Manny Figueiredo – Director of Education at the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board

Manny Figueiredo, director of education HWDSB
About Manny Figueiredo

Manny Figueiredo (@manuel__fig) became Director of Education at Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB) in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada on August 1, 2015. Manny has more than 25 years of teaching experience. He began his career as an Educational Assistant in a secondary school and then taught grades 4, 5, 7 and 8 in the Waterloo region.

He spent his time as a school administrator in Hamilton, where he became focused on building learning communities that used data to improve instruction, assessment and culture. He led work to enhance blended learning while an Executive Superintendent at

As Director of Education, he proudly implements a set of strategic priorities that include Positive Culture and Well-being, Student Learning and Achievement, Effective Communication, School Renewal and Partnerships.

He is honoured to have led HWDSB as it built on these priorities to launch an Equity Action Plan, which envisions a culture shift built on recognizing and critically challenging historically built-in inequalities and injustices that contribute to inequitable outcomes in education.

Connect with Manny: Email | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

Listen to the episode now on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or on your favourite podcast platform.

Resources Mentioned

The Hamilton Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA)

Hamilton school board director leaving to lead local YMCA as president-CEO

Crises as Learning Triggers: Exploring a Conceptual Framework of Crisis-Induced Learning

The Transcript

**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 special guest is Manny Figueiredo Manny became the director of education at the Hamilton Wentworth district school board in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, on August 1st, 2015. Manny has more than 25 years of teaching experience. He began his career as an educational assistant in a secondary school, and then taught grade four or five, seven and eight in the Waterloo region. He spent his time as a school administrator in Hamilton, where he became focused on building learning communities that use data to improve instruction, assessment and culture. He led work to enhance blended learning while an executive superintendent at the Hamilton went with district school board as director of education.

Sam Demma (01:02):
He proudly implements a set of strategic priorities that include positive culture and wellbeing, student learning and achievement, effective communication, school, renewal, and partnerships. He is honored to have led the Hamilton Wentworth district school board, as it built on these priorities to launch an equity action plan, which envisions a culture shift built on recognizing and critically changing historically built in inequities and injustices that contribute to inequitable outcomes and education. I hope you enjoy this in-depth conversation with Manny and I will see you on the other side, Manny, welcome to the high-performing educator podcast. A pleasure to have you on the show here today. Please start by introducing yourself.

Manny Figueiredo (02:10):
Yeah, Sam, my pleasure. Thank you. My name is Manny Figueiredo and I live in Hamilton and Hamiltonian who grew up in Cambridge and a child of immigrants, family who came from the ASRS and in the mid sixties grew up in Cambridge and studied at McMaster university kinesiology and entered into education in 93, 94 as an educational assistant in Kitchener and then 95 became a teacher. And then in 2002, I moved to Hamilton where I was fortunate enough to become a vice principal, then principal and I hold the current job as director of education for the Hamilton Wentworth School board since September of 2015. So I’m entering into my year in this privileged role.

Sam Demma (03:01):
That’s awesome. I actually wanted to get into kinesiology when I was still an athlete and I applied to everywhere, Mac Queens Waterloo, and like a bunch of different universities. I’m curious to know what, what stopped you from getting into something more related to kinesiology as opposed to teaching or what directed you towards teaching?

Manny Figueiredo (03:21):
Yeah. Great question Sam. So, you know, when I was in high school, I was confused on what I wanted to do. So I, I loved athletics. I love sports, but I also love music. I hack around with guitar. I love the arts, I love everything, but I was inspired by some teachers who really encouraged me to teach and I loved young and I loved kids as well and young kids. So, but when I went to Mac, I knew I wanted to teach. I knew for sure I wanted to teach, but when I graduated, I didn’t get into a faculty of education my first year. So I actually took a job at the YMCA in Cambridge as a full-time program supervisor. So it actually reinforced that I wanted to teach because I was overseeing not only adult programs, fitness, recreation, but I was also overseeing youth camps, youth leadership programs. So that was then the following year I went to York university and I still work part-time at the Y. But when I landed a permanent job in teaching, I still volunteered at the Y for about five and six years to stay connected as a fitness instructor. So I figured I could sort of pursue both of my passions of fitness as well as as education. And that’s sort of where I landed education, but it was really inspired by some key teachers in my career.

Sam Demma (04:43):
You mentioned before we hit the record button, you hear that growing up, you played sports and sports were one avenue that kept you in school. And you had some really key teachers at that young age who I would, I would assume believed in you and maybe things weren’t going so well. Maybe bring us back there for a second and tell me more about that experience growing up and also what those teachers did that had such a significant impact on your progression.

Manny Figueiredo (05:07):
Yeah, my reflect upon what, you know, sort of drives me and motivates me, I think back as a student and I really did enjoy elementary school. And I think now what I’ve learned from that and think about the newcomers that have come into our communities. So for me, Portuguese was my spoken language at home. When I went to school, I spoke English, I didn’t speak English. And so the resource in supports weren’t there like they are today and a lot of the curriculum content wasn’t culturally relevant to me. So I couldn’t make the connections to the curriculum, to the, to the literature because it wasn’t my lived experience living as a, as a child of immigrant parents who spoke Portuguese and you know, my parents who are still with me today, we’re only, we’re only able to be educated to a grade three. So, but the turning point for me was my grade seven teacher and Mr.

Manny Figueiredo (06:10):
Dowling and he called me last year, ironic Mr. Dowling. he understood my lived experience and what do I mean by that? He was an immigrant. He was from Jamaica and he understood what island life was like, what it was like for immigrants to come here, who, you know, who, who were blue collar workers who left their home country due to oppression and poverty. And he spent the time he has a caring adult who said, Hey, Figueiredo smart, knock, figure it out, come see me after school, I can give you some extra math, help, figure it out. Are you getting involved in sports and athletics? So grade seven is what I joined the basketball team and started to really become engaged because if it wasn’t for school athletics or school extracurricular, my parents just didn’t have the means to pay for me to be involved in community sports.

Manny Figueiredo (07:10):
So so high school athletics and extracurricular were key to keeping me engaged. And because of that my grade seven teacher, and then later, Mr. Anderson, when I went to grab you park in Cambridge was my grade 10 teacher. He also said what’s your pathway? What are you thinking? And I didn’t know, because what I saw around Portuguese males in my town was many of them went to 16 and went to work in construction or they might’ve gone to become auto mechanics, but he would always remind me is explore all options. All pathways are available to you and don’t let people pigeonhole you into pathways that might not be matched to your skills or your passion or interests. So I always look back at Mr. Dowling and grade seven, and then Mr. Anderson in grade 10, that really were the caring adults and educators in my life that helped me navigate because my parents who sacrificed so much had to work, they worked shifts, they’re blue collar workers, and they could navigate the system. And one of the reasons they didn’t have that lived experience and nor could they speak the language.

Sam Demma (08:23):
Time was probably a barrier. You know, like my dad still tells me stories about my own grandfather, who as well, came over from Italy on the boat. And he worked at GM and he, you know, he would do a night shift. So you would be sleeping with my dad. And when my, when his son, my dad got home and the only time they would have dinners Friday nights at 2:00 AM, when my, my grandfather would wake up all the kids to eat a pizza that he brought home, you know? And so I totally understand the situation that makes a lot of sense. Those two teachers sound like they had a pivotal role in your life. You mentioned that one of them, you last week, what was that conversation like?

Manny Figueiredo (08:58):
It was actually last year, sorry, last year, sorry, last school year, which was in this past spring I got a call the office here and my assistant said, do you know Mr. Dowling? And I said, yeah, my, my grade seven teacher from Cambridge. Wow. She said, yeah, he left a message. He saw you on some news, clipping, Googled your name and he wanted to touch base with you. So we spoke. And he was so proud, but it gave me a chance to show my appreciation and to let him know the impact he had on my life at a very pivotal transformational time as a young adolescent. And he inspired me and reminded me that I said to him, you reminded me that no job is below. You remember that from your parents as immigrants, no job is below you. And no job is above you. Don’t let people limit. You put boundaries around you. So we had a conversation and we said with COVID is over this fall, we’re going to get together and have have breakfast face to face. So I’m looking forward to that.

Sam Demma (10:03):
It’s amazing. And roughly how many years would it have been?

Manny Figueiredo (10:08):
I know you’re going to ask that I was actually fricking that I, I, you know, I’ll be 51 next month. Okay. And so when I was a great seven, I would have been 12. So we’re talking 39 39 years ago.

Sam Demma (10:22):
So, and I asked you that not to ask your age, but I asked you that because sometimes in education, we think they’re supposed to be this instant ROI, make an impact on a kid, hear about it right away. It took your teacher 39 years to hear about, you know, the impact that he, that he had on you. And I think it’s so important to realize that in education, our role is to plant the seed and water the seed. And sometimes we don’t see it grow for a long period of time, but that doesn’t mean it’s not growing, right?

Manny Figueiredo (10:51):
No, I, but you make a great point. You know, the return on investment. I always tell educators, you are making a difference. What difference are you making? Sometimes you don’t see the fruit of your labor in the moment, but everything we say we do, our kids are watching us as role models and rightfully so they should be we’re educators. We made this choice to be professionals. So sometimes you don’t know the, you don’t see the immediate impact, but there’s always a long-term impact. Make sure it’s a positive one.

Sam Demma (11:27):
Yeah. So true. And you mentioned that Mr. Anderson was one of the first teachers who kind of challenged you and asked you, Hey what is your future pathway look like? And in the moment you weren’t really certain about something. And at a young age, we get asked that question a lot. I find that as we grow up, people, stop asking us what your pathway is because they think that you’re in it, you know? And you’re obviously someone who continued, you know, pursuing different pathways and moved from teaching to administration. So how did you continue navigating your career pathway and how did it evolve to where it is now?

Manny Figueiredo (12:03):
Yeah, you know, I tell my, my own children. I tell everyone mentors always have people to talk to doesn’t matter what age. So I recall when I went to Mac, I teaching with something I thought I wanted to do. So I had someone I knew who was a teacher and every Friday afternoon I began to volunteer in their classroom. I did have classes to see if this was what I wanted and that person as of today, or we’re still friends, he’s retired, but he was a mentor for me. But then when I went, graduated and I wasn’t fortunate enough to get into teacher’s college or the faculty of education my first year, either, you know, I participate as a, at the YMCA. I was there as an adolescent. I could play basketball. And I did a bit of a co-op placement there in one of my courses.

Manny Figueiredo (12:59):
So I thought I would reach out and I landed a job there. And I had, I had a mentor through the Y organization that I’m a big fan of the Y only because I worked there, but because I also, as a youth, it was a safe place that my parents could afford for. I could go shoot hoops. Right. but throughout my career, I’ve always had critical friends. What I mean by that critical friends or mentors who are going to guide you, but also give you some pretty objective feedback when things aren’t going well. So if I could send one message, we’re never too young or too old to have critical friends or mentors. And sometimes that is your parents, but sometimes in my case, my parents provided a great loving environment, but they could help me navigate because it wasn’t their experience. So who else could I reach out and take a risk and ask to mentor me and provide some guidance. So that’s been key in my life and it is still key today. As I have critical people, who’ve been directors of education, current ones, the ones who’ve retired, who continue to be there as mentors to provide guidance.

Sam Demma (14:05):
You raised a smart point, right? It makes me think about you know, airplane pilots, you know, a pilot would want to seek the counsel or mentorship from another pilot. You know, they wouldn’t ask a passenger. Hey, can you help me fly the plane? So yeah, you’re right. There are certain mentors who could help a lot. You know, there might be an educator listening to this right now thinking that sounds great Manny, but how do you find those people? How did you find them in your experience?

Manny Figueiredo (14:32):
Yeah. You know, I have, I find them like, you have to be intentional and sometimes you have to take a risk. So when I thought I want to teach, I went to the local school and said, Hey, do you accept volunteers? And, and I was placed in a classroom for a teacher who was willing to have me as a volunteer on Friday afternoon. So I maintain the relationship, right. I’ve volunteered in his classroom for four years. So I maintain the relationship. So I think that’s a key and, and, you know, you have to take a bit of a risk and go outside your comfort zone at times. And, and sometimes you might need another adult when you’re young to, to guide you. And sometimes that’s what teachers are can do as well. Sometimes it might think of the high school students to teachers can be that connection or that navigator to, to someone who might be a mentor in a different sector. Right.

Sam Demma (15:27):
So that makes sense. That makes a lot of sense and education right now as a whole, it looks a little different than it did three years ago, two years ago. Just because of the global pandemic, what are some of the things that, or challenges that you think the schools in your board are faced with right now? And how are, how are you striving to overcome those challenges?

Manny Figueiredo (15:48):
Yeah, I think that the most obvious one that every organization is dealing with, but especially education is you know, digital, remote learning. So we were fortunate in Hamilton prior to the pandemic. About seven years ago, we started to really push the teaching needs to be blended. And what I mean by blended is that if we live and work in the physical and digital world, we need to teach and learn in the physical and digital world. So we had a provision already in our school board when students with a device and our, and our secondary teachers. So when students entered grade nine, they were provisioned with a iPad that they would carry forward until they graduated, because we really believed that a blended learning had to occur would provide a bit more flexibility. Sure. You have to come in school, but we know the reality of life that some students might miss a class, do the athletics, extra curriculars or a part-time job.

Manny Figueiredo (16:49):
And if there’s a hub or a learning management system where things can be posted where they could access in case they miss the lesson, then there’ll be some continuity of learning. So now that was accelerated when last year we had around 9,000 students in elementary, where a district of 50,000 students chose remote. But what it forced us to do through feedback from parents was to say, Hey, standardized your platforms. I can’t have three kids on different platforms depending on, on the educators choice. So we did, we, we already had the hub, which is Brightspace desire to learn. We had that as an LMS, but then Microsoft teams was second. And now, as we entered this year, every teacher’s classroom was not only set up in the physical world as teachers do. We made sure through our infrastructure, that students’ names were attached to the virtual Microsoft teams classrooms.

Manny Figueiredo (17:43):
So it was by default it’s there, it’s ready to go. So whether the student this year chose remote and we have around 2000 this year, that the blended learning is there. If a child misses a class due to illness, or if a child has to self isolate now for 10 days, because they’re determined to close contact, because then they can continue their learning because the classrooms already set up. So that was always our vision. So we took advantage of the opportunity. Sure. There were challenges. And what we hear from our teachers is a lot of support was provided around the technical aspects of it. So thumbs up, but where we need to focus more is now, what is the pedagogical practice look like? What does effective teaching look like on these platforms versus in the physical world? So that’s the power of teacher networks. That’s where we get teachers to share best practices. So that’s a bit of our focus this year is to keep on leveraging those best practices from our educators.

Sam Demma (18:43):
In those moments where you feel burnt out. You know, there’s a lot of educators listening who had a tough two years. And I think in those deepest moments, the thing that keeps most people going is remembering why they do this. It’s like, you know, you know, what is the motivation and the purpose behind the work we’re doing here. And I’m curious to know yours, you know, what is the thing that keeps you motivated every single day to pursue this work and solve the problems as they come up?

Manny Figueiredo (19:09):
Yeah. And I I’m, I’m glad you mentioned around mental health and wellbeing educators too. So, you know, for myself personally, it was a diff it’s been a difficult 15 months. So going back to mentors, you need to find a place to vent. And, you know, my wife is a teacher, so I’d see her. I had a learning loud at home every day. She teaches court French and had 150 students that she had to support each day. So for me, a place to vent, right? Where’s that place I can vent. And I, it also forced me to say, be patient with yourself. You know, I’m a big believer of conceptual frame frameworks to manage change and where we are in a crisis. So we can’t ask for perfection when we’re in a crisis. So we need to be patient with ourselves and realize that things are going to change.

Manny Figueiredo (20:02):
And that we as organizational type, sometimes need to bring some stability by managing the multiple priorities coming from all different inputs. But for me, it was a reminder to myself to be patient, find some time to disconnect, you know, away from the screen. And, you know, for me, because of my fitness kinesiology background, it reminded me of importance of being physically active as much as possible during this time, not just for my physical body, but for my, for my mental health as well. But your question of the why I think I shared with you the stories of my parents as immigrants and my sisters who were immigrants as well, and their journey reminds me that education is an equalizer. It has to be an equalizer at times. It’s not, at times it has systemic practice that actually disproportionately impacts students, but we have to continue to challenge those systems and those structures because public education is it’s been key in my life. And I know that many newcomers who choose Canada, it’s one of the foundations of why they choose Canada is because of the opportunity through public education.

Sam Demma (21:22):
Yeah, it’s so true. So, so true. I think that’s why, especially, so in immigrant families, education is a very high value, you know my grandparents like, oh, the priority in their household was always school and that’s what got them out of poverty per se. And it’s so true. I think you’ve raised some really good points. If you could bundle up all your, you know, wisdom and experience and advice and, you know, walk into a classroom and instantly teleport 39, not 39 years back with back to your first year of teaching and speak to younger Manny, like knowing what you know now, what advice and feedback would you give your younger self to set yourself up for some success?

Manny Figueiredo (22:09):
That’s a great question. So if I could go back and speak to a younger version of me when I was 24 years old entering into my first permanent position. Yeah. Yeah. I think the first piece of advice I’d give myself is remembered to always be student-centered. In other words, there’s a lot of curriculum to cover, but you’re not a teacher is not about teaching a curriculum, a teacher’s about meeting the needs of kids and matching the curriculum to their needs. So I remember when I felt overwhelmed the first year or two is how do I cover everything until I gain more experience and said, you know, I can integrate things, get to know your students, what are their needs? Don’t let the curriculum be the driver, let the student be the driver.

Sam Demma (23:00):
Wow. That’s a great piece of advice. I love the way you kind of phrase that yeah. Meet the needs of the students and then match the curriculum to the students’ needs. That’s that’s powerful. Manny, if someone’s listening to this and they’ve enjoyed the conversation they love some of your philosophies and education and they just want to reach out what would be the best way for them to kind of get in touch with you.

Manny Figueiredo (23:25):
Yeah. They can just send an email mfigueir@hwdsb.on.ca to me or reach out on Twitter @manuel__fig they’ll see on Twitter. I’d love to connect.

Sam Demma (23:50):
Sounds great. Awesome. Again, Manny, thank you so much for coming on the show today. Really appreciate your time. Keep up the great work. And I look forward to talking to you again soon.

Manny Figueiredo (23:58):
Yeah. Thank you, Sam, for taking the time as well. My pleasure.

Sam Demma (24:01):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest and amazing interview on the high performing educator podcast. As always, if you enjoyed these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review. So other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show. If you want to meet the guest on today’s episode, if you want to meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not feel your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

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