About Erika Rath
Erika Rath is the Director of Student Services and teacher at The Sacred Heart School of Montreal. Erika has been working in the educational field since the late 1990s. She was always involved in her community recreation programs and worked as a camp counsellor and director for several summers.
While studying in Cegep and University, Erika worked with pre-school children and led classes for parents and young toddlers. In 2004, while completing her Bachelor’s degree in Human Relations at Concordia University, Erika became a teaching assistant in the department and realized that she loved working with people and leading groups. After finishing her BA, she decided to obtain a certificate in Teaching English as a Second language so that she could travel the world and teach. Before making any firm plans, she was accepted to do her Master’s in Educational Psychology at McGill University and was also offered a job in a learning centre at her old high school.
Both opportunities led her to realize that working with students was her passion. She went on to teach English and Social studies at the high school for 5 years and then was accepted to do the one-year teaching program at The University of Toronto. Upon returning to Montreal, Erika was finally able to use her TESOL certificate and worked for Concordia in the continuing education department.
On a whim, Erika applied to The Sacred Heart School of Montreal and was hired for a part-time position. Over the years, Erika has been fortunate to experience a variety of roles within the school. She has taught English, been the Student Life Coordinator, the Director of Academics, helped out with enrolment and advancement, advised students on post-secondary choices and more.
Currently, Erika oversees all of student life, the boarding program, the grade 12 program, the discipline at the school and teaches the PD-personal development class to all grade levels. Erika is passionate about educating the whole student and hopes to help in their growth and development by creating an environment where students can talk openly without fear of judgment.
Erika is the proud recipient of the 2021 Prime Minister’s Award for Teaching Excellence.
Listen Now (Part One)
Listen Now (Part Two)
**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):
Erika welcome back to the high performing educator podcast. This is your second time on the show. It is a pleasure to have you here today because you’re celebrating a huge milestone because of the impact that the program that you’ve been running in your school is making, why don’t you introduce yourself in share a little bit about that milestone moment?
Erika Rath (00:24):
Sure. Thanks. Sam for having me again, I, love being here. So yes, I’m the director of student services at the sacred heart school of Montreal in Montreal, Quebec. And I’m also a teacher. I teach a class called PD – personal development. And basically I was given the award for teaching excellence for helping to empower young women and and you know propel them forward to be change makers and, and make a difference in this world. And I think in order to do that, we have to understand who we are and where we come from and be vulnerable and be open to having challenging and sometimes conversations. So the class is pretty unique. I see the students for one hour, every eight days and it’s not mandated by the ministry, so there’s no homework, there’s no grading, there’s no marks, which is great for them. And for me, of course, and it gives us the ability to be ourselves and see where the win. Of course, I go in, obviously with a plan, a video to share an activity that we can work on, but it’s amazing to see that the, the, we, we find ourselves going in different directions based on what we need that particular moment.
Sam Demma (01:37):
Students often hear the word PD when they have a day off No, we, we have a PD day and every kid goes home to watch Netflix and eat chips and teachers go and improve their practice or teaching. What inspired the creation of a, a PD class for students. And what does the content and the curriculum actually looked like in that Classroom?
Erika Rath (02:05):
Sure. Great question. So, so first of all, here we call it a P day. So we try not to confuse the students with PD and PD, but, but it’s funny because teachers when we have PD days or we have we do professional development, right? So that’s, so it’s, it’s a bit similar in the sense that for the students, we are, we’re growing, we’re personally, we’re developing ourselves. And so the, the course is not something I created it already existed before I even came to the school, but it was called GI and that was general instruction. And so when we think of what is generally taught, you know, that could be a whole gamut of things. And of course what did, was, I tried to modernize it a little bit and realize that you know, there are certain things that still were really important, like mass etiquette, right?
Erika Rath (02:52):
Like how to sit properly in a chapel or in any place of worship and be respectful. But there were some other things that I just, you know, maybe weren’t my forte or I didn’t know them well enough. And so I, I kind of said like, let, what else can we be teaching? So digital citizenship and literacy, like what, what is your place online? How to, how to be, how to act online, things like that. And then also just like looking back at my own experience in high school and thinking like, what were some of the things is that I was missing there? Oh, like a place to have a conversation about how I’m feeling as a woman or as a teenager growing into a body and, and, and a discussion around that. And, oh, I’m sure if I’m feeling that 10 other students are feeling that too. Could we at least try to be comfortable in an uncomfortable place together and come together through that that, that the, the sense that we’re the same and how could we connect over that? And so that’s really kind of where I was teaching general instruction, and then I thought, I don’t want it to be so general anymore. I want it to be a little bit more about our growth and development. What could we be calling this? And we played around with some names, and that’s what we came up with.
Sam Demma (03:58):
You mentioned sometimes you go to the class and obviously you have ideas of activities, videos to watch. What are some of the resources, maybe books, videos that you and the class work through to prompt some meaningful discussion, maybe, you know, name a couple of those resources that you think might be helpful if someone else’s listening and will wants to have a meaningful discussion with a group of young women.
Erika Rath (04:23):
Sure. So I, I mean, I’ll be honest. I use a lot of videos from Ted talks. I really, I think those are great. It’s great to see people you might not really ever get to see in, in real life. You know, just walking down the street or in your community. So I use a lot of that. I short snippets I use a software called my B, so what I’ve done is it creates like a portfolio system for the students. And so what is really cool is that they can see kind of their growth and development over the course of five years. So, wow. How did I respond to a reflection in grade seven and then, wow, I’m now a mature young adult in grade 11. How do, how am I responding a little bit differently, maybe to a similar topic, but we’re delving in a bit deeper.
Erika Rath (05:02):
I also bring in a lot of guest speakers because let’s be honest, I’m not an expert in everything and, and any, you know, in all, in all of things. And so I think it’s really important to have people who know a lot more or who are more research based than I am coming in. So, you know, like mad will come in and do a talk about driving under, under the influence. We’ll have guest speakers about mental health coming in. We might have residents or doctors in, in in from different hospitals coming in to talk to us about different things. I, I wanna make sure that the students are getting the right information. And if I don’t know it, I, I don’t wanna pretend to. So I don’t think there’s any, you know, anything, there’s no shame in saying, I don’t know, but let me figure out how I can know it and present it to you in the best way.
Sam Demma (05:50):
That’s awesome. And the sharing of uncomfortable things like you mentioned earlier, yeah. Often happens when trust is built. At least that’s how I look at it when I am about to share something that I think is very private or maybe a little bit embarrassing or something. I only talk to with some of my best friends. How do you think you build, build that trust with a student and a group of students to this degree where they’re willing to share this uncomfortable conversations?
Erika Rath (06:27):
That’s such a great question. I mean, trust is definitely not built overnight. And, and I find that I’m in a bit of a difficult position here. As a director of student services, I’m also in charge of discipline at, at the school. And so I, I don’t want a student to feel that she can’t come tell me something just because I might have given her a detention the week before for uniforms or lates or, or whatever else the, the infraction might have been. So it’s really hard to juggle the two, but I think being approachable, you know, like the door to my office is always open. Also just being physically close to the girls and where they keep their belongings, that helps. But also, like I often tell stories about my own childhood or my, my parents or my family or what it was like growing up.
Erika Rath (07:07):
And then I think it’s like, oh, Ms. Roth is sharing. She’s putting herself out there. She’s being vulnerable. She’s trusting us with this story. Then they do learn to trust me also, I do wanna have a good of time with them. I do wanna share, I do wanna address topics. The other part of the job, the discipline part is not the fun part. It’s not like I get joy outta that. It’s just that that’s part of what I have to do. And, and the truth is that’s a teaching, that’s a teachable moment as well. Like we’ve asked you to do something. You might not agree with it. But we’re asking you to do it. We’ve given rationale and we’re asking you to follow it the same as at work, right? Your boss says you have to come in at eight 30. Well, you like to sleep until nine 30. Well, you have to figure out how to get there at eight 30 and, and be respectful and do that. So I think it’s about life skills and realizing that we work with a lot of different people. We might not always like the rules, but we still have to follow them. You know, we can find out why there are rules. But I think it all really comes back to the trust, the teachable moment. And hopefully the girls can see me like and separate the fact that the discipline is involved.
Sam Demma (08:11):
I love that. A big part from talking to you previously, I know a big part of your work is also encouraging service, the importance of giving back. And I know right now you’re doing some unique things in this school, not only to give back to the students, but also to fundraise and give back to the community as a whole. What are some of those things that are going on that you think are unique ideas that other schools may be able to implement and also touch upon the importance of service?
Erika Rath (08:38):
Sure. That great, great high. I mean, we’re so devoted to service. It’s, it’s one of our our goals social awareness, which empowers to action. And so this year’s a little bit tricky again with COVID. We often do huge boxes of food in every Homer homeroom. Every student is responsible for bringing in, you know, like ketchups and mustards and cereals and things like that. We also do toy drives and warm, mittens gloves, hat, socks. Unfortunately, a lot of the places that we support have reached out to us and said due to, to limiting of space and just with COVID, they don’t want the actual items this year. So everyone’s donating money so that we can buy gift cards at grocery stores to donate to needy families so that they can have a Christmas meal on their, on their table.
Erika Rath (09:22):
In addition we’re selling hot chocolate at lunch, just raising money in, in different ways. We have a spare change challenge. So we decorate those huge water bottles and the grades have to put change in their water bottles and grade who raises the most money in change will win like a free dress day or a pizza lunch in the new year. You can also kind of like if you have a rival grade, you could stick bills into their ch into their jug. And then it kind of like offsets their amount, but we’re still obviously raising money. So it’s still good. And then an idea that we came up with this year, which I’m super proud of, which a lot of fun is a call the advent calendar. So everyone knows, you know, you get an advent calendar, you open it up every day.
Erika Rath (10:02):
There’s a little chocolate. Sure. That’s a little fun surprise. We, the school, we are the advent calendar this year. And so students have prepaid for the entire month of December and every day they come to school and we dispense a small all gift to them. That was a surprise. The night before we might email them with a clue, or we might tell them, you know, it’s a free dress day tomorrow because you bought the advent calendar passport. Today they got to pie a teacher or their class rep we’ve given out like 10 bits. We will give out things like Christmas cookies. And then on Fridays, we double up the gift, cuz they’re are not here on the weekend. So we raised quite a bit of money that way, and it’s just nice to see students participating and having fun and doing good for the community. And, and I want them to understand that it’s an integral part of who we are, but we can also have fun in a meaningful way as well.
Sam Demma (10:53):
When you say Tim bits, do you mean Tim BES?
Erika Rath (10:56):
So we, we got this Tim bits. Yeah. Now I’ve been wanting to see the Tim BES. So we, we we had preordered, so we just got a lot of Timbits
Sam Demma (11:04):
That’s so awesome. And this past year has been unique for you as an educator because it’s been full of transition, you know, COVID slowing down, hopefully fingers crossed, not speeding up a good in with new variants and whatnot. How have you continued to educate yourself and you know, continue with your own PD and personal development. What are any conferences you attended over the past year, since we last spoke that you found meaningful or resources that you’ve you’ve read or watched that you as an educator thought were helpful, that someone else may been it from?
Erika Rath (11:38):
That’s a great question. I, I think it’s the students that really continue to inspire and, and energize me this year has been so much better than last year. You know, I feel like we’re kind of back to normal just with the mask, which is fine. You know, we’re all used to wearing it. It’s part of our lives. We had our first school assembly in September and I could feel the buzz in the room and like just the sheer, like wanting to be together and the applause and the raw rawness of it. I, I was sitting in, in the chair at the front and I could feel tears coming down my cheek because I was so happy to be happy and so happy to be like, oh my God, we’re together. This is actually happening. And it, it made me realize like the togetherness, the community that we have is I always knew it was important, but we had been missing that for over a year.
Erika Rath (12:27):
We did it in other ways online and things like that, but it obviously wasn’t the same. It just, it made me realize how much the girls need each other. And it, it made me quite emotional. So I, I can say that, yes, I attend PD and, and it’s always good, but I feel it’s, it’s the learning I get the day in and day out here that I think really propels me to do more good. I really, I do some work with NC a national coalition of girl schools. I do some work with C a I S Canadian accredited, independent schools both fantastic organizations that I love doing PD with. And obviously our sacred heart network as well. It’s, it’s amazing, you know, winning this award actually people from the network started reaching out. Can we talk about your class? Ask, can we talk about PD? And all of a sudden I’m on zoom calls, sharing with people like around the world at sacred heart, which is such an amazing opportunity. So the PD and the connecting and, and the networking has been really good, but like I said, it’s the girls, it’s, it’s really the girls.
Sam Demma (13:29):
Yeah, it’s so cool. And if someone’s in another school wanting to start something similar with a group of girls, how would you instruct them to start? Or where do you think they should take their first step to bring something like this to life?
Erika Rath (13:48):
I would love that first of all, anyone can reach out to me, you know, through you. That’s not a problem. But also it’s so funny, your, your question just sparked like a, like a memory for me. I was doing a bachelor’s in human relations at Concordia university. And everyone was like, what is that? And I’m like, it’s a way to learn how to talk to people and run groups and be a leader. And it’s funny for our field placement for our, our stage. We had to find, we had to come up with a program, design it and implement it. And as I look back, I, I realize now my program was done in an elementary school with grade five and six girls for eight lunch times. And I ran activities about body image. Ah, and so I’m thinking back now and I’m like, oh my God, this was kind of like in me the whole time, like, I feel like this is a way, like what I was of meant to do. So I think if you have an idea, you, and you wanna like, just run it by your students and they’ll tell you if it’s good or not, like, believe me, I run a lot of ideas by my students and they’ll be brutally honest. So but they’ll tell you, you know, like I think, I think there’s a lot of like power in at least trying. And I know it’s hard to like sometimes put yourself out there, but these conversations are too important to not be had.
Sam Demma (15:00):
Yeah, I totally agree. And if someone does want to learn a little more about how you run the program and potentially even have you give them a little blueprint or the first steps to try it in their school, who knows maybe this program grows and becomes its own thing that other educators, you know, can learn from you and implement in their own schools. But if someone does want some more information and has some questions for you, what would be the best way for them to get in touch, reach out, ask a question.
Erika Rath (15:29):
Sure. That would be my email, email@example.com. I check that all the time. So that would be the best way to reach me.
Sam Demma (15:37):
Awesome. And as we enter the holiday season, depending on when this interview comes out, it might not logically make sense. So , as we enter the hypothetical holiday season any last words any last pieces of wisdom for an educator who might be listening anything you wanna se share or send as a parting word?
Erika Rath (16:01):
So I think just, you know, we are all looking forward to the holidays, cuz I think we do need a break educators work really hard. We’re with students all the time. We’re on all the time. And I say this to students too. Like we all need some downtime to be with our friends and our family and then, and to come back, you know, refreshed and energized in the new year. I think it’s really important to do something for yourself to take a little bit of time for self care and also to continue realizing why we do what we do for me. It I’m, I’m passionate about it and brings me a lot of joy. And so I just think it’s important to give back at this time some time for yourself and, and, you know, be happy to be with family and friends and enjoy the moment and be present.
Sam Demma (16:43):
Erika, congratulations again on the huge milestone and award. So deserving enjoy the holiday season and we’ll talk to you soon.
Erika Rath (16:52):
Sounds good. Thank you too.
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The High Performing Educator Podcast was brought to life during the outbreak of COVID-19 to provide you with inspirational stories and practical advice from your colleagues in education. By tuning in, you will hear the stories and ideas of the world’s brightest and most ambitious educators. You can expect interviews with Principals, Teachers, Guidance Counsellors, National Student Association, Directors and anybody that works with youth. You can find and listen to all the episodes for free here.