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Teaching Tips

Rick Gilson – Executive Director of Southern Alberta Professional Development Consortium

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

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

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

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

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

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Grande Prairie Composite High School

Grande Prairie Public School Division

Southern Alberta Professional Development Consortium (APDC)

Football Alberta

Alberta Schools Athletic Association

rickgilson.ca

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

Ryan Holiday’s Books

John Wooden’s Books

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

Andy Reid’s Books

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):

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

Sam Demma (01:24):

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

Rick Gilson (01:44):

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

Sam Demma (02:59):

<laugh>, it’s a big nut. <laugh>.

Rick Gilson (03:02):

I am a big nut

Sam Demma (03:04):

<laugh>,

Rick Gilson (03:04):

Correctly stated. Sam <laugh>,

Sam Demma (03:07):

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

Rick Gilson (03:25):

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

Sam Demma (04:27):

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

Rick Gilson (04:36):

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

Rick Gilson (05:37):

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

Sam Demma (06:27):

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

Rick Gilson (06:41):

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

Rick Gilson (07:33):

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

Rick Gilson (08:22):

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

Rick Gilson (09:15):

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

Rick Gilson (10:09):

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

Sam Demma (10:50):

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

Rick Gilson (11:23):

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

Rick Gilson (12:22):

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

Rick Gilson (13:27):

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

Sam Demma (14:51):

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

Sam Demma (15:45):

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

Rick Gilson (16:23):

<laugh> <laugh>?

Sam Demma (16:25):

And,

Rick Gilson (16:25):

And I said, you do now

Sam Demma (16:27):

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

Rick Gilson (17:17):

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

Sam Demma (17:22):

<laugh>.

Rick Gilson (17:22):

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

Sam Demma (17:24):

<laugh>

Rick Gilson (17:26):

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

Rick Gilson (18:17):

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

Rick Gilson (19:12):

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

Rick Gilson (20:19):

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

Sam Demma (20:59):

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

Rick Gilson (21:53):

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

Sam Demma (23:08):

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

Rick Gilson (23:51):

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

Rick Gilson (25:05):

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

Rick Gilson (26:04):

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

Sam Demma (27:27):

 23 now.

Rick Gilson (27:28):

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

Sam Demma (28:05):

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

Rick Gilson (28:27):

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

Sam Demma (28:33):

Drink

Rick Gilson (28:34):

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

Rick Gilson (30:10):

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

Sam Demma (30:56):

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

Rick Gilson (31:24):

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

Rick Gilson (31:44):

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

Rick Gilson (32:48):

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

Rick Gilson (33:53):

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

Rick Gilson (34:52):

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

Sam Demma (36:00):

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

Rick Gilson (36:07):

On the

Sam Demma (36:08):

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

Rick Gilson (36:16):

Yes.

Sam Demma (36:16):

Oh, sorry.

Rick Gilson (36:17):

Be quick, but don’t hurry.

Sam Demma (36:19):

Don’t hurry. Yes.

Rick Gilson (36:20):

And go slow to go fast. Yep.

Sam Demma (36:23):

That’s so true.

Rick Gilson (36:24):

Both John Wooden’s statements.

Sam Demma (36:26):

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

Sam Demma (37:27):

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

Sam Demma (38:22):

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

Rick Gilson (38:57):

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

Rick Gilson (39:58):

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

Sam Demma (41:25):

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

Rick Gilson (41:55):

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

Rick Gilson (43:08):

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

Sam Demma (44:19):

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

Rick Gilson (44:31):

<laugh>

Sam Demma (44:32):

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

Rick Gilson (44:46):

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

Sam Demma (45:23):

Awesome. Rick, thank you. Thanks

Rick Gilson (45:24):

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

Sam Demma (45:47):

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

Rick Gilson (45:50):

Take care.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Rick Gilson

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

Jeevan Dhami – High school teacher and current Leadership Department Head at Panorama Ridge Secondary School in Surrey, British Columbia

Jeevan Dhami - High school teacher and current Leadership Department Head at Panorama Ridge Secondary School in Surrey, British Colombia
About Jeevan Dhami

Jeevan Dhami is a high school teacher and current Leadership Department Head at Panorama Ridge Secondary School in Surrey, British Columbia. He originally began his career as an Outreach Worker in 2014 at the same secondary school he would return to as a continuing teacher in 2019. With an extensive background in community work through various organizations, Jeevan consistently pursued academics while attending Simon Fraser University to further his education. He completed his Bachelor of Arts with a focus in History and Criminology, then a Bachelors of Education with a focus on Environmental Education and is currently working on completing his Masters in Educational Practices.

Outside of the classroom, Jeevan can be found keeping up with his other passion of sport, by coaching Senior Boys Basketball. As a former student-athlete, he understands the importance of transferable skills through sport, which he hopes to pass on to his players and his community. His philosophy on life and teaching is based on the power of connection as he works to create a sense of belonging for people within his community.

Connect with Jeevan: Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Panorama Ridge Secondary School

Simon Fraser University – Criminology Major (Bachelor of Arts)

Simon Fraser University – History Major (Bachelor of Arts)

Simon Fraser University – Bachelor of Education

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 (00:00):

Welcome back to another episode on the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and keynote speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Jeevan Dhami. Jeevan is a high school teacher and current leadership department head at Panorama Ridge Secondary School in Surrey, British Columbia. He originally began his career as an outreach worker in 2014 at the same secondary school he would return to as a continuing teacher in 2019. With an extensive background in community work through various organizations, Jeevan consistently pursued academics while attending Simon Fraser University to further his education. He completed his Bachelor of Arts with a focus in history in criminology, then a Bachelors of Education with a focus on environmental education, and is currently working on completing his master’s in educational practices outside of the classroom. Jivan can be found keeping up with his other passion of sport by coaching senior boys basketball. As a former student athlete, he understands the importance of transferrable skills through sport, which he hopes to pass on to his players and his community. His philosophy on life and teaching is based on the power of connection, as he works to create a sense of belonging for people within his community. I hope you enjoyed this conversation. I surely did, and I took so much away from it. And I look forward to seeing you on the other side.

Sam Demma (01:28):

Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Super excited to have a good friend on the podcast today. We met, we met last year in May, and then again this year, again, last year. No, again, this year in September. Jeevan Dhami is a good friend, a connection through the Canadian Student Leadership Association. My man. Introduce yourself so people know who you are and a little bit about what it is that you do.

Jeevan Dhami (02:00):

Hey everyone. Happy to be here. Like Sam said, met met this young guy at the conference in Cloverdale about a year ago, and I just loved his energy and had to reconnect with him. We’ve been touching base from time to time, and he was able to come talk to our school. Myself, I’m a, a teacher here in Surrey and I’ve been living here for about 15 years now, and had to kind of adjust to calling Surrey my home, but it’s it’s a place that I, I, I think I, I’m finding, finding my own in.

Sam Demma (02:41):

15 years. Where were you before the 15?

Jeevan Dhami (02:45):

So, I was actually born small town up in central bc Cornell, BC is my, my hometown. It’s a small little town, 10,000 people. great place to grow up. Great community. Lot of outdoor things to be doing very close-knit community. So when you when you got in trouble, the whole town knew about it? And

Sam Demma (03:11):

Are you speaking experienced?

Jeevan Dhami (03:13):

I was yeah, I was definitely one of those kids that would be reported on <laugh>. Nothing like criminal, but it was all like the, the gossip growing up and especially in the like Indo-Canadian community here. it was, it was a small, small town, but we had a big population. So coming with from a family that I have four older sisters that were always, you know, I idolized, oh, your sisters are so good. And being the youngest of the siblings that was supposed to live up to that standard, and like, who, who’s you are their sibling. Like, they’re so nice and respectful and you’re just a bratty kid. But <laugh>, I, I think a lot of it was just immaturity at the time. Yeah. and being the, the only boy you’re often afforded a lot of luxuries that your sisters don’t necessarily get, so may have taken advantage of that. Luckily, I, those sisters of mine kept me in check pretty, pretty well and helped, helped me learn from my mistakes and helped me shape the person that I hope <laugh> I am becoming now. Maybe learning from those things.

Sam Demma (04:33):

Were you still in that hometown of yours when you had the realization that you want to work in education or one in your own journey as a student? Can you remember pinpointing, I want to be a teacher or work in schools?

Jeevan Dhami (04:48):

Yeah. My path was, it was a little different. I, I was always good at school. School came easy to me, but for me it was more of the social side of things. I, I loved sports and I loved athletics. just being a part of that community, it was very interesting for me. Cause growing up in that town, there was always, there, there was a lot of segregation for the most part kind of unspoken. So there was a brown school and a white school, and I ended up being the one living in, in the communities where I was at the white school. So I didn’t necessarily fit in with that community, and I didn’t necessarily belong with the brown kids, so I was kind of always in the middle. So I didn’t always feel like I, I belonged to one particular group.

Jeevan Dhami (05:37):

I at first I didn’t appreciate it at the time. I felt like growing up, you’re not realizing that, Hey, I, I don’t fit in. I don’t belong in certain aspects, so where do I fit? You feel like you’re a, a piece of the bigger puzzle, but you don’t know where exactly you, you sit or where you lie. So it took some, for me to realize that that was my biggest strength actually. Like, I was able to kind of maintain those strong relationships. And when you get into high school or it becomes a melting pot, like everyone’s together, you know, the people that you see at Temple on the weekend, you’re seeing on a day to day basis, and the people that you see and your Monday to Friday school session are now your teammates. so it just becomes a, a tight knit community.

Jeevan Dhami (06:21):

And that was, that was part of my process though. I tend to take advantage of that being a troubled student I think at the time, I, I was smarter than for my own, than my own good. And I would finish my work and then I would become disruptive. I wanted to be the class clown and make jokes and make my friends laugh, and things like that would talk about me in trouble. but my path to school, I always, I always loved learning. I always loved school. It became my, my, my safe place. didn’t necessarily have, you know, the best childhood growing up kind of thing. so there, there’s a lot of emotional issues and, and dealing with a lot of that. As a young kid, I didn’t realize that I was leaving more of a negative impact than a positive, but I had those leadership qualities that a lot of my teachers saw in me.

Jeevan Dhami (07:19):

So instead of kinda disciplining me, ridiculing me, they, it, there’s a few one in particular that tried to harness that energy and kind of switch it to the good. so he, he had always been like a positive pillar. He is a very, very great role model to look up to. And just slowly getting to build that relationship as I matured as a student we just had a lot of good conversations. I loved his energy. you, you never saw him with without a smile on his face. And then you did, you knew that, you know, something had happened, like somebody had crossed the line. And that kind where I got to see a, a real positive educator where it was his demeanor on a day-to-day basis. And he never actually even taught me in my senior year of high school, just the day-today passing. Right. So I would see him in the hallways. I would, I would finish my work in class, and I’d sneak out to just go have a conversation with him. And sometimes I would get in trouble for that as well. But

Sam Demma (08:25):

<laugh>,

Jeevan Dhami (08:27):

I, I think he saw just how vital those were for me to develop in those moments. And solely over time, I started to progress and I found that you know, history was one of the few subjects that I actually consistently enjoyed. and it was just something that I always was connected to. So I knew that I wanted to go to school to study history, and I always had three career choices in mind. So I was always drawn to policing, teaching, and law, and policing and law would always change at number one. I just wanted to come back and, and help my community and, and make a bigger impact. But teaching was always consistently number two, and I didn’t catch it at the time. Actually, someone recently pointed out that all three of my choices were about serving the community, but teaching was probably where I’m gonna have the biggest impact.

Jeevan Dhami (09:27):

I just never realized grade 12 student that pointed like, oh, you’re actually quite, quite accurate on that, especially now. I teach in a school of 1600 kids, and yeah, that number kinda continues to grow, so, so hopefully it’s like a ripple effect. But yeah. my plan after, I didn’t wanna leave small town, I loved the rural life, but my family decided that we were moving to the lower mainland and sold my house at the start of my grade 12 year, I’ll never forget it, one of my best friends at the time, he lived next door to me, and we had been living next door to other for about 10 years, and he got home and, and was talking the driveway. And he, you’re not gonna tell me, tell me, tell you what, like, you’re selling your house. I’m like, I’m selling my house.

Jeevan Dhami (10:21):

Like, yeah, I saw it in the paper, like, I didn’t know that you’re moving. I said, neither did I. This is my start of my grade 12 year where I want. Yeah. So I, I was quite annoyed at that, but household. But my mom and I, we, we stayed in the basement suite just so I could finish off my grade 12 year. And it, it was nice to see that little small sacrifice just so that I could have the year that I wanted. but yeah, as, as I wrapped up high school, I wanted to continue my education in the University of Northern British Columbia up there. I had, I had my goals and my plans, and this just kinda threw me, threw me for a loop. So I had to go back and go back to the drawing board. Coming from a small town I didn’t have a lot of insight, I guess, or guidance on how to navigate life in the lower mainland, but I knew that song and Fraser University’s reputable school, so, okay, I’ll, I’ll apply there.

Jeevan Dhami (11:24):

I can still live at home in Surrey and I can commute. And little did, I knew that that commute was gonna be an hour and a half on a bus sky training every single day one way, and then another hour and a half <laugh>. So I found it to be quite miserable. I actually hated living in the lower main line. I was quite miserable. Just didn’t really try to make positive connections or relationships with, with people. I always had kind of one foot out the door. I planned to just do my first year and I’m gonna move back up north. I’m gonna live with some of my old buddies, and I’m gonna, I’m gonna have fun up where I want. And I still have those three top career choices in mind. But slowly I started, I started working in the community. So my first job here was working at the local Y mt a, which is just a few minutes Nice from my house.

Jeevan Dhami (12:22):

And I, I went to interview for a front desk position and I didn’t get that job, but they really liked what they saw and suggested I’d be a part of youth programming. And so I went for a second interview there, and I started working in youth programs where I was just, you know, coaching little kids, soccer basketball, some sports programs, running birthday parties on the weekends and <laugh>. It was interesting. But I made a lot of strong connections there. And I realized, okay, well the lower mainland’s not, not too bad here. I started making some good friendships and, and relationships and started really being involved in my community and accepted that, Hey, I’m, I’m going to be here. This is my new home. And started to see the impact that, you know, I could have or that this community could have on me.

Jeevan Dhami (13:13):

And slowly started to get more involved in there. Actually, I met one of my best friends who’s they him and I met, but he was in a different department in the Y than I was. And he would kind of come into my space without kind of announcing himself. He would get a lot of positive energy and I’m like, well, who’s this guy just kind of coming up in my space? And I would do the same in his counteracting. We slowly did like the spider-man me, where we just pointed at each other like, Hey, the reason why I think we’re butting heads is cause we’re so much alike. And he brought me into a volunteer position running a youth leadership program. And slowly just opportunity after opportunity kept coming for me. I worked for different municipal organizations for the city, for other municipalities, just running different youth programming.

Jeevan Dhami (14:08):

And slowly along those ways, while I’m trying to pursue a career in law, I I was in the process of writing my lsat. I was actually working in an accounting firm at the time as well. And the accounting goes to me is like, oh, you’re going into law. Like, have you sold your yet <laugh>? And I found that very interesting because this was the same person that would have to spend nights away from his family in the office. I was like, okay, so this, yeah, it’s very, very strange to me. So he, he kind of talked about how, you know, that it’s a tough field to be in, and I didn’t know if my personality would match. I was a process of applying for law law schools and things like that. I wanted to be a lawyer. I was chasing affluence. But internally, I think I deep down knew that that wouldn’t be build, it wouldn’t gimme fulfillment or joy. Where I found joy was working with young people where I was making a positive impact. And slowly I kind of contemplated my, well, what am I doing? Like, this is not the career field I wanna be in. And I went back and I reached out to that, that teacher and said, okay, like I’m really, I’m contemplating my career choice. I think I want to go into teaching. And he said, oh, yeah, I, I knew that you were gonna do that when, when I met you in high school, like grade eight. You like <laugh>.

Jeevan Dhami (15:34):

Exactly, yeah.

Jeevan Dhami (15:35):

You’re like, ah, shut up, <laugh>.

Jeevan Dhami (15:38):

That was interesting too. Like, he, he made that comment. He was like, well, I saw those qualities in you, and I just don’t think you saw em in yourself at the time. And I figured eventually that you would, would find them for yourself. And so it was very interesting having that conversation. And I was still doing a lot of community work. so I ended up working for the Story school district as an outreach worker. Nice. And again, that was just, just kind of lateral moves that started from like my first job at 18 at the Y which just led me to new opportunities new jobs. And eventually I realized after working in some, some of these inner city schools I realized that I could backdoor into teaching, so I could still work at the same time while keeping my, my current job while I finished my teaching degree.

Jeevan Dhami (16:31):

And as an outreach worker, I, I often share, this is, I call it, call it serendipitous, call it state, whatever you will. But my first posting as an outreach worker was at this school that I was first posted at as a teacher in the exact same classroom. So it’s weird how things kind of lined up for you. So that’s, that’s kind of what took me to my path. And I’m, I’m still teaching at that same school. I, I’m slowly getting a little bit more comfortable. I’m, I’m technically five years teaching, but I’ve been in education since I was like 18, really. running those, those programs, a lot of youth education. So although my, my teaching credentials are, are fairly new, I think I have a lot of experience just working with within my community. And my current school is, is a little bit more of an affluent neighborhood, but the majority of my work has come from inner city schools that it is not the most affluent.

Jeevan Dhami (17:37):

And that some of the most rewarding experiences I think I’ve had. It’s, it, it’s definitely tough to build those connections where, you know, the goal of teaching is to, you know, teach content for the most part. But in, in those areas, it’s often tough to even get to the criteria, the, the curriculum because you’re dealing with, you know, getting kids to school mm-hmm. <affirmative>, making sure they’re fed supporting families in need. And there’s so many other things going on where, where teaching can kind of take a back door. So it’s, it’s nice being in this school because there is a high level of academics. So I get to do a lot more with my academics, but I still get to teach a lot of those personal social things that I learned from the inner city school. So it’s something that’s always been ingrained in my process. I think that’s one of the most rewarding parts of the job is you get to tie in different aspects. We’re not just teaching them, you know, content as social teachers. I’m not just teaching ’em about World War One, World War Two, and yeah, teaching them lessons about, you know, how, how you treat one another. How we learn from our past mistakes and grow as individuals, not just, you know, regurgitate this content that I’m teaching you. There’s, there’s more there.

Sam Demma (18:54):

That’s awesome. I love your journey and I appreciate you for sharing it. That was a, a phenomenal overview, <laugh>, and I really appreciate it because it seems like you, all your jobs leading up to education were involving programming in youth. So although you didn’t know for a long time that you wanted to be a teacher, you could kind of looking backward, realize you were doing it all along in different ways, <laugh> which is pretty unique and cool. you mentioned that teacher a few times when you were a high school student who you would finish your work early in class and go and visit and have a conversation with, and then you talk to him afterwards as well. What did he do that had such an impact on you that you wanted to go and spend time with him? Like, why were you drawn to him to chat and have conversation?

Jeevan Dhami (19:47):

Yeah, I think through my whole journey there, there’s three main educators that pop out for me. I think most kids are lucky to have, have one positive adult in their life. But I think along my path, I’ve had three. so my, my first one was one of my, my younger teachers Mr. Law, Mr. Law was my elementary teacher, <laugh> is this an awesome guy? He, he actually taught all of my sisters. So he was that first one to be like, you’re, you’re there. Brother <laugh>

Sam Demma (20:19):

<laugh>.

Jeevan Dhami (20:20):

He, he was one of the, my first teachers that taught me more of the fundamentals about basketball too. So I, I love basketball, playing up is my favorite hobby and pastime. and he was the teacher that would often give up his recess, his lunchtime, his after school to give up the opportunity to just shoot around in the gym. and I think that’s the first time that I got a glimpse of, you know, positive teacher that makes so many sacrifices outside of the classroom. so yeah, Mr. Law was like one of the first, he, he kind of paved the way for building those relationships. And then that other teacher is, is Mr. Stall. so Mr. Stall, he, he was another, he was another brown teacher, one of the few that we had in our school. So it was easy for me to kind of look up to him as mm-hmm. <affirmative>

Jeevan Dhami (21:13):

As someone that I could connect with. And someone that’s kind of been in similar situations where you don’t necessarily fit with one group or the other, you’re kind of in between. And he was a volleyball player. Well, volleyball is not the sport to be playing, right? Like, so there’s, there’s a whole bunch of different things there. But it was more of his, his positive demeanor and his optimism. Like I said, he just, he very rarely did not have a smile on his face. And I think that’s something that I, I really wanted to internalize. I don’t think I necessarily had a lot of positive adult male ro role models growing up. And to see someone that was that positive and optimistic about the, the daily world, even when there are so many bleak things going on, it was just a refreshing take on how to navigate life and approach it with that positive and optimism.

Jeevan Dhami (22:06):

And I think that’s what I internally did feel. I just didn’t know how to express that in the best way. And, and slowly, I do consider my, myself an optimist for the most part. I always try to see the best in, in, in people in situations, but I think a lot of that does stem from, from Mr. Saul there too. I still keep in touch with him. I tell him often, okay, you, you gotta come back and, and chat with me. Like, we gotta narrow down where this epiphany happened, like how you saw this. We, we keep in touch from time to time. And then so that was kind of like the early high school years. So so part, part of my journey again is like grade eight. I, I had a huge, like, falling out with a, a lot of my friend group.

Jeevan Dhami (22:55):

And grade 9, 10, I was like, well, you know, I’m just gonna step away from sports. Like, I, I’m not gonna play anymore. Like, I don’t feel like playing junior ball. I’ll play some community soccer here or there, but I away from the thing that I connected to most, and then slowly that, that was more like personal relationship stuff. I just didn’t feel like being involved in drama. Mm-hmm. And some of the negative toxicity that can be involved in sports. So I, I stepped away and that’s probably one of my bigger regrets. I don’t live life with a lot of regrets, but if I could go back and, and talk to my younger self, like, don’t quit, man. Like, just keep playing. Like whatever, it’s, you love the sport, stick with it, and who knows what doors can open up with for you.

Jeevan Dhami (23:41):

But I think, I think I missed some critical development there. not to say I was gonna go play in the league or anything like that, but, you know, maybe, maybe play some post-secondary get some my school paid for. But I think I kinda closed that door when I made that decision. But I was very fortunate that third adult was a coach. Mr. Capper. Nice. He he came back and he, he’s actually from the Maritime. He played basketball at Queens University, just giant man. I, I’m, I’m six four and I think he was like 6, 8, 6 9, snap

Jeevan Dhami (24:21):

Probably like the tallest person that had, so he came back and so he started teaching at our school and somehow we convinced him to coach our senior boys team. And like the guy just had a wealth of knowledge and just spent so much time working and helping me develop as a player. And it was fun. I got to see the, the fun of sport again and play a little bit of a higher level for, for myself, pushing myself. But it was the same thing that I saw, like in Mr. Law. Like, we’d finish our practice and I would play him one on one and he would crush me every single time. But, but slowly, like, I started to get better and then I like, like, I can beat this guy now. Like, he, I don’t think he ever let me win, but I definitely did earn, earn my my victories over him. again, it was just, I think the biggest thing that I take away from all three of those guys, it was not so much what they outta classroom stuff that they did, their personal sacrifice of their time. And obviously I recognize it more as a teacher now, but definitely it, it’s that extra commitment. The, the extra stuff that they did that stands out for me,

Sam Demma (25:39):

Well, we’re on the street, is that you’re the new MR. Law for some high school students at pr <laugh>. You just took a bunch of them after school to one of their games out in Langley. And whether you realize it or not, you’re now making the same sacrifices that they made for you when you were a student and they were a teacher and a coach. So keep doing what you’re doing. It’s making a, a big difference. And you never know one of those kids might come back and be on a podcast 20 years from now, <laugh>, <laugh> and be saying the same things. Right.

Jeevan Dhami (26:12):

Yeah, hopefully, I think that’s the goal. yeah, on that note, I did just have practice and we played some bump and I went three and just, just beating these young guys, so, got it. I was extremely gas, I’ll tell you that bump, it’s a lot of shape right now. But that conditioning piece, that’s been fun. But I, I think that is the goal is just to hopefully give these young people an opportunity to find some, some positive connection or, or open up some doors for them that they might not see themselves in. And like I said, <laugh>, you don’t know it at the time, but a lot of these adults see it in you. And I think that’s the one thing that is tough about teaching is you won’t know the impact that you’re having. Cause sometimes it’s not gonna happen in the moment. one thing that I would say is these, these kids today, they’re, these kids today sounds like such an old man <laugh>. They’re, they’re way more in, in tune with their, their emotions and, and expressing of them. So it’s very nice to see that a lot of the, these students now are expressing like, Hey, I appreciate this teacher. I express my, my gratitude in certain situations. I see the sacrifices that are being made. I see the impact that you’re making. And it’s nice to see it. And hopefully we, we see it a little bit more in, in that meantime. Cause most often

Jeevan Dhami (27:59):

Choosing to do this, and we’re hoping for the best and hopefully they find their success and maybe one day they’ll appreciate it and then thank these teachers that they make a positive impact. But it took me time to go back and thank those individuals for sure.

Sam Demma (28:14):

Nice. it’s so cool. sports was a big part of my high school experience and it definitely helped me become the person that I am today. And I can think back to coaches that I had who had a big impact on my life. when you think about your transformation and your whole journey through education as a student, but also as a teacher what is it that you’ve done as a teacher but also teachers did for you when you were a student that you think enabled you and them to build such tight relationships? Or how do you like build a relationship with a young person as a teacher?

Jeevan Dhami (28:57):

Yeah, that’s, that’s a gray area for me because I think a lot of my teacher training told me that I have to be extremely professional at all times and I can’t blur that line. so this is still something that I’m trying to navigate. I think for myself personally, it’s unfortunate because I do want to, you know, share my, my, my silly my goofy side, my drop my guard a little bit here and there. But I think a lot of my training has told me that I don’t have that luxury where I can see some of my colleagues and my coworkers, they can blur those lines a little bit. whereas for me, I, I don’t feel like I can do that just yet. maybe <laugh> if, if things change down the road, nice, but maybe get a little bit older, wiser. But for now, I, I think for me, my biggest thing is just trying to role model that behavior.

Jeevan Dhami (29:59):

I think providing some of these young people with, with someone that looks like them, that is representative of their community, that is doing something different than the expectations. So right now we are, like I said, we’re a fairly academic school. Yeah. And when you, I, I teach a career course, so most amount the time the kids are like, oh yeah, my, my parents said I gotta be a doctor, lawyer and professional in, in this field. And like, man, you’d be such a good teacher. Like, oh, my, my parents wouldn’t like that. So it, it’s tough to navigate that. So trying to kind of role model that you can be more than just your, your, your parents hopes and dreams. Like yeah, honor them, do what you can to live up to some of their goals and expectations, but at the end of the day, you still have to find what gives you purpose and meaning.

Jeevan Dhami (30:50):

And that’s part of my journey and my story that I’ve, I’ve had to discover is that, you know, I, I wanted to pursue law because I felt like, hey, that was a successful career that would be respected. It would give me a financially stable life and all of those Xs and os that it, it’s, you know, completing. But at the end of the day, it wasn’t giving me that fulfillment, that personal joy, that happiness, I think that I, I find in, in youth work, and that’s kind of one of my main teaching perspectives is you can’t pursue a career or take an opportunity because your coach is telling you, your parents are telling you, or I’m telling you, you have to find your more internal drivers and, and hopefully if you listen to your, your, your gut feeling a little bit more you, you can make that positive decision for yourself.

Jeevan Dhami (31:45):

So showing them that there’s an alternative route while still building positive relationships in a professional manner, I think it just kind of helps for me to role model the behavior that I want to see in some of these students. Nice. It’s, it’s making that difference. Cause I, I, I see it where, where some of like, not, not to say anything negatively about any of, yeah, my, my colleagues, but I see it easier for them to, you know, blur those lines a little bit. They can try to relate to those kids on a more personal level where they’re allowing their personalities, their, their, I don’t wanna say unprofessional, but like I guess more of their, their silly, their, their authentic selves a little bit more. Whereas for me, I, I try to do it with any professional. And I think part of that is more of my, my upbringing through this educational system.

Jeevan Dhami (32:47):

I think a lot, a lot of educators that have come into is like, sometimes young male teachers get a negative reputation in the school, especially when you’re in vulnerable situations, if you build strong connections with kids. And I think that’s happened in the past where I’ve, I’ve had strong, meaningful connections, but, you know, people in the same field or superiors will question your motives or your intention. Mm. Right. So it’s, it’s kind of like a toxic thing, which is unfortunate, but that’s always kept in the back of my head. I would never want anybody to question my, my professionalism or my motives for building strong connections with kids. So if I always remain professional, I’m leading by example with these kids and I can still make strong bonds within those confines. Yeah. But I, I don’t have to, you know, take it down to a personal level.

Jeevan Dhami (33:41):

I don’t have to be their friend to only maintain a relationship. I can still remain their teacher Yeah. But still have that positive connection. I think that’s what all three of those teachers did for me is they role modeled that behavior. They maintained that professional, the professionalism of being the teacher and not just my friend even as much as they, that I consider them to be my friends at the time. Yeah. they kind of drew the line in the sand inadvertently without blurring in. I think that was very important for me to kind of realize that there are structures and parameters in PA place and those need to be honored, but you can still build meaningful connections despite those. Nice. If that makes sense. I dunno. It does, if I answered your

Sam Demma (34:32):

Question. It does. Yeah. Absolutely. you b yeah, it sounds like you build a strong relationship through taking an interest in the young people in front of you, but in a professional manner. <laugh>. and I, yeah, I appreciate you sharing the, the context and some of the insight and how those teachers did it, did it with you. when you think about your journey in education so far, and you’ve been formally teaching now for, did you say you’ve been formally teaching for five years, right?

Jeevan Dhami (35:01):

Yeah. But going on five, no officially,

Sam Demma (35:04):

But been working with youth for much longer. if you could kind of go back to your first role at the Y M C A, but with the experience you have working with young people now knowing what you know now, like what advice would you have given your younger self if you were restarting a journey working with youth? And not because you would change anything about your journey itself, but you thought it would be helpful to hear before you jumped in.

Jeevan Dhami (35:32):

Man, that’s a, it’s like this, this is where Sam comes in to shine and stop me. you know what I, I think that is, it’s tough cause I, like I said, I’m not one that wants to live on a regret or Yeah. Or anything like that. So I don’t think I would really change a whole lot. Yep. But if I could go back, I would just tell myself to, to trust my gut. Mm-hmm. I think internally I knew that a youth work is where I am finding the most passion and joy that I can trust that and, and jump into it a little bit early. I don’t know if that would change where I am at right now. I think it may have just kickstarted it to, to be doing that a little bit earlier. I think what, from my path and my journey, I think there was a few extra years that I took to figure out what exactly I wanted to do.

Jeevan Dhami (36:28):

Nice. So there was that wall between, you know, completing my undergrad and, and finding that outreach work position and then deciding, well, okay, now I’m gonna go into teaching. Whereas a lot of the, but see, and that’s the thing. Cause if, if I were to go back and, and jump into it sooner, I don’t know if I would’ve the same experiences. So we do this, I do this activity with my kids. we’re in grade 12, so within the professional confines, but well, it’s actually called Dear Johnny in activity. I just call it dear. They get to <laugh>, they get to put questions and honestly into a a and I spend some time like asking them, because for weeks on end, I’ll, I’ll often grill these kids like, okay, what are your goals in life? What do you want to achieve? What, what can I help you with?

Jeevan Dhami (37:22):

Kinda thing. So that’s a lot of the one-on-ones from my perspective. So, nice. I try to spend some time doing it. But e every single year is very unique. And I actually shared that I do this activity with some of my colleagues and they’re like, terrified. You just let them ask you any questions. And honestly, <laugh> like, I’m like, yeah, a hundred percent. Like I had the same conversation. I was like, Hey, like, be respectful. I’ll be as open as I possibly can and I’ll be honest. But if you guys are are respectful about your questions, I will answer that. Like, whatever you have, gimme my personal life, my, my career path, my, my teaching perspective, my views on sports, politics, whatever it is. Cause part of my approach is I, I don’t tell them how to think or tell them what I think. I provide them with the evidence and the, the content and I let them make their own decisions.

Jeevan Dhami (38:15):

Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. But they’ll often ask me like, oh, what political party would you vote for? Like, what, what political party do you think I would vote for? So it’s just like probing with questions. So we did this activity and every time is different. And one of the kids asked me what was my most rewarding moment in, in teaching. I was like, whoa. Like that. That’s a good question for grade 12 students to be asking. Yeah. And I, I’ve never really had that question. And I’ve done this like dozens of times. It made me think. And the one moment that popped out was my role. It wasn’t teaching, it was being an outreach worker. So I worked at this one school in elementary school actually. So again now a tough environment to be with cause I can very well with high school students, but elementary is just different level of emotions and was running this afterschool program.

Jeevan Dhami (39:09):

And there was one student that was a like 12 year old girl with an attitude of like, a 17 year old, just don’t talk to me. I don’t wanna be here. I don’t belong here. But she was a part of my afterschool program and she showed up every single day. And this was a tough school working with a lot of students in communities. And this kid just came in every single day. But she would always come in with the attitude of, Ugh, I hate this guy. Like, why are you here? Why do I have to be here? And it was the same attitude I got every single day. So for two years I did that in two years consistently. Like this girl never attacked whatsoever, never gave me a smile, never acknowledged that she appreciated the program. And slowly when I figured out, hey, like I’m gonna be going to teaching, I’m gonna be stepping away.

Jeevan Dhami (40:05):

Like, it was very important for me to have that transition where I wasn’t just to cut off the tie. Yeah. So I worked with my managers and so we had support staff at the time, and one of my friends, he was just coming into the role and I thought, Hey, he’s gonna be a great fit for the school. I think it would be awesome if he could take over for me, but I don’t want it to be like, G’s gone and he’s in. Right. I think it would be far more beneficial for the school if we have a transition where he’s shadowing me. The kids are building relationship as an extension of me. They’re seeing that, hey, this is G’s friend. Like he is similar. So we don’t have to feel as sad if, if, cause I did build some strong relationships minus that one girl <laugh>.

Jeevan Dhami (40:50):

Ah. So slowly we, we transition, I started to step away and she comes in once I announced, I’m like, okay, like this is ej. Like he’s gonna be taking over for me because I’m gonna finish my teaching program and, and I’m gonna be an official teacher. And most the kids were happy and that that same girl goes good. We like EJ better than you anyways. Like, I’ve been here like two years grinding it out with your attitude day in and day out. And EJ is gonna come in and, and you’re gonna love him. Ejs a great dude. So I was like, I had no problem with it. I’m like, that’s fine. My, my goal worked right For, for her to be that like passing the torch, like that’s fine cause that’s what those kids needed. And same thing. Then the last day, I’ll never forget it she, the student that, that despised me on my last day, she just breaks down in tears, man, just falling and comes in and just wraps my legs.

Jeevan Dhami (41:58):

Just bear hugs me. And this kid would not let go. Like, she was just an emotional mess. And like, I’m not an emotional person. I don’t break down a lot. But that broke my heart, man. Like, even now, like I still, like, I get a little welled up thinking about it, unfortunately. But like, that was, that was the, the moment, like, holy crap. Like, this is what my biggest learning opportunity is as a young person to realize, hey, this kid will tell you to f fall off, tell you they hate you. Say that they don’t want to be here, but they still show up. They still meet you and you are making a bigger impact than you’ll ever know. So that was like one of my most defining moments. And it’s something that I’ve always kept in the back of my head as I keep teaching.

Jeevan Dhami (42:46):

So when these kids are like showing in late to class, I’m like, well, they’re still showing up these kids that are, you know, falling asleep in class or whatever it is. I’m like, well, deep down, did you have breakfast today? Mm-hmm. <affirmative> like, did you have a good night’s sleep? Are you having, you know, emotional issues? Are you having family issues back home? Are you being bullied in harass? So those are the things that kind of go through the back of my mind. It always reminds me of that student. So when you tell me if I could go back and, and change anything, I think if, if I were to risk changing that moment, that has kinda helped define me right now. I, I don’t think I could provide any advice <laugh> if I were to risk that. I think that is probably one of the most defining moments for myself as, not even as a teacher or educator, just as a person, as a human being. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, it’s what stands out most to me. So I, I don’t think I could go back and provide much advice. Maybe just, hey, trust, trust your gut. Trust your gut. You gotta trust your gut. You know what you’re doing. And don’t be afraid to, to take that risk, that jump.

Sam Demma (43:53):

Nice. Man. I got goosebumps when you explained that story too. So <laugh>, it’s super visceral and I hope lots of educators have the opportunity to experience something similar throughout their career. I think that’s a really cool memory and learning. And yeah, I appreciate you for coming on the show. This was a really great conversation about your journey and some things that have gone on through your career path and some of your philosophies around education and relationship building. If someone is listening to this and wants to reach out and ask you a question, what would be the best way for them to get in touch? Do they write a with Dear Dhami at the top or <laugh>

Jeevan Dhami (44:33):

<laugh>? Send me an e send me an email. Dear dmi <laugh>. yeah, I, i I try to practice professional courtesy again, try to respond to my emails. Email is probably the best way to contact me, it’s just dhami_j@surreyschools.ca. You can, you can try to reach out to Sam, maybe Sam can connect us as well. Appreciate the work that Sam does. I think it’s part of why I wanted, wanted to do this and why we’ve maintained such a strong relationship is I think you and I have a lot of similarities in personality type, and I got a few years on you now, but I see a lot of those things in, in you as a young person. So I, I I think it’s important that anyone listening to this is just the biggest thing I can say is just show up.

Jeevan Dhami (45:28):

Just be present. I think the strongest connection I’ve made with my kids, with, with other educators, with, with people like Sam and people in the community, is when you show up and be present just for, for, you know, 10 to 15 minutes, give them everything you have. You might be sacrificing a little bit of your personal time, but you know, if you’re a teacher, the kids will appreciate you, you know, giving up your free time to come watch them play their sport or participate in their, their band event, their acting debut or whatever it is. Those kids will eat that up and they appreciate it so much more than they will ever tell you, and I hope you all have that moment that I just shared. And even if you don’t, keep showing up because one day, whether you know it or not, you are making that moment for so many people that you may never know about. So I appreciate Sam, keep doing the work that you’re doing. And anyone listening to this show up, be present and you don’t know the ripple effect that you’re creating, but you casting that stone, they’re, they’re definitely out there.

Sam Demma (46:40):

You heard it here first. You gotta strive to be someone’s Taco <laugh>, thanks for coming on this show, my friend. Keep up the great work and we’ll, we’ll connect and stay in touch very soon.

Jeevan Dhami (46:51):

Awesome. Thanks a lot Sam.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Jeevan Dhami

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.

Martin Tshibwabwa – K-12 Educator passionate about Special Education, Social Sciences, and Languages

Martin Tshibwabwa - K-12 educator passionate about Special Education, Social Sciences, and Languages
About Martin Tshibwabwa

Martin Tshibwabwa is a K-12 educator passionate about Special Education, Social Sciences, and Languages. He relishes the opportunity of guiding students to attain their learning goals and feed their desire to be lifelong learners. Democracy is about engaging everyone. Henceforth, his pedagogy is led by the concept of Democratic education – A concept that promotes the development and celebration of diverse learning experiences.

Connect with Martin: Email

Listen Now

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Resources Mentioned

What is Democratic Education?

What is Special Education?

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):

Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Martin Tshibwabwa. Martin Tshibwabwa is a K-12 educator with a passion for special education, social sciences, and languages. He relishes the opportunity of guiding students to attain their learning goals and feed their desires to be lifelong learners. Democracy is about engaging everyone. Henceforth, his pedagogie, is led by the concept of democratic education; a concept that promotes the development and celebration of diverse learning experiences. I hope you enjoy this exciting conversation with Martin and I will see you on the other side of this interview. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host, Sam Demma. Today we are joined by a returning guest who has recently taken a new step in his educational journey. Super excited to have him on the show. Martin Tshibwabwa, it is a pleasure to be here with you. Please start by introducing yourself and telling the audience what it is that you do in education.

Martin Tshibwabwa (01:11):

Greetings everybody. Sam, thanks for having me once again here. I appreciate it. And yep. As you did mention, it’s my second time back on the podcast and I’m excited to be here again. And myself in a little nutshell, I am a publicly funded teacher in the elementary panel and right now I’m a special education teacher and I also teach french as a second language. And that’s pretty much me as a, in a nutshell on my role in education right now.

Sam Demma (01:42):

Why education Did, did you always wanna be a teacher? Did you always wanna work with kids or did you wanna be a farmer but decided to only do that during the summer months? <laugh>?

Martin Tshibwabwa (01:55):

Well, it’s it’s fun, right? Cause we’re, we’re always constantly learning. And before heading into teaching I went to medical school. It didn’t work out. I had a little burnout. So came back reset and while taking my time off, I decided to jump into something new, which was education. Give it a shot, loved it. And ever since, been in education. And then during the summertime, as you mentioned, I do farming. Cause when I was in medical school, I was in an offshore school and that’s where I got the taste of farming cuz I go get my produces in a farm. And the farmers, I helped them out. They taught me some skills that I learned there. So while I was at home during the summertime, it became a hobby. And the hobby turned into now and every, every summer passion that I do,

Sam Demma (02:49):

Not only did you do middle school, school offshore, but you were on an island, correct?

Martin Tshibwabwa (02:54):

That is correct.

Sam Demma (02:55):

There’s no, that’s correct. There’s no better place to go to get an education than on an island <laugh>.

Martin Tshibwabwa (03:00):

That’s right. I was saying no man is an island himself. Right. We’re always standing on the backs of others.

Sam Demma (03:05):

It’s so true. And you still use some of your medical learnings. I remember one day I was feeling really sick and, and you said, Sam, I have a recipe for you. Just make sure that, you know, you don’t drive after this one <laugh> you gave me, you know, cool mixture of lemon and a couple other ingredients to kind of soothe your, your cold. And I <laugh> it was, it sticks in my mind to this day.

Martin Tshibwabwa (03:30):

Exactly. That’s true. That’s something I learned too. Right now just pass it on to you. Just share it, share what I know I share with you also. Right?

Sam Demma (03:36):

Absolutely. So tell me a little bit about your current role in education and how it differs a little bit from what you’ve done in the past. Cuz you’ve just made a, you just made a transition,

Martin Tshibwabwa (03:48):

Right? I was on the high school panel and I transitioned over to the elementary panel. And when I transferred over to the elementary panel, I got the opportunity to teach France as a second language. And that was very rewarding because it it took me outta my comfort zone. Mm-hmm. Versus coming from a full day French school to an English speaking school. It challenged me because I had to I had to attract English native speakers to learn French. Keep in mind that when the French teacher shows up, it’s pretty much break time for everybody. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, you need to get them back on board and to get them back on board, you need to find strategies. Like what do you do within the frame of 40 minutes? It was challenging, but it’s fun because you get to know your students and they get to know you and you end up building relationships.

Martin Tshibwabwa (04:42):

And I realized that in anything actually before you move forward in any content, and you can probably speak on that yourself before you dive into something or you dive into your material, there’s no stance in diving in it right away if you don’t build a relationship with your audience. So I realized that the number one thing is building a relationship with your audience. Mm-hmm. Once you’ve established that relationship, everything else was in place. And after serving that role, I went back to special education and special education. It’s my baby and I’m loving it right now. Mm-hmm. Cause I’m learning things that I didn’t know, especially being the elementary panel, I’m working with younger students and with those students I’m able to learn something that I would’ve not seen in high school. Because in high school they come to us, they’re already molded, they know where they’re headed. Whereas in elementary, we’re working that individual. We’re molding them into which learning styles best suits them and not able to see both sides of the coin. It’s, it’s rewarding.

Sam Demma (05:44):

That’s awesome, man. I, I’m inspired by your enthusiasm despite the changes. I think sometimes as humans we approach change with disappointment or we approach change with fear and anxiety. And it sounds like you’ve really dove in and embraced the changes and have put on the learner’s cap and tried to learn new things. And you mentioned the importance of, you know, building that relationship with your audience as a teacher in a classroom, especially as the French teacher. I’m curious to know like how do you actually do that? If there’s a teacher listening to this that’s thinking Martin, I’m also the French teacher of an elementary school and I struggle every time I walk into my French class. And the kids, they just don’t seem to listen. They always talk over me. what would you tell them? Like what are some things that you do to try and build that relationship that you found has helped in the classroom?

Martin Tshibwabwa (06:47):

I find that sometimes you need to let the individual take control also of the classroom environment. Let them take control. Sometimes I let them take control. Sometimes you may not be able to teach and that’s okay. Sometimes you may be able to teach for the full 40 minutes and sometimes you may just be able to teach for half the 40 minutes. And that is okay because I feel like when you try to go against the grain, that’s when there’s no resolution because there’s always gonna be heads bumping. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Whereas if there’s a balance, it’s true that we have a job to do to deliver curriculum. But I always tell myself, as long as learning is still happening, even if we’re going off topic still try and bring them back on the topic. For example, if I can bring an example at this moment, let’s say we’re talking about verbs.

Martin Tshibwabwa (07:35):

You being from Italian background, I’m pretty sure you have the same thing in Italian where you have verb tenses and everything has a gender or a number. Same thing applies to French, but in English doesn’t happen. So a fun conversation I like to do is students have seen already some verbs in French or we’ve done already some vocabulary words. And I try to tell them to pick up some differences that we find in French that we don’t see in English. So yes, the conversations are happening in English, but really they’re talking about French content. So I know that later on, at a later time when I come back on it, I dropped down my notes as students are speaking and I can make reference back to what they’re speaking about in English. And it’s funny, for example, let’s say if I hear you say something to one of your peers, when I’m delivering my lesson, I might come back to you and say, Hey Sam, by the way, do you remember on X day you did say this?

Martin Tshibwabwa (08:30):

And it’s funny cause you’ll see the kids, I will light up and say, whoa, you’re paying attention <laugh>, but you didn’t say nothing that day during class. Mm-hmm. And you can just see like by doing that too, you’re still building a relationship but they don’t know. And then when they see that, you actually refer ’em back to some points that they mentioned two weeks ago and you’re bringing it back in your lesson. They get more engaged. It’s true, it’s in English, but when you come back to your lesson, you’re showing them the difference. So they can see both sides, English and French. Except that in French there’s more rules to follow. Where in English we don’t have that.

Sam Demma (09:06):

Hmm. Yeah. That idea of active listening and repeating back to students weeks later, things they said previously. It’s such a smart idea that I think any educator can pick up, put in their toolkit and use in their classrooms. Do you take notes in a notebook? Do you have a notebook for each of your classes? Or where do you capture the, the points or ideas so you don’t forget them?

Martin Tshibwabwa (09:29):

Oh, time goes by quick in 40 minutes. So luckily enough we have technology. So I take, I drop down notes on my phone right away. I dropped down notes, make a reference point, dropped down notes. And it’s funny cuz I know we’re not supposed to be using our cell phones, but kids will look at me and they’ll, they know I’m not texting because they always know that I, my, I have my phone loud and I always tell students like, hey, like I have no problem for you using your phone, but you have to be able to self-regulate. I won’t be the one being a police officer or a security guard or a patrolling or a helicopter on top of you to tell you put your phone away. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, I put my trust in you. He guys know when and not when to use it. So when you guys see me on my phone, it’s funny cuz sometimes I’ll have my notes when I’m writing on the, because that’s a French teacher, you constantly traveling.

Martin Tshibwabwa (10:16):

So I dropped out my notes on my phone because it’s much more easy to handle or my tablet and students can see, they always know that I’m taking notes. Mm-hmm. Because I used to use a a notebook and when I used to use a notebook and then students would see their name in it, it gave a bad impression. They always thought that I was dotting down something that was not positive about them. But with the phone or a digital device, I find that it’s different for them. Or sometimes I’ll, if I have the chance to have my my laptop with me, I’ll use my laptop. But the convenience of having a handheld device is different than having a laptop. Right.

Sam Demma (10:51):

Hmm. That’s a,

Martin Tshibwabwa (10:52):

So versus being the traditional method of writing down notes on a paper using a digital device, I find it’s more of a calm environment for the students.

Sam Demma (11:01):

That’s a great idea and a unique perspective that I didn’t even think of. Especially from the student’s perspective. Seeing their name being written down. I think when I was a student, if I saw my teacher write my name down in a notebook, I would be like, oh my goodness, what did I do? <laugh>,

Martin Tshibwabwa (11:17):

Something’s happening. A phone call. Or you staying during recess. Right.

Sam Demma (11:21):

Yeah. So I like that. Thanks for sharing. Yes. You, you mentioned that special education is your baby. Tell me more about that passion for special education. Why is it something you love so much?

Martin Tshibwabwa (11:35):

I love it’s so much because it puts it in perspective that every individual, every child can learn. Hmm. Different ways, different strategies, different methods. But at the end of the day, the results are there. Versus being the traditional classroom or being in a life skills course every child can learn. And that’s one thing I love about special education and it’s constantly challenging. And nowaday days are the same, just like in the classroom.

Sam Demma (12:06):

What about teaching and working in special education makes you feel like you’re making a serious impact? Because I would imagine you feel like you’re making an impact whether you’re in, you know, a special education classroom or any other classroom in a school building. But I think there’s a, there’s a large opportunity in special education to feel like you’re making a very significant difference.

Martin Tshibwabwa (12:30):

Absolutely. Well it comes back to first as a team, of course it’s not just me. We have a team and it comes back to first as a team having a purpose. And once you have that purpose, you find creative ways to advance. And by advancing you’re actually persevering and you’re helping the child reach the full learning potential. So I think having those three things is the main, the main foundation for learning versus special education or non-special education students. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And also, it’s funny, funny enough, special education students who are gifted are actually part of special education. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. So I find the three things to keep in mind is first to have a purpose. Once you have that purpose, you find creative ways to problems. And once you get that creativity and purpose concept together, it is actually the gasoline to continue to persevere.

Sam Demma (13:31):

Hmm. Can you share a story about a student, any student who you’ve seen, develop and reach their full learning potential by participating and by a team of people, like teachers like yourself supporting that individual special education or not? does any student come to mind that makes you internally smile? <laugh>,

Martin Tshibwabwa (13:56):

Myself,

Sam Demma (13:58):

<laugh>?

Martin Tshibwabwa (13:59):

Yeah. Yes. Myself. Like I look at my journey at first I’m a native French speaker and then when I was younger my parents put me in a French day school for about, I can’t remember exactly, but let’s say about three to five years from there I got withdrawn. They put me back in an English school language barrier, kept on pushing, learning, learning, learning. And then once I was done, I was still in elementary school. I wanna say when they put me in English schools, I bought in grade four, grade five, no grade three or grade two. And then fast forward to grade four, five, all the way to grade eight, they put me back in a French school. So my brain was confused cause I was going back and forth. Yeah. So once I was done grade eight we were living in Ontario at the time.

Martin Tshibwabwa (14:50):

Before that we were in Quebec. So when we moved to Ontario, they put me into a French school after grade eight. And then high school came, when high school came, they shipped me back to high school and English. That’s when the challenges began because I came prepared, I was prepared in French content. And when I get to high school, it’s a different ballgame because now you have the two streams I apply in academic. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, I went into the academic route. It was tough because brand new language for me, yes I was around English, but having learned all my elementary years in French, a little bit of English, but mostly French. And then the sudden switch, it was tough. It was always an up climb for me, an up climb and up climb. And things didn’t work out as planned, but I still succeeded.

Martin Tshibwabwa (15:40):

I had a combination of applied in academic courses and then from there I went to, as a prep, I didn’t wanna go to university right away. I went to college. College was an English. Fast forward university was English. But I find that college helped me more. And my last two years of high school helped me a lot to ease my transition to college as a WHI year student and then university. And then funny enough, I went to med school, but then when med school did not work out, med school was in English. When med school did not work out, this where the twist happens, teachers college, I completed it all in French

Sam Demma (16:17):

<laugh>. I thought you were gonna say that vet school was in Dutch or something. <laugh>.

Martin Tshibwabwa (16:21):

Oh no, no. So that’s the twist. So it’s funny how it went from English to French, French to English, English to French. And then when it came to teachers college, I completed the whole content in French. And here I am now. Which I kind of loved it because it’s an academic context in both languages. So it really put things to perspective for me. And I have a better appreciation now for learning

Sam Demma (16:50):

And language. It’s, it opens so many, it opens so many doors, breaks down so many barriers. If there’s a teacher listening who also teaches French and their students often say, miss, why are we even learning this? Or Sir, why, why are we doing this? We don’t, we don’t care about this language. Like what would your response be if you were talking to a student like that or telling a teacher to help them or coach them through a response to a student?

Martin Tshibwabwa (17:18):

Well it’s funny cuz as you said when students say that I actually agree with them, I do agree. I tell ’em, okay, French, French is not the as is not useful for you. Or as they were saying, I hate French, French sucks. I say, you what? I do agree with you. But tell ’em the reason why I wanna do the why because I can say when we go to gym class, I don’t like playing soccer or I don’t like playing basketball. But why did you try? Mm. Did you try learning? And when I ask them questions like that, you can see their, like the expression that they say dear in front of a headlight, they dunno what to say because it’s almost as if they’re trying to escape a topic that they haven’t invested themselves enough into or for other reasons. And I find that when I ask, when actually agree with them, first of all it catches them off guard because usually when people disagree, you find a reason to bring them back to positivity. Mm-hmm. But me, immediately I say, you know what? I do agree with you French does sucks. What can we do about it though?

Sam Demma (18:22):

Ah, <laugh>.

Martin Tshibwabwa (18:24):

Or if they say, I hate French, I agree with you, I hate French too. And then this way they get clever, they’ll tell me, well you do speak French. I’m like, yeah, but I also do speak English. And right now I’m telling you in English that I also do not like French <laugh>. So when they do ask me sometimes why I don’t like French, I’ll tell ’em, well first of all, there’s a lot of rules to remember and I get it when you have those rules to remember, you feel defeated. But it’s well starting with the baby steps first, going back to the beginning, knowing your gender, your number and your verbs, tenses. Once you have those three things done, anything else is possible. And I believe it’s the same thing in Italian, correct me if I’m wrong, but mm-hmm. <affirmative> in French, we have two important verbs to have and to be. Those are the basics. Once you know the verb to have and to be, which is wan, that’s the foundation. And then you of course include your tenses present, past tense, future tense, and your vocabulary words that you inserting there. And just remembering the role of masculine feminine. Once you have that patted down the doors open. And a lot of students, when I started showing them those examples, they started to grasp the concept.

Sam Demma (19:38):

Hmm. That’s awesome. I think one of the reasons people get into teaching and education is because they want to help a student reach their full learning potential. As you said it, you gave the example of yourself and I think it’s a great example. So thanks for sharing. I didn’t know that about your journey that you switched between English and French speaking schools your entire life. <laugh>. When you think about students that you’ve taught, is there also any young people that come to mind who maybe were going through a challenging time or didn’t feel like they were smart enough or good enough and through perseverance and continual effort and showing up, they were able to transform their own personal beliefs about themselves and kind of grow into their own potential?

Martin Tshibwabwa (20:24):

Well, absolutely. And I feel that March, 2020 brought a lot of things to light with the, the shutdown with the Covid 19 pandemic. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> it brought a lot of things to light where students included ourselves. We had time to completely shut down and reset. And during that reset, because there’s no distraction, including ourselves, adults, students had that moment where they were shut down, but they had time to also reflect. Cause when things are going the right way before Covid we’re constantly galloping from activity to activity. We have sporting activity after school, but we have dance lessons, recitals, et cetera. But when the shutdown in Marshall 20 occurred, a lot of students were just like us at home, nothing to do. And a lot of them started to doubt themselves because now they had no distractions away from school. So when they’re at home, I saw a lot of students that when we returned to e-learning and also in-person learning, they had a dislike for school.

Martin Tshibwabwa (21:38):

A lot of behavior that we did not seek come out. Were starting to come out. And it’s during that time where you find you can help students by having them look at their strengths and their needs. And one of the things that I always, I I always like to do is how can we take your needs and turn them into fuel if you hear in the right direction to reach your full learning potential. And of course in the beginning it’s hard but to, interesting to go back to their agenda. Agenda or even journal and write down a goal that they wanna accomplish. You know, the big picture, but write down your goal. It’s funny enough cuz I have a gentleman who I speak to quite often, his name is Justin Oliman, actually. He’s, he was one of the coaches for the Toronto Raptors.

Martin Tshibwabwa (22:32):

And one of the things that he told he, he mentions is the 2019 championship goal that they had. So they had different goals that they wanted to achieve during that year. And with those goals, they ended up actually reaching the championship and they won. Yeah. So that’s one thing I tried to include also with students who are doubting themselves. Have your big picture, have your championship that you wanna reach, but of course you wanna reach it overnight and you put yourself some, some mile some, some small milestones that you want and also celebrate those small victories. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, which goes back also to your concept of small consistent actions. So implementing those two concepts together I find actually helps students get back in the right direction and keep them motivated to reach their goal. Right.

Sam Demma (23:27):

So what keeps you motivated? It’s, it sounds like you pour a lot into the students and help them find their needs and turn their needs into fuel. What keeps you, what keeps you going?

Martin Tshibwabwa (23:41):

Honestly, ask questions. Ask questions. Like, for example, yourself. You see that I’ll shoot you a text. Hey, how do you do this? Explain me. How do you do that? And how do you, what, what works and what, what does not work for you? And, and that’s one thing I always do. Even my pros, I’ll send ’em an email, I’ll shoot them an email just to see how to go about something. And of course when you ask a question to somebody, they’re pretty much the master. And I can’t remember which book I was reading, but there’s a philosophical pH philosophical book that I was reading. It does say Learn from the master. You take what the master does, but you replicate it, you replicate it, probably the exact same recipe, but at the end of the day, you also wanna make it yourself. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> put it, put a piece of it of yourself in it because something that you do, I cannot deliver word for word the way you do with your ambience. But learning from you, looking at the way you deliver something, if I can replicate it, but also put a, a a concept of my own in it Hmm. Will just continue making that concept better.

Sam Demma (24:52):

Yeah. It’s kind of like borrowing the recipe but adding a few extra ingredients of your own that you think will compliment it. And

Martin Tshibwabwa (25:00):

Exactly.

Sam Demma (25:01):

The longer you make it, the more you try different new things. And a year from now, that concept from somebody else was the foundation of a totally brand new thing that you’re doing. Right.

Martin Tshibwabwa (25:11):

Exactly. And it’s funny enough cause I have another good friend of mine who’s a chef and he always tells me when I go to one of his classes, sorry, one of his one of his one of his excuse one of his events, he always says, no recipe should be followed to the tea. Mm-hmm. And the reason why it says is because when you read out a recipe in a book, it doesn’t tell you, for example, if it tells you, okay, put three cups of sugar, my cup can be different than the cup that they’re talking about. So instead of falling your recipe to the tea, what you should do is follow the recipe. But as you’re following that recipe, make it your own by tasting it. If it’s to your liking. That’s it.

Sam Demma (25:58):

I love that. I’m starting to get hungry,

Martin Tshibwabwa (26:00):

<laugh>. Exactly.

Sam Demma (26:02):

If, if an educator Martin is listening right now, wants to reach out to you, maybe they’re in a transition in their own educational career, they wanna ask you a question, just connect and have a conversation, what would be the best way for someone to get in touch?

Martin Tshibwabwa (26:17):

Well, email, email’s the best way and we’ll have my email listed at the end of this podcast and they can touch base for email, email’s the best way to reach out right. And then from there we can when whatever’s needed.

Sam Demma (26:30):

Perfect. And one final question before we wrap up the interview. What are you most excited about in 2023?

Martin Tshibwabwa (26:39):

Oh my goodness. Just staying healthy. Staying healthy and contribute to that healthiness, getting to good healthy habits, good diet and working out and a balance and work habits. Right. We remember that because sometimes we get cut up and we don’t take time for ourselves.

Sam Demma (27:01):

Very true. Likewise

Martin Tshibwabwa (27:02):

For you too.

Sam Demma (27:03):

Yeah, I was gonna say the same, to be honest. A friend recently told me, you know, people with good health want a million things and people with bad health only want one. And it was just this stark reminder how important it is that we take care of our physical, mental, spiritual wellbeing. Because without it, nothing else really matters. So I wish you the best of health this year, continued success, amazing habits. Let’s definitely stay in touch and keep up the great work.

Martin Tshibwabwa (27:34):

Absolutely my brother.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Martin Tshibwabwa

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.

Connie Shepherd – Ontario Educator of over 20 years

Connie Shepherd - Ontario Educator of over 20 years
About Connie Shepherd

Connie Shepherd (@Connie2Educ8) is an Ontario educator who has worked in the education system for over 20 years. She began her journey as an educational assistant working with students with diverse needs, which played an important role in her belief that all children can be successful and providing opportunities for all students to shine is essential to a strong education system.

Connie is a graduate of York University and completed her Bachelor of Education at Brock. She is a lifelong learner who has continued her learning through many additional qualification courses, including leadership. Connie is currently an Elementary Guidance and Experiential Learning Teacher which provides her with the opportunity to support students to explore the many possible pathways available to them through experiential learning.

Connie is passionate about fostering a learning environment that supports the development of transferable skills and empowers every student to see themselves as important and successful.

Connect with Connie: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

York University

Bachelor of Education – Brock University

Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies

Working as an Educational Assistant – Ontario College Application Service

myBlueprint

Tinkercad

Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford Commencement Address

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):

Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Connie Shepherd. Connie Shepherd is an Ontario educator who has worked in the education system for over 20 years. She began her journey as an educational assistant working with students with diverse needs, which played an important role in her belief that all children can be successful, and providing opportunities for all students to shine is essential to a strong education system. Connie is a graduate of York University and completed her Bachelor of Education at Brock. She’s a lifelong learner who has continued her learning through many additional qualifications courses, including leadership. Connie is currently an elementary guidance and experiential learning teacher, which provides her with the opportunity to support students to explore the many possible pathways available to them through experiential learning. Connie is passionate about fostering a learning environment that supports the development of transferable skills and empowers every student to see themselves as important and successful. I hope you enjoy this conversation on the podcast with Connie, and I will see you on the other side. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host, Sam Demma. Today we have a very special guest, a high energy guest, an impactful educator. Her name is Connie Shepherd. Connie, please introduce yourself so everyone tuning in knows a little bit about who you are and what you do.

Connie Shepherd (01:30):

Amazing. Well, good morning, Sam. My name is Connie Shepherd and I’m an elementary guidance and experiential learning teacher. So I serve for the most part grade sevens and eight, so middle school ages. We do have some grade sixes and yeah, we do a lot of experiential learning. We do a lot of exploration of career pathways and opportunities so that students really have an understanding that, you know, there’s not one pathway. So the focus is really not what do I wanna become, but more of a who do I wanna become, and then looking for what fits with that.

Sam Demma (02:11):

Where did your passion develop in terms of helping students realize there isn’t just one pathway that exists for them?

Connie Shepherd (02:20):

 I think a little bit. I think a lot of it has to do with my journey. you know, I didn’t I didn’t graduate high school and go directly to university. I went to college and I worked as I worked for the Children’s Aid Society for a little while, and then I worked as an educational assistant for several years. And then as I just kind of experienced more opportunities, I said, you know what, I’m gonna go back to school and I’m gonna do my bachelor’s, and then I’m gonna do my Bachelor’s of education and become a teacher.

Sam Demma (02:54):

Yes. That’s so cool. Was there, I mean, the stigma around different pathways in d streaming Yes. Is something that’s really big today. What was that like when you were going through the system?

Connie Shepherd (03:08):

 so we had advanced general and basic Okay. As opposed to applied an academic. I think d streaming is amazing. I don’t know that, I think that at 13 years old, you should be making decisions that could have a long-term impact. I taught grade eight for about 10 years, and you would see students who at 13 are, they’re just not there yet. Mm-hmm. And then they’d come back and visit in grade, in grade 11 and they’d be like, miss, guess what I’m doing? And you could see their growth and they kind of found their pathway and they found their passion. And I mean, I see to students all the time think about the subjects that you really excel in. It’s because you love them. Hmm. Right. And so sometimes students just need a little more time to map that out.

Sam Demma (03:57):

Hmm. And you, you’ve obviously had a different pathway to education when you were a student 13 years old and someone asked you, Hey Connie, what do you wanna view when you grow up? What’d you tell them? A teacher? Or like, <laugh>, how did you land on it?

Connie Shepherd (04:10):

So I I, I was very interested in law.

Sam Demma (04:13):

Nice.

Connie Shepherd (04:14):

The con, the concept of borrowing that much money to go to school. cuz I had to pay for my education and borrow, borrow, borrow for my education. I couldn’t wrap my head around that. And at that time in the education system, no one really said to you, the best investment you can make is in yourself. Right. And I think students really need to understand that. And that’s where, you know, embedding financial literacy into what we do helps them see that bigger picture. Right. yeah. Investing in yourself. I think that’s huge. At the end of the day, I think I landed where I was meant to land. I go to work every day and just love what I do. I wake up energized every morning. And that’s what we want for our, our students in the future. Right. Happiness is not necessarily how much you make. Right? I mean, you could be making a ton of money and wake up every morning dreading going to your, to your job. That’s, that’s not happiness.

Sam Demma (05:13):

Hmm. It’s obvious that you’re passionate about what you do. The first time I talk to you so much energy is overflowing, <laugh>. where does your, where does your energy come from? Are there any things that you do to make sure that you can show up and be a hundred percent of yourself when you’re not at school?

Connie Shepherd (05:32):

Yeah. I, I just, I believe in being an authentic person. I, I am who I am. Right. yeah. I’m a mom to three kids and every day I walk into the classroom and I just, I wanna be the kind of teacher that I am hoping my children, my children have. Right. And I want to provide students with the opportunities that I hope my children have. I’m a huge advocate of public education. I think we have an incredible education system and I think if we really want this education system to shine, we need to be all in and in everything I do inside, outside school, I’m always all in

Sam Demma (06:10):

<laugh>. That’s awesome. <laugh>. it’s funny when you’re saying that I think back to a role model of mine. His name was Nipsey Hussle and he is a rapper and one of his phrases was All money in. And his whole philosophy was, everything we make, we’re putting back into this. We’re putting back, we’re gonna put it back into the community. And that’s different, different way, different life, but definitely a similar philosophy. for someone who’s listening, maybe a person who’s contemplating getting into education and doesn’t really know much about what your day-to-day job looks like, they might know what, you know, one teacher in a classroom’s job looks like. What exactly are you doing? and yeah. What does a day in the life look like or a week in the life look like?

Connie Shepherd (06:55):

So I serve a lot of schools. Some of my schools are very small, so sometimes I’m between two schools during the day. Like during the day of school in the morning, a school in the afternoon. just recently we’ve been doing some activities with coding. Nice. and so for some schools and I really try to see where teachers are at and see how can I best support them. Right. So coding is new in both the math and science curriculums. So I’m in the Catholic School Board, so we are preparing for Christmas. And so working with students on coding animated gifs.

Sam Demma (07:32):

Nice. <laugh>.

Connie Shepherd (07:33):

Right. You like that. and then teaching them how to send it as an email to a family member, a loved one, and teaching them how to schedule their send. So it goes out Christmas morning. so that kind of ties into our Catholic graduate expectation of being a ca a caring family member. Right. and just adding that creativity. And I think some of the highlights of, you know, just in the last week is, oh miss I got it. I figured it out. Which was amazing. But also watching the teachers learning and, and coding their own Christmas gifts and them celebrating that, oh, I got it. Right. But then I’ll have other schools that really wanna focus maybe a little bit more on equity or indigenous education. So with a school in the afternoon this week, we really kind of explored the land acknowledgement mm-hmm. And what the land acknowledgement really means and why it’s so important that we say it every day and we acknowledge it every day. so that was that. That’s, that’s the last week

Sam Demma (08:39):

<laugh>. Yeah. It it sounds like every week is very different from the previous one. Absolutely. what are some of the projects or initiatives you have worked on in school communities throughout the span of your career and experiential learning that when you think back on it brings you so much joy because one, you had so much fun working on it, and two, the students just got so much out of it.

Connie Shepherd (09:07):

So my partner and I, cuz I do have a partner and she’s amazing. And so my partner and I put together a Power Me Up conference, which empowers students to lead. so we work with our intermediate students and train them to lead sessions and they could be wellbeing, they could be STEM related. And so it’s, it’s a lot of work to put it together and work out all the logistics like transportation and getting all the different students to the location. But when the event takes place and you see students shine Right. And you see students who, who see themselves as leaders, that is incredible. Yeah. We have a large guest behind me. I’m so sorry. <laugh>.

Sam Demma (09:54):

We love large guests. <laugh>. This is awesome. one more family member entering the podcast, <laugh>.

Connie Shepherd (10:01):

That’s it.

Sam Demma (10:02):

That’s so cool. So the power, what, when did the concept for the Power Me Up conference come to life?

Connie Shepherd (10:08):

So the concept for the conference was my partner Vicky’s concept. Right. Her and her team. And at that point we were not partners as elementary guidance teachers cuz our role didn’t exist mm-hmm. <affirmative>. and so the first year we, we did it together, which was amazing. Right? So I had so much learning that I experienced, which was amazing. The second year, well that was 2020 and we were really excited to make it bigger and better. And then, I don’t know if you’ve heard, but there was like this pandemic thing. What’s that? And so, yeah, exactly. so that didn’t happen the next year. We were still in that situation where we couldn’t really travel or bring people together. So Vicki and I decided to go virtual things happen for a reason. and it was pretty incredible because we did the Power Me Up conference on a virtual level.

Connie Shepherd (11:06):

And rather than impacting let’s say 250 students, we were able to have over 1800 students participate. Right. Wow. Pro pros and cons. So no, it wasn’t in person. and we just took the different materials to different schools and teachers were in their classrooms. They were led through the stem or art activities. and they just did it in their classrooms and, you know, blew it up on Twitter with sharing all their pictures. Right. We had, we had a science activity where students were kind of exploring mold with Brett. And so we would drive by schools and all you could see in the schools in the windows was all this bread hanging <laugh>. And it was just, it was kind of awesome to drive by one school. Oh, there’s their bread. Oh, there’s another window full of bread <laugh>. It was, it was fantastic. So Right. We learned from experience, right. Which is what we, we do as experiential learning teachers. And so what we learned through that experience was we were able to have such a larger impact. So this year we are doing both virtual and in person Nice. so that we can again just share the joy, share the opportunities.

Sam Demma (12:23):

Is it a two day event? Three day event, one afternoon? What does it look like?

Connie Shepherd (12:27):

So the in-person event is one day this year we are going to do it four times. Cause our schools feed into four different high schools. Mm. So each high school is go going to be hosting a one day event for their feeder schools. which is great because we’re gonna get the kids into the high schools and they can, they can see themselves in that environment, see what that environment looks like. And then last year our virtual conference was over two weeks. This year it’s going to be over one week. So we’ll have four one day in persons and one one week virtual.

Sam Demma (12:59):

When you think about your entire journey through education, were there mentors that you had that, it sounds like collaboration has been a big part of your own learning, especially with Vicky and other people that you’ve worked with. Have there been any educators or teachers who, that you’ve learned a lot from or that you think kind of took you under their wing and mentored you when you were just getting started?

Connie Shepherd (13:22):

Abs Absolutely right. I mean, I think I, I was really blessed to work in a school where, and I, I was there for my entire career until I took on this role. Hmm. and it was just a sense of community in that school amongst all the staff. Everyone was there for each other. Everyone would, you know, if I would be like, I have an idea. okay, let’s sit and talk about it. Sometimes when I say I have an idea, people get a little nervous <laugh>. Right.

Sam Demma (13:48):

That’s good.

Connie Shepherd (13:49):

Or, or, or I’ll have, or I’ll have an administrator go, okay, how much is that gonna cost me? Right. But I’m like, no, no, no, but hear me out. Right. so at my school for a few years there, we did a whole school musical production.

Sam Demma (14:02):

Nice.

Connie Shepherd (14:03):

Which was amazing. So every educator came together. So we had educators working with students on the backdrop, educators working with students on sewing costumes. Every class had a song to participate in. Right. Students throughout the school were actors to bring something like that together, whole school level and to have the performance happen and have families there watching their children. Right. These are the things students remember. Right. If, if, if you said to one of my students who taught you py, in theory <laugh>, they’re gonna be like, I dunno. Right. but what do you remember about, you know, your year in grade seven or eight? Well I remember we had this huge school production, or I remember we went and did this. These are the things that students remember. Right. This is what makes their educational experience beautiful.

Sam Demma (15:05):

Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Yeah. I think back to when I was in grade seven, in grade eight, and some of my biggest memories are field trips or some of the dances <laugh>.

Connie Shepherd (15:16):

Absolutely.

Sam Demma (15:17):

And all, all the extracurricular activities and the learning in the classroom, you know, teaches you how to learn, I believe. But some of the stuff we don’t actually even remember years later and might not even be a big part of our life. But yeah. The memories last a lifetime. So that’s

Connie Shepherd (15:33):

A Right. And, and the learning how to learn.

Sam Demma (15:35):

Yeah.

Connie Shepherd (15:36):

Right. Like, so I, I really I really focus, I try to focus a lot on our transferrable skills. Right. So the idea of collaboration, right. So you’re gonna collaborate in your entire life. Yeah. Right. In different formats. Right. The idea of being innovative and creative in your thinking and problem solving in any environment you’re in, we need to be using these skills all the time. So ensuring that we’re providing students with opportunities to work on and develop and strengthen those, that skillset, it doesn’t matter where they land, those skills will be like key for their success.

Sam Demma (16:14):

I know with experiential learning, there’s really no boundaries. Like, you come up with some cool ideas and if people are on board, you give it a try and learn from the experience. have there been any unique tools or resources technologies or anything at all that you’ve found really helpful or really unique that you think even educators in a classroom could benefit from looking into or exploring?

Connie Shepherd (16:39):

Absolutely. So I use my blueprint a great deal. I don’t know if my blueprint was around when you were in school. It wasn’t around when I was in school. I think it’s an incredible tool. So I do an activity with students, I do it twice, right? So first is planning forward. So where they, they pop in, okay, well you know what, what, what do I have to take in grade nine? Right? Because you only have so many electives in grade nine. Yeah. Right. and then what do I have to take in grade 10? But then I’m like, well what are my options in grade 10? Right? Like, what is hospitality? And I’ll say, well, it means you get to eat your homework, which is awesome, <laugh>. Right. And, and if you like eating well, learning how to cook is kind of important. Right. and then we look at, you know, they’re like, why don’t I have to take science after grade 10?

Connie Shepherd (17:26):

Great question. Let’s talk about that. Right. Well, because now you get to kind of explore the sciences you’re super passionate about, oh my goodness, miss I can take law. Yeah. You could totally take law. That’s so having them just open those doors and see what those options are. But even having our teachers see, see them, we, we need to see ourselves as kindergarten to grade 12 educators. Right. So seeing like after they leave, after they move on, what are the, what are their opportunities? What’s available to them? Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And then we do another time in the spring where we do planning backward, where I choose a career. I’m kind of curious about, I explore that career and then I look at what’s the post-secondary pathway to get me there. Okay. So let’s say I have to take a college, a college course. So maybe I wanna do like computer animation of some sort, right?

Sam Demma (18:18):

Yes. so let’s say that’s what I wanna study in college cuz that’s my passion. Great. What are the requirements in grade 12? And then we work our way backwards all the way to grade nine so that they can see there’s a bit of a map to it. and if I don’t come back and do planning backward with students, they actually get upset with me. <laugh>, they’re like, miss remember you said we were gonna do this, but when that happens, what does that tell me as an educator? That this is important to them. Yeah. That they enjoy it. Right. Tinkercad is what I was using for coding the gifts. Kids were coding for two hours and then I say to them, you realize we’ve been doing math for two hours. Right. They’re like, no we haven’t. I go, absolutely. We have <laugh>. Right. We’ve been doing, like, we’ve been playing with Radius and and and size and we’ve been translating and rotating. Oh my gosh. We’ve been doing math for two hours. Yeah. You’re you’re learning. It’s insane. Right. <laugh> like, wow. Yeah. we use we videos. So we’re also doing a film festival in our area of schools. so allowing students to be creators. Right. So that’s a great opportunity for them.

Sam Demma (19:25):

The film festival is something you’ve done a few times now, right? Is

Connie Shepherd (19:29):

This is our, this is our second year

Sam Demma (19:31):

And last year I remember you were telling me some of the videos students created were just mind blowing. The

Connie Shepherd (19:36):

Mind blowing. Right. some students were doing animation, some students hand drew everything Hmm. but student voice came out. Hmm. Right. What they were passionate about. And again, just like when you, when you learn what you, what you en enjoy learning about and you, you take that pathway when you can share your voice and when you can share your story, students are all in mm-hmm. Right. Especially our adolescent learners because, you know, life is really all about me right now.

Sam Demma (20:10):

I think back to, there was a Steve Jobs commencement speech and he says the only way to do great work is to love what you do. And I think it’s so important to love the work that you’re doing. And if you haven’t found the thing yet, then keep looking in such an exploratory period of time when you’re in grade seven, grade eight and elementary school, even in high school. Trying to figure out, I was lucky enough that I had the access to my blueprint when I was a high school student and really enjoyed using it as well. And I would imagine that even back when I used it to what’s capable on the app now or the pathway opportunities that exist are very different. <laugh>. absolutely. Because there are so many unique opportunities now that didn’t even exist when I was in high school.

Connie Shepherd (20:53):

Well and we share that with students, right? Like 50% of these students are gonna be working career pathways that don’t exist. Hmm. Right. And when I try to explain that, cuz they look at me Right. With confusion on their face. Yeah. And I’ll be like, let’s just talk about Facebook. I know Facebook is for the old people, right. <laugh>. And of course they laugh, right? Because they’re like, my mom has Facebook mis, I’m like, of course they do. Right. I go, but it’s only 25 years old.

Sam Demma (21:15):

Hmm.

Connie Shepherd (21:15):

Like, it, it’s really, it’s it’s quite young. And now we think about the fact that there are people whose literal career is to manage a social media account for a company. I don’t even think that existed. Yeah. 15 years ago. Yeah. Right. So the idea of what’s to come, right? So this is why it’s the, it’s the who do I wanna become? Because we don’t know what the, what is <laugh>.

Sam Demma (21:42):

Hmm.

Connie Shepherd (21:42):

Right. We don’t know what’s coming.

Sam Demma (21:44):

Yeah. I I saw a post on LinkedIn the other day of a friend of mine who every year sets goals. And this year she said, I’m setting learning learnings, like things that I wanna learn as opposed to goals that I want to achieve. And I thought that was a really cool mindset shift a little bit away from the what do I wanna do to who do I wanna become? Right. Like what do I wanna learn? and then the the what kind of figures itself out based on your skillsets.

Connie Shepherd (22:10):

Exactly.

Sam Demma (22:12):

So yeah, I thought that was kind of cool connection. When you think about your journey through education you’ve obviously been in the industry now or in the space for a while, if you can Oh,

Connie Shepherd (22:24):

While we’ll go with a while. I like, thank

Sam Demma (22:26):

You <laugh>. You have lots of wisdom is what I’m trying to say. <laugh>. if you could, if you could like take all your experience, all the wisdom, travel back in time tap Connie on the shoulder in her first year of working in education, but with the experiences you’ve had now, not that you would change your path or anything, but what would you tell yourself cuz you thought it would’ve been helpful to hear when you were just jumping in and getting started?

Connie Shepherd (22:54):

Hmm. That’s a really good question. I, I think I think when I went to the faculty of education, right, like you walk out and you walk in and you wanna, you have all these great big ideas Hmm. Which you should always have. Don’t let go of those great big ideas cuz that’s, it’s incredible. Right. I think I’d tell myself to be kinder to myself. Right. I, I guess I didn’t have enough time and I wasn’t doing everything that I thought I was, was gonna be able to accomplish my first year teaching. Right. So, and, and I, when I talk to new educators now, I I I just, did you do your very best today of yeah, of course I did. Okay. Would you look at a student and say, you need to do better than your best? Well, no, I would never say that. But then why are we saying it to ourselves?

Sam Demma (23:53):

Hmm.

Connie Shepherd (23:54):

Right. Did I give my best today? Did I give a hundred percent today? Right. I’m gonna make mistakes along the way. That’s part of learning. Right. That’s part of that learning journey. So I, I would’ve probably told myself to be a little kinder to myself and not so hard on myself.

Sam Demma (24:09):

Hmm. Wh where do you think the, I think we’re all our biggest critics, but

Connie Shepherd (24:13):

A hundred percent

Sam Demma (24:14):

Did you play sports growing up? Where did that competition with yourself come from?

Connie Shepherd (24:18):

<laugh>? Yeah, so I did, I played, I played soccer for a really long time. where did I, I just, I’ve always been competitive with myself. I, I said, Hmm. One of my greatest strengths and one of my greatest weaknesses. I set very, very high expectations of myself.

Sam Demma (24:36):

Hmm.

Connie Shepherd (24:36):

Yeah.

Sam Demma (24:38):

Yeah.

Connie Shepherd (24:38):

I don’t, I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I don’t think that’s a terrible thing, but I think that I need to just be like, okay, so I didn’t achieve that yet. Right. The that power of yet. Right. I’ll, I’ll get there.

Sam Demma (24:52):

Yeah. And that’s funny. Like sometimes I have an idea of how something’s gonna play out in my mind and in, in, in real time. It doesn’t play out the same way it does in my mind and I have to remind myself it’s okay. Like it’s it’s okay if it doesn’t play out exactly as I envisioned it too. We just gotta continue moving forward and learning and iterating and rolling with the punches and

Connie Shepherd (25:15):

Yeah. And taking a detour and that’s okay. Yeah.

Sam Demma (25:18):

<laugh>. Yep. Taking a different road. I was saying exactly. I interviewed educator one time and she was telling me that a lot of her students feel this pressure, like you mentioned earlier, to figure out what they need to do or want to do at such an early age. And she would share this analogy about getting to a party and she, she framed this question. She said, Sam, if I told you your friend was having a house party, what are all the various ways you could get there? And I started listening out all the options. You know, I could ride my scooter, I could ride a bike, I could call an Uber, I could ask my mom, I could pay the pizza guy to pick me up. I could walk there, I could get a helicopter, <laugh> you know, like all these outrageous options. And she’s like, the reality is every one of those options will get you to the party at a different time.

Sam Demma (26:06):

Some will take you 10 times as long, but you will arrive at a party. And the reality is, it might not be the same party is that all your friends are everybody else, but the method of transportation that you choose is what makes your life interesting and, and a fun and unique adventure and journey. And I just thought, wow, what a powerful, what a powerful analogy. I gotta throw a house party now and get all my friends to walk, ride their bikes and <laugh>, scooter <laugh>. but yeah, that’s kind of what I think about when I think of encouraging young people to realize your path will look different and unique. And that’s not a, a bad thing. It just means you’re being true to yourself.

Connie Shepherd (26:45):

 and I think it’s awesome that the paths look different.

Sam Demma (26:48):

Yeah.

Connie Shepherd (26:48):

Right. I mean, the fact that we are individuals, we need to celebrate that. Why, why does my path need to look like someone else’s path? Yeah. It doesn’t.

Sam Demma (26:56):

Yeah.

Connie Shepherd (26:57):

That’s so true. Right. My path is me.

Sam Demma (26:59):

Amen. <laugh>. Yeah. I love it. <laugh>. Connie, thanks so much for coming on the show. This was a really fun conversation. If anyone wants to reach out, ask you a question, or share some ideas or collaborate on a big idea that might get them in trouble <laugh> <laugh>, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?

Connie Shepherd (27:18):

Yeah, people can email me or they can get hold of me on Twitter. Right? I am @Connie2Educ8. Yeah. <laugh>.

Sam Demma (27:34):

Thanks. Okay. Awesome. Connie, thanks for coming out the show. Keep up the great work and I look forward to chatting with you again soon.

Connie Shepherd (27:41):

Me too, Sam. Have a great weekend.

Sam Demma (27:44):

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Connie Shepherd

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

Mitchell Duram – Learning Support Lead at F.P. Walshe School in Fort Macleod and Student Leadership Advisor

Mitchell Duram - Learning Support Lead at F.P. Walshe School in Fort Macleod and Student Leadership Advisor
About Mitchell Duram

Mitchell Duram is the Learning Support Lead at F.P. Walshe School in Fort Macleod. He is currently teaching English Language Arts; he’s also taught Science, Mathematics, Social Studies, Health and Life Skills, and Career and Life Management (CALM). In his first year of teaching, he was awarded the Lieutenant Governor Social Studies Education Student Award and was nominated for the Edwin Parr Teacher Award.

With the support of his amazing colleagues, Mitchell leads Student Leadership (a school-based team) and Livingstone Leaders (a division-wide team). Both of these groups have dedicated student leaders who strive to make a difference in both their schools and in their communities.

Mitchell is passionate about supporting students in setting and achieving personal, academic, and career goals. He firmly believes in Livingstone Range School Division’s vision of “Every student, every day!”

Connect with Mitchell: Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

F.P. Walshe School

Awards – Alberta School Boards Association (ASBA)

YMCA Canada

Goose Chase App

University of Lethbridge – Faculty of Education

Alberta Student Leadership Summit

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 (00:00):

Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Mitchell Durram is the learning support lead at FP Walsh School in Fort McLoud. He’s currently teaching English language arts. He’s also taught science, mathematics, social studies, health and life skills, and career and life management. In his first year of teaching, he was awarded the Lieutenant, the Lieutenant Governor Social Studies Education Student Award, and was nominated for the Edwin Par Teacher Award. With the support of his amazing colleagues, Mitchell leads student leadership, a school-based team and living stone leaders, a divisional wide team. Both of these groups have dedicated student leaders who strive to make a difference in both their schools and in their communities. Mitchell is passionate about supporting students in setting and achieving personal, academic and career goals. He firmly believes in living stone range school divisions, vision of every student every day. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Mitchell and I will see you on the other side. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator. Today we have a very special guest. I was introduced to this individual Mitchell Durram after being in Claresholm, Alberta and getting stuck in a ditch during a snowstorm. <laugh> Mitchell, please take a moment to introduce yourself so everyone knows who you are and what it is that you do.

Mitchell Durram (01:32):

My name is Mitchell Durram. I am a teacher at FP Walsh School in Fort McLoud, Alberta and I wear many hats in my role as well too. So I’m involved with learning support and I’m also involved with our student leadership group, which is how Sam and I got connected. Our regional student leadership group, our school division, our school leadership group. I am lucky to work with amazing people to run those groups, and I am just very excited to be here this morning as well, too.

Sam Demma (02:09):

Awesome. Thanks so much for making the time and taking the time to join me on the show. What, when you think about your journey through education, if you go back all the way to the beginning of your career search as a student yourself, did you know when a teacher asked you, what do you wanna be when you grow up, that you wanted to be a teacher or working specifically in schools?

Mitchell Durram (02:31):

I did, when I was in elementary school, it was teacher right away, and then as I got a little bit older, my interests grew and I started trying out potential different careers in my mind. So at one point I wanted to be a lawyer. At one point I wanted to be a psychologist, but I would say it was probably around grade 11. I was working at the y, I was teaching swimming lessons. I was lifeguarding where I kind of came back to wanting to be a teacher because I saw the impact that I was having, even in swimming lessons. Like it’s a very, it’s a very practical impact, but it’s a powerful one. Yeah. Seeing, seeing kids go from being terrified of being in the water to swimming and having the best time and playing games. So that’s, I think where I really came back to being a teacher and, and wanting to pursue that in post-secondary.

Sam Demma (03:34):

You mentioned working at the Y was that something you stumbled into on your own accord? Did someone tell you, Mitchell, you should work at the y it would be a great role for you? I would love to hear a little more about that aspect of your journey.

Mitchell Durram (03:48):

Well, I had a big, big motivator in my mom who was like, Mitchell, like this, this is a really good opportunity to be a lifeguard, to be a swimming instructor, to have a really awesome summer job, to be able to meet new people. And so I was a little bit resistant at first to the lifeguarding part of it because I knew that I really liked working with kids, but I was a little bit nervous, I think, about being the lifeguard <laugh>. So it took some time to warm up to that. But I, I really, once I got into it, I could see the benefits of being in that role, and my confidence grew and it was, it was really good. But I, I had my mom be someone to say, this would be really, it’s a great opportunity and you should do it. So I’m very grateful for that.

Sam Demma (04:54):

Curious, now, did you have to ever save a life?

Mitchell Durram (04:59):

I have dealt with multiple seizures, which were all like, they all ended up being okay. So that was really good and Okay, good. <laugh>, you know, I’ve jumped into the pool maybe twice for some other stuff, but those were more minor in comparison, so Okay. Yeah. Made it through pretty, pretty good, I would say. Yeah.

Sam Demma (05:26):

Very cool. You did the job

Mitchell Durram (05:28):

<laugh>. Yeah, that’s right.

Sam Demma (05:30):

You mentioned one of the cool aspects of it was seeing a student or a young person who couldn’t swim and then months later seeing them swim and the transformation that occurred in their skills and abilities. And I would imagine it’s very similar in school, and I think that’s why so many people get into education. They want to make a difference. They want to speak into young people’s lives and see them transform. When you think of students that have been a part of your programs and in your class, or even just in the school at large, is there any stories of students you can think of where they started the school year, started the semester, were very shy and timid, and maybe they were going through a challenge that no one else really knew about, and by the end of the year blossomed like a butterfly, <laugh>, you know, like, is there any stories like that that come to mind? And if it’s a serious story, you can also change their name or use a different name to keep it private.

Mitchell Durram (06:29):

Yeah, I, I’m lucky that I work in a, a grade six to 12 school. Hmm. And so I see students starting in grade six, and I am lucky enough to see them grow up over the years and the confidence, the sense of belonging that happens over those years. I can think of so many students who we look at in grade six and we see all of their strengths and we see all of their stretches, all of their areas for growth. And by the time they hit grade 10, 11, and 12, just the strides, the gains that they’ve made in both their strengths and their stretches, they’ve become more strong in what they already were, were strong in. And they’ve used a lot of that strength to improve in the areas that they want to improve in. And we have an amazing team of staff at our school. We have an amazing admin team. We are very lucky to have a lot of supportive people. And so I think of some of the school traditions that we have that help students to get from point A to point B, I think of the classroom activities that we do to get students from point A to point B. There’s just so many students that come to mind when you ask that question that it’s hard to, it’s hard to narrow it down. Yeah.

Sam Demma (08:08):

You got me curious now, when you said school traditions and classroom activities, are there any traditions exclusive to the school you’re at now that you think are really awesome that helps students? I would, I would love to hear about them. <laugh>.

Mitchell Durram (08:21):

Yeah. There’s one that comes to mind that when I first started at, at the school that I’m at at Walsh, I was just in awe of the amount of participation and the sense of belonging that it brought. So it’s it’s called Shark Week and it is coming up, actually, it’s in, it’s always in our last week of school before the break. And it stands for something. Can anyone tell you what it stands for? Probably not. <laugh>. I think it’s, I think Shark is super happy. Awesome. Really cool with a K and then week I think starts with Walsh, but then I, I lose the acronym from there. Nice.

Mitchell Durram (09:08):

<laugh>. and it’s essentially just a week long set of activities during our lunch hour where we have students in teams and they do friendly competitions. So our first day is usually we change it up from time to time, but our first day is usually window decorating contest. And at our peak before C O V I D, we had, I think it was something like 22 teams. And these are teams of five to seven. Okay. And we have a school of just around 400. So like that’s a huge number of students participating in this event. And then there’s people who aren’t participating that are watching and cheering and, and partaking still as, as spectators, which is really cool. So yeah, our first day is window decorating. Our second day we usually have some sort of like human decorating contests, so like <laugh> and we have paper and like different decorations and ornaments. the third day we usually do some sort of gingerbread building competition. Nice. The fourth day we do a scavenger hunt. We, in the past have used this really cool app called Goose Chase, and it has little different activities that you can do and it gets points, it gives you points for those different activities. And then our last day usually is culminating in a lip sync battle.

Sam Demma (10:49):

Nice.

Mitchell Durram (10:50):

<laugh>, which is very fun. Very, very fun.

Sam Demma (10:52):

That’s so cool. And it’s different. yeah. This Goose Chase app sounds kind of unique too. Is it something where you can create the games you wanna use on it and make it your own? Or is it just an app filled with games?

Mitchell Durram (11:08):

No, you, it’s essentially a way to create a scavenger hunt with points. So you put in the activities that you want and then you determine how many points. And it’s a variety of activities. So you can take pictures, you can do voice recordings, you can do little like quiz questions. And then there’s someone who is kind of running it back in a classroom and awarding points and you can award bonus points. So if they do something with some extra pizzazz, they can get some bonus points. Nice. So it’s a really, really cool app. And it’s free, which is also nice.

Sam Demma (11:48):

Get it on the app store today,

Mitchell Durram (11:49):

<laugh>. Yeah, that’s right. We’ll plug for Goose Chase. That’s

Sam Demma (11:53):

So cool. Okay, let’s go back to high school or elementary school. You knew you wanted to be a teacher then you explored into different careers. Tell me about the first role you did in education and what brought you to where you are today?

Mitchell Durram (12:08):

Well, I went to the University of Lethbridge, which is quite well known for its education program. Hmm. And that’s kind of what drew me to Lethbridge. I grew up in Calgary and so Lethbridge, it was really nice because it was close, but it was also, it was also a good program just for teaching and education in general. Nice. And so through that program I’ve done, I did three Practica. The first one I did in Calgary, the second one I did in Cardston. And the third one I actually did at the school I’m teaching at right now. So I was very lucky and grateful because I did my last practicum and they liked me enough to keep me around and then keep me around a little bit more. And here I am about four years later and I am very, like I said, very grateful to still be at the school where I did my first practic, my last practicum. yeah, it kind of feels like home a little bit.

Sam Demma (13:20):

Yeah. That’s awesome. Did you jump in both feet forward and start helping with extracurricular activities, student council, those sorts of things from day one? Or did you transition into those?

Mitchell Durram (13:34):

I was pretty much in it from day one. I started with student leadership, kind of through my mentor teacher. So in your last practicum at the U of L, they pair you with a teacher who is your support person and who observes you and gives you lots of feedback and, and is an amazing resource. And so she actually is the person that I’m still running student leadership with at our nice school level. And she, she signed up for it and just because she was running it and I was in there, I helped out where I could and was just inspired to be a part of that group as well because the students are amazing and the, the things that we’re talking about, like school belonging and and school spirit are things that are important to me too, very important to me. So it just made a lot of sense to join in and, and, and be an advisor for that group.

Mitchell Durram (14:42):

And then for the regional district level group, I kind of jumped in both feet for that too. Nice. And it was just, it was a field trip. We had word from our central office that Yep. We are meeting as a Livingston leaders at that point it was the Regional Council of Student Leaders. Okay. we’re meeting as a group and we’d love to have some students from Walsh and I was the person who could bring them over to central office. So I had the opportunity to do that. And then it was actually at that meeting that we were talking about going to the Alberta Student Leadership Conference. Nice. And I was very on board with that and it just kind of grew from there. And then I think it was the first full covid year that I was asked to be kind of one of the main advisors for that group. Nice. Along with another colleague who is just so wonderful. And so I got to take on a little bit more responsibility there too, which was amazing.

Sam Demma (15:52):

How do you think building relationships with students during these extracurricular activities differs from building relationships with students in the classroom? I think they’re both both very possible and it happens in both situations, but do you think there’s like a special bond that gets formed in those, in those extracurricular activities? And if so, like how and why? <laugh>?

Mitchell Durram (16:18):

I think they both help each other, if that makes sense. So me having relationships with students in a different light in an extracurricular setting, strengthen my relationships with students in the classroom that I was teaching. I think it also though helps when I have a really strong relationship with a student in class and I see them being a leader. Mm. And I can say to them, I see this here. And I think it would make a huge difference in our school life and potentially in yours too, if you maybe joined in here as well mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And so I think both have so much opportunity attached to them that it’s hard to say one is stronger or more special than the other, but it is certainly really beneficial to see students, to see people in just a different light in a different situation. And I, I love spectating at sports events. I have a very busy life on top of work and just outside of school as well too. Yeah. And so I would love to coach, but I just, I don’t have that opportunity because of my time constraints mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And so even there, I, I get to see students in a different light by going to watch a game and the relationship that a coach might have with a student is going to be different than what I might have. But it’s, there’s just so much opportunity in all of those different areas. I think.

Sam Demma (18:00):

I love that. What a great perspective on the difference, but also the strength of having those both as a part of your practice. I, when I was in elementary school and even couple first years of high school, whenever I would see one of my teachers at the grocery store, I would be like, oh my God, you know, miss Sons, what are you doing here? And it was funny because at the younger ages, you think as a student, like, this teacher lives at school, like they don’t have a life <laugh>, you know, like they come, they teach and this is what they do. And it’s like, no, they’re also human beings that go home and have a life outside of work. And I think when you fill your cup by doing other activities away from the school, it helps you show up as a hundred percent of yourself and pour more into your work. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, you mentioned, you know, that you have a very busy life outside of the school building which I think is true for every, every human being outside of their work situations. And I’m curious to know, what are the some of the things that you do outside of school that help you fill your cup and enjoy the journey that is life <laugh>?

Mitchell Durram (19:13):

Yeah. Well, I am lucky to have a group of friends where every week we, we play Dungeons and Dragons.

Sam Demma (19:22):

Nice.

Mitchell Durram (19:22):

Very fun. And we are doing that virtually just because we have people kind of in different locations that are joining in, which is really nice as well. Cool. we, we have that weekly and then I love movies, so I try and watch a movie as as often as I can. Nice. And I love being with friends. I often drive up to Calgary where I have a lot of friends still and, and visit with them and, and get the chance to just relax and be around people. I find that gives me a lot of energy and then making time just for myself as well too, to reflect and think about the day and my, my drive, cuz I don’t actually live in Fort McLeod, so my drive is about a half an hour. Mm. And I am really grateful for that time. I often have people say, oh, those, those highways must, you must dread them. and sometimes I do <laugh>. Absolutely. Yeah. But I am appreciative of the half an hour there and back to kind of wind up for my day and, and think, and you know, if I need to blast Taylor Swift and just nice live that life or if I need to just kind of sit in silence and, and think about the, the day and transition into home that’s been really helpful and, and really positive for me as well too.

Sam Demma (20:56):

Mm. Spotify or Apple music?

Mitchell Durram (20:59):

Apple music.

Sam Demma (21:01):

Me too. Actually. <laugh> Nice.

Mitchell Durram (21:03):

Okay. Yeah.

Sam Demma (21:04):

But I feel the fomo around this time of year when all my friends are posting their Spotify wrapped stacks on social.

Mitchell Durram (21:11):

There’s, there’s an Apple replay now though, which has a similar thing. So don’t have to feel completely left out. That’s how I felt anyways. <laugh>,

Sam Demma (21:20):

If you said Spotify, I was gonna ask you how many minutes on Taylor Swift <laugh>.

Mitchell Durram (21:24):

Oh, a lot. She was, when I did my apple replay, it didn’t say, I can’t remember if it said how many minutes. Yeah. But she was my number one artist. Listen to artist and album and song, I think

Sam Demma (21:37):

<laugh>. Yeah. And triple 11. Yeah. That’s so cool. yeah, these are all awesome things. I think for me, especially around this time of year when the sun’s not out as much, it’s starting to get cold. my lips are cracking. I also try and make time to see friends cuz I feel a little bit of a mental change and a shift. I love that you have a weekly appointment with your friends to play virtual board games. That’s freaking awesome. And I think it’s so important that as educators we maintain these habits that bring us happiness and fulfillment and connection and community because things get difficult, you know? And it’s important to have those pillars in our lives. so thank you for sharing some of yours. When you think of mentors, people that have played a role in your professional and personal growth, who comes to mind and what did they do for you? Or what do they do for you that makes a big difference?

Mitchell Durram (22:34):

Well, I think of, and I mentioned this before, my mom is a big mentor for me mm-hmm. <affirmative> and an important person in my life. And the encouragement I think, and financial support and, and, and, and <laugh> how often has been really instrumental in me getting to where I want to get to. Mm. I think of teachers when I was younger who supported me. I think of my grade nine teacher. She was really helpful in me losing a little bit of my perfectionism. Didn’t go away completely <laugh>, but helped me to see that it’s good to look at the bigger picture and not always focused so hard on the finer details of,

Mitchell Durram (23:32):

Especially when it was giving me a lot of anxiety and making me really frustrated with myself at times. And she helped me to grow with that I think quite a bit. and I think of my grade 11 teacher who also continued on with that work of helping me to be less of a perfectionist, but also helping me to think more deeply about issues Nice. And understand different complexities that I was maybe missing before. and then I think of a lot of the teachers at the school at Walsh where I’m working right now, who have supported me along the way and have been resources for me to go to and say, I really don’t know what to do here. Can you help me? Help me figure this out? And have always been there to help me to do that. I think of all of the the different things that I have struggled with and grown because of in my role. And I wouldn’t have been able to grow without that support of knowing that, you know, failure is going to happen and that’s okay. Yeah. We support you and we’re in your corner. That sort of, that sort of sentiment. So I really appreciate those people as well too. And I am still a relatively new teacher. Like I, I have only been at teaching for four years and so there’s still so much left to learn and there always will be. Yeah. And I am lucky to have so many great mentors at my current school to help me to, to grow and to, to be a better, more effective educator.

Sam Demma (25:27):

It sounds like there are so many connections you’ve made at this school and so many kindhearted people willing to help and support and I’m sure they learn just as much from you as you do from them because whether it’s a year in two years, 20 years, everyone brings a different flavor and a different perspective and different past experiences, which lead to unique perspectives. people are one of the main resources in education. Are there any other resources that you found really helpful? whether that’s apps like Goose Hunt, <laugh>, or associations that you found helpful just in general, like is there any other things you found helpful that another educator could benefit from looking into?

Mitchell Durram (26:15):

Definitely. I am very lucky in my current role to be working with lots of different external agencies and the, the supports that they can provide and the resources that they can provide. I was teaching Health last year and then career in life management the year before. And so being able to use resources from Alberta Health Services and being able to use resources from money mentors and being able to use resources from, there’s so many organizations out there that are wanting and excited to help. the student leadership side of things like the Canadian Student Leadership Association is just so fantastic and we’re grateful for the conference that they’ve put on and the, the other events that they host. but there’s so many great ideas shared in their blog and in their newsletter that it is very worthwhile to to be involved with that organization. And I also really, really like having just so many resources available. Sometimes I think it can be really overwhelming just

Sam Demma (27:42):

Because so many options.

Mitchell Durram (27:43):

Yeah, that’s right. And it’s, it’s really challenging to kind of narrow down what you need in that moment. Yeah. And so I think I have tried to take the approach and sometimes it’s really challenging to do this, but of looking at one or two resources per semester maybe and seeing what I can use and what supports are available through those resources or those organizations. And then implementing that incrementally. So it’s not so overwhelming. I remember too, I think I, I’ve got this advice through my university education because so many times I had professors say, don’t, don’t look for YouTube videos during your class and show them <laugh>. Cause there are so many. Yeah. And you need to watch them beforehand and you need to make sure that it’s gonna work for you. And so I I almost think about these resources and organizations like YouTube because there’s so many and they’re all so wonderful for different reasons. It’s just finding what’s gonna work for you and taking the time to look at that. And it’s gonna be overwhelming because we all know when you search in YouTube, there’s gonna be hundreds of results and it just takes some time. So, so yeah. I I would say if, if anyone is struggling with that, like I did it, it is good to narrow it down.

Sam Demma (29:20):

Hmm. Ah, that’s awesome. Thanks so much for sharing that. If you could travel back in time, tap your younger self on the shoulder four years ago and say, Mitchell, this is a piece of advice that you don’t know you need to hear yet, but you need to hear it. And not because you would change anything about your path, but you thought it would be great advice for someone who is just starting to teach.

Mitchell Durram (29:45):

I think it’s really challenging to have work-life balance in this profession. And I still am working on that. That’s something that’s still a professional goal of mine. And I think the advice I would give myself would be it doesn’t need to be 100% perfect, amazing. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> every single time all the time in every single moment. And we recently did professional development in a needs-based approach for students and meeting meeting students where they are. Nice. And something that really stood out was this idea that we don’t need to get it right all the time. And there’s a lot of power in forgiving and apologizing and that is for yourself and that is for students as well. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And so I think knowing what I know now and knowing the challenges of work-life balance, it is worthwhile to put your heart and soul into this. And I can’t think of any educator that I know that doesn’t do that, but it is also worthwhile to know that it doesn’t have to be amazing.

Mitchell Durram (31:26):

Perfect. Wonderful. Every single second of the day. And knowing that will give you a little bit more time for yourself I think, too. yeah. And I also think of Brene Brown, who I love her Ted Talks and really wanna read her, her books as well too. Books. Book I think books now. Books. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Anyways I think of her Ted Talk, the power of vulnerability and being vulnerable is again a powerful thing. Mm-hmm. And I think being vulnerable with students is powerful too. So I think my other small piece of advice would be saying to myself, it’s okay to have vulnerable moments with students. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And it’s a good thing to have vulnerable moments with students.

Sam Demma (32:27):

I love that. Sometimes students are sitting in front of you, look really looking up to you and putting you, you know, you on a pedestal. Like you’re almost a superhero to them and sharing the vulnerable moments helps humanize yourself in the classroom and helps them relate to you because they are struggling and going through things as well. And yeah, I think that’s really, that’s really great solid advice still. So thank you for, for sharing. If an educator is listening to this and wants to reach out to you, ask you a question, join your virtual board game <laugh>. I’m totally joking. but if someone wants to reach out and ask you a question or share resources, what would be the best email address or way for them to get in touch with you?

Mitchell Durram (33:09):

Probably through email would be the best and it would be duramm@lrsd.ab.ca.

Sam Demma (33:22):

Awesome. Mitchell, thank you so much for taking the time to come on the show. I appreciate it. Keep doing great work and I look forward to keeping in touch and seeing you soon.

Mitchell Durram (33:32):

Absolutely. Thanks so much.

Sam Demma (33:36):

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Mitchell Duram

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

Alison Fantin – Principal of Kirkland Lake District Composite School

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

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

Connect with Alison: Email | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Kirkland Lake District Composite School

District School Board Ontario North East

Undergraduate Programs – Lakehead University

Faculty of Education – Lakehead University

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:01):

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

Alison Fantin (00:46):

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

Sam Demma (00:56):

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

Alison Fantin (01:03):

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

Sam Demma (02:03):

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

Alison Fantin (02:12):

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

Sam Demma (02:23):

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

Alison Fantin (02:34):

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

Sam Demma (03:14):

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

Alison Fantin (03:24):

Okay. This is buckle in.

Sam Demma (03:27):

Yeah, I’m ready. I’m ready. <laugh>.

Alison Fantin (03:29):

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

Sam Demma (04:27):

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

Alison Fantin (04:43):

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

Alison Fantin (05:37):

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

Sam Demma (06:29):

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

Alison Fantin (06:45):

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

Sam Demma (07:35):

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

Alison Fantin (07:48):

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

Sam Demma (08:59):

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

Alison Fantin (09:11):

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

Alison Fantin (09:58):

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

Sam Demma (11:06):

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

Alison Fantin (11:28):

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

Alison Fantin (12:20):

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

Sam Demma (13:13):

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

Alison Fantin (13:43):

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

Sam Demma (15:01):

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

Alison Fantin (15:12):

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

Sam Demma (15:35):

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

Alison Fantin (15:44):

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

Sam Demma (15:48):

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Alison Fantin

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

Karl Fernandes – Teacher, Coach, Writer, Guest Speaker and Life Long Learner

Karl Fernandes – Teacher, Coach, Writer, Guest Speaker and Life Long Learner
About Karl Fernandes

Teacher, coach, writer, guest speaker, life long learner: Karl Fernandes wears many hats as an educator. Blessed beyond measure in his career, Karl has taught in each academic division for the Toronto Catholic District School Board. Karl believes strongly in experiential learning and has an extensive history of engaging his students in local and international service projects. He is actively involved in mental health and natural health initiatives and has worked with numerous organizations to develop well-being resources for students and teachers.

Karl has also instructed at the post-secondary level, and currently serves as a course instructor and professional development facilitator at the provincial level for the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association. He has presented to OCTs and teacher candidates at conferences and workshops across Ontario.

Connect with Karl: Email | LinkedIn

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Toronto Catholic District School Board

Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:01):

Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Karl Fernandeas. Karl is a teacher, coach, writer, guest speaker, and lifelong learner. He wears many hats as an educator. Blessed beyond measure in his career, Karl has taught in each academic division for the Toronto Catholic District School Board. Karl believes strongly in experiential learning and has an extensive history of engaging his students in local and international service projects. He’s actively involved in mental health and natural health initiatives, and has worked with numerous organizations to develop wellbeing resources for students and teachers. I’m so grateful that a past guest that we had on the show, John Laenaris, introduced me to Karl. Karl has also instructed at the post-secondary level and currently serves as a course instructor and professional development facilitator at the provincial level for the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association.

Karl Fernandeas (01:02):

He has presented to OCTs and teacher candidates at conferences and workshops across Ontario. I hope you enjoy this insightful conversation with my friend Karl, and I will see you on the other side. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator Podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today, we have a very special guest. We connected a few times before this podcast, and I’m so excited to finally have him on the show. Karl Fernandez. Karl, please start by introducing yourself so everyone listening knows a little bit about who you are and what it is that you do.

Karl Fernandeas  (01:39):

Thanks, Sam. It’s my pleasure to be here with you this afternoon and to share a bit of my background. I guess I describe myself as both an educator and a lifelong learner. I am a teacher with Toronto Catholic, and I’ve taught in different communities in the city for years. All the grades, like from the little ones right up through high school, and I’ve also had the opportunity in recent years to teach post-secondary and to work with teacher candidates, and now I also work with the, at the provincial level level with the Catholic Teachers Association. And I’m doing a lot with teacher training there. It’s just a terrific way to continue my own learning. Like I said, lifelong learning is, it’s, it’s real.

Sam Demma (02:19):

Where did this passion for lifelong learning develop or stem from?

Karl Fernandeas (02:25):

<laugh>? You know what? I think it, it, it comes just from realization that you, there’s so much you don’t know. Hmm. And, you know, your mistakes inform you. So you, it’s tough because, you know, it’s your pride sometimes, but then you have to recognize well about all the things you maybe didn’t think of or didn’t know. And so it’s, it’s something you learn along as you go along the way. It’s really about the questions you asked, right? That’s what leads to better understanding and better thinking. So that’s something that comes from your work with students. But I think it also comes from just being intentional about how you live your life and how you have your interactions and your experiences. And if you allow yourself some space to be still and not to feel like it’s always about, like you have to look ahead, but sometimes you need to look back.

Karl Fernandeas (03:18):

You need to be right here, and then you get a better perception and perspective on things. So I think that’s something life’s taught me a bit. And I don’t think you start off recognizing your lifelong learner, but it’s just that we’re all on this journey, you know, to try and make meaning of this time we have. And I think that’s where I started recognizing. I, I went back to grad school years after I’d got my teaching certification and all that. And I was, I was probably the most excited person in, in the rooms at times because I knew I was doing it because I just wanted to continue my education. It wasn’t about I need this to get that. And I did meet some people that were doing that and, and that’s fine. But I felt that for me it was more about, let me take this at this stage of my life.

Karl Fernandeas (04:05):

And I didn’t wanna be thinking, oh I could have done it. I just decided not to. I, I knew it mattered to me. So I had a great support network. And in the end, I think it kind of reinforced at that stage in my life, a lot of things that you know, I was intuitively leading towards, you know, the idea of how knowledge is. It’s a reward in and of itself, right? To, to work through a problem, to think about different perspectives, to gain a better understanding, to hear someone else’s point of view. All those things are part of just being willing to learn. And hey, you know, we learn things when we get in the kitchen. We learn things, you know, in so many different aspects of our lives that I think it’s there for everybody. Just, you know, and when you see other people that are inspired to go back and learn something or take a course on the side, you celebrate that. Cuz I just think it’s, it’s such a pathway to their thinking and, and maybe something that becomes a passion project or whatever. Right. So yeah, I see it as natural

Sam Demma (05:02):

Stillness is something that’s very familiar to you. You’ve written about it in a few online teacher articles and magazines. You mean it both in a physical sense of sitting down and not moving, but also in a, I guess a metaphorical sense of not living in the future, but living here and now. but let’s talk about it from a physical standpoint. I know that being still and meditating or finding that pause is something that you practice often. Why do you do that? And do you advise other educators to explore trying that themselves?

Karl Fernandeas (05:39):

Yeah, it, it’s something where you have to keep putting yourself in a position, you know, to, to learn and grow and to help your students do the same, right? So even pre pandemic this is something that, you know, the whole idea of mindfulness and meditation, we have to resist this thing that it’s the flavor of the day. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> as if it’s kind of like a trend or like a new way, right? Because it’s actually ancient in, its in, its in its wisdom and in its methods. So we, we need to sort of put that aside cuz that’s one of my, my cautions right now. I do a lot of real work in this area. And this has happened organically and authentically as someone that, you know, you have to be thinking about how you’re managing you know, your sense of wellbeing.

Karl Fernandeas (06:28):

If you’re gonna lead others, you know, you’re gonna lead your students. And, you know, equally important, you have to think about your students and recognize that if they’re not feeling well, if they’re not feeling good the math lesson doesn’t matter, right? So what can you do? Right? Of course, you wanna be a present and a welcoming figure, and you wanna create a classroom that’s inclusive and dynamic. And, and those things are things that we take pride in, right? And you build through the year, but then you have these other, you know, I don’t wanna, like, it’s sometimes we use an analogy of a toolbox, right? Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, and you pull things out and you know, you know what to use and all that. And I actually did a pilot, I was involved with a pilot project some years ago that involved bringing wellbeing practices to students.

Karl Fernandeas (07:11):

And you know, through that I had a chance, I had already was committed to a lot of these practices, including the idea of meditating. But to be able to have my, you know, guide my students through these and learn some new things because the people leading it were really top rates. So it gives you a chance just to expand again, to expand your learning. But I saw firsthand, you know, I mean, we, I, if you’ve created an environment that’s safe and welcoming, it’s amazing where students will, you know, where like, they’ll, they’ll come along, you know? So they were, I, I had a, a beautiful group of grade eights that year. A lot of ’em, huge kids, you know, athletes, scholars, the whole, the whole nine. But they didn’t hesitate, you know, if I said, look at, this is what I like to try.

Karl Fernandeas (07:54):

They, you know, they already, you had gained their trust and they, they, they also understood that you were putting them in a place where they had an opportunity to try something that could benefit them. It wasn’t something that would, was meant to make them feel self-conscious or, you know, put in a spot. So I, I witnessed it firsthand that they were willing to, to try these things. We did, you know, some of the elements of of breathing exercises and, and physical exercises that are connected to yoga that just would help them with their the relaxation and it, you know, then they’d write about it a bit and how they felt about it. So then you get that sense, and then you do other things, you know, that help them build a sense of community and their appreciation for each other in life.

Karl Fernandeas (08:37):

You do things like gratitude circles and it just, you know, builds. And so what was fascinating is from there you know, we, we changed grades and assignments as the years unfold. And I was in with a younger group of students who maybe were a bit more challenged by issues around self-regulation. And this was just pre pandemic. So we started on this journey too, in the fall. And at the beginning, I know for some of ’em, it was really challenging because, you know, I would try to create the right environment, you know, dim the lights, close the door and all that. But then, you know, meditation really teaches you, it’s just like life. Like it’s, you can’t write it up the way you want it to be an expected to happen. So I’d leave the door open a couple times. Someone would walk in already talking to me before they actually saw what was going on.

Karl Fernandeas (09:21):

And I just like, you know what, we’re present in this moment, so we’re just gonna stay with this. And it was something where I’ll catch up with that person later. But the priority right now is, you know, we’re gonna continue our breathing. And, you know, the thing I loved about ASAM is that was unfortunately the year where we had to transition to online learning. Mm-hmm. And these these habits that we had developed in person, we extended to our online sessions. And so we would have it as part of our, you know, I would always be throwing new things into the mix to keep the kids feeling connected and that, you know, that, that this matters. And that was one of the things we did. And it absolutely was a, a joyful thing. And I mean, it, it, it, the science is all there, but I can also speak to it from like, from the heart, from an emotional level, just to see your students to look up and see that they’re completely engaged in this.

Karl Fernandeas (10:13):

At the beginning you got the kids that are eyes open looking around, you know, <laugh> wanting to see if any of their friends are maybe looking around too. But, you know, little by little they kind of come to it. And it’s not for you to, to judge or to scold or whatever it is. You just keep the in imitation open. And it’s tough because our minds are just used to overprocessing and racing and, and jumping around and all that. So, you know, wanna go back to your original thought stillness, right? It just, it, it, it allows you to be just a little more aware and when you’re done. ‘Cause the kids at the beginning thought maybe they’d get sleepy. And I said, it’s the opposite that happens, right? Like, you can talk to ’em a bit about the science of your alpha waves and just help them understand a bit that this actually benefits you. You become more alert and more present. So I, I would en I would encourage it. I, I would think, you know, you need to sort of find out a bit, especially if it’s not something you’ve done yourself. And you can always, there’s so many great resources online and apps and really legitimate websites, platforms that are developed by people that are in this field, so that if you wanna get started, there’s always a, a pathway for you.

Sam Demma (11:19):

It’s such a cool thing to hear about that you’re doing in a classroom with students. I’ve benefited greatly from meditation, from silence, from nature. And I think it’s just awesome to hear that you’re creating those spaces with young students. I didn’t stumble into that when I was in high school. I stumbled into it listening to podcasts, and I would’ve loved to have a teacher introduce me to those things at a younger age. You mentioned you create these safe spaces, and I’m curious to know, how do you think an educator creates a safe space? Like, how do you create a space where students feel like they can be themselves, feel like it’s okay to fail?

Karl Fernandeas (12:01):

Yeah, that’s important, isn’t it? Because if you don’t make it clear that we’re inherently gonna make our mistakes and we’re not always gonna have the result we want mm-hmm. <affirmative>, you’re creating a climate that isn’t really welcoming and isn’t really gonna, you know, reach the students. So I think, you know, it starts with just that idea that, you know, when you’re in education, you generally are guided by compassion and a and, and an interest in your students. And, and that comes out in many ways. Sometimes it’s just the being that stable, welcoming presence for them, because they may not have enough of that in their lives. And sometimes it’s just the, you know, the little conversations you can have if it’s in line or, you know, as you’re going out, extracurriculars, field trips, all that. I think what you’re trying to tell the student is that as much as their their homework, it sure it matters.

Karl Fernandeas (12:54):

And, you know, all these other things matter. It’s the person that matters the most. And kids have this innate ability to sense when they’re in the presence of someone that welcomes them and will, you know, kind of encourage them. So if, if, if you’re just worried about the rule or the, the way it’s done, you could lose sight of the bigger picture. Whereas here’s someone who’s not that different from us, right? Who’s maybe messed it up a bit today or maybe forgot the thing they should have brought. And maybe, yeah, it is the third time, and that could be trying, but if the child understands that what you’re trying to address is the the actual action of the behavior, not the person, you know, there’s the real opportunity for them to, to reflect and, and children of all ages, like they, they, they, they can come to this place, right?

Karl Fernandeas (13:46):

One of the fascinating things that you often, that, that I find I, I enjoy doing with students is when it comes to evaluating a piece of work ask them to evaluate themselves, including with the grade, it’s amazing how hard they’ll be on themselves. Mm-hmm. Right Now you get the occasional kid that’s gonna give themselves the flying a plus <laugh>, but, and you know, that’s all good. But you know, when you, when you’re, when you ask them a little further, they’ll, they’ll come down from that too. But so many, I mean, that’s our human nature, right? And I think there are all these studies out there that talk about how many negative comments we tend to absorb in the course of a day. And even the talk we do with ourselves tends to be a little bit more critical. And so I think as a teacher, you’ve gotta check that sometimes, you know, and you’ve gotta remind yourself that, you know, you can put a lot of positive energy.

Karl Fernandeas (14:32):

You don’t have to be like singing songs and clapping hands and all that to show that you’re happy, right? Yeah. Sometimes it’s this calm and peaceful environment you create. I mean, gosh, remember with my younger students years ago, I’d played classical music while we were working, and that was one of those years of the E Q AO tests where, you know, scores were like such a big concern and the province and all that. And you know, when your students are asking, can they have, can they listen to Mozart while they’re doing their math work or whatever, I mean, something’s happened, right? And it’s not always classical, but it’s just the fact that we can go there. And so you can just create these little dynamics and you also instill trust, right? So for me, like there are a lot of policies without getting too much into teacher speak, you know, the idea of needing to use the bathroom or get a drink.

Karl Fernandeas (15:15):

Like that’s, to me, that’s, it’s automatic, but the only condition I place on that is you’re not going for walks around the school, right? Like, there are things you can do in the classroom if you need to get up, and you have to know when you’re, you know, you need to leave. But if I’m if I’m teaching a split grade, let’s say, and I’m teaching the other side, my students that are currently in independent work, they understand like they’re allowed to get up and go, but it’s a trust thing. If even once I find they’re roaming around or they’re, you know, there’s something that’s, you know, a bit of a disappointing choice they’ve made, they have to answer for it. So, you know, I think when you put all these things in place, it’s for everybody. It’s not just for the student that’s easy to trust.

Karl Fernandeas (15:53):

Hmm. Right? It has to be for an invitation for all of them to reach a standard. And I think putting expectations forward, I, I’ve, I’ve talked to people over the years to try and understand this better, and I, I really feel it’s true because sometimes you have a group where you recognize they’re struggling, you know, maybe they’re struggling with expectations or with their academics or whatever. And the question is, well, do you lower the standard and just, you know, make sure everyone can jump right over the fence and get these high grades that may be inflated or whatever. Or are there other ways that you need to think about this? How do we, how kind of scaffold it so that they can, you know, see progress and start reaching. And I tend to prefer that. So I think when students are in a room where they understand their expectations, but there’s also, you know, acceptance and forgiveness and understanding all these things that kind of come part of saying, Hey, we’re all human. So I like that you mentioned failure, because if we’re afraid of it, there’s all this stuff about fear failure. And I think you’ve worked in that space as well about encouraging people to overcome that. It, it, it’s important because then we shift our mindset. There’s a whole thinking around the growth mindset, and that can only come if we see these things that don’t work out as opportunities as opposed to complete failures. Right.

Sam Demma (17:05):

I, I couldn’t agree more. I love that you mentioned this idea that you’re not addressing the person you’re addressing the action or the behavior. And that was a big thing for me as a student because I attached my self worth to my success as an athlete. And I thought subconsciously, if Sam wasn’t seen as a great soccer player, he’d be worth nothing as a person. Whereas in reality, soccer was just a game I chose to play outside of Sam Demma human being. and when I was able to identify that it was a lot easier to overcome the challenges, the mental barriers that I had to moving on and starting something new and continuing to build my life mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And I feel like you kind of addressing students by saying, you chose to make this choice. that doesn’t, that’s not necessarily a great reflection of you as a human being. It’s just a choice you made. I’m not addressing you. I’m addressing the choice. Let’s talk about the choice together, not you as a person. I think that’s a great way to have difficult conversations and it’s a lot more disarming. so yeah, I thought that was really, that was really great distinction and I appreciate you making it. Did you know when you were a student walking the hallways of the schools you attended that you wanted to work in education as a teacher?

Karl Fernandeas (18:22):

<laugh>? Absolutely not. No <laugh>, I didn’t see it. I, I, I knew, I guess there were probably, it’s, it’s, you know, life is such a mystery, right? Like, where we go and the people we come across and all the things that we’re gonna do, it’s, it’s, you gotta love that, that it’s so unscripted. But I know some people say that they, they figured it out. They knew from time. And I, I just wasn’t in that camp. I, I think the things that probably I could occlude into us, I, I enjoyed presenting and I was pretty good at explaining things to my classmates. if, you know, we were working out certain problems, not in all subjects and not in everything, but, you know, oftentimes I could, could lend a bit that way. And I did get a chance to work with youth a co I took, you know, I was always, you know, on the move picking up a job wherever I could, you know, growing up just to sort of, you know, take care of things and, you know, self put myself through university, the whole nine.

Karl Fernandeas (19:14):

So I had to I just, and I also wanted to try everything, you know, I thought, hey, life is about this. It’s not just, you know, one thin line to walk. So I did get a chance to work with students a couple times, including at a sports camp actually. And you know, that was an absolute blast. You know, I just found how much I loved being in that space and you know, all the things that come with it. Cuz when you’re with them all day, it’s a little bit like school, right? Except it’s all about sports, <laugh>, this whole, whole whole you have to learn a lot about your, I mean, know we, we refer to as classroom management, but people misunderstand that thinking. It’s about like managing kids and rules and expectations and it’s really about creating environment, you know?

Karl Fernandeas (19:54):

So anyways, I think those things helped inform me, but really and truly, I didn’t sort of listen to that voice properly until I was into my university years. And it wasn’t a sort of a fallback or something. It was literally like, well, which path am I gonna take now? I was really interested in international relations and I had done some you know, like a number of studies and things and I was feeling strongly drawn to that, you know, cause I had an interest in politics and, and, and global issues environment. And so I felt that there was something there that was really calling me. And then there was this thing about, boy, you get to do so many amazing things in, in school and I wasn’t the model that you’d expect to become the teacher, you know? So it was something I had to reflect on a bit.

Karl Fernandeas (20:43):

But I realized that, you know, there were certain things that were aligning for me that suggested, you know, even when I’d be in university and I was presenting or I was doing other things, I thought there that space is, is, is fascinating, so I should stay open to it. And then I kind of was, I I I was doing the two degrees concurrently, so I was pursuing my international relations and I was pursuing my work through teachers college. And I think if I was gonna be quite honest with myself, my international relations work was, was really lighting up. I was loving it. And I felt like, you know, my mind was alive and sometimes in, in, in teachers programs, I was a little bit more, you know, we’d be having debates about phonics and I wasn’t particularly excited <laugh> about stuff like that sometimes.

Karl Fernandeas (21:27):

So I wondered, you know, even as I was going through it, I didn’t know where I was gonna land. But I kind of ended up lending both because I did some international development projects as a volunteer. And that took me into countries in the developing world where I really got to, you know, do the work and meet people and see things and, and, and reflect on them. And what it’s done is it’s kind of informed my practice because one of the things that I am, I’m homely proud of as an educator is that I’ve connected my students to service projects throughout the years mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And, you know, it, it is a bit of a leap. You don’t, it’s not a scripted thing. You figure out, okay, what are we gonna do about this situation? Or how can we get involved? And, and then you have to just have the courage to say, well, may not be perfect, but let’s, let’s put this together.

Karl Fernandeas (22:11):

And, you know, so I think in a way, now that I look back at it, all the pieces were there for me. I just didn’t know, you know, what the puzzle was supposed to look like. And in a, in a unique way, I’ve kind of blended these different parts of who I am. So environmental work and international work and, and, and social justice work have all kind of combined. And of course I love the material I get to teach, but you know, your, your, your teaching extends so far beyond the lesson, right? And ideally you’re connecting students to the world in whatever form, and you take kids outside and they just, they just, they’re overjoyed. It’s like, wow, we get to go and do something. Right? So you don’t want to just think of it as a static, you gotta check off. Cuz that’s the thing. There’s this weight, you know, you gotta check off all these objectives and lessons and there’s so much more than that. So I guess that’s a wandering answer, but I guess that’s kind of reflective of my path in education. I don’t think it was something I, I recognized until it just aligned and I realized, yeah, this is, this is right for me.

Sam Demma (23:15):

I’ve had a diverse representation of answers when it came to this question. Some being, I used to play school with my, with my family members growing up and acted like I was the teacher to, I totally just fell into it randomly to, I like an answer like you shared. I liked certain aspects of education like presenting and realized I was passionate about it and, you know, during my university degree got into it. So I think it’s cool to hear that everyone has a very different journey to education because someone might feel overwhelmed or like they missed the boat if they’re a little bit later in their education and have started pursuing something differently. So thank you for sharing that. Your path was a little bit different. Steve Jobs always says you can’t connect. Well, he did say you can’t connect the dots looking forwards. You can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that at some point in your future, the dots will connect. And it’s a part of his commencement speech and it gives me the goosebumps whenever I’m really discerning a tough decision. And I try and remind myself that, ah, this seems very challenging right now, but I’m sure a year from now looking back, it will all make sense even if I can’t make sense of it in the moment. And that kind of sounds like your journey to getting into education <laugh>. So

Karl Fernandeas (24:33):

Yeah. Yeah,

Sam Demma (24:34):

Yeah. Yeah. I appreciate you sharing that. At what point in your educational journey did you start presenting to other teachers and educators? it sounds like you always had a passion for presenting.

Karl Fernandeas (24:47):

I think it’s more I was, you know, willing to step forward. I think that’s part of where you, you try to lead in whatever way you can. Cuz in the end, you know, in a school, you’re part of a community and you, you want to contribute in a meaningful way. And it’s tricky because, you know, it’s, it’s one of the tensions that sometimes can exist in schools where you can feel that things are being pulled in all kind of different directions. And so my initiative isn’t more important than another initiative, but perhaps, you know, it’s been in place, it’s been formed and it’s ready to be rolled out and then along comes something else. And sometimes you have to just, you know, move with it. So I say that because I guess sometimes it’s just you’re, you’re asked to do it.

Karl Fernandeas (25:34):

I remember years ago, I have to think about this really, but I, I think in one of my first couple years of teaching I was asked to, it was more like, oh, just, I was the new guy, right? So I was like a year or two in, and we, we were at some kind of event and I think I was supposed to either do the welcome or the thank you to somebody and I was just, it was literally like, Hey, can you do this in two minutes, <laugh>? Yeah. So I thought, sure, you know, but it wasn’t exactly something that I knew. It was more like, well, we need someone to do it, let’s ask you kind of thing. And, which was fine. I but I was also, you know, asked by people that were friendly enough that I thought, sure, if I can help out I will.

Karl Fernandeas (26:13):

But I remember after that some people came after me and says like, wow, do you do that stuff all the time? Like, no, I just did that cuz you asked me to. But I think, you know, ultimately what it is Sam, is that if you, if, if you’re trying to be purposeful, and I, I think thoughtful about things and that doesn’t mean you’re, it’s rehearsed and you’ve got it all right. But just you think about it, I think that just lends for more opportunities. But the rest of this is unfolded over time. Like sometimes it was school events where, you know, we’d put on, we’d put on some amazing presentations for parents, you know, where the students were, obviously the, the, the, the focus Nice. But you’d need to have it stitched together. And sometimes it was coming together, so, you know, last minute and like with different pieces, like, I’d be working, I, I also work with music in the school, so with one, some of my partners are like, okay, so which one we’re doing next?

Karl Fernandeas (27:06):

And all that stuff. And then it would just, you know, I would, I would always wanna give students the mic wherever it’s possible, but where the, where situations are unfolding and it’s not maybe you know, like people can rehearse. That’s possible. Yeah. Yeah. And then, you know, sometimes it’s just like, Hey, this is just live to, so you’ve gotta be ready. Yeah, I’ll take it at those stages. And you know, when you have graduation ceremonies and stuff, one of the things that I felt was so important was to address the grads as a teacher and just thank them and wish them the best. And you try to do it in a poignant, meaningful way because, you know, not all of them gonna get called up for these awards and things like that. And I always think about those other kids that, you know, this is a big piece of their life, you know, this is the foundational piece, and they need to know that they mattered and this whole journey mattered.

Karl Fernandeas (27:47):

And it’s not about, well, you know, who got the whatever award. So I kind of, I guess more and more would step forward in those lights. And then as you unfold in your career, you think again about what matters and where you can contribute. And part of that’s also finding the things that you are passionate about and that you know, where you can authentically discuss. Because if it’s something that, like, I, I can, I, I really enjoy teaching math and language and all that, but I, I don’t think I could get really jazzed up to do a presentation on some of that. I can help, you know, and, and, and learn with others and all that. That’s all good. But if I get to talk about, you know, mental wellbeing, if I get to talk about the environment or social justice or classroom management, I’m all in.

Karl Fernandeas (28:32):

You know. So I think when I, when I went back to grad school, that kind of unfolded a series of interesting pathways where it went from being in class to, you know, I met someone who worked in I think it was the international education department there. And then I got a call from students asking, could I present at a conference? And then I said, sure. And so I did that. This is for university students. And then from there I was asked to teach a, a certificate course. And then, you know, it just one thing, I guess in the end, you get an opportunity and then it’s what do you do with that opportunity? And, you know, in, in recent years, I’ve been really enjoying my work with the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association. You know, it’s the provincial level for Catholic teachers in the pro in, in Ontario.

Karl Fernandeas (29:13):

I see. And the, the professional development work they do is just fantastic. So, you know, when I came into this some years ago, you just apply and you know, at the beginning you’re in with a lot of really well established people. And so I was just like, I was, again, the new kid, so to speak, but I’m just happy to, you know, learn from others and talk. And then eventually you get tapped and I, I did a presentation and that led to something else. And then I think about within a year, I’m delivering the keynote at a, a conference for educators in Eastern Ontario. And I thought I was doing a workshop when I put my <laugh>, my, my work forward. And they said, no, it’s a keynote. And I was like, okay. And then I thought, well, that’s, that’s fine then, you know, I mean, I believe in what I was gonna talk about, and it was about a teacher’s journey and how we have to think about, you know, how we restore ourselves and how that in turn helps us to create these climates for our students.

Karl Fernandeas (30:02):

So I believed in what I was gonna talk about, but they did select it. And then from there, I guess it’s, it’s rolled on. So I, I’m, I’m very, very grateful that I’ve had these opportunities, but I also take each one as, you know, extremely important that it matters. And I, I value the time of my audiences. And oftentimes it’s the conversations you have after the session’s done where you feel so good because you’ve reached someone and they come up specifically to tell you that, or they want to talk more about your ideas. And I’m sure you’ve had plenty of those moments, cuz I know how inspiring your talks are, but this is what we try to do. It’s just about taking what we know and then maybe passing it forward or helping people move along. And then we reflect too. So no two presentations are the same mm-hmm. <affirmative>

Karl Fernandeas (30:44):

And each group, I’ve, I’ve spoken to teacher candidates, I’ve spoken to teacher groups, you know where they may be getting a PD session and I’ve done an online in person, it just, you know, you just, you just adapt to whatever the environment is and just try and figure out how can I contribute something here that’s, that’s meaningful. And what can you say, you feel so fortunate when you hear the feedback afterwards that people have benefited in some way. Right? But you don’t rest on that. You know probably, I suspect you have this too, as a presenter, you’re never satisfied. You keep thinking, oh, you know what, here’s a little something I wanna try and do a little differently for the next one. Or, this audience is a little different. I always wanna know a bit about my audience. I don’t wanna take anything for granted.

Karl Fernandeas (31:24):

So I’ll be doing a presentation this week to some teacher candidates, and I wanted to know a bit more. And it turns out they’re graduate students, so that means that they’ve had a little bit more time with their program, and perhaps they’re coming at this from different lenses. They wanna look at things at. So that’s important to me to consider when I do the presentation. So, you know, I think it’s opportunities they come and I think it’s just that slow patient work where you put yourself in a situation, but I was never the one to sort of say like, like it’s, it’s, how do I say? Like, I need to get to the front of the line. I think I’d rather be tapped on merit than sort of try too hard to say, you know, me. And now I think I feel, you know, that I, I have a, a lot that I can contribute. And so if I am asked, I, I like to say yes. And so I think that’s a lot about life too. You know, just try and say yes and then invite the opportunities to come.

Sam Demma (32:19):

That’s awesome. You mentioned teacher coming up to you afterwards and how they often tell you how it made them feel and they wanna talk about your ideas further or how it connected with them. And it made me think about success because oftentimes we, well, in the presentation world, you feel like your presentation was a success. When someone walks up to you and says, oh my goodness, Carl, that was amazing. It really connected. I have these new tools to bring into my school. And I’m curious to know how you define success as an educator, not as a presenter, but as an educator. And the reason I ask is because

Sam Demma (32:56):

I think a lot of educators wanna make a positive difference in the lives of the students in their classrooms or the teachers they’re leading. If they’re the principal or the principals, if they’re the superintendent, it, it all comes down to helping mm-hmm. <affirmative> and changing people. But sometimes after a presentation, people won’t walk up to you and tell you how great it was, even though it was, and they still have the connections, but maybe they didn’t feel confident enough to come and tell you, or you changed the student’s life, by the way you talked to them in class for a semester. But they tell you about it 20 years later. And you’re left wondering, well, did I make a difference? and Tom, I’m curious to know, like, how do you define success as an educator? So you don’t, you don’t mislead yourself to believe you’re not making a change or a difference in those moments where people don’t rush up and tell you.

Karl Fernandeas (33:51):

Yeah. That’s, that’s that’s a really thoughtful thing to, to ask. And I guess to reflect on, you know, that’s one of the dilemmas about being a teacher, right? Like every, most people think they’re doing it really well, and some people are very hard on themselves and maybe they are trying well, but they’re just, you know, presented with challenging circumstances. And, you know, we’re an egalitarian workforce in a way, right? A teacher is, you know, we’re presented with, you know, more or less the same conditions no matter where, I mean, there are variances of course, but by the nature of our employment, this is what it is. We’re not, you know, vice president of teaching and <laugh>, you know, like something like that, right? It’s just you, you, so what you try to do is, you know, learn to be effective, you know, learn to really succeed with your curriculum.

Karl Fernandeas (34:42):

Like you need to know your stuff. And on that, I’m, I’m, that’s where I’m uncompromising, you know, like, you can’t teach something you don’t understand and you know, so you have to put the time in to know your material, to understand, you know, the nuances of it, the, the, the traps that students will maybe get stuck with and all that you need to consider changing grades to sort of see how the building blocks form. Like, that’s one of the things I really loved about going down to primary after years up with the older students and just sort of seeing how things come together at that age. And then I was like, oh, you know, I remember sometimes when my intermediate students would struggle with a concept and I’d be working with them at that level trying to figure out how to plug in for them.

Karl Fernandeas (35:21):

And then what it probably turns out is this concept wasn’t fully grasped at a younger grade. They didn’t see it, and then they think they can’t do it. And then it just becomes something, whenever it comes up, it’s like, oh, not that like, you know, like, I’m not good at that. And so when you can sort of see it from all these different levels, you can plug in a little differently and you try to just reinforce it in a way that you hope they’ll carry enough forward, that they’ll feel, I can do this. You know, I’ve got this and that’s what you want to help them feel. But you’re right, it’s, success is abstract in a lot of ways. You know, it’s not performance based. It’s, it’s really a, an intuitive and a a reactive kind of thing, right? How do you feel when you walk out each day, right?

Karl Fernandeas (36:08):

Or when you walk in each day at the end of the year. To me that’s an emotional time, you know, like it really is, as much as your birthday and a calendar year are times to take stock and to think about things the end of a school year, oof. When you get to June, I mean, I love my break, but that’s a tough month because, you know, you’re all sensing it, right? It’s kind of like a, a joy and also the bittersweetness of knowing this is gonna end and the students feel it too, you know, no matter what grade they’re in, they recognize this comfort, this, this, these dynamics that are in the room, these jokes that you share, these little routines that you’ve created. So when a student walks up to you in the schoolyard and you know, are waiting till they get to be in your class again, you gotta take that and, you know, just sort of just feel that you reached, you know, yeah.

Karl Fernandeas (37:00):

That, that, that, that, that mattered there. And when they remind you, even if it’s repeatedly, do you remember when we did whatever it is mm-hmm. <affirmative> and including the online piece, right? Like, I’ve got students that talk about that. We used to go on these walks into the forest cuz we couldn’t really go very far. <laugh> you know, everything was for prohibited, so, yeah. You know, so it’s like, okay, so I’d make up reasons to take the students out and do science, you know, in front of the school. Like, Hey, we’re gonna look at these trees and we’re gonna look at whatever it is and just let’s get outside. Right? And so we’d go to the forest for these walks and then when we went online in whatever that was, January of that year, I told them, listen I, I searched this up when I found these online like ritual nature walks where someone go put, I guess puts a GoPro on and then goes for it and then you can walk along with them in a sense, right?

Karl Fernandeas (37:45):

So I asked my students, would you like to try this cuz there’s some amazing places to go. And they were so enthused about it. And then of course, being these enthusiastic kids, it happened to be the first one I showed them as a winter walk in this forest, and they’re convinced it’s our forest. I’m like, that’s not our forest. Like there’s, there’s <laugh>, there’s almost a river running through it, right? <laugh> then, then they’re convinced it’s me. And like I went out there that morning, like I’m in my kitchen, like <laugh>. So, but you laugh about it together, right? And so I think if I know that those little things mattered, then you feel a sense of, okay, so when I, when when fully grown adults who were my former students, reach out, reach back need to come in and just wanna be in, you know, in your company, how can you not just be overwhelmed with gratitude that like, you know, they don’t have to, right?

Karl Fernandeas (38:36):

Like they can be well on their way in this world, they can think back or not. And you can’t measure that. You can’t know, right? The, the test of time is what it is that you just have to trust that you’ve done what you can. And if you’re sincere as a teacher, you do your best and you also recognize that you, you weren’t perfect, you know, you did make mistakes and you hope that there weren’t ones that, you know, maybe you can’t get it back. So you just hope that, you know, they, they don’t take the wrong thing from you. But there’s that old expression I won’t say it properly, but it’s, you know, people may forget what you did and you know all that, but they’ll never forget how you made them feel. And so I think, you know, I, I’ve, for whatever it’s worth, like I’ve been invited to former student’s weddings and you know, like now some of ’em are playing in bands like, sir, you gotta come hear me play.

Karl Fernandeas (39:19):

And I’m like, sure. You know? So I think those are the, those are some of the markers, right? And I think you, you know, when you get to talk about, they come back and they want to talk about how we won the football championship or the soccer championship way back or you did house league with them. And for some kids, like you see them score their first goal, right? <laugh> because they haven’t really played a much outside of the opportunity to have a House league or something like that. So I think if you were to somehow find a way to quantify all that and put it together, that’s probably a bit about what success would feel like. But ultimately I think you, you know, in your heart, if you’re, if you’re, if you’re being guided by principals and if you don’t stop seeing the students, you know, in front of you is who matters. I think that’s where you can sort of, you know, feel really good. Cuz I really appreciate all the other things I get to do, but none of that would matter very much if I was shorting it out on the, in the classroom side, right? Mm-hmm.

Sam Demma (40:18):

<affirmative>, I love that. Thanks for sharing. this has been a very insightful conversation. It’s already been almost 50 minutes. Before we wrap it up, I got some random rapid fire questions for you. Are you ready?

Karl Fernandeas (40:31):

Oh, let me try. Okay.

Sam Demma (40:32):

What’s your favorite sport?

Karl Fernandeas (40:34):

Ooh, gotta be soccer.

Sam Demma (40:36):

What’s the last song you listen to?

Karl Fernandeas (40:39):

Ooh, probably whatever. My son’s made me listen to <laugh>. He’s always putting earbuds in my ear and say, dad, check this out. So

Sam Demma (40:46):

<laugh>. That’s awesome. That’s awesome. what was the first grade that you taught?

Karl Fernandeas (40:55):

As a professional? It would’ve been grade seven.

Sam Demma (40:58):

Nice. who are you cheering for for the World Cup?

Karl Fernandeas (41:04):

Sam, now I I, I gotta be careful with this one, right? Because I don’t know who you’re back in, but I’ll tell you what I mean, Canada was, I was so hopeful for them, you know, I went down and get a chance to watch them play at BMO last year before like everyone was in on the bandwagon and it was just a special night watching these guys just light it up. And so I, I think, you know, they, the moment may have been a bit much, I felt they had a really great opportunity in that first match and it just got away. And then from there you’re looking uphill, right? Like, you know, the math of World Cup, if you get the first one, you’re in a good spot. If you get a tie or a draw, you still are in the conversation, you lose and suddenly the pressure’s on, right?

Karl Fernandeas (41:40):

And they didn’t go from a difficulty easy, right? They went from difficult to more difficult <laugh>. So I think that was regrettable and I, it did kind of feel in the end they didn’t have their best showing. They didn’t look, they were kind of exposed at times. So that was tough because I was all up on Team Canada. I was ready to, I wanted for this city too. I really think I’ve said this to a few friends and family members, but I think what Toronto needs to see happen, they needed to see can’s team go for it, you know, have a little bit of a run and get excited about that. I think the city would’ve just been, you know, would’ve let it up. Yeah, exactly. And if, if this, you know, this beloved Toronto Maple Leafs team of ours ever <laugh> succeeds here. I’m telling you it’s gonna be unreal.

Karl Fernandeas (42:23):

So I hope, but to answer your question honestly, I think the Final eight are really like, there are some powerhouse teams there. I would put in the top tier, I’ve gotta believe the way Brazil and France are playing. They’re the class of the, the tournament and right underneath that you’ve got a solid group of about three teams. And there, there are very few that I’d say, I don’t wanna say the wrong team and maybe have someone say wait, <laugh>, but there are a couple that I think are probably longer shots to, you know, get to the semis. But how about I gotta ask you too then, like who are you looking at?

Sam Demma (42:51):

You, you just never know. Right? Okay.

Karl Fernandeas (42:54):

My, that’s safe. <laugh>,

Sam Demma (42:55):

My, my team was definitely, I was training for Canada. I didn’t yeah, think they were gonna win the World Cup, but I wanted to see them win some games. Yeah. next would’ve been Italy, but they’re not in it and Greek, which are both of my half, half and half my ethnicities and neither of them are in it. So <laugh> yeah, those are cut short. So now I’m just watching for the beautiful game, but I’m not exactly really cheering on anyone and it sounds like you’re in the same boat. So that’s I, I like you said, you know, you appreciate it. It is such a beautiful game and if you’ve, if you played it as you have it, you know your level and you just, you, you can appreciate it, you know, it is, it is such an intricate sport and all the little skills that go into the buildup, that’s what, you know, just makes it so special. Cuz you know, you can watch a basketball game and there can be 200 points scored <laugh>, you know, easily between the two teams and, you know, with soccer they can, they can 120 minutes and Yeah, exactly. Right. And yet the drama and the tension and all that is so, you know, so strong that if you, you have to just sort of appreciate it for, you know, it’s all the, all the things and make it up. So yeah, I’m, I’m all in for good soccer.

Sam Demma (44:03):

Last question for you.

Karl Fernandeas (44:04):

Sure.

Sam Demma (44:06):

Educators tuning in, listening, if they wanna reach out to you, ask you a question, what would be the best way for them to get ahold of you or ask, ask a question?

Karl Fernandeas (44:16):

Fair. Let me think. I guess if they’re, if they’re with the any Catholic school board, you can reach me through OECTA because I am part of the professional development network. I’m also with Toronto Catholic, so all teachers know how teacher email works, where, where it’s your name and then the name of the board. So there’s there. I’m really light on the social stamp to be honest. I think it’s one of those things that, it just didn’t really connect for me very much and I just felt that I’m, I’m happier in person and all the opportunities I could ask for have so many have come my way but a couple years ago I was encouraged to start a a LinkedIn profile. So I, it’s lightly used, but it’s there too if anyone, you know, needed to reach me that way too.

Sam Demma (44:55):

Awesome. Karl, thank you so much for taking the time to come on the show. It’s been a pleasure chatting with you. I hope we can do a part two maybe a year from now when we all have different, different perspectives and are on different parts of our journey. Enjoy the indoor workouts as it gets cold, and I look, look forward to staying in touch.

Karl Fernandeas (45:15):

Sam, I’ve gotta thank you not only for the opportunity of being so great as a host and guiding this, but I think, you know, the work that you’re doing for young people and also just to recognize teachers because, you know, we’re, we’re in a really unique stage right now. You know, in society and there, there, there is a lot of frustration and, and, and, and everything else, and we see it at ground level, you know, with in schools. So for you to actually make a point of giving teachers a chance to talk about, you know, what we love doing and all that, that’s that’s a rare opportunity and it’s, it’s greatly appreciated. So I hope as well for you that, you know, your path continues to lead to all these really meaningful projects and so it’s appreciated.

Sam Demma (45:57):

Thanks, Karl. Appreciate it a lot. And again, we’ll, we’ll talk soon. Maybe I’ll bump into you in the forest <laugh>.

Karl Fernandeas (46:03):

Love, love it, love it. But we’ll both be still at that time anyways. Right. So <laugh>, thanks Sam, appreciate it.

Sam Demma (46:11):

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Karl Fernandes

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.

Suzanne Imhoff – Art Teacher at St. Croix Falls High School and Student Leadership Advisor

Suzanne Imhoff – Art Teacher at St. Croix Falls High School and Student Leadership Advisor
About Suzanne Imhoff

Suzanne Imhoff, is a 7-12 Art Teacher at St. Croix Falls High School in St. Croix Falls Wisconsin. She is a Nationally Board Certified teacher with 27 years of teaching, coaching and advising experience. She started her career at Siren Schools then moved to St. Croix Falls High School after 4 years and has been there since working as an advisor for the SCFHS Student Council, CLOWNS(elementary student with high school student mentoring club), basketball and softball coach.

Her work with student leaders began back in 1995 with the Wisconsin Association of School Councils and has developed into a passion for helping student leaders reach their full potential. She guides students in her own school and throughout the state of Wisconsin on their own leadership journey. She truly enjoys seeing students move out of their comfort zone and seeing them grow as people.

She keeps her personal creativity going by creating edible cake masterpieces breaking from that only to make decorated sugar cookies at Christmas time. Sweets Creative Confections is an ode to her mentor and father who, even though gone physically, inspires her every day to be the best educator and person she can be.

Connect with Suzanne: Email | Instagram | LinkedIn | Facebook

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

St. Croix Falls High School

Siren Schools

Wisconsin Association of School Councils

It’s All in Your Head: Get Out of Your Way by Russ

CADA State Convention

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:01):

Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Suzanne Imhoff. She is a 7-12 Art Teacher at St. Croix Falls High School, and St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin. She’s a nationally board certified teacher with 27 years of teaching, coaching and advising experience. She started her career at Siren Schools and then moved to St. Croix Falls High School after four years and has been there since working as an advisor for the SCFHS Student Councul, the CLOWNS(elementary student with high school student mentoring club) basketball and softball coach. Her work with student leaders began back in 1995 with the Wisconsin Association of School Councils and has developed into a passion for helping student leaders reach their full potential. She guides students in her own school and throughout the state of Wisconsin on their own leadership journeys.

Sam Demma (00:57):

She truly enjoys seeing students move out of their comfort zone and seeing them grow as people. She keeps her personal creativity going by creating edible cake masterpieces, which you’ll hear about on the show today, breaking from that only to make decorated sugar cookies at Christmas time. Sweet’s creative confections is an ode to her mentor and father who, even though gone physically inspires her every day to be the best educator and person she can be. I hope you enjoy this energizing conversation with Suzanne and I will see you on the other side. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today we are a joined by a very special guest that I met when I was in Turtle Lake, not in Canada, but in the US of A <laugh>, and her name is Suzanne Moff. She was a part of a, a conference that I was a part of and she came up to me after the presentation and showed me a picture of a beautiful cake she designed <laugh> along with letting me know that she was involved with state leadership and her school’s leadership. And it got me really excited to, to invite her on the show and she’s here with us today. So, Suzanne, please introduce yourself and let everyone know a little bit about what it is that you do.

Suzanne Imhoff (02:16):

Hi. Yeah. I met Sam first virtually a couple years ago when the pandemic happened, and then in person. I’ve been teaching for 27 years now and been with student leadership for that long. Started out in Siren, Wisconsin, but stayed there for four years and I’ve been with my current district for the next 24. I, well, truth be told, was never going into education and was never going to deal with students, with kids ’cause that’s what my parents told me I was gonna do <laugh> and so I was gonna do something completely different. Yes. And then I found myself and everything I was doing for fun outside of what I had to do and going to school was teaching, and so finally I got on my own way and went into education and I, I’d love it.

Suzanne Imhoff (03:11):

There’s just nothing else I’d rather do. I, I think about it and with everything that’s gone on in Wisconsin with education and I guess the United States for that matter I like, oh, I could open, like key said, open my own bakery, and then I’m like, oh yeah. And then I could have a side room where I could have people come in and I could teach ’em how to do things. Oh, so you’re back to teaching. So why get out of teaching to go back into teaching <laugh>? so it’s just in my blood. It’s just what I love to do. I, I can’t really see myself doing anything else. I, I love coaching, I love teaching art. I love the student leadership portion of it, which I’ve been doing since 1995. Probably Sammy weren’t even born, but you know, there’s that

Sam Demma (03:54):

<laugh> you mentioned you’ve been teaching for 27 years and in, you know, in student leadership for that long as well. Does that mean year one you started with student council and helping out with extra cooker activities where you could

Suzanne Imhoff (04:09):

Actually I was involved with the state student council organization that I belonged to Scott Association of School Councils even before I got my first job. Oh, wow. I graduated in May and got a call and said, Hey, we need some help at this leadership camp. I’m like okay. Don’t know what that is. They’re like, okay, we’ll be in Stevens point at one o’clock on a Friday. And I’m like, okay. And I did, and I was hooked saw what it did for kids in one week. the difference that that camp made, I thought, oh, this is something I need to be involved with. And so when I got my first teaching job, I coached basketball. I had been coaching basketball all through high school and through in college, played basketball in college. And then I, I just knew that the classroom isn’t where everything is learned.

Suzanne Imhoff (04:59):

And to me, you can learn just as much on the sports field or in a club if not more of what you need to take out of, you can teach the X’s and o’s you know, addition, subtraction and all that kind of stuff. But truly a student, a kid learns, develops, becomes who they are in these other things. And that’s why I feel it’s so important that they are happening and that I’m able to guide students with that, I guess. Hmm. I, I feel like I do more of my teaching outside of my actual classroom than I do within my classroom.

Sam Demma (05:34):

Hmm. You mentioned that that first, you know, student leadership camp that you went to, it just really opened your eyes to how important those types of activities were because it has the potential to change a young person’s life. You’ve been involved in teaching for 27 years and student leadership, and I’m sure you’ve seen so many like student transformations. can you think of a student who at the start of a new year was really timid and shy or was struggling and by the end of a leadership experience or just, you know, a full year of school really butterflied and just really grew per personally as a, as a, as a human being? And if so, what was that story like? Share it with us. And the reason I ask is because I think educators, that’s why they got into teaching in the first place cuz they wanted to make a difference, you know?

Suzanne Imhoff (06:26):

Yeah. it’s, it’s funny the two stories come to mind. well the first one was a girl who Shai wouldn’t say anything. She was actually she would in small groups would be fine, but was never, she’s like, I’m gonna lead behind the scenes. I’m gonna do this. We had an assembly. I knew she could be that person and I knew she could go out but would never put herself out there. had an assembly. All the kids are in a homecoming assembly needs to start. And I handed the microphone. She’s like, what am I supposed to do with us, Michael? We gotta get this party started. And she’s like, yeah, but, but I go, they’re all way to go. She’s like, what? What? And she stuttered and she, but she went out and she did it. And to this day she will still come back and say, I will never forget that day.

Suzanne Imhoff (07:12):

I didn’t think I could do it, but I knew that you would never tell, put me in a situation cuz it’s something I’ve always told my students, but that you would never put me in a situation that you didn’t think I could do. Mm-hmm. I would never, I, and I, I tell ’em, I’m not gonna ask you to, you may not think you could do it, but I’m gonna put you out there cuz I think you could do it. And she’s like, I, I knew I could do that. Wasn’t comfortable with it, didn’t wanna continue to do it, but I did it and I lived and was able to take that experience and into her adult life. And now she’s married and has her own children and she still comes back and tells that story. The other one I have it was a of a, a boy who as a freshman you couldn’t get two words out of him. Mm-hmm. His end result was becoming the state student council president and then going on to Yale University and graduating from there.

Sam Demma (08:09):

Damn.

Suzanne Imhoff (08:11):

I never thought anything of it other than I was doing my job. I’m like, I saw something in him. And again, I, like I said, I’ve always told the kids, I’m not gonna put you in a situation that I don’t think you can do. And I had him doing things. I’m like, oh, Matt, why don’t you try this? Oh, Matt, why don’t you try this? Why don’t you do this here, go do this. I need you to do this. And each year I just pushed him a little farther. He was my student council president and had him run for the regional officer and then as the regional president, he ran for the state president and became that. And I, and it never really dawned on me, I guess and thought about it until his graduation party and his parents came up to me and they’re like, thank you.

Suzanne Imhoff (08:53):

I’m like, for what? And they’re like Matt’s going to Yale because of you. And I’m like, no, he’s not. Matt’s going to Yale because Matt’s smart. Matt’s got a lot going for him. He’s done a lot of great things. They’re like, no, you put him in situations where he could be successful and make himself better and that we thank you for that. And I never looked at it like that. I just looked at it like, oh, I need to help this kid get to his full potential. I need to get him into positions. Putting him, taking him places, taking him to those, you know, leadership things that where we met. and that’s why I do what I do. And that to me is that’s the pinnacle. That’s, that’s my driving force behind things is, oh, that made, you know, those are like what I call my career makers <laugh>.

Suzanne Imhoff (09:42):

Mm-hmm. <affirmative> sometimes I’m just like, why am I doing this job? And then I’ll get a text or I’ll get an email or I’ll get, you know thank you from a parent. And I was like, oh, okay. Well that’s why, that’s why cuz I touched that person’s life and I was able to help them move forward in a positive direction. So Yep. Okay. Worth it. Check. And then I can con that fills my bucket and I can continue to move on. And if it’s only one student a year, that’s one more student than I would’ve done had I not been in that position or not kids in those positions. So, Hmm. That’s why I do it. But those are two of the stories that really come to mind when I think about did it work? Do am I doing the right thing? And so, yeah.

Sam Demma (10:21):

Did did you have an educator in your life when you were growing up, tap you on the shoulder and help you try and reach your full potential? Like it was, is there a full circle story

Suzanne Imhoff (10:31):

<laugh>? There is. Well, it’s kind of funny because I just didn’t realize it until after the fact, but my dad was an educator. Mm. well he was a teacher and then became a business manager and then became a superintendent. I hated every minute of that <laugh> thought, oh God, never would I ever do that to my children. I will never be an educator, they’ll never go to school with in the same school. They’re like, I’ll never do that. Both my children will graduate from the same high school I teaching. So never say and ever. but I did have a a teacher who I’m still in contact with that is the person that I could go to for whatever. And she taught health class of all things. and, but she was just somebody I could talk to. And I look back at having that one person made a huge difference in my life.

Suzanne Imhoff (11:23):

And if I’m that one person, whether I have ’em as a student or not, meaning if they’re come to my art class and wanna take art class, they’re all my students. They’re all my kids. I really call ’em my kids. but having that means that I’m there for that person and didn’t realize how much the mental health part of it was a big deal back then that I needed, that isn’t, you know, it wasn’t put out there as mental health like it is today, thank goodness. but yeah, so I’m still, still in contact with that person. Still have a great relationship with them and see him all the time when I can when I go back to the hometown. And so yeah, I guess I did. But my dad was also that person that, you know, he saw it, he knew it, he told me wish he wouldn’t have, would’ve saved me a lot of time in college, but I had to figure it out for myself. I might have that little stubborn streak in me. I like to call it determined streak. I like it. <laugh>, <laugh>. But I did, I had to get outta my own way and see it for myself before I could actually achieve it. So I loved that my students to see that as well.

Sam Demma (12:33):

The, there’s a book I really love called it’s All in Your Head and the subtitle, the book is Get Out of your Way and the Every Time You Say It, that Book’s Confidence in my Mind. <laugh> one of the things I admire about you is that you’ve continuously pursued your other passions along with your teaching and your education work. And sometimes people that get involved in education get so consumed by it that the things that they also love doing. Take a backseat. One of the things I know you love doing is designing cakes and <laugh>, not only maybe baking in general, but not only do you like designing cakes, but you’re pretty damn good at it. <laugh>, <laugh>. The cakes are freaking awesome. thank you. Can you tell me a little bit about how you manage the time? Like, of balancing both losing yourself in education and service of, of young people, but also making sure that you, you spend some time on things that bring you joy personally as well?

Suzanne Imhoff (13:34):

Well, yeah, it’s, there’s times where I’m like, oh, why did I say yes to make this cake? Cause you have a full-time job, do that. And then I start making it and it’s creativity and that it, as much as it, I’m like, oh, I don’t really have time, but it de-stresses me. So I actually doing that forces me to do something that makes me happy. I working with fondant or modeling clay or gum paste, it’s just edible clay, it’s what I do. It’s, you know, people like, oh, did you, you know, go to a class? I’m like, no. Well, maybe I guess college when I worked with clay, but that’s all it was. It’s, it’s, you know, it’s edible clay. People are like, oh, it’s too pretty to eat. I’m like, well eat it because it’s cake. And if you don’t eat cake, that’s just dumb <laugh> cake.

Suzanne Imhoff (14:20):

I mean, so yeah, it’s, you know, I, I like the sculpting aspect of it. I, and it’s my release and I work late at night. I’m a night owl. Yeah, I’d like to be able to sleep. I’m not a morning person. I get up when I do it and I, for myself that extra cup of coffee the next day sometimes. And and obviously more you practice the, the better you get. I am by no means a perfect cake decorator or sculptor, but it’s gotten easier. I’m able to do things faster, so that helps. and it’s funny cuz I do involve my family cause they’re my daughter, she’s an artist, but my husband and my son, no, not at all. <laugh>. I love them dearly, but it’s just not their thing. Yeah. But I ask them, what do you think of this? And they’ll be like, you know, if they’re like, here’s something or if there’s like something they have something’s off on it then I know that the person, cuz I’ve been staring at it for so long that, you know, can’t see.

Suzanne Imhoff (15:19):

If they see it, then there is something that needs to be, or if I’m just being over critical of myself. but it really is a stress really for me. I can actually physically feel myself less stressed after making something, creating something, be it out of cake or decorating cookies or whatever it is. so it might be more time. I might get a little less sleep, but in the end it’s worth the de-stressing that it does for me. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> and the family doesn’t mind cake scraps that I cut off to level the cake or sculpting <laugh>. That’s never an issue. Always having frosting in the fridge, never an issue

Sam Demma (15:58):

<laugh>.

Suzanne Imhoff (15:59):

So it, it benefits them as well sometimes.

Sam Demma (16:02):

Just to give context to the listener, this is not a box of cake you buy from the grocery store mix with eggs and 30 minutes later, voila. this is a cake that you would buy at a charity event for $2,800 <laugh>. These are cakes that look identical to a dinosaur. Cakes that have Rapunzel with her hair coming down the cake and going all the way around the base. how long does it take to bake one of these and design one of these cakes?

Suzanne Imhoff (16:39):

Roughly takes, well it depends upon how, you know, if I’m sculpting or whatever on average I would say the least amount of time I’d spend on a cake would be seven hours. And I have spent probably 24 to 30 hours on cakes. It depends upon what the amount of sculpting that I’m doing. and if like for a wedding cake you know, if I’m making cupcakes then I’m at it. I’m making the toppers that go along with all of those those kinds of things. So it all depends upon the amount of sculpting that I’m doing with it. I absolutely love making sugar roses. Those are very time consuming, but they’re so therapeutic. I absolutely love, love, love making them and that my goal is always to make them look as realistic as possible. People are like, oh my gosh, that was made outta sugar. So yeah. But you can eat it

Sam Demma (17:28):

<laugh>. What, what was your introduction to baking? Was it something that you were introduced to in school or how did you get into it?

Suzanne Imhoff (17:37):

Really, I had seen stuff on TV and my son was having a jungle birthday party. cuz I’m that mom who goes overboard on birthday parties. <laugh> always have it’s hard baby. And so I decided, oh well you know what? Let’s just try this. And that was my first cake and he was eight, he’s now 18, so 10 years ago I guess. and I’m like, oh well that wasn’t too bad. And then my daughter had her birthday, well his was in November and hers was in February. So then I’m like, oh, let’s try her. So she had a pink poodle. So I just started sculpting out of the spawn stuff and just kind of blossomed from there. I didn’t, I didn’t really have a, I dunno, I’ve always lud to bake, so that was never an issue. but the whole cake part of it was, oh well I used to watch Cake Boss a lot and then Ace of Cakes. I absolutely love the fact that he would be like, wow the wack and do different things and try different things and stuff. So I haven’t convinced my husband that I need a wood shop in my son’s spare bedroom when he leaves and goes to college next year. So I’m working on that. But

Sam Demma (18:44):

<laugh> That’s awesome. baking teaching, you mentioned that coaching has also been a part of your educational journey in your life. Tell me a little bit about that.

Suzanne Imhoff (18:55):

Yeah, I coaching is just to me is an extension of the classroom. it’s just another place to teach students how to be them, be their best selves and it takes it one step farther because they have to do that and also be a teammate and help others be their best selves. so I find that as a challenge in a different level of it’s a different level of commitment. it’s not necessarily, yes, you have your exes and nos and you’ve got your plays and you’ve gotta do all that stuff, but I’ve always taught, taught my student, my student athletes that you guys have to work as one. Cuz I coach basketball and softball. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, those are the two sports that I have coached. and you have to work as one and you’re only as strong as your weakest link.

Suzanne Imhoff (19:48):

Not Michael, but it’s something that I, I think is true because you can have all parts going and one part doesn’t go it, the play’s not gonna work. And then what are you gonna do? I mean, there’s a lot to be said with that. So either you’re gonna just fall apart or you’re gonna adapt and figure out how to make that part work. Or you’re gonna figure out, okay, if this isn’t gonna work with that part of that’s not, that teammate’s not gonna do what we’re gonna ask him to do, then how are we gonna work around that? How are we gonna adapt to the situation? How are we gonna, you know, basketball, you adapt to the defense and all of a sudden one time down on the floor, they’re playing zone. The next time they’re playing, man, you gotta change your def your offense.

Suzanne Imhoff (20:26):

And can you react to that? How do you react to that? Do you just give up? Do you just panic? Do you, you know, so there’s just so many life lessons that can happen on the court and getting to know kids on a different level. it’s a win-win because then it comes back to my classroom and they see me in a different light and I see them in a different light. you know, sometimes they come in and they’re like, you can just tell that they need some space. It’s like, okay, you’re gonna take this, we gotta come back to it. But, you know, take this time, take the same thing on the court. You know, they can come into practice and I coach girls and there’s drama, always drama hate. It drives me crazy. What are my girls? You have to be the best teammates when you are on this court.

Suzanne Imhoff (21:12):

I don’t care if if your teammate just kissed your boyfriend right before you walked into practice. It’s doesn’t matter on this court. Yeah. Because on this court, you guys are the best friends, you’re the best teammates. Now when you go outta here, you have to sell that whatever way. But when you’re on this court, you are together as one and outside of here has to go away. So you have to kind of separate that and how it’s just like going to a job. You know, there’s people you, you have to deal with at your job that you don’t have to deal with outside. And you have to figure out how you’re gonna manage that within that timeframe and make things successful for you and your teammates. And how are you gonna build them up even if it’s somebody you don’t like that happens. That’s life.

Suzanne Imhoff (21:53):

So, and that’s the one thing about it. I just love that you’re able to, to teach them the life skills that they can have going forward and translate that into every other part of their lives. and getting to know them. Just some of my, the students that I come back in I see all the time are the ones that not necessarily were in my classroom, they were on my court or they were in my student council, or they were in our clowns mentoring group. I mean, those are the ones that you kinda get to know at a different level versus here’s my subject matter, learn that and then we’ll, I’ll give you a grade and then we’ll move forward. So it’s learning and meeting kids where they are and meeting ’em on a different level. and being a human to ’em, you know, it’s like, it’s kinda like being their friend but not, but it’s a respect, like, I’m still your teacher, I’m still your coach.

Suzanne Imhoff (22:43):

Mm-hmm. <affirmative> I’m here for you. But we aren’t gonna cross, you know, there’s that line of respect of I’m gonna respect you, you have to respect me, there’s boundaries. but I’ve, I’ve got you, you know, I’m here for you. I will do what I can to help you get through whatever it is you need to get through or meet the needs, your needs at that at that moment. And coaching allows me to do that, which I really, really enjoy. It’s tough this year cause I’m not coaching cause my son’s a senior. so I’m missing that. And I’ve had some of the middle school kids who I coached last year. They’re like, what do you mean you’re not coaching? I’m like, I can’t give you everything that I need to give you because I want to be able to be there for my son and I don’t think it’s fair. Let’s just leave practice early. I’m like, well that doesn’t put you as a priority and as a coach, if I’m coaching you, you are a priority to me. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And if I can’t give you that full priority, then it’s then I’m not going to be that person there for you. So I just love the relationships. I, I, I kind of thrive on those relationships. I guess they mean a lot to me.

Sam Demma (23:49):

What is the clowns mentoring program? The name caught my attention, but I’m sure it’s amazing. <laugh>.

Suzanne Imhoff (23:56):

Well, I have 35 high school students who choose to dress up as different clowns. scary. And what they do is, I know four times, it’s four times a year. We go here at the high school. We will plan they get, they have the, they have their their rings is what we call them. We have a ring leader and then there’s three or four column to work together. They plan a half hour lesson that they’re going to teach elementary students in grades 4K through fourth grade. Nice. they had to come up with their icebreakers, the activities, the, how are they gonna wrap it up. they give ’em a treat, but they plan the lesson, they execute the lesson. They just happen to dress up as clowns. a different persona for them to, it helps the high school student kind of release like, oh, I have this call makeup of and I look like this.

Suzanne Imhoff (24:50):

So, and then they’re going in front of these elementary kids who just absolutely adore them. And anything that they say comes out of them, you know, is, is golden. but I do see the high school students learn just as much as these elementary kids. They the lessons are all based on, we have a program called Saints Cares for St. Falls Saints. so each month has a different target. one is manners or gratitude or empathy. And so the students will base their lessons that they’re gonna teach the kids on whatever month it is that we are going to, to make the visit. each group visits two to three different classes through that day. We get, we hit every classroom in those grade 4K through fourth grade. and we have four classrooms per grade level. So it’s, it’s, it’s something that, it’s funny cause I don’t really have to work hard to get kids to wanna do it.

Suzanne Imhoff (25:42):

Cause these kids had the clowns come and visit them. And every time I ask ’em, why do you guys wanna be a com? They’re like, oh, it was so, it was awesome when they came, they taught us so much. And I wanna give that back to, I wanna give that experience to these kids right there as a, as a mom, as a teacher, as an advisor. That’s why we do what we do. If we can teach our children to want to give back for what they got out of something, that to me is makes it all worth it.

Sam Demma (26:13):

That’s so, cause

Suzanne Imhoff (26:14):

It was a program that was, yeah, it was a program that was gonna die. And I’m like, no, this can’t die. I have had my children go through it and I see what it does for these kids. So I took it on because I had nothing else to do, which is not true. But

Sam Demma (26:27):

<laugh> you know, earlier, a couple minutes ago you said that you turned down coaching because you knew that you wouldn’t be able to give it the time it deserves. You wouldn’t be able to prioritize the students, the athletes. And then you’re just telling me now that you said yes to doing the clown thing and, and you were busy like you already had other things going on. I think it’s so rare to have an educator that like truly wants to say yes and finds it very hard to say no. Because I think there’s also the reverse that want to say no and try and avoid saying yes to things. And yeah, I just think it’s really cool to hear your perspectives and, and to have you on the show. the clown program. My follow up question was gonna be, have you had a student who was impacted by the clowns and then became one? but you answered that, that that’s so cool that it’s, it’s been around for that long and the impact is now transforming into the teachers of the program. You said it was about to die. How did, how did you resuscitate it? <laugh> the, the program.

Suzanne Imhoff (27:30):

Nobody wanted to do it. And so I’m just like, Nope, I’m gonna do it and we’re gonna kind of restructure it and we’re gonna make it. It kind of was starting to get be the, the previous advisor wasn’t really having the kids stay focused. They were kind of just the high school kids, not Mm. it and wasn’t really putting the effort was kind of just there to, to do it and was like, yeah, I’m done and nobody was gonna step up. I’m like, they’re like, well if nobody’s gonna do it, then we’re not gonna have the program anymore. And I’m like, this just means too much for both the elementary kids and the high school kids. Like I said, I see these high school kids, they’re putting themselves out there. Yeah. I got kids who don’t say boo to high schoolers, don’t say anything and they’re willing to go and stand in, in front of a room of 20 little kids, elementary kids and teach them about good morals and values.

Suzanne Imhoff (28:27):

I mean, if we don’t want that as a program, I don’t know what we want <laugh>. I mean, if we would and to have high school students want to teach that and model that. I mean, it’s a mentoring group. We call it that because they have to follow the behavior that they’re teaching. And I have to turn kids away cuz I can only take so many. and they know that there’s, there’s high expectations and if they don’t follow, I’ve had to head kids, you know, I’m like, guys, your grades matter. You have to be a student first. you have to carry a c or above. It’s, you have, these are expectations. These kids they may not know of, but they know how you are behaving and acting. And you have to be that role model with or without the kind of, the story behind it is they’re like, so for some of the kids are like, we know who you are.

Suzanne Imhoff (29:20):

You’re a high school student. They’re like, no, every clown has a doppel, ganger human <laugh>. So they have a twin in the human world. <laugh>. So anytime a human is born, a clown is born as well. And the clowns are like 472 years old and they’re their age is their, their lunch number actually <laugh>. and so that’s how they get it. And they’re like, well why aren’t you? Why is it just your face that’s white? So they paint their face white and, and a symbol on there because the older they get the more the whiteness spreads as a clown. And they’re pretty young so they’re not, they’re not old enough to have their whole body coming in. White makeup <laugh>, there’s a whole story behind it. You know, it goes with that whole Santa Claus Easter bunny, that kinda thing. And

Sam Demma (30:09):

Is this totally created, like the whole story is created by you and and the group of people. That’s so cool. Yeah.

Suzanne Imhoff (30:16):

Yeah. And they, like I say, the kids, the, all of my clowns, I have all but two cuz two have moved in and our clowns have gone through it. They saw them, they and they’re like, we totally thought that was, they were, that was a real, real thing. <laugh>. and, and like I said, but they’re like, it was so cool that would, they would come and that they would spend time with us cuz they go out to recess with them. So they teach ’em these lessons. They eat lunch with them, they go out to recess, they play games with them. and there are, you know, they just remember that again, it goes back to that time outside the classroom that makes a difference in a kid’s life that I, I have had a student tell me, they’re like, you know, the clowns cup came and that was the only day I felt special.

Suzanne Imhoff (31:05):

Mm-hmm. Because they would sit with me and they would talk with me and they would play with me. And I really truly felt special on the days that clown came to visit. So that’s why I wanna do this. I want, if I can help one person, so what I do and the reason I do it is the same reasons they do it. And so that to me is why I’m like, oh yeah, can’t, and we don’t, we’re self-funded. The kids have a a fee. They buy their own makeup, they come up with their own costumes. They’re all themed costumes. It’s not like your traditional clowns. like my, my daughter is currently one and she’s strawberry shark cake. She doesn’t like you call, she just like calling strawberry. So she wears course,

Sam Demma (31:46):

Of course. The

Suzanne Imhoff (31:46):

Strawberry sweater. Yeah. No, I’m like, ah, strawberry shortcake.

Sam Demma (31:49):

Of course there’s a cake in there. Strawberry

Suzanne Imhoff (31:51):

Leggings, strawberry earrings. She puts the white makeup and then puts strawberries on her face. Strawberry headband. So they’re kind of, each one has a theme. Mitz he’s a baseball clone. and then we have qb, he’s the football clown. Yes. So yeah, they’re all different kind of themes and the kids love getting dressed up. I mean, who doesn’t? Cause I do

Sam Demma (32:14):

<laugh>. This is, this, this program sounds amazing. <laugh>. it’s funny, I was talking to an educator the other day from, it would’ve been British Columbia, one of the provinces like far far west in Canada. And he was like, every year I go to California to this conference called Kata. And it’s like the, it’s a big leadership conference in California. And have you been before by any chance?

Suzanne Imhoff (32:37):

I’ve heard of it. I’ve wanted to go. Go. I’ve heard of it.

Sam Demma (32:39):

Yeah. So, so ba basically what he told me was like, leadership in Canada is like a cookie leadership in the US is like, Suzanne m h’s $2,800 cake <laugh>. He’s like, he’s like, it’s a, it’s just a different, it’s just a different experience. Like it’s so, it’s such a big part of the culture and such a big part of the education system. And for someone who’s not familiar with like a statewide conference, like what does that look like? What does a statewide leadership conference look like?

Suzanne Imhoff (33:12):

It’s funny you asked because I’m hosting the one our school is hosting, the one we’re having this year. so you’ll have kids from all over the state come in. We have a keynote speaker. It’s a two day conference, usually a Sunday, Monday. they come in and we have a keynote speaker and then we have regional business meetings where we elect officers, state officers. Nice. talk about things that hit on the regional levels. The state of Wisconsin’s divided into six regions. and then opposite that they have what we call super sectionals cuz they’re a little bit longer. So they’re our sectionals where we have presenters who will present on anything from mental health to how to lead after high school, how to lead in high school, how to any aspect, servant leadership fundraising, I mean, you name it, we, any topic that the kids would want to potentially hear about.

Suzanne Imhoff (34:15):

So we have those. we have banquet, we award like regional administrators of the year, state administrators of the year. Oh wow. also advisors give different leadership roles. And then we have some entertainment of course dances and fun things like that. And then on Monday we have another keynote speaker, but then we have other sectional breakouts as well. The ones on Sunday are typically led by adults, but the ones on Monday are led by students. Oh, wow. So different groups will put together some, like maybe presenting on a service project that they do or different organizations that they work with or different ways that they lead in their school or how they can get students involved. how do they run their homecomings? How do they run different community service opportunities different things. So whatever they want to, how to run a meeting, how to I know this year we’re gonna be bringing in some kids who have graduated.

Suzanne Imhoff (35:21):

Matt, the student I talked to you about earlier, he’s gonna come back and, and sit on the panel and say, okay, how did you take your leadership from high school level to the college level? Mm. And then from college, how do you take it beyond there? So there’s gonna be sectionals based for like freshman and sophomores and then once for juniors and seniors. Like, how can I continue this? I’m here, I’m in this small and a fishbowl of my school. How do I take it to the next level of college if I’m going to, you know, say UW Madison or a big school or even if I’m going to a private school, how do I stay involved and how do I use what I’ve learned going forward? So those will be there’ll be four, three different opportunities, but there’ll be probably 15 to 1220 different sessions.

Suzanne Imhoff (36:04):

Wow. And then we have a closing thing and they, then they go home. So that’s our, the state cover. So it’s a, we have big speakers come in, but then we also, I like the breakout sessions where students can go and, and learn different things that maybe interest them. So, nice. But that’s, yeah, on Sunday it’s usually adults. It doesn’t have to be. but then student led breakouts, which again, it’s putting kids in leadership situations, they have to lead the group, they have to lead these, you know, presentations. So they’re learning skills just as much as the person attending the students that are attending. So

Sam Demma (36:40):

That’s awesome. Yeah, I was gonna say, when you mentioned awards for administrators of the year and stuff like that, that’s, that’s really cool because it’s part, it’s partly for the educators and the adults as well, not just the, not just the students. So, oh yeah. That’s cool. I’m, I’m assuming there’s a big community around it, like each, each year is it held at a different school and all of you come together and it’s like, oh my gosh, Jane, I haven’t seen you since last year. Yeah.

Suzanne Imhoff (37:06):

<laugh>. Yep. Oh yeah. It’s, it’s, it’s kinda like old home week whenever we get together and be able to, you feel like you just pick up where you left off the last time. You know, it’s a nice network. it that you can build as an advisor. I’ve, you know, I’ve relied on these people, some of these other advisors that I’ve met through this, you know, and through the state conference and through other activities that we’ve done that I’m like, oh, guy sitting on the email, okay, this is my situation. Have you guys ever experienced this? Some have, some haven’t. Hey, gimme some tips. Check. I mean, you, you can’t, can’t live in a bubble and think you’re going to, you know, get it all solved yourself. Learn from others’ experiences, steal ideas, you know, share what you’ve done with, you know, oh yeah, you’re gonna run this at homecoming.

Suzanne Imhoff (37:52):

Oh, we did that. Just know that, you know, this is the issues that we ran into or this is what was so successful. You know, why reinvent the wheel? Let’s take it and make it better. And sharing, I, I think you have to know, you have to work together. You have to give ownership to, you know, or give away the ownership. It’s not mine, it’s ours. Let’s make it all better and let me learn from you and you learn from me. And again, the end result is making students better and whether up here in northern Wisconsin or they’re in the southern part of the state. So that’s the important part.

Sam Demma (38:25):

Yeah, that’s a beautiful perspective. I was recently at a professional development conference to learn in Calgary, which is about a four hour flight from where I am now. and while I was sitting in the crowd, there was a slide that came up on one of the presenter’s presentations and the slide said something along the lines of, when a group of people get lost together in developing and building a worthy cause and none of them care about who gets the credit for it, that’s when real change gets made. And it sounds like this statewide type of a conference is, is similar. It’s like everyone’s coming together with the goal of hoping to make students’ lives better and help them reach their full potential. And to also help, you know, appreciate some of the staff that played a role in their lives. I just think it’s a really beautiful thing.

Sam Demma (39:11):

It, switching gears for a second, if you could travel back in time, tap yourself on the shoulder the first year you started teaching, but maintain all of the experiences you had now, kind of like getting in the back to the future car, but not going to the future. But going back if you could like walk into that first classroom you taught, tap yourself on the shoulder and say, Hey Suzanne, this is the advice I think you need to hear. not because you would change anything about your path, but knowing what you know now and what the experiences you’ve had, what would you have told your younger self?

Suzanne Imhoff (39:44):

I guess the one thing I would say would be it’s okay to the, to let my students fail. Hmm. I know that, and we’ve always said it, but to truly let them fail in what is happening. and not worry if it is a reflection on whether I failed or not. Hmm. and that’s, that was, that’s probably been the hardest lesson for me to learn. Cuz I’m like, okay, so alright, you’ve gotta do this. Oh, they’re not doing it, I’ll just do it. Hmm. No, I need to like let them not do it. if they were supposed to have a poster out and advertise it and then we don’t get as many people, well guys, we didn’t get as many people why what the reflection and evaluation of anything that I’ve done. That would be the one thing is looking at, you know, the failure as okay.

Suzanne Imhoff (40:40):

And it’s kind of cliche, but it’s a learning experience and I didn’t truly embrace that until I was into, well into my teaching and advising. And that would be the one thing that would be like, okay, no, you need to truly realize that it doesn’t make you a bad person because the event wasn’t as successful as you’d hoped. Mm. Or the lesson didn’t quite go as you had planned. That’s okay. What are you gonna do next time? What are we gonna, where, how are we gonna move forward from it? and know that it’s okay, that’s gonna happen. And if it doesn’t happen, that’s when you aren’t moving anybody forward because you don’t really truly learn or get better. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> if you don’t go outta your comfort zone. Hmm. And I, that was, I knew it. I’ve had had people tell me that, but I didn’t truly embrace it. And that would be the one thing I would go back and cuz there’s like times where I’m like, you know, if you had to let that kind of not go and not have done all the things for the kids, we would’ve gotten to the better place that we are now sooner. Hmm.

Suzanne Imhoff (41:52):

If that makes sense. It does. This took a little longer, kind of like when my parents, if I were to <laugh> listen to them going out, out of the box, I would’ve gotten into education a little sooner. But

Sam Demma (42:03):

Yeah. Hindsight’s 2020, right. <laugh> right

Suzanne Imhoff (42:06):

Own way. That’s what I I i that you just need to get outta your own and realize that you can do this and you will make mistakes, but you’ll get there and you’ll get there sooner if you stop telling yourself that you can’t do it.

Sam Demma (42:22):

Hmm. I love that. I think it applies for educators as well. You know, you’ll become the educator you always want to be when you stop telling yourself that you can’t or that that you don’t have the skills required or whatever the story might be. But yeah, I appreciate you for sharing a lot of your wisdom and insights today on the show. If someone’s, it’s already been almost like 45 minutes. If, if someone I know we, it’s a great episode. If someone wants to reach out, ask you questions, buy cake <laugh> <laugh>, well, what would be the best way for them to reach out and get in touch with you?

Suzanne Imhoff (42:55):

Oh yeah, sure. Emailing me is probably the, the, the best way that I check that constantly, but that’s imhofsu@scfschools.com

Sam Demma (43:14):

Awesome. Suzanne, thank you again for coming on the show. Keep up the great work, and keep baking those cakes and we’ll talk soon.

Suzanne Imhoff (43:20):

Oh, you’re welcome. Thank you for having me. I really appreciate it. It was great. It was fun.

Sam Demma (43:24):

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Suzanne Imhoff

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

Dr. Ivan Joseph – TED talk (21 million views), Speaker, Author and Self-Confidence Expert

Dr. Ivan Joseph – TED talk (21 million views), Speaker, Author and Self-Confidence Expert
About Dr. Ivan Joseph

Dr. Ivan Joseph (@DrIvanJoseph) is a six-time Coach of the Year recipient and Director of Athletics at Ryerson University. He is a sought-after speaker on developing personal and organizational leadership. He has a BA in Physical Education and Health, an MS in Higher Education Administration and a Ph.D. in Sports Psychology. His popular Tedx talk on the skill of self-confidence has garnered over 21 million views. For more information on Dr. Joseph, please visit, www.drivanjoseph.com

Connect with Ivan: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

www.drivanjoseph.com

Ryerson University

BA in Physical Education and Health – Graceland University

Graduate Programs – Drake University

PhD in Psychology – Capella University

You Got This: Mastering the Skill of Self-Confidence by Dr. Ivan Joseph

Positive Affirmations

Expert Secrets by Russel Brunson

Workshops by Dr. Ivan Joseph

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:01):

Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is someone I have really wanted to interview on my podcast for a very long time. His name is Dr.Ivan Joseph. Dr.Ivan Joseph is a sixth time Coach of the year recipient and Director of athletics at Ryerson University. He is a sought after speaker on developing personal and organizational leadership. He has his BA in Physical Education and Health, and Masters in Higher Education Administration, and a PhD in Sports Psychology. His popular TEDex talk on the skill of self-confidence has garnered over 21 million views. Dr. Ivan Joseph is also an actor, a father, and a very amazing human being. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Ivan, and I will see you on the other side. Ivan, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast.

Sam Demma (01:02):

Huge pleasure to have you on the show after reading your book, watching your, your TEDx talk that has over 21 million views, I want to start this off in a different fashion. I’ve, I’ve listened to a lot of your interviews. I want to get vulnerable right from the start so you can have the chance to introduce yourself, but I want to ask you personally, what is an aspect of your life where you lacked personal confidence and you followed your own tactics and tools, systems and strategies, to change that situation and, and, and let us know how that happened?

Dr. Ivan Joseph (01:35):

Well, well, thank you for having me first of all, Sam, and, and I’ll say this, your question I can answer it at 10, 12, 15 different ways. You know, the, the situation with confidence is, is that you, you acquire it, but then once you achieve success, you move on or you get promoted that struggle comes back because you’ll feel imposter syndrome seep in, and then you’ll manage it, you’ll master it, because we’re hard workers. Then you’ll get to the next level, and again, you’ll feel like you don’t belong. You’ll feel like, oh my goodness, they’re gonna, they’re gonna catch me. And, and so there’s not one situation, I’ll give you one situation, but recognize that this is one of many. So I’ll give you the first example. When I became the Director of Athletics at Ryerson University, recognize that I came from a town of 1200 students from a school that only had 1200 people in it.

Dr. Ivan Joseph (02:29):

So to combine the school and the town, you had 2,500 people, no Walmart, no McDonald’s, no stop signs, no stop lights. And they plumped me into this director of athletics job where I went from managing one person and a budget of 30,000 to bud, to managing a budget that ended in millions, and having to wor work an administrative assistant, lead people, manage people. I didn’t know how to do any of that. And so here I was in this big city of Toronto, millions of people in charge of a budget rebuilding a hundred million maple leaf gardens, and I felt like I was an imposter. And so I did what I know and what I know worked well as a soccer coach, really, which was, I was first there, I was last to leave. Mm. I read everything I could. I found myself a mentor when I didn’t know. I didn’t pretend. I didn’t know, which is that instead of fake it till you make it, I said, I don’t know. Let me get back to you. I asked for help. And most importantly, and this is the criti critical piece, is when I, when I wanted to run away and push the easy button and quit, I just talked to myself out of it. Hmm. And that allowed me to grow into the job.

Sam Demma (03:47):

What did that self-talk look like? When, when we’re in situations where there’s a negative voice, one, how do you create that space to realize, like snap out of the initial moment and realize I’m having negative thoughts right now? And then what course of action do you take to reverse that?

Dr. Ivan Joseph (04:05):

Well, I’ll tell you, I remember it as Claire as day, right? Seeing myself walking down young street off the go train, and here I am, like in my briefcase, in my suit, a guy who never ever wore a suit. I was a tra, I was a soccer coach. I wore, I wore track pants and shorts, and I’m like, who is that guy? That’s not me seeing the reflection off the building. And I was like, stop it. Right? Stop it. I remember sitting in meetings and people are like, oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God, I don’t know what I’m doing. Stop it. Stop it. And so, I d I use what athletes use what I teach my students, which is sports psychology techniques, physical actions, right? These are called thought stopping or centering actions. You use those actions to say, stop.

Dr. Ivan Joseph (04:50):

Right, stop the negative thought and then replace it with the positive affirmation. And you’ll hear me talk about that later on. But with, you can’t stop that negative thinking. What had happens is it influences your beliefs. And soon when you start to believe something about yourself, then it influences your actions. And soon as your actions start acting out, then people, your peers, your bosses, your friends, they will start seeing you and treating you differently based on those actions. And when they see and treat you differently, Sam, it starts that cycle over again. Well, they don’t think I’m good enough. Well, I mustn’t be good enough. Oh, man, I made a mistake. Why is that guy making so many mistakes? I’m not gonna put him in that position. And this vicious self-defeating cycle starts over and over again that it’s hard to break out of.

Sam Demma (05:40):

And when you realize you’re having a negative belief, I understand the physical action, the changing of the rubber band onto your other wrist was something that you read about, you wrote about in your book for your athletes on the soccer pitch or any pitch. Once you realize it and you stop it, how do you replace it? do you use affirmations? Like what’s the next step to build the new confidence that should take that negative beliefs place?

Dr. Ivan Joseph (06:04):

Yeah. And you have to replace it with something, right? You, you can’t just say, stop. And that’s when these automatic affirmations need to come like that. Mm. And so the time isn’t when you’re having a negative thought to think about your affirmation. You prepare your affirmation, so it’s ready to go, and it comes just like that. And so my three are, nobody outworks me. I can learn anything. And I am the captain of my ship and the master of my fate. I use that one. I am the captain of my ship and the master of my fate. When I feel overwhelmed, when I’m like, I’m not in control. I use, nobody outworks me. When things don’t come easy, I’m like, I’m gonna, I’m gonna show up first. I’m gonna, it doesn’t matter how long it takes and when it’s, things are hard when I’m not getting it, oh my gosh, this is complicated. I can learn anything. These are reminders for me that just say, okay, get me in the right spot again. Recognize that my affirmation isn’t I’m gonna make a million dollars. Maybe some people wanna do that, but I subscribe to genuine, authentic affirmations that are about behavior.

Sam Demma (07:11):

I love that. I’ve been walking every morning after my buddy Nick comes over and works out in our backyard, you know, trying to stay covid friendly. So we do it outside on a little bar gym that I built, and I walk after he leaves every morning, and I listen to a three minute YouTube video. And I know you’re a big fan of Muhammad Ali. Oh, yes. And there’s a whole section in the video, and every time I hear it, I just get goosebumps. and it puts me in this mindset that just, it just forces me to take a hold of my day. And when he’s saying, you know, I am the greatest in this YouTube video, and he’s talking about how all these people are gonna doubt him you know, I’m trying to think of the exact words that he uses in the video. He goes, all you chumps are gonna bow when I whoop him, all of you, I know you got him. I know you got him picked. I’m gonna show you how great I am. And every time I hear it, I just imagine myself in that moment. And so I’m curious to know, in your own personal development of self-confidence in studying, does visualization play a huge part in this process as well? Affirmations are awesome and amazing. Do you also visualize

Dr. Ivan Joseph (08:17):

A hundred percent? I’m a, as a sports psychologist, I’m a big believer in visualization. Hmm. Let me teach you, let me talk to you a little bit about a study that what I teach my students. They, they went in and they tested downhill skiers. They put these electrodes onto their busts so that they could see when they were going through the gates and down a mountain, how would the muscles fire? And they were in their lab, and they could see, okay, the, this one fires at this amplitude. Oh, when he’s turning this quad fires, this arm goes, here’s where they relax when they go on the straightaway. And it was amazing, right? This was like, wow. Then they said, okay. Then they took those same skiers, and they said, now, just watch yourself going down. Right? And as they were watching themselves going down, they hooked up their muscles, and they found that their muscles still fired.

Dr. Ivan Joseph (09:01):

Not at the same level, of course mm-hmm. <affirmative>, but they were still firing significantly less, but in the same pattern, in the same racial as they were watching themselves go down that mountain. Then they said, close your eyes and imagine yourself going down the mountain as they close their eyes and imagine themselves going down the mountain again, their muscles still fired in that same pattern, that same frequency, not the same level of amplitude as when they were watching it, but in the same place. So what that was saying is that we are rehearsing that our mind could transfer that energy and that pattern of learning to our muscles, even just by imagining it. The power of visualization is a strong piece. I like to visualize, visualize everything that I’m doing, every little scenario, what I’m coaching, when I’m teaching, when I’m leading, I want to know what I’m going to do. I want to imagine what success looks like. I also wanna imagine what an adversity or a roadblock would look like, so that I have my plan in place so that I’m ready. And I’m not, I’m not panicked. I’m not frozen. Right? I don’t imagine just the great things. I do try to spend some time not imagining when things go wrong, but imagining what my plan of action will be in case things go wrong, so that I can see my way still to victory.

Sam Demma (10:17):

So powerful. When I think back to my own soccer days and the athletes that I had four of my teammates now play in the mls mm-hmm. <affirmative>, the ones who succeeded all had a, a super drive. Like they just all wanted to, you know, play soccer every single day. But I found really interesting was they all watched hours upon hours of soccer. They were obsessed with following every different league that exists in Europe and in Canada and the us. Does watching somebody else kick a ball also fire the same pathways in your brain that you would fire if you were kicking a ball? Like, does visualization also work when you watch somebody else do it?

Dr. Ivan Joseph (10:58):

I will say this the psychology behind is what you’re asking is the social learning theory by a gentleman by the name of Bandura. Right? And so what they will say is that you can learn through observation. This is what, like, you think about this whole YouTube world. Everybody watches YouTube and they learn how to do things before, back in the day. You have to go and watch somebody apprentice with them, learn all those things. So for sure, I, I can’t speak to whether the muscles are firing the same way, but I can say that you can learn through observation, especially if somebody is telling you what to look for. Look at the angle of the leg, look at the, look at the way the angle is locked. Look at how they land on their plant foot. And so you’re saying now you’re watching the things to look for, and now you can go back and mimic those same behaviors and model them in a way that will ensure success.

Sam Demma (11:48):

Hmm. No, I like that. And you just even alluded to some points in your TED talk, by the way, when you talked about planting the foot and leaning forward knee over the ankle, you talk about the importance of catching people while they’re good. This can be used from a management perspective. It can be used from a coaching perspective. You know, the importance of encouraging someone’s positive actions instead of coaching their negative ones. Yeah. That idea. Do you also use it for yourself? So in moments where you maybe didn’t have the performance that you expected, instead of focusing on all the things that went wrong, you focus on the one or two things that went right. Is that something you could also use personally?

Dr. Ivan Joseph (12:25):

Absolutely. I, I think it’s really important. What I use even more than that though, is about focusing on the positives, which is nice. I also say, what am I here to learn? Hmm. When things go south, when they don’t go where I want them to do, I wanna focus on what did it teach me? What are the teachable moments? Because as well as focusing on what went wrong, right? Or what went right, that’s great. Okay, what went right? I also need to think about the gap. Hmm. And, and that gap is, okay, what am I here to learn? And I’m not focusing on the negatives. I’m focusing on the teachable moments when I’m looking at myself. And if I can think of everything as a learning opportunity that prepares me for the next one, and that prepares me for the next one, then I don’t get caught up on the negativity. I get caught up on the teachable moments of that failure. And that’s, for me, key to moving forward.

Sam Demma (13:14):

And you have to stay open-minded, right? Yeah. That op, being someone who’s open-minded will give you opportunity to look at yourself objectively and take that feedback and use it to, to grow. Sometimes we get feedback and it, it, it hurts our ego because, you know, everyone has an ego. They care what people think. is there a difference between ego and confidence? Can you explain the difference? and especially for like young people that use a ton of social media and feel the need to validate themselves. Like, I just wanna know if there’s a bit a difference between ego and, and real confidence.

Dr. Ivan Joseph (13:52):

For sure. And let me go back, because the piece that will feed this is that feedback part when you said, sometimes we get negative feedback and it impacts our, our ego. So recognize that there’s two types of feedback. One is negative and one is critical. Hmm. Negative feedback. What’s wrong? Why it didn’t work? This idea is not good. You didn’t do this, you didn’t do this. You need to come back. Negative critical feedback. Here’s why I don’t think it’s gonna work. have you tried this? This is not good. Have you tried this, this, and this? Hey, I think you missed it. Here’s what I was looking for. Hmm. And so the difference is what’s wrong, but opportunities or avenues for you to go in a different direction. They’re giving you advice. And so that’s really, that’s really key for you to recognize that if somebody’s giving you critical feedback, they’re invested in you.

Dr. Ivan Joseph (14:41):

As I used to tell all my people when I’m coaching you and I’m giving you critical feedback, the willingness of me to expend energy on you means that I believe that, that you can deliver more, and that you’re capable and you have the potential to excel. When I’m not giving you any feedback, you should be worried because I don’t think you’ve got any more to give, and you’ve reached your ceiling. So that’s the first part. The second part is how does it not affect your ego? And when, what’s the difference between ego and confidence? Ego? Is this me telling everybody else how great I am? Mm-hmm. Look at me, look at me, folks. I’m a champion. I’m good. Think about it. When you’re in grade school, Sam, and you’re in the playground, or, or it was that track and field day, and you gotta do the three-legged race or the ball toss or high jump, or the hundred meter sprint.

Dr. Ivan Joseph (15:28):

And you win your first, your second, your third, whatever your ribbons are they used to give you. And do you put them on? And do you walk around the schools like, look at me. Look, I won the first place in the ball toss. I’m a three-legged race champion. Yeah. Ooh, no. The confident person doesn’t need anybody to know how good they are. All right. You put those ribbons in your bag and you go home at night, you put ’em on and in front of the mirror, you say, yes, I’m awesome. That is okay. Cuz you still should tell yourself you’re awesome. You should still remind yourself of how great you are, just egotistically. You don’t need to shout it to everybody else.

Sam Demma (16:06):

Sometimes you’ll have a belief in yourself that other people don’t see. And I know you’ve had firsthand experience with this, with a player on your team when you were coaching, who at first it seemed like this player was not gonna fit in and not going to excel, but that person’s self-belief propelled them forward. And if I’m not mistaken, became the captain of your team and went to a national championship with you guys. Yes. Yes. how do you cultivate that amount of belief in yourself when other people might not agree with you?

Dr. Ivan Joseph (16:40):

That’s a really good piece. So part of it is you’ve gotta make sure when other people don’t believe in you. And so you’re getting it from the left on all, you know, you gotta make sure you’re having other places where you’re getting the opposite, right? Because if you’re bombarded with your mom telling you you’re no good, and your brother and sister telling you’re no good, and at work they’re telling you no good and your boyfriend or girlfriend are telling you good, no good and all the media’s telling, then it’s gonna beat you up. And so you’ve gotta make sure that, let’s say it’s the coach, then you’re surrounding yourself with other people who are able to counter that voice, that you’re also making sure that you’ve written your letter to yourself, where you’re reading your confident thoughts, that you’re also using your affirmations, but most importantly, that you’re also working towards the goal diligently with great effort to close the gap.

Dr. Ivan Joseph (17:31):

Cuz it’s no magic button. You can’t just show up. A coach says I’m no good, and then the next day I just show up and expect a different result. He also gotta put in the work. And if you’ve put in the work and the repetition and the effort, good things will happen. They always do. But at the same time, Sam, you never know, just like you just didn’t make it as a professional athlete because of injury or whatever. Hopefully you’ve got the right people around you that will tell you when it’s the opportunity is right for you to pivot and go in a different direction.

Sam Demma (18:02):

No, I love that. And I think it’s so important. Who we surround ourselves with matters greatly. I think it was Jim Rowan who said, you become the average of the five people you spend the most time with. Yes.

Sam Demma (18:12):

Why is that important? You know, I remember when I was a soccer player, my coach always used to tell me before I asked for the ball, Sam, make sure you check your shoulders <laugh>. And I remember in the middle of the game, and you probably preach this to your players all the time, I played in the midfield. And so I’m looking behind me to check my shoulders and I don’t check. And as I turn around, someone comes and sly tackles me and my left leg. And that’s when I tore my meniscus in my left knee the second time. And I remember after, you know, years went by, I realized what a great analogy check your shoulders is for life. You know, how often do we turn around and say, who am I surrounding myself with? and if you don’t do it, you know, in life, just like in sports, if you don’t check and you turn around randomly one day, there’s, there might be some people there that shouldn’t be there and it might be causing you problems. So why do you think it’s so important to be aware of who we surround ourselves with?

Dr. Ivan Joseph (19:01):

Well, we know that in sport and in psychology, that emotion is contagious. Hmm. And so think about that. When you’re in a, when you’re in a dressing room, I could walk into a dressing room and I know when a team is on, you could feel it in the air. Hmm. You can feel it, you can cut it with a knife. Also, I can tell when one person gets angry, how that can just run through the entire room or panic or whatever that might be, or excitement or energy. We don’t know. Whatever that’s pheros, whether that’s hormones, what that is. But this science is, is irrefutable that, that we can catch the mood of other people. Hmm. And so when I think about that, I think about the group that I’m speaking with or hanging out with. Do they push me? Are they good for me?

Dr. Ivan Joseph (19:46):

Are they good to me? Are they drivers? Are they, are they ones? Like, yeah, yeah, yeah. You know what? You’re right. When somebody comes and gives you hard news, yeah, I can’t believe that coach doesn’t believe in me. I can’t that believe that boss didn’t gimme the opportunity. And they’ll say, yeah, you’re right Sam, you deserve it. I can’t believe it. You were robbed. Or do they say, Sam, you didn’t do what you were supposed to do. You know what? You should have delivered it like this. You need to go back. Do they push you up or do they tear you down? Hmm. Do they allow you to live in that self-belief of I’m a victim? Or do they say, no, we could do better? And you think about those kinds of people and how do you separate the weak from the chaff?

Sam Demma (20:28):

I think, I think catching other people’s emotions could be even more dangerous than catching the flu

Dr. Ivan Joseph (20:35):

<laugh>. Oh, a hundred percent. They will, it will limit you

Sam Demma (20:39):

And it holds you back because like you explained, you know, your beliefs lead to your emotions, emotions to actions, actions to results. And if those, if those beliefs change because of the people you’re hanging out with, it changes literally everything else. It’s like a domino effect. Yes. I spend a lot of time hanging around people who don’t take no for an answer. <laugh>. And I know you’re one of those people and I remember you watching your TED talk as well, and you know, you asked out your, your wife for the first time you know, and she said no. And then her friend came back and told you, you know, there’s a small chance that if the world was falling apart and <laugh> and you know, we need to recreate to save humanity, then, then, you know, maybe we could, you know, maybe it would work. And, and you said, well, there’s a chance <laugh> and you kept going. Right. now maybe you could, you could share a little bit about where that beliefs was built for you. Cause I believe all of our beliefs come from past experiences, like where that belief came from that you didn’t take no for an answer. and maybe even how I reached out to you and what you thought

Dr. Ivan Joseph (21:44):

<laugh>. Oh my gosh. You know, it’s interesting. You know, first off, I’m an immigrant, right? I was born in, in Guyana, south America. My parents came to Canada when they’re 27 years old. Hmm. And so, you know, and immigrants have a very common theme that run through them, meaning work twice as hard, be twice as good. Yeah. Right. You know, like that, that your parents have drilled that into you, your grandparents have drilled that into you. And so you know that the opportunities that you have that will come your way, you gotta fight for. And I saw it in my mother and I saw it in my father. And so those were two, two role models for me that really helped put that behavior of twice as hard, twice as good, twice as like always mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And so, you know, after a while people are gonna say no.

Dr. Ivan Joseph (22:28):

And so you gotta just decide what are you gonna do. You can either feel sorry for yourself or you can try again. You can try. And then when you get a little bit of success, then it creates this pattern of belief in yourself that allows you to keep going. Right. And again, I wasn’t stalking my wife, so I don’t want anybody out there to think, oh my gosh, this guy’s a creepy old man. Right? Yeah. It’s like, oh, let me try again. Right. She, you know, if she let me see. Right. And there’s nothing wrong with thinking that there’s another opportunity to try something different perhaps, whatever that might look like. You know, I, you know, you are a perfect example, Sam. I was not, you know, there’s a certain level of podcast that my partner sends me on Sonny’s like, okay, how many followers do they have?

Dr. Ivan Joseph (23:05):

Will it elevate the brand? All these things? Is this the message they want to go on? Right. And here you are a young whipper snipper, and you were persistent, right? You were, you didn’t take no financial, you came back and you didn’t come back the same way, which is an important piece. You came back with some, you did your homework, you were creative, you sent this message, this video that you were compelling. How could we not say yes to somebody who cared and was so intentional and put so much effort and time into preparing his pitch? We had no intention of saying yes, but you compelled us so that we could not say, no,

Sam Demma (23:45):

I’m writing a chapter in a book right now, it’s gonna be called Dear High School Me. And it’s like, it’s like lessons from my younger self from someone not far removed from high school. And your reach out is gonna be one of the chapters <laugh>. And you know, the whole lesson is that when we’re all little kids, I think it was before the age of four, we hear the word no a couple thousand times and it gets ingrained in our body. You know, we, we fall off the counter and you know, or hopefully you don’t fall off the counter, but <laugh>, you know, something happens and your parents say, oh no, don’t do that. And we associate no with never again. Yeah. No means never. And I’m trying to help people understand that. No, doesn’t mean never when you hear the word no. Although, like you said, there are some situations where no means no and don’t cross that boundary. Yes.

Dr. Ivan Joseph (24:31):

Thank you. Thank

Sam Demma (24:32):

You. Outside of those situations, <laugh> no, doesn’t mean never. It actually means how can you show this person that you care, build trust, and be more creative in your reach out? Yes. And every time that I’ve changed my approach whether it’s with you or other situations I’ve gotten, you know, great responses and, and great results. do you have any examples in your life aside from, from the relationship that you discuss in your TEDx talk where someone initially told you no and things thereafter maybe slightly changed?

Dr. Ivan Joseph (25:05):

Yeah, I think, and I think your point is really strong and make sure your audience knows we’re not talking about consent. Yeah. So let’s put that over there. Yeah. We’re talking in the business world that there’s always an opportunity to get your foot in the door. And so when I was, when I wanted to be a coach, I didn’t get the job. They said no a bunch of times. So you know what I did? I volunteered, I worked for free. And a month before or two weeks before the season started, the coach left and they were stuck. They didn’t have anybody else. They paid me less than the scholarship of my athletes. So as the head coach, I was the lowest paid person on that team, but I didn’t care. Yeah. All I wanted was an opportunity. And when I got the opportunity, I took the most of it.

Dr. Ivan Joseph (25:51):

I worked like a dog. We won the conference championship that year. We were 13 and one first ever championship they ever won. I was the conference coach of the year. Right. So recognized that, you know, no meant not yet. But what did I do while they said no? I went and got the coaching courses, I went and got the coaching license. I read this book about coaching. I spent an and learned this about coaching. I watched games on TV to learn and do everything I could. So when the opportunity gave me a small crack, I was ready to take advantage of it.

Sam Demma (26:25):

I love that. So powerful. And you talk about this in your summit, the speech you did, I think it was for jack.org back in May 5th, 2020. A young lady asked you the question, you know, how do you, how do you find what you love doing? There’s so many different, you know, opportunities available and there’s so many different options and you gave some awesome advice about, you know, maybe you volunteer and you know, that’s how it started. For you, what is your advice around helping, you know, maybe students or young people find what they’re good at or what they love doing?

Dr. Ivan Joseph (26:56):

I say we all know what we love because it’s the thing that we do. And all of a sudden time flies. Mm. In sports psychology, we call it flow. When have you ever done something, it’s like, oh my gosh, I can’t believe that. Like, where did the hour go? Yeah. Whether that’s reading a book, whether that’s playing your hockey, playing your game, like, my gosh, what are those activities that put you in the state of flow that you look forward to doing and you can’t wait? You know what they are? Put a make a list of them. When I, when that was asked for me, what do I volunteer to do? And I couldn’t believe it was soccer. You can’t make a living as a soccer coach. This is 25 years ago. I tell you that, that soccer coach led to me being and making a ton of money, which I never wanted to do. That wasn’t the reason I was driven towards it. But what happens is, when you do what you love, excellence happens. And when you become the best at what you do, people are willing to pay for the, for that service. And so, I I just remind you that even though you think, well, I can’t make a living doing what you love, there’s always a way.

Sam Demma (28:03):

I think it’s Russell Brunson, this guy who does a lot of internet marketing, he started a company called ClickFunnels. He, he started a business teaching people how to make potato launchers <laugh>. And this is the first thing he did. And, and I remember just reading it in one of his books, expert Secrets, him talking about there’s almost some market or an opportunity in every single field. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> what matters is how much you’re willing to give of your time, your effort, your energy towards becoming a master in that thing. Because there’s no, there’s no, there’s no job position just waiting for you. Sure there’s jobs out there, but I think you create it through your actions that you take every single day, day in and day out. Yes. and you’ve created a wonderful career for yourself. And I want to take this interview down a professional route for a second.

Sam Demma (28:53):

Yeah. Over the, over the past four years, I’ve been obsessed with helping students become real world ready, trying to figure out what makes a high performing young person. And based on my own personal success and conversations that I’m having with, you know, phenomenal humans like yourself, I’m taking this assumption and I’m putting it to the test. and so I wanna test this assumption here with you today. There’s six characteristics. All I wanna know is, do you think this thing was foundational to your success? And how did you develop it over the past couple of years? so here’s the first one, and you’re already someone who does this day in and day out for your job, but it’s professional and persuasive communication. So I believe that a high performing student, performer, athlete, whoever it is, has to have the ability to effectively share ideas with others that not only inform them, but inspire them to move into action. And you speak all around the world. So is professional communication something that has been foundational to your success? And how did you develop it as a skill?

Dr. Ivan Joseph (29:52):

A hundred percent. Right. Persuasive communication. And I will say it this way, I would put the other side of that as well. And maybe you have it in one of your six. It’s not just persuasive communication, it’s also empathetic communication. Hmm. Persuasive and empathetic because empathetic in insinuates that I’m listening and I’m hearing and I’m able to speak to the things that matter and resonate with the people. Hmm. And that is really key. Right. Because you can’t be persuasive if you don’t know what matters to the other person. I love that. Okay. So how did I put, how did I get when I was a teacher, when I was a professor, I probably did four or five different one hour lectures a day for 10 years.

Sam Demma (30:34):

Yep.

Dr. Ivan Joseph (30:35):

So I got to be really good repetition, repetition, repetition, <affirmative> repetition.

Sam Demma (30:40):

Mm-hmm. <affirmative> and variation. I’m sure you’re giving different lectures all the time, which helps you

Dr. Ivan Joseph (30:45):

All the time. All the time. And I never wrote ’em down. I’ve studied them, but I wanted them to be authentic and novel. And so, and I evaluated that didn’t work. That was no good. Okay. This was really good. Let me, let me do this part again.

Sam Demma (30:59):

Love that. Okay. That’s phenomenal. And thank you for the the additional feedback. If anything that I mentioned sparks a new idea or an extended version of the principle, please share. the second assumption is that these people have the trait of taking care of their mental and physical health, meaning they exercise their mind and their body. Yeah. Has that been something that’s been foundational to your success? And how did you develop the habit of exercising, meditating, and all these amazing actions that we should all take?

Dr. Ivan Joseph (31:29):

Yeah, and I like that you said meditating because that’s that mental, that’s the physical, it’s the spiritual. And so work-life balance is really important. I think that we recognize that, you know, we must work hard, we must work hard. That’s the only way to get ahead. But if you don’t shut it down, if you don’t restore, you don’t get the great ideas. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And so that’s a really important piece. And so I haven’t gone out to say, I love to exercise. I don’t work out for the sake of working out. I play, I get my workout through play. Love it. Whether that’s playing on a soccer league, whether that’s whitewater canoeing, that’s, whether that’s playing squash, that’s my jam. But that’s my space for flow. Recognize that your workout might be something completely different. Don’t think that if you’re not doing physical exercise, you’re not good. Your workout might be mental. Just you’re the puzzle person. You’re the crossword person. What it is, is a thing that allows you to get to that stage where you restore and regenerate your soul and your spirit. So I really believe that’s a key principle.

Sam Demma (32:26):

I love that. I love that analogy too, that everyone gets it a little bit differently from different sources. One of the criticisms I had of a lot of self-help books were that they tell you that you have to wake up at a specific hour in the morning and do these three specific exercises in this row, and you’ll have a successful life. And I think it’s so false, right? We all have a goal in a morning routine to feel a specific type of emotion Yeah. Or to cultivate a specific type of belief. And there’s so many different activities that you could do to help you attain that goal. and I think it also applies like you’re saying to mental and physical wellbeing. So I love that. The third the third assumption is emotional intelligence. So these are, these are performers. These are people who are aware of how they feel and can give themselves a little bit of space to recognize the emotion and take action to support that emotion or despite the emotion. So you know how to say no properly, how to say yes. how to understand how other people are feeling in relation to a situation. I think there’s a ton of different definitions of emotional intelligence, but we’ll just define it as being self-aware. has that been foundational? And how did you develop that awareness?

Dr. Ivan Joseph (33:38):

Well, that’s a, you know, I don’t know how I developed it, but I, I think what I call is emotional awareness or intelligence. I call it insights. Mm. right. The ability to read the room, the ability to pick up when you’re being too much or too little, or when to walk away, when to push, when to just let this person have their moment because it’ll avoid a conflict. And that’s time for another conversation. You know, I think one of the things is in order to have insight, you have to be reflective. You have to really evaluate, well, that went wrong, or, I did really well there, what happened? Because I don’t know if you can read a book and say, this is who I am. But I think if you’re really insightful, you start to reflect on where you screwed up, where you hit it out of the park, ah, I didn’t get what I needed. Let me try it this way next time. And that’s how you acquire that level of emotional intelligence.

Sam Demma (34:30):

Hmm. I love that you talk about it in your book, or was it the interview with Louis? Hows the, the gut feelings, right? Yes. and you mentioned that when you shy away from those or act despite those little, you know, those little voices in your head or those gut feelings, that things typically go wrong

Dr. Ivan Joseph (34:48):

Every time,

Sam Demma (34:49):

Still holds true.

Dr. Ivan Joseph (34:50):

Every, every single time. It usually ends up costing me more money. Makes me unhappier gives me great frustration. Yeah.

Sam Demma (34:58):

Cool. Very cool. <laugh> love that. fourth assumption is that these, these students are grounded in the present moment, meaning they take lots of action daily mm-hmm. <affirmative>, but they do have goals and a vision that they’re working towards. So they have a future focus. I’m, I’m assuming from day one you wrote things down on paper and, you know, had goals and visions for yourself before anyone else even believed in you. but is that something that you think has been foundational to your progress and success And, and what, what made you from day one, grab a pen and paper and start writing things down that you wanted to happen in the future, if you can remember?

Dr. Ivan Joseph (35:33):

Well, yeah, I’ll say it wasn’t from day one. It was after I flunked out and was embarrassed and was ashamed and he was humiliated and I needed to start over. And when I needed to start over, I said, well, what am I gonna change? What am I gonna move and how am I gonna respond and react to this? So hitting rock bottom and reacting to failure, put me in this path. And then I started writing one year goals, three to five year goals and 10 year goals. I always do my, my goals in those three buckets, right. Because I want to have a long-term plan so I know where I’m going. You know, if I want to be a college university president, I better sit on a university panel that searches what they look like now. So in 10 years I can see what they’re looking for. I have time to start prepping myself. Mm. When I wanted to be a L’Oreal vice president, you know what I needed to get certain skills, I better start getting those skills now. So three years from now, I’m ready for when the opportunity comes. And so I’m a big believer in writing down your goals and not just your long-term ones and, but your short-term ones, but here’s the key, Sam, not too many. Mm-hmm. Because then you won’t become an expert in anything.

Sam Demma (36:41):

Yeah. It’s like the whole idea of don’t go a mile wide. Go a mile deep. Yes. and ah, it’s so true. And I hear it so much over and over again, and I love it. It’s such an important thing to remind yourself of. perfect. The fifth characteristic is building strong habits. Right? Excellence comes not from what we do once, but what we do day in and day out, even when we don’t feel like it. Do you think that habits have played a huge part in your life? Or do you act more sporadically? and has that been foundational to your success?

Dr. Ivan Joseph (37:15):

Well, I’ll say it this way, I wouldn’t say it’s habits. Okay. Right. I would say it’s values. Hmm. The values drive my consistent response and behavior to things. Cool. And so, because you know how they, I’ve tried 30 days to find a habit, 30 days to be, I like I, I tried to work out or be a vegetarian for 30 days. They’re they 31, thank God that’s over. Yeah. Right. I work out, I work out, I work out. I did 30 days of pushup, 40 days of pushup. Soon as I missed three days in a row, that habit’s gone. Yeah. Right. And so that is the one I’ll say that I struggle with. And it doesn’t mean it’s right, but I will say that habits are typically something that are about behavior. Mm. And what drives behavior for me isn’t habits, it’s values. Mm. And that is the key. And what I mean by values is you’re the core beliefs about who I am, what I’m about.

Sam Demma (38:06):

I love that. So key, so important. And I think, I think back to a situation that didn’t align with my values, that forced me to make a decision out of a couple things. I think of a relationship that I had that I, that I recently ended. I think about a speaker agent who, a speaker agency who at first I had written down, you know, I’m gonna be represented by these people and I’m super excited. And then they approached me with the contract and the terms totally did not, not align with my values or the vision I created for myself. And there was this internal conflict that just stirred up in me. And right away I was questioning everything <laugh>. And I had everyone in my life telling me, you have to do this and you have to do that, and you should do this. And then I couldn’t sleep at night knowing that it, I was about to go against that gut voice that I had. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. so I think knowing what your values are and taking actions based on those and in alignment with those is what’s really important. Is what you’re saying. Yeah.

Dr. Ivan Joseph (39:04):

For

Sam Demma (39:05):

Me. Okay. Yeah. No, I totally agree. I love that the, the fifth, the fifth, the sixth, the sixth characteristic that I believe is super important is being a perpetual learner. So someone who is one, always open to feedback, cuz you’re gonna learn from feedback, but two, reading consuming information, whether it’s podcasts, books, speeches you know, even something like this kind of sparked the idea at the, at the end of your book, you have a list of your favorite reads, and I think there’s six or seven books listed there. I think perpetual learners are people who read one book and then have six more that get added to their list, <laugh> Yes. That they wanna read in the future. do you think that that’s been foundational in your success? And how did you cultivate that desire to want to learn? It’s a lot easier to grab a b a bag of Lay’s chips and watch Netflix all day. <laugh>

Dr. Ivan Joseph (39:54):

No, you’re still, I, I’m glad this one is last because this is the one that needs to stick. Hmm. Right. you, I say often when I coach soccer, sometimes I win. Most times I learn. Hmm. Right. And, and this is the key, right? Learning helps sets you up for success if you’re willing to approach it really in a student-centric perspective. Meaning I’m here to learn not just from reading a book, not just from watching a podcast, but in every single aspect and interaction that you have. I remember watching a Disney movie, oh, I love the way he said this about Simba and leadership. How can I employ that to my soccer game? I remember watching and reading Graham Henry’s book on legacy from the New Zealand, all Blacks. How am I gonna use this about how I build culture? We can’t learn enough and learning should never stop. I think about all my great mentors, some of them are 70, 80 years old and all the work they’re doing, and you know, in the old days it used to be just reading books. But in today’s world, it’s YouTube, it’s podcast, it’s Instagram, wherever it is. But make it an f make it a a thing for you to do and make it a part of your routine.

Sam Demma (41:07):

Hmm. I love that. And was that desire cultivated in you because you came to a realization that you wanted to know more, you wanted to learn more. Was it, was it a teacher that prompted you to it or was it because you failed? Like, because like, I tell students this all the time, but sometimes the switch doesn’t go off. And I’m curious to know what the trigger is to help someone understand like, learning is, is, is necessary <laugh>, you know, it’s needed.

Dr. Ivan Joseph (41:32):

Well, I’ve got intrinsic motivation, meaning I always want to be the best. Cool. And in order to be the best, I I don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Yeah. Who else has done this and what can I learn in order to expedite my learning, my advancement, my progress? Because I could still do it, but what might take 10 years of me trial and error. I could shorten the one year by somebody’s teachable moments. And I think that’s really important. And if you’re not a book reader, then find a mentor and apprentice because that learning can happen the same way, maybe even better.

Sam Demma (42:06):

I often say mentorship is probably the, the lost form of teaching. Maybe watch it in movies, whether it’s Star Wars with OB one Kenobi or the Karate Kid, Mr. Miyagi. Right. so that’s awesome that you’re, you’re enthusiastic about that. Yeah. Those are the six As, those are my six principles, six assumptions. I’m curious to know, and I’m not gonna put you on the spot if one doesn’t come to mind, but is there anything that you would instantly add to that list?

Dr. Ivan Joseph (42:32):

Yeah, I think the, for me it’s that whole thing about you are steeped in grit and resilience. Hmm. Meaning how you respond to f failure setbacks, you know, that’s my jam. Whether you call it confidence, whether you call it mental toughness, resiliency, grit, hardiness. But that is a key piece that should be part of your mantra because whether you like it or not, you could be as, as insightful and as persuasive as you want. You will experience failure as you progress through life. And your response to that, your coping mechanism will really determine whether you continue on your path or you jump off and you give up.

Sam Demma (43:11):

I love it. No, that’s awesome. And you have a course coming out for students? I think, I believe it’s coming out in the spring or sometime in the future. Yeah. what, what is it all about? Tell us more. if you’re listening, tell the listener where they could find it as well.

Dr. Ivan Joseph (43:26):

Sure. the Skill of Self-Confidence masterclass, if you go on my website, dr ivan joseph.com, you can go ahead and there’ll be a time where you’ll sign up for that. And I think it’s coming out this spring, I should know that sort of stuff. <laugh> or you, if you were just saying, you know what, I’d just rather learn about this confidence. I don’t wanna join and pay money for a class go to dr ivan joseph.com front slash confidence and you could download a a workbook, 15 steps to self-confidence free workbook for you.

Sam Demma (43:54):

And if you’re wondering, I’ve downloaded it as well for the, for the listener, and it’s phenomenal. So definitely check it out. Ton of great gold in there. Yeah. It’s, it’s, it’s good stuff. And if someone just wants to connect with you or maybe even ask a question what would be the best way for them to do so?

Dr. Ivan Joseph (44:09):

You know, you can find me in all the socials. @DrIvanJoseph is my handle on Instagram. @DrIvanJoseph is my handle on Twitter, so I’m out there LinkedIn, anyone. And I’m happy to respond and, and give any feedback that you folks might want.

Sam Demma (44:24):

You talk about an Apple video that was featured, I believe it was 1966 and 97 97. That’s my, that’s my dad’s birthday. I shouldn’t forget that one. <laugh>. <laugh>, you know, here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the troublemakers. I just wanna say I hold you to that regard and yeah. This was phenomenal. Thank you so much for taking the time to do this, and I look forward to continue reading your books as you publish them and taking some of your courses in the future.

Dr. Ivan Joseph (44:52):

Thanks, Sam, appreciate it. You did a great job. Thanks for having me.

Sam Demma (44:55):

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Dr. Ivan Joseph

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.

Chapter One: Empty Your Backpack (Read Along)

Chapter One: Empty Your Backpack (Read Along)
About Empty Your Backpack

In Empty Your Backpack, Sam Demma demonstrates that your dreams are within reach, and it’s the beliefs you carry and the actions you take that determine whether you will achieve them.

Demma guides how to move closer to your dreams faster than you ever imagined. He shows that by cultivating empowering beliefs while committing to consistent actions that fuel your creativity and growth, you can make things happen in your life the way you envision.

Are you weighed down by people dismissing your dreams as unrealistic? You have big dreams. There are things you want to accomplish, but maybe they feel out of reach-especially when people tell you they’re impossible. That heavy feeling of doubt is your backpack. It’s full of limiting beliefs and dreams crushed by the opinions of others. It’s time to empty your backpack and release that weight from your shoulders.

Demma’s guide offers actionable ideas to help young people keep faith in their dreams even when those around them lose theirs. He reveals pathways that can help bring dreams to life and empower you to be the best version of yourself.

Empty Your Backpack is an easy-to-follow guide filled with tried-and-tested principles and inspiring stories from Demma’s remarkable life that will help you optimize your beliefs and actions to get you where you want to be.

Connect with Sam: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Empty Your Backpack on Amazon

Empty Your Backpack (Signed by Sam Demma)

Empty Your Backpack Animation

Empty Your Backpack Project

The Story that Inspired the Project

The Backpack of Beliefs

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):

Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s episode is a special one. It is not a normal interview. It is a read along from my most recently debut published book; “Empty Your Backpack.” It was released on November 18th with an in-person book launch in Pickering, Ontario. There was just under 300 people in attendance and the book has started to make its way into classrooms. We had our first class set ordered from a school in the Toronto Catholic District School Board and have sold just over 400 copies. If you enjoy reading along with me in this chapter, number one, Empty Your Backpack, please reach out and we’ll make sure to get you some books as well. Without further ado, I’m gonna go ahead and read to you chapter one, Empty Your Backpack, Belief: You Define You.

Sam Demma (00:59):

It was an ordinary evening and I wasn’t prepared for what was about to unfold. After eating supper with my family, I returned to my office in the basement to prepare for an Instagram live. That night I was being interviewed by a young leader and we’d be talking about leadership, the importance of service, and helpful ideas for young dreamers. In the first 40 minutes of the interview, there was great conversation and lots of laughs. Then we invited viewers to ask questions or share a little bit about themselves. One viewer jumped on and explained that they had two goals in life to become an actor and to get 50,000 followers on social media. I politely challenged the person to explain what gaining followers would help them accomplish. What they shared blew me away. If I became an actor and had thousands of followers on social media, people at school would stop bullying me and calling me a loser.

Sam Demma (01:55):

This person explained that their life was filled with bullies, that they spent most of their time crying and that they had considered ending their life on many occasions. They then turned off their camera and went silent. The hairs on my arms stood tall. I could feel their pain through my screen and my eyes welled with tears. I found myself at a loss for words. This bright young individual had considered ending their life because of other people’s hurtful words. Those words repeated over and over became personal beliefs, beliefs that they carried with them. The interviewer and I reassured this individual that everyone watching loved them and wanted to see them do well, and then we shared some resources that would allow them to find the help they needed that was beyond what we could provide. After the call ended, I couldn’t get this situation outta my mind.

Sam Demma (02:47):

I felt compelled to reflect on my experiences dealing with words that other people used to define me. What I wish I could have helped that viewer believe in that moment is that other people’s words don’t define your worth. Words are meaningless jumbles of letters until you the person hearing them give them power. Often the negative things people say about you are a reflection of their own internal battles and have little or nothing to do with you. How would your life change if you truly believe that and allowed others words to slip off your back like books in an open upside down backpack, your invisible backpack? Each of us walk around with an invisible backpack strapped to our shoulders. In this bag, we carry our experiences which inform our beliefs. We also carry the beliefs, expectations, and opinions that other people give to us, some good and some bad.

Sam Demma (03:45):

These also inform our own beliefs. Other people’s words can hold real weight. If you let them, they can become bricks that you carry on your back and they can occupy space in your mind. They can stop you from acting or they can propel you forward. Words can unify a divided nation or cause mass destruction. Unfortunately, as humans, we tend to give more energy and attention to the negative things people say about us rather than the positive things. This is the negativity bias. It explains why you can forget hundreds of compliments but not the one terrible thing someone said about you. Like most humans, you probably spend a disproportionate amount of time focused on the one negative comment wondering what’s wrong with you, rather than feeling grateful for all the positive ones. After I speak at conferences in schools, attendees often fill out feedback forms to rate my performance.

Sam Demma (04:40):

I’ll never forget the feedback from one event I did in Alberta. It was all extremely positive except for one comment, typical motivational speaker. The last thing I aim to be is typical, so I took this comment to heart. It made me feel sad and frustrated. It wasn’t extremely negative and the event organizer still hired me to speak the following year, but I spent over an hour thinking about that comment and allowing it to bother me before I shifted my focus. Maybe you can relate. Maybe you got a fantastic grade on a test but couldn’t get over that one stupid mistake you made. Maybe you’ve allowed the negativity in your life to overshadow all the spectacular things that make you you. Maybe you’ve been carrying around hurtful words in your invisible backpack and they’re weighing you down. Can you recall something negative someone said to you that had a lasting impact on your confidence and self-belief?

Sam Demma (05:38):

If you’re like me, you not only remember what the person said, but you can rebuild the entire situation in your mind. You remember the name of the person where and when it happened, and most importantly, how it made you feel. Left unaddressed. Thoughtless comments from careless people can take root your mind and over time become your limiting beliefs. Imagine that a belief that was never yours to begin with ends up being the thing holding you back and weighing you down. Even a comment someone made to you when you were a child can inform the decisions you make for the rest of your life. You might believe you’re not good at music because your parents told you that at the dinner table. You might believe you can’t play basketball because your high school coach said you are too short. You might believe you can’t build a new skill after the university because someone told you it’s too late and you should stick to what you know.

Sam Demma (06:34):

Over time, your backpack fills up and if you don’t stop to remove the beliefs that aren’t yours, you may end up living a life that’s not yours and fall short of your true potential. Shortly after my second knee surgery, my soccer coach jokingly yelled at me from the sideline in front of the entire team. Hey bud, are you going to get up off the bench and play or are you going to retire soon? At that point in my athletic career, I was routinely breaking down in tears in front of my family and friends. I’d limp around school on crutches with a bag of frozen peas strapped to my swollen knee at home, I’d perform every exercise possible to speed up my recovery so I could get back on the field to play the game. I loved the mental and physical stress of rehab. Doing an internship at a gym and driving an hour and a half to attend practice only to sit on the bench and spectate was overwhelming to say the least while on earth with the coach, the person I’m supposed to look up to and learn from, say something so needlessly hurtful.

Sam Demma (07:40):

It was comments like this along with my own mental battles that created my resentment toward the sport. My backpack became so heavy that after I decided to stop playing soccer, I unfollowed all of my former teammates on social media and block the coach. Seeing or hearing anything about that part of my life stirred up deep sadness and anger. I hope that some of my teammates read this book and realize it had nothing to do with them and everything to do with my insecurities and internal battles. It took me over two years to find my peace and rebuild myself. My grandma was the one who taught me that if you have nothing nice to say, you shouldn’t say anything at all. Now I understand what she meant. Words cut like knives when they’re aimed at insecurities and you never know what someone is going through. Just because you can’t see someone’s backpack doesn’t mean they’re not carrying it.

Sam Demma (08:33):

It’s obvious that my coach didn’t understand the impact of his words, but the negative thoughts they created stuck with me for a long time. There are still nights when I wake up in a panic from a dream about playing professional soccer. My coach’s comment isn’t the only one I’ve needed to remove from my backpack. Teachers who never taught me approached me at school reunions to offer unsolicited lectures on why I should be in school because they want what’s best for me. Relatives at picnics have tried to convince my father to encourage me back into formal education suggesting that I’m wasting my time in life. Luckily, I regularly take the time to empty my backpack and my parents continue to witness the 10 to 12 hour days that I work in my basement studio and support me without hesitation. Find peace knowing that people rarely see the full picture of your life. Let everyone share their thoughts and nod vaguely If you don’t feel like arguing, but don’t internalize or hold onto the things that stop you from following your path. It’s important to respect others, but you don’t need to consume their beliefs and opinions. You are your own best advisor. No person on this planet has gone through.

Sam Demma (09:59):

No person on this planet has gone through and experienced exactly what you have. Your experience matters. Don’t buy into the limiting belief. That experience comes from age. That’s probably a message someone put in your backpack a long time ago. Sure, time gives you an advantage because it gives you the chance to try different things, but time can also be wasted. I know 20 year olds who have had more experiences than some adults in their forties or fifties experience comes from experience, so be confident in your decisions and stop discounting the power of your beliefs and choices. Whose beliefs are you carrying? Your backpack accumulates beliefs from many sources including family, friends, school, media, religion, and most importantly, past experiences. The latter includes others’. Past experiences, often close family and friends will project their beliefs onto you, so be careful which beliefs you place in your backpack.

Sam Demma (11:00):

Let’s say your dream is to open a restaurant and you have a cousin who failed attempting something similar. Ask them if you should open a a restaurant and they’ll tell you absolutely not simply because their past experience involved failure. Find someone who runs a successful restaurant and they’ll likely tell you it’s the best business in the world. In both cases, the other people are projecting their past experiences on you in the form of their positive or limiting beliefs. Be aware that you may also come across successful people who will tell you not to pursue the thing they’re doing carefully consider their opinions as they may help you avoid a future disaster, but ultimately make your own choice. Even if they seem successful, they may not find the life they’re living meaningful. Remember, your definition of success is personal and someone else’s dissatisfaction with their work has nothing to do with you.

Sam Demma (11:54):

In this example, however, you should give the successful restaurant owner’s perspective and advice more attention than your cousins because the restaurant owner is currently doing what you wanna do. Fill in your backpack with the thoughts of people who’ve never done what you wanna do is pointless. A pilot would never ask a passenger how to fly the plane. When someone gives you unsolicited advice or tells you why you can’t do something, ask yourself, what past experience did this person have that resulted in this belief? And remember, people who are hurting often hurt others. Someone you know might be trying to tell you how to live your life because they’re dissatisfied with their own. Sometimes when a person can’t do something themself, their ego wants to believe that you can’t do it either. Don’t listen to their words or place them in your backpack. Instead, find someone successful who is doing exactly what you wanna do and ask for their advice.

Sam Demma (12:50):

The rapper La Russel said it best during our interview. Impossible is the opinion of the incapable. Start repacking. After taking other people’s negative beliefs, comments, and opinions out of your backpack, it’s time to fill it with things that will support you along your journey. The first things to repack are people who push you to grow personally and professionally. As a soccer player, I was a midfielder. My main responsibility was to receive the ball from the defense and successfully pass it forward to the offensive player so we could score goals. My coach would always yell at me, Sam, check your shoulders. He wanted to ensure I was aware of who was around me so I wouldn’t receive the ball and then turn toward an opposing player. Similarly, it’s important to constantly evaluate who’s surrounding you in your life. The people you invest time in will rub off on you whether you like it or not.

Sam Demma (13:47):

You’ll assume some of their beliefs and habits. This doesn’t mean you need to cut off all of your friends and become a lone wolf. Just take note of how your friends’ actions influence you. You want friends who will keep it real with you while also being your biggest supporters. My best friend Lucas is one of those people for me. When I decided to drop outta university, he consistently reminded me to bet on myself. He believed in my abilities more than I believed in myself, and we would make time to meet up and talk about our dreams. I’m so grateful for our friendship. You don’t need a large circle, but you need at least one person who will hold you accountable and believe in you. Next, fill your backpack with the beliefs and opinions of people who’ve achieved greatness. Their beliefs are the blueprint for success.

Sam Demma (14:36):

These can be individuals who inspire you even if you’ve never met them. Weeks after I got my driver’s license, I started driving to and from soccer practice on my own. The drive was 45 minutes each way, so every day I spent an extra hour and a half in the car. That quiet time alone inspired me to begin listening to podcasts. One of my favorites was the Sports Motivation Podcast, hosted by a former professional football player, Niho Bo. In each episode, he’d break down the mindset and habits you need to dominate your sport and reach high level performance. I made a habit of arriving at practice 15 to 30 minutes early so I could jot down notes from the podcast in a Dollar store notebook. I still have those notes and eventually Nee became a personal mentor. He’s responsible for a large part of my belief system in early business success.

Sam Demma (15:26):

On average, I consumed two to three hours of music and interviews daily, and I encourage you to listen to and watch content that reinforces powerful thoughts and helps you dream bigger, find role models you relate to, and listen to their content on repeat. Emptying and refilling your backpack starts with awareness over the next few days, weeks and months, try to catch yourself. When a negative belief enters your mind, write it down and spend some time figuring out where it came from. Once you see that it’s not yours, let it go. Remove it from your backpack. Set aside time to do this again and again until you reach your goals and find peace of mind, life becomes more meaningful when you stop carrying around and acting on other people’s thoughts and opinions. The fact is, no one cares about your life as much as you do, and along your journey people will say negative things.

Sam Demma (16:20):

People might tell you that your dreams are stupid. They might call you ugly or a loser. What you do with their words is up to you. Be selective about which ones go into your backpack. Their words do not and never will. Define your worth. From this day forward, whenever you feel your backpack getting heavy, flip it upside down, allowing the unsupportive words and beliefs to quickly slide out and onto the pavement behind you. Emptying your backpack is a lifelong process. Chapter one, takeaways other people’s words, don’t define your worth. The negative things people say about you are a reflection of their own internal battles and have little to do with you. You have an invisible backpack strapped to your shoulders. Check it often to see what beliefs you’re carrying along your journey. Take out the ones that are weighing you down. Other people’s beliefs are often a projection of their own past experiences. Not all opinions are equal. Repack your backpack with supportive friends, inspiring media, and the beliefs and opinions of people who are currently living your definition of success. In the next chapter, we’ll explore a belief that will help you navigate another reality that can be very uncomfortable. Your journey will look different from everyone else’s

Sam Demma (17:46):

<laugh>. I did not just clap for myself on my own podcast <laugh>. I hope you enjoyed listening to me read chapter one of Empty Your Backpack. Feel free to share this episode with your class to listen to it all together to have a meaningful discussion about what it means to empty your backpack and what it actually means to have a backpack at all strapped to your shoulders in the first place. If you’re looking for some follow up activities that can go along with this audio recording, please send me a message, and if you’re at all interested in buying some copies of the book, you can do so on Amazon and by searching Empty Your Backpack, or if you’d like a class set or signed versions, you can go to shop.samdemma.com. Again, that’s shop.samdemma.com and buy them directly from me or send me an email at sam@samdemma.com. Have an amazing rest of your day. I hope it’s a very productive one, and wherever your journey in life takes you next, make sure that your backpack remains empty. I will see you next week on another episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Sam Demma

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.