About Christina Raso
Entrepreneur and Educator, Christina Raso (@Christina_Raso), shares her journey in education from a new teacher to a special education consultant to most recently Experiential Learning Consultant for Sudbury Catholic Schools.
The past academic year was most memorable for Christina as she temporarily returned to the classroom to support the teacher shortage. In her teaching time, she entered her class and St. David Elementary School in the Mindshare Technology School of the Future Contest earning third prize in the national contest.
**Please note that all of our transcriptions come from rev.com and are 80% accurate. We’re grateful for the robots that make this possible and realize that it’s not a perfect process.
Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the high-performing educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s guest is an entrepreneur and educator and her name is Christina Raso. She shares her journey in education from new teacher to special education consultant to most recently experiential learning consultant for Sudbury Catholic schools. The past academic year was most memorable for Christina. As she temporarily returned to the classroom to support the teacher shortage. During her teaching time, she entered her class at St. David Elementary School in the Mindshare technology school of the future contest, earning third prize in the national competition. Change is something that Christina is familiar with, especially because she also has a roots in entrepreneurship, which she talks about a little bit on this podcast as well. Anyway, I hope you enjoy this interview and I will see you on the other side…
Sam Demma (01:24):
Christina, welcome to the high-performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about the journey that brought you to where you are today in education?
Christina Raso (01:35):
Well, first of all, thank you, Sam, for the opportunity to share my story. My name is Christina Raso and I am the experiential learning lead for Sudbury Catholic. And I guess if we talk about my journey it started a long time ago. Believe it or not, I’ve been in education for over 20 years and it was my second career. So I think it’s important to talk about where I started and having parents that were immigrants I think is really important because they value education. Not that other people don’t value education, but they really have a sense of you know, coming to a new country work ethic and the importance of going to school and having higher education. So my dream when I was younger was to own my own business and to be an entrepreneur.
Christina Raso (02:32):
And my parents said, yeah, of course, you can do about all of that, but first you need to get an education and a degree I, I received, but I had to get one. So I did that. So while I was going to university, I knew that I wanted to be a business owner. So I started selling women’s clothes at different you know, summer events and then flea markets and things like that. So it actually paid for my university. And then when I graduated with my degree, I was able to full force and I opened up for a ladies clothing store in Sudbury. And that’s kind of where things began for me in education is that I did that for over 10 years, but in that journey, I learned a lot about life skills, right. You know, working and all the challenges that go with that.
Christina Raso (03:26):
But I met a lot of young individuals and I had a lot of students that were coming for co-ops and then the teachers were giving me a little bit more of the heart to serve students, you know, the ones that were disengaged. And then it ended up that YMCA reached out to me and said, we have, you know, a group of young adults that you know, have, have quit school, but they really need some, some work experience. So I’m wondering if you can take a group and, you know, teach them how to use a cash register sales and, and work with them. So I did that. And and then, you know, I got a lot of praise and saying, you know, you’re really good at this, you know, have you ever thought of becoming a teacher because you’re really able to work with these kids and you know, teach them some things that a lot of them were able to catch on at school and things like that.
Christina Raso (04:22):
So you know, it’s just one person mentioned that, and actually I had never thought of that. And it happened that it was the day before admissions were due registration for a teacher’s college. And I put in an application and I decided that I would only apply to one school, which was, you know, an hour and a half away because I still had my business. So I figured if it was meant to be, I’d apply, I’d get in. I could do both. And lo and behold, I got accepted and I did that. And teacher’s college at that year at that time was one year. So I finished my one year and then I knew that that’s what I wanted to do. So I started to, you know, as my leases expired I closed my business down and I went into teaching full time.
Christina Raso (05:10):
And my first my first teaching assignment was a long-term assignment in a grade five class. And I did that from September to January and then a permanent position came up in the same school, but it was a special education resource teacher. And everyone says, well, you have to apply because it’s permanent. Right. And the position you’re in is not permanent. And then I felt, you know, as teacher, you get attached to your kids and I almost felt like I’m leaving these kids, but I’m still staying in the same school. I almost feel like I’m betraying them. Well, I felt that right. So you know, my colleagues convinced me saying, you know what? You have to, you know, think of yourself and your future, you’ll see the kids, you know, and things like that. So I did apply. And at that time, obviously, I didn’t know very much about special education other than what I learned in school and the little bit on life skills that I had working with some young individuals.
Christina Raso (06:08):
So I remember starting and the first day of that assignment, it would happen right after Christmas holidays. And I didn’t really even have an opportunity to say goodbye to the other students. So anyways, that all happened. And I had a father wait for me at the front of my classroom door and he wanted to meet me. So I came out and talked to me. And obviously you had heard that I was obviously a new teacher and I think he was concerned because I was taking over the class and he asked me if I’ve ever taught a student with down syndrome and I said, well, no, actually a habit. And you know, so he said to me, well, I’m going to give you a little bit of advice and tell you a little bit about my daughter who has down syndrome.
Christina Raso (06:56):
And he says, you know she’s very, very honest and she’s either going to love you or she’s not. And wow. You know, when your dad, when you have a parent that tells you that, and then, you know, you really have to perform. But anyways I stayed in that position for five years and that’s where I learned everything about teaching, because it was like a multi grade class, right. So I was teaching grade one to grade eight and it was basic literacy and numeracy skills. And it was a variety of learners. So it was students who had intellectual disabilities, but there was also some students who had a learning disability or who were a little bit behind. And, you know, the idea was for me to work with them and to get them up to a grade level or as close as possible.
Christina Raso (07:46):
So that in those five years, like I said, it really taught me almost everything. I think that I refer to back today about learning, you know, learning styles and students. And then that prepared me for my next journey, which was, I was a special education consultant for almost 13 years. So I did that for 13 years and I, and I loved it, just, you know, I felt like now, you know, I could do more, right. I had the students, I know how to work with them, but now I was at a different level. And I really, really enjoyed that. And then with all things, you know, you need to change, you know, and I most recently, so this’ll be my third year. I switched into experiential learning and as you know, experiential learning is, you know, learning by doing and reflecting and, you know, really becoming aware of maybe what careers you may want in the future with a push on the skills trades and computer science.
Christina Raso (08:50):
And actually, I really had a, a turning point in my career, again, this well, this academic year I I’m in well, you know, and I think this happened provincially teacher shortages, right. Especially, you know, with the smaller class sizes and then, you know, with both remote and in class being offered. So when we pivoted back to online there, I think it was close to the end of March. Was it well before Easter? Anyways? we were significant short in our board of teachers. And, you know, when you’re a team player, you know, you need to do what you need to do to, to make your organization move forward. So I I talked to my supervisor and I said, you know, put me in wherever you need. I, I don’t mind going in. And so I went into a grade one, two class. So at first, at first it’s very easy to say, Hey, boss, put me in where you want, but then when you that, then you’re like, oh my gosh, what did I get myself into right now? I haven’t been in a classroom since 2007. Right. So, and I was thinking about this the other day I was using VHS videos. Oh my goodness.
Christina Raso (10:08):
Well, no, but it really puts the stress on how things were different. I left using VHS videos and now I’m now I’m teaching a virtual classroom. Right. And I haven’t been working directly with kids for, you know what, 15, 16 years. So it was a challenge, but you know, as soon as you go in, it’s like, I never left. That’s how I felt it. Right. I felt like, yeah, I have been in education this whole time. I’ve just been doing different things. I’ve been in classrooms. I just haven’t been the person that the child sees every day to talk about. And I, you know, I really missed it. And I did that for three months until they found a new teacher. I actually wanted to stay to finish the year, but I had to go back to my job. But while I was, you know, I felt like I was there three months.
Christina Raso (11:05):
And I felt that I put in you know, the things that I’m taught or what we’re taught as experiential learning leads. I put that into action. And I think that’s really important because I I’m able to do what I said we should be doing. And it works, you know, and it was great to see kids doing that. And I also had the privilege to work in a school where your administration team is very, very supportive and you know, we had also sorts of ideas and they ran with it and we did, you know, all things that would keep our students engaged. And there was also a contest that I saw that was out by Mindshare. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of Mindshare technologies. Well, they have a national contest every year and this year’s theme was create a under three minute video on things that teachers do to engage students.
Christina Raso (12:07):
So I entered that with my class, but not only with my class, but with the things that we did as a school in that three months. And actually we placed one of the top three schools in Canada with title of a school of the future. So yeah, so that’s one of my proudest moments. And I also feel like that was also a turning point because I’ve been out of the classroom for so long. And then I went in and we tried all these things that we know that works. And, you know, the days that we did hands-on activities where the days that we had the most enrollment like attendance, right. You know, that when kids aren’t fully engaged, they’re going to learn they’re present. So it was great. So like one day we made bird houses and you know, the students picked up the kids at school.
Christina Raso (13:00):
And then the other thing that it’s really, really important, especially during during this time with COVID is working with your community partners. Partners are invaluable at this time. So we worked with skills Ontario, and they actually taught the students and they actually provided the free bird houses for our kids. And they taught the lesson and these kids produced, you know, put together a birdhouse. And then our school principal held a contest on decorating your bird house, according to your personal identity. And you should see the beautiful artwork from these kids. So, you know it was a great opportunity and I feel humbled and I feel that kind of goes back to full circle. Right. You know, you started in a classroom and you did all this, and then you kind of ended up back in a classroom and then it makes your perspective better. Like, I feel like when I go back to work a couple of weeks I have a new insight and you know, I feel like it’s given me more of a drive and energy to continue the work in the area of experiential.
Sam Demma (14:08):
It reminds you how impactful experiential learning is. If you take those ideas into the classroom and see such a big impact, right. It’s, it’s a great reminder. And it also reminds you that the programs that you’re bringing into the schools are having a difference and an impact when you can see it firsthand with the students. I’m curious to know where, where did your entrepreneurial drive come from at such a young age? And what were your stores called? I’m just, just curious about that real quick.
Christina Raso (14:34):
You’re going to like that. Well first of all my mom, my parents split up several years after they arrived at Canada. And so my mum was a single parent and she raised me, but she became she went to college in Canada and then opened she bought a franchise of photography franchise and I worked with her for all those years. So from, I think it was 1985 to when I graduated first degree in 1993, I worked with my mom and she had four locations as well. So I ended up, you know, pretty much managing one location and she did the other three. And then I knew that that’s what I wanted to do. And a funny thing is I, I still have a business on the side, but we can talk about that later. But my businesses were called Sono Bella, because of what they’re.
Christina Raso (15:29):
So I’m beautiful because of what I wear. So I kept that email address for my personal, so that’s what I do, but yeah, and that’s, you know we worked you know, when you’re, self-employed, you can work any 12 hours of the day you pick, right. I can nine at that time, I was trying to tell my son, right. It’s different work ethic. Right. And, you know, he’s tired after working 16 hours a week and I’m like 16 hours a year age, you know, go to school, then work, it’s still do my homework and I wasn’t tired, but you know,
Sam Demma (16:00):
That’s awesome. Thank you for sharing.
Christina Raso (16:03):
Sam Demma (16:05):
And what are some of the programs and things that you’ve brought to your schools over the past three years that you think have made a great impact and a difference, and maybe you can even talk to some of the impact that you’ve seen or heard, you know, based on a program that you’ve brought in.
Christina Raso (16:20):
So I think one of the biggest, biggest things that I was involved with was building a community partnership, especially with skills Ontario. I think if I look back in my three years and, you know, your first year you know, when, when you’re talking about my first year, it was COVID started too. Right. So even a full year, right. I, I think I started I didn’t even start in September. I think I started in November and then COVID hit in March. Right. So that year was kind of wasted and that not wasted, but it wasn’t a normal year for someone to go into a new role and to learn the position because it was completely a different position. But the biggest thing that I got from that is working with your community partners and they have so many programs and contests that engaged kids that you can’t go wrong.
Christina Raso (17:16):
So skills, Ontario, which started contests just after the pandemic kit. And we knew that students were learning remotely. So they started these contests called skills at home, and they were challenges for kids to do. And so what I was doing was I was promoting them and it was really important that I found that educators don’t always relate that some of these activities can be integrated into the curriculum. They’re not extras or add-ons, they’re things that you can do and make it part of learning. So they had all sorts of contests and our board, we had, I think we had five students place in CA in Ontario in their contests. So I was promoting those. So the last year and a half, I was promoting those contests. And then the contests, when I was a teacher in the classroom, I was pushing it.
Christina Raso (18:22):
So I’ll give you one example. So the one contest was on wacky hair. So I had a grade one, two class, and I said you know what, we are going to have some fun. We are going to work on wacky hair. And I made it into a procedural writing assignment. So I told the students that what we’re going to do is we are going to create a wacky hairdo. So we’re going to draw it. And then we’re going to write, how do you actually do that hair style? And during that week, so I did it over a week. So on Monday, you know, I read stories about you know, wacky hair, which Stephanie’s ponytail by Robert munch. And so we really did a lot of reading and writing that related to, you know, wacky hair. And then on the Friday we made it wacky hair day.
Christina Raso (19:12):
And like I said, I was very lucky to work in a school where the administration took that idea and made the entire school have a wacky hair day. Nice. So what ended up happening specifically on that one contest was we actually placed first, second and third in Ontario in one school. So I, my personal students placed first and third and then another student in the school place. Second. So it’s just something where you embrace your partnership. And again, hands-on right. Students are working hands-on and you have to see the hairdos that these students made. So the one student that plays first, she took a root beer pop bottle and put a ponytail through it and then put a cup on a headband. So her ponytail ran into the cup. So it looked awesome.
Christina Raso (20:07):
Hopefully you can cut that part out. No worries. That’s totally fine. I can cut it out. Sorry. so anyways, that’s one thing that we really worked with was the partnership, and then they provided us the bird houses, but I think a lot of things that I’m most proud of is is bringing hands-on activities to the classroom. And a lot of things are inexpensive too, right? So some of the ideas were making a bridge with marshmallows and straws. So a lot of times we feel that, you know, we don’t have the resources to make these things hands-on, or they cost too much, but, you know, when we look around, you know, we can find things that really work and engaged kids.
Sam Demma (20:53):
Yeah. I love that. I actually interviewed Ian Howcroft on the podcast as well, the director of skills, Ontario.
Christina Raso (20:59):
Awesome. Awesome. I was going to say that would be a, another guy to to invite because definitely doing a lot of things, but I feel that contests seem to really engaged our students. Like, you know, whether, whether it’s a big prize or a small prize, but it’s just a matter of you know, saying, Hey, you know, you know, we’re whether it’s a class contest or a school contest, I think that that helps us to engage kids, you know, a little bit of competition friendly, you know, is good.
Sam Demma (21:31):
And why do you think experiential learning is so important? You know, like if teachers are like, ah, yeah, I get it. But you know, we’re really busy and we have to get through the curriculum. Like, what would you say? Like why, why is this type of learning really important for life and also future aspirations?
Christina Raso (21:49):
Yeah, there’s a lot of reasons. And I think I’d start with the first one is that learning in a classroom is learning within the four walls, but not all students do well and not all students are made to go to university or college. Right. And hands-on, hands-on opportunities open the pathways to all those, right. You can be hands-on and still go to university and still go to college and still go into the trades and still go into the world of work. And I think when I think back of my experience working as a special education resource teacher, I think as some of those students that were disengaged, right, because they were having a hard time learning to read and to write. And I think if we gave them the hands-on activities we’re still meeting the curriculum because you still have to read instructions.
Christina Raso (22:42):
You’re still doing math, especially, you know, if, if you’re building something and I think that by giving students these experiential hands-on opportunities, we’re hitting a range of learners. Right. And you know, when, you know, you think of computer science, you know, it is hands-on, it is building, you know, and I think of the students that I had that, you know, a lot of them would be going to college and university, but there was also a large portion of those students that didn’t see themselves going to college or university and, you know, they were going to the world of work, or maybe they didn’t even see themselves going to the world of work. You know, maybe they thought, you know, they’d live on a disability pension, but when we’re looking at hands on activities and, you know, thinking of baking and cooking and, you know, there’s so many opportunities for our students that give them the opportunity to feel valued and needed in our community.
Christina Raso (23:42):
And I think of, you know, you know, chef helper or prep, you know, for these kids that thinking that, you know, they would just, you know, they, some of our students who have intellectual disability, you may stay at school until 21 because there’s really nothing else for them in our community. You know, we have one, you know, we’re at Northern community, so it’s not like we have all these big partnerships with companies and organizations. So we have one community partner that takes some of our students to work, but what about the other ones? So if we invest in them and they see themselves as, yeah, I, you know, I could do this, they could still get a disability pension and they still can work part time and feel valued. You know, every pathway is valued, but you know, if we can help kids see that there’s more for them and that they’re needed, especially in the skilled trades. Right. We know that we are already experiencing a shortage. Can you imagine five, seven years from now? So we really need to convince some of these kids who don’t see themselves going to post-secondary that there’s other pathways and there’s lots that they can do.
Sam Demma (24:52):
Every path is an option. Every student learner is unique, you know? I can agree with that more you yourself out of all the positions you’ve worked what are some of your favorites or not that you could rank them per se, but what are some of the roles that, you know, really stick out in your mind as like, this was such a great experience?
Christina Raso (25:16):
Well, I, I think one of the biggest things that I did and was when I was a special education consultant I ran some summer camps. The ministry of education gives us some funding to run summer camps for students who are behind in literacy and numeracy. And one thing that they really promoted was physical activity. It’s really important for our students to, to, you know exercise daily. And how can we incorporate that with summer camp, but still make, you know, literacy and numeracy the main focus of the program. So at that time my son was taking TaeKwonDo and he was doing it for a few years and he had a really, really awesome teacher as well. And TaeKwonDo, who’s actually a full-time stuck person now. Yeah. So I got him to teach our kids and he was doing just half an hour of physical activity in the morning, but it was TaeKwonDo.
Christina Raso (26:24):
So was kicking, you know kicking punching, but, you know, individual not and teaching the importance of self control at the same time. Right. and mindfulness. And we started every morning probably for a good six years with a half an hour of TaeKwonDo and mindfulness. And we felt that the students were better prepared to learn, you know, and, and, you know, and then the research does show, right? When students do exercise every morning that they’re, they become better learners. Whether they come to school then are not awake and then they become energized because they’re doing activity. So I felt that that was something that I really took away is that exercises important. And, and when I was teaching the grade one, two class most recently, you know, now we’re sitting in front of a computer for a long, long time.
Christina Raso (27:20):
And by the way, I can not teach TaeKwonDo. I did not do that, but, you know, grade one and two we got up a lot and we did a mind break, right? We needed mind breaks. And, you know, we did, you know, two or three minutes, I would say every 45 minutes an hour would be pushing it, but we would get up and we’d have a mind break. And I, I still think that if I was going back into the classroom and it was in a physical classroom, I still would incorporate that ability to get up and move because a lot of us, you know, I mean, I found it difficult to sit in front of the computer and I’m an adult. And you imagine, you know, these are little kids, like, I think of how old they are. And we’re asking them to sit in front of a computer, right.
Christina Raso (28:07):
First, really six hours, you know a day. And we’re asking them to do that. And they, they are doing it right. Like kids have stepped up to the challenge right. Of online learning whether they want to or not. So I think that that would be the other thing is incorporating physical activity, mindfulness and mind breaks into the classroom is really important. And it goes without saying the other thing that you know, I know you’re an advocate is positive reinforcement, right. And really, really motivating our students for them to be able to see themselves something great, right. Whatever they choose, they’re going to be great in life.
Sam Demma (28:50):
It’s so true. It’s so true. It reminds me, I’m working on a, and this is classified information, so don’t share it, but I’m working on a spoken word album. So it’s like 10 spoken word poems that I’m going to turn into videos as well. And one of them is called empty backpack. And the premise is that students and all humans carry around the thoughts and opinions of other people sometimes to a fault. And it weighs them down and a parts in our lives. We have to empty our metaphorical bag of the thoughts and opinions of everyone else and stop carrying it around. And yeah, I’m excited about it. It’s a, I have a six foot bag that I’m going to be bringing to schools with me and people are going to like drop it. Yeah, that’d be cool. Anyways, going on a tangent, this has been great. So if you could go back in time, Christina, and like talk to your younger self when you were in your first year, working with young people, knowing what you know now, and based on the experiences you’ve had and the learning you’ve had, what advice would you give your younger self?
Christina Raso (29:48):
My younger self. So my younger self when I first started teaching, I’m going to go back to to being a special education resource teacher. I think knowing what I know now I would have done more of the hands-on right. So I think that I would have brought in those opportunities being able to bring in those hands-on opportunities. I could see that, you know, I had a couple of boys that were really, really disengaged. And I think, you know, if I would have given them a couple of activities or a couple of assignments to say, Hey, here here’s some blocks, or here’s some things I want you to do work on this. Can you create this or give them a problem and give them, you know, some materials to figure it out, I think, and, and to promote the skilled trades. Because I think at that time, the group of students I had were really at risk of dropping out, right. Not finishing high school, there was a good percentage of them. And I think that if I would have given them more hands-on opportunities and maybe even promoted the skill traits so that they could see themselves in those roles I think that’s what I would have done know.
Sam Demma (31:04):
That’s awesome. And coming from a European family myself, all my uncles work in the trades, my dad is a plumber by trade, such a valid, an awesome career path. I couldn’t agree with that more. Oh, it’s awesome. Thank you so much for taking your time to come on the show, share your experiences or your, your ups and downs, the learnings, the journey. If another educator is listening and they just want to reach out and have a conversation, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?
Christina Raso (31:30):
They can email me and I think that you started a community. So I guess my email would be there and then they could reach out or they can call me and anyway, whatever they want. And it’s definitely been truly an honor, actually, to meet you and to be on your show.
Sam Demma (31:49):
I appreciate it, Christina, thank you so much. Keep up with us and work and we’ll talk soon. Thank you.
Sam Demma (32:01):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest and amazing interview on the high-performing educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review. So other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show. If you want to meet the guest on today’s episode, if you want to meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not feel your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.
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