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Education

Steph Pearson – Learning Technology Consultant, e-Learning Lead, Ottawa Catholic School Board, Ottawa ON Canada

Steph Pearson - Learning Technology Consultant, e-Learning Lead, Ottawa Catholic School Board, Ottawa ON Canada
About Steph Pearson

Steph (@TheSPearson) is an engagement, education, and technology expert. She is constantly working to unlearn mindsets which result in inequities for Indigenous, Black, racialized and 2SLGBTQ+ students and colleagues. She has coordinated the OCSB elearning program for 4.5 years and assists teachers working to leverage technology from kindergarten to grade 12.

She has presented at various conferences across Canada demonstrating how digital tools can be used for differentiation, deepen understanding and to promote activism for social justice. She has contributed to several Ontario elearning writing projects such as Canadian Families (2017) and the Catholic Virtual Ontario’s Canadian History courses (2022).

As she returns to the classroom in September 2022, she looks forward to applying equitable and responsive strategies to engage students from grade 9 – 12 in History, Geography and Social Sciences. She has experience in the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Program, the New South Wales (Australia) Board of Studies Curriculum, and taught in Glasgow, Scotland.

She can be found most days enjoying a grilled cheese sandwich, planning her next trip abroad and would like to say, “pspsps” to your cat.

Connect with Steph: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

OCSB E-learning Program

International Baccalaureate Middle Years Program

New South Wales (Australia) Board of Studies

For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood by Christopher Emdin

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 (00:01):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator.


Sam Demma (01:00):
This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Steph Pearson. Steph is an engagement, education, and technology expert. She is constantly working to unlearn mindsets which result in inequities for Indigenous, Black, racialized and 2SLGBTQ+ students and colleagues. She has coordinated the OCSB elearning program for 4.5 years and assists teachers working to leverage technology from kindergarten to grade 12. She has presented at various conferences across Canada demonstrating how digital tools can be used for differentiation, deepen understanding and to promote activism for social justice. She has contributed to several Ontario elearning writing projects such as Canadian Families (2017) and the Catholic Virtual Ontario’s Canadian History courses (2022). As she returns to the classroom in September 2022, she looks forward to applying equitable and responsive strategies to engage students from grade 9 – 12 in History, Geography and Social Sciences.


Sam Demma (02:00):
She has experience in the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Program, the New South Wales (Australia) Board of Studies Curriculum, and taught in Glasgow, Scotland. She can be found most days enjoying a grilled cheese sandwich, planning her next trip abroad, and would like to say “pspsps” to your cat . I hope you enjoy this conversation with Steph, and I will see you on the other side. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today we are joined by a very special guest. Her name is Step Pearson. Steph, please introduce yourself.


Steph Pearson (02:38):
Hi, I’m Steph Pearson. I am currently a learning technologies consultant with the Ottawa Catholic School Board, and I am heading back to the classroom in September to teach grade nine through 12 contemporary studies. And this is my 20th year of teaching.


Sam Demma (02:55):
Thank you for your service. tell me more about the pathway that brought you to learning technologies and how, like, what is that? Explain it to us.


Steph Pearson (03:05):
Excellent. So learning technologies is basically a fancy way to say what digital tools are we using to help students engage in the content to show what they’re know, show, what they know about a, a topic discover for themselves what they’re learning, but having technology really the perfect, the perfect way to describe technology is it becomes just that vehicle that kids use to learn. It also allows when used in the best possible ways, the teacher to really just fade into the background so that students can really pursue their interests and seek information that may not be available to them in the classroom in another way. So a classic example is some teachers like, well, I can’t teach black history and my Canadian history course because it’s not my textbook, well, get rid of the textbook and go to the internet. so cultivate sources for your students to be able to find that and see that and, and see themselves.


Steph Pearson (03:59):
And when we know representation really matters, technology just makes it so beautiful to be able to have students chase the stories of themselves and, and how they fit to take pictures. So so that’s really what learning technology is about is how do we, not only how do we get kids to be able to see themselves in the world, but how do we help students with special education needs? How do they use technology in order to show what they know about topics? And then how do we make the world more efficient? Like how do we make teachers time more efficient so they can spend that one-on-one time that technology just can’t do, they don’t have the human touch that do,


Sam Demma (04:35):
How did you get into this role? Was it something you always wanted to do or like, tell me a little bit about the big picture journey from, okay. Student growing up. When did you realize you wanted to get into education and then let’s zoom in as well to how you got specifically to here?


Steph Pearson (04:51):
Okay. So I never wanted to be a teacher, both my parents were teachers, my older sister was in training, so I kind of tried to avoid it. And then I realized, oh, crap, I actually really kind of good at this. And I’m, and I really started liking it. Yeah. And then I, and then I had the opportunity to go Australia for a year on a, on a teaching exchange. So it was a pretty amazing experience that I could walk out the gate of my, of my school, where I was teaching in Australia and be at the opera house in 40 minutes, like walk over the bridge. Like it was absolutely stunning, but part, they were in the very, this is in 2009 and they were just moving to a one to one student to laptop ratio with with apple products. And so I was there kind of participating in this kind of opportunity.


Steph Pearson (05:34):
We were nowhere near this, my home board, but here they were doing it. It was a private school. There was lots of money, lots of intention coming in at it. And so one of the things, their tech learning technologies, people did was let’s have a day every week where teachers can come and learn about what’s available to them. So that’s the year I got involved in Twitter, 2009. And because they were like, there are so many things to learn there. And so I got interested in that and I would just these little bite size ways to use technology better in your classroom. So then when I moved home came back to the Ottawa Catholic. I was like, this is something we could start doing here. And so I started leading little sessions. I’ve always been interested in technology. Like I was born in the seventies.


Steph Pearson (06:14):
So I tech like computers became a really, they only became really essential in my life in university. So I did all my research and paper, but I would word processor, I even learned to type on a typewriter . And so when, but when so as I’m leaving university, that’s where word processing is on computers and the internet is justfancy and, and so I’ve never been afraid to press buttons. And I think that’s really what all being techy looks like is just like helping people press buttons so that they go, oh, actually this is not a problem. I can press these buttons and it’ll be okay. And, and when they have, when educators get the opportunity to play in a, in a non-threatening environment, they are more likely to give their students those opportunities to play in those non-threatening environments as well. And sometimes when you talk to somebody who is really gungho computers, and they’re talking about Rams and gigabytes and ly blurs that means no nothing to somebody.


Steph Pearson (07:09):
So if you have somebody who’s willing to sit beside you and talk to you in really simple terms sit beside you and help you click that can really build confidence. And of course, we’ve seen that in the last two years, the pandemic where people who kind of tried to avoid everything technological, they’ve had to jump on board. And it’s been really amazing to see some, some teachers who were basically almost in tears when they would first start coming to our office hours. But then by the end, they’re like, we’re gonna try this really cool tool. And we’re, and, and so that just gives us so much to play in our role,


Sam Demma (07:41):
What did, what did that nonthreatening environment look like? Tell me a little bit more about how this looked and what the facilitation looked like. If another board is getting inspired by this and wants to try something similar.


Steph Pearson (07:54):
That’s a great question. So at first it was literally, I convinced the principal to buy coffee every morning. And so it was first thing in the morning and we would have coffee and donuts. And I I’m just like, this is kind of how I act in a classroom, so I would make jokes and we would just literally walk through the steps and and everybody would just, we’d do one tool and we focused on the tool. And then once people could feel like they could, you know, felt pretty confident about how to start like a how to, how to use a slide deck in their classroom. For example, once they got used to where they could click, then we could say, okay, these are the ways you can now use it. Right. So then they go, oh, and then I would volunteer.


Steph Pearson (08:36):
Like, if you really need me, I will try to organize so that I can be available, the period that I’m off on my prep and go, and excuse me, help you help your students. But most people, because they were only concentrating on that one tool that week, they were able to use it with their students, had some success. And so the next time they’d be like, okay, we’re ready to learn something else. Right. So it was, it was literally just building those relationships between people who were, who were afraid to kind of go or intimidated to go into these technologies and creating those opportunities for them to just get a chance to play. Now, this was, this was unique because again, the people who weren’t willing to give up time outside of the Workday they wouldn’t necessarily participate in this, but it was amazing that they would be talking to people who were participating in my workshops and they would start talking to their neighbor and their neighbor would go, oh, I didn’t know you could do that. So it was like that slow infiltration of like sneaky PD, right? One person’s more confident. And then everybody else built their confidence. And, and, and within a few years we had a, a very positive environment where when your own device became really just the norm, cuz the students were so used to seeing, oh, we’re gonna be using our computers game. Which of course in 2012 was a much different thing than now where a lot of people have gone one devices. So


Steph Pearson (09:59):
Sneaky PD


Sam Demma (10:00):
I like that. What are some of the tools that you find yourself using to maximize your time or that you really love and enjoy that you think every teacher should know about or use? And I know there’s no one size fits all, but it sounds like you’ve pushed a lot of buttons and you’ve probably pushed some buttons


Steph Pearson (10:22):
metaphorically and then


Sam Demma (10:24):
Some, you know, no pun intended you’ve probably pushed some buttons that have helped you a lot and you co you probably keep pushing those buttons. So I’m curious what those buttons are, what some of those tools are.


Steph Pearson (10:37):
Awesome. So one of the other hats that I wear is I coordinated our eLearning program at our school board. Nice. And what I find is some people just need the same information over and over again, but they’re asking it for, at very different times during the week or over the months. So Gmails templates are a God send. So if you’ve never looked at templates that saves my life because allows you to just save those statements that you make all the time and one place, and you can just randomly them into all kinds of emails, you can send images or gifts. And so when I’m trying to help students log into their email or log into their e-learning profile I can just send them gifts. So the kids can just know exactly where to click. And that’s also part of that is, is kind of leads to how do, how do young people learn and how do older people learn?


Steph Pearson (11:25):
Right. So a lot of our older staff really like when we, we write down the steps, then how to do it. But I find that if any, most people are pretty good. If I use a screencast and literally show them what buttons to press. So we use stuff like Screencastify all the time we, we video has a screen reporter tool. Canva has a screen reporter tool, and we just find if we can show them exactly where to click again, that anxiety just goes down and if you know, quickly, but they can watch those videos at half spot, half speed, and literally watch, okay, now I click here and literally watch and click here. So our, our our squad of three of us over the last two years, we’ve created something like 500 videos. We call it OCS B how to, and it’s literally how to click around and find the things that both educators need. Parents need students need, because we knew as long as there was a video, people were like, great. If there’s a video show me and then, and we were able to be more efficient in how the concerns and the, the requests that we were getting. So made a huge difference. So I spent a lot of time on video, video editing software over the last two years.


Sam Demma (12:36):
that’s awesome. So Gmail templates, big time saver probably just big stress reliever yes. And how to videos have been both been huge,


Steph Pearson (12:48):
Huge, absolutely huge. And again, once you have a bank, it becomes a lot easier to serve those needs and people, and it, and it’s always funny when people are putting in like service requests in our board and they, they wanna put it at urgent. I’m like, you’re, this is not an urgent issue, but it feels urgent to them. So if we can get back to them really quickly with the here’s the video where to click and I say this to like our teachers who are doing e-learning as well. Like if you send them a video a with your face on it, cuz I think that’s the other disconnect that we have with a lot of digital learning is that we take the humanity out of it. So I say, put your face in the bottom left hand corner. And so they see you talking about where you’re clicking on the screen, because then you are a real person, not just some ran who happens to stuff, right. So how do we build community in a digital world? And so I know that’s where this job is gonna go into the future is how do we make sure that all educators can talk about how do out, how to make positive digital interactions online?


Sam Demma (13:48):
You mentioned next year, you’re going back to the classroom, which also makes me believe that you were in the classroom before. Yes. tell me a little bit about the different grades you’ve taught, what that experience was like some of the high moments or things that you enjoy teaching or from teaching in the classroom.


Steph Pearson (14:05):
Yeah. So I’ve been lucky. So been this current role four and a half years. So prior to that, I, I taught seven and eight for a couple years in a couple different school models. So one where the seven and eights were attached to the K to six schools and another school where the seven and eights were by themselves and in another school where the seven and eights were with the grade twelves. So really interesting to see that very important developmental period of grade seven and eight and how which would be great, like 11 through 13 for our American viewers. They, that kind of, it’s so interesting when they’re the oldest students with kinder, they really get that, that they’re oldest students when they’re in their own world, it’s their own world. Right. Versus when they’re seven to 12 and they’re like, oh, the grade twelves are so intimidating.


Steph Pearson (14:50):
You’re like the grade twelves don’t think about you. I’m sorry. They, they haven’t given you a thought of debt, but yes, they’re intimidating. I’ve been lucky enough to be in contemporary studies. So social sciences, history, geography for over a decade. And and it’s been really interesting over that shift. So I taught in a predominantly white school for many, many years, and somehow I stumbled into teaching about equity and, and all of these things that have become really important over the last four years because of the, the media being better at reporting those issues. Right? Those have obviously always been an issue. But the media has gotten the mainstream media has gotten better at tracing the roots of the causes of inequities. So it was really interesting teaching at a predominantly white school where I’d be able, you know, we finally start talking about like how the color of your skin impacts how you walk in the world.


Steph Pearson (15:50):
So and I would have students just be appreciative at the end of the day saying, thank you for being, speaking to my experiences in a way that they weren’t hearing other classrooms, but then I moved to a school that was predominantly non-white. So a lot of black students, a lot of middle student students, students who identified as as Latinx and I, I was, I was really fascinated at how the teaching had to change. So when I was teaching predominantly white students, I was trying to convince them that racism exists and that sexism exists and that homophobias exist in, in some ways. And then I was teaching at a, at a student, a student group where they would’ve been facing all of those issues and I just would have to get them started and they were happy to run with books, ideas.


Steph Pearson (16:42):
So and we’re really excited to have those conversations and, and be validated that their experience is real and that they could use those to further their understanding of a topic. So for example, I had a student who we were talking about the word franchise and and they got stuck on the idea of like a McDonald’s franchise. And I was like, no franchise like voting. And they said, oh, okay. Yeah, no problem. So one of the students was like, you know, we could all vote miss. And I said, well, no, actually, and I look around the classroom and I said, actually only one person in this whole room would’ve been able to vote up until 1960. And they were like, what? And they’re like, yeah, one of you and they’re, and then now as that kid stood up and was like, I’m the only white guy in here, which was such a fascinating moment where he had never seen himself as other yeah.


Steph Pearson (17:33):
But in a room that was constantly othered by society by not in their own homes obviously, and not in their own communities, but by society at large is it was just so fascinating to see that realization. And of course how this, how their, how his peers reacted to that in a really supportive way that he then recognized that difference that he had never seen before. And that privilege of recognizing that difference. Right. So it’s been really fascinating to kind of watch that that, that arc of, of what that looks like and how that will feel in yet another school. When I go back in September and what the last four and a half years of pandemic black lives matter real deep, hard work in our school board for two S LGBTQ rights for students and opportunities, I I’m really looking forward to what I am going to learn from the students, as opposed to what I feel like I can impart on anyone else.


Sam Demma (18:29):
How did you determine you have to change your teaching style? Because I’m sure there are sometimes teachers who transition different, different age groups, maybe even different schools and try teaching the same way they taught in a previous situation and find that it’s not working. So like, what was the indicator for you to adjust and shift?


Steph Pearson (18:48):
Yeah, so Chris Emden has a great book called to all the white folks who teach in the hood. And so he had some really great ways to think about how, how to see kids who are not from your experience, how to see how you, what question you could ask yourself. So you see them as amazing whole human beings, but that their background is not the same as your background. So for example I stopped being annoyingly annoying about peop kids being late for class, because I realized that, and it probably was the case for a lot of the students in my first school, but in the second school, I realized they were walking their, their siblings classes, that there wasn’t anybody to pick them up in the morning that there they had unreliable power in their homes, right. So they had all these other complexities in their lives.


Steph Pearson (19:37):
That meant that getting to school on time was the least of their concerns, or just that it wasn’t of value that they, they also prescribed to like being on time is my thing, not their thing. So so for example, I just started showing news CRI clips the first 10 minutes of the day before I started teaching the lesson. Right. So so the 10 minutes I’m using my air quotes there. So the 10 minutes gave those students that wiggle room to be able to get there so that they could be there for the initial kit. These are the activities we’re gonna do today. Because part of why I was annoyed about kids being late is I didn’t wanna have to talk them through what we were gonna do for the day again. So if I just shifted my expectation, because I’m the easiest one to shift shifting 30 students is a lot harder than changing me a single human being for what my expectations are.


Steph Pearson (20:28):
So 10 minutes of news. And then what I would say to the students, if you are watching the news and you can connect it to the things we’re, we’re looking at, then do that. And so they got more learning or different style of learning and the students who then would come in, they could catch up if they wanted, they could check out the rule, the, the, the news reel that we’d watched or not, and we’d be able to proceed with our day. So that’s just one little small thing that I think the students appreciated just cuz it was just one less teacher that was gonna get on their case for not being there time. Right. And I think when, excuse me, when there are lots of other complexities in a student’s life, that doesn’t mean that there are any less capable of learning. It just means that there are other things that might also be important at that time.


Sam Demma (21:12):
You mentioned the book as a resource. Yes. Tell my white folks that teach in the hood. What other resources have you found helpful that have informed your practice and it could be books, but it could be absolutely anything that you think has changed your perspective or provided you with some tools and resources that you found helpful.


Steph Pearson (21:30):
Right? So if, if you, I, I do get a chance to read a lot of books in my current role. So one of the ones that I am currently obsessed with is gold. Muhammad’s cultivating genius and how we can think entirely different about how differently, about how we shape pedagogy and how we curriculum, how we design curriculum. And so she uses instead of like white thinkers, white Western thinkers, she uses the deep tradition of black literary societies from the 1830s and how, when people came to learn in a group, it wasn’t about literature necessarily, but it was about literary understanding. So what skill are you doing? How does it show you more about your identity? What kind of critical lens can we bring to a, a concept we find justice or injustice in the world and what does it say about joy?


Steph Pearson (22:28):
Like what kinda joy can we bring? So I love that framing. I’ve had the pleasure of teaching students in their bachelor’s of ed program. And again, trying to get them to think differently about how they want to teach, to get out of the, the, the skills or the way that they were taught. Right. Mm-hmm cause it’s very much, I was only in school and I learned the way the school and this is what my associate teachers teach, but, but let’s stop the pattern if we know the pattern isn’t working for all students. Right. So so I love go Goldie for that. Following voices that are very different than my own on Twitter and social media, Instagram. So a lot of two S LGBTQ voices black, LGBTQ voices people who are more right leaning than I am trying to find places, actively seeking out of my internet bubble so that I am presented with information that is different than I would get in my regular bubble.


Steph Pearson (23:30):
And it’s amazing how often those just little statements that people who identify with those groups will give me little tidbits that will just sit in the back of my mind. So I won’t necessarily jump to the same conclusions in the future. And I think that’s really powerful. Just again, questioning our bias, assuming I have bias, assuming I’m gonna screw things up, getting really good at apologizing. I think that’s a really good skill that all people could get better at, but especially educators, because we are gonna screw up and we need to be ready to hear that from our students that, Hey, you really offended me when and apologizing and then do the next right thing. Do the next thing that is going show that you’re really trying to atone for the mistake that you made, which I think is really important.


Sam Demma (24:17):
I love that. I think being vulnerable to also recognize when we made a mistake is just as important as, as you know, hearing somebody that’s upset with us and then saying, you know what, I’m really sorry. I, I had a guest come on the podcast named Barry Walsh and he’s retired, but still teaches and like volunteers a hundred days of his year in his, in his high school. And he’s like in his seventies now, which is so cool. And he was telling me this story about a student one time that stayed back in class and he was in a, a more rough area and a student came up to him and he must have said something or did something wrong. And the student just said, you know what, Barry, like, you’re you were an asshole yesterday. And you know, and Barry was just like, damn, I didn’t expect to hear that. But he looked at the kid and he, he said, after thinking about it, you know what I was mm-hmm , I’m so sorry. Mm-Hmm the student said that’s okay. Barry and walked outta the classroom and yeah. And he’s like, sometimes that’s really all a student needs to hear is a genuine apology. Yeah. And that’s all they’re looking for. And so I think, you know, apologizing is a really important skill. How have you seen that play out in your own teaching practice or the practice of others and has it been effective?


Steph Pearson (25:34):
Oh man. Well, and again, I think because one of the biggest structures we need to break down in terms of inequities is recognizing privilege, recognizing white supremacy, recognizing that we don’t know we’re swimming in this super of white supremacy. So so for example, I, I was told I used a phrase on Twitter that I had no idea what the route was on it. Cause it never bothered, never questioned. It, never had an opportunity to question someone very gently pointed it out to me. And then I apologized via Twitter. That I’d used the tweet that I’d used, the language that I wasn’t aware of. I deleted the tweet. I apologize because again, it’s that, that language it’s not, it’s not the intention, it’s the impact. Right. And sometimes you can’t explain your intention, trying to explain your intention just makes everything worse.


Steph Pearson (26:27):
Yeah. So you just gotta eat the humble pie. And that is with educators that’s with with colleagues, that’s with people. I don’t even know who I might have offended on Twitter, like all of those pieces, but it was amazing how many people came back to me and said, thank you for doing that apology because they just needed to see that a people make mistakes and B you can apologize. It apologize gracefully, and you don’t, and that doesn’t make you less of a person and doesn’t make you less of an educator. And it, and it certainly, but I think if you’re willing to give a good, solid apology, people are more likely to come up and tell you that you’ve been a jerk because they can see that you’re trying to change your behavior. And it’s the people who absolutely refuse to change that become the problem.


Steph Pearson (27:18):
When, if I’m pointing out where the boundary has to be and you keep crossing it, that I’m gonna stop trusting you. I don’t, you are not a safe space. You are not an ally. And so I need, so then I’m gonna find ways to work around you, as opposed to trying to, to call you in. Which I think is really what the lacks that we wanna do in education. Right? We want everybody to be moving in the right direction for the right, for the right reasons for all the students who need us most. Right.


Sam Demma (27:45):
You mentioned at the beginning of this interview that you’ve been in education for 20 years. If you could travel back in time, tap step on your shoulder in year one and say, not that you need to change anything about the path that you’re about to go down, but here’s some advice that would’ve been helpful for you to hear when you were just getting into education. What would you have told your younger self,


Steph Pearson (28:09):
Keep listening and keep listening and know that people are giving advice because they mean it from the deepest part of their soul. And even though you may not agree with it now, you may see the value it in the future. Mentorship is exactly that it’s people asking questions, trying to challenge or kind of thought. And sometimes I think, I think this is a issue with all young educators. We think we know everything because we’ve, you know, lived on the planet for 25 years but then when you get to your forties, you’re like, oh, the best thing we can know is that we don’t know anything at all. And the only way to be right is to constantly be willing to change our approach. So I think I was much more stubborn in my early days. And then I was really blessed to have really incredible people guide me not only in, in the classroom, but like spiritually and really kind of give me a different view of say Catholicism in a way that I did not.


Steph Pearson (29:10):
I was not, I didn’t see when I was growing up, but given who I was blessed to work with, I see, oh, this is, this is where the work can come into in Catholic schools where we have some, there’s a lot of political challenges as, as Catholic school boards. And I think there’s lots of room in faith to be inclusive and be amazing. So having that is what I know now when I people tried to tell me what to think earlier, but they were really just trying to guide me. So I think listen more would be a good one. And again, seek out those. I wish I would’ve sought out those different voices earlier in my career from those and people who aren’t necessarily educators, but those different voices back in the early two thousands.


Sam Demma (29:58):
If someone has been inspired by this conversation, enjoyed, it, wants to reach out, ask you a question or have a conversation, what would be the best way for an educator to get in touch with you?


Steph Pearson (30:08):
Easiest way is at on Twitter @TheSPearson. And you could certainly look me up, I’m all over the internet. So Steph Pearson and Ottawa, and you can find me it’s it’s my, my emails all over the internet.


Sam Demma (30:21):
OK, awesome.


Steph Pearson (30:22):
It’s the fastest way to do it.


Sam Demma (30:23):
Sounds good. Steph, thank you so much for coming on the show. Really appreciate it. Keep up the great work and we will talk soon.


Steph Pearson (30:30):
Perfect.


Sam Demma (30:31):
Hey, it’s Sam again. I hope you enjoyed that amazing conversation on the High Performing Educator podcast. If you, or you know, deserves some extra recognition and appreciation for the work they do in education, please consider applying or nominating them for the High Performing Educator awards, go to www.highperformingeducator.com/award. You can also find the link in the show notes. I’m super excited to spotlight and feature 20 people in 2022, and I’m hoping you or someone, you know, can be one of those educators. I’ll talk to you on the next episode, all the best.

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Tracy Lockwood – Owner of PLAY Education Consulting

Tracy Lockwood - Owner of PLAY Education Consulting
About Tracy Lockwood

Tracy Lockwood (@PLAY_Educator) is a certified K-12 PE Teacher and has over 25 years of experience as an educator and has taught K-12 students in Alberta, British Columbia, Abu Dhabi and Macau. She was employed as an Education Consultant for nearly 10 years where she facilitated hundreds of workshops for thousands of professionals at the local, provincial, national and international levels.

Tracy is a Master Trainer for the National Coaching Certification Program & DANCEPL3Y (dance-play). She has her Masters in Educational Leadership and has a passion for all things physical education, physical literacy and physical activity.

Today, Tracy runs a successful business, PLAY Education, and works with thousands of children, youth and adults every year around the world to empower and inspire them to move, laugh, connect, and smile, while learning new ways to be physically active and develop physical literacy. 

Connect with Tracy: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

PLAY Education

Professional Development Workshops – PLAY Education

Resources from PLAY Education

PLAY Education Youtube Channel

National Coaching Certification Program

DANCEPL3Y (dance-play)

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. I’m super excited to bring you today’s interview with our special guest Tracy Lockwood, who is a certified K to 12 PE teacher. She has over 25 years of experience as an educator and has taught K to 12 students in Alberta, British Columbia, Abu Dhabi, and Macau.


Sam Demma (00:57):
She was employed as an educational consultant for nearly 10 years where she facilitated hundreds of workshops for thousands of professionals at the local, provincial, national, and international level. She is a master trainer for the national coaching certification program and dance play. She has her master’s in educational leadership and a passion for all things, physical education, physical literacy, and physical activity. Today, Tracy runs a successful business; play education and works with thousands of children, youth, and adults every year around the world to empower and inspire them to move, laugh, connect, and smile while learning new ways to be physically active and develop physical literacy. She has an awesome website and brand, which she’ll tell you about all throughout the interview. I’m super excited to bring you this. Can’t wait for you to hear what she has in store. So without further ado, let’s jump in to the interview with Tracy. Tracy, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here this afternoon, depending on where you’re tuning in from can you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about what got you into education, and then also into the work you’re doing today?


Tracy Lockwood (02:06):
Awesome. Hi everybody. Hi Sam, thanks so much for having me. My name is Tracy Lockwood and some people may have, may know me as the play educator. I have a business called Play Education, but 25 years ago, I actually got into education. And, and really there’s, there’s only a few educators in my family so I, I don’t know the, I guess the reason why I got in, in thinking back is mainly because you know, it was, it was a degree program that allowed me in . And so back, you know 20, actually it was 27 years ago when I was in university, I, I really didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do. And I, I was thinking that I wanted to follow in some footsteps of family members and I, I really, I played a lot of sports, so I thought I wanted to be a physiotherapist or something to do with physical activity.


Tracy Lockwood (03:13):
And, and then in my second year of university I actually played volleyball in my first year. And then in my second year changed schools and got into education. And it was honestly the best thing that, that happened to me in my schooling, because I actually realized, of course I love physical activity. I love physical education. And the fact that I could take physical activity courses that went towards a degree was just amazing to me. I had, I had a great experience in all of my courses and, and that just really helped, helped kind of springboard where I traveled and where I was able to take my EDU education degree. And I, I always say I, I actually teach at the university of Alberta and I always say to my students like this, this degree, this education degree is a passport if you want it to be.


Tracy Lockwood (04:11):
And, and I’m so thankful that I chose that, that career path. And I, I just commend anybody who has chosen that career path. It really turned out to be that I love working with kids. And then in the end, I really love working with adults as well. I just love, I don’t know, helping people. And I thought that I would always do something that was a helping career path and, and this just, just suited me the best. And yeah, I’m grateful that it that’s the way it turned out, got to work with adults as a consultant for many, many years. And of course teach kids for many, many years as well. Nice.


Sam Demma (04:48):
And when you think back to when you were in, you know, college and university and making the career decisions and choices, can you think back to like the finding moments, like you could have chose many different programs or many different options that would still allow you to teach and work with adults and kids? Like why specifically teaching or did you, do you think you fell into this and then realized how much you loved it?


Tracy Lockwood (05:11):
Yeah, I think it, I think it’s, I really fell into it. Based on the fact that when I went to high school, I went to high school to play. Like I was in high school of course, to, to get my diploma, but I really was playing sports. Me too. I, I, yeah. Yeah. And you’re a soccer player. I, I played all sports and did not focus so much on the academics. It was like, yeah, it’s gonna be, I’m gonna be fine. I’m always gonna be fine. And, and I think that hindered my opportunities when I got into university. My first year, I went to a smaller university and, and got to continue to play the sport. I love of volleyball, but then realized that I needed to get my marks up a little bit higher. I needed to actually work a little bit harder.


Tracy Lockwood (06:01):
It was, it was so not a focus. And and just a bit of a struggle. I struggled in certain subjects like math and different sciences. I, I really struggled and I needed that one-on-one attention. But even when I did get that attention, that one- one kind of tutoring in high school, I still struggled. And, and to this day it amazes me that I not only have a degree, not that I’m not smart enough to get a degree. I think I applied myself because I got into education, cuz I was accepted into that program based on my marks after my first year, I kind of brought them up a little bit, but really I am always amazed that I actually have a master’s degree because I always think, wow, I, I don’t, I never liked writing and research makes me wanna have a nap.


Tracy Lockwood (06:54):
so I’m just, I was just thinking, you know, wow, how did, how did I accomplish that? So I, I really believe that, you know, because of getting into education, it kind of, springboarded a lot of loves that I have with physical activity, physical education, specifically got to do my master’s around physical literacy and, and something that I was passionate about. And I think that’s the key now that we’re, we’re just talking that the key is to find that passion. And I think I was able to do that through getting into a program, through them, working through what I love the best, working with kids, working with adults, physical literacy development, all of those things kind of just began to build upon themselves, but they only did that because I have a love for it.


Sam Demma (07:40):
Yeah.


Tracy Lockwood (07:41):
Yeah.


Sam Demma (07:42):
So that’s awesome. Yeah. I’m inspired right now by this rapper it’s American rapper named Russell vitality stage name is Russ and he always talks about this idea that when he was growing up in school, he was terrible. He was a terrible student. He hated school. And if you judged him on his work ethic, based on how much work he put into his studies, you would’ve thought he was a lazy student, but it’s because he just wasn’t doing work that he loved. But the moment you judged him on his work ethic and his ability when it came to music, he was off the charts. And so it sounds like you’re echoing the same ideas when you find the work you love. You know, maybe originally writing was boring and research put you to sleep. But when it was writing, that was related to a topic you loved and research related to physical education, it probably became something that you wanted to pour your heart and soul into. And as a year that has been filled with challenge and burnout, how have you kept your flame going? Cause I know there’s a lot of teachers and educators who are not sure that this is the path they still want to go down because of the challenges they’ve faced.


Tracy Lockwood (08:51):
Yeah. I, it is so true. And so many people have so many stories just about what they’ve gone through in this past while we, our, our pandemic kind of hit a little bit earlier, cuz we were overseas in Southeast Asia. It hit there first. Yeah. And and then we made the choice to, to come back from overseas to come back here. I, I think during this last year and a half or so it’s, it’s kind of reinventing myself. I think that’s what I’ve always done my entire career. If I, after five years, I’m in a school I’m like, okay, I need to reevaluate. If I’m just not feeling that I can contribute as wholeheartedly as I want to. I need to change mm-hmm and I’m, I’m okay with change. I love change and I’m not like a specifically routine kind of person anyways, which so that really suits my personality.


Tracy Lockwood (09:48):
So changing on the fly, changing the way that I do things has had to really come into play this year. So move to virtual, just like most schools, my business was not going to thrive if I wasn’t able to get into schools in person. So did a ton of virtual activities ton of virtual programs and lots of professional development teachers just putting myself out there. It was not easy because this way of learning and this way of, of speaking with somebody and seeing yourself on the screen all the time is so not comfortable. And it definitely was uncomfortable at the beginning. Just like I know a lot of teachers went through some major uncomfortableness with with dealing with how do you get your kids engaged even? And even just to get them turn on their videos. Yeah. I think the more that you do something, the more that you get comfortable with it and that’s exactly what happened.


Tracy Lockwood (10:48):
And just, just knowing that I was helping teachers, I was helping educators with professional development and, and really I have, I had the time they were, they had to jump right in. I had the time to maybe to look at the research, look what was going on out there, just seeing what the best practices were and then to implement them and then to share them with my network that I have mostly in in, in Canada. And so that, you know, that was really key. I, I think just knowing that I could help somebody and, and then of course the, the feedback that you get back from others, whether you’re a teacher, you get those, that feedback from kids, it can help you just continue to, to want to, to do more. And I think that’s what I was getting back from others. Like thank you for this, wow.


Tracy Lockwood (11:42):
This resource, this is, this is great to see. Really in this time I, I just need something practical and that’s, I guess that’s what I’m all about is that, that practical piece, I just wanna give teachers tools. And then also like seeing students online I have had a couple of university classes, like I mentioned, elementary ed classes and I was teaching a physical education, health and pedagogy class. And so it’s all about movement and so uncomfortable as uncomfortable as it is. I, you know, invited them to turn on their cameras as part of participation, not as part of how you, you know, how much you’re going to develop your skill, but just how are you trying? And so I, I think that that really helped just inviting them to turn on their, their cameras. And I really had some great experiences and some amazing students in my classes that, that were so thankful for the course, even though we couldn’t be in person, which would’ve been way better. I guess I, I really get external feedback that external feedback helps me want to do more. Yes. Yeah, that’s, that’s a big part of it.


Sam Demma (12:58):
Yeah. You and I share that I actually have a binder that I’ve filled with a bunch of emails and messages that I’ve received from students after work and presentations. And I I’ll read it to myself before key moments because I find that it’s us stopping us. And most of the time it’s our own like self-belief or self doubt, even when we’ve done great job, a great job. And we know we’re making an impact sometimes just rereading those things and reminding yourself of the impact can have a huge effect. Now I know as a teacher though, specifically, sometimes the impact isn’t heard or seen for like 10 years and there’s these awesome stories where 15 years later, a student sent an email and is like, oh my goodness, miss Lockwood, you know, your class changed my life and your physical education training changed my life. Can you think about, can you think back to any of those specific stories or moments that stick out in your mind from teaching both in, in the classroom and now with your own business?


Tracy Lockwood (14:00):
Oh, that’s such a good question. You know my, my friend Shannon always says that I, I feel the same way that she retains water, not information. So I feel like , I’m kind of the same nice where I I have a hard time thinking about like what happened way in the past, but, you know, there are definitely students that have come forward in just, just recently that have come forward in my university classes just to be, you know, most recent. Yeah. that have said, you know, this is the best course in my degree. And that just is like, Ugh, that makes me feel so, so great. And, and I ha I do have students that because I taught both of my boys physical education when they’re in elementary. Nice. I see the, the kids that they have grown up with that are now adults.


Tracy Lockwood (14:55):
Nice. I see them, you know, and I hear from them based on the fact that they still hang out with my two sons and, and I do hear really great things that that they didn’t always say in elementary, you know, you get the hugs, you get the high fives. Yeah. once in a while you get cards from, from parents that are just saying how thankful they are. But it, it is, it, it is something that you wonder, you know, it, you have to have that self confidence because I always wonder, you know, is that true? But then I have to remind myself, you know, they wouldn’t be saying it if it’s not. And, and then it is hard to, to focus on that. If you get one negative comment, you know as teachers, I still think about, you know, 20 years ago, 25 years ago, when I first started teaching, I still think about the parent that was not happy with their child’s mark in physical education.


Tracy Lockwood (16:01):
And, and that just sticks out. And it, I think that’s just us as human. We’re always trying to get better. And we, we do take in that negative element. Sometimes it’s very hard to break through that negative thought pattern. Yeah. But it just takes practice. And truly, I I’ve been learning that and I still am at my age, I’m still learning to, to, to be positive. There’s a program that I get to be a part of and I hope it’s okay if I bring it up, it’s called dance. Okay, good. It’s called dance play. And to be honest, the, the positive element that just wraps around that program just it’s really all about three rules, be positive, be fun and be yourself. And whenever I teach it, it’s a reminder to myself. So when I say to kids, you know, it’s really easy to be negative.


Tracy Lockwood (17:00):
It’s really easy to, you know, put yourself down. It takes practice to be positive. So when you’re dancing or when you’re doing something, you know, that challenges you you have to say, you know, I got this, I can do this. I am awesome. I look great. It’s a constant reminder. And, and I think every time I teach that program, it has actually built up my confidence level. Because I remind kids all the time. It’s like, oh yeah, remind myself. Yeah. Or, or when I look, you know, I tell kids to look themselves in the mirror when they’re brushing their teeth, hopefully in the morning. And again, at night they say, you know, you are awesome. You’re a great friend. You’re a great you know, sister or whatever brother you’re, you are you know, really great at math or you really kind, whatever it is, you have to remind yourself. So a as I’m telling them, it’s, it’s just a great confidence booster for myself, just to say, yeah, if I’m telling kids to do this, I also need to do this and model it. Yeah. And I think as teachers, we’re always thinking about how we can model and, and those make the best teachers. And I think that’s why a lot of people go into education is because they want to model you know, what they wanna see in the world.


Sam Demma (18:22):
Yeah. Be an


Tracy Lockwood (18:22):
Example and yeah. Be an example, make a difference. So so I think that, yeah, education is, it is a calling, but it’s also a choice. And yeah. And I, I commend people for making that choice because it does take a lot of work and a lot of effort to be a teacher. Yes. Especially now we’ve seen, what’s been happening over the last year and a half with having to switch completely how you teach, but, but you know, it, it, people have gotten through it. And there’s so many ups and downs in that, in the profession as it is. Yeah. But we are super resilient and we teach kids to be resilient and following our own example is going to be, you know, the best for, for everyone.


Sam Demma (19:12):
And at what point in your own journey, did you start getting this inkling of entrepreneurship and decide to start your own thing? And, you know, you mentioned dance play very briefly, just, just in case anyone’s listening to this right now, or you can’t see the screen and you obviously didn’t see what happened before we started recording, but the call started with Tracy playing music and dancing . So just so you know, she is the perfect person to teach this curriculum. But tell us a little bit about, you know, your own company and, and dance play and how they tie together and where that came from.


Tracy Lockwood (19:50):
Yeah. I, I really, I think I have great role models. My, my parents are entrepreneurs. So when I was 11, my parents started a restaurant business and they kept that same restaurant for 30 years. Oh, wow. So I grew up with, with my parents working so hard being entrepreneurs, but then, you know really doing it for themselves. And I think that’s where I, I didn’t realize, but that’s where it kind of started. And when I was teacher for about 15 years, I ended up getting a position as a consultant and worked provincially in the province of Alberta and then elsewhere kind of delivering professional development to teachers creating programs working on curriculum and tying curriculum with health and physical education into all of our professional development. And so just doing that was, it was sort of like I was running my own business, but not quite, you know, being salary employed.


Tracy Lockwood (20:57):
And about seven years ago, dance play came into my life. We were hosting a conference and we needed something kind of fun and different, and we didn’t have anything dance related. So at our conference, we, I, I was just looking online and just found this dance play thing and thought, wow, this is amazing. And so the person who owns dance play Melanie, she said, why don’t you come to a, to an instructor training, had no idea what I was getting myself into. I really am not a dancer. I love music. I love moving to music, but I have never taken any formal dance training. So so when I was taking that, I, I thought this is gonna be super overwhelming. It was the best time of my life. I loved it so, so much. Awesome. And realized that, you know, maybe because I had been thinking about running my own business, I had been thinking about going on my own and consulting, just that idea of having my own hours working from home, just having control.


Tracy Lockwood (22:03):
Maybe I’m a bit of control freak. I don’t know , but I, I do love the idea of structuring my own day. And as hard as I work, that’s how hard my bus that’s, how much my business is going to grow. So, yeah, so I just decided when dance play came into my life, that this was the next thing, this was the additional thing that I needed in order to supplement my play education business. So started started that, you know, about seven years ago and became a region operator. So I can operate in schools and, and then started hiring some instructors and, and really did a lot of it on my own for a few years, and just poured myself into the business and not only dance play, but play education and still delivered professional development, but really wanted to focus on physical education, physical literacy, physical activity.


Tracy Lockwood (22:58):
And that gave me the ability to do that. I, I really feel like specializing is, is important because you become much better in that area. Mm. And and in my other consulting role, I learned so much, I learned so much about research and about government contracts and about school programming and, and just curriculum. And, and really, I wanted to just focus on physical education, physical literacy, and physical activity. And that gave me leaving that job scary as it was, cuz it was a salary job. I, I had a, I’ve had a salary. I had a salary up to that point for 21 years. Wow. And I wouldn’t have been able to leave if I, my husband was an administrator and principal at the time. So I could lean on him and his salary in order to do that. Cuz man, it was tough.


Tracy Lockwood (23:55):
At first I had zero income for at least the first five months and, and then just started growing and building my network. I, I had a, a fairly large network to begin with. So I, I really had to look at all the people that I have been working with for over the years. And that was, that was key, you know, leaning on those people as much as I felt like, ah, I don’t wanna be a leach. That’s the last thing I wanna be. But I also felt that, you know, I’ve, I’ve really built up great relationships with a lot of consultants and a lot of people around the province of Alberta anyways. So I felt comfortable that I could reach out to them. Yes. And, and a lot of them just really accepted the fact that I could bring maybe something different to the table and these practical tools and, and just started going from there.


Sam Demma (24:49):
That’s so awesome. And what is play like, tell us more about play education. Yeah. Why is, why is that the name of the company and what does it do?


Tracy Lockwood (25:00):
Good question. Good questions. Play education stands for physical literacy and you, mm. And originally I had a different name. I think it was energized consulting and I had all of these different names and it was, it wasn’t easy to come up with that. It seems easy now, but in, in hindsight, I, I remember having a journal. I still have a journal beside my bed cuz I wake up in the middle of the night and I have to write scribble messes down. I just have to write. So I don’t forget. nice. So I wrote down like why, what are the things that I wanna do? So, you know, practical, educational, physical activity, all of those things. And, and then it just turns out I was like physical literacy. You know, I did my master’s in that. I really believe in the fact that we have to give kids a foundation in order to build their skills for them to be confident and comfortable and competent and motivated to be active for life.


Tracy Lockwood (26:03):
So that kind of was, was the springboard physical literacy and you stands for play and it couldn’t just be play. So I’m an educator. So education came into play there, so play education and it turns out nobody else had that name. so nice that that I could see. So it worked out great and, and I could get the website, play education.ca that worked out great. And I really just focus on, on professional development for teachers in those three areas of PHS ed, physical activity and physical literacy. Nice. I focus on dance, play programming. And about how many years ago, I would say two years, three years ago, three years ago now I created a resource called focus on fundamentals and it’s supporting the development of physical literacy. And I really wanted something to be a lesson plan guide that had like warmup activities, main skill development activities, and cool down activities.


Tracy Lockwood (27:11):
So developed this after 10 years of thinking about it, it was a scribble mess at the beginning and it took me about 10 years to finally, you know, develop this resource. But it was a lot of work, but it, it really ties in nicely of what I like to do for people. And that is provide tools and practical ideas that can be used like right away. And, and I think, you know, every things have evolved of course to where I am now, but but that’s, I’m just so happy how things worked out, you know, just taking that risk, which I was, was a huge risk when I think about it now. But I, I said to my husband at the time when I was doing, going to do this, I said to him, it’s now or never. Yeah. You know? And, and so having that entrepreneurial spirit, I always kind of have, I, I, like I said, I believe it was from passed down for my parents. Yeah. I just really wanted to jump in with both feet. So it’s left my position.


Sam Demma (28:19):
That’s awesome. I love the story. I absolutely love it. I, I too grew up in a family that owned a restaurant. Funny enough, my mom and my grandfather owned an Italian Italian slash Greek food restaurant called Joey Bravos. and wow. I


Tracy Lockwood (28:34):
Love the


Sam Demma (28:34):
Name well, yeah. And it was apparently there was a TV show back in the day called Johnny Bravos as well. And so they kind of got inspiration from that, but named to Joey’s and it’s funny growing up there, I would always go in and I would walk into the kitchen. And the first thing I would ask for is one of the chefs’ name was Rav I’d say, Hey Ravi, can I please have the standard plate? And he would bring me at a little plate with cheese, olives, and sausage and I would go and sit in the back and eat them. And I remember going to my doctor’s appointment one time and my pediatrician, Dr. MOS saying, Sam, you gotta stop eating sausages. I had like, I was gaining weight anyways, I totally going off track here. But I, yeah, I so relate to the entrepreneurial spirit of parents, which is so awesome.


Sam Demma (29:19):
And really when we think about it, people that influence us could be anybody, not even just our parents, like as a teacher, you play that same role in your student’s lives as a parent does because you see them for so many hours per day, even when you think no one’s watching, someone could be watching and the actions you’re taking could influence them. For example, you following your dream and passion of starting the business and going down this path might even inspire other educators to believe that they could follow their own dreams and passions outside of the classroom as well. And I just think it’s a really cool story to share. And I’m glad that we carved out some time to share it. If you could go back in time. I think you said 25 years ago, is that when you first started teaching?


Tracy Lockwood (29:59):
Yes. About that 27?


Sam Demma (30:01):
Yeah. Okay. So if you could go SA shaving off two years there, I see you . So if you could, you know, snap your fingers travel back in time 27 years ago and basically give your younger self advice, knowing what you know now, and based on the experiences you’ve had, what advice would you give your younger self?


Tracy Lockwood (30:22):
Wow. I think just trust in the journey, you know, trust that things are gonna work out as planned. I really am an optimistic person. Yeah. But, but there are definite times that I’m like, oh, should I do this? You know, this is a really tough decision or worry about things. And I really believe that I, I, yeah, I, I would’ve told myself to trust and, and the fact that I actually didn’t do a lot of traveling until 45 years old. So my husband and I both, we, we didn’t go overseas until our sons were in grade eight and grade 12. Oh, wow. And so that the idea of like, thinking back when I first started teaching and thinking to overseas travel and teaching in a Canadian international school in Abu Dhabi and then in Macau, like I never imagined, never dreamed that that would happen thinking that I would have my own business, never imagined that that would be where my career would lead me, but I, I truly believe that having an education degree has just really opened a lot of doors has just like, kind of led me into these like different paths and, and, and the fact that I’ve connected with so many awesome people.


Tracy Lockwood (31:52):
My, my network of friends, my network of professional colleagues has, has just been more than I could imagine, but, but, you know, I think it’s based on you, who you attract in your life. And I am open to attracting positive people you know, people who, who want to be better that are constantly learning. I, I just, I feel that because I am like that, I feel like I attract those kind of people in my life and I that’s who I want my life. And, and, and I still have so many, so many friends that that are that way too. And yeah, I, I, I think that word trust is important. I I’m, and, and just kind of ride the ride the wave of life, I think just as it comes. And there’s definitely ups and downs along the way. for sure.


Tracy Lockwood (32:52):
Some stresses especially with living overseas and having to start your light life over. And, and then starting back, back in Canada a year ago earlier than we thought we would come back from the cow. We we had to start our life over in a different province where we chose to start our life over in a different province. I’m trying to network here now, still doing a lot of work back with my network in Alberta. But man, it’s it’s tough to, to build a network, but it’s starting. Yeah. And it’s like little by little, just put yourself out there. And, and maybe that’s the other thing I would’ve told myself, like put yourself out there, girl. , it’s all gonna be good.


Sam Demma (33:34):
I love that. We, we need to set up a part 2 to talk about the, the worldwide experiences, because that’s a whole other conversation The longer we talk, the more questions I ask, the more questions I have for you, but thank you so much for taking some time to, you know, share your intentional journey on the podcast. I noticed at the end, you just corrected yourself. We said, we, we chose to start again in a different province. And that’s so important because you’re taking the responsibility, and it seems like your whole journey has been very intentional. You know, now is the time, time is now I’m doing this. And yeah, I think that’s like a phrase that kind of comes to mind when I think about everything you’ve shared in the past 30 minutes, it’s already been 35 minutes; time flies. That was a good conversation. If someone wants to reach out an educator or principal superintendent’s listening and they just wanna, you know, shoot you an email and have a conversation, what would be the best way for them to get in touch?


Tracy Lockwood (34:31):
They can definitely go to my website. It’s playeducation.ca and tracy.playeducator@gmail.com.


Sam Demma (34:41):
Love it, love it. Tracy, Thank you so much. Enjoy the rest of your summer. This will come out in September, so that’ll sound funny, but enjoy the rest of your summer and let’s stay in touch and I’ll, I’ll talk to you soon.


Tracy Lockwood (34:52):
Thank you so much, Sam. I really appreciate it. Love talking with you.


Sam Demma (34:55):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an 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 meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna 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 fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Tracy Lockwood

The High Performing Educator Podcast was brought to life during the outbreak of COVID-19 to provide you with inspirational stories and practical advice from your colleagues in education.  By tuning in, you will hear the stories and ideas of the world’s brightest and most ambitious educators.  You can expect interviews with Principals, Teachers, Guidance Counsellors, National Student Association, Directors and anybody that works with youth. You can find and listen to all the episodes for free here.

Staci Whittle – Principal at Niagara Children’s Centre School Authority

Staci Whittle - Principal at Niagara Children’s Centre School Authority
About Staci Whittle

Staci Whittle is currently the Principal at the Niagara Children’s Centre School Authority, located in St. Catharines, Ontario. She has been in education for the past twenty-three years. Staci has worked as a Secondary teacher, Vice-Principal and Principal in Elementary and Secondary schools within rural and urban settings.

Her enthusiasm and advocacy for students with disabilities is truly her passion. Staci has been the recipient of the Ontario Teacher Federation Award, the University of Windsor’s Odyssey Award, the Board of Governor’s medal from the University of Windsor and has now been recognized as a High Performing Educator.

Connect with Staci: Email | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Niagara Children’s Centre School Authority

Ontario Teacher Federation Award

University of Windsor’s Odyssey Award

Books by Stuart Shanker

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 (00:01):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast.


Sam Demma (01:01):
This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Stacy Whittle. Stacy is currently the Principal at the Niagara Children’s Center School authority located in St. Catherine’s Ontario. She has been in education for the past 23 years. Stacy has worked as a secondary teacher, Vice-Principal, and Principal in elementary and secondary schools within rural and urban settings. Her enthusiasm and advocacy for students with disabilities is truly her passion. Stacey has been the recipient of the Ontario teacher Federation award, the University of Windsor’s Odysey award, the board of governor’s medal from the University of Windsor, and has now been recognized as a High Performing Educator. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Stacy. I so look forward to you absorbing her genius and I will see you on the other side. Stacy, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show, please start by introducing yourself.


Staci Whittle (02:02):
Hi, my name’s Stacy Whittle. I’m very grateful that I have the opportunity to be on the podcast today, and I’m a Principal at the Niagara Children’s Center School Authority in St. Catherine’s, Ontario.


Sam Demma (02:17):
Did you know, growing up that education is what you wanted to do? Tell me a little bit about how you got into education.


Staci Whittle (02:25):
I feel that I always did, like when, when I was younger, I always did like the let’s do let’s play school. Right. And do the teaching role and that sort of thing. And I really found it. I, I really found it worthwhile, I guess, or our heartfelt when I was doing that. So I think it was kind of in my bloodline to be begin in with, cause there’s many individuals on my dad’s side of the family that are educators. But that being said, the reason I really got into education was because an incident had occurred that affected our family in 1998. I believe it was where I had a little cousin. He was bullied and he was hung on a coat hook and he passed away in Chatham, Ontario. So, you know, after our family went through the two F of, of miles, and then we had the funeral for miles, there was a police investigation and a coroner’s inquest.


Staci Whittle (03:26):
I didn’t want other people to experience what had happened to our family, which by the way, I’m gonna do a shout out to my cousins. Mike and Brendan Nutz, who’ve created a foundation called making children better now in, in lieu of what had transpired with their son. So very cool foundation. They do great things for kids. But after all this had happened and I reflected on it, of course, I didn’t want another child to experience what we had to experience as a family and, and their families. And also, so I feel that I could get into education and I could change the trajectory of children’s life, who really needed the help in changing to be perhaps a better person or to be inspired by someone or something.


Sam Demma (04:15):
Wow. What a story. And I’m so sorry. I, I know it’s been a while, but I’m sure it gets no easier to talk about, I, I appreciate you, you sharing that and yeah, it’s just such an impactful reason to get involved in this work. And I think it it’s really your, it sounds like you lead it with your heart and you can kind of tell when you talk that it’s something that’s really important to you. What, what was your first position? And tell me a little bit about the, the different roles you’ve worked in and how you’ve got to where you are today.


Staci Whittle (04:47):
Okay. So my very first position was I was a halftime teacher in high school and I taught geography and science at the end of the year. I was fortunate enough to get a, a full-time permanent contract, but really what my forte was in the high school setting was working with at-risk children. So in that, in my experience there, I’ve had the, the classrooms that, you know, other teachers or other people would say, geez, that’s a tough classroom, but I just found it very easy to work with children who were at risk. And also I think it was my second or third year. I’m not a hundred percent sure where the principal of the school created a classroom for kids who were at risk. So in the morning we established, I taught the class, I’d work on English in other skills with them and then like math and, and those sorts of things. And then in the afternoon, they’d go off too and integrate in with the rest of the school community. It was a, a really, really good experience. It was, it was awesome. Like, I, I, I loved that experience. The respect that the kids and I had for one another was amazing. And to the point that a lot of the children, or I should shouldn’t say children, but high school students had to get their community service hours. So I took on coaching a hockey team because they’re all about hockey, so they could get their community service hours and yet do something they love as well.


Sam Demma (06:27):
Oh, wow. Were they helping you run the team? Is that what their task was?


Staci Whittle (06:31):
Their task was that, so they would help me coach we’d rotate. So they’d come to practices and, and work with the kids. And then a few in particular would come to every game and be on the bench. So we did that for the full year, which was amazing experience for everyone. I always look reflect back on that, and these are the, the students who were supposed to be at risk, but honestly they were amazing with the younger children, right. Cuz you gave them that opportunity so they could show their leadership and they could model what they felt was being a good hockey player or, you know, appropriate protocols or language or whatever on the bench. Right. So it all just kind of fit together and it was a totally amazing. And then another opportunity came about when I was at the high school and in conjunction with a gentleman who created and, and I supported and taught a school, it was called average school, which is night school for low German, high German Mennonite students who work during the day, but they still could get their education at night.


Staci Whittle (07:42):
Another amazing experience I learned so much. Right. And that’s, that’s part of me. It’s like in order to respect everyone, you need to know about everyone and, and respect that diversity. So at which 0.4 years into my teaching career I became a vice principal. I was a vice principal for the next six years. Then I moved to Saskatchewan. Then I was a principal in a large percentage or population of indigenous students. And that was at the elementary level. My dad took ill. And then I moved back here to Ontario and I’m ending up working with multi exceptional students, which is amazing work.


Sam Demma (08:27):
Mm. What do you think is required to build a relationship, a trusting relationship with a student


Staci Whittle (08:36):
In order to build trust, you have to open yourself up and accept every student for what they are, who they are, where they come from, whatever, but just building that that respect or, or, you know, showing kids you care. Right. And you care specifically about them has really is really what a, a building a relationship is all about. Right. And, and just not, I like for instance, Sam’s in my classroom, but when Sam’s outta my classroom, Sam’s gone he’s to a different person or, or whatever. It’s about building the rapport, no matter what whomever you teach whenever, but keeping that rapport going even when they’re not in your classroom and, and just showing kids, you’re, you’re dedicated to them and that you very, you care very much about them.


Sam Demma (09:30):
Hmm. I love that. Through your different positions, which have you found personally, the most rewarding now I know, you know, at the center of this work is the students, but from your perspective, what was the most rewarding position and why, why do you think it was the most rewarding?


Staci Whittle (09:48):
I don’t really think that I could choose any one position that was most rewarding. Yeah. Because I think that all the experiences I have have made me who I am, but that’s where the reward comes from is, is that growth that you get when you work with other people and exposing yourself and experiencing and opening up? I think to that extent, every one of my teaching, my vice principal are principal’s experience have kind of led me here. Which is an amazing place to work with. We get to do a lot of magical things with our children who have no voices who have multiple complex disabilities or abilities, if you will. I just love it, like what we can do, and I have the ability to be creative and innovative. So we’ve come, we’ve done a lot of great things for the children here, but at the end of the day, it’s everything that you live through is your lived experience. And I think there’s a reward in each one of those experiences that we, that we do.


Sam Demma (10:59):
Hmm. I love that. That’s a great perspective to have too, that everything offers a learning and everything offers an opportunity to reflect and grow. Can you tell me about a experience or a story where you saw the firsthand impact of a program on a learner or on a student that really touched your heart?


Staci Whittle (11:20):
Yeah, I, I have one experience when I was running the, the classroom for at-risk children. I had one student who had a heart issue. And so he wasn’t able to go to school all the time because of his heart. And they’re trying to figure out the medical professionals were trying to figure out what was wrong with him. So at the end of the day, each day, I’d gather up his homework and I’d drive it to his house. And then I’d sit down with him to ensure that he could do his homework. Right. And I think the magical thing is there are the best experiences that I think he would’ve been a kiddo that would’ve dropped out of school if he hadn’t had that little extra care from someone outside of the family. And it’s, it’s quite amazing because he will still contact me to this day. Right. Yeah. You know, and we, we kind of have that back and forth and it it’s really nice because even when I go back, like I don’t live where I started in education, but even when I go back the kids that are their adults now, but I see them around they’ll come and give me a hug. They’ll stop. And talk to me, they’ll shout out my name. I think that was an awesome experience, right. In that particular location.


Sam Demma (12:42):
Awesome. Throughout your journey who has been resourceful for you, are there some educators that have mentored you along the way? And, and maybe if, you know, you can probably think of some people and maybe there’s also resources or things that you’ve been a part of or read that have been helpful, what resources come to mind in terms of people and also hard coffee resources?


Staci Whittle (13:04):
Well, I think that I did have some very good mentors I had when I was a teacher. I had a, a vice principal a principal at my first location, they were amazing. And they, they kind of took you under their wing and they had you grow as a professional and as a, a teacher. Right. And then my first vice principal job, the principal I had who ended up being a superintendent, he knew everything. Like, it was such an amazing experience to grow, cuz he was so knowledgeable and he was very bright. And you know, those are the kind of people where you sit back and say, oh geez, I would like to be like that person. You know what I mean? Yeah. So that was kind of the driving force, which by the way, I forgot your question already.


Sam Demma (13:52):
Yeah. Resources that’s okay.


Staci Whittle (13:53):
So resources, I read a lot, lot about leadership. I found the best possible thing that I could do for myself is I explored emotional intelligence, right. For myself to grow as a professional, but also as a person. So I mean Roman’s work is, is being basically what I used for that particular aspect. And then I guess other things like self-regulation has really been helpful if you couple emotional intelligence with self-regulation, I’m just a calm personnel, right. I don’t get worked up, you just kind of flow and go with, go with whatever’s happening. But I think in combin we all need to learn how to regulate, but we also have to be mindful of what our strengths and weaknesses are as people. So we can make the world a better place, make the classroom a better place for the school because you’re learning about yourself. And I know we’ve all made mistakes as leaders or whatever, but you learn and grow from that.


Sam Demma (15:04):
Awesome. Well, when you mentioned self-regulation tell me more about self-regulation. What is self-regulation?


Staci Whittle (15:13):
So our, a threat in our school, as well as in our staff is self-regulation and so basically it’s allowing your body, whether it needs to be revved up or calm, so you’re alert and ready to learn. So I’ve used I’ve done courses and read books from SHA. So that’s really what we practice in our school. For instance, I, I can give a be better illustration cuz every adult’s different. Like I love to watch clouds. It calms me down. You know, I like nature. You know, I like playing with my grandchildren in those sorts of things that make you calm down and, and kind of reflect on who you are as a person. So if you have a child in the classroom who comes and one of the major things for all of our kids here is to learn to self-regulate so they can participate in a classroom with all their peers.


Staci Whittle (16:09):
Right. So we would discover perhaps you like deep pressure, so you need a vest or you need a blanket or you like sensory things and lights and you need to have the lights, whatever that looks like for the child to calm them down. Or you need a quiet corner where it’s just Sam’s and you can go in there and it has all your stuff that makes you feel again. So we, we have a, a, a bag of tricks here, a big bag of tricks that we, we help. And like for instance, we had a child on the spectrum. She would independently because the goal of self-regulation is to calm yourself. So you can go back to learning or focus. Right. And she would independent go in the classroom, use a mini trampoline. Right. And then when she calmed herself, cuz she needed the up regulation or whatever calmer she would use the trampoline, then she’d come back and do her work. So it’s kind of amazing to see children do that because I think if we all practice that I think our world would be a better place.


Sam Demma (17:16):
That’s such a good point. Instead of acting out of emotion, give ourselves a chance to come back to a stable, emotional state. Yes. Before action, which I think is so important and that ties into emotional intelligence, like emotional intelligence is really just understanding our emotions and how they affect us or how would you explain emotional intelligence? Well,


Staci Whittle (17:38):
It is about how it would affect you because you’ll have strengths and weaknesses, right? Yeah. Depending on what they were. But I think from a leadership perspective, it makes you mindful of what your weaknesses are. So you need to work on whatever techniques you’re using to work on that, to better create a collaborative learning environment for all students, staff and, and families. Right. So it’s really given me that perspective. I know now for myself, because at one time I would get, you get worked up. Right. But now I’m just calm. I I’ve learned how to reflect. I’ve learned how to pick up patterns of what I need to change for myself. And I think that makes you a better leader in a school environment and even in a school board, it would make you a better leader.


Sam Demma (18:27):
I love it. Makes a lot of sense. I really appreciate you sharing Stacy. If you could take your experiences, all of them in education, bundle them up, which is really difficult, not possible and travel back in time, tap yourself on the shoulder. And some of your beginning years of teaching and working in education to give yourself advice what would you have said or told your younger self?


Staci Whittle (18:54):
I think I think the advice would be that I wish I would’ve discovered self Reagan, emotional intelligence back there. I was very driven. I’ve always been very driven. Maybe just slow down a bit because I’ve been told on more than one occasion. Sometimes I take more on than what a, a a typical individual would. But that’s just me. Right. Cause I have that motivation and drive to help students learn and, and help them be successful. Right. Right. Not only in school, but in life in general. So I think that I would talk to my, my old self about that. And maybe I would’ve had a better trajectory or game plan for how it was gonna go about all my like going about different things and all the experiences that I’ve had in education. I guess, like I would say too, that be careful because you know that you’re a doer and sometimes you just need to step back. You can’t do everything for everyone and you need to prioritize. What’s really important and then work in that realm if you will


Sam Demma (20:12):
Got it. Ah, I love it. Thank you for sharing. If someone wants to reach out, ask you a question based on anything we talked about today, or just have a conversation, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?


Staci Whittle (20:25):
Well, they could get in touch with me through my email address, which is stacy.whittle@niagrachildrencentre.com or just pick up the phone and give me a call. My number’s (905)-688-1890 (Extension 230). I was going to try to do; well, I might still do this Sam, but I’m not sure. Do a hashtag and, and kind of learn that new technology ’cause I know nothing about Instagram and Twitter and whatever. But because it was a snow day here today, my staff are not here and the person who was gonna help me is at home so I can’t do that haha. So anyway, that’s me.


Sam Demma (21:09):
Awesome, well it’s okay. Stacy, thanks so much again for calling on the show. Really appreciate it, Keep up with the great work and we’ll talk soon.


Staci Whittle (21:16):
All right. Thank you so much, Sam.


Sam Demma (21:19):
Hey, it’s Sam again. I hope you enjoyed that amazing conversation on the High Performing Educator podcast. If you, or you know, deserves some extra recognition and appreciation for the work they do in education, please consider applying or nominating them for the High Performing Educator awards, go to www.highperformingeducator.com/award. You can also find the link in the show notes. I’m super excited to spotlight and feature 20 people in 2022, and I’m hoping you or someone, you know, can be one of those educators. I’ll talk to you on the next episode, all the best.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Staci Whittle

The High Performing Educator Podcast was brought to life during the outbreak of COVID-19 to provide you with inspirational stories and practical advice from your colleagues in education.  By tuning in, you will hear the stories and ideas of the world’s brightest and most ambitious educators.  You can expect interviews with Principals, Teachers, Guidance Counsellors, National Student Association, Directors and anybody that works with youth. You can find and listen to all the episodes for free here.

Jim Rieder B.Ed M.A – Head of Institutes and Strategic Development

Jim Rieder B.Ed M.A – Head of Institutes and Strategic Development
About Jim Rieder

Jim (@riederj) leads the flagship Institute program at West Island College. providing students with academic focused experiential opportunities focused on future careers opportunities in Business, Engineering, Health Sciences, Liberal Arts, Fine Arts, and International Languages and Culture. 

Jim is always looking to partner with professional organization who will share their stories and provide opportunities for his students as they develop their passion for future university and career paths.  Jim has had a dual career in Education and in the Software industry.  Jim started his career in education and education administration, becoming a Vice-Principal at 27 years of age.   

After a 7 year stint as a school leader, Jim left education to pursue a career with a software startup that grew, went through a series of acquisitions and went public.    

Jim eventually became a sale director who looked after sales teams and a reseller channel that extended across North America and the globe.  About 6 years ago Jim returned to his educational roots and started working at West Island College, leading the Admissions team, and eventually transitioning to his current role as the Head of the Institute program.  

Jim has been married for 27 years and has two grown children who are pursuing their own careers in Business and Biotechnology.  Jim’s enjoys hockey, golf, travel, backpacking and just being with people.

Connect with Jim: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

West Island College

Flagship Institute Program at West Island College

Bachelors of Education at University of Alberta

College of Education at San Diego State University

Books by Peter F. Drucker

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. I’m super excited to bring you today’s guest. He is the head of Institute and strategic development in Alberta at West Island College. Jim leads the flagship Institute program at West Island College; Jim rider. He’s providing students with academic focused experiential opportunities, focused on future career opportunities in business, engineering, health science, liberal arts, fine arts and international language and culture.

Sam Demma (01:06):
He’s always looking to partner with professional organizations who will share their stories and provide opportunities for his students as they develop their passion for future university and career paths. He has a dual career in education and in the software industry. In fact, he started his career in education and educational administration. He became a vice principal at 27 years old and after a seven year stint as a school teacher, Jim left education to pursue a career with a software startup that grew and went through a series of acquisitions and ended up public. Jim eventually became a sales director who looked after a sales teams and a reseller channel that extended across north America and the globe. About six years ago, Jim actually returned to his educational route and started working at west island college, leading the admissions team, and eventually transitioned to his current role

Sam Demma (01:53):
as the head of the Institute program, Jim has been married for 27 years, has two grown children who are pursuing their own careers in business and biotechnology. And when Jim’s not in a classroom room, he enjoys hockey, golf, travel backpacking, and just being with awesome people. Jim is a kind human being. I’m so excited that he agreed to come on the show today. I’m actually working with him and his school and bringing them some awesome presentations, and I really thoroughly enjoy this, this interview and this conversation. And I hope you do as well. I’ll see you on the other side, talk soon. Jim, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. It is a huge pleasure to have you on the show. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about the journey that led you to education today?

Jim Rieder (02:40):
Hi Sam. Well, thanks for having me. I appreciate being here. It’s a, it’s an honor for me actually, to be invited on your podcast. I appreciate that. So my name is Jim Rieder. I am an educator in Calgary, Alberta. I currently work at West Island College. I’m the head of institutes and strategic development. I’ll talk a little bit about that more, I guess, during the podcast. My journey started a long time ago, actually sitting in a classroom in high school. I think I was in a grade 10 or 11 social studies class and I was watching the teacher teach. She was a bit of an old school teacher and it was the, the class was a bit boring and, and I thought to myself a few times in that class, you know, I think I can do that better.

Jim Rieder (03:28):
I think if I was in charge of this class, I would, I’d be able to provide a great experience for the kids that are sitting here board to death that are, that are trying to find any excuse they can to get out of the class and, and go to the washroom or in those days go have a smoke outside. Yeah. And I think that’s what started me on my journey into education way back in the day. And yeah, I went to, I went to the university of Alberta and did a bachelor education. And then my very first teaching assignment, I went out to the, I was, you know, I was a young kid living in the city and I’m like, you know, I’m never gonna, never gonna work outside of the city. All my lifestyle and friends are here. And I found myself very shortly after graduation out in rural Alberta, a few hundred kilometers away from Edmondson, a teaching in a K to 12 school with 300 students in living in a teacher Ridge way back in the day. And that’s where it all began.

Sam Demma (04:19):
Oh, I love that. That’s an awesome story. And I can relate to the boring classes, but I, I also, on the other hand know that I had some teachers that were super inspiring correct me if I’m wrong, but your journey took many different turns. I mean, you got involved in technology, you got involved in sales, you did a bunch of different roles in and out of education. How did some of, how did some of those opportunities appear for you and what encouraged you to pursue those?

Jim Rieder (04:47):
Sure, great question. So when I was in university still, I, I you know, they started bringing in what they called computing computers for teaching. And we were all made to take a computers for teaching course. So when I graduated, I went out to these rural school, these rural schools for the first time. Well, I was now, I now became the computer expert in the school. Nice. And I remember in the, in the in the school that I was in, in Wayne Wright, they had just brought in a brand new lab of apple, two GSS or something like that. And nobody knew how to use them. But I had taken a computers in, you know, education course. So I was the resident expert. So I started running the computer labs right back from the beginning of my teaching career.

Jim Rieder (05:30):
And I eventually moved on into the Calgary area to south Calgary. And again, got involved in teaching out there was running the computer labs. I became a vice principal very early in my career. I was a, only about 27 when I became a vice principal. And I was involved in bringing technology into the division. I sat on a districtwide technology committee and we, we were the ones bringing new computers, new, new software, new programs into the school district. So about 10 years into my teaching career, I’d already been a vice principal for about seven years. Some friends of mine were involved in a educational startup out of Simon Fraser university. Nice. And they asked me to, they were looking for sales people who had education experience.

Sam Demma (06:14):
Nice.

Jim Rieder (06:15):
So it was a very young company just getting started. And I thought, well, you know, I’ll take a bit of a flyer and I will, I will, I will leave the reigns of education behind. I was quite young. I knew I could come back to it. I was in line for principalships, but I was a bit young yet for, for, to really take on the, on that role. So I thought, Hey, I’ll, I’ll try it out. And my school division was kind enough to actually give me a leave of absence and hold my position for me. And they did that for two years while I went away. And cuz they wanted that, you know, young technology leader to come back anyway, I became the, the, the, the Western north American sales manager for this brand new company and, and and started traveling and that company we started doing quite well.

Jim Rieder (07:02):
We were selling collaborative, educational, collaborative project based learning software early days kind of prebi internet access. So local servers with kids accessing accessing projects to the web browser, its very pioneering, very interesting. Well that company went public and we bought, we bought a much, we did a reverse sort of takeover and bought a much bigger company and that carried on my journey of selling collaborative groupware products back to education. And for the next 15 years I sold with its sales team across north America. I became the director of sales north America us Europe and we sold collaborative groupware solutions to big school districts, universities, private schools allowed them to have their groups of people working together, collaborating. It was a very exciting journey that being in the public stock markets was very exciting, both the rise and the fall of the, of the stock markets.

Jim Rieder (07:57):
We, we, we injured the dock calm bubble both the growth and the bursting of it. Yeah. And about about five years ago, six years ago now I guess I was friends of mine were working here at the west island college and the economy was changing in Alberta and one of them reached out and said, Hey, you know, we love your background. We love your experience. Why don’t you come check out a private at school? We know that’s your background and your journey. And so I came over and talked to the headmaster and they said, we really like your blend and your mix of experience and maybe you should come and work with us. And so that, so I’ve been here for six years and it’s been a, it’s been a great journey here at west island college.

Sam Demma (08:35):
That’s awesome. I, I have so many questions. You know,

Jim Rieder (08:41):
That was the Kohl’s notes version

Sam Demma (08:42):
Of the, yeah, I know there’s so much more to it. Especially during the rises and falls, I’m sure there’s a lot of, a lot of great stories packed in there, but I’m fascinated by,

Jim Rieder (08:51):
Well, everybody was a, everybody was a stock expert back in, you know, the.com era

Sam Demma (08:56):
Making all

Jim Rieder (08:56):
The, we had stock tickers on our computers all day long,

Sam Demma (09:00):
Making all the projections and assumptions, people going on the news and saying when things are gonna happen and then the total opposite happening

Jim Rieder (09:07):
It wasn’t about wasn’t about making money. It was about how much you could spend in those days.

Sam Demma (09:11):
Interesting. It was

Jim Rieder (09:11):
Different era.

Sam Demma (09:12):
Yeah. I’m curious though, you know, you mentioned become becoming a vice principal at 27 and then, you know, moving out of education, getting into sales very quickly, becoming a, a, a national sales you know, manager, what do you think are the principles and philosophies that you carry that allowed you to Excel quickly in those different roles and positions, because they’re, they’re very different. But I’m curious to kind of dig into your own philosophies. What do you think makes a, a great leader, salesperson educator, et cetera? Sure.

Jim Rieder (09:44):
Well, that’s, that’s an excellent question. And I always, I often thought about that and talked about that in terms of someone from education who transitioned into the business world and what skills that being an prepared me for. You know, the idea that and, and I think a lot of it comes from the classroom where you, when you walk into a, into a room full of people and you’re ready to do a presentation or a sales pitch, you need to very quickly understand who your audience is. You need to understand how, how to to make sure that you are addressing their needs. And building a rapport very quickly with them. Reading the room is a very important skill for an educator. They need to know what students are up on a given day or what down or on a given day, which students might be causing you a little bit of discipline problems and how to deal with those, how to, how to, how to control the flow of your presentation.

Jim Rieder (10:33):
How to understand if you’ve got half an hour as you’re a teacher, if you have a, some plan you’ve got pacing skills, all of those kind of play into effect in, in a sales pitch, of course, as an educator, you’re naturally just trying to, you’re trying to get your audience in front of you to learn something new. And I always thought, you know, I’m not selling, I’m teaching, I’m educating my audience about the benefits of my product and how that will help them in their organization. And that’s not what a teacher does. 6, 7, 8 times a day is they get in front of a room of a new group of kids and they, and they try to convince them that what they’re providing is valuable and useful and having them to, to, to take that up. So, you know, organizational skills, thinking on your feet just the interrelational skills that teachers have with, with, with, with working with other people, all those skills are, are empathy for other people. Mm. Those are all skills that are very transferable into the business world. And I’ve said that time and time again, to, to people who are thinking about making, making a transition,

Sam Demma (11:33):
Who, who are some of your inspirations just outta curiosity, people that you have looked up to that taught you these own philosophies and principles that have served you well, personally.

Jim Rieder (11:42):
Yeah, that’s a great question. Probably my most, the largest inspiration I probably too, but in my early days it was the principal. It was the principal who I was the vice principal for out in in just south the Calgary and the Foothill school division. Doug Anderson was his name. He was a long time principal. And that, and Doug just taught me about empathy, about caring for the people who work for you about knowing, knowing who they are, what their family situations are like when your staff was, when your staff was having good days and bad days and, and just reaching out and making sure that they felt valued and listened to, and that you tried to help them out of tough situations. Or as many times I know was with him. And it, it was just about taking care of people in need. The other thing that he was really good at was, was, was always looking for the, yes,

Jim Rieder (12:36):
He he wasn’t, when you came to him with ideas, it wasn’t about, oh, no, no, we’ve never done it that way. Or we can’t do that. It was always about how could we do that? That’s you know, let’s, let’s explore that. How does that fit into what we’re doing? So the, the yes, and philosophy is something that I really learned from him. Just the idea that we, we want to keep moving forward. And I think that that’s played very well for me in my career. And then when I first came to, when I first came to west island college, the headmaster here at the school as well Carol Grant wa was of the similar fashion. She was at the pathetic leader. She, she really cared for the people who were working for her. She really cared for her students.

Jim Rieder (13:20):
If someone was sick, you immediately go to the hospital to, to see what they need. If they’re in the hospital, just that reaching out and making sure that people feel welcomed in a party or community was very important. And the other thing I learned from her too, was that she was a very quick to quick decision maker and people, if they come to you, if they come to you with a problem and they’re looking for a decision I learned from her that, you know, you’re better off making that decision quickly, whether it’s something they want you to, whether it’s good or bad, just make the decision and move on. And those are a couple things that I learned from those two people.

Sam Demma (13:55):
And I’m interested to also know when you took the shift away from education and into the business world, who were some of those similar role models that you looked up to, and maybe they were authors or people that you haven’t even personally met yet, but drew a lot of inspiration from,

Jim Rieder (14:10):
Yeah, that’s a good question. I think, I think one of my early sales managers, sales director was his name was Scott Rosses and he, and he, he taught, he taught me a lot about, and he’s still in the business world and he’s still selling a lot into back into the education space. And he was a, he was a world class rower competitor. And, and he, he had that competitive edge, you know, do whatever it takes to, to get it done. You know, overcome the excuses. I can remember being with him at a conference in in Texas, we were in, we were in Austin, Texas, and our materials. We were at a trade show and our materials had not showed up. And we were kind of like in a bit of a panic and, and it was just like, well, we’re gonna make this work. And we were at, we were at king coast, you know, king coast in those days, you know, at two in the morning, the night before at big trade show, getting all of our, getting stuff, printed it, getting trade show materials printed. And it was just one of those, like, let’s just get this done kind of attitudes. And I learned that from him that, you know just, just, if people are counting on you to get something done, then, then get it done. Mm.

Sam Demma (15:27):
No, that’s awesome. Love that. So, so cool. And this all comes as experiences that you’ve had, and it’s, it’s almost like you’ve, you’ve been building your life’s resume through these experiences, which have led you to where you are right now, which is strategic planning and development at the school. What is that role? Why are you passionate about it and what are you responsible for doing with the school?

Jim Rieder (15:48):
Sure. Those are, those are great questions. So I guess, so the first part of my role is the our Institute program here at the college and the Institute program is what I would call a, a, a unique academic experiential education offering. So we all know the idea that we, we offer academics in the classroom and this that’s, you know, the core, bread and butter of the school. And when we talk about the co the experiential education, you know, Westtown colleges does a lot of travel programs. We do a lot of sports teams. We have a lot of clubs that run throughout the school day, but the Institute programs are kind of over and above that. And what we try to do this is give a, give kids experiences and opportunities to explore future career path for themselves. So about 11 years ago, the first Institute, if you will, was developed, that’s called the, was the business Institute.

Jim Rieder (16:40):
Mm. And the whole model was that we would expose students to they might they could be in the city or outta the city class, outta class experiences at businesses on offices, meeting professionals you know, accountants, finance, people, investors, and and those kind of things. We expanded into engineering, liberal arts, fine arts, health sciences, and international languages and culture. So we have six institutes running now, and, and I oversee that program. We have coordinators for all of those institutes. And on a weekly basis, we try to provide 20 or 30 different opportunities for students to just do that experience. What a future meet professionals in the, in fields, in their field experience some activities around what they might do in their, in their career, in their lives, find out what their educational background was like, what their journey’s been like. It really just expose them to what the future sure. Career potentials could be. We run a block of time on Friday in our timetable called focus Friday. And every week we, we plan 20 or 30 activities that the kids can participate in. Usually there are a series of four or five that occur a week after week. So the kids can actually participate in, we have a group graduating on Friday with drone, pilot licenses. Wow.

Sam Demma (17:54):
For example,

Jim Rieder (17:55):
We we have students that just built a virtual reality experience. We’ve got yeah, we just, you know, on and on, we do engineering courses. We’ve got kids who have built battery pack systems that are for green energy supply and how they’re adding solar panels and things like that to them just various various kind of activities in all of those institutes. And it goes, and the we also plan weekend activities for them. And we have travel programs that are associated with them. So a couple examples might be a trip to the Silicon valley, which we unfortunately had to council of last year where the kids would go and learn about the, the tech sector and entrepreneurism and the history of computers. And we were going to Tesla and Google and to Facebook and the history of computer museums.

Jim Rieder (18:43):
We have a trip that goes to New York city, and we go look at the financial district and go to investment banking houses and go to wall street and get them exposed to the, to the financial districts. So, yeah, it’s just that we have, we go to hospitals, we go talk to doctors, we have you name it. We have people coming in. We really, we really rely on our alumni community who are willing to you know, get us into their facilities and tell us about their career path. And we, and we rely in our parent community who are all, you know, leaders and experts in their own. Right. And it’s just a fantastic program. So I’m very excited about that. The kids are excited about it. They can earn certificates alongside with their high school diplomas. It becomes a resume builder for them, but most importantly, it really helps them on their journey and their path to what their future might look like.

Sam Demma (19:32):
I can tell, like, it seems like it sounds like a core belief of the school and yours is the importance of experiential learning. Why do you think, or does the school think experiential learning opportunities are so essential and important to young minds?

Jim Rieder (19:47):
Yeah, we really, we really do feel that that’s the value add of the program that we offer here is is that opportunity to, to go off and, and explore and to, to become independent and to work collaboratively with collaboratively, with others to, to build leadership skills, to, to and just to open their minds to what the global possibilities are for their future. So our travel programs are, are, you know, are about exposing them to the become global citizens. And, and to give back as we do service work in those things, our sports teams, like most schools are about developing leadership and, and, and you know, comradery and, and, and on and on and on it go. So, you know, if you’re, if you’re only coming to a school to just take, then you’re missing out on all of the things that you, that you should be participating as a young adult that will help you build your, build yourself, build your character, build your, build your leadership skills, build your public speaking skills, all of the things that will do you well in the future,

Sam Demma (20:46):
It’s a holistic picture, right. And you gotta have all the, the separate pieces before we continue. Do you have a hard stop right now? I know we started a little late. I just wanna make sure you still have time, but if you had it, I’m good. Okay.

Jim Rieder (20:58):
I’m up until 10:15. I have a meeting at 10:15.

Sam Demma (21:01):
So, okay, perfect. So, so many things happening at this. Cool. what do you think right now is the most exciting project? I know that there’s so many things going on before we started this call. You talked about a, a business case competition. What are some of the more exciting projects that are going on? And I guess that’s a subjective question. So you can add in your own personal flavors and passions in this one.

Jim Rieder (21:25):
Yeah. It’s interesting. I know some of your early questions were about COVID and Marilyn talked about COVID, but I wanna talk a little bit about the school in general, in that sense, because when we in Alberta, the school’s locked down in March and we really only closed the school for a day to train our, make sure our teachers were up to speed on using the, the virtual, the zoom technology. We went to the zoom platform

Sam Demma (21:48):
Just a day,

Jim Rieder (21:49):
Just one day. And the next day we were, we were back, we were online, we were completely virtual. And our students were taking their classes on a regular schedule online with their teachers. So we, we really only instead of being in person, we went virtual and classes carried on. We for normal, this was, this was an incredible pivot and an incredible change that, that occurred. And it allowed us to carry on and finish the school year strong. Mm. And when we started up in the fall again, we took that. We took that and we learned, and we came, cuz we came back in the person, but we added extra into all the classrooms. We continued to train our teachers on how to use technology for teaching and learning when the students weren’t weren’t present. And now we went into a hybrid model.

Jim Rieder (22:39):
So some of our students were at home and some of them were in the classroom. Most of them were in the classroom, the teachers. And just to see, I mean, that’s an, a challenge in itself, but just to see, but to see the whole community thrive and grow on that has you’ve you we’ve added technology. We’ve never thought we would be using before this, every week we celebrate and showcase new software. That’s being used by teachers and their students in the classroom. There’s always one of our, our, our one of our senior leaders who works with teachers on their professional development is always showcasing on a what kind of innovative and new things that are being done in this school in this virtual hybrid mixed model. You know, if you talk about a project, that’s the big project that’s carrying on.

Jim Rieder (23:25):
Now we see all the clubs have returned. We’ve seen our we’ve started to be able to sneak back. We had outdoor ed occur with some grade nines. They went out cross country skiing, you know, instead of taking one bus, you take four buses and spread them out. And, and just the, the adaptation that’s occurred has, has been a, a amazing to watch this, the whole school go through that transformation, even in my program, you know, I couldn’t, we can’t go to Silicon valley. So we’ve been bringing Silicon valley to the school virtually. I’ve had Tesla engineers. I’ve had, I’ve got a Google engineer coming in tomorrow. We’ve got, you know, all sorts of resources that we would’ve gone to in person are now coming in and virtually. So that, to me, that’s the big project. And then the question will be, I think that will change us as we, if we get back to, you know, the normal we’ve got so many more tools in the tool belt that we’ll be using going forward. That just makes us a better place.

Sam Demma (24:19):
And, you know, you mentioned going on field trips with four buses instead of one, I think it’s important to also share that, you know, you’re one of the people that just became certified to drive the bus. That’s great.

Jim Rieder (24:30):
I just went through a nerve wracking class, four driver’s license test last night.

Sam Demma (24:34):
Yeah. And I, well, what, what I think is so awesome about that is that, you know, you are in this position of influence and leadership within the school and you’re the one going and getting the, the, you know, you’re not hiring a bus drive, you’re the one going and getting certified. It just kind of shows your principle about, you know, I can, we can, let’s figure it out and just make it happen. I think that’s just really interesting and cool. What do you think is one of the greatest opportunities in education right now with challenges? There are opportunities and sometimes they’re hard to find but I find that if you look for them, you know, they, they kind of present themselves.

Jim Rieder (25:07):
That’s a good question. I think, I think, you know, with our new gen ed gen Z cohort, that’s kind of in the school now. Yeah. I think just to continue on the path of personalization. Mm. I think students are looking for that. You know, they want to be known in the school, which we think we do a good job of, and they want personal, they want their, you know, their, their, their journey through school to be personalized. And I think that with the ability to be flexible in our programming, whether students are here, whether they’re at home you know, students are in and out all the time now the flexibility of, of not having to, you know, they don’t have to be in the school to take the test at the same time as other kids, we can bring them in after hours, for example, which we’ve run in after our test center.

Jim Rieder (25:52):
So they can come in and write tests in a, you know, more secluded environment, if that’s what they need modification of programming, you know, we’re an academic school. We’ve, we’ve added us. We’ve really beefed up our student success center and are really trying to do a lot more with personalizing the per programming for all the students. I think that’s, I think that is the, the model you know, do we have to be in school five days a week? Can we be in school three days a week can be at ha at home can the families be at their, you know, away on holidays or those kind of things, and still have the students come into the school. We are moving in that journey already where we have, you know, high performing students who are away for athletics or for something that they’re pursuing outside of school and the ability to give them programming that sort of meets their needs. I think we’re on a journey that that’s gonna take that to a whole nother level.

Sam Demma (26:45):
I agree. There’s, there’s so many opportunities right now to personalize, especially I was talking to another school recently, not only with the students, but also with the parent community. I had a teacher tell me that they, they would do all these parent engagement events and not many parents would show up. And the moment it became virtual, you know, parents started showing up because they could keep their greens off. They didn’t have to talk to other people if they ended a long Workday and just wanted to sit back and learn and listen. So there’s even in some cases, opportunities for increased engagement or increased interest. And I think you highlight that with all the different things happening, you,

Jim Rieder (27:16):
You hit the, you hit the nail on the head there. We just ran our parent teacher interviews last week. They were all virtual, of course. And, and, and parents signed up for 10 minutes, you know, their blocks of time. And it was solidly booked for two days. Wow. So, you know, those kind of things are definitely changing. We just ran a, an information meeting on Wednesday on Tuesday night with eight alumni who are in the medical profession. And the whole theme of the theme of topic was how to get, you know, what, what’s it like being a doctor? What’s it like getting, how do you get into medical school? What are the kinds of things that are going on? And we had about a hundred people on that call. So, so people are definitely willing to sit in the comfort of their home and, and be a part of a, of a zoom call or a interactive session that way,

Sam Demma (28:02):
Love that. Awesome. And being cognizant of the time maybe we’ll do a part too as well if you’re open to it. But I, I would love to know if you could go back in time and give yourself advice when you just got into education and teaching, what would you say? What, what advice would you give knowing what you know now?

Jim Rieder (28:22):
Oh, that’s a, that’s a pretty philosophical question. And You might wanna cut this outta the interview.

Sam Demma (28:31):
No, not at all.

Jim Rieder (28:33):
No, I think I, I think probably one of the things I would do and maybe it’s still down the road for me is I would, yeah. I really think that there’s a education is in, in is in a stage of transformation and you know, the virtual world is coming. Technology is coming. I always thought there was a, I always thought there was a room for a different model of a school and maybe that’s part two of the conversation. But yeah, I think I would’ve, I think I would’ve you know, worked harder, maybe it’s still to, still to come, but yeah, I think there’s a, there’s some new models of education that I probably should have, could have pursued in terms of, you know, stepping out on my own. I have the business experience now. And I would’ve said to my said to, you know, I always say to my kids and I’ve said, it doesn’t matter what you do, what your passion is, but try to own the business that you’re, that, that you’re in. So you can, as long as you’re, you know, living your dream own your business and, and take it. So I think that’s something I might have done differently to my, or told my younger self is you’re in education. You can change the world. You know, you, you know, you can do this well to take the, take the reins by the horn and create your own vision in your own school or your own, your own your own education system. If that, if that makes sense,

Sam Demma (29:48):
It does. And I love that. You said if it’s yet, maybe it’s yet to come. I was listening to a podcast recently with Jim Collins and Tim Ferris. And Jim is one of his mentors was Peter Drucker. Who’s like this know brilliant thinker. And I believe he has something like 29 or 39 books that he’s written over this, this man of his lifetime. And

Jim Rieder (30:10):
I’ve read, I’ve read some of his books.

Sam Demma (30:12):
They’re awesome. And Jim was

Jim Rieder (30:14):
A master’s degree.

Sam Demma (30:15):
Yeah, that’s amazing. And, and Jim was telling Tim, Jim Collins was telling in Ferris that he got to visit his house and see all the books he had written in order sitting on a shelf. And he asked the person who owned the estate. Now, can you point on this shelf to where Jim was 65 years old? And the lady pointed to the first third of the bookshelf and he blown away that this guy wrote the two thirds of his life’s content after the age of 65 years old. And it’s just a test Testament that goes to show that age is a number. You can create things for the rest of your life. Sure. And I think its just important to end on that note because someone listening might be a little older or, or just starting and now’s the time was the time.

Jim Rieder (31:03):
Right. I agree now is the time. Yeah.

Sam Demma (31:05):
And if someone listened to this and was inspired at all, wants to chat with you, have a conversation, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?

Jim Rieder (31:13):
They can email me. I’ll give you my email address. That’s okay. Yeah, Jim Rieder. So JimRieder@mywic.ca.

Sam Demma (31:27):
Awesome. Jim, this has been awesome. We’ll definitely do a part 2, and until then keep doing great work and I’ll talk to you soon.

Jim Rieder (31:34):
Sounds good.

Sam Demma (31:35):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an 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; f you want meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna 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 fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Jim Rieder

The High Performing Educator Podcast was brought to life during the outbreak of COVID-19 to provide you with inspirational stories and practical advice from your colleagues in education.  By tuning in, you will hear the stories and ideas of the world’s brightest and most ambitious educators.  You can expect interviews with Principals, Teachers, Guidance Counsellors, National Student Association, Directors and anybody that works with youth. You can find and listen to all the episodes for free here.

Karen Dancy – Parent Council Chair & Parent Engagement Advocate

Karen Dancy – Parent Council Chair & Parent Engagement Advocate
About Karen Dancy

Karen Dancy (@karendancy) is an advocate for quality public education.  She has been involved in the parent council for the last 8 years.  In addition to serving as Chair at both her sons’ grade school and high school, Karen sits on two additional school committees at the Board level.  She believes the school and home partnership is vital in supporting student learning and growth. 

When Karen isn’t volunteering with the local school board, she can be found diving into family genealogy, rescuing hound dogs and working her day job, working in the History department at York University where she has been for the last 26 years. 

Connect with Karen: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board

Bachelors of English at York University

Department of History at York University

Ontario Association of Parents in Catholic Education (OAPCE)

OAPCE Dufferin-Peel

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. We have another amazing guest on the podcast today. Her name is Karen Dancy. She is an advocate for quality public school education. She has been involved in parent council for the last eight years. In addition to serving as chair at both of her son’s grade schools and high schools,


Sam Demma (00:59):
Karen sits on two additional school committees at the board level, and she believes the school and home partnership is vital in supporting student learning and growth. When Karen isn’t volunteering with the local school board, she can be found digging into family genealogy, rescuing hound dogs, and working her day job; working in the history department at York university, where she has been for the last 26 years. Also, she is very involved with the OAPCE they host awesome events. You should check her her workout on Twitter as well. She posts a lot of amazing content. Anyways, I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I enjoy chatting with Karen, and I will see you on the other side. Karen, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show. I gotta say, I was really impressed with your technology, your background, the different things we were putting on; the zoom filters, but why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about the reason why you’re so passionate about helping young people.


Karen Dancy (02:00):
Thank you. My name is Karen Dancy, and I am currently the chair at my son’s elementary school and I got involved that way. And I don’t know, it’s funny. I’m not a teacher, but when I was a kid, I thought I was gonna be a teacher. And I think I didn’t go that route at the time, because they were saying, oh, there’s gonna be too many teachers at the time. Right. So I thought, well, you know, so I ended up you know, I got an English degree and I ended up, I still work in education. I, I work at York university. Nice. So at least it kind of keeps me, but you know, sometimes I wonder if I should have been a teacher, but it’s too late now, but now what I’m doing is fun. Like I enjoy being with the students like, you know, I help out as much as I can. I’m flexible with my time. Like if I need to, if, if there’s something going on at the school at the elementary school, I will take a day off. Like I’m not shy about it. People know that if I’m taking a day, it’s usually because I’m helping at the school, you know, doing, doing pancakes or whatever.


Sam Demma (03:02):
And from reading like your Twitter, it’s very obvious that you’re very passionate about education in the best of ways. Yeah, I think it’s important that we, we share our opinions and our voices, especially during crazy times. Yeah, you know, it’s funny that you’re not directly a teacher, but you still work in a school at York university. What led you down that path? What, what prompted you down that path?


Karen Dancy (03:25):
Well, I went to school there. Got it. Sorry. I went to university, I got my I got my degree there and I, I like to joke about how I couldn’t buy the company back in, back in the back in the eighties, or so there used to be a commercial for a running tonight. I, the, the shaver. And he was like, yeah, you know, I like the company so much. I decided to, to buy it. I’m like, well, I can’t buy the university, but I ended up, it just kind of fell into my lap. Like, you know, I was working there part-time during my schooling nice and an opportunity. And it, what happened was it was supposed to be two weeks and it turned to six months into, and then it turned into a contract and now I’ve been there, you know, 25 plus years. Wow. And it’s, it’s not that, I mean, it’s a, it’s a, it’s a job. Right. And I enjoy it. Like, it keeps me in academia at the time. And it it’s, it’s fun. I like it.


Sam Demma (04:16):
And at what point did you make the decision to get involved with, with the student council and parent council? Like, I think you’ve been doing that for eight, eight or so years. Yeah. So


Karen Dancy (04:25):
Yeah, since my son was in grade one, my oldest was in grade one. It was I guess, you know, you as a parent at the time, like this is all, it was all new to me, but I decided to go to, to my first meeting, I was curious and you know, I was quiet. I walked and I see all the camaraderie between the other, you know, chair, like people that have been going for years. Right. Cause I didn’t know anybody. And an opportunity came up for the first, for the first role, which is just a, basically a community person. So you tell them what’s going on in the community. And so, you know, I got involved that way. And then I, you know, as I went, as I more things, it was like, oh, okay, well, this is kind of fun. And so the following year we had somebody leave, the chair was leaving or, or whatever. So I did a, I did a co-chair so, cause I wasn’t, you know, I still wasn’t comfortable enough on my own, but so I, I did a co-chair ship for a couple of years.


Sam Demma (05:19):
Nice. That’s awesome. And you’ve experienced parent council, both, you know, pre COVID and now in COVID I’m sure it’s been very different on both ends. Yeah. What are some of the challenges you think are, or are students are facing right now? I think what’s very unique about your position is that you have a child of your own, who is going through school when I talk to direct caters. Yeah. You know, they give me what their students are going through, but they don’t see the students after the school day ends. Yeah. You know, you have this unique position where you’re both hearing from the educators and seeing your own student and your own, your own child. Yep. What are the challenges our students are facing right now?


Karen Dancy (05:58):
It’s hard. It it’s hard. And I see it from two ways. Cause I have a, so I have a son in elementary school he’s in grade seven and then I have a grade Niner. Right. Who’s just started. Yeah. And I feel bad for both. So, you know, a year ago when we got, when we went into lockdown you know, remote learning, it was not even remote learning at the time I called it pandemic learning because nobody was ready for this. Right. Like you were lucky. My grade, my grade nine, who was in grade eight at the time, he was lucky he had a, an Edwin, like a, a Chromebook that he was from the school so he could bring it home. But my other son had to use his computer. So, you know, setting that up and some classes, you know, were set up and weren’t so fast forward to now.


Karen Dancy (06:41):
My, my grade seven son hates online learning. Like he would rather, he goes, he goes in for, he goes in, he’d rather go in person. And I feel bad for my grade nine or because he’s not experiencing grade nine. I had great memories of grade nine. You know, like you meet new people, you do these retreats. And, and he’s not, I mean, you know, I drop him off in the morning and he goes to school for two and a half hours. I pick him up, he comes home. He doesn’t, you know, there’s four people in his class. He doesn’t get that. He’s not getting to know anybody’s


Sam Demma (07:14):
Action friendships.


Karen Dancy (07:14):
And it’s just, it’s just, you know, it’s almost like he it’s, you know, he’s a robot go in coming out, you know, there’s just no interaction. And if you’re painfully shy, you know, there’s no, there’s no way to meet other people. It’s just, I feel so bad. You know? And he, again, you know, there was no graduation last year and it, you know, for the great aids this year, there’s not gonna be a graduation. I mean, it was just it’s pandemic learning is still kind of there in some cases. I mean, now, yes, it’s better. Like it’s more organized, right? Like if you’re feeling sick, you can like my grade seven, if he wants to stay home and he did one day, he just didn’t wanna go in. So I kept him home and he was able to follow because it’s, you know, they’re doing the hybrid learning. Got it. So he’s at home learning the teachers on the computer at school and they’re teaching. So, you know, it’s, I like that, but I do miss the, like, I feel bad for them because they’re not getting the interaction


Sam Demma (08:09):
I have to tell. Yeah. I have to tell you, I feel the same way I have, I have friends who are still in school in fact last year, but a couple of my buddies are graduating college and university, and that’s a big celebration. Right. You know, graduating high school and then graduating college with all your buddies when you’re a little older and you know, they have few celebrations. And I remember thinking like, wow, this, this sucks. I actually put together a video called dear graduating class of 2020 to try and like celebrate students. And it was well received last year. Oh, good. But I’m curious know, like, despite the challenges, how do we still make the students feel seen, heard, valued and appreciated, you know, from the par from the perspective of a parent, but also the perspective of an educator.


Karen Dancy (08:53):
Yeah. I don’t know. I mean, I think this year they have more time to plan. Right. Got it. So I think, I think the big issue that schools faced last year was the inequity. Yeah. When school was having a drive by and gave out lawn signs where the other school didn’t do that, you know, they maybe gave out a t-shirt, which, you know, like that’s okay. But there’s like, there has to be equity across the board, especially in the same school board. Right? Yeah. Like, that’s the problem. You can’t have one school doing


Sam Demma (09:21):
This, this a huge show,


Karen Dancy (09:22):
Doing a huge show. And I mean, I mean, you know, also you’re bound, like, you know, it’s hard, the admins, they don’t wanna bend the, like, they don’t wanna get in trouble. Right. Like at the time, you know, we were in lockdowns, you couldn’t have large gatherings. Right. So it’s, I can see it was just so difficult. I feel so bad for the teachers. And they admit, because they’re only trying to follow the rules as best. I mean, yes. They would love to put on a big celebration. Like I know I had suggested various ideas, like do have graduation. Everybody stays in their cars and


Sam Demma (09:55):
A drive cars,


Karen Dancy (09:56):
You know, a, exactly like a driving movie. And then they drive up and, you know, there was just so much and it, and honestly it took me I broke down several times. I was at different board meetings cuz I’m also involved, involved at the board level in meet in meetings. And there were times where I just, I broke down crime because I was just so sad, my son and his friends. Mm. Because I know what it’s like, like I remember grade age, you know, and it’s just, you know, he doesn’t, he, they missed it, but they don’t really know what they’re missing. I mean, they, they know it’s a big deal, but yeah. You know, it’s like, what, whatever, but I felt bad. And, and so this year I know that my particular school board is trying to make sure that there’s equity


Sam Demma (10:36):
Got


Karen Dancy (10:36):
It across the board. We’ll see what it looks like. I mean, it’s still so hard, you know, I know people are gonna be disappointed. Yes. You can never, you can never please everybody. Right.


Sam Demma (10:46):
It’s it’s such a complex issue. Right. Because when you think you have the solution, it presents a new challenge. Well,


Karen Dancy (10:53):
That’s it exactly. I mean, you know, you can set something up and then, you know, we go by into lockdown where you can only have five people outside or what happens if you have this big elaborate presentation outside and it rains. Yeah. Right. Like, I mean, we’re not, it’s not like we live in California where the sun is always shining, you know? So it’s just, I mean, there’s like different stages. Like it’s almost like you have a different playbook, a play for every different kind of scenario. And it’s like, at some point you have to just, well, you, you know, if it can work out, it works out


Sam Demma (11:23):
And from the role of a parent, because again, you play that two. Yeah. That two role person, how do, how have you been striving to support your, your kids through this time? Is it just reassurance? Is it giving them other experiences or


Karen Dancy (11:38):
It’s I just, I’m asking. I just ask them, you know, are you good? Like I tell, I tell ’em, you know, I know this is, this is, this is hard right now, but this is your history. Like in 20 years time, you’ll be able to tell, you know, your kids. Well, what I, you know, I did this when, during the COVID right? Like this is there. Yeah. I walked in a, in a snowstorm uphill, barefoot


Sam Demma (11:56):
Story,


Karen Dancy (11:59):
You know, this is their story right’s so there it’s their history, but you know, I try my best. I mean, you know, once this is all over, I’m sure everybody will be having major parties and, and celebrating everything for all the things I’m have missed. Right.


Sam Demma (12:14):
Yeah. Very true. Very true. And in light of challenges we spent a, a couple minutes talking about them. There is also opportunities, and I’m curious to know what you believe are opportunities that exist right now in education because of the disruption that’s that’s happening.


Karen Dancy (12:31):
Well, I mean, perfect example is, so our meetings have obviously like student, parent council meetings have shifted to zoom meetings and parent engagements. And we are finding that we’re getting more people coming out to our events because they’re not racing home, you know, rushing home to have dinner and then to go out again. Right. So I, like I said, I was involved involved, so at the parent council level, but then just above the parent council level because we’re in a Catholic school, we have OAP C so we have parent engagements for that. So we’re finding that the parent engagement is actually higher because people can come home, stay in their pajamas, you know, put on the pajamas and then listen or watch, right. Like they don’t have to rush out to meeting up upon meeting. So we’re finding a better engagement that way. And so, you know, maybe moving forward once the pandemic is over, maybe schools will have more parent engagements because we used to have parent engagements in person. Right. Like, got it. Paul Davis is an internet C guy. Right. He came to our school and sometimes the turnout for these things are so poor. Yeah. Like you’re lucky if you get four people and that, you know that. So


Sam Demma (13:47):
When you say parent engagement, can you clarify, do you mean like a parent event, like a parent driven event? Yeah.


Karen Dancy (13:51):
A parent. Yeah. So, so the government used to give funding for, to host parent engagement. Got it. So I know in my role as chair, I’ve organized you know, internet safety or wellness, you know mental brain gym, just to help parents kind of cope with different, you know, with parenting stuff. Like it’s, it’s, it was a fund that was only spec. It was specifically for an engagement. So we have to have a we’d bring in a speaker. And so we were lucky if we got four people. And so I used to open it up to all the schools in the neighborhood. If they wanted to come, they could come you know, still people are shy and they wouldn’t come. But having it on zoom, it, it, you know, it makes it like, oh, I don’t have to, like, I can go up, but not have to talk to people.


Karen Dancy (14:38):
Cuz a lot of times people they’re tired when they get home and they don’t wanna go out. But if they can just flip on their, you know, their computer and watch it that way. So but in the past two, I, you know, that, that money that we used to get, I used to do it for the kids. Mm. So I remember there was one, it was a math, it was it was maths. It was some kind of a math thing where they, they brought in all these manipulatives for kids to play. Like they put out a floor mat and everything. And I remember the organizer he’s like, he thought it was in the evening and I’m like, no, no, during the day. And he is like, well, you’re not gonna get parent engagement and your money is supposed to be for parent engagement. And I’m like, no, no, the parents will come during the day because at our school, they, the parents were really engaged and sure enough, I had 15 parents throughout the day come to watch their kids have fun that it was mostly that it was a thousand dollars, but that a thousand dollars was spent for the kids because any money that the school raises always goes back back to the kids. Right. We always think what’s what something for the kids is for the kids.


Sam Demma (15:40):
So you not to suit your horn, but you’re like the, the best parent, you know, you got involved in your kid’s education from grade one and stayed in all the way up to grade and you’re still here. So


Karen Dancy (15:52):
I know, I know. I’m sure my I’m sure. My grade nine kid isn’t exactly happy. Actually. The funny thing was is I didn’t, you know, so I joined, like I joined the high school council and high school is different and I’m obviously learning and this is still you to me. And I, you know, I haven’t set foot in the school yet, but the first time they report cards came out, I looked and like my friend texted me. She’s like, Hey, did you know your names on, on all the report cards? And I had no idea. I’m like, oh my God, he like kid is gonna be so embarrassed to see my name. You know,


Sam Demma (16:25):
Every single, every single student in the school is gonna be like, oh, your mom’s caring. Yeah,


Karen Dancy (16:31):
Exactly. As long as, so maybe that’s why he doesn’t wanna make friends or anything because that’s really that’s at one. He doesn’t want people knowing who I am, but that’s awesome. That’s awesome. But they just, but they say that, you know, kids get are proud like obviously in elementary. True. And they see their parents helping out. Right. It gives them a sense of pride. I remember my younger son, he was like in grade two and I, there was an issue with pizza. Like he went up to the pizza, the pizza mom and was complaining and he’s like, my mom is the chair. Well, he actually called me president or something. My mom is the president and I want another slice. And she, you know, and she joked her and she turned around. She’s like, you tell your mom that I quit because I’m tired of this. Right. So, you know, he took it a she’s too far.


Sam Demma (17:13):
That’s funny. Yeah. I love that story. How do we get parents more involved in their child’s education? Is it through parent engagement events? Like what do you think is like, like envision an educator listening to this from another school board who doesn’t have a, a, an awesome parent support. Like what do we tell that educator that might help them get their parent community more involved?


Karen Dancy (17:36):
I think that you tell that they, they need to take whatever the parent can give. If the parent can only give five minutes, the, the parent that’s five minutes of their time. I mean, time is valuable. Yeah. Right. And yes, I’ll admit that I spend a lot of time and I’ve, but if I have a parent who says to me, you know, I can only give you five minutes at this event. I’ll take it. I would never turn anybody down. It is hard it’s, you know, I guess the only thing is you keep offering things, right? Like different things. Just, it it’s, especially now we can take advantage of zoom. Right. Like I said, I mean, before Christmas we had a story time. It just, you know, it was off the cuff. I just, I messaged my principal and I said, Hey, Santa Claus, he’s gonna do a story time over zoom. And he’ll read a story. And it was just, and you know, parents can come in and watch with their kids. That’s awesome. And we had, we had like 88 families join us that night.


Sam Demma (18:35):
Wow.


Karen Dancy (18:36):
Yeah. And Mike was, my husband was Santa Claus.


Sam Demma (18:43):
That’s awesome. And the think that I know Mike, you know’s on the podcast. He fits the role perfectly.


Karen Dancy (18:48):
Oh, for sure. Yeah. That’s so, you know, it was, so it is, it’s very hard, but you have to, I think right now, especially because we’re doing zooms a lot, we just have to try different things. I mean, it’s not gonna, it’s hard. I mean, people can always come into the, like a lot of our events are in the evening. There are some things during the school, like parents can volunteer for school trips. Mm. And, you know, I mean, that’s, that’s something small. I mean, some people never come to our meetings and that’s fine because they don’t have the time or they, they’re not interested, but as long as they show up when their child’s class needs a parent to go on a school trip. Yeah. Or when it’s when we’re making pancakes for show Tuesday. Right. That’s great. That’s still in, that’s still engagement. Right. I mean, it’s, it’s a small step. It is very hard. But I mean, I don’t, I don’t know if there’s never, if there’s a school that has never had a parent help out in some way. Yeah. Right. Like, it’s, it just, you take whatever they can give you and you never complain and you thank them. And you say, you know, thank you.


Sam Demma (19:49):
You shared a great idea with the Santa Claus reading. And it made me curious to pick your brain a little more on different events that you’ve hosted virtually, and also in person that may have really engaged the parent community that you think might be valuable for another educator or parent to hear.


Karen Dancy (20:07):
Well. Yeah. I mean, a couple years ago at the elementary school, we did a Christmas market. Nice. It was our first and only one. This was a lot of work. Yeah. But it was a lot of fun cuz it brought out the community. Not only like the parents, but the teachers came and they shopped, I mean, it was a lot of work. But there was different stations we had, like we had Santa with photos, photos with Santa, we had story time we had yeah, just a marketplace and a lot of schools do do that. So that’s not, that’s not something new. We’ve done. What else have we done? Yeah. Well the Stan, the story time was, was something new that we tried because you know, especially at the time we were, we were closed. Right. It was we’d been shut down in the fall for two weeks for COVID cuz we, our numbers were high.


Karen Dancy (20:56):
So, you know, and, and there’s right now it’s a, there’s such a disconnect between the kids that are at home and who have not set foot in a school and in person since last March. Yeah. Right. So it was a way to kind of bring the kids together. And then a few days later, Santa made an appearance at the school. He walked around the school nice and waited to the kids. So I mean, that was, so that was what we did. But we’ve had hot dog day where some, you know, parents come out and do hot dogs, like just cook the hot on the barbecue. Cause kids like hot dogs and it brings parents out. In September we, you know, we have a welcome to the school. We used to have a barbecue, but the barbecue, again, people they’re so busy. I mean, that’s the thing people’s lives are so busy. Yeah. So we have to reimagine and I don’t know, it was funny because this would in the first year that we weren’t gonna do the barbecue, but I don’t know what we would’ve done, but it doesn’t worry. Doesn’t matter because nothing happens. Right. It didn’t happen. So I don’t know, but it it’s hard, but yeah. I follow what I see what other schools do.


Sam Demma (22:03):
Yeah. You don’t have to reinvent, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. You just iterate or, or grab ideas elsewhere. Exactly.


Sam Demma (22:10):
Oh, that’s awesome. It’s funny when you were talking about going around the school and waving and having Santa Claus on, I, I immediately thought about this, this piece of news, I read a couple weeks ago and it was about this farmer who would bring his goat with him onto zoom calls. Yes. And people could, people could pay 80 to dollars to have a pure. And I was like, wow, there could literally be a person at the Toronto zoo that has a camera and walks around and like showcase animals to students. Like, you know, the more you think about it, the more ideas you see, the more you’re able to build off of them and come up with new interviews. That’s


Karen Dancy (22:44):
A good idea. Yeah, exactly. No, that’s a


Sam Demma (22:46):
Really good idea. I thought that was really like funny. And, and me and my buddy laughing because the goat, technically the goat made like 80 something thousand dollars that year. And we were like


Sam Demma (22:56):
80 grand.


Karen Dancy (22:57):
I know to get a buy for that, that money man. Yeah. It just, no that’s, that was funny. That is true. Yeah. Well it’s, it’s funny watching people’s meetings. Right. You know, like cats will walk by and dogs will bark in the background. You know, one day it was funny. I was on a work meeting and my dog, she was I was watching her from under my computer. So I thought I had turned my camera off. Mm. I turned my dog. I had already turned my camera off, but I thought I muted myself. And so I was calling her and all of a sudden hear the meeting going is that your dog? And it’s like, oh, sorry. I need, that’s how I turned my microphone off.


Sam Demma (23:32):
Yep. So, no, that’s funny. I’m, I’m curious in your experiences cameras on cameras off. I know some teachers are having a really difficult time with that. Teaching to black screens is difficult. I’ve been in classrooms with teachers where every kid has a camera on and I’ve been in classrooms with teachers where every kid has a camera off. Yeah. And I’m curious to know what your perspective is or if you have any ideas related to, you know, encouraging students to turn it on or if you think it’s okay to have them off.


Karen Dancy (23:57):
Yeah. It’s, it’s hard. It’s funny. Cuz I told my older one in grade nine when he, cuz he started the new quad master a couple of weeks ago when we were home. Yeah. And so he had never met this teacher and I said to him, you, you know, turn your camera on because think about this poor teacher who is starting a new quad with a new class and he doesn’t know what you look like.


Sam Demma (24:16):
Yeah.


Karen Dancy (24:17):
And he’s like, well I turn it on for five minutes. And I’m like, it’s just so hard. I find, even in my council meetings, it’s harder when I’m having my counsel meetings. Cause I don’t know the parents, I know a few parents who have joined the council, but I hate talking to that little, you know, black screen, black screen or the initials. And it’s like, you know, say hi to me, you know, like, you know, I’m, I’m vulnerable. I have my camera on, turn it on. I know it’s really hard. I really do feel bad for the teachers because you can’t force them. I yeah. You can’t force the kids to turn on their cameras, but you know, people are such a, you get so many visual cues by having your camera on. Like if we had turned our cameras off,


Sam Demma (24:57):
It’s different,


Karen Dancy (24:58):
You know, I’d be talking to you, you know, to a black screen. Yeah. It’s hard. I don’t, I don’t have any, I don’t have any suggestions except the, you know, it really, you need to have your camera on. Yeah. At least in the beginning, you know, and turn it off if you later on.


Sam Demma (25:13):
Yeah. I, I, I, I agree. And I, I found that, I think like social proof plays into that as well. There are certain students who really wanna turn on their cameras, but they see everyone else having their cameras off and then feel like that’s the correct thing to do. So they leave theirs off as well. Yeah. And it’s like this idea that there’s probably a handful of them who wanna turn it on, but they just, they just don’t shock. Exactly. Yeah. Right. Exactly. And, and you know, I, there’s this phrase about the first follower that the leader isn’t actually the person like leading the movement. It’s, it’s the first follower. Who’s the true leader because they took the, the, the hard decision and courageous decision to follow the, that one person, which then usually leads to a bunch of other people turning it on. That’s true. That’s true. Yeah. It’s an interesting, it’s an interesting dynamic. I strive in all the programs that I’ve delivered to get students, to turn their cameras on in different engaging ways. Yeah. Engaging ways. I know. I’m curious though, to wrap up today’s interview, if you could go back to you year one, Karen, when you just got involved in parent council, knowing what you know about education now, knowing what you know about parent engagement about educators about school, what advice would you give your younger self?


Karen Dancy (26:19):
Not to be shy?


Sam Demma (26:21):
Hmm.


Karen Dancy (26:21):
Not to be shy. Cuz I think I, you know, I sat there and was like, oh, can I speak now? You know, I have a, I have an idea once I got more comfortable. So I would think, but it took me a while to get comfortable. Got it. So I think, you know, just be comfortable right away. You, you know, you’re there for a reason you’re there for the kids. Yeah. Right. at least I, you know, I, yeah. I don’t know. I, it’s funny because PTAs get such a bad rap. They think it’s people are there for their egos. Yeah. And I’m sure there are some, but I certainly


Sam Demma (26:50):
Like every field there’s good. There’s, you know, people that are there for all different types of reasons


Karen Dancy (26:54):
I think. And I think that stops a lot of people. Like I really wish people could see what we do. It’s not the clear it is not clicky. It’s not, you know, we just we’re there for the kids and we know, and, and that’s all we do. Like we’re not there for anything else.


Sam Demma (27:10):
I love it. No, it’s so cool. And if someone wants to reach out to you and have a conversation after listening to this interview, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?


Karen Dancy (27:17):
Probably on my, on Twitter. So I’m @karendancy on Twitter.


Sam Demma (27:23):
Awesome. Karen, thank you so much for coming on the show. I really appreciate it.


Karen Dancy (27:27):
All right. Thank you for having me.


Sam Demma (27:28):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an 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; f you want meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna 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 fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Karen Dancy

The High Performing Educator Podcast was brought to life during the outbreak of COVID-19 to provide you with inspirational stories and practical advice from your colleagues in education.  By tuning in, you will hear the stories and ideas of the world’s brightest and most ambitious educators.  You can expect interviews with Principals, Teachers, Guidance Counsellors, National Student Association, Directors and anybody that works with youth. You can find and listen to all the episodes for free here.

Ron LeClair – Trustee at the Greater Essex District School Board

Ron LeClair - Trustee at the Greater Essex District School Board
About Ron LeClair

Born and Raised in LaSalle Ontario, Ron (@ron_leclair) attend the University of Windsor where he obtained a BA in Political Science and a certificate in Public Administration. Ron joined the Windsor Police Service in 1991, where he served for 30.5 years. In 2021, Ron retired as an Inspector and then joined the Solicitor Generals’ office as a Police Service Advisor.

In 2014, Ron was elected to the Greater Essex District School Board as Trustee. He continues to serve in that capacity. Ron has worked to improve educational opportunities for students including marginalized populations. Ron also serves as a Director of the Windsor Symphony Board, where he sits as chair of the Education committee. Ron is a candidate in the upcoming Provincial election for the Ontario New Democrats in the Riding of Essex.

Connect with Ron: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

University of Windsor

Greater Essex District School Board

Windsor Symphony

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 (00:02):
Ron welcome to the high performing educator. Huge pleasure to have you on the show this morning. Please start by introducing yourself.


Ron LeClair (00:09):
Happy to be here, Sam. My name’s Ron LeClair. I’m the trustee for Greater Essex County District School Board. I represent the town of Lasalle and Amherstburg I’m a retired police officer born and raised in the Lasalle area.


Sam Demma (00:25):
Awesome. And how did you get to the role you’re in today and why?


Ron LeClair (00:33):
Okay, so I attended the university of Windsor nice to be a political science and public administration. From there I joined the wind with them, like I said, for 30 years. At some point in my career I decided that I wanted to get involved in the community in an aspect other than from a policing perspective. And one of my strengths is governance. And so that coupled with the fact that I’m aware of the importance of education and reducing youth criminal activity and recidivism. So I, I decided that I would seek a position on the board and was successful. I’m in my second term I’ve served as a chair and vice chair on several occasions. So that’s, that’s really how I got to where I am.


Sam Demma (01:33):
You said you realized the importance of education to reduce criminal activity in youth. How did you come to that realization and why do you believe education is so important?


Ron LeClair (01:46):
Well, so at one point in my career, I was a a youth criminal investigator. That was my, my sole role with the service. And a lot of the young men, young women that I was seeing, coming into the service that were in trouble were, were struggling in school. They weren’t completing their school. And I mean, there’s lots of, you know, justice studies that kind of indicate that’s the case that education is is the foundation to keep young people out of trouble. But I was able to see it firsthand and I was able to work with some student or some, some of the clientele that you were coming in for various criminal activity and try to assist them in their school setting. So that, that’s where I made that correlation. And then when the opportunity came for me to run for school board, I just thought was a there’s a lot of synchronicity there. Right?


Sam Demma (02:49):
Yeah, absolutely. And what does your role look like today? What are you doing? What are the different projects that are going on behind the scenes?


Ron LeClair (02:57):
Well, so I mean, in my own, my own jurisdiction or my own writing, if you wanna call it that lasal, and Amburg lasal has a brand new school that we constructed that just opened in September. Nice. The legacy trails. It’s a dual tracks, so French immersion in English. It, it, the nice thing about that school is it replaced the school that we closed is prince Andrew. So it’s probably good that we don’t have a school named prince Andrew at this point. You know, given some of the revelations around him. But one of the nice things about the school is it we built it a hundreds seats larger than the current school. Nevertheless, we seem to, to overfill it and there’s a lot of growth here. So we’ll be looking at putting an addition on that school.


Ron LeClair (03:49):
But also in Amburg in the process of, of getting a new high school constructed, it’ll be open in the fall. Went through some challenges in the naming process there. We’re bringing two schools together, Western and general Amherst. They’re both high schools in that area at the moment, but we’re bringing those two schools together and really didn’t wanna see general Amherst name on a building because some of his history in terms of how he handled indigenous people when he was here. So we ended up coming up with the name north star, north star has a lot of very positive symbolism, not only for indigenous people but for the underground railroad, which connected to Amburg the use the north star to guide themself, to Amburg to Canada. But also that, that symbolism of your north star, your guiding, guiding internal compass, right?


Ron LeClair (04:55):
So I’m pretty proud of the fact that the school’s gonna be called north star. So that’s one thing one of the other cool projects two other cool projects, I guess that I’d say I was involved in was I successfully got defibrillators for all of our schools. You know, our schools are used off after hours, a lot of time for gym training and, you know, for you know, various clubs, sport activities. And I mean, from that perspective, there’s adults in those buildings, but it’s not UN uncommon for children to have respiratory issue or sorry cardiac issues. So I was happy to be successful in getting those into our school. And the last thing is in Las Sal, we have a a track, which I was able to get resurface and rebuilt to Olympic standards and actually Melissa Bishop famous Olympian was I used that track for training prior to the last Olympics. So I think I’ve been pretty successful in, in my efforts to you know advocate for my area. But you know, those are bigger projects, but I also advocate on a very micro level on individual issues as they, as they come about.


Sam Demma (06:16):
For an educate or listener who knows absolutely nothing about the process of naming a school. Can you walk us through what that looks like? Even growing up when I was a student, I never thought too deeply about the names of buildings and how complex of a process it would be to choose one. And you being someone who’s went through it, I would love for you to show there some insight.


Ron LeClair (06:39):
Well, sometimes the processes go quite easy legacy Oak trail, which is the school that in lasal, which replaced prince Andrew it really fell in the place quite quickly. Whereas am general Amherst was a little bit more difficult because there’s some people, I mean, there’s a tie into the name of the town, but the processes is laid out in a policy that our board has. So this is our policy. I don’t know how other boards would go about it, but we bring together a, a committee of students from the schools that are involved. Teachers, educators involve parents pub the parent engagement community committees and trustees and members of men. And we follow through a process of what we would think. We get a report from somebody from our admin that provides information on geographical you know circumstances around the area, people from the area et cetera.


Ron LeClair (07:41):
And then the committee just works through the process. What I’ve learned and what my own perspective is is that naming a school after a person is not appropriate, that’s my opinion. Because there are circumstances where you know, hundreds of years later, we find out that somebody’s not necessarily who we thought they were. And that’s the example of Jeffrey Amherst, right. And that it didn’t take a hundred years for us to discover the issues with him, but the school was named and the school was around for a hundred years. Mm that’s. How long this school’s been around you know, there’s circumstances here in ES county where a school was named, not in our board but within two years that name had to be removed because some information came forward. So in my opinion, much better to pick a geographical or symbolic name than naming as school after somebody. I mean, obviously it’s an honor, if somebody gets a, a school or a bridge or a building named after them, I just Don know how appropriate it is for schools.


Sam Demma (08:53):
Absolutely. You mentioned the naming of schools, the building, and bringing to life a new high school in your community are two of the things that you are working on. You also mentioned there are other projects that come on a case by case basis. What are some of those other things that have come up and you and your team have worked on?


Ron LeClair (09:14):
Well, they could be as, as micro as you know, a busing issue. You know, I live so ma you know, the, the geographical requirements is 1.8 kilometers, and they live 1.8, five kilometers, and they’re not denied busing. Sometimes there’s not busing decisions are made for, from a map without understanding the, you know, the traffic and, and the, you know, again, geographical barriers that might impact somebody trying to walk instead of riding on a bus. Simple things like that. Just the other day I had somebody contact me, who’s looking at moving into this area and they wanted to know what school their child would go to if they moved to a specific address. You know, so it’s a wide range. I mean, a lot of our time right now is really spent addressing COVID issues. Like every other person in Canada right now is faced with COVID in some capacity. COVID has been a real challenge because every decision there’s a real divide, you know, some people think kids should be in class. Some people think they shouldn’t be, some people think they should be wearing masks, something people think they should. It’s, it’s just like the vaccine issue. Right. So it’s been a, that’s been real challenging. There’s no real you know, there’s, there’s a real divide in the community as to what is the appropriate steps.


Sam Demma (10:44):
Got it. And do you have any connection to conversations with educators themselves or not so much?


Ron LeClair (10:55):
So not, not so much directly. I mean, I use my social media, so I do hear from people that are, you know, front, front frontward facing, excuse me, frontward facing in the front lines, on the ground, in the schools, hearing those issues. I do communicate with the union a lot or the unions because teachers and support staff have multiple unions. I just recently assisted prior to Christmas, I brought forth the motion that allowed teachers staff to purchase at their own expense and 95 masks. If they felt that’s what they required, because there was there some talk in the community that, you know, we’re moving away from surgical mass to N 90 fives, but the province was very slow in acknowledging that. So in working with the union, I was at successful in bringing that forward.


Ron LeClair (11:54):
And it alleviated some concerns. If, if a teacher really felt that they wanted to wear an N 95 mask and they were prepared to pay for it, why shouldn’t we be allowed or let permit them to do that? Mm. So I was successful in bringing that forward. And I think that that alleviated a lot of concerns. I also think it was pretty it was a very progressive step because we now know that the province is finally supplying at 90 fives to staff and teachers. And so maybe a little progressive cutting edge ahead of the yeah. Proactive. Yep. And I think that’s, that’s been an issue in the province is the lack of being proactive in dealing with the pandemic. We’ve really seen what I call the neglect panic cycle where we don’t hear much bless you. And then suddenly you know, we’re kind of in panic mode and that, I think that’s part of why the people get up so upset is because they’re not provided the appropriate information in advance to say, Hey, this, this is coming right. So


Sam Demma (13:10):
Makes absolute sense. What are you hearing from your on Twitter about what educators are going through right now, or what are some common themes you see coming up online or in conversations?


Ron LeClair (13:25):
Well, there’s a lot of, there’s a lot of worry and stress. There’s a lot of unknowns, right? Like, yeah. You know, how, how does, how does which is the predominant variant right now? How does it work? What’s the long term effects? How can I avoid it? You know, I know of circumstances where people who have been pretty isolated somehow managed to, to contract it. You know, you’re, you’re in an environment as a teacher support staff and you’re working with little children, some, you know, some as young as four years old, who, you know, don’t necessarily know how to wear a mask you know, their attention spans are very limited. They’re very hands on. You know, so I give them credit for, for doing the work that they’re doing. They, you know, they’ve done a great job and they’re doing the best they can in the circumstances.


Ron LeClair (14:23):
You know, when we’re in a non and when we’re in an online component that’s a real struggle because I mean, like quite frankly, our teachers weren’t trained or educated to teach in anything, but brick and mortar or environment. And quite frankly, my opinion is online education belongs to, should belong to adults only you know the parent that needs to finish their undergrad degree or whatever. I, I don’t, I don’t understand how there could be an expectation that children in our public school system or even in the Catholic school system are capable of getting a proper education online.


Sam Demma (15:05):
Yeah. It’s definitely a tough barrier one. That’s the forefront of the conversation right now as well. Absolutely. And I appreciate your perspectives. You know, you said, you mentioned at the beginning, one of your interests is in governance. Explain that a little bit more. What about governance is very interesting to you and why do you think governance is important?


Ron LeClair (15:28):
Well, governance governance is absolutely important. It provides the bedrock of, of a solid organization. The governance should be proactive, progressive, and you know, anticipating issues in advance to the best of their ability. Obviously, I, you know, a pandemic ever changing pandemic is not something that any of us ever, ever expected to be trying to govern through. So how did my interest in governance come about? So I was, I was chair of the Windsor police association chair of some political organizations prior to I’m a police officer. I’m I’m a member of the executive for the Windsor symphony orchestra. So I don’t know what really hits one of those things. I don’t know what really attracts me to it, but it’s, it’s really understanding how Robert’s rules work. What, what, what you’re defining role is as, as a member of a board not to slip into operational decisions you know because you have staff that’s responsible for the day to day operations you’re just surpri supposed to provide that overarching support and insurance that, you know, your staff is conducting their work in accordance to what your mandate mission and vision is.


Ron LeClair (17:03):
Right.


Sam Demma (17:05):
Absolutely. For an educator who is interested in governance, maybe joining a local education association, maybe one for province or school board, and does not understand what a, what Robert’s rules are. Can you share what that means and what those are?


Ron LeClair (17:24):
Yeah. So Robert’s rules are a set of very complicated set of rules that outline how to on a meeting. Cool. So you know how to set it an agenda. What emotion is, how emotion hits the floor, what D what’s allowed in debate. Generally you, you know, an organization has a set of bylaws and, and is governed by Robert’s rules. So certain motions need two thirds to be successful. Certain motions only need a simple majority you know, how to handle amendments to a motion how to handle amendments to the amendment when they motion. So, and that happens. So yeah, it’s like what, when is a point of order? What happens when the chair is challenged? You know, there’s a lot to learn. I think most people just learn it, you know, after they decide to of delve into some kind of organization, they don’t necessarily, so they generally sit back and watch and learn. Right. for me, it came as part of my education when I was in university and public administration. I just, I just learned that as part of, of my ongoing in terms of specific education organizations that somebody could join. Most of ’em are tied into either employment or union activity or you know the trustees have an association at the Ontario level, right.


Sam Demma (19:08):
And for someone who wanted to get involved, you just simply reach out how did you get involved in the three organizations you’re a part of on the executive side?


Ron LeClair (19:18):
So the school board was obviously a, a, an election held at the same time as the municipal elections. The wind police association was by election by the membership of the Windsor police and the Windsor symphony orchestra. I just indicated that I had some interest in that because they have an education component. And you know, I get, it’s funny, policing led me to education education. I understand the importance of music as a part of your Folsom education, right? So the Windsor symphony orchestra needed somebody to be involved in their education committee.


Sam Demma (20:03):
That’s awesome. Very cool. I think joining an association organization that you’re interested in, whether it’s a voluntary position or something that’s actually paid, whether it’s by interest or by vote and election is a rewarding experience. I, I sit on the board of the Canadian association of professional speakers and are familiar with motions and amendments, and I’m not an expert in it by any means, but like you mentioned, I’m sitting back learning and, and watching, and I’m a are bring as much as I can. And it’s been a very awesome learning experience. And it sounds like it’s also been a cool learning experience for you.


Ron LeClair (20:41):
Yeah, no, I love it. It’s challenging. So, interesting thing is it has led to an opportunity. When I retired from the Windsor police, I joined the inspector of police bank and my role there is as a police advisor. And what I do is I provide governance advice to police services board. So I have a zone in the province of Ontario. And so yesterday, a chair from one of the boards calls me in says, Hey, I’m dealing with this issue. You know, I want to pick your brain. I want your thoughts. And we, we talked through the different scenarios and she was able to come to a solution or a conclusion of how she was gonna handle it in advance. So that’s the kind of things I do. And it, you know, I think one of the things that helped me land that position is all the experience I’ve collected over the course of my, my lifetime.


Sam Demma (21:29):
Absolutely. That’s awesome. I, really enjoy this conversation on governance and learning about the different roles and your experiences going through different organizations and associations. If someone else is listening, wants to reach out, ask you a question about anything we discussed what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?


Ron LeClair (21:47):
So, my email is ronleclair@me.com. I’m happy to talk to anybody.


Sam Demma (22:00):
Ron. Thank you so much for coming on the show, taking some time to chat about your interests and experiences. Keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon.


Ron LeClair (22:08):
Great.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Ron LeClair

The High Performing Educator Podcast was brought to life during the outbreak of COVID-19 to provide you with inspirational stories and practical advice from your colleagues in education.  By tuning in, you will hear the stories and ideas of the world’s brightest and most ambitious educators.  You can expect interviews with Principals, Teachers, Guidance Counsellors, National Student Association, Directors and anybody that works with youth. You can find and listen to all the episodes for free here.

Michelle Lowey – Teacher Physical Education & Sports Medicine

Michelle Lowey - Teacher Physical Education & Sports Medicine
About Michelle Lowey

Michelle Lowey (@Ms_Lowey) is the teacher of Physical Education & Sports Medicine at Dr. E.P Scarlett High School.  She is HIGH energy and has so much to offer throughout this conversation. 

Connect with Michelle: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Dr. E.P Scarlett High School Website

Terry Fox Run

What is a Social Media Detox and how to take it

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 guest is Michelle, Michelle Lowey. She is a teacher of physical education and sports medicine. She has her BA and her BEd major in physical education and kinesiology. She teaches at Dr. E.P Scarlett and is also the learning leader of student activities.


Sam Demma (01:00):
This conversation was filled with awesome stories and actionable advice and tips so make sure you have a note and a notepad and a pen beside you so you can take down all the different takeaways that you hear during this conversation. I’ll see you on the other side of the interview, talk soon. Michelle, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show, why don’t you start by sharing with the listener who you are and how you got into the work with young people that you do today?


Michelle Lowey (01:30):
Awesome. Well, thank you so much, Sam. I’m so happy to be here. So my name is Michelle Lowey. I’m a teacher at EP Scarlett. I’m actually new to EP Scarlet. So that’s in Calgary. I’m new to Scarlet this year, I’m just taking on a new role of learning leader of student activities. I also teach leadership and sports medicine and I’ve been in the leadership world for probably about five years. So when I was a student teacher, I was working at Centennial High School and, you know, like I, I knew what a leadership program was, but I didn’t really know the full extent and the depth of what what it all entailed. So when I was a student teacher at Centennial, I worked with a man by the name of Brent Dixon.


Michelle Lowey (02:20):
He’s you know, a fairly big figure in the, in the leadership world. And he has been just a phenomenal mentor to me for the last five years. And he showed me what true student leadership was and the impact it can have and just, you know, the amazing connections that you build with students and that you build in the community. And ever since then, and I saw this model to me as a student teacher, I’ve been all in and it’s been, it’s been incredible. I’ve been involved in the leadership world with Brent, at Centennial for about five years, and now I’m kind of, you know, carving out my own journey now and you know learning leader, student activities at Scarlet, and yeah, really excited to be involved in this world and to be exposed to it because like I said, prior to that, like, you know, I was a kinesiology major and a Phys ed teacher and, and all those things, which I still love. But prior to that, I, I didn’t know the depth of, of what it meant to run a leadership program. And I’m just, I’m so fulfilled to, to be a part of that.


Sam Demma (03:24):
I was gonna say the listener, obviously can’t tell, but there’s a beautiful skeleton over your left shoulder, which definitely relates to your love for kinesiology, which is awesome. Sure. Which makes me really curious, can major turn leadership teacher. What , what led you down this path at what moment in your own career exploration, did you know, I wanna be a teacher, like, was there a defining moment, was there a teacher that spurred you in this path or did you just stumble into it and realize how much you love it now?


Michelle Lowey (03:54):
You know what I always kind of like all throughout high school in that I always, in the back of my mind, I wanted to be a teacher. My journey to, to get there was a little bit longer. I kind of, you know, I did the whole typical gap year thing that a lot of kids do me too. And I ended up kind of getting into a job that was, you know, stable and I was making decent money and, you know, that sort of thing. And, and I, one day, you know, I was kind of at the top of the ladder already in that job that I was at. And one day I just realized I’m like, I, I need more than this in life. And I need to have an opportunity to, to impact others and, and to connect more. And so I was a bit older, but I, I went back to university and, and here we are today. So it was absolutely the right decision and I’m in a career that’s, you know very, very fulfilling. And I, I feel very blessed to be involved in this world.


Sam Demma (04:50):
I love it. And the world has changed specifically education and the whole world with the pandemic. Things have shifted, things have adjusted. There’s been, if I can even use that word anymore. A lot of pivots. Yeah. what are some of the, what are some of the challenges, but also unique opportunities? And I wanna use that word because I feel like there’s, there’s lots of opportunities as well. What are some of the challenges and unique opportunities that you’ve been seeing and experiencing over the past couple of months?


Michelle Lowey (05:20):
Yeah. You know, so I, I think the challenge and, and for, for me, for teachers for students and for, for everybody has been you know, that lack of real human connection. Mm. I was thinking the other day, I was like, it has been 10 months since I’ve hugged somebody other than my significant other. Yeah. And I think that’s, that’s, that can be really challenging for people and it, it can start to kind of wear you down. But I think, you know, many people are feeling this way and I think we, we do what we can. Right. you know, we’ve been super limited in terms of the activities that we’ve been able to run at school leadership and, and what we do in leadership looks nothing like it did last year. But we’ve adapt adapted, right. We, we seek out opportunities to still find ways to connect.


Michelle Lowey (06:10):
And, you know, we you have to get creative, you have to get creative, you have to use your imagination. When I, when I first came into this position, you know, again, new school, new position, I had many people tell me as, as learning leader of student activities. Oh, well, you know, you’re not gonna do, you’re not gonna do anything this year. Like, oh, it’s gonna be a cake walk. You won’t have any actual particular. And, and I’m kind of like, not a chance, like, no, like we will find a way to still, you know, do amazing things. And I, and I think we have, I rely heavily on my students for fun and fresh ideas. You know, especially as it pertains to things, you know, social media and pop culture and, you know, those kind of ways to connect you know, we’ve, we’ve taken our, our traditional events, you know, things like, you know, the Terry Fox run, which is normally, you know, 2000 people exiting the school and running together.


Michelle Lowey (07:04):
And, you know, that obviously wasn’t an option, but we, we made it work. So we we did it. So students and teachers could donate and we set a goal $2,000. And if we beat that goal, we had two very generous teachers that offered to run the, the Terry Fox run on behalf of BP Scarlet. Nice. And they did so in very fun costumes. So there was tutus involved and mullet wigs and pub onesies and all the great stuff. And so we raised, I think just over $2,200, which is incredible in these times, and we had, these two is running in this obstacle course and we’ve videoed it. And there’s kids outside everywhere watching, and we made a fun video with it. And, you know, so I really believe that when there’s a will, there’s a way. And although there’s been, you know, unique challenges and I think you know, it’s, it has been tough times.


Michelle Lowey (07:55):
I think there’s been, you know, things that I have learned through all of this that I never would’ve learned. If COVID, you know, wasn’t a thing, there’s things that I will, I will permanently change moving forward into next school year. Mm. Whether, whether COVID is here, here or not. And, you know, whether it’s my virtual presence, my online presence, that’s been a huge thing like running our school, Instagram accounts has been nice. You incredible way to connect. And so yeah, I think there there’s challenges, but with those challenges, it becomes opportunities to learn and opportunities to grow and, you know, rise to the occasion.


Sam Demma (08:31):
My grandfather always used to tell me if there’s a will, there’s a way, if you want something, you know, work hard for it and change, change what you believe about the situation, because your beliefs will to how you feel about it, how you feel leads to your actions and your actions will lead to the result that you get. And it’s obvious that you’ve been staying optimistic as much as you can in positive. You’re smiling throughout this whole conversation, which is awesome. I keep smiling. Yeah. Although they, although the listener can’t see it, but that’s totally fine. Despite the, the challenges you talked about, your students and yourself coming up with fresh ideas, and some of them have been, you know, really well received. And I’m curious to know out of all the ideas that you have tried out all the spaghetti, you’ve thrown against the wall to see what sticks, what are like one to two, or maybe even like three other small things and no pressure to share three. But if you have one or two ideas that you think are worth sharing, that, that have worked well for you in the school I would love to hear about them.


Michelle Lowey (09:29):
Yeah. So we yeah, we’ve done a variety of things. And again, kind of coming back to that Instagram, that’s been been our biggest thing. And our, our school actually didn’t have an Instagram account prior to this year. And, and thank goodness we have that, that ability to connect in those ways. So we ended up, we ran a virtual spirit week which was, and I know a lot of schools, this isn’t super unique. A lot of schools have been, been doing similar things. So we had, you know, your dress up days, your, your pajama days, your Lancer gear days and things like that. And it was kind of funny because every morning I would have the students, so they would be set up in the front foyer and we would, you know, pump some, some good pump up energy music versus in the morning, you know, eight 30 and the kids are walking in the half asleep still.


Michelle Lowey (10:16):
And the first day they, they came, the kids came through the doors and they were kind of like, what the heck is this? they were, they were a little bit like, you know, a little thrown off by it. Yeah. And, you know, and I had my leadership kids in, out there and their they’re dressed to the nines and whatever spirit day it was. And I, and they’re, you know, wishing kids have a great day, you know, spirit week this week when gift cards do this, do that, like all these online activities that we were running the stories on Instagram, all that stuff. And by day two, it was like, okay, the kids were coming through the door. They were less shocked. They were a little bit happier. They were smiling. They engaging in whatever, you know, dress update. It was. And by the end of the week, it was absolutely incredible to see.


Michelle Lowey (11:04):
And I think, I think it was so important to do that. And I think that was, that was kind of a pivotal moment and still being able to build that school culture. I think a lot kids and a lot of staff have, have come into the school year thinking, you know, oh, it’s, it’s not the same and it’s gonna be this, and it’s gonna be that. And, and you know, with, with kind of that negative mindset and not that I can blame them at all, we’ve all been there. It’s hard to, it’s hard to stay positive, but I think that was a pivotal moment. I really, really all throughout the course of that week teachers getting involved and they’re out in the foyer and we have this music pumping and the kids are coming in and it just, it really sets the tone for the day.


Michelle Lowey (11:48):
And it was just, it was incredible to see the transformation over the five days of doing it from, from day one to day five of just how the kids were receiving it. And they were, you know, just dying to have their picture taken, to be featured on Instagram. And, you know, whereas day one, they were running away from the camera. They wanted nothing to do with it. So it was kind of really creating that environment and saying, you know what? Yes, COVID is here. Yes. your school year does not look the same, but we got you. And, and we’re still gonna make this the best experience that we can. So I think that the spirit week was a really good one. We had helping hampers. Nice. So it was really unfortunate. We were, my class was, was right in the middle of, of plan for, for helping hampers.


Michelle Lowey (12:34):
And we had great stuff planned. It was like for every $4 a student donated they would get a ballot entry and the, the entry was for a ton of different prizes. You had your, like your regular, like your gift cards and things like that. But we had fun stuff too, where you win like a Lazyboy recliner that follows you for the day students were gonna break down to these kids classes from class to class. We had they could win movie lunch. So normally at lunch with COVID, the kids have to go outside or they have to stay in their classroom, which, you know, isn’t always the most fun. And so we had a movie lunch where kids could, you know, win a movie lunch in the Hilary gym, and we would put on their, their favorite movie and give them COVID friendly snacks, and they could invite six of their buds and, and hang out in the gym.


Michelle Lowey (13:21):
So we had all these wonderful things planned and then boom within a day you’re moving to online learning. And so that was no more so everything that we had been planning for kind of went out the window in an instant. So we had three days before we were moving to an online platform. And let me tell you, my kids rose to the occasion. Nice. And we, we hammered the advertising and we did so many creative things on Instagram, and we had teachers involved and, you know, putting this stuff in D two L shells. And anyways, so I just I delivered hampers actually yesterday. We did up five hampers plus we had a thousand dollars left over for an emergency fund. We raised over $3,300 and we did it in, in two days essentially.


Sam Demma (14:09):
Wow, that’s crazy.


Michelle Lowey (14:11):
Yeah. So it was, it was awesome. And, you know, my kids did, they did all that footwork and I felt bad for them because it didn’t, it didn’t turn out like we thought, but like I said, kind of going back to that, that ability to pivot and to be flexible and to, to learn from these opportunities. And then, you know, to think, you know, it’s, it’s such tough times right now, and yet people are still so charitable and so giving and loving and caring. And so it’s really, really inspiring to see.


Sam Demma (14:38):
You mentioned school culture as well. And it it’s obvious that you’ve cultivated with the help of other staff and students and amazing school culture, despite the fact that it’s virtual right now. I think one of the main ingredients of school culture is hope. And when students have hope, things will happen. And when teachers have hope things will happen. And when administration has hope, you know, they’ll take action and things will happen. How do you personally stay hopeful despite challenges and, and what keeps you motivated during this time?


Michelle Lowey (15:08):
Yeah, so, you know, I think that the that’s a variety of things, Sam, like , would it be bad if I said that a vaccine keeps me hopeful?


Sam Demma (15:17):
That’s okay.


Michelle Lowey (15:18):
Yeah. Oh man. I was supposed to get married last, last summer. Yeah. And our wedding got postponed. And so I’m supposed to get married this summer. So fingers crossed, you know, that vaccine is coming. Yeah. But I think, you know, even much bigger picture than on that. My students gimme hope. Right. And being able to see them and see them be so resilient and, and gritty and still empathetic and caring through all these times. That’s what gives me hope. And, you know, we did a little thing on, on acts of the kindness last week. And I had students that, that wrote like all the like beautiful letters to senior homes. Mm-Hmm, they did these gratitude chains, you know, with the little strips of paper that you linked together. And they, they wrote what they’re grateful for and these huge gratitude chains that they decorated their houses with. I had one, one student wrote over 40 handmade letters to the troops. Wow. And we had pictures of them. She showed me, I was just like, I was blown away and she sent them off to, to wherever. And they’re being sent overseas. There was sidewalk chalk and window posters and homemade cards. And it’s like, how do you look at that? And lose hope.

Michelle Lowey (16:34):
Right. Like you don’t, and it’s, it’s just amazing. So honestly what gives me hope my students gimme hope and that youth and that energy and, and all that great stuff is, is just so lovely to see. And I’ve had, you know, I’ve had bad days and I think we all had through this, but more often than not, , you know, I leave teaching my class and, and my heart is full and I love it. Yeah. That, that brings a lot of hope.


Sam Demma (17:00):
Ah, that’s awesome. And I’m sure, you know, you’re listening right now thinking the same thing your students probably give you a ton of hope. The work is I don’t even wanna call it work. It’s more of like a calling a vocation because you have such an opportunity to impact the future of a young person, young people, hundreds of them, thousands in your entire school. If you could go back though and speak to your younger self, when you just started teaching and you know, you’re frazzled, you’re not sure what to do. You’re overwhelmed, you’re anxious. You, maybe some of the emotions that we all felt when COVID hit again. But what would you have told yourself? What advice would you have given your younger self before you got into teaching?


Michelle Lowey (17:43):
Oh relaxed. yeah.


Sam Demma (17:49):
I love it.


Michelle Lowey (17:51):
It all works out. Mm. I’m, I’m pretty a type and I’m the perfectionist type. And I, I I like things to be a certain way. And I think with, with student leadership and with teaching in general you need to let go of that perfectionist mindset. You need to be willing to accept that, you know, on some days mediocrity is, is all you can sustain and that’s okay. Right. And be kind to yourself, be kind to yourself would be a big one for sure. I think that you know, it’s really, really important in this profession and working with young people and especially, especially in these times, you know, is that, that acceptance of yourself, that acceptance of, of the work that you’re able to do, you know, like I often I’ll find myself and I’m, you know, running the school Instagram account and I’m looking at other schools, Instagram accounts, and it’s a constant comparison like, oh man, look at these great things for are doing and, oh, we should be doing this and why aren’t we doing that?


Michelle Lowey (18:52):
And, oh, they did that better than us. And yeah. And I think that, you know, it, it’s good to get ideas certainly, and to, to be able to collaborate and, and grow. But I think that can also push you into a bit of an unhealthy mindset. So I think it’s important to balance, you know, work ethic and drive and, and commitment to that craft and commitment to be better. And to balance that too, with, with you know, the, the understanding that what you’re doing in this moment, it is good. Right. And to believe in that and to believe in yourself and to know that, you know, it, it always finds a way of working itself out.


Sam Demma (19:29):
I think that advice is so necessary, not only for you listening, but also for your students, because jealousy comparison, those feelings that you get when looking on Instagram is something that we all experience. And right now we’re using devices and you’re using devices way more than typically we would. And in fact, that’s actually one of the reasons why I decide I was gonna take time away from social media. Now, of course you have to continue running the school account. But I had those similar feelings when I was speaking and I would see another speaker and I was like, wow, they’re doing so great. And their work so amazing. And it just makes you feel like you’re not doing the right thing. And yeah, I think comparison kills creativity and comparison your own unique gifts and talents that you could be using to make an amazing experience for your students. So I like that you brought that up and were vulnerable enough to share that because it’s something that everyone goes through.


Michelle Lowey (20:23):
It’s funny, cuz you spoke to my class at the horizons conference and you oh, no way that you were you were gonna go through your little social media detox and actually that inspired me to do the same. Oh cool. I’ve, I’ve taken a, a hiatus obviously other than the school accounts. Yeah. I’ve taken this from the the social media and, and for those reasons, like it’s just, you know, it was a lot of time and an inability to not engage with some of those negative things. Yeah. And I needed to, I needed a break. Yeah. I think that’s okay.


Sam Demma (21:00):
No, I hear you. And if someone wants to use their phone for good to connect with you and, and steal us some of your positive energy and share some ideas and be a soundboard, where can another educator reach out to you? Would you prefer an email or a social account? Like what would be the best way?


Michelle Lowey (21:15):
I think email’s probably the best. I am kind of planning on getting back on my, my professional Instagram after the new year. So my handle for Instagram @ms_lowey. But again, I won’t be on there till after the new year. But probably the best way would be email. So my school email, which is mrlowey@cbe.ab.ca.


Sam Demma (21:42):
All right. Perfect. Michelle, thank you so much for coming on the show and sharing some of your wisdom and insights. I really appreciate it.


Michelle Lowey (21:48):
Thank you so much, Sam. My pleasure.


Sam Demma (21:50):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the high performing educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating in 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 this show. If you wanna meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna 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 fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Michelle Lowey

The High Performing Educator Podcast was brought to life during the outbreak of COVID-19 to provide you with inspirational stories and practical advice from your colleagues in education.  By tuning in, you will hear the stories and ideas of the world’s brightest and most ambitious educators.  You can expect interviews with Principals, Teachers, Guidance Counsellors, National Student Association, Directors and anybody that works with youth. You can find and listen to all the episodes for free here.

Deb Lawlor – Coordinator, Intermediate/Secondary Student Success OCSB

Deb Lawlor - Coordinator, Intermediate/Secondary Student Success OCSB
About Deb Lawlor

Deb Lawlor (@deb_lawlor) is the coordinator of student success at the Ottawa Catholic District School Board. 

Her interests include authentic learning experiences & inquiry.  She is also an avid outdoor enthusiast, photographer, traveler, optimist & cook.  In this episode, we talk about her educational journey and her travelling sabbatical. 

Connect with Deb: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

6 Modern Sabbatical Ideas

Specialist High Skills Major Program

Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program

Hapaweb Solutions

Smiths Falls

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 guest, I had the pleasure of working with back in 2019, and then in 2020, she took a sabbatical to go travel the world and she’s finally come back and I convinced her to come share some of her wisdom on the show. We talk a ton about her social sabbatical. Today’s guest is Deb Lawlor. Deb Lawlor is the coordinator of intermediate and secondary student success at the Ottawa Catholic school board. She also now has taken on the portfolio of helping to coordinate anything related to SHSM and OYAP, specialist high skills major, or the Ontario youth apprenticeship programs. And she is a powerhouse. She won’t be in education too much longer but while she’s here, we can learn a lot from her. I hope you enjoy today’s episode. I’ll see you on the other side.


Sam Demma (01:34):
Deb, thank you so much for coming on the high performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show. Can you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about how you got into the work that you do in education today?


Deb Lawlor (01:47):
Okay. Hi, I’m Deb Lawlor and I’m currently working at the Ottawa Catholic school board as a coordinator in the intermediate secondary student success department. And I have been an educator for about 25 years now. I started way back when, and I was able to leave from high school, get into university to take a teaching degree. I did my Phys ed degree first and was able to start yeah, actually with adults in the beginning, I sort of, I call it, I went through the back door to try and get a job at the time because there wasn’t anything available. And through, some people who were in a class of mine, they told me about it and I started teaching adults. So I was probably, I was in my, my mid twenties and I was actually teaching adults who were anywhere from 18 years old and my oldest student was 54.


Deb Lawlor (02:36):
I can remember Florian because he was his grandfather in my class trying to get his education after having left. I think he left like grade five, six and went to work on his farm and he was just trying to get his basic grade nine math and, and get his G E D at the time. And from there I moved on to teaching grade seven and eight. I wanted to get into working with the kids. I, I enjoyed working at adult Ted, but it was really, I wanted to do the extracurricular. I wanted to coach, I wanted to have activities beyond, you know, student council with the kids and work with them in that way. And so I was able to, to go into grade seven and eight. And from there I moved into a high school when, when St mother Teresa was opened up in the day when, when we were expand quite a bit in the Ottawa area for, for schools out in some of our outside the city areas.


Deb Lawlor (03:23):
And I taught there for almost 14 years teaching F ed mostly for anything from grade 9, 10, 11, 12 girls to mixed classes with grade 11 and 12 girls, boys and I, my last class I taught was actually a grade 10 boys class, which was quite fun. They, they, they made me laugh. and partway through that time, I started consulting at the school board as if I said consultant halftime and did that for about eight years. And after that, I moved on into being the coordinator within my department. And the section that I have is called specialized pathways, which really covers some programs for are students who are trying to get through high school and explore areas within options for them after high school, whether it’s apprenticeship going right into the workplace or if they take a college or university pathways.


Deb Lawlor (04:12):
So I have focus programs, dual credits, specialist, high skills, major or Chisholm program as we call it. And oh yeah, the Ontario, a youth apprenticeship program, which is some fascinating areas where you can really look at what are the options we can offer students today that are not just taking a class, you know sitting, listening, and, and learning, but they’re actually doing, they’re doing the hands on pieces, getting into job work experiences and finding out about what the work world would would be like in their career that they’re wanna choose and pursue.


Sam Demma (04:42):
I love that. And if you can think back for a moment to when you were younger and going through university or school and teachers college, when did you actually know, ah, I want to be a teacher. Was there like someone who pushed you down that path or did you just know at a young age that that was the calling for you?


Deb Lawlor (04:59):
It’s funny, you asked me because my path sort of, I had a very direct path and I meandered for many years and then I came back to it. So I actually, I wanted to be a teacher in grade four. I, I loved school as a kid. I wanted to that was all I wanted to do was to be a teacher. And, and then I hit grade six and all of a sudden I met somebody in my class and they were very well off. And when I looked at what she had, I wanted that and I thought, well, her dad’s a lawyer. I’m gonna be a lawyer. They’re rich. I’m gonna be a lawyer. I wanna get into them pursuing that. So from grade six, all the way to grade 11 until like took grade 11 law, and then I went, I don’t wanna be a lawyer anymore.


Deb Lawlor (05:37):
so a way too much detail and article and the, the research you had to do to look up stuff did not interest me. So then my brain went to the second thing. Okay. At the time I was in grade 11 and in grade nine, I got braces. So I went and had braces grade 9, 10, 11, 12. And again, I’m going, Hmm. My orthodontists are making a killing and not hurting people while doing it. So I thought, great. I wanna be an orthodontist. So I went down to see my guidance counselor and he’s like, yep, you’re gonna need to take this science and this science and this science and here’s, I said, oh, I don’t wanna do that. That’s not of an interest to me to take all the sciences. Yeah. And at the time I, then I was grade 12 by then I had started, I had started working at a summer camp when I was in grade 10 and I was working with kids mostly anywhere mostly preteens, like kind of like your 11, 12, 13.


Deb Lawlor (06:28):
And then I took over the program to work with kids who were counselors in training. They were the 15, 16 year old. So in working with them and I wasn’t very, and still am a strong athlete in, in my abilities. And so I was playing on all the school teams at school and it wasn’t until I finally talked to my dad. So if you talk about who was my influencer, it was my father. Hmm. He said a couple of things to me, one of the things was he, he told me, and this was really important to hear as a female back in 1980s, you, you can do anything you want to like, whatever you choose to do and to be, go for it. That’s, that’s your, your, your ability to try and do that. So that was one thing that was very important to hear.


Deb Lawlor (07:07):
The other thing was he’s, you know, I had this idea that, you know, I did well in school. I had good grades. I could be anything I wanted to be, I could apply to any program and probably get in. But when he said to me, think about this for a moment, if you’re gonna work for 30 years, you better darn well, like what you’re gonna do. And I kind of went, whoa, I’m like, yeah, like 30 years, that’s a long ti 30 years is a long time. Yeah. I have to try and imagine what I would wanna do for 30 years and was at a time when, like, people actually did the same thing for 30 years. That’s no longer the case anymore. But in thinking about that, I went, all right, well, look at your life, Deb, you are playing all these sports. You’re an athletic person.


Deb Lawlor (07:51):
You enjoy being active and you enjoy working with kids that you’ve been doing this at this camp, put the two together. And it was like, well, okay, yeah. Be a PHY ed teacher. And in my mind, at the time though, I was like, well, but you know, I could be more than a pH ed teacher, but I went back to the thought of, you had always wanted to be a teacher anyway. So it doesn’t matter what, you know, that stigma that might have been around it was, is I thought I could enjoy that for 30 years. And so, yeah, my dad was, was a very big influencer and what I could do and that I could choose anything I wanted to, whether I was male or female at the time. And also to say like, you wanna enjoy what you do. And I remember my first years of work going, I, I don’t, I didn’t work a day in my life because I didn’t feel like it was work, you know, in the beginning I, you know, I was doing with my physi and that, and I was kind of like, yeah, like I’m, I’m getting paid to play.


Deb Lawlor (08:43):
You know, now there’s a skill to making play interesting to kids and having them engaged. Yeah. Don’t get me wrong. But yeah, I, I, I really don’t feel for most of my career that I’ve really worked a day in my life in that sense that it, it it’s enjoyable. I, I love what I do.


Sam Demma (08:58):
That’s awesome. And it’s changed a lot over the past couple of years, specifically this year and something I’ve recently started to realize is that our beliefs lead to our emotions, our emotions lead to our actions and our actions lead to our results. And when we get a different world view, our beliefs change, then our emotions change, our actions changes and our results that we might even project onto our students change. You recently took a sabbatical and traveled the globe for a year, gained some new perspectives, came back to the classroom. And I would say arguably back to education, arguably more passionate, more inspired with a new clarity. Could you share a little bit about what prompted you to make that decision to travel and how it affected you as a professional in education?


Deb Lawlor (09:47):
Okay. I’ve always loved to travel. I, I started traveling in, in my mid twenties and the nice thing. I mean, it’s, it’s to double edge sword as a, as an educator, we are pegged into times that we have to travel mm-hmm. So we have to travel at March break. We have to travel at Christmas the two week time break. And then we, and we graciously have a summer time where we can choose to, to do some, some intensive traveling during that time on the flip side of that, it’s also very costly at all those high season times. But what sort of got me into wanting to pursue some sabbaticals and, and, and to travel in that way was in order to go to New Zealand in Australia. And I, and I did that on a sabbatical that I took back in oh 5 0 6. It was my first one.


Deb Lawlor (10:32):
I, I had that care at dangling in front of me for five or six years as I was on reduced pay in order to, to get to that goal. But what drove me was I wanted to see Australian New Zealand, but the time to see their summertime was in our wintertime and as a teacher, I wasn’t gonna be able to do that. Mm. And so that gave me the drive, the push to kind of go, okay, let’s try this, this sabbatical where I do a reduced pay. And it’s given, you know, I’m paid from a, that final year from my own money. And when I did that, it allowed me to see places. I, I, I had never, you know, had an opportunity to see. And this time when I went to go, my, my dream was to go to, to Asia. I wanted to go explore Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos, and see cultures that I didn’t know very much at all about.


Deb Lawlor (11:16):
And it allowed me to immerse myself into a place that there was new things to see there was new things to taste. There were new people to get to know. And I traveled with people who were internationally spread across the world. There was people from the UK, people from Switzerland, people from Germany, I met people who were Dutch all over the globe. And I think just that exposure to people, you start seeing other perspectives. And I’m always very curious about the education systems in other places. And you talk to them about how long’s your school day and what do your kids do? You know, what are the sports that they might get involved in? What extracurriculars do they run? How do they do that? And it was very interesting to me going to Asia because it is very different in some ways to, to how we do things.


Deb Lawlor (12:04):
I, I had a really great opportunity. This little boy in Vietnam came and, and approached me while we were wa walking between PI places on, on the tour. And we had a chance to stop. And I was sitting on a bench and this little nine year old boy came up and he said to me, is it okay if I sit and talk with you? And I said, sure. And I kind of looked around for the parent and, and the parent and his father and his grandfather was sitting on the bench across from me. And what I had ended up finding out later from my guide was that this was how a lot of the children would try and learn English. They didn’t wanna learn from their teachers who were Vietnamese. They wanted to learn from English speaking first language people. So they were often encouraged to see, seek out the tourists and have conversation to practice through English.


Deb Lawlor (12:49):
And so I was fascinated because this little guy, he knew, knew more about Canada than some of the students that I knew. And he was like, he, I told him where I was from. And he started talking about, well, your population is approximately this million, this number million. And you have a very large country, and it’s very cold there. You know, he had all these, I, you are nine years old and can tell me about my country. It was very interesting. But then to ask and say, so, you know, like, what are the types of things you do? What do you like doing at school? And he liked computers and he liked reading. And I asked him about sports and I said, physical activity. I said, do they do it at your school? And it wasn’t popular among some of the kids. And there were some things that were happening, but it was very oriented to achieving and to practicing your lessons and working on those types of things.


Deb Lawlor (13:42):
So I always find it interesting to travel elsewhere, to find out what they, what they do. And, and can we learn anything from, from other other cultures and, and, and having other perspectives. I mean, just on the, on tour itself my tour in New Zealand that followed that was, I was probably the oldest on that tour for most of the time of that tour. I was probably 20 years senior, too, to most of the people on the tour. And again, to have that perspective of youth and say, you know, how do you see these things and what do you, think’s happening in the world? And is this working, and, and why would you do this? Or wouldn’t you do that? Was very interesting. And I met a, I met another teacher from the UK and she was 32 and, you know, worked at elementary.


Deb Lawlor (14:24):
So again, something different for me to kind of probe. And I’m actually still in contact with, with three of the four of the gals that I met. We’re still on, on WhatsApp together to, to connect and talk about things and see how, how we’re doing. So the opportunities. And then, so what that brings back with me then Sam, for coming back to work is, is a, a renewed vigor about what I do and, and listening then to finding those other perspectives when, when I’m dealing with what I deal with now and making sure that, you know, there’s not somebody in the room that’s not heard mm-hmm , and if I’m not hearing a voice, I start to look for it and thinking or asking myself, well, what would this person think? Or how would this impact this person? Whereas before, you know, if you, it might have just been a bit more narrow because you haven’t had all those other different perspectives to hear about.


Sam Demma (15:15):
That makes so much sense. And would you recommend other educators listening to travel?


Deb Lawlor (15:20):
Oh, absolutely. I highly recommend I’ve done three sabbaticals over my time. Nice. And my next one will be permanent but no, I, I think it’s a great, I think it’s a great opportunity. And you know, what, you, you also don’t need to travel extensively far away. I mean, I, I went to Asia, I went to New Zealand. Yeah. Those are big, big options to try and, and get away from. But what COVID OS taught me is that you can actually explore around the area you live. I’m actually trying to, now that I’m restricted in where I can go from auto it’s like, well, what new trails can I go check out? And what are the new, I went to a grocery store the other day that I, I kept seeing fruit for a long time, on my way to my, my physio appointments.


Deb Lawlor (16:02):
And I said, I that’s Adonis. I’m like, that’s telling me something. That’s not a Sobeys. It’s not a Loblaws. You know, I thought, well, what kind of, you know, what’s, what’s the type of foods and stuff. So I went in and I, I had a, a little mini exploration, you know, for half an hour of just walking through aisles and going, wow, okay. Like in their deli, they’ve got a whole bunch of chickpeas and they have nuts and they have different produce that I couldn’t normally find in the wintertime. And I thought, you know, looking at the different culture that’s been brought into a store and it was very exciting in that same way of just going something new, something different and something to try. So I absolutely, I, I would highly recommend travel for, for anyone to do, but it, it can be travel even to another province.


Deb Lawlor (16:42):
If you haven’t explored Canada, it could be to a, to a small town. We live in Ottawa here with my board. But I mean, there’s Smith falls around there’s, Almont, there’s Kingston, not far our way, there’s these small little town Smith falls, Richmond, like you can explore, you know, and I think that it adds to when we’re lifelong learners, mm-hmm, , you’re constantly in, in education, you are a lifelong learner. Whether you like it or not, because you’re not always gonna be teaching the same courses, the same grade level, you’re gonna change positions. You might go into advance, you’re always gonna need to learn. And if you keep open to that learning, then it makes it a lot easier for, for what you’re


Sam Demma (17:20):
Gonna do. I was speaking to an educator yesterday on a phone call, Michael Kelly from the Toronto Catholic district school board. He teaches a GLE learning strategies course. And he was telling me that he has a passion for history, and that’s what he got into education be cause of. And there was this opportunity to travel to Italy with his students and show them history. And he said, by going on that travel experience, it renewed his passion and reconfirmed for him that he does love history. And it’s so exciting to him. And it’s so cool. And he said, he came back to school with so much more passion to teach it. And I think it’s the same case for you, but in a slightly different position that you’re now working in with the school board. What new challenges though, have you been faced with over the past? I don’t know, a couple of months that you’ve been placed back into this position right after a global pandemic?


Deb Lawlor (18:11):
Yeah, definitely a, a change in in experiences coming back to this, I, I wasn’t, so therefore I wasn’t in, in place working when COVID hit in, in the spring when schools were, were, were adjusting that I think part of the challenge I’ve seen is trying to find ways to make activities. And this is activities with my teachers or the activities teachers are doing with students trying to make activities that we normally would do engaging. Now that they’ve a lot of it switched online. And I, I think the screen time is a challenge. I, I think it’s, it’s very difficult for people to be on screen, how they’re in school. And then, and then they go home on, in our board. They, they flip flopping days at high school and then go home and then you’re expected to be on screen all day long with that.


Deb Lawlor (18:59):
And then a lot of what people’s personal interests and hobbies are, is to be on social media or to be online on, on their device. So, so I think that’s the, the biggest change that I’m, I’m on screen now all day long and I’m on meetings and, and doing trying to connect with teachers through Google meets or individual Hangouts, or it it’s a lot of a lot of time that just sitting. So I just, you know, before I, I got online with you, I just came from my walk outta lunch that nice, you know, get outside dress for it. It’s a little chillier there today. Yeah. but, and, and I also thinking it’s trying to reach out to our students and, and our teachers for me, cuz I, I work with our staff to, in a meaningful way. It, it’s making sure that they’re is those human connections that we still need.


Deb Lawlor (19:54):
And so something, you know that you can try and create, that’s fun. Something that, you know, is lighthearted being able to make use of time. That’s precious for people being consistent in terms of what you want to try to accomplish and be clear about things. It, it’s a challenge to try and make sure that, you know, you’re not wasting people’s time for different pieces. And then also for me in the, the role that I have is I get funding to run some of these programs. And there’s a lot of funding this year that we’re not using it for buses. We’re not using it for supply release. We’re not using it for hospitality reasons. So now it’s like, well, what do we use that funding for? And it’s trying to find ways to brainstorm and to think outside the box of, okay, I can’t, I can’t bring a, a, a provider and to give a certification to students. So what am I gonna do instead? You know, we ask, we can do it online, but it’s like, well, can I give you kits that you can have someone zoom in live with you and you guys each now all have your individual piece to build a house and to work on that and understand the, the makings behind construction and, and, and the skills that go with that.


Sam Demma (21:08):
I love that that’s an amazing understanding and how things have changed and shifted what is going really well though. I, you talked about an online system that specifically the O C D S B or the OCS B is using that’s working really well for teachers and students and helping them keep track of their it’s. I believe it’s like a Google workflow or something along those lines.


Deb Lawlor (21:30):
So ha power workspace is what we use. Yep. And teachers are able to load up all of their different materials in there. But the nice thing about Hapa is that the students it’s already set up for them when they walk into their, into their, their, they say, walk into their class when they begin their class, when they get yeah. Virtually, if they sign in and the folders for each of their courses are already in Google drive. So if they had math history, religion, and English happening, then there’s already a folder that has all their documents that they need. So it kind of removes that need for a binder. You’re not losing papers, things aren’t falling out. If the teacher knows the student’s gonna be away, they know that that information is in there to access wherever they are remotely and be able to do that.


Deb Lawlor (22:13):
And that was a, a nice thing to be able to see happen where it really, I mean, COVID, that’s a plus side of it. Is it really accelerated how quickly our staff is using it and becoming comfortable with it? Because we had to last spring when everything went, went remote, now I could see in the future that, you know, let’s say a student has a lacrosse tournament that we can misses some of their classes, right? Yeah. Then they come back and they know everything’s already in there, or they’re on their bus, taking the ride out, or they’re driving to Toronto to, to do a tournament you know, in their personal life. And then they can be worth on the stuff and not miss anything that that’s gonna happen there. And Harara allows the students to actually add cards to it. So you can actually collect evidence and, and they might have something where say, you know, Sam, I want you to add, you know, your ideas to this slide and Deb, I want you to put your ideas in this slide and each student would have a slide to add into it.


Deb Lawlor (23:06):
So now you have collaboration happening between students, even though they’re in their different places or it could even be happening in the same classroom because now you can’t touch each other’s, you know, laptops and materials, et cetera, but they can still be collaborating on the same document together. And and the assessments are done there through there as well in track so that they teachers able to see their progress as they’re working on it, to see where they’re at and whether they need some little reminders to, you know, keep going at it, or if they, you know, need feedback and get some help and they can do that electronically as well.


Sam Demma (23:37):
I love it. And you mentioned that your, your next sabbatical will be your final one before that parting day mm-hmm . What, what keeps you hopeful and motivated when working in education with young people, despite the challenges that we’re facing?


Deb Lawlor (23:53):
There’s always hope if you look for it. It it’s, I, I have an attitude of gratitude and I think that alone really gives me hope because as even, even walking outside today, I was thinking, you know what, I, I can go outside and walk. I’m not sick with COVID right now. Yeah. And I have my health and I’m in an area that I can do this in. I think that the the ability to not give up that there is that there’s always going to be something kind. I see people being kind that’s hopeful to me. So when you see simple kind gestures during your day, someone opens the door for, for you at work, you’re out in the grocery store. And, you know, you can still see the smile of people’s eyes above the mask, right. If, if you look for it, if, if you, so it’s pain attention to the little details.


Deb Lawlor (24:47):
Sometimes watching that, you know, someone’s got a real joy for Christmas right now in my department, and they’re just, every decorations are going everywhere and it makes people smile. And I think the other thing too, is just knowing that this too shall pass like it, this isn’t gonna be forever. It’s inconvenient. Absolutely. it’s, it’s depressing for some at times it’s certainly financially impacting people and, but it’s not gonna last, it will, it will be done someday. And I think you, that having that belief, knowing that it, you know, when you think of something hard that you went through it, wasn’t forever mm-hmm . And at the same time, what gives hope is that there’s other people that you can, that you can be helpful to around you. And that in itself is very, oh, very inspiring to, to see others doing that, to, to watching, you know, students making things for others, for the can.


Deb Lawlor (25:46):
I mean, the can food drives aren’t happening in the same ways that they did before, but we’re still finding people who are thinking outside the box. And I think when I see that when I see people being innovative, when I see people being creative with the situations they’ve been given, and yet seeing really neat things that they’re doing with their students, that gives me hope within, you know what’s gonna happen. And, and you sort of get pushed outside your comfort zone. But I think that gives me hope in the sense too, that we’re doing things that we might not have done. Had we not been put in this position? Yeah. You know, there’s been a lot of quick changes. People are collaborating a lot more now because they need to. Yeah. And they’re seeking help out from other people. I, I, I put an all call out to my, to my Chim leads across the province, you know, back in October when I was like, oh my gosh, I don’t know what to do with this.


Deb Lawlor (26:35):
And, and I got 13, 14 responses. And then I connected with those people by phone and followed up. And then we chatted about things. And then I went, okay, I’m not the only one dealing with this. Someone else is feeling the same thing I am. And someone else is going through something similar. And as you talk to someone, you just kind of go, okay, I’m not alone in this. There there’s others who are going through the exact same thing. And then you stop being so hard on yourself in what you’re trying to deal with because others are doing the same thing.


Sam Demma (27:02):
Yeah. I love that. And your hope is hopefully rubbing off on your hope, the listener. I hope this reminds you that there is always a perspective shift that you can have, right? That’s the whole idea of change. What you’re believing about the situation. It will change how you feel. It will change your actions and you’ll get a totally different result. Deb, if you could travel back in time and speak to your younger self, when you just got into education, what would you say?


Deb Lawlor (27:30):
Oh, so if I’m, I’m speaking to myself from my perspective now to my younger self?


Sam Demma (27:34):
Yeah. In education. Okay.


Deb Lawlor (27:37):
Don’t take it personally. I love it. I think as young educator is we take everything personally. We are upset if they don’t do the homework, the student doesn’t do their homework in our class. We’re upset when they walk out and say, I hate you. That we’re upset when, you know you, you plan this great lesson, you put all this effort and it totally bombs. And the kids think it sucks. You know? Like I, I think you can’t take it personally. You do the best that you can with what you’ve got and that’s gonna develop over time. I think part of it is I would tell myself I would tell myself it doesn’t have to be perfect. I think there’s so much, we strive that, you know, you’ve gotta have that perfect lesson. It’s gotta be, everyone’s gotta receive it in the right way.


Deb Lawlor (28:20):
And, and everyone being happy with it. I’d probably tell myself not to work so many long hours. I burn the candles a lot when, you know, and you do as a young teacher because yeah, you just, you need to you until you get the experience until you, you know, figure out what it is you, and if you’re teaching something different all the time, it’s, it’s inevitable it’s gonna happen. What else would I tell myself? I would tell myself to, to enjoy the ride. Mm. But really enjoy the ride because it, it, and I think I did, I eventually, I, I started to do that to really, to, to it’s about the journey. It’s not about the endpoint really, to, and, and not to be afraid to, well, certainly to not worry so much about the content. And it’s more about, it’s more about the skills that you’re teaching the kids.


Deb Lawlor (29:08):
And again, sort of my beginning year, my first, you know, five, six years that wasn’t in my mind as I, as I grew, and as I got more experienced, you, you start to enjoy those kids who who are the challenge, the kids who don’t agree with you, who, who will push and who have issues that you start to realize that you can help mold and help guide them. And it’s not all about having the kid who puts their hand up all the time and raises their hand and hands everything in and does everything you want them to. And doesn’t talk back to you. After a while I started seeking out the kids who I thought you’ll be okay without me, you’re gonna do fine and be all right, but you need a little more attention and, and, and you need in year and you need me to ask you, how are you doing today? You know, scale of one to 10, where are you at just doing a check in? Doesn’t need to tell me a, any information. I don’t need to know the details, but if I know you’re a four today, then I’m gonna deal with you a little bit different than if you’re at an eight, you know, and, and, and cut you a little slack and give you a little bit of room and be understanding that, Nope, you’re not gonna get that assignment into me today. And it’s not the end of the world.


Sam Demma (30:18):
I like that. That’s awesome. Deb, thank you so much for coming and sharing some of your wisdom and advice on the show here today, and some of your own personal journey through education. If another educator wants to reach out to you, what would be the best way for them to do so maybe Twitter or an email or whatever you prefer.


Deb Lawlor (30:35):
Yeah, they can, they can give me an email at debbie.lawlor@ocsb.ca. So debbie.lawlor@ocsb.ca. My Twitter handle is @deb_lawlor.


Sam Demma (30:55):
All right. Awesome. Thanks so much, Deb. I look forward to staying in touch and seeing where your travels take you next.


Deb Lawlor (31:02):
Sam’s it’s been a pleasure to be here.


Sam Demma (31:04):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an 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 wanna 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 fill your inbox. Talk to you so soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Deb Lawlor

The High Performing Educator Podcast was brought to life during the outbreak of COVID-19 to provide you with inspirational stories and practical advice from your colleagues in education.  By tuning in, you will hear the stories and ideas of the world’s brightest and most ambitious educators.  You can expect interviews with Principals, Teachers, Guidance Counsellors, National Student Association, Directors and anybody that works with youth. You can find and listen to all the episodes for free here.

Dr. Seth Goldsweig – Vice Principal at The Leo Baeck Day School and PhD in Educational Leadership

Dr. Seth Goldsweig - Vice Principal at The Leo Baeck Day School and PhD in Educational Leadership
About Seth Goldsweig

Dr. Seth Goldsweig(@SGoldsweig) is the vice principal at The Leo Baeck Day School in Toronto. He has been in formal education for 17 years. His PhD is in educational leadership and believes that education is a tool to help students find their voice and change the world.

Connect with Seth: Email | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Leo Baek Day School Website

Padlet

Easy Baking Recipes for Kids

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):
Do you want access to all the past guests on this show? Do you want to network with like-minded individuals and meet other high performing educators from around the world? If so, go to www.highperformingeducator.com. Sign up to join the exclusive network and you’ll get access to live virtual networking events and other special opportunities that will come out throughout 2021. I promise you I will not fill your inbox. you might get one email a month. If that sounds interesting. Go to www.highperformingeducator.com. Welcome back to another episode of the high performing educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker Sam Demma. Today’s guest is Dr. Seth Goldsweig. He is the vice principal of the Leo Baeck day school in Toronto. I had the pleasure of speaking in front of his entire student body last year before COVID 19. And it is my absolute pleasure to bring him back on the show here for you today.


Sam Demma (00:59):
He has been in formal education for 17 years, has a PhD in education leadership, and thinks that education is a tool, a very strong tool to help help students find their voice and change the world. The other day, he sent me an email telling me that one of his students at his school is working on building the reactor that’s in the middle of iron man’s chest, and he’s supporting this kid on his venture to learn about technology and bring this project together. And I’m sure in this interview, you will hear Dr. Seth’s energy just shine through in his responses. I hope you enjoy this, I’ll see you on the other side. Seth, thank you so much for coming on the high performing educators podcast. It’s a, it’s a pleasure to have you.


Dr.Seth Goldsweig (01:42):
You it’s a pleasure to be here. Thank you.


Sam Demma (01:45):
Can you share with the audience who you are and what got you into the work you do with young people today?


Dr.Seth Goldsweig (01:52):
Sure. My name is Seth gold. So I’m the vice principal at the Leo Baeck day school in Toronto. And I’ve been, this is my, I think 11th year as a vice principal. I started a school before, now is my eighth year at this school. And I’ve been in education for I think, 17 or 18 years. What got me into it. I mean, many things. Certainly, I love that feeling when when you see a kid starting to feel really good about him or herself and know you played a part in that, it’s just, it, it, it makes you feel warm all over. It’s just a really special feeling. You know, you had a part in, in someone’s success. There’s a selfish reason. I think kids are our future and and I’m only gonna be in this business until, until I retire and I wanna make sure we’re in, we’re in good shape for the future.


Dr.Seth Goldsweig (02:44):
So I, you know, I wanna make sure that they’re set up to succeed and then I think the most important one though Sam, is that kids are amazing. Can I tell you a short story about something that happened to me today? Absolutely. I hear that a student we’ll call him Ben. Ben is looking for me, right? Dr. G Dr. Goldsweig. Ben needs you. Okay. So I like, he’s not in my waiting for me in my office. I go, finally, I find him outside Ben, you know, what’s going on? Oh, I had to ask you something. I made a pinata for my friend; it’s her birthday. And I wanted to know if I could hang up my pinata and so she could hit it. So here I’m worried, like there’s some big, like major thing going on. He had a fight or he’s upset about something stress, but no it’s cuz he had made a pinata for his friend and they wanted to to set it up. It was her birthday, I think, hours making the pinata. It was, you know, it’s things like that, that happened every day that you’re surprised by their creativity and what they do. And it just, it makes it really special.


Sam Demma (03:44):
How do you cultivate a school culture where kids decide to make pinatas and ask you to help them and hang it up? I think that’s a very unique culture you’ve built. And I’m curious to know if you think there’s any specific traits of students that you’ve encouraged in them to have them doing things like that.


Dr.Seth Goldsweig (04:05):
I think it, listen, it all starts with the teachers. You know, if it’s happening in the classroom, that’s happening elsewhere to try to, you have to cultivate a, a love of experimentation and learning and, and inquiry. And, and if you are interested in what the kids have to share, then I think they’re gonna keep sharing. There, there’s a study that shows about creativity and the most creative people are kids in SK and then every year we get less and less and less creative. And and they did this by asking about paper clips, how many different things can you do with a paper clip? Mm. And adults will come up with a few things, you know, I can put paper in it. Maybe I can use it to like, hang my keys or something. Kids start asking, well, what color can it be?


Dr.Seth Goldsweig (04:51):
What’s it made out of, can it be different sizes? Can it, and so, so if you, if you use the kids imagination as a model and you just keep keep encouraging it, then I think you end up with a, a school culture that does that the other day, a kid comes up to me that Mr. Gold or Dr. Goldstein, I’m trying to figure out how to build an arc reactor from Ironman. And so he showed me, had this this whole diagram and he’s trying to figure out the technology for reactor every day. He says he gets a little closer. He shows me the updates and my job’s simple. I just have to listen and say, that’s amazing. Keep going. I can’t wait to hear the updates. So I think if you just show an interest in the kids, they’re gonna, they’re gonna thrive.


Sam Demma (05:35):
That’s awesome. And times are different right now with COVID we’ve been presented with unique challenges. What are some challenges that you’ve been faced with as a school that you’ve overcome and maybe even a mistake or two that you’ve made that you’ve learned from that you think is valuable to share?


Dr.Seth Goldsweig (05:52):
The the challenges are numerous. The mistakes are numerous and learning is numerous. You know, one of the, one of the challenges community is really big at my school. And we, we were very lucky for, for many, many years that you could physically come into contact with people and community physically, whether it’s having a school barbecue or, or having a new parent breakfast all of these things that, that make community possible. And so now we find ourselves in a situation where we still wanna build community, but everyone has to be physically separate. And so we’ve had to get creative in how we do that. So some of it is doing things online. Some of it is, you know, for our new parent breakfast, we had a as online zoom, but we still, we, we wanted the breakfast to be part of it.


Dr.Seth Goldsweig (06:38):
So when they dropped their kids off at school, we gave them boxed breakfast as a way of saying, you know, sit down, eat when we have our, our our orientation. Let’s try it, let’s try and make it special. You know buddies, we have a whole buddy program where big, our older kids are with our younger kids, which is really, I think, an important part of our school, that kids, when they go into grade four and they they suddenly become up till grade three, they’re the little buddies. And then at grade four, they become the big buddies. It’s a big, important moment for them. And how do you do that when you can’t have kids come into contact with each other? So we’re trying new things, we’re trying a pen pal system, or we might do an introduction over zoom, and then they start perhaps creating a, a Padlet together, which is an online program.


Dr.Seth Goldsweig (07:22):
So we have to look at it at new ways. You know, I think another challenge is we have some kids who are learning in class and some kids who are learning at home and how do you meet the needs of everyone at the same time the teacher are finding it very it’s time. It’s really hard to be there for, for so many different people. And I think so part of it is trying things and as I said, failing miserably, and I think that’s an important part of the learning process. Part of it is just getting used to the routine. And part of it is sort of giving teachers the space to, to know that I support them and that , you know, I can only ask you to try as hard as you can. I can’t ask more than that. And so if if they’re trying things and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, you know, hopefully they know that that that I, I, I support them.


Dr.Seth Goldsweig (08:12):
And as long as we just keep trying to, to meet everyone’s needs the best of our ability, then we’ll, we’ll get there. It’s not the same as being in person. But, but there’s a, a certain understanding the times are different. So there’s a flexibility that, that comes on, you know, and I think the, the other piece is, is the things that make school amazing outside of the classroom mm. Where it’s clubs, sports teams, field trips and, and those rethinking how we’re doing them. So we, we thought figured out a way to do student council. So that’s gonna come back. Some of our field trips now are virtual field trips. There’s a definite loss. You know, we have kids in grade eight who are, you know, ready to be the stars of the basketball team or the hockey team. And, and it’s a loss for them that, that they’re not able to do that. And, and so some things we don’t have answers for, we’ve not yet figured out how to create a basketball team to compete against other schools. But we’ll, we’ll keep working at it.


Sam Demma (09:04):
I had a conversation with another educator who said, maybe this year, we just do e-sport tournaments and play against other schools on PlayStation or Xbox. And I thought it was a pretty unique idea, but it, it takes out the physical aspect of it. And a kid who may have been dedicated to basketball’s whole life. Maybe I didn’t play video games, and isn’t a good online eSports gamer, but so many unique ideas. You have kids hanging pinatas and building iron man suits. What, what can you share in terms of a story? I’m sure you have dozens over the years. What, what can you share of a story where a student has been impacted by something you’ve done in the school? And maybe it’s totally changed their life and education. Oftentimes we don’t even know the impact we’re having until 10, 15 years down the line. And they write us this letter that we keep in a folder on our desk. Have you had a story like that of a student and you can change their name for the purpose of this podcast? The reason I’m asking you to share is because an educator might be listening, who’s a little burnt out and lacking hope. And I think it’s those stories that remind us why education is so important.


Dr.Seth Goldsweig (10:14):
So I had a unique opportunity. I’ve been out of the classroom for 10 years mm-hmm and last year we had a need for for some, for some teachers. So I went back into the classroom and I was speaking specifically when we went online. So from April, till the end of the year, I was teaching grade four classroom. So on top of it being the highlight of my day I got to connect with the students in, in in a different way that you don’t get to as an administrator, as an administrator, you’re sort of over, you know, you’re trying to oversee the whole school and making sure everyone’s safe and happy, but you don’t develop those personal relationships that you do if you’re the classroom teacher. So along the way we read, you know, I’ll share sort of a general thing, I think about the class, but then some feedback a student even gave to me that, that I think I didn’t even realize it had an impact.


Dr.Seth Goldsweig (11:02):
Hmm. So in terms of the overall students, you know, I, I, I want my kids to be creative and, and explore, and we had read a story and they had to show the ups and downs of the main character in a way that, that worked for them. So one of them is into baking and he created, created a sheet of brownies and then showed the ups and downs to the icing that he did on, on the brownies that he took pictures and presented. It was amazing. Another one we, we, we played around with a program called Flipgrid. And so she made a video where she did like spoken monologue. I, I gave 10 minutes as the time limit for the video and that wasn’t enough time. So she had to do two videos where she went through the whole story just spoken model.


Dr.Seth Goldsweig (11:45):
It was incredible. Other students, you know, created posters and, and other students like created these Lego cities to show what they did and they spent hours and hours on it. And so, you know, I hope that for all of my students, you know, I was able to help them find a love and education and, and finding their own voice in these projects and, and feeling that they put in their time and express themselves in the way that that that sort of meant to them. Now, I also had a policy where you, if students didn’t do great on the first try, I would give feedback and say, you know, here’s, here’s what I think you need to do to make it better. If you wanna do that, I’ll, I’ll take a look and give you a new grade. And I had one student who kept on doing that and she would say, you know, thanks.


Dr.Seth Goldsweig (12:27):
I really appreciate that. And, and this and that, and, and she would always take the work and the feedback and then send it back to me. And at the end of the year, she wrote me a letter and just said, you know I really appreciated the fact that you gave me a chance to do stuff second time and, and make it better. Mm. I felt like I learned and grew. And and that made, I don’t know, it made school better for me. So it’s not like an amazing life changing story, Sam, but, you know, I think that little thing kind of made my day. I didn’t even realize that that had an impact on her. And here she’s telling me that that one little policy I had was, was a very impactful experience for at.


Sam Demma (13:02):
School, small, consistent actions make the biggest changes. Right.


Dr.Seth Goldsweig (13:07):
Oh, I heard you say that. Absolutely.


Sam Demma (13:10):
That’s, that’s awesome. And when it comes to you know, bringing people in, you’ve been teaching now at the vice principal level for 11 years, how do you decide what specific types of messages to bring into your school, whether it’s in person or virtually you, you’re obviously very specific with the, the, the messages that you put in front of a young mind. So I’m curious to know there might be an educator listening who wants to understand that a little bit better, and maybe you have some insight to share?


Dr.Seth Goldsweig (13:39):
Well, in terms of messages that we bring. I guess, you know, we, it’s never something I decide on my own. We, we haven’t seen I would say one message that keeps coming back in terms of this current COVID time is we’ve been so overwhelmed by the resilience of the kids, the the commitment of the teachers and the appreciation of the parents. Mm. And so, you know, that that is a message that I want out there, you know, loud and, and clear like it, you know, there’s always, there’s always some issue here and there that we have to work through, but all in all, like the kids are just so happy to be back. They like every kid I’ve asked, do you like it better here with all the protocol for COVID or do you prefer to be at home, online learning every kid I speak to says that I’d rather be here wearing a mask so much better.


Dr.Seth Goldsweig (14:27):
Teachers come to me every day and say, can I try this? Can I try that this didn’t work. So let you know, maybe this will be better. They want it to be a good experience for the kids. They really wanna do everything they can to help make the, the experience better for the kids and, and the parents. I get emails on a daily basis that, that say we are beyond impressed with how hard you guys are working to try and make this possible. And so, you know, the appreciation also goes a long way. They’re in a way they’re sort of our clients, right. We’re trying to make them happy and give ’em a program that I am at a private school. So we’re trying to make a program that they feel good about that they’re happy about. So I, I guess that’s the main COVID message, again, the resilience of the kids, the commitment of the teachers and the appreciation of the parents.


Dr.Seth Goldsweig (15:14):
But then other messages, it has, it’s the same, whether it’s COVID or not, I mean, be a good person, be kind explore the world learn from differences. Have an open mind, have a growth mindset. Like the, these are all things that are common. Like we just want our kids in many, I, I, I say to teachers often, we’re trying to teach ourselves out of a job, right. We know we’ve done well. If we can set the stage where kids are, have the tools to learn on their own and that we’re on their side, maybe to guide them, but that really they’re driving the learning. And that takes a long to get there, but that that’s really our goal is to give kids the tools to, to learn.


Sam Demma (15:55):
Awesome. And if you could go back in time to your first year in education, but still know everything that you know now what pieces of advice would you share with yourself? There’s a bunch of educators listening who may just be getting into education, and this is their, or first year teaching. And they’re thinking to themselves, what the heck did I sign up for? what can you share with them through the years of, of, of accumulated wisdom through teaching?


Dr.Seth Goldsweig (16:24):
So if if you’re, if you see this as a job, you’re not in the right profession, mm-hmm, , it’s more than a job teaching the, the commitment you, you don’t go home, leave it behind you. And I’ve been reminded of that every day of my career. Mm-Hmm so that’s something that I, I would keep in mind and just, it would reinforce in me saying, well, you know, you’re doing the right thing, cuz you, you feel good about what you’re doing. Relationships, relationships, relationships, relationships, that is the most important thing in teaching have a in good curriculum is great. Having a cool technology that you use is great, but if you don’t have a relationship with the students, then it’s gonna be really hard to teach. And so that, that, that, that is sort of the, the main thing that, that drives everything else that I do.


Dr.Seth Goldsweig (17:09):
So how do you do that? You gotta get to know the kids, you gotta ask and learn new things about them. And I keep asking them questions about it. So that is certainly something I would, I would remind myself as a, as a new year teacher who has the wisdom of someone who’s been teaching for a long time. And then, you know, the final thing is every day is different. Mm. Every day is different. And that sometimes the different is great and sometimes the different is, is brutal. But you know, if one day’s bad then, well, probably the next day is gonna be great. And so just a, a reminder that you never, if you feel stuck, you know, you’re not gonna be stuck forever.


Sam Demma (17:45):
Yeah. You went as an educator, you’re the main character in that story that you shared in grade four and you’re gonna have ups and downs. Right. And that’s a good thing to remind yourself of often, Seth, this has been awesome. Thank you so much for taking the time to chat. If another educator is listening, wants to reach out to you, bounce some ideas around what is the best way for them to do so.


Dr.Seth Goldsweig (18:08):
What I, what do I do? Do I give you my email? Do I tell you the school that I’m at? Whatever, whatever works. My email is sgoldsweig@leobaeck.ca I’d have be, you know, more than joy to bounce ideas. That’s that that’s education, right? We keep, we keep learning from one another. And so the more ideas we have, the, the more positive we can do. Awesome.


Sam Demma (18:39):
I look forward to hearing about the finished iron man suit and more birthday parties in your school. Keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon.


Dr.Seth Goldsweig (18:46):
Okay. Thanks, Sam, take care.


Sam Demma (18:48):
Awesome. And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an 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 wanna meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna 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 fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Dr.Seth Goldsweig

The High Performing Educator Podcast was brought to life during the outbreak of COVID-19 to provide you with inspirational stories and practical advice from your colleagues in education.  By tuning in, you will hear the stories and ideas of the world’s brightest and most ambitious educators.  You can expect interviews with Principals, Teachers, Guidance Counsellors, National Student Association, Directors and anybody that works with youth. You can find and listen to all the episodes for free here.