About Nicholas Varricchio
Nicholas Varricchio (@MMrPrincipal) is the current Principal of M.M. Robinson High School of the Halton District School Board located in Burlington Ontario. Nick’s career in education has spanned 24 years – 12 of which as a Principal. Nick has taught in 3 different school boards across Ontario both in the Catholic and Public systems, with experience in both the elementary and secondary panels.
Nick has earned a Master’s of Education from York University, a BEd. from the University of Windsor and his Honors BA. from the University of Waterloo.
**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 (00:02):
Nick welcome to the high performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here, please start by introducing yourself.
Nicholas Varricchio (00:11):
Well, my name isNicholas Varricchio. I am a secondary school principal with the Halton district school board, and my current work location or school is M.M. Robinson high school. And thank you Sam, for allowing me to participate in my very, very first podcast. So if I stumble and hum and hall a little bit, please excuse that, but I’m excited about this opportunity and thank you for hearing my story.
Sam Demma (00:38):
Thank you for saying yes to this opportunity. I appreciate you may the time to come on the show. Why don’t you start by sharing a little bit about what brought you into education and maybe even explain how you came to realize that education was the career that you wanted to get into?
Nicholas Varricchio (00:58):
Well to be quite honest, I stumbled into education. It wasn’t something that I had planned as a, as a, as a kid or as a teenager, I, I stumbled into it. And you know, the reason why I, I like doing what I do is not because I’m crazy because a lot of people do think being a teacher or a principal today is to, especially during the pandemic, we ought to be crazy. Yeah, but I’m not, I can assure you. I feel that there’s no better place to stay young, energetic, and in tune with the world and the direction of the world, other than being in a school, you learn a lot from kids. They are, are the future. And if you enjoy working in a very fast paced environment with complex situations and you enjoy inspiring others to help evolve the world to be a better place, then absolutely.
Nicholas Varricchio (02:02):
There’s no better place to work than being in a school. What, whether it’s a teacher or a principal secretary, or even custodian, the kids of today will definitely keep you hoping and young and who doesn’t wanna stay young nowadays. Right. But I stumbled into this particular job, you know, as a, as a kid, I, wanted to be a rock star. I’m a musician and a drummer and still have music as part of my life. And although on the surface people might think that, you know, being a principal and a drummer and a, and a rock band are totally different you know, practices or careers, but, you know, I’ve thought about this for many years. You and I come to realize that, you know, I, came into schooling or education because of music, really, even though I’m not a mu I wasn’t a music teacher you know, musicians have a story to tell they like making connections through their music, which is a language and, and teachers and educators have a story to tell both musicians, both educators feel that their stories can inspire and make the world a better place.
Nicholas Varricchio (03:18):
So I think it, it, for me, it’s a, a very good metaphor to help explain how I stumbled into education.
Sam Demma (03:26):
I appreciate you sharing and think it’s so awesome that you still pursue your passion of music. Do you actively continue to play in bands today?
Nicholas Varricchio (03:38):
I do not as my much as I used to when, you know I, I was a young teacher or even a vice principal, but as a principal, I still do. Of course, the, the music industry is somewhat shut down today and has been for the last 18 months or so. So obviously no currently, but it’s definitely a something I continue to to do in my own house on my downtime gives me a definite a definite outlet. My wife is also a singer professionally, although she, she works for a, a big bank as well. She tends to be more active in music today, despite the pandemic challenges than, than myself. But you, yes, to answer your question, I, I still have music on, on, on the radar and hoping to sort of get back into that a little bit more formally once we’re behind once the pandemic is behind us,
Sam Demma (04:32):
You mentioned stumbling into education. You know, your first dream was to get into music, but you stumbled into education. Can you explain a little bit behind that stumbling journey or at what point you realized education is something I would like to do? And then what did the path look like from that moment?
Nicholas Varricchio (04:51):
So you know, I, believe that kids fall into two camps when they’re you know, pursuing their education or the school system one camp is that kids know exactly what they wanna do, or, or at least they think they know what they want to do post secondary, you know and they pursue it. And then there’s the other camp where, you know, kids have no idea what they wanna do post Canary and both camps are okay. I was in the latter camp. I did not know that I wanted to be a teacher. I did like music and wanted to dabble into that a little bit knowing full well that, you know, to make a real good go as a, as a career to let live off that most certainly would be a challenge for many people. And so I decided to, you know, continue with schooling after high school while I still played music.
Nicholas Varricchio (05:58):
And while, you know, I had my part-time job in the retail sector. And you know, when I entered university, I dabbled into all subject areas because I didn’t really know you know, what I wanted to do. And I wanted to see if I could keep as many doors open as possible, should the music not play out the way I thought and hoped it would. So that was in around the time where it was very difficult to get a teaching job. There was a surplus of teachers. And so I decided to take some time off after my four year degree, just to kind of play music, supplement my income with the retail sector and go from there and see what happens. And then after about a year and a half doing that, I kind of got tired of being around a bunch of Grammy guys, playing music in some bars.
Nicholas Varricchio (06:53):
And so I thought, okay, I’m, I’m gonna, I’m gonna, you know, apply to teachers college. And just the, to see where that goes. And it was very competitive to get into teachers college, but I made a commitment to myself that should I get, go get into a, a, a program, I’ll give it a shot. I got nothing to lose. And so I did you know after I completed my four year degree at the university of Waterloo you know, I, I eventually got into the university of Windsor for teachers college and during my first practice teaching assignment at WD low in Windsor, Ontario, I loved it. It was, it was the kids. The kids kept me hopping. I shared with them, you know, some of my, my, some of my journey with music and made a connection through them. And, and and that helped me, you know you know, get through the curriculum with the kids and keep them engaged, you know, developing those personal relationships.
Nicholas Varricchio (07:44):
So being able to, you know, share some personal stories with kids to, to engage them and using those stories to you know, work through the curriculum, I think was is key and was key for me. And so that’s how I kind of stumbled into it. Once, once I finished teachers college, again, there was still that shortage of of teaching opportunities. So again, went back into music into retail and did that for a few months. And then I thought, okay, I, I think I’m ready to at least apply. I think I have the maturity now to apply and let’s see where it goes. And so I applied to, you know, pretty much all the GTA boards and the Halton Catholic board was the first board to give me a chance. And you know, I supply taught and then quickly got out, got, got an LTO that evolved into, and to an, a, a, a position in an elementary school.
Nicholas Varricchio (08:45):
And I, I took it, you know, even though my passion was more of secondary and my experience in teachers college was secondary. I took the opportunity and, and it was a great opportunity that is for sure, but strange enough you know, a few months later I got a call from the principal at St. Francis Xavier, which is in Mississauga for a full-time geography position at their high school. And I never applied to that school. I applied to the Catholic board for a supply teaching gig, you know, several months before, but you know, the principal called me and I thought, man, that was pretty strange. And it was an odd time of year. It was like, you know, the third week of February and, you know, the teachers across the province were just coming off the major strike during the Harris days.
Nicholas Varricchio (09:37):
And so I went for the interview and, you know got the job. And I was in din field for quite a few years. And it was strange because that opportunity presented itself because the the permanent teacher, I guess, decided to marry some guy overseas and didn’t return to the teaching job. So, you know, the, the, I got that opportunity and I, because of somebody else’s best luck in a marriage. And it was a strange time. And I was with din peel for six, seven years. And you know, I was I taught at C I was just gonna zag another big, big high school in Mississauga. And then from there, I came to the Halton ditches school board, which which is actually home for me, I’m a product of the Halton district school board. My K through 12 experience was through the Halton ditches school board. And ironically very ironically the high school at, I graduated from 25 years later. I became the principal of that school at a time when many of my teachers were still there. And I, I wasn’t the best student. And most certainly, if you had asked those teachers if they thought that I would become a teacher or a principal at the school where they worked at, they would look at you like you’re crazy, but the world is a crazy place and a funny place. And that’s my stumbling into education journey.
Sam Demma (11:10):
You mentioned your belief about this idea that students fall into two categories, those that are so certain and, and know what they wanna do with their future and those that are not so certain and like yourself, I feel like I fell into the latter category of not a hundred percent being sure. How do you think we help those students that are unsure, you know, as a principal and as a teacher, how do we also support those students who are unsure, think about maybe what you would’ve needed when you were a student.
Nicholas Varricchio (11:45):
So, you know, and I know there’s gonna be some people who hear this podcast, who, who will adamantly disagree with me, but I, believe that it’s perfectly fine not to know exactly what you want to do as a young person. Mm. And I also believe that to help those young people who are not certain, what they wanna do is to highlight for them that it’s perfectly okay, because that will help take the edge off in some of the anxiety that they might be experience experiencing on not knowing exactly what they want to do. I always say to the kids, Hey, look at it this way. If you’re not sure what you want to do, and you spend an extra year at school, that means one less year that you’re, you’re having to work for a living. So, you know, I, say to kids, don’t worry about it.
Nicholas Varricchio (12:38):
Just, you know, if you’re not sure, just try a little bit of everything, something will, something will spark your interest and, you know, and once that spark happens, continue to spend more time and energy in that area. And it, it, something will emerge for you most certainly. So I, I think, you know, to help kids understand that it’s perfectly fine, you know, say that to them, be transparent with them. And again, you know, some people will disagree with that. Because you know, there’s so much pressure on kids nowadays in selecting the right courses is early on in their career to leave the doors open, which, you know, you wanna leave doors open for sure. But I think it’s perfectly fine and normal not to have a concrete plan for your next step in university, but I think if you, if you prepare kids and, you know, take that layer of pressure off of them I think they will appreciate that and understand that that’s just a normal process of growing and learning and moving on in life.
Sam Demma (13:45):
I personally agree with you and relate, because again, I was the student who wasn’t sure who maybe got three years of no work because I, I took a great third a gap year and a year off before deciding what I wanted to pursue professionally. So it’s really refreshing to hear that perspective coming from a principal as well. What do you find most rewarding about your work in education?
Nicholas Varricchio (14:18):
I, think, and often the reward is not an immediate reward. It could come days, weeks, months, and maybe even years after it’s, it’s seeing hearing or understanding that some of the work that you’ve done, whether it was directly with a student or a specific class or some of the work that you’ve done with the staff in your building or some of the work that you’ve done collaborating with central board staff, the reward for me is that I see that some of the energy input and voice has been acted upon and, and influenced others, processes, products or paths for kids or for staff that evolves schools systems and helps kids grow to be better people. Hmm. So I, that is, to me, the most rewarding bit is seeing that, yes, my work, my voice had a positive change for the better in education for kids.
Sam Demma (15:41):
And along your journey as an educator, I’m sure there’s been teachers, mentors, people that have poured into you and, and helped you, who are some of those people that come to mind and what did they teach you or share with you that you think was impactful in your journey of, you know, becoming the best educator and role model or, or principal that you possibly can be.
Nicholas Varricchio (16:07):
So, you know, I two things I’ve always had connections with teachers who am evolve themselves outside the classroom like through extracurricular, for sure. But also those teachers who had incredible stories and a gift to tell a story, to engage kids, to keep them captivated and listening and learning and class. I also, I also think that you know, my parents and I think this is probably, this will probably echo for a lot of people too. My parents were probably my best teachers throughout my life, and my mom Conti continues to be my best teacher in my life and together between, you know, my parents and my parents and my teachers throughout my school journey have always encouraged and, and foster this sense of, to ask some real crew critical questions. And don’t be shy from asking real critical questions.
Nicholas Varricchio (17:24):
That’s what I’ve learned. And, you know the power of partnerships are very important. And I I’ll give you two, two examples of, of partnerships with team parents and teachers that as, as a, as a kid, you know, if something happened in the school and I was directly involved in this incident, I tell ya I would go home. And of course, I’m not gonna say anything to, to my parents. And my mom would say, well, anything happened at school today? And I’d be like, Nope, Nope, no. And then she would throw it in my face. Right. And I would always wonder, how did she know? You know? And you know, she all always used to say, and I remember never lie to your mother. Your mother will know everything. The fact is my mother used to work for Loblaws and she was a cashier and the teachers would deliberately go through her line to share some of the things that were occurring in the class.
Nicholas Varricchio (18:25):
Now, whether they op, whether they deliberately shared to throw me under the, a bus or my mom would ask them, you know, keep the pulse of of of what was happening in schools, either way the partnership was there. And you know, funny enough, you know, again, when I came back to be a principal at the school we had a good chuckle with some, some, some of that, you know, cuz you know, here’s me being the principal and of the school and knowing that office space quite well from 25 years earlier. So very interesting. That is for sure. So the power of partnerships is definitely important. And in fact, my mom also volunteered in, when I was a, a high school kid, volunteered with the auto shop teacher. Now she claims she just volunteered because my dad was useless and didn’t know how to change a tire. But I have a feeling that I have a, I have a feeling, she did that to kind of keep an eye on what was happening in the school. So, you know you know, those teachers who had good connection or I felt I had a good connection with were those who actively got involved with my life, both inside and outside the classroom and through building partnerships with my parents.
Sam Demma (19:37):
That’s awesome. I totally relate to having parents as mentors, I’m even inspired deeply by my grandparents as well. Both who I think like yourself, are, are you a Italian? Is that your background?
Nicholas Varricchio (19:53):
Yes, I am. Yeah. Yeah. My mom and dad were both born in Italy. My, my grand, my grandparents of course were born in Italy. My, my grandfather was a world war II vet. Oh. They immigrated in the, in the fifties and you know, my grandpa other worked in the mines in Northern Ontario and the subways in in in Toronto and then actually later on in life, he, he worked for the the Toronto school board and he was a, he was a custodian for the for the for the Toronto school board. And for any Toronto district board central staff, one of his grievances was, you know, staff members leaving half coffee cups in the garbage cans. And at the time they weren’t using garbage bags and all that used to bother him. So if there’s any central staff listening, they won’t leave your half, your cup, half full in the garbage can for the custodians.
Sam Demma (20:49):
I love it. Leave it there. That’s a, that’s a very good point, but yeah. You know,
Nicholas Varricchio (20:53):
Yeah, don’t do that. Don’t do that. So, but anyway, that little, little funny story, but a true story.
Sam Demma (20:59):
Yeah. And my grandparents are both from Italy as well. My parents are born a year, but my grandparents are born there and grandfather’s name Salvato. And he, yeah, he passed when I was 12, but yeah, he was a big, you know, mentor, not even through his words because I was so young and you know, didn’t really, you know, understand a lot of the meaning of mentorship back then, but through his actions and his hard work really taught me a lot. So I think partnership is really important. And having people in your life who you can bounce ideas off of, or who you can share, the honest, authentic truth, no matter how bad it sounds and, and know that the person you’re sharing it with is gonna be giving you advice from their heart with your best interest in mind. So, yeah, I think what you’re mentioning with your mom and just with, with partnership in general is so important throughout your career in education have you come across any resources, any programs anything you’ve attended or things you’ve brought into your school that you think were really valuable for the community that another educator listening could also benefit from?
Nicholas Varricchio (22:10):
So, you know, some, some of the, some of the PD that I’ve participated in both through my board, the Hal and ditch school board, and, you know, other PD that I participated in outside our board through solution tree, I, I have the opportunity to, to hear a fellow, his, his name is Anthony Mohamed and he’s, he’s well known in education circles and a lot of his work centers on the importance of culture and really understanding culture of a school to, to, to navigate the culture and how to evolve culture in a way that best serves every single kid. And, you know, some of the messages and the, and the thoughts through his research and, and and work really resonates with me because, you know, understanding culture is understanding people and you know, and, and trying to inspire them to get them side and doing that takes time doing that, you know requires you to build trust lead with empathy. But also, and as my dad would say is, you know, approach relationships by being fair firm and friendly. Mm. So, you know, very simple. But I think it, it, you know, if you keep that in mind being fair firm and friendly you know, I think it, you’re in the right, you’re taking the right steps to, to, to build trust to get people to buy in, to feel supported and see the bigger picture on, on what you’re trying to do.
Sam Demma (23:56):
Got it. That’s awesome. Do you know, what’s a solution tree, like a organization that has some speakers or what, what is solution tree?
Nicholas Varricchio (24:07):
Yeah, so it, it, it’s a network of professional speakers that that, you know, they have, they put on conferences throughout the world really. And and I’ve attended a few conferences in the United States that one here too, as well in the past. And, you know, school will, boards will often tap into solution three to bring speakers to the, to their boards of education. And, and, and quite a few colleagues. I’m not the only one who will, you know you know, participate in these conferences with solution three. And of course, you know, they, they promote the, the the speakers and their books. You know, so it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s well known in the education world for sure. And the speakers that are engaged in solution tree are, are well known as well and experienced in school systems. They’re not just, you know they have experiences in schools. Let’s put it that way before they, before they became on the speaking circuit. So, yep.
Sam Demma (25:13):
Yeah, absolutely. That sounds awesome. Thank you for sharing that. I’ll definitely make sure to include a link to their stuff in the show notes of the episode. If you could take your knowledge and experience, and maybe this will be reiterating something you’ve already shared, but if you could take your knowledge and experience, wrap it all up and travel back in time, walk into the first couple of years of teaching that you did as a young educator. Not that you’re old now, but when you were fresh into your career if you had all the advice and wisdom now could give it to your younger self, what would you have told young Nick?
Nicholas Varricchio (26:00):
I would say that do recognize that everyone has a different starting point. Mm don’t don’t don’t assume that, so I don’t that as a, as a teacher that just because a student had graduated or moved on to the next level, they will, they, they do most, certainly have the same skill, knowledge experience, even though they formally have moved on, on to the next grade or the next course. So rec recognizing that, despite what it says on a transcript, know that when you are in the classroom with the kids, that despite what is said on their previous report card, for the course, they are coming with a diff or they both are starting your class with a different starting point. And I think also as well is you know, when they, when a student starts, starts a course with you as a teacher you know, you you’ll hear, you’ll hear things.
Nicholas Varricchio (27:16):
And if you review the OSR, which, you know, teachers are teachers, do, you know, just have that as a background, but, you know understand that it is a, it is a, a blank canvas and you have an opportunity to to work with that student from the beginning. Mm. So, you know, and we are approaching a new beginning, you know, February 4th is the start of semester two. And so every student and every teacher has a fresh start here in the next week or so. So I think, I think as a young Nick remembering and highlighting that, that every student that’s sitting in your class, despite what it said on a report card is starting from a different point in, in, in their, in their learning.
Sam Demma (28:11):
Hmm. That is a very good piece of advice. Thank you so much for, for sharing that if someone is listening to this, wants to reach out, ask you a question about anything we talked about during the podcast, maybe even inquire about hearing some of your music so they could find it online. What would be the best way for somebody to reach out and get in contact with you?
Nicholas Varricchio (28:34):
So I am on Twitter, (@MMrPrincipal). So that’s a good way to kind of remember, MMR principal. I am on Twitter and actually some of the, some you’ll see some music video clips on, on Twitter too where you’ll see me playing with some of the kids at my previous school and some good classic hard rock, a little bit of Metallica, Black Sabbath Motley Crew, which is not usual picks for your principles nowadays, but nonetheless, you’ll see it on my Twitter and those videos. Actually they, they came about in a very interesting way at my previous school before, before before, mm Robinson, I was a school, I was at a school called Dr. Frank J. Hayden. And it had a a common lunch and often kids would go into the music room at Hayden and just jam.
Nicholas Varricchio (29:27):
And so, you know, when I first got there, I, I kind of made a point just to kind of go in there, listen to what the kids were jamming with. And of course they’re jamming some hard rock songs and, you know, I just tap the drummer on the shoulder and say, Hey, do you mind if I kind of try a little bit? And they’re like, sure. And I’m like, what’s on, you know and, you know, just, you know, they started playing some stuff and I just played along. And all of a sudden, you know, kids started coming in and taking some videos and, you know, thought, Hey, look at this. This is really neat. And so I had them share the videos with me and, you know, just at the time I thought, you know, a good little memory of my experience at this school when I eventually move on.
Nicholas Varricchio (30:03):
But then when the pandemic hit you know, one, the first lockdown, you know, there was a lot of concern around about kids and staff becoming disconnected with the school. And so, you know, as an admin team, we would think about ways of somehow keeping the staff and students engaged with us or engaged together. And so, you know, at the time I thought, you know what, I, I, I’m gonna try, you know, some learning, some editing software that were free on the Google play store, downloaded them video editing software. And I decided to, you know, upload those videos that some of the kids took and shared with me. And, and and I started editing them a little bit and I thought, you know, how can I use this to engage the community? And so, and then I started tweeting them out and created a music trivia challenge and saying, okay, if anyone can guess what song I’m playing here with these students, you know, hit me back first, first, correct.
Nicholas Varricchio (31:00):
Answer. You pick up your hard prize when the school reopens, and I would do this on a weekly basis and sure enough, you know, kids were keeping engaged. And the whole point of that was ensuring that our school community remained connected. So another kind of innovative way to weave in music, to, you know, to share a story and, and work in partnership with kids. So, yeah, I share all that because some of my music’s on my Twitter handle and you can see how music can be weaved in as an educator and not just a music teacher.
Sam Demma (31:31):
Absolutely. that sounds awesome. I’ll, I’ll be following you after this as well, and digging for some of those videos. So I appreciate you sharing. Yeah.
Nicholas Varricchio (31:39):
Yeah, no problem. They’re buried in the Twitter. Yeah. Yeah.
Sam Demma (31:42):
Awesome. Well, Nick, thank you so much for taking the time to come on the show here. I look forward to staying in touch with all the amazing things you do. Keep up with the great work and, and we’ll talk soon.
Nicholas Varricchio (31:53):
Sam, nice meeting you. Nice talking with you and best of luck and stay safe. My friend.
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