About Leslie Loewen
Leslie Loewen (@MommaLoew) has been an educator for more than 23 years, serving the students of California’s Central Valley as a teacher, coach, club sponsor, and administrator. She has always been focused on active learning, positive relationship-building, and planting the seeds of knowledge and leadership through student engagement.
As Fresno Unified’s current Campus Culture Manager she strives to engage ALL students in Arts, Activities, and Athletics, through a wide array of opportunities, so that they may connect with an adult champion and learn how to be the best version of themselves. “Every student has an essential purpose, and it is our job to open their eyes to their greatest potential and path to success.”
Connect with Leslie: Email | Linkedin | Twitter
Listen to the episode now on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or on your favourite podcast platform.
California Association Directors of Activities (CADA)
Fresno Unified School District
Icebreakers & Team Builders to Build Community (August Webinar)
**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 on the show is Leslie Loewen, or as her 75,000 students would call her MommaLowe. Leslie is the campus culture manager at the Fresno unified school district. She’s also a wife and a Momma. She loves her job and family is one of the values that is high on her list, which is why it’s no surprise that even her students refer to her as Momma Lowe. She prides herself in building relationships with kids and providing them with opportunities and experiences that can have a significant impact on their life now, and also a future development. I hope you enjoy this amazing conversation with Leslie and I will see you on the other side.
Sam Demma (01:31):
Leslie, welcome to the high-performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show. Please start by just introducing yourself.
Leslie Loewen (01:38):
Good morning, Sam. It’s awesome to be with you. My name is Leslie Loewen and I am the campus culture manager for Fresno unified school district. This means I’ve been a teacher for 20 plus years and then went into campus culture, which is what we call maybe activities directors at other school sites. She call them campus culture directors because we were more than Reaper chugs and pies in the face. And Julie, from the love belt, you’re too young, but other people know what that means, but we just, we wanna make sure that kids feel a sense of belonging and place and connection to our schools. And we know that that starts with the culture of your campus. And so been doing that now for 15ish of the 20 plus year.
Sam Demma (02:30):
Oh, that’s awesome. I heard someone told me, I think it was a little bird that students sometimes call you momma loew. Is that is a true story?
Leslie Loewen (02:38):
That is my street name. It’s it’s behind me. I don’t know which way to write it. Right. Because some, sometimes the camera’s flip or not. So yeah, you can find me on Instagram and Twitter there. It’s mostly just stuff I retweet about all of our awesome kids in Fresno unified. I’ve got 75,000 kids. That’s it.
Sam Demma (02:56):
Leslie Loewen (02:57):
I mean, you know, I didn’t birth them all, which was good.
Sam Demma (03:02):
Yeah. Where did the nickname come from?
Leslie Loewen (03:06):
I had a student one time. So every time I would leave the room, which you should never do with children, right? Like that’s the golden rule with never leave the room as a teacher. But I would leave the room cause we, my leadership kids in there and they would sticky bomb my walls and they would put notes and things on there. And one day, one of my students said 2000 kids and counting mama loew the next reality show. And so I giggled cause that’s what I always used to say. They’re my kids. Like you didn’t pick me just like you didn’t pick your biological mother. You’re welcome. And now we’re going to move forward as if your mind, because you are mine. And and so when I got this job, the student was super cute. He crossed it off and put 75,000 kids in counties. So it’s my reality show and I love it. So
Sam Demma (03:57):
Amazing. And so tell me more about your journey and education. Did you know from a young age that you wanted to work with kids specifically in a school setting? Or how did you stumble upon this calling?
Leslie Loewen (04:09):
Well, my parents were both teachers, so the answer was heck now I am not going to be a teacher. My mom taught elementary school and she worked really, really hard and she, she I come from a long line of hand-raisers. So, you know, when there’s something that needs to be done, we’re like, okay, I’ll do it. Okay. I’ll do it. And so she did everything in elementary school. She was the cheer coach when they lost their music teacher, she knew how to play piano. So she, she was a music director. She, you know, my dad was a science teacher in high school. He was a coach. And so I was always on the field with him, with them. January would roll around, he coached baseball. So January would roll around and it was like, okay, dad, we’ll see in a couple of months and you know, we’d have coffee and donuts for all the coaches, all his kids, you know, we have these big camps and that’s just kind of what you did.
Leslie Loewen (05:09):
And I have a degree in dirt now. I know all the dirt was the grand soils and chemistry from Cal poly. I thought I was going to redo baseball fields to make the water drains. So you could play on it faster or, you know, beyond a golf course and make sure that the greens were awesome. And then my sister had her first child and she said, Hey, get your masters and come and take care of drew. And I did. And I hated my masters. So I was like, now what my mom said, why don’t you stop? Just make some extra cash watch drew. And then on the days that you’re not watching drew, just so you know, I taught dance for more than 10 years. And I thought that was, that was different. Turns out it’s, it’s pretty close. You know, you got kids that just want to be the best they can be and find their spark.
Leslie Loewen (06:13):
And I mean, when they do that magical things happen. And so I started sobbing and I thought I could bring my bag of tricks. That’s great. But I’d like to be with these kids more than just today. Like I, I built a relationship today and they’re saying, are you going to be here tomorrow or where, you know, and I did, I didn’t know where I was going to be every day. So my, my mom and dad both said that they saw it. They just didn’t want to push me. I had to see it for myself and turns out I really liked kids. So and I just love connecting with them and showing them their potential and really just kind of teasing that out. Have a little fun.
Sam Demma (07:10):
How do you help us students see that in themselves? What does that look like in the classroom? Cause I think a lot of students, especially at a young age, like high school and middle school, even elementary school they don’t fully have the self-confidence maybe yet at that stage in their life. And I’m sure you’ve had students who started in your classrooms, not that confident and maybe left a whole different person sometimes. And other times you don’t even know until 15 years in the future when they come back and tell you, but how do you think you help students see the potential within themselves and find their spark and chase the things that they love?
Leslie Loewen (07:49):
That’s like, I mean, that’s a great question. I think it comes from listening with everything you have. So you’ve got to be an active listener with your eyes, with your ears, with your body, with, with everything you have. Right. And I didn’t realize that really until you said that. And and I I’m one that kind of tries to connect the dots, right. So I got to be a fifth grade teacher on Friday. Right. So during this whole, you know, COVID stuff, we’re, we’re down teachers and subs and administrators and everything. So even though I worked at the district office, I got to work, I got to be a fifth grade teacher on Friday. You never know what yet. So I go in and I’m talking and I’m laughing and I’m introducing myself and we’re, we’re getting things done. Well, of course we’re behind, already, we’re behind on the list of tasks.
Leslie Loewen (08:44):
Right. And as a sub, I was wanting to get everything done on my list. And so we’re behind. And so I looked at the kids and I said, I need everyone to work diligently right now. And I don’t know if that’s a fifth grade where I don’t know what lexicon that is please. I mean, so I was, and they kind of looked at me and I said, do we know what diligently means? Okay. Let’s think about this. I need you to do what we’re supposed to do in an hour and 30 minutes. And one kid goes, I want, I need to work fast. I said, yes, I need to focus. Yes. I need to not talk. Yes. Okay. All of those things work diligently and I’m talking, just talking to my, my biological kids at home. My, my youngest said the other day, mom, you never talked to us like we were babies.
Leslie Loewen (09:32):
So I think number one, listening with everything active listener, but number two, like treating kids as you want them to be, or as you see them to be like, as they’re grown. I, I spent majority of my teaching time in high school. So when I had my biological children, my two boys I, I wanted to, even as young children, I wanted them to be great high schoolers. I wanted them to be, you know, to talk with adults in a way that was engaging and confident. And so I think so listening and then, you know, talking to kids where you want them to be. And so I, again, I don’t know if diligently as a fifth grade, we’re about that whole class knows the word diligently. I use it several different times. She’s had a lot of fun and they did, they got it done.
Leslie Loewen (10:31):
And they celebrate that life. I would, I would say the third thing is see something, say something applies to things that are dangerous, but also when things are good, I was walking around the classroom and I noticed the two boys in the back that sat in the back and were pretty quiet, always had their tasks done, always had it. I mean, their papers looked really nice. And then they were just quietly working in the back. Right. Maybe they don’t get a lot of attention because they weren’t acting naughty and they weren’t, you know, raising their hand and given all the answers. Well, I just walked back and I said, you know what? I have noticed that every time I walked back here, you’ll have everything done. You’re rock stars. You’re like ninja rock star. So they’re like, you know, and it’s kinda got a little puffed up, you know go see something and say it, you know, tell them when they’re, when you’re in their presence. So I don’t have all the answers. And I think that’s kind of how, how I’ve tried to do my best.
Sam Demma (11:38):
Yeah. I love that. Those are all things that I think can apply even outside classrooms with every day, human beings, friends, family members, right. Treat people the way, you know, they can be hold them to a higher standards. Right. That’s kind what that comes down to. And you know, if they’re doing something well, tell them people sometimes just need a little reassurance. And I think even, especially right now, teachers need some reassurance that the impact they’re having is being felt and being realized. I, I would guess that not only are you responsible for the 75,000 students, but some kids, but you’re probably also responsible for some teachers.
Leslie Loewen (12:16):
We’ve got 10,000 adults that we have fun with. So that is good. You know, I wrote down, I wrote down my phone phone number, you know, for the teachers to call me even, you know, back in the day, my home phone number before we had cell phones, but wrote my phone number down and I said, just call me. And so the teacher actually did call me and say, Hey, did you get to that paper? I said, I am so sorry. I didn’t get to that paper. Like I came in and I said, I did my bucket. Like my, my little bucket that I got to have. And I said, but first let me just tell you, you have great kids. They were amazing. They welcomed me into the room and I could tell over the phone I’m listening. It was the whole south that her countenance changed at first.
Leslie Loewen (13:02):
She was worried that, that she didn’t get everything on her list maybe. Right. I don’t know why she was out. I don’t, you know, I don’t know any of the details, but I know that there was some anxiety. She kind of came in hard, you know, where’s this paper. And I said, you know, Hey, I’m was doing the best we could, but you know, who helped me? I said, these two help me in these two, got their work done. And this one was really awesome. And so I got to share with, with her who made my time, they’re really fun. And and then we have a team back here at my office that just looks to do and looks to stand in the gap. So our office manager, for lack of a better term she, she bosses us all, which is awesome.
Leslie Loewen (13:58):
We need it. She said, Hey, you’re there. Look and see who needs a backpack look and see who needs a backpack and school supplies look and see who needs anything. And so I kinda walked, you know, as I walked around, I looked, you didn’t have one hanging or maybe the one that was hanging was a little scroungy. And so I suddenly up two or three backpacks that we need, but they didn’t have headsets, all of them. And again, I don’t know why, and they’re supposed to, but I’m not whatever. And so today I’m excited. She was put on my calendar, we’re going over and we’re bringing in headsets and backpacks and, and she said, you know, and I’m going to wait for you. I thought you might want to go. Yeah. I want to go see our kids, you know, and take care of them and just say, thanks for my fun day on Friday.
Leslie Loewen (14:57):
And here’s this, we’re going to give it to your teacher. And they’re not, I mean, they’re good backpacks, right? They’re like chance for backpacks, they’re turtle headsets. So, you know, like they’re the gamer headset, but I mean, I made sure now they are turquoise, but those are the only ones that he got, but, you know, they’re good stuff for kids. And, and I think seeing where you can plug in and just do whatever you can, it doesn’t, they keep me grounded here on like, you’re always just looking. You’re always looking for ways that we can take care of our kids and maybe providing them an opportunity for something new.
Sam Demma (15:38):
I love that. It sounds like you also intentionally focus on the positive side of things, always because, you know, when you were explaining to me about your time in the classroom with the fifth graders, every example you gave me was a positive one. You know, you said there was two kids in the back who did really well. It was kids who helped me, kids who yelled out, you have to work fast, you have to work diligently well in every classroom. There might also be someone who’s a little more difficult to work with, or a student who interrupts or a, and none of those things are inherently bad, but you made a point of not mentioning any of them. And I’m curious to know if you have a belief as an educator in person to try and focus on the positive things in life and how you pass that along to other teachers and kids.
Leslie Loewen (16:21):
Well I did have one that was trying to act out and be naughty. She was flinging her hair bands and a little colored hair bands. So the first one, you know, flung and the kids are giggling and everything. I just picked it up and I just put on my wrist, like girls do that put on my wrist. Right. That’s why your hair tie goes. And I didn’t say anything. And I just said, Hey, let’s, you know, we’re back to work. Are you almost done five minutes left? You know? Cause if I focus on that, not focusing on the other 20 plus kids, I don’t even know. I didn’t, I didn’t count them. There were a lot on the point, right on the other kids that are doing the right thing. If I get upset about that, I mean, I don’t know why I, this is my first day it’s in the first point. If I focus on that, then I don’t know what happens. So I just grabbed it, put on my wrist a couple minutes later, I flicked another one at stuck on the ceiling. I grabbed a yard stick, I flung it off and I grabbed it like snagged it, you know, they’re not my wrists. Look back now. I got to, so I walked by a little later and, and she just happens to fling another one. I snag it out of the air. Like I, you know,
Leslie Loewen (17:45):
I put it on my wrist and you know, there’s, there’s this there’s that, but I’m still focused on, Hey, we got two minutes left or a member here’s the change and recess is coming. And you know, I’m just it’s. And one of the, one of the students sitting in the middle looks to me and says, how tall are you? 5, 6, 5, 7. I don’t know, depends on if I’m wearing Chacha heels, I get goals and goes, you look like a basketball player. And I’m like, thanks, dude. I’m going to take that as a compliment. I’m like, all right. So, I mean, I think that was his way of reaffirming in me that I didn’t have that that was going to happen. Right. I could have written a detention slip, you know? But I do choose because again, there’s one and if I go back or when I go back you know, could I have a conversation with that student probably, but it’s going to be more if I bring back, right. I ended up walking out with those all on my wrist because I pay attention because it wasn’t important that wasn’t important. And so, you know, when I take those back and I put him in and talk him in, in her desk for her and, you know, I don’t know. I think that says more then any words could.
Sam Demma (19:24):
Yeah, I totally agree. I love it. I just wanted to ask you about that because it’s a, I think it’s an important thing, not only for educators, but for everyday people, you know, you can focus on negative things and it’ll bleed into the rest of your life, or you can try and see the good in other people in another situations and it’ll bleed into your life as well. And you’ll have a great one. And I think that goes back to how you bring the most out of kids, right? You know, maybe the next conversation you have is one where you have a heart to heart where it’s explained to this young person, I see you up here. Like, I see you doing this. I see you doing that. You know yes, you have good flicking skills, but, you know, save that energy for other tasks. It could be something that changes that young person’s life or perspective forever as opposed to a detention slip, like you were saying when you were first starting in teaching knowing what you know now, if you could like transport back in time to that first year, Leslie, and give yourself some advice, like, what would you say, or what would you share with your younger self?
Leslie Loewen (20:39):
I don’t know that I would do anything different. So not that I was perfect, but the things that were around me, the people that were around me and maybe, I guess what I would say to new administrators who were helping their new teachers, surround your new teachers with people who I can show them the way can be their mentor. They’re they’re not going to be perfect either, but you know, my, my first year I did everything I just wanted to be and do. And so I just said yes to everything I, I taught I have to even count them up five different classes. I was on a cart for two classes. I took on learning the AP chem curriculum. I coached the dance team. I coached the stomp team. I had ski and snowboard club. I was assistant activities.
Leslie Loewen (21:47):
I had an orange chair in my room that I took naps in because I, I was 30 minutes from home, newly married. And my husband did say like, I want you at home when you’re home. So you can’t bring homework home. My parents were both teachers. I mentioned that, right? Like they brought homework home. They brought grading home. They brought this home and my husband had grew up that way. And he said, when you’re home, I need you home. So you gotta figure out your work life to, to not bring that homework home. So, you know, when you’re coaching, you, you realize like you can’t have, I was teaching science. I can’t, you have to grade in the class, you have to grade in the moment. You can’t just save it all for later. Cause there isn’t a later, because after school there’s coaching and after coaching there’s clubs and after clubs, there’s go home, make dinner, be a wife and figure that whole thing out.
Leslie Loewen (22:46):
Right? Like, so there’s not time later. So I, I started paring down the assignments. Like I never wanted to give busy work. I always wanted to teach to mastery. And if the students could demonstrate that they understood, like I’m doing my job, I’m teaching teach, learn, you know, learn, get excited. So how do you grade that? Well, I mean, it’s, it’s a challenge, but I did a lot of checking for understanding before that was even a pool term. Right. Like I, I just checked in with my kids a lot. I had them present to me. I’d have them teach to me, teach to me this or reteach this. Like I would, that was the worst unit. Like, or that was the worst lecture I’ve ever given. You, you come up here and teach that like, you can do a better than me and then I’d go and I’d sit in their desk.
Leslie Loewen (23:39):
And I take a guy to take notes on this, like, and it would empower the kids that they were a part of the, and then they got to demonstrate to me that they understood. And when they did then yeah, we do quizzes and we do things. And if it goes, can I take that again? Right? Sure. I mean, it’s not, I get two overs. I put out a bad email with, you know, a grammar mistake will not usually cause I am the grammar police. I did. I did that. I, some kids when we worked on our grammar assignments. So but like if I have some mistakes in there, if I do a wrong date or I mean, who, who fails me and sends it back and says, Nope, I’m not coming to your meeting. That was the worst, you know, I’ve ever seen in my life.
Leslie Loewen (24:27):
Like, it doesn’t happen like that. So why are we doing that to kids? So sure. You can take that again. What parts are you struggling with? Let me help you figure this out. Let’s figure it out together. You know, did your neighbor have, you know, get it right. Maybe they can teach you if you didn’t learn it. For me, I’m still giving grades. Like I still like, and doing homework is important. Like building that muscle, like I still, but I tell the kids why that’s important because building that muscle is important and right. You, you, I can’t coach you in the game. You’re not listening. That’s what I got from my dad, the coach, right? I can’t teach you something in the game. You’re not learning in the game. You’re executing. So I can’t teach you on the test. You have to practice. I know it before you go in.
Leslie Loewen (25:17):
And that’s where those pre tests, those, that homework, if you don’t ever do your homework, I don’t know where you are. I can’t help you. And so I think taking that tactic for me as a newer teacher and trying to figure out ways to make meaningful lessons that I, that I only, I only give you what I really want you to do. There’s not busy work in my classes. And even in leadership, right? Like I reminded students that we gotta do the standards in the stuff like we have stuff to do. I know we got stuff to do. We got rallies to put on and we’ve got this, but you’re learning communication when we’re, when we’re working on the rally, you’re, you’re learning interpersonal skills. When we’re, we’re hashing these ideas out, you’re learning how to present and, and do governance when we’re asking our school for their opinions. And when you go on the bulletin, I want you to know that you’re, you’re doing all those, you’re learning leadership skills in the stuff. One of the things that, that I started saying to the students is like teamwork happens when real work happens. A lot of people want to do teamwork or team building. I’m doing a whole thing today, Kat on team building. But I’m going to tell them to teamwork happens when real work happens, do something real. And you’ll see how your team executes.
Leslie Loewen (26:45):
You can work on yourself and you can work all your tools and DQ, wind up all your resources. But the team work happens when you’re actually doing work as a team. And you figure out if you’re an effective team or if you’re a hot mess pretty quickly. And then you go back and regroup. Again, I think that comes back from my, from of the coaching, right? Like after the game you sit down and you talk, can you, okay, let’s talk about this. It’s like, yeah, clearly we weren’t doing a good job, you know, with pitching or with our fielding or we, you know, like what can we do? How can we get better? You know, where was the, and so even after like those big events in leadership, let’s okay, we’re coming back to work. We’re going to have an exhausting feedback session where we just got to celebrate the wins because we’re always hard, hardest on ourselves. Go celebrate the wins, but then we’ve got to go, okay. Like what would be the small things that we could do that would make a big impact later? Yeah.
Sam Demma (27:51):
All right. I love that. That’s so awesome. I hope the name of your talk is the teamwork happens when you do real work. That’s like a, some leg drop line right there. This is awesome. You’ve raised so many good points. Thank you so much, Leslie, for coming on the show and spending half, half an hour of your day sharing some of your experiences, your own principles and values as a educator. If someone is listening to this right now and has been inspired by the conversation, what would be the most efficient way for them to get a hold of you? If they want to ask a question or send you some love?
Leslie Loewen (28:27):
Well, you can, you can tag me on Instagram at Twitter @MommaLoew it’s spelled weird cause I’m a littleweird. But also they can send me an email to my work account. This is, this is work and it’s first name dot last name, Leslie.firstname.lastname@example.org. Just shoot me an email and say, Hey, you know, HELP, and I’ll help where I can.
Sam Demma (29:03):
Cool. Awesome, Leslie again, thank you so much. This has been a pleasure. Enjoy the rest of your day and we’ll talk soon 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 dot high-performing educator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network. You 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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