About Scott Kirkness
Scott Kirkness is an educator living in Southeastern Saskatchewan. Raised and educated in Ontario, he moved west in 2013 after teaching in the UK. Scott is married with three beautiful children and enjoys training for marathons in his spare time. He graduated with BA (History) from Laurentian University in 2010 and a B. Ed from Lakehead University in 2011.
Scott has plans to obtain a Master’s of Education in the near future. Previous to his work as a teacher, he was a construction site Superintendent for Century Group Inc, a position he obtained after starting out as a labourer. Scott is a firm believer that nothing in this life will come easy, and hard work is the only way to get what you want.
He is passionate about education, athletics, and self-improvement. Scott believes that technology can alleviate much of what ails this planet and the people on it.
**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):
Scott, welcome to the high-performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about what brought you to, where you are in education now?
Scott Kirkness (00:12):
That sounds great. So my name is Scott Kirkness. I’m originally from Toronto and I grew up in Sudbury, Ontario got a teacher’s degree at Laurentian university and Lakehead university very excited to be here. Kind of how I got here. You know, it was one of those things where people, they never know what they want to be when they grow up until they’re faced with it. Right. And I had it in my head. I was going to be a paramedic. And then all of a sudden grade 10 science, wasn’t going so well for me. But grade 10 history, I had, my teacher pulled me aside and she said, boy, you know, in 30 years, I don’t think I’ve ever given a a hundred on an exam. So a what do you want to do with your life? I said, you know what? That sounds really good. So I got on the teaching express and here we are.
Sam Demma (00:54):
Speaking of Laurentian, it seems like you loved school so much. You went back there and ran events for them too.
Scott Kirkness (01:00):
I did, I did. I was the vice president of student services for a year with a student general association. It was great.
Sam Demma (01:07):
So you finish school at Laurentian and then what did the path kind of look like from there?
Scott Kirkness (01:16):
Well yeah, I graduated from Laurentian with my honors in history in 2010. So then I spent the next year at Lakehead university getting my faculty of education, my, my B ed. And that’s my first experience really in a classroom. Cause that’s when you have your practicums, right? That’s when you’re a student teacher. And my first experience was, was phenomenal. I got really lucky. I got to work at a place called Dennis Franklin Cromarty high school thunder bay, which is an all indigenous high school run by the Northern Nishnawbe education council. And they run it really different that they fly their students from remote reserves. They board them in thunder bay. And so as a result, they’re actually only at school, eight months to a year instead of 10. So their day is longer, their semester ends at Christmas instrument. Yeah. So I only got a five week placement, but my five weeks for longer than everyone else’s because my day was longer.
Scott Kirkness (02:08):
So that was an incredible experience. And then of course in the second semester I have another placement. It was at closed garden school also in thunder bay. Really enjoyed that experience as well. Nice. And then I was faced with the great crushing Ontario right now. Right? It’s, it’s seemingly impossible for new teachers to get work. And so I kind of went back to what I’d been doing on and off throughout university. I was a laborer for construction companies and about a year and a half after that, I just decided I had to throw my hat in the ring. And I went overseas. I taught in, in London, in England for about a semester. I had a five-year work visa. I was very fortunate. I have, I have family from the UK. So it was easy for me to get a visa, but you know, ultimately all my family’s here, the money isn’t quite the same. The experience is very different than what we have in Canada. I’m very grateful for it. But while I was over there in 2013, we didn’t quite have zoom, but we still had Skype. And I did an interview and I I landed in Saskatchewan and I’ve been at the same school, stout and central school here in Stoughton Saskatchewan since September, 2013.
Sam Demma (03:16):
Awesome. And did construction run in your family or was that something you just jumped into?
Scott Kirkness (03:22):
No, no, I was, I’m very fortunate, very privileged. My father worked construction, so he was able to usually get me work and I was not very grateful for it. Initially. I wanted to just kind of go to the bank of mom and dad, like all my friends, but to be honest, you know, you swing a shovel and a sledgehammer for eight hours a day or longer, you really start appreciating the going to class a little more.
Sam Demma (03:46):
Yeah, it’s true. My dad is a contractor. He was a licensed plumber. And in the summer times I would do some work with him. And I used to hate when he would ask me, can you help us with this unfinished basement? I mean, we have to, we have to move the stones to put some what do you call it? Like some pipe in the ground. And it was always a, a very physical job, so I definitely can relate to the experience. So at what point in your journey did you go back to Laurentian and do like student services and run events? There was that after the construction or before?
Scott Kirkness (04:18):
Oh, it’s before, during and after. Oh, cool. I actually graduated from high school in 2004 and I went back for a semester that was around the time that Ontario had dropped grade 13. And so they called it the year before me. It was the double cohort were twice as many people were going into university and I, I didn’t have enough money to be honest. So I went back to high school for a semester, tried to upgrade some credits, maybe get some scholarship opportunities. And while that didn’t really work out, I really didn’t need the second semester. So I was, yeah, that’s when I started, I was my first foray into construction. I was 18. And you know, a part of you thinks I really don’t want to take a whole gap year because I don’t know if I trust myself to go back once you get a taste of the money, but you know, sure enough, you find yourself freezing there in minus 40 shoveling.
Scott Kirkness (05:04):
And again, those classrooms looked mighty inviting for some people. And, you know, I, I have utmost respect for those people who choose that path and that’s what they want to do. Everybody is there’s great opportunities in it. But it wasn’t for me. I was really glad that I was able to make my dream come true and become an educator. That’s awesome. That actually puts me in 2005. I’m at Laurentian. I go through it and I was kind of one credit behind the whole way. And so I didn’t actually graduate in 2009, I needed one more credit or class from however they split it up. And so I did the vice-president of services while I was getting my last credit, because it’s a full-time job. You’re working 30, 40 hours a week.
Sam Demma (05:49):
And what was that like? Like if you have to put, but, but if an educator listening and want us to put themselves in the shoes of a event planner or students or head of student services at you know, a university.
Scott Kirkness (06:01):
Yeah. Well, I guess in a word, a learning experience, if I can make an eight, it, you know, it starts with, okay, so you have to get the frosh kits ready. Okay. Well, what do I put in the frosh kits? Well, this is what they did last year that doesn’t tell me what I’m supposed to do. You know, you’re really figuring a lot of this out and our executive director, God bless her. She’s a Saint who worked for peanuts for longer than she ever should have. Her name was Tanis logon and she was on maternity leave. So sure she kept coming in with the baby and everything, but I’m trying not to bug her too much. There’s a whole story about ordering lanyards. And I thought I got us a great deal. And I accidentally kind of screwed over a product user we’d been using for a decade and, you know, learning experience. But the best thing that came out of that was I got media training. How to deal with an interview on the phone, you know, get the questions in advance, don’t say yes to any interview right away. Think about it, things like that. Cool. Yeah.
Sam Demma (06:54):
That’s amazing. That’s so awesome. I know from speaking to buddies who go to university, they, they love events, but little, do they know the amount of work that goes into them from behind the scenes?
Scott Kirkness (07:05):
Little did I little, did I know that frosh concerts are usually paid for, with a briefcase of cash? Really? Yeah. You give the band a, you know, 25 grand in cash in a briefcase at the end of the night and their rider kits are phenomenal too. That’s fricking cool.
Sam Demma (07:18):
That’s awesome. You also did some stuff with camp Kodiak. Can you tell us a little bit about that and how that kind of shaped.
Scott Kirkness (07:26):
You as well? For sure. So camp Kodiak is, you know, one of the happiest places on earth, they are essentially a camp for children with different learning disabilities, primarily who are on the autism spectrum. It’s run for, I believe kids about eight to 18, and then they even have club Kodiak for it. You know, adults who had been part of the program which is also really cool. It’s incredibly expensive. But part of the reason it’s expensive is because they have an incredible camper to counselor ratio in my cabin, you know, it’s a three to one ratio, there was three kids to every adult and you, you can’t get that anywhere to summer camp. You know, it’s, it’s international. We had kids flying in from Russia, the Arab Emirates, Venezuela half are from Ontario, but a lot are not. Wow. And so you get a lot of experience, you know, waking up at 7:00 AM meds for some kids while other kids are getting them throughout the day, the programming is very rigid.
Scott Kirkness (08:22):
You start learning the how important routines are to a lot of the kids on the spectrum. Right. And it just teaches you compassion on a level that you wouldn’t have expected. Right? You, you read about it and patience and understanding, but until you’ve lived it, you know, the kid does not have his X-Box at camp. Right. And so his routine is already totally thrown into the woods, but you know, they, the relationships they’re able to form. And then I was able to form with them. You know, I, I only did it the one summer, but I still have campers who were in cabinet year. They were 16, 17 years old. And you know, they still reach out to me occasionally and, you know, Hey, you know, God, I’m dating myself now, but you know, they’re 21, 24 years old now all of a sudden, right. Some of them are older now than when I was, when I met them. That’s so cool. Yeah. Yeah.
Sam Demma (09:11):
And you know, speaking of international flying kids and our kids were coming all over to camp when you were in London. Yep. What was that experience like? I know you mentioned it’s very different. Give me an idea.
Scott Kirkness (09:24):
Well, here’s an idea of different. So I got off the airplane, not knowing where I was sleeping that night. Wow. Yeah. I was newly married. I got married in January. I flew over there and I love my wife very much, but we all knew that the idea of living in a hostel for a few weeks was just not something that was going to work for her. So the plan was for me to go over there and get established and she’ll come join me in the fall. And that didn’t end up happening. You know, like I said, I came to Saskatchewan, but you know, I, I thought I had this big joke. I was going to tell all the people I’m moving to England to teach the English kids how to speak English, you know, little did I know, I understand cosmopolitan metropolitan cities, but I didn’t realize just how diverse London is.
Scott Kirkness (10:10):
You know, about a third of the kids were English as a second language, maybe more. And so that was just my first thought was okay. Not every kid in my English class in England understands the English I’m speaking. And so again, the level of patience and I had a lot of hubris as a young teacher, like, all right, I got this like, look at me like, they’re going to want to learn from me. I have this figured out. I was just recently a student, you know, like every new teacher thinks. And again, it’s, it’s, you need to be patient. You need to be flexible. And the idea that every single kid in your room is going to do the same thing is just a fool’s errand.
Sam Demma (10:48):
Did you end up watching any soccer games while you were there?
Scott Kirkness (10:50):
You know what I did? I’ll try it. I’ll always try and watch the language here. But one of my first days I’m going down to a pub and I said, oh, you know, my friend is a big football fan. And he said, you got to get down to a pub. It’s all right, man, you versus man city for the premiership title, you got to go watch it. And I said, all right. So I’m in north London and I walk into a pub and I said, oh, are you gonna put the match on? And he just looks me right in the eye and says after United and F city, this is an arsenal bar.
Scott Kirkness (11:21):
Not putting the match off, dude. That’s amazing. Okay, cool. I got some culture, but I’m feeling a little homesick later in the year and I’m a Toronto boy in the Toronto maple Leafs make the playoffs for the first time, since I’m in high school and it’s 2013 and they’re on the dream season and they’re going to win it all. Well, the game start at midnight. So I come home from work. I have a nap. And then at midnight, I’m like, I’m going to watch the hockey games. And then I go to bed at 4:00 AM and wake up and go to work. So then I’m real excited to have this place called the maple leaf Tavern. And I’m excited to go watch a hockey game there. I take the subway. I go over there, bars closed at midnight. Wow. Taking this Canadian pub hockey game, maybe Burton now didn’t work out. But it, it was just, I wouldn’t trade that experience in London for the world. It was so good for me professionally and just the personal growth of, you know, living in a foreign country.
Sam Demma (12:16):
That’s awesome. Would you recommend other educators try and do the same?
Scott Kirkness (12:18):
So particularly early in your career, I had through the company I worked with, I got guaranteed supply work. They called it. So I was guaranteed four days a week, but I was a substitute teacher. So I was in different buildings all the time. And it’s, it’s almost like an apprenticeship, you know, you’re, you’re, you’re, you’re not the one making the planning and the decisions, but you’re still there doing the work. And I think that’s an important skill. And I think a lot of times new teachers really get rushed to the front. And I think that’s part of the reason there’s a big burnout.
Sam Demma (12:53):
Yeah. I couldn’t agree more, especially right now. Things are so different. Things have changed a lot. I’m curious to know what are some of the challenges you’ve been facing personally or as a school in education right now and how you’re striving to kind of overcome those things or deal with them?
Scott Kirkness (13:08):
Yeah. lots of things, right. I mean, in my personal life, I’ve had three children who are under the age of five. You know, one of them was born during the pandemic. You know, the sleep is still not quite a part of my life, but professionally it’s the same challenges. I think educators face all over the place. We’ve been fighting for a few, a few of the same things forever smaller class sizes and, you know, greater compensation. And while yes, in Canada, our teachers are taken care of, and I’m not here to complain about money. I’m quite happy with what I’m doing, but money is a factor in class sizes, right. You know, there are not standard class sizes across the countries, across the province. They vary so dramatically. And you know, in some of these small rural areas, you have three and four grades in a same class.
Scott Kirkness (14:03):
And that’s an incredible challenge. I’m fortunate and I’ve never dealt with a triple or a quad split, but every class, almost every class I’ve taught in my career has been a split class, just because of the nature of the size of my community. It’s rare to have more than 10, 12 kids in the same grade. Like I work in a K to 12 school, it’s kindergarten, grade 12, and we only have about 160 kids. So do the math. I’m not saying it’s viable for you to have a class of 10, but every educator, every educational theorist in the world would tell you, you’re going to have a better learning experience if you were to have some of the smaller classes. So that’s the big challenge. And then of course the other challenge staring us in the face is the global pandemic. You know, I got a lot of friends back east and it was hard in Ontario.
Scott Kirkness (14:52):
It really was, you know, they had such strict lockdowns and this whole thing came out of nowhere, but ultimately they were largely able to shift online that isn’t the case in rural areas. Our, our internet is just not really capable of you know, live video streaming everywhere. So the kids can do it, but it wasn’t a reality for everyone. And so I guess the greatest answer to how to overcome some of these challenges is a, the answer is more technology, right? Get the upgraded internet systems. You know, you hear the federal government talking about, you know, making high-speed internet and an essential service. You know, we kinda got a flash forward and what the future of education looks like with the pandemic. And I didn’t like all of it, but you know, as long as the technology works out and you’re not having inequity with some children not having access to it, some of it wasn’t all bad. Yeah.
Sam Demma (15:50):
Yeah. I agree. All right. Can there be more you raised a lot of great points and I’m curious to know if, when you initially started out your career as well, you had someone kind of mentoring you and guiding you like a, another educator or people that you would go to and kind of ask questions. If you weren’t sure about certain situations.
Scott Kirkness (16:08):
I was really fortunate to walk into a veteran building. You know, there was another rookie teacher on staff with me who has since moved on to Alberta. I had to add Alberta cause they didn’t want people to think she had died. Yeah. So, you know, we had some rookie conversations, but we had a lot of veterans in the building. Right. It was a matter of what do I do when this happens. And, and there’s also a lot of kind of falling off the horse. Sometimes you really do just have to screw up initially and I’m not talking about, you know, oh, well, you know, I just decided I didn’t want to read the novel in advance. And we watched the movie, you know, I, I don’t mean that, but you know, there were things I didn’t understand about how to take what’s in the curriculum and put it into the classroom.
Scott Kirkness (16:50):
And I, I made some mistakes along the way, and I’ll never forget. I have a colleague who I sure would want to remain nameless. And they had a prep period and they were sitting next door and my door was open and they heard me talk and doing my lesson. This said, so what, what class you teach in there as well? That’s great. Eight social studies. She chuckles and she says, no, it isn’t, that’s not part of it. And so, you know, she gave me the, you know, the fact that life conversation very gently about, okay, well know, I understand how you, you got X for that answer, but really it’s why, and they were able to share resources. And it’s just one of those important things you need to build comradery and culture within the room.
Sam Demma (17:35):
That that’s amazing. That’s actually a very helpful person.
Scott Kirkness (17:39):
Yeah, yeah. That could have been terrible. I mean, they could have completely thrown me under the bus, backed it over a few times, but we’re very fortunate that education, it’s not a cutthroat competitive field, a field where everybody, you know, I’m not fighting with her for a salary demand next year. Yep. So we both have the job, we’re all in this to make other people’s lives better. Right.
Sam Demma (18:02):
That’s awesome. And if you could go back in time and speak to your younger self, you know, rookie Scott in your first year teaching, but then wisdom and advice and you know, experience you’ve had, what advice would you give your younger self?
Scott Kirkness (18:14):
I would undo a lot of the advice I got from unsolicited people going into education. One of the things I had a professor telling me at the faculty of education was as a young teacher, don’t smile until Christmas. They won’t, they won’t take you seriously looking at it as like what they were trying to foster an atmosphere of intimidation. And, you know, I have a loud, booming voice. I wear a suit. I stay, I stood at the front of the room. I taught really old school initially. You know, it was okay, desks in rows and we’re gonna teach like this. And I thought I was all futuristic because I was having them, you know, use Microsoft office 365, a congratulations. You’re gonna use a shared document. That’s my modern teaching. That’s it? As opposed to the idea of small group instruction, as opposed to the idea that relationship building is the most important part of this job.
Scott Kirkness (19:11):
People somewhat more salient than I said something along the lines of people will rarely remember what their teacher taught them, but they will always remember how their teacher made them feel. And people who are in a good Headspace who are happy to be there. You know, the learning happens a lot easier. I’m not saying it happens by osmosis. You can’t just be friends with them and Powell around and put on the basketball game, but you need that positive relationship. It’s the whole Maslow before bloom theory, right? If the, if their immediate needs are not being met and often those needs are for an adult relationship outside of their family, it’s real difficult to get to the higher levels of thinking.
Sam Demma (19:53):
Yeah. I agree. I think back to the teachers that have the biggest impact on me and a lot of them got to know me on a personal level, built really strong relationships. And that’s why I felt more interested in, you know, engaging in their lessons and everything they had to teach.
Scott Kirkness (20:08):
Yeah. And that’s it. It’s the old data Ms. Frizzle, right? Take chances. Make mistakes and get messy. Yeah. I remember being real proud of the fact that when I was a first year teacher, I was deducting marks for kids who didn’t underline the date on their notes. Like, why did I even care? Why am I evaluating their notes? What their notes, show me, congratulations. You know how to copy not congratulations. You thought of something and showed me something.
Sam Demma (20:34):
Yeah, I like that. That’s a good point. That’s a really good point. Scott, thank you so much for coming on the show. I really appreciate you taking the time to do this. I I loved it and this was a great conversation. If another educator is listening and wants to reach
Scott Kirkness (20:47):
Out what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you and do so? The best way to get ahold of me would be to access our websites, find Stoughton central school. And you’ll find my lovely photo there. You can give, shoot me an email. It’s the best way to get ahold of me or find me on LinkedIn. I’m Scott Kirkness.
Sam Demma (21:07):
All right, Scott. Thank you so much. Keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon. I appreciate your time.
Scott Kirkness (21:11):
Thanks very much for having me. It was great to be here.
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