About Heather McCaig
Lead by example, treat each other better than you expect to be treated, and live life to the fullest! These are mottos that she lives by. She has taught at Crescent Heights High School since 1999. Leadership, Social Studies and teaching English Language learners are her passions. She is a teacher with a big heart and is heavily involved in Student Council, SADD and Key Club at school.
She believes very strongly in helping others and that half of teaching is actually the relationships that you can build with your students. Her door is always open, and students know that they always have an ear to listen to them and a mentor to ask questions to. She has been a member of the Alberta Student Leadership Association since 2005, becoming the President a couple of years ago.
Outside of school Ms.McCaig(@Heavendawn) is an avid motorcycle rider who puts on about 10,000 km every summer when she’s not working. She also enjoys world travel and has taken four trips to Africa.
**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 Heather McKay. She is a social studies teacher and leadership advisor, and she loves leading by example, treating others better than you expect to be treated and she lives that motto to the fullest. She teaches at Crescent Heights high school since the year I was born in 1999. She does amazing work in leadership and in social studies, has a huge heart, as I’m sure you’ll hear through the audio in this episode. She believes very strongly that helping others is a way to teach and that relationships are super important to build with your students. Her door is always open and students know they always have an ear. If they want to chat with her, have some mentorship or ask questions. She also is an avid motorcycle rider.
Sam Demma (00:56):
She puts about 10,000 kilometers in every single summer and she loves traveling and will be taking her fourth trip to Africa this summer. Didn’t actually ask her about that on the episode, but if you do reach out, consider bringing it up and on top of all of this, she is also the president of AASCA, A A S C A, the Alberta Association of Student Councils and Advisors. She’s doing amazing work and I can’t wait to share a little bit of her wisdom, insight, and passion with you in this episode. I hope you enjoy this. I’ll see you on the other side, Heather, thank you so much for coming on the high performing educators podcast. It’s a pleasure to have you just getting over Thanksgiving weekend. I’m glad you had a great time socially distant. Can you tell a little bit about who you are to our audience and why you got into the work you do with young people today?
Heather McCaig (01:45):
Sure. I am a teacher at Cresent Heights High School in medicine hat, Alberta, Canada. And I am also part of AASCA, which is the Alberta Leadership Association for leadership teachers in the province. And I have been doing high school leadership type things since I was in high school. And it just kind of continued throughout my career in various ways. And I have always just wanted to be with kids and help kids out. So I’ve really loved my job.
Sam Demma (02:15):
Where did this passion come from? Did you know in high school and when you were just a student that one day you would be in the positions you are today, or was there someone who pushed you into this direction?
Heather McCaig (02:26):
Not entirely. I’ve, I’ve been extremely blessed with li with amazing parents. And my mom was a teacher as well, and I watched her be involved in a lot of things with her students and with her professional association and that kind of thing. So they may have had a 10 year plan for me. I’m not sure, but I definitely have followed in, in her footsteps and, and all the educators that were around her. Right. I got to watch them and how they worked with kids and the impact they had on people’s lives. And I just decided that if, if I can make somebody else’s life better, that’s something I wanna do.
Sam Demma (02:59):
That’s awesome. And you mentioned you had great parents, I’m sure you had great educators as well. Is there a standout educator that you can think of back when you were in high school that had a huge impact on you? And if there was maybe one or two, if there wasn’t a standout one, can you think about different characteristics that educate, have that make a huge impact on young people and just share those things with the audiences, a reminder to, you know, what we can do right now during this crazy time to make young people feel appreciated and valued?
Heather McCaig (03:29):
Well, I think I was very lucky in having a number of people that I connected with in high school. Yeah. They, they went beyond the classroom, right? They were not just here’s your homework. See you later. And they didn’t care about you as a human being. They always felt that they always made me feel like they cared about me on a deeper level, on a personal level. And if I had a problem, you know, or I looked like, I, I wasn’t happy that day. They actually came and said, Hey, what’s going on? You know, that kind of thing. So I believe it’s those relationship piece. And throughout my, my whole, you know, education, I can think of my grade one teacher who did that, Mrs. Reinhardt, she was amazing. And I still remember things in her classroom because of that. And my grade three teacher, she was a scuba diver and we connected cuz I always wanted to, you know, go swim with turtles and, you know, moving up through, through the grades, there was a always somebody, but it was always that personal relationship piece. So that’s something that I’ve always strived to do with my students is make sure I know what’s going on with them. You know, I help them if I can help them and just be there as a, as a human to lean on not just the educator, as a person in their world, somebody that they can come to if they need it. And I think that really makes a difference in education.
Sam Demma (04:42):
Tell me more about how you strive to do that. Is it just asking questions? Is it like how do you ensure that you get to know your students on a personal level?
Heather McCaig (04:52):
Well, I, I try to pay attention to changes in demeanor even, right? So if I have a kid who comes in and normally for four days in a row, they’re super happy be, and then they look totally bummed out. I’ll take ’em outside and say, Hey, you know, you, you don’t seem like you’re happy self today, are you okay? Is everything fine? Mm. And or if you have a kid that you see crying, you know, you go whisper in their ear. You may not wanna talk to me now, but I’m here. If you need me, you know, feel free to go take a quick little walk, come back at yourself together. Know, but I’m here. If you need me, it’s just those little nuances, right. To let them know, I am somebody willing to talk to you and I’m here. If you need me without pushing them. Right. And, and I think even when you have classes that some of us do on occasion that are high numbered, that kind of thing, you can still make those little tiny nuances and, and they will come to you if they need to talk to you, they will at least know that you’re there. And it does make that difference to them.
Sam Demma (05:49):
I’m sure over the years you embodying that teaching philosophy of being a shoulder to lean on, not just an educator has had a huge impact on the lives of if not hundreds, thousands of students that have gone through your classes and through your leadership. I’m sure you have, as many other educators do a, a bad file folder on your desk, filled with all the notes. that students give you over the years. Can you think of a story that you might want to share? And if it serious story, you can change the name for privacy reasons. Yep. That will display the impact that, you know, living that teaching philosophy had on this young person, just to inspire other educators about the work that you’re doing, why it’s so important and now more than ever needed.
Heather McCaig (06:31):
Well, well, I, this, this spring, actually, I had one of my kids who sort of disappeared during COVID. Cause when, when they, the kids all went home, of course you only had contact on the computer and you could only have contact if they showed up. Yeah. So we couldn’t find this kid. We had no idea where he went and it was his grad year. He needed, you know, 20 credits to graduate. So I looked at in his file and I got his phone number and that didn’t work and I got his address. So I went to his house and knocked on the door and this guy comes up and he didn’t know who this kid was, but he was a grandpa with dementia. So that, that was understandable. And then his dad came around the corner and said, well, this was my step kid.
Heather McCaig (07:15):
They moved out, you know, you go to the gas station, turn left, go three blocks turn. Right. And it’s in the apartment building and you knock on the window. Hmm. So I’m like, okay, so no address, no phone number. Nope. Just talk, knock on the front window of the apartment building. I’m like, okay, so let’s try this. So I go driving and I find an apartment building sort of in the right location. And then I thought, okay, well, I’ve left messages at this number before. And I got a hold of mom once, like a year ago. So I tried again and just out of sheer luck, she answered the phone and I just said, Hey, I think I’m at your house. This is your kid’s teacher. And I really need to talk to him. Would he be home? And she’s like, oh, well, yeah. So she, she arranged for me to get to the right window.
Heather McCaig (08:02):
And I literally banged on the window and got this kid up outta bed in one 30 in the afternoon. And he came up to the front door and he was like, oh my God, Ms. Mckay. And I’m like, Hey, I said, we have some schoolwork to talk about. So many visits later and, and you know, doing homework via the front steps and me standing on the lawn and, and that kind of thing, that kid graduated in the spring. Wow. So, and, and if, if, you know, if I hadn’t have gone that extra mile, he may not have come back to school at all. He was aging out and, you know, he was, had all these other issues, but I mean, that’s one thing that will always stand in my memory.
Sam Demma (08:43):
Hmm. What, what gives you the hope to, to do something like that? What gives you the motivation to do, to take that extra mile and go that extra step? Even during a crazy time? Like COVID?
Heather McCaig (08:53):
Well, I’ve, I’ve always believed that living in Canada and north America and having the life that I’ve had, I’m truly blessed. Mm. So, you know, I know my kids don’t all have that home life. I know, like I have parents that have been together for 65 years. Yeah. So, you know, even a split home can have a huge impact on families no matter how hard they try to keep their kids protected. So if I can, if I can give back any little bit to somebody, to me, that’s huge. If I can have them realize how lucky they are to be where they live and grow up and be here in north America and have the schooling that they have and that kind of thing, they will end up being better people for understand that gratitude piece. Yeah. Because having traveled around the world and watched little kids take water out of a ditch that I know they’re going home to drink, I, I have a greater understanding now of what that actually means to live here. Mm. So I really try and pass that on to my kids.
Sam Demma (09:52):
And the principle of going the extra mile can be applied and everything that we do. I’m curious to know during COVID, have you had any mistakes that you’ve made that you’ve learned from, or great successes that you might wanna share with other educators? And this can be from the perspective of a teacher or also the president of the Alberta leadership student association. And the reason I’m asking is because right now, all educators are learning from throwing spaghetti against the wall and seeing what sticks, and maybe you found some things that have fallen or stuck, and it would be awesome for you to share Can you hear me, Heather?
Heather McCaig (10:38):
I you’re very digital. We have been attempting things from are you, no,
Sam Demma (10:51):
I’m good. I can hear you now. Can you hear me?
Heather McCaig (10:55):
Oh, you there? Okay. Okay. All right. Yeah, you’re moving again. Perfect. You paused in a really great pose though. okay. So I think we have been trying really hard to find unique ways to do things and reach out to our membership. So we’ve, we’ve our, our leadership team at ASCA have been starting a coffee shop where people can get together and talk. We’ve had members in Calgary that have done some brainstorming to try and find unique things that can be done online. And we’re in the process of trying to build that kind of a resource for our membership so that they have, you know, go to things that they can still do. A couple of the things that we have been attempting just locally is we’re trying to do things that we did in person, but through technology.
Heather McCaig (11:49):
So right now we’re writing stories with seniors with dementia, but we have people at the nursing home that are adults with computers and then kids in the classroom. And we’re still trying to run those programs and we’re trying to mentor young people. So we have great ones with computers and high school kids with computers, and they’re trying to talk back and forth. So it’s, it’s doing what we do, but doing it in ways that we have to right now. And there’s lessons every single second when we’re trying to set up those programs that make them happen. So we’re trying those, you know, a variety of different things to make things work.
Sam Demma (12:25):
That’s awesome. Tell me a little bit more about the, the work you’re doing with seniors with dementia. I would love to hear more. Maybe it’s something that another school could take on if they’re curious and want to get involved?
Heather McCaig (12:37):
For sure. Well, we have always had programs with seniors. So students typically have gone to seniors homes and done different things with the senior citizens. So we have a, a secondary program here in the city that works with seniors homes. So they reached out to, and they have some adults that can go to the seniors home. So the adults are there working with the seniors and then our students are in class and they look at pictures and then they write stories about the, the pictures to help keep the seniors minds kind of sharp and that kind of thing. And then they collaborate on, on writing these stories. So, you know, it could be done in any senior’s home. Realistically, you just have to get the, the pieces together to make it work. And it’s been very successful. The kids are loving it. The seniors are quite enjoying the students. And the stories that are coming out are extremely interesting. And and we’re doing it on a weekly basis right now. So it’s very cool.
Sam Demma (13:35):
I know there’s an increasing need for this sort of a thing. Funny enough that you mentioned seniors at one 30 T I’m actually speaking to a senior’s home in Ajax over the phone. So I got how you said, reached out to someone from the community center. And he said, Hey, Sam, you know, we have a bunch of teenagers who are teenagers. We have a bunch of seniors who are tech challenged, and they don’t have zoom, but we do, you know, teleconferencing, would you be opposed to doing a speech? And I was like, okay. Yeah, but how am I gonna do it? He said, through your cell phone I was like, yeah. Okay. Yeah, we can, we can make this happen. And because they can’t, you know, connect with their family, I think any, any small way to get in touch with them can be a huge impact.
Sam Demma (14:16):
And that could be a cool initiative for any school listening to take on. If you don’t already do things with the seniors in your community. For sure. My, my question to you, there might be a, there might be an educator listening, who is burnt out right now, who needs some words of inspiration who needs a little bit of wisdom from a veteran like yourself? What pieces of advice could you share with them? Maybe it’s an educator who’s in their first year of teaching or an educator who’s been teaching for a long time, but just lost a little bit of their passion.
Heather McCaig (14:46):
For sure. I think all of us are feeling that right now. And I think it’s super important that we continue to reach out to networks of people that can support us, because if you’re sitting there and you’re, your brain is empty and you don’t have any go-to ideas sending that quick little email saying, Hey, do you have anything that you could help me with on blah, blah, blah. And then those of us that are out there in that network, recipro, Kate, it means so much because it can get us over that hump. And we need to remember that we have to be kind to ourselves right now. Every little thing that we do makes a difference. And even if we’re not performing up to where we’re normally consider our standard, we’re still doing the best jobs that we can because this is hitting people way harder in of mental health and isolation and all those other kinds of things, financial burdens, way worse than we ever could imagine. So it’s really, really important that we be kind to ourselves and, and look at gratitude every day, look at caring ourselves every day, doing self care and really reaching out and, and teams and networks where we can support each other, because that’s how we’re gonna get through this.
Sam Demma (15:56):
Hmm. And if any educator listening wants to reach out to you, Heather and bounce some ideas around, or have a conversation, what would be the best way for them to do so?
Heather McCaig (16:05):
They’re more than welcome to email me or call me. So my email address is my name. So email@example.com. And my phone number is (403) 528-0562. And I’m more than happy to share anything and everything I can with people and talk to them. And, and I love helping other people. So, and I can always get great ideas from them too. So it is a win-win.
Sam Demma (16:33):
Always a win-win Heather, thank you so much for taking some of your time to share your insights, wisdom, and stories on the high performing educator podcast. It’s been a pleasure chatting with you.
Heather McCaig (16:43):
You too. Thank you so much.
Sam Demma (16:45):
I almost cried listening back to this episode. And when Heather broke down the impactful and inspired story that she shared about the student in her class, who needed just a little push, just a little more attention, just a little more belief, just a little more, and I hope it inspired you as well. I hope you took some notes. I hope you feel energized and are reminded why it’s so important to go the extra mile and do what we need to do to take care of ourselves and our students, cause they are our future. And if you did enjoy this, please consider leaving a rating and review. It would help more people just like you. More educators find this content and benefit from it. And if you are someone who has inspiring stories to share in education or innovative ideas, please send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org so we can get you on the show as well. Anyways, I’ll see you on the next episode. Talk soon.
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