don’t know how to clean. And so setting yourself up for success and setting them up for success is taking those smaller steps by starting with the box cake, which might seem a little ridiculous. But then by the end of it, when they’re baking their brownies and their cookies, and you’re getting to the point where they’re feeling confident, it’s so worth it. I’m lucky enough to have a very decent budget for my position to be able to provide all of this. I know when certain staff or support staff they hear bake club, the first thing that comes to mind is price tag because it can be huge. It’s not cheap for all those ingredients, especially when you’re putting it on for eight to ten kiddos. So my advice, research what you need beforehand, buy in bulk, and just know that at the end of the day, you’ll need a little bit extra because stuff is always, always going to end up on the floor.

Sam Demma
Nice.

Sam Demma
It sounds like the Bait Club has been one of the highlights. Is there maybe one other program that you’ve experimented since you started that isn’t like a typical club that you’d find in a school? Like, Bait Club is very unique. Is there anything else that you do that you think is a little bit unique that others may have never tried before? 

Ireland Black
I actually just this month kind of ran a club of my own that I came up with. So it’s called noodle noggins. And the purpose is to take kids from, I want to say, grade three to six and target the kiddos who aren’t doing very well academically, who might be struggling with writing skills or research skills. And but they still have that drive, like they want to succeed. And not every kid is going to be an honor roll student, but sometimes with that comes lack of self confidence or they keep getting the grades back and they’re not happy with them, but they’re trying their best. So I invented this lunch program where the kids come in and they pick a topic, any topic that they’d like to research and to find three fun facts. They have to, I make up three research questions for them and they go and they put it on a poster or a PowerPoint and every week when they come in, I give them a couple of noodles for lunch. And so, I haven’t seen anything like it. It was something that I know watching my sisters, like my sisters are very smart people but they have people in their friendships, even I had people in my friendship growing up that just were like defeated because no matter how hard they tried, they weren’t doing as well academically as they wanted. And so I’ve really seen these kiddos regain some confidence and trust in their own abilities. And I always tell them like, it’s not the grade, we’re not grading this. I just want to remind you that like, when you work hard, you are successful based on the outcome that you get. So, if you give it 110% and you get a 65 and that’s good for you, then you’re golden. That’s successful. So, I haven’t seen anything like it. It might be popping up in other schools because I’ve shared it with all of my team. So, yeah, that’s probably one that I haven’t really heard of before.

Sam Demma
Free noodles and extra help and resources sounds like a great club to me. What does empowerment mean to you? I know empowering young people is a big part of your your role and from your passion as you explain these different clubs, I can tell that you care about it. What is it like, what does empowerment mean to you?

Ireland Black
That’s a great question. I think being in this role, empowerment means making an impact. I think when if we put too much pressure on the mental health or the emotional side of things, of course, empowerment is uplifting and it’s encouraging and it’s positive. And of course, I believe in those things. But at the end of the day, if I can make the impact on any student, I’ve empowered them. I think empowerment comes in so many different forms. I have a student in eighth grade who I’m running a program, hood up, won’t look at me. Sorry. That’s okay. Hood up, won’t look at me. And by week three, she took her hood off. And so I like went up, we have a water bottle, it’s called the Heroes Program. And I gave her a water bottle and she looked at me, she’s like, pay attention. And I was like, right. But I could tell that you’re, you’re getting there. You took your hood off for me today. That’s huge. So yeah, I think empowerment to me is really focusing on putting those kids first and extending my reach as far as I can to collect all those kiddos in between. Whether they’re super successful, academic, athletic, or they’re on the end where they’re maybe quieter or isolated even, I just want to get my impact and my reach on as many kids as I can. What is the HERO Program? The HERO Program is one of the programs we run for grades seven and eight. I believe it’s the Impact Society. It’s awesome. It’s fantastic. It’s working with real life stories and giving them meaning and showing the kids like if you take down your walls and just let people in, you’ll be more successful and you’ll feel connection and you’ll be able to express more empathy for others because others will finally be able to give empathy to you. be able to express more empathy for others because others will finally be able to give empathy to you. And they have this water bottle and it’s my favorite thing. Every time I hold up the water bottle the whole class says I have gifts and abilities and the desire to succeed. And I just think it’s phenomenal because the water bottle represents, it doesn’t matter the package you come in, if you run a 10k rates, at the end of the day like if you grab your $50 water bottle or the water bottle you bought in bulk from Costco, the water is what’s important. So it’s what’s on the inside that counts. So I love the Heroes Program. I can’t speak highly enough about it. The kids love it. They come up to me all the time, chasing me on the hallways, Miss I, Miss I, I have the gifts and abilities and the desire to succeed. And I don’t always have a water bottle with me, but I recognize that and I know that they’re trying and whether they’re saying it for the water bottle or saying it because it’s important to them, I know eventually it will click and they’ll start to believe it. And that’s really what matters, so.

Sam Demma
The moment where that student of yours took the hood off must have just gave you goosebumps and been such a empowering moment for yourself to remind yourself that the work you’re doing is also making a difference and an impact. Have you had any more moments like that one? It didn’t have to be a student, you know, removing a piece of clothing or something, but like, is there any other moments you’ve had since you started in this position that just reminds you how important this work is? 

Ireland Black
I wanna say that this past week has been such a huge reminder The kiddos I work with they have faced a lot of change through this position, I think there’s been Three of us now which is unfortunate But life happens and so they really struggled when I started being like how much do we want to invest in this lady? Like she might not be around and I think they’re getting to the point now where there’s that trust and that relationship. And I really saw an impact when I had a student in the third grade. And she came up to me one day after school, she’s like, Miss I, you told me that I can do hard things. And when I went home, like I finished my math homework and she hadn’t done her math homework since September. And so I was like, oh my goodness, that’s amazing, good job. And she was so excited, she was jumping up and down, she ran over and gave it to her teacher and he just kind of looked at me, he’s like, she did her math homework? And I was like, yeah, she did her math homework. I was like, he looks at me, he goes, it doesn’t look like any of it’s right, but it doesn’t matter. And I was like, no, it’s handed in and it’s done. And so it was kind of a kind of chuckle because it’s just math homework. But she was so excited. And she, we can do hard things is kind of like a personal model of mine. And so just hearing some little kid just full of excitement, and that they took that to heart was like, mind blowing to me. It was so impactful and I just think it meant so much to me to just see how excited she was even though she got nothing right. And to do that and to hand it in.

Sam Demma
The idea is that you can do hard things. I would argue it’s not just math homework. Like that is a foundational belief that this young person may carry with them for the rest of their life. And remember when they’re in the middle of a hard project at a future job or a hard time in their personal life and running up to you and saying, Miss, I did my math homework. It could be like a foundational moment in developing that principle they carry forward with them. And so I think what you’re doing is just so important and I hope more school divisions create a position like yours to empower young people and remind them of these very important lessons. I’m curious, you are having a positive impact on these young students. I’m wondering if you had a teacher when you were a kiddo who had a very positive impact on you and if so, what did that teacher do for you?

Ireland Black
My most impactful teacher was Jeff Madsen. He was my English teacher from grade 11 to 12. And I was going through a really rough time in my life. I had lost three immediate family members within two years. So I was struggling with a lot of grief. And I was recently diagnosed with Graves’ disease. So I was going through a lot. And I just remember always being so welcomed in his class. And I was very shy in grade 11. And very meek. And I remember I was having a bad day and I was in Radius, which was the writing club in our school that he ran. And there was a little office upstairs and he came in after lunch to his English class, I was just having the worst day. And I came and I sat down and grabbed my book or whatever and he was like, I didn’t know how much that meant, but looking back, like, that was such a critical moment for me. Being able to have someone care and not relinquish expectations, like, I still had to go read the book, but to be put into a safe space and an environment where I was comfortable was huge. And he mentored me through all my writing. And he was someone that I could trust and rely upon. And so I think, in this position, although I’m not an English teacher, and I don’t run a writing program, the care that he had and the empathy and the compassion, and just the kindness, and how he treated us in grade 12. He’s like, you’re grade 12 students. If you have to go to the bathroom, don’t ask. I’m trusting you to come back without Tim Hortons. And so I carry that with me being like, I got to trust these kids and I need to show them empathy and compassion. And I just want to embody what he gave to me.

Sam Demma
I was recently attending a divisional PD day in the Livingstone Range School Division in Lethbridge, Alberta. I had the pleasure of speaking at it, and I also listened to this lady keynote called Muriel Summers, and she runs a program called Leader in Me. And one of her phrases was, could it be that simple. And you’re telling your story about Jeff and the fact that he offered you a safe space. You know, sometimes we think we have to do something so huge to make a positive difference in the life of a young person. But more often than not, it’s just about showing them that we care. It’s about showing a young person that you have time for them, that you believe in them, that they can talk to you. And I’m curious, like how do you think you connect with young people and make a difference in their lives?

Ireland Black
I think the number one thing I try and do is something you just mentioned is make time for them. I never want to turn a student away. So if they come to me, whether it’s to push them on the tire swing at recess or to sit and have a hot chocolate and talk about their bad day, I have to make time for them. And I want to make time for them, because I need them to know that I care. And I always tell them, you’re always welcome here. You can tell me about your bad days. You can tell me about your good days. But you need to know I care about how you’re doing. And I want you to be having the best day you can. So whether that’s you’re having a bad day and we can make it a little bit better, then that’s the best day you can have. And so for me, I always say like, these kiddos will come first to me. And I think that’s what I try and do is care for them and show them in the hallway. I smile, I say hi, I use their names, I give them high fives when I walk past their room, I give them a big smile and a wave. I just try and make myself present for them all the time.

Sam Demma
You mentioned at the start of this interview that you’re a psychology major and you love psychology. Are there any, not doesn’t have to be related to psychology, but are there any resources or books or anything that you’ve read that has informed some of your own beliefs in teaching or helping others? You mentioned using people’s names and I remember as a young person, I had a teacher who told me to check out this book called How to Win Friends and Influence People. And it was all about building these interpersonal skills and relational skills. And one of the chapters was about the importance of people’s names. And I was just so fascinated by it that after I read the book, whenever I was shopping in a grocery store or anywhere, if a person had a name tag on, I would address them by their name. And there was one occasion where the cashier looked at me and said, do I know you? I was like, no, but I just saw your name tag there. And she went, oh my goodness, thank you so much. And we ended up talking for two minutes and she ended up giving me a 15% discount on my order. I didn’t – I wasn’t expecting a discount, but I just became fascinated by that idea. And I’m curious if you’ve read any books or followed any people that have impacted the way that you show up every single day?

Ireland Black
That’s a tough question. I think there was a moment in my positive psych class during my degree and my professor, Anami, she’s lovely, she’s out at Red Deer Polytechnic for anyone who’s curious, she kind of stopped and she was like, Listen, I know to some of you, this is nothing more than telling you to be mindful and be positive. And this is things you’ve heard before. But how often do you apply them? How often do you take that minute to be mindful? How often do you take that moment to actually ensure you’re actively listening to someone, that you’re making eye contact, that you’re using their names, you’re repeating info back to them. How often do you do that outside of these four walls, outside of this classroom? And everyone’s kind of looking at each other like, oh, she got us there. And after that, I just remember taking that to heart and leaving the room being like, that’s exactly what I have to do. Growing up my grandpa had always told me like always take the high road. The V was always worth it and so I think I’ve carried myself through that lens and then when she had kind of called us out in class that day it kind of reminded me like it doesn’t take this big huge grand gesture it’s holding the door and acknowledging someone, it’s saying good morning. Positive psychology and being having a positive and a growth mindset is huge. But it’s so easy to get caught up in life sometimes that we forget that all it takes is that hello and being mindful and connecting with yourself just as much as trying to connect with others. And so I think that, although it’s not a specific book, was probably where I got a lot of my insight was that positive psychology class.

Sam Demma
Take the high road. It’s worth the view. That’s gonna be stuck in my brain for the next couple of weeks because of this conversation. I thank you so much for sharing that.

Ireland Black
Of course.

Sam Demma
This has been an insightful conversation from start to finish, whether it was the bake club, talking about the teachers who had an impact on you, talking about the moments that teachers create when they give their students time and believe in them. Thank you for making the time in your busy schedule to share with everyone listening with myself. I really appreciate it. If there is an educator listening right now, they want to reach out to you and have a conversation or share a compliment, what would be the best way for them to get in touch?

Ireland Black
Oh, first of all, thank you for the opportunity to be here. It’s been lovely and I was excited coming into this because I don’t think a ton of people know about the position. And so I’m happy to spread the word. I hope it carries on to other divisions. The best way to get a hold of me would be my email. So that’s iblack@cesd73.ca.

Sam Demma
Awesome, Ireland. Thank you so much or Miss.I I should say. Awesome, Ireland. Keep up the great work and I look forward to crossing paths with you again very soon.

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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.