About Lenora Poulin
Lenora (@LenoraPoulin) has been teaching for 29 years in the Fraser-Cascade School District in Hope, British Columbia. She began her career as an English and Social Studies teacher but after an inspiring professional development conference about student leadership, she changed her path.
She and her husband began the student leadership program at Hope Secondary in 1997 and she hasn’t looked back since. Lenora is a mother to two incredible girls and is also now the Teacher-Librarian at HSS. She believes in encouraging her students to be “good people” and the rest of what they need for life will follow.
**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 we have on another amazing guest Lenora Poulin, she’s an English teacher. She’s also a teacher librarian and the student leadership advisor at Hope Secondary School. Its 180 kilometers, just north of Vancouver, at a small school of 350 kids. She’s been teaching at this school since she was 23 years old. You’re going to hear all of this and a lot more in the interview. Leanora is someone who has high energy. She’s someone who strives to give her students amazing experiences that will boost their hope, right? Hope secondary school, doing things that boost their hope, it’s really what’s needed right now in education. I hope you enjoy this conversation. I’ll see you on the other side. Enjoy. Lenora, thank you so much for joining the high performing educators podcast. It’s a pleasure to have you. I know we’re separated physically and by distance, but thanks to technology, we can connect. Dave, someone who we both mutually know introduced me to you. And just briefly talking to you before this interview, I can tell you have super high energy. I’m super excited to have you, can you just share with the audience, you know, what work you do with young people and why you actually got into this work in the first place?
Lenora Poulin (01:18):
Awesome. Well, I’m really excited to be here and I’m honored that Dave mentioned me. It’s awesome. So I’ve been a teacher for 29 years in the Fraser cascade school district, which I teach in the town called hope, which is about 180 kilometers east of Vancouver, small town, small school. We have 350 kids. But I have taught here since I was like 23 years old. You can do the math. And yeah, I, you know, in the beginning, when I first became a teacher, it was for all of the really cliched reasons. Right. I wanted to make a difference. You know when I first got the job here at Hope Secondary School, I was the first new teacher in about five years. And so it was kind of exciting. The school was growing and we’ve declined now, but it was, it was amazing.
Lenora Poulin (02:12):
And then in about 1997, my husband whom I met here we got married and we decided we wanted to take over the student council and turn it into a leadership class. And that’s what we did that summer of 1997. And we haven’t looked back since, although he doesn’t teach here any longer, he teaches at a different school and I have a different teaching partner, but getting to teach leadership students is I think Dave said that he feels like he has the best job. And I think I actually have the best job. I wouldn’t change it for anything. I teach English as well. And I’m also the school librarian. So you can tell we’re a really small school cause I wear lots of hats, but it’s, it’s amazing. It’s amazing work.
Sam Demma (02:55):
Hope secondary. I think the name of your school is what’s needed now more than ever in education.
Lenora Poulin (03:02):
We can play with that name a lot. It’s awesome.
Sam Demma (03:05):
That’s really, really cool. And you sound like someone who’s full of hope and I’m curious to know what makes you a hopeful, what, what keeps you going during tough times? Like the challenges we’re facing right now with COVID?
Lenora Poulin (03:18):
Oh, you know, it’s funny because even without COVID we get asked this question a lot, like, why do you keep doing what you’re doing? And you know, it, honestly it takes just one kid and it can just be a one thing that they said you know, you can be having the worst year and believe me in my 29 years of teaching, I’ve had years where I did not want to be a teacher very much. But then you have that one kid who lets you know, that, you know, your class was their favorite or for me coming to the library, these kids that come in here every single day to sign out a book or to just read and hear and or the leadership kids who are excited about an event that they’re trying to do. And that’s, that’s what gives me hope. Right? That’s what keeps it going every single year. Why I keep coming back because they make it worth it. For sure.
Sam Demma (04:14):
I love that. And you’re right. What the statement of putting on many hats that you mentioned earlier that you run the role of a teacher, you run the role of a library and you’re on the role of the head of the leadership class. One of the things that changed my life when I was a student and brought me a lot of hope again, playing on that hope theme was reading books. I started reading books when I was 16 and it’s changed my life ever since. And I’m sure you can attest to the same thing. Do you have any books? This is off topic question, but do you have any books that you think are worth reading for other educators and other students?
Lenora Poulin (04:52):
Oh, there are so many. Currently for me it changes all the time, right? Depending on people that I’ve heard speak or other books that I’ve read. One of the ones that’s impacted me the most, probably in the last 10 years is Sheryl Sandberg’s book “Lean in” which she’s the COO of Facebook. And it spoke to me because it’s about women in the workplace and I recommend it to so many young female leadership students and people that I work with because it reminds me that as women, we need to lean into the table. So often because we have these other roles as women in society to take care of our families and have the baby back the day, we back away from these positions because, oh, I’m going to have a baby in the next couple of years. So I shouldn’t take this job or you know, I’m going to be going on maternity leave or, you know, my family is doing this and, and we, we back away from the table instead of leaning in.
Lenora Poulin (05:57):
So that’s one of my favorites to recommend to young women. Bernay, Brown’s, didn’t daring greatly as, you know, a phenomenal read for anyone. And I also really like Angela Duckworth’s grit. There are some things in there that I don’t totally agree with, but our school is really trying to work on our students’ resilience and their grit. So we read it as a staff and that was really important because it gave us some common vocabulary and it was really cool. And it’s awesome because any of these books that I read for my own professional development just instantly become lessons for us to use in our leadership class, which is great.
Sam Demma (06:31):
Th that’s what I was going to ask you. When you mentioned all the staff, reading those books, did you spearhead that initiative after reading that book?
Lenora Poulin (06:39):
A little bit. The grit one came from my principal. It was funny because she came with it and I was literally holding the book in my hand and I’m like this one, which was awesome. And last year we actually got to hear Angela Duckworth speak at the California convention which was really cool. Unfortunate. It was virtually, but not because of COVID just because she couldn’t be there. But I try to give, actually every summer I get the start of the summer. I give every staff member, a book to read over the summer, sometimes it’s fiction. Sometimes it’s nonfiction, some of them might read them and some of them don’t, but I just think it’s just such an amazing way to be constantly learning and growing. And I think that that’s what makes me happy and satisfied in my job is because I’m always looking for ways to be better.
Sam Demma (07:30):
I love that so much. And I think it’s important in education. That’s a needed, that’s a needed feeling and I applaud you for that. And teachers that have impacted my life embody the same philosophy. And this conversation has reminded me of a book. I read one time called Tuesdays with Morrie. I don’t know.
Lenora Poulin (07:46):
That’s a favorite.
Sam Demma (07:47):
Ah, okay. That’s so cool. So I had an educator tell me to read it. And I think the actual storyline of the book with the student visiting you tell us every Tuesday, before he passes away and I’m not going to spoil it too much. I guess I just gave away the
Lenora Poulin (08:05):
It’s been around for a long for a while now. And I think that it’s just, it sings to so many people. It’s awesome.
Sam Demma (08:12):
And it’s so I think it’s so applicable to any teacher, whether you work in a school outside of school, you teach people something it’s, it’s so cool to see the relationship between an educator and a student. And you get to, you get to drive those relationships every day. And like you mentioned earlier, sometimes you don’t see the impact, but maybe 10 years down the road, someone tells you something or in the middle of a terrible year, one kid says something that just makes the whole year worthwhile. Yeah. Those moments are so important for educators to remind them why they do what they do. And there’s so many educators listening to this inspired by you already. And I want you to sh I want you to share one of those stories in as much detail as you can, except you can change the student’s name. You can replace the name so you can keep it private, but the more open and vulnerable we share it, the more able it will be an impact and influence someone else. So I’m curious to know you have a story where something you’ve done is it’s had a huge impact on a student and would you be willing to share it.
Lenora Poulin (09:09):
Lenora Poulin (09:16):
To favorites? Okay. The first one, I’m not going to change their names because they’re amazing. So the first one with was with a student named Jessica a few years ago. One of the perks of being a leadership teacher is we often get to travel with students. We take them to conferences all over the country. And our favorite obviously is the Canadian student leadership conference. And a few years ago the conference was in Halifax, Nova Scotia, which for us VC girls, that’s an amazing experience. And my teaching partner and I took three young women that year to Halifax. And we always go early because we think if we’re going to travel all that way, we need to get the most out of this experience. And the interesting thing that students on the west coast don’t experience in the same way as the east coast is the actual history of our country starts on that east coast.
Lenora Poulin (10:10):
And so there’s so much for them to learn back there. So we arrived in Halifax on the Saturday and the conference started on the Tuesday and on, I believe it was the Sunday. We decided we were going to do three provinces in one day. So we were going to drive all the way from Halifax, Nova Scotia to prince Edward island. And we’re like, we can do this. It’ll be awesome. And D people think nothing of driving, like it’s two hours for us to drive to Vancouver. That’s a day trip. Like we don’t think anything about that. Yeah. So we drove, it was awesome. We got lost a couple of times. This is before GPS was as good as it is now. I don’t think our data plans included the east coast, so we might not have had our phones. Anyways, we made it to prince Edward island is about two o’clock in the afternoon.
Lenora Poulin (10:56):
We’re having lunch on the water on this dock and we’re eating mussels. And Jessica says there are kids back at school right now in a math class that they will never remember. And I am sitting here having a day. I will never forget. And like, I just get goosebumps every time I think about her saying it. I tell everybody that I know about that experience because it truly captures what is so amazing about leadership class and about the stuff that we do at our school, because we’re always telling kids that we get to create the stuff that kids remember about high school. You don’t remember a math lesson. I teach Shakespeare, no one is ever going to remember my McBath lesson. You know, maybe the time I wear a goofy hat and dressed as a witch, I don’t know, but they will remember those experiences. Right? Remember the time we participate in the pumpkin pie, eating contest, remember the time we went to Halifax and everyone else was in school and we were together learning about our history and having this great experience. And that is, that’s just, that’s my favorite story to tell about how important it is, what we do in connecting with kids. So, wow.
Sam Demma (12:16):
Absolutely love that I might be wrong. So correct me if I’m wrong. You mentioned there’s two stories and that one was phenomenal. I’m curious to know about the other one. Now
Lenora Poulin (12:26):
I’ll call you the other one too, cause it’s really so in, in my teaching career, unfortunately, because I’ve been teaching for 29 years, we’ve had some tumultuous political times and I have been on strike a few times in the last time was in 2014 when it was really bad. And we were on strike from the beginning of June until the end of September. It was, it was a terrible time. And I received a letter from a former leadership student who was just finishing up her teaching program at that time. And it was, I started this hashtag at that time on my social media called this is why. And it was exactly why she just talked about how, and I didn’t know this about her when she was in my class. And she was just this really cool person, super smart, very, very focused and driven goal oriented.
Lenora Poulin (13:24):
You never had to remind her about anything. But she was quirky funny and just really quick witted. And I loved being around her. And I loved watching her from grade eight, till grade 12, growing as a leader, you know, she never would have held a microphone or spoken in front of the school and those earlier days, and by the end of it, you know, you could just hand it and walk away. And she wrote me this letter about, and she talked about how her parents had these really high expectations for her at home. And she felt a lot of pressure. And she came from a great family. It wasn’t like that, but they just had really, really super high expectations. But that she was thanking us for bringing out these qualities in her that she didn’t know she had, that were more about, more than about the academics.
Lenora Poulin (14:12):
And it’s led her in this amazing career that she has now, and she’s actually not even teaching anymore. She’s doing she has her own private practice in counseling, which is really super amazing. And, but it was just so nice of her to just to get that acknowledgement and remind you that, you know, even when you’re in these terrible times that there are lots of people out there who you impacted. And for every Jessica and Sierra, there are hundreds more who just, you know, maybe don’t have the courage to let you know or think about you often, but they just haven’t reached out yet. And I just remind myself of that all the time, because I think about the teachers that I have, that I have never contacted and there have been some that I have. But I just had such positive school experiences. And I think about those people all the time. So I remind myself of that.
Sam Demma (15:04):
And now you have an excuse to reach out to those educators that were in your life. You can say, I was, I was talking on this podcast and you know what, you’re someone who changed my life. And I want you, I want you to know that now this is what I’m doing. And I’m sure it would bring a huge smile to their faces. You mentioned, you know, Sarah and Jessica at the beginning of their leadership journey would not in a million years, grab a mic and speak in front of the room or speak in front of the school. I’m sure now things are totally different. And I’m curious to know, you’ve actually, you’ve been doing this for longer than I’m alive, which is pretty cool. You, you know, you’ve definitely worked with dozens of speakers. You mentioned going to California, maybe it was CATA. I’m assuming maybe I can call you. I know you go to CSLC, you’ve probably been to OSSE before and all the other leadership conferences, and you’ve probably brought speakers into your school as well. I’m curious to know other educators that are listening are wondering how do you choose someone to bring into your school in front of young people?
Lenora Poulin (16:08):
Can I say the cost for a small school actually, unfortunately, that is a huge part of it, but I, you know, I, I listened to what Dave said about this and, and it really rings true for me as well. I really want an authentic message and it’s interesting because I’ve been doing this for so long and we have had, so we’ve had amazing speakers at our school and seeing some incredible speakers at national and provincial conferences. But it’s interesting when you get to see a speaker 2, 3, 4 times, and you start to realize that it’s a script, and I do understand that that is necessary in, in public speaking, for sure. You have your talking points, you have your things that you want to say, but I want to feel like that moment where you teared up is genuine. Not that it’s part of what you’re saying.
Lenora Poulin (17:08):
And so I really rely on the other people that I trust as leadership advisors in the province and in the country. And I trust my own instincts as well. And, you know, sometimes they’re not always right down. I do have to remember that because I’ve seen a speaker three or four times, they’re kind of stale to me, but for our kids that have seen them the first time it’s powerful. And it only has to, you know, the speaker only has to really connect with a couple of kids and I’m happy, right. Because they’ve made a difference, which is really cool. But yeah, I do really look for that authentic piece. And that when they’re talking to me as the person that’s looking to hire them that they’re going to work with our small school situation within our parameters, you know, especially, you know, when I, I mentioned cost, but that is a real factor for small schools and so many of us, and we often try to double up together and, you know, piggyback, okay, this person’s coming out here. Where else can we get them to come in? Even for horizons for CSLA right. Trying to work geographically with that, because there isn’t another high school close to us to, you know, that you could get to in the afternoon. And so, you know, those kinds of things are important, but yeah, I really liked that authentic story.
Sam Demma (18:29):
Hmm. I love that. I think authenticity is so important in anything that you choose to do, right? Not only speaking, but whatever your work is, whatever your project is, be authentic with it. Have you experimented with trying virtual stuff? I know a lot of educators are scrambling, not, not only with bringing in speakers, but just teaching online. I know you’re a smaller school. I talked to Jenna Fisher, who’s an advisor out in Saskatchewan and they’re doing a hybrid model in school, out of school. What are some things you’ve noticed that help your students participate in engage virtually.
Lenora Poulin (19:00):
The virtual thing? I mean, personally, that’s actually a real struggle for me. I, one of the things I learned the most in the spring is that I am an in-person teacher. I need to see people’s faces. And now we’re, we are actually back in person here. But we’re all wearing masks. So I’m really learning to look into people’s eyes. But the, like some of the speakers have really adapted well to the the virtual platform. And I really appreciate that. One of the things that’s the hardest is learning to look into the camera on your face and not at the picture in the zoom or whatever. And I, again, got to participate in the virtual global conference that Stu Saunders did. And it was really interesting to, to watch the different speakers and see, and that was right at the early beginnings of us, all kind of transitioning, watching the speakers who were quite gifted at looking at the camera.
Lenora Poulin (20:03):
And you felt like you were actually there while they were talking and maybe just looking at a screen off to the side, but then there were the other people who obviously had another screen next to them and were kind of just reading off that screen. So those are the kinds of things. We, we haven’t taken advantage too much of the virtual presentations yet. It’s actually one of my, I don’t know one of the things that’s bothering me about this, there’s this sense of urgency that we, we are all bored and we all need to be super engaged during this time instead of just letting people kind of figure it out. And I, I don’t want more meetings and virtual and, you know, I don’t want pro D virtually. So I need to figure out other ways to adopt and what work.
Sam Demma (20:52):
Yeah, no, I love that. That’s an awesome point. And if, if you’re listening right now and I mean, if you hear me say that you are, that one tip is, is gold to make sure you’re saying it the camera, and it’s a, it’s a constant struggle. Something you can do to help is get a sticky note and draw a smiley face on it and stick it above the camera. And
Lenora Poulin (21:16):
He’s very good out of it.
Sam Demma (21:17):
Oh, cool. I love that because it does make the world of a difference. If your audience feels like you are staring, whether it’s a whole auditorium or a classroom, it doesn’t make a difference. It feels more personal, which is, which is a great point. So thank you for sharing. This has been a great conversation. You’ve shared stories. You’ve shared tips. You shared why you got into education. I’m curious to know a little bit more about your decision to get into teaching. I know we talked about it briefly at the beginning, but was there a moment when you were in school? I know you mentioned that there was educators that had an impact on your life. Was your decision to get into teaching made at a young age when you were still a student, or was it something that happened after?
Lenora Poulin (22:01):
Actually I probably right from the very beginning of school my mom was a school secretary and so it was school was glamorous to me. Like it was just this awesome place. My mom loved her job and she was very good at it. And so I was always surrounded by this positive experiences of school, which is interesting because like my father didn’t graduate from high school. My mom did, but had no post-secondary different generations. Right. my grandparents didn’t graduate. And so all through school, I I’m the oldest of the children as well. So I like to boss people around. And so, you know, I just, I wanted, I liked school so much. I always wanted to please, my teachers, their jobs seemed so cool. And then I got to high school and same thing I did well you know, had a really positive high school experience.
Lenora Poulin (22:55):
But by about grade 11 or 12 my dad was, you know, you talk so much, you should be a lawyer. And my grades were great. Not as like, oh yeah, I should be a lawyer. And so I got into UBC and I was like, I’m going to be a lawyer. And then I took stuff that I had to take to be a lawyer. And I did not like that. All I can Nomex and yeah, I actually failed out my first year of university, which is always a good story for me to tell my grade 12 students I failed economics, I failed math and I failed French. I know it’s terrible. I should have taken French 12. That’s always my advice. I didn’t take it in high school, so I take it in university. And so I sat back and so I didn’t give up, I didn’t quit school.
Lenora Poulin (23:39):
I, I was, it says on my transcript forever failed year retreat required to, so I went to, at that time was community college. There weren’t as many universities then. So I went to community college and I was like, what are you doing? What do you like? And I love to read, I love English and I loved history. And so I started taking English classes and I’m like, Hey, this is what I’m supposed to be doing. I’m supposed to be a teacher. It’s what I’ve always wanted to do. So I had to write a letter to get back to UBC and I did, and it turned out for the best and I just never looked back. Like it was what I was supposed to do. And I remember when I was student teaching in Burnaby, which is a very large district here in British Columbia.
Lenora Poulin (24:22):
And there were actually 13 student teachers at the high school that I was at at the same time, which is a lot. And this were sitting in the staff room and this girl looked at me and she said, you really love this, don’t you? And I’m like, oh yeah. I said, I never want it to be anything else. This is what I’m supposed to be doing. And it’s really sad. But the next day she wasn’t there. She actually quit. But but it was good because, you know, she realized that she didn’t love it. And it’s one of the keys. Teaching’s not a job. It’s not something that just pays the bills. And, and I am not somebody who like, I am so happy with the money that I make and what I can provide for my family. I’m so fortunate. My husband’s a teacher as well. So of course our lifestyle just goes together so well. But this is a passion. This is, this is a lifestyle there. Isn’t a moment in the year that I do not think about school even, you know, in the summer, you know, I’m out with my friends, we’re talking about school. We, you know, I’m in a bookstore. I see us, I see advertising signs that I take pictures of. Cause I think that will be great for leadership. So yeah, like that, that’s why I do it. It’s, it’s what I’m supposed to do.
Sam Demma (25:40):
I love that. So so much. And this is actually really crazy. And as you were speaking, it kind of was coming together in my mind, my girlfriend, her name’s Nikki. And if she listens to this and I tell her, I’ll tell her to shout out to Nicki, Nicki. She went to LA pre-loss school at Carlton U for two years before I met her. And then she basically decided to take a break because she was following her parents’ passion for her. And the reason that the reason we got in touch is because she watched my TEDx talk on YouTube and she reached out to saying, Hey, can we chat? Because I think a very informal route after post-secondary or sorry, after secondary. And she ended up talking to me and I dunno, one coffee chat led to the next. Then we started dating. And now she’s in school for English. Like, I don’t know when he told me the story, I was like, wow, this is so aligned. And she doesn’t know what she wants to do with it yet. And she’s doing English and power of politics, which is close to history. It’s like, you know, kind of but after I saw, I saw the resemblance when you explain that, which is.
Lenora Poulin (26:45):
And often people think, you know, oh, what am I going to do with an English degree? But just like I say to the kids today, you know, like sure, I went a traditional way and became a teacher, but there are really cool jobs out there. Heck you should just be an editor on social media and correct. Everyone’s grammar. That would be awesome. But you know, there are so many jobs and careers and passions that you don’t even know yet. Like they don’t even exist yet. So why not study what you want to study? And then, you know, look out there and say, well, where could I use this? And, and, and, you know, like I have a student who, you know, works for a very large company, but she does their social media and she has English and history degree. Right. But she understands how people think and how they want their information. And she’s a strong communicator. And, you know, there’s so many different ways that, that, that can go.
Sam Demma (27:41):
I once had a mentor who was an educator, tell me that there’s opportunities in every field. You don’t find them, you create them. And I think it’s, it’s so true. Lenora, this has been an amazing conversation. I could talk to you for hours and I’m sure everyone listening, can say the same. And I’m curious to know if an educator wants to bounce some ideas around with you have a cool energetic conversation and maybe from even another country or another province how can they reach out to you?
Lenora Poulin (28:10):
Well, the great thing about having an uncommon name is I’m actually fairly easy to find. Because I didn’t have to have weird email addresses and things like that. So even Twitter, I’m just, @LenoraPoulin. Facebook is the same, although I probably wouldn’t add you as a friend, because I only have friends on Facebook that I actually know. And young people don’t use Facebook anymore. Same with my Insta, my Instagram, but Instagram is mostly books for me. But also my email is email@example.com. Or you can just Google my high school and the Hope Secondary School website and all of our contact information is there as well.
Sam Demma (28:53):
Awesome. Laura, this has been awesome. Thank you so so much. And I would love to know, you know, you can shoot me an email afterwards about some books to read cause it would be, it would be cool.
Lenora Poulin (29:03):
That’d be great, Sam. I love that.
Sam Demma (29:06):
Okay. I’ll talk to you soon.
Lenora Poulin (29:08):
Sam Demma (29:09):
Another episode of the high-performing educator and the books. I hope you enjoyed this fruitful conversation with Lenora, So much amazing insights. She had to share so much inspiration in her own journey into education. I hope you really took something away from this and took notes. And as always, if you are enjoying these interviews, please consider leaving a rating and review. It helps more high-performing educators, just like you find these, this content, and benefit from it. And of course, if you are someone who has ideas and insights to share, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll get you on the show as well. Anyways, I’ll see you on the next episode. Talk soon.
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