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Educator

Michael Straile – Assistant Principal Bonnyville Centralized High School

Michael Straile – Assistant Principal Bonnyville Centralized High School
About Michael Straile

Michael Straile has been the Assistant Principal of Bonnyville Centralized High School since 2018.  Previously, Michael taught grades 7 & 8 at H.E. Bourgoin Middle School in Bonnyville.  His passions outside of teaching include acting and film.  

Connect with Michael: Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Bonnyville Centralized High School

H.E. Bourgoin Middle School

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 someone that I actually met speaking at a teacher’s convention last May. And his name is Michael Stralie. He has been the assistant principal of Bonnyville Centralized High school since 2018. Previous to that role, Michael taught grade 7 and 8 at another high school in his city.


Sam Demma (00:58):
and aside from teaching, he’s really passionate about movies, acting, and all things film. In fact, he has his own role in a full length feature film , which is absolutely amazing. so stay tuned for that, but in the meantime, enjoy the conversation that we had about his journey into education and what it was like for him growing up as a high school student. I hope you enjoy this and I’ll see you on the other side. Michael, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show, literally after meeting you less than a week ago. why don’t you start by sharing a little bit about yourself and how you got into the work you’re doing in education today?


Michael Stralie (01:37):
Oh, that’s a long story actually. My name is Michael Stralie. Teaching, so my 12th year teaching and my 3rd year as a, as a assistant principal, actually. I’ve taught from middle school, so I’ve taught grade seven and eight social studies in English. And then when I moved to the high school, I’ve taught social 10/1, 20/1, and K&E, which is knowledge and employability, math, science, English, and social. So I’m kind of go wherever they tell me really.


Sam Demma (02:06):
that’s nice. Nice.


Michael Stralie (02:08):
Yeah.


Sam Demma (02:09):
And, and why education Mike? Like wh when you were younger, did you just know this is what you were gonna do? Did you have someone nudge you in this direction? Did you think that I being the class clown was the calling


Michael Stralie (02:23):
I had, I, this gonna sound bad. I had no thought of being a teacher growing up. Yeah. I wasn’t your strongest student. I was like sixties to seventies. If I really worked hard hit high school and then graduated high school. And it’s kind of, I did what everyone does when you graduate high school, but you don’t know what you’re supposed to do. So I took business school and I went, I did a two year program at gram Cuban imagine studies and nice. But my journey in education kind of begins in my summers in that one where I worked at this place in town called the do center. It’s our bottle Depot. There’s a wood shop. And the do center is people with special needs. And I was working as an educational facilitator for them. Family friend had offered me the job for the summer and you know, school’s not cheap.


Michael Stralie (03:13):
So I took the first job I can get nice. And working with my clients, I was the, I was doing just little educational things on computers and reading and math and all kinda stuff, and just found myself loving my summers more than my studies when I was in university. The weekends are fun. Don’t get me wrong. But so finished my first year and then finished my second year, went back to the do, and I did the same thing and, and tried to enter the workforce. And I ended, the only job I could find was I was a door-to-door salesman. That was wonderful experience. Not really. It was very embarrassing. I felt guilty every time I knocked on the door. So I didn’t last long there. And I ended up coming home to Ville where I live now and I was help running one of the electronics store and I had an amazing boss there, but it just, it wasn’t for me running a business, managing, just not my, not my style.


Michael Stralie (04:12):
Yeah. And I remember having a conversation with my brother who is a teacher and this isn’t a generational thing by the way, teachers just hit in this like generation. So anyways, we were talking in like, I think I was in a drug store when we were picking some stuff up getting ready for Christmas. And I was just talking I’m miserable. Like I, this isn’t what I wanna do. And he was questioned me on like, what were things I enjoyed? And I when I hit high school, I really started to love social studies. And up until grade 12, I actually, it was, I thought it was boring. It was just history. I didn’t really understand it. Grade 12, I had a teacher who made it mean something to me. And so I was like, well, I like social studies and I like movies, TVs, all kinda stuff.


Michael Stralie (04:53):
So I could do a drama minor. So I applied back to grandma. Cuan decided to give up, I was the, I was gonna go to live in Scotland for a year, but decided I’d go back to school instead. And applied, got accepted and started learning all the fantastic things that come with education. And when I got my first practicum, it was awesome. Second one was amazing. My mentor teachers were fantastic. People who taught me so much, and I, I ended up getting hired the day I graduated with the division I’m at now. So was, I had just finished student teaching there that school themselves had already hired me on to come as an educational assistant to finish off my year. But then the principal ATG Bergy had interviewed Meg Bergmans in middle school where I spent the first nine years of my career, interviewed me and offered me a job at their too. And it just, everything lined up. And here I am nine years later, I’m the assistant principal at the high school here. This is my third year doing that. And it’s,


Sam Demma (05:52):
I guess,


Michael Stralie (05:53):
Guess history in the making.


Sam Demma (05:54):
That’s a phenomenal story, right. I wanna go back though. I wanna go back to when you were in grade 12 and you had this social studies teacher who made social studies mean something to you, as you said it, who was that teacher and how did they, how did they grab your attention and deliver such an impactful? What sounds like a life changing so semester for you?


Michael Stralie (06:19):
Yeah. So his name was, he was actually also my football coach. I only played weird 12 year of that, but his name is mark bullion and he was not your conventional teacher. He wasn’t super strict sit in row, be quiet lecture, like, and not, not old teachers like that, but that’s kind of the old school style kind of things. He, he was the first t-shirt I had, that was so sarcastic. And it was just funny. I, I can be sarcastic sometimes I’m told I don’t know if that’s true but just the way he’d bring humor into his lessons, just capture my attention and, and just kind of explaining how social studies isn’t just about history. Like, I don’t know how many times you ask, why do we learn social studies and responses? Oh, so we don’t repeat our past history and I and I’m sorry if I upset social studies teaches on it, but that’s not it at all.


Michael Stralie (07:10):
We’re trying to teach students to understand how the world is the way it is now. Yeah. We’re not gonna repeat those mistakes, but understand who we are and what our role is as a citizen in this world. And we have to understand how we got here. I know the world still has so so much growth. But I think looking at Canada’s history 150 years ago to where we are now, we’ve pro like progressed so much in acceptance. And I’m not saying we have acceptance, there’s still a long way to go, but it’s, it’s the more our students learn to be a proper citizen and what it means to be an active, engaged citizen in the world, the better chance we have seeing that acceptance that should already be in existence.


Sam Demma (07:54):
No,


Michael Stralie (07:54):
That’s awesome. And, and that’s kind of where he started with that is just getting me an understanding why social studies is so important and ended up being my major because of it. Hmm. And yeah, the world wars are cool to talk about. Don’t get me wrong, all that, like the history. Aspect’s awesome, but it’s, it’s so much more, I mean, there’s a reason why this math and science teachers get upset. There’s a reason why social studies is a great 12 or to graduate.


Sam Demma (08:23):
I love it. I love it. Hit him where it hurts. Right?


Michael Stralie (08:26):
Well, no math and science super important. Don’t


Sam Demma (08:29):
Get me wrong. No, I’m just joking.


Michael Stralie (08:30):
Yeah. I don’t wanna get those emails sort of like people who know me, like, wait, what are you saying? My math and science. I think it’s wonderful. I think everything should be great. 12 requirement,


Sam Demma (08:38):
But that’s awesome. I love that. And do you still stay in touch with mark now?


Michael Stralie (08:44):
No. I did see him. We did before COVID hit, we were doing like an alumni football game kind of thing. Nice. And I did have a chance to touch base with him. And I kind of explained like, Hey, you know, like you’re one of the reasons I became a teacher and to which he responded. Yeah. Sorry about that. like I said, he’s, and he’s not the only one it’s like for social studies, that’s, that’s kind of him, but there’s also another teacher. His name is Glen Flyn and he was, he was my computer and teacher . But it was just how he made me feel as a human being, like playing the one year of football. I, my pictures in the paper and he had to hang up in his classroom. So it’s that relationship, that caring thing where you see like, teacher actually cares. Cause I remember autographing it for him and I, I came back a year later after I graduated, just say hi, and it was still up. So it’s like, and people have teachers like that. Have you just take a minute to like, look, you’ll see just how much your teachers like teachers actually care. And unfortunately it, it took me till grade 12 to realize this.


Sam Demma (09:46):
Yeah, yeah. Sometimes it, it takes a student 30 years before they turn around, go find that teacher and say, Hey, I just wanted to let you know how much you change my life. You know, I’ve interviewed so many teachers who tell me that 10 years after a kid graduated or a student graduated, they heard from them. And sometimes the impact you have is never actually known as a teacher. They may, you may never hear from that kid again, but you know, you could have changed their life. And, and now they’re doing some great thing because of one thing you said in class or a lecture of totally changed their perspective. Right now, I would assume things are a little different and maybe different as an understatement but how are you striving to still build, you know, a great school culture and to make sure that students are feeling heard, seen, valued and appreciated, despite the challenges that the world is bringing us today.


Michael Stralie (10:40):
see, that’s a tough one because now you want me to like, talk about good things. I do. No,


Michael Stralie (10:47):
Not just me, but like, yeah. I’ll, I’ll talk about my school in general. Like so we, we do still have in class, like in-person learning going on. Cool. and I think like what most people are doing is just making sure you’re engaging with their students. Like I know personally, like you’ll see me often in like the eating area or the, the hub as we call in the morning and just saying hi to students. And last year, right before the school shut down, I had a group of kids who were like, Hey, do you wanna play Dungeons and dragons you? I was like, no, but okay, let’s try it. and ended up being a lot of fun. I was, I was actually, when COVID got like shut everything down, I was like, oh man, I was just getting into this.


Michael Stralie (11:27):
It was really cool. And I just noticed that like at our school in particular, teachers are starting to share like things that they’re interested in finding like students who, who, who are out for that. And there’s teachers who open up the classroom and me, it’s more just being goofy, walking around, chatting like it. I’m starting, like I said, a stress club, cuz I know it’s a lot of stress going on in the world right now. So students who are feeling stressed, I’m gonna have like new techniques every week that can build on different like remote meditation, yoga music and rhythm stuff. Just nice. Anything to help students find their center, I guess.


Sam Demma (12:04):
Yeah. No, that’s a phenomenal idea. And I know you got it from the convention. I did. Yeah. Yeah. That’s just, which is awesome. I think it’s so cool that there’s a space where teachers from around the province all come together and share unique and cool ideas. What is like one or two of the takeaways you had from the conference? Like any and all I know there are so many different sessions, but what, like I know the stress club was an awesome one, but what, what are some of the things you took away?


Michael Stralie (12:31):
Well I focused a lot on the stress ones. Nice. I, I did a couple of those and that was more just like learning how to, I think I said find your center and, and like in this world I think what people, people think teachers are stress, but I think most of our stress comes from the stress that students are feeling and, and us like, oh, like we gotta make sure that they know we’re here to make them sit, are helping them be successful. And so I think teachers, my nature or humans in general are greater showing empathy and you’re kind of taking on that stress and finding that balance of like, oh, I need to push you because you know, you’re, you’re heading off to university. I need to prepare you, but you’re also feeling all that stress and trying to find ways to help them out. So that’s why I focus so much on the stress. And I also saw this amazing one of social studies where she had basically talked about a whole year of a project. So every time you went through a new concept, you got to add to this big project that they’ll present at the end, at the end of the semester. And I thought that was the coolest thing, cuz I that’s something I wanna see in social studies is more engagement in more real life applications to it.


Sam Demma (13:38):
No, that’s awesome. I love that. Yeah.


Michael Stralie (13:40):
It’s well and of course your speech


Sam Demma (13:43):
Thanks.


Michael Stralie (13:43):
Clearly, clearly here I am. I I was actually thinking, cause I’m gonna talk about you for a second. Look, I’m hijacking your podcast that do that. Cause you talked about about your teacher, who’s also named Mike, so that’s obviously a super name full of cool people named Mike. Yep. And, and he, he would talk to you about like was it small, consistent actions yeah. To change the world. Yeah. And, and I was kind of thinking about this and I, I realized his small, consistent action was probably telling students to make small, consistent actions change the world and it, it worked right. Yeah. Like your story tells all that. So I, that, that really stucked with me is like reflecting on your career, you go back and like, am I being consistent and, and trying to deliver that message and no, I it’s really good. The only thing that sucked what teacher comp this year was not being able to like see people, people


Sam Demma (14:34):
See people. Yeah. You know? Yeah. I I’m totally with you. You and I do agree that the second best name in the world is Mike next to Sam. So , I’m just joking


Sam Demma (14:46):
But and mark would say the third best because it goes mark Sam, and then Mike.


Michael Stralie (14:51):
Whoa. What’s that?


Sam Demma (14:54):
Nah, just totally joking.


Michael Stralie (14:55):
I’ve never been bumped down to third plane. So it’s like when I’m running a race and there’s only three of us right now, I don’t know what


Sam Demma (15:00):
Happened, but no, I appreciate that. It, it was cool. Getting a chance to kind of share the story about how Mike loud fed my teacher kind of shaped my career and my life. And I was not someone who thought I’d ever be working in a school. I mean, I’m not formally a teacher, but a lot of my work is speaking to educators or speaking to students. And I thought I would’ve been a professional soccer player, hopefully, you know, playing in the MLS right now with four, my other teammates who are now playing pro. But things took a change. All thanks to a caring educator or someone like yourself who really cares about the things they’re teaching and, and tries their best to connect with students and build relationships. If you could go back in time though, to your first year teaching and kind of like give your younger self advice what would you say? What would have told your younger self as like a pep talk


Michael Stralie (15:56):
Oh, controversial. Here we go. So when you’re a teacher you’re kind of guided by curriculum. Yep. My advice to my younger self is I understand curriculum’s important. I don’t want teachers upset with me, but the most important thing is an educator’s relationship is getting to know your students and get, letting them know who you are. Not being a stranger, not just being an authority figure though. Yes. You should still be an authority figure, but getting to know them, building those relationships. And then once you have that, the curriculum can follow. Once you get to know your students, lets ’em get to know you. They’re more likely to want to hear what you have to say. You’re not just another adult coming, saying, sit down, shut up and listen to me. I got a story you’re gonna listen to. You’re gonna enjoy. You’re gonna learn from you gotta write test no, that works sometimes, but it’s, it’s about getting to know students even a little bit.


Michael Stralie (16:44):
Like you don’t need to know the whole life story, but like genuine caring is what they need. Mm. And I started middle school too, right? Like grade eight that’s hormones are all over the place. Yeah. so that’s, that’d be my, that’d be my advice is cuz that first year I’ll be the first five years for teachers is tough. Cuz you’re trying to figure out who you are as a teacher. I I, the strict one or I’m like the funny one, I’m like the cool one I’m at the laid back one and about, yeah, with within five years, you’re gonna, if you’re gonna make it or not, and you kind of fall into your own stride and, and then hopefully you get good results. And then also teaching myself that not everyone’s gonna like you


Sam Demma (17:25):
Yep.


Michael Stralie (17:26):
unless you’re me, cuz then you know,


Sam Demma (17:30):
No,


Michael Stralie (17:31):
You can’t win every student, but you can still find a way to relate to every. And so that they’ll at least want to hear what you have to say.


Sam Demma (17:37):
Yeah. I think it’s so, so true. And for teachers who are having the thoughts right now of, oh my goodness. This year has been insane in certain provinces. They haven’t even been in the classroom maybe at like at all and they’re, they’re struggling and they’re considering believing this vocation calling profession or they’re struggling to decide whether they wanna stay doing this. Did you ever have a moment in your career where you might have thought, I don’t know if I’m gonna do this again. And what did you tell yourself in those moments of maybe hardship or challenge?


Michael Stralie (18:13):
Cool. Since I’ve been teaching, I’ve never had that. I don’t want to teach anymore, but I have had days where like I just need a day off. Yeah. And normally I take the day off yeah, I like


Sam Demma (18:24):
It.


Michael Stralie (18:26):
That’s, that’s something that I think is right important is if, if you’re feeling that pressure as a teacher in Alberta anyways, we have personal days use a personal day. Don’t put your health at risk because really if you’re going in and you’re already defeated and you’re tired and you’re burnt out, you’re not helping yourself. You’re not helping your students. Take some time, find a way to calm yourself. Do whatever’s best for you and your students because you gotta find that that balance like a symbiotic relationship. Right. So if you’re not taking care of yourself, it’s going to eventually impact your students and possibly your school culture. So it’s taking that time and that’s my, the division I work for has before Christmas, it was almost directive where like, you guys have administrative, you need to take one before Christmas and I was like, yep. Booked


Sam Demma (19:18):
. So that’s awesome. That’s so cool. And for teachers who might be struggling right now and forgetting the reason why they got into teaching, you know, maybe the reason was they wanted to change a young person’s life or give back in the same way that a teacher, they had kind of mentored and, and, and taught them when they were in high school. Do you have any stories of transformation of students within schools that you’ve taught at or within the high school you’re at now where a student was going through a really tough time and maybe the style of a teacher or a relationship building thing kind of changed the students feelings, emotions, and, and led them down a, a, a brighter path. And the reason I ask is because one of those stories of transformation might remind an educator listening. That’s why I got into teaching and those moments still exist. So yeah, any, and I mean, if it’s a very personal story of a student that was really struggling, you can change their name, call them or whatever . But any of those stories come to mind.


Michael Stralie (20:18):
I, I’m gonna start with, if you are a struggling teacher you should know you’ve already, you already have a story. You just don’t know it yet. Yeah. It’s, it’s almost a thankless job and that’s okay. Cuz you’re doing a wonderful and sometimes like Sam said earlier, it could take 30 years for a kid to realize like just the impact that you’ve had. I, I haven’t gotten many, many letters, but I, I do remember the student when I was in grade eight and we’re just gonna call him Jimmy rough, rough life rough to teach. But liked my sense of humor. And we joked around and kind of gone through grade eight and he ended up moving away. Hadn’t heard from him, thought of him often wondering like, how’s this kid doing? Because I like, I get worried about students sometimes.


Michael Stralie (21:07):
Yeah. Run into him at seven 11. About a year ago, a kid had dropped like 150 pounds. He was in shape. And I’m kind of staring at him and didn’t recognize him. And he goes, STR, is that you like, yeah, yeah. Jimmy , he’s like, yeah. I’m like, well, how have you, how you been? He’s like, wow, really great. He’s like after grade eight, I, I moved to Emington and plea changed my life around started to focus more on school. And right now I’m upgrading and I plan on going to college and, or a trade school and, and try to find a proper career. And I thought that was great. And I thought that was the end of it. And then he had found my wife on, on Facebook. I don’t have social media. My wife does. And just like with the master, like, oh I hope you, Mr.


Michael Stralie (21:46):
Charley’s wife, like just, just wanted to say it was awesome catching up with him. It meant a lot for me to see him again. Hmm. And it’s just something so simple as just taking that rough kid and that getting a chance to know him. This is, this is where I would love to impart some wisdom that one of my best friends in the whole world, I have two of best friends, two best men at my wedding, by the way, one of ’em is famous for saying that the kids that are hardest of the love are the ones who need the love the most. Mm. So that kid that you think you hate, he’s just a pain in the butt and you’re like, oh, I gotta go deal with Jimmy today. Realize that Jimmy probably needs you more than anyone that day. Cuz people don’t with intention to harm anyone. Normally it’s a byproduct of what they’re going through themselves. So that’s the best thing I can say is just always remember a kid having a hard day and you know what you’re allowed a hard day too. It’s straining because those kids are also, like I said, the hardest love, and it’s going to take a lot of effort on your part and Don expect change in a day, but a good morning Jimmy can mean a lot.


Sam Demma (22:56):
Yeah.


Michael Stralie (22:56):
Just finding those things.


Sam Demma (22:58):
That’s awesome. And who’s the second best man.


Michael Stralie (23:01):
Another teacher actually. since Alise just when I moved here kind of met both them one of ’em I was working with he’s a ed teacher. Wonderful man, Dustin Blake. And then the other one my other best man. His name is Justin Barlow. Yeah. I’m using names. They they’re not, they better be listening to this when it comes out. I met him because we were coaching track and field one day and this random guy came out to me and said, Hey, can I live with you? And I was like, sure, I, their bedroom awesome. Justin, Justin Barlow and Dustin Blake had already known each other from all the Fette stuff. So Dustin had told him to go see me. And then yeah.


Sam Demma (23:39):
Long story short, he lives in your house.


Michael Stralie (23:42):
Used to, yeah. Now we’re both married. We have kids. But he’s literally half a block away from me. nice. So, and the other one lives in iron river. He’s been there always, ever since I’ve done him. But that’s another thing as a teacher, surround yourself with positive people who are like you, who can always get you through these tough things because I’ll give credit to those two guys, but, and many others, so many other people profession, but I’m just gonna sing. Cause they’re my best friends that having them like minded and be there definitely helped me progress. Because I’m also a little competitive. So it’s like, oh, you did that. Well, I’m gonna do this. so


Sam Demma (24:17):
That’s


Michael Stralie (24:18):
Awesome. Yeah. I would absolutely say that you need to follow it and then find other teachers another shout out to my friends. So who’s amazing. Social studies find his strategies to just surround yourself with those people you can learn from this guy. So is one of the greatest social studies teacher you’ll ever meet. I’d like to say second to me, but it’s not true. one day I hope that he’s almost as good as I am, but right now I’ve, I’ve, I’ve stole so much from his repertoire. So surrounding yourself as a, with people who are better than you and then try to be better than that.


Sam Demma (24:49):
Cool


Michael Stralie (24:49):
Love. And then list goes on. I, I probably have a hundred people who I can mention my mentor teachers when I came to the school division, taught me everything. I know. I don’t know if they wanna take credit for that or not. but they, they got me my start in this career. So like this just all over the place.


Sam Demma (25:05):
Cool. No, that that’s awesome. And when I think about mentorship, it’s, it’s so true. I, I have a whole list of people who helped me transition from school to work and selflessly just gave their time and energy to teach things and help with, you know, challenges. And I think it’s so true to wrap this up. Do you have any final parting words that you’d let like to share with a colleague maybe as a teacher who’s listening, you don’t even know who this person is and you just want to impart one last piece of sarcastic wisdom to this person.


Michael Stralie (25:38):
Yeah, so you guys will never be as good as me, but you might as well try no, that’s no, for real though, COVID sucks. And think that everything that you’re doing, that you’re struggling realize your students are, are doing it as well. And the best advice I could give, especially in an online classroom is don’t let them shut their cameras off. Mm it’s easy. It’s easy to shut off the camera and just disengage and, and be upset about the world and around it. I make my students turn it on because I wanna make it as, as possible. My camera’s always on, unless we’re doing just independent work. So it doesn’t matter if you’re in person online, just be there for them show ’em that you care, even if it’s something as simple as I don’t care. If you haven’t done your hair, turn on your camera. I wanna see you. I don’t wanna look at a black screen. I miss you guys to be genuine.


Sam Demma (26:24):
And also don’t forget to wear your mask. Right?


Michael Stralie (26:28):
that I was quick that filter. Do you? No. That’s you and your magic tricks, man. This is, this is all that started with your witchcraft.


Sam Demma (26:38):
Anyways, Mike, thank you so much for taking the time to to record this podcast. I so appreciate it and keep up the awesome work. If an educator wants to reach out, you know, crack a joke with you, have a conversation, hear about some of the different things that you’re doing in the school and maybe just learn from each other. What would be the best way for them to reach out to you?


Michael Stralie (26:57):
Well, I don’t have social media, but my personal email is fine. Throw it out there. That’s michael.straile@nlsd.ab.ca.


Sam Demma (27:09):
Perfect. Awesome, Mike, thank you so much for


Michael Stralie (27:11):
Thanks so much, this was awesome.


Sam Demma (27:13):
And we’ll keep in touch.


Michael Stralie (27:16):
For sure, man.


Sam Demma (27:17):
All right. 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.

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Karen O’Brien – Re-Engagement Counsellor

Karen O'Brien - Re-Engagement Counsellor
About Karen O’Brien

Karen has worked in the education system for over 30 years. She began her career as a secondary school classroom teacher teaching multiple subjects. She continued her teaching career with the added responsibility of being a department head. With each new role and school, she developed a passion for helping students who face barriers to success. Her passion led her to the headship at an alternative high school site for students who struggle in mainstream schools.

Today, she is the Re-Engagement Counsellor at Halton District School Board where she helps youth aged 14 to 21 from all high schools in the board stay in school or return to school. Karen works with community agencies and schools to create a plan for each student, ensuring they’re able to finish their high school education and take the next step towards achieving their goals – whatever those may be.

In her personal life, Karen spends time with her family, friends, and at the cottage where she loves to be by the water. She is also a member of a book club that has been ongoing for over 10 years. Her group discusses books, cooks together, and shares many laughs and a few trips. As a mother of two, Karen also gets a great deal of joy watching her children develop their own career paths and passions.

Whether in her professional life or her personal life, Karen loves to learn, take on new challenges and support others as they pursue their goals.

Connect with Karen: Email | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Halton District School Board

Western University – Bachelors of Education

Book Clubs in Ontario

Google Hangouts Guide for Teachers

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 Karen O’Brien. She has worked in the education system for over 30 years. She began her career as a secondary school classroom teacher teaching multiple subjects, and then continued her teaching career with the added responsibility of being a department head.


Sam Demma (01:00):
With each new role in school. She developed a passion for helping students who face barriers to success. Her passion led her to the headship of an alternative high school site for students who struggle in mainstream schools. Today, she is the re-engagement counselor at the Halton District School Board, where she helps youth age 14 to 21 from all high schools in the board, stay in school or return to school. And let me tell you Karen does an amazing job. I was fortunate enough to work with her on a project with some of those students, and it was a, a very in enjoyable experience working with her. Karen works with community agencies and schools to create a plan for each student, ensuring they’re able to finish their high school education and take the next step towards achieving their goals, whatever they might be. In her personal life, Karen spends time with her family, friends and at the cottage where she loves to be by the water.


Sam Demma (01:49):
She’s also a member of a book club that has been ongoing for over 10 years and her group discusses books, cooks together, and shares many laughs and a few trips. As a mother of two, Karen also gets a great deal of joy of watching her children develop their own career paths and passions. Whether in her professional life or her personal life, Karen loves to learn, take on new challenges, and support others as they pursue their goals. I hope you enjoy this interview with Karen O’Brien, 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 this morning. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit behind the journey that led you into education?


Karen O’Brien (02:31):
Absolutely. So my name’s Karen O’Brien. I work for Halton District School Board; I’m the re-engagement counselor. So I work with youth 14-21 who have left school or are in, at risk of leaving school, and the 17 high schools board call me in to work with those youth one on one or in small groups to try and keep them in school and motivate them to not only finish high school, but to plan for their future and go beyond that. So I’ve been doing this particular job for 7 years. Before that I have been in seven different schools; a classroom teacher for the most part. Always looking for a new challenge, hence the move between schools and, and a variety of programs. I’ve taught alternative-ed, regular classroom, gifted, all sorts of different classrooms.


Karen O’Brien (03:26):
What, what got me here teaching? I, I always have sort of been looking to teach or did when I was younger. I thought teaching could, was a possibility and so definitely loved it when I got into the classroom, loved it, but what I really truly loved were those watching those kids who were struggling you know, had barriers to success, watching those kids succeed. Mm. And so tho those are the kids. I kept thinking, oh, those are the kids. Those are the kids I want, wanna work with. So so that’s probably what led me, led me first of all, into alternative education and then led me into this job when this job was advertised. I, I thought this is my dream job and talked to a couple people and they said, yes, yes, you’d be perfect. So I, I thought, oh, my worlds are coming together. This is exactly the work I wanna do.


Sam Demma (04:22):
Well, tell me more about the work itself with reengagement, you know, being a reengagement officer. I, I don’t know that many teachers and even principals are even aware of what it is that might be tuning in. So I would love for them to learn a little more about it.


Karen O’Brien (04:35):
No, yeah. So what I do, so there’s two parts of my job. So if kids have left school and disengaged completely been removed from the register, so 14 and up I contact them at least once a semester to try and talk to them about why they left school. I often look at what’s beyond school because often why they left school. It has nothing or very little to do with school has a lot more to do with what’s occurring in their lives. So I work with all sorts of community agencies whether it’s housing agencies or employment agencies or addiction agencies, I work with all sorts. So I’m work regionally with all of those. I’m on a couple of regional committees. So I have lots of connections. Mental health supports are huge. So I work with all of those agencies.


Karen O’Brien (05:27):
So if I have a youth and I think, okay, these are the barriers, these are the struggles we address those. I get them connected to those type of agencies if they’re not already connected and work hard for that, because that’s the first thing, that’s always the first thing, once they’re connected and on sort of a road to wellness and doing, starting to do better. And, and they start to also trust me and, and have a relationship with me within start to talk about school and what those school goals might be and how school can look for them. That school, isn’t always about sitting in a room of 30 kids in a classroom that school can be done very differently than what perhaps they had experienced. So we talk about how they can do school without that model, that they don’t feel they fit into.


Karen O’Brien (06:15):
And also after they’ve addressed some of their concerns. So a lot of the youth when I meet with them are not, they don’t really see themselves as students has, has potential graduates. So I try to reframe that and help the see themselves. Yes, you could absolutely be a student, maybe not the picture or you have in your head, but, but you can learn and you can be a student and you can go on. And the goal is to go on after high school. So you know, I also read a lot of data and studies, so I know that they’ll do better in life if they go beyond high school and, and post secondary. And that’s pretty, pretty critical for a lot of, of students is to find their passion and whatever that is. So to have either is certainly traditional post-secondary college or university, but there’s also apprentice.


Karen O’Brien (07:09):
There’s also work. There’s also like a dream, a passion. So, so having a plan beyond high school, getting the diplomas a huge win, but it’s, what’s the next step. So I always say, I don’t wanna just get you out of high school. I want to get you into something yeah. Beyond high school. And that’s my goal with them. So I work with them and then, yeah. And work with them, just one one-on-one for the most part, some small group stuff. But most part I do one on one because they’re all unique and need those, those supports. So those are the youth. So those of youth have left school. The other part of my job is I built a relationship with all the schools and the board. So they call me in when they have a kid who’s flounder ring, cuz I always say, please, please call me before they’ve left.


Karen O’Brien (07:56):
Oh, I have a much better chance of helping them. If you know, you introduce me because they know you and, and we meet and I start to work with them when they’re still in school has, you know, when they’re hanging by a thread I want in so the schools bring me in a lot for that too. And that’s that’s, to me, my has evolved so seven years ago, it was mostly kids who have left. Now it’s mostly kids who are disengaging, who are, and, and that’s the bulk of my days and most of my days, which, which I’m very happy for that shift.


Sam Demma (08:33):
Wow. I love that. And you mentioned trust no. Yes. The beginning, initially it might be a generic conversation about their life and what’s going on and listening to them until they trust you. How do you build that trust with a student who might be disengaging?


Karen O’Brien (08:48):
Well, a lot of it is just meeting them. So pre pandemic, I’d meet them near their house, whether that was, you know, at Tim Horton McDonald’s or in a park or the library, wherever, I’d say like, what’s easy for you, where can you walk to, can we just meet and, and either walk and talk or sit and talk. And, and just, and I build the trust, not by saying, tell me about your life as much as I tell them about my job and that I have the ability to help them, not just with school, but with other things, I, I can connect them with other things. So I start to talk about that. For the most part in that first conversation, we don’t talk as much about school we do about their lives and, and sort of what, they’re, what they’re looking for in this moment.


Karen O’Brien (09:41):
I need, you know, I have precarious housing in this moment. I need, I really wanna work in this moment. So I, whatever that one thing is, I work really hard off the initial meeting to make that connection and get them support in that, because then they trust me and then they go the next time. Okay, here’s this, here’s this, here’s this, we do get to the point where we talk about school. I talk about you know, I ask them about when they liked school, like, what do they remember? Even if they have to reach really far back, what is it that they remember to do they remember a class or a project or something? What do they remember? And, and every single time they end up talking about the teacher. So not, well, you know, they may say grade, whatever nine I did this, or with this, they’ll start with, but they talk about the teacher and I think, okay, this is, this is what teaching is.


Karen O’Brien (10:39):
This is relationships. So, and, and they inevitably, that’s the discussion that comes out, that they like that class because they like the teacher because the teacher respected and valued them. Mm-Hmm so that’s really inevitably where it comes from. So I try then to a nice soft place, I call it for them to land in the education system where they have that caring adult. So I don’t just say, go register. I take them, I work with the school, like who’s gonna work with them. Who’s the first teacher they’re gonna encounter. Who’s going to work with them. And let’s pick carefully so, so there’s a good connection or the, the chance of the good connection.


Sam Demma (11:22):
That’s awesome. I love that. And where did your passion come from to work with these, you know, these specific type of students, like, you know, did you have a teacher that impacted you as a student? Did you have a unique own, your own unique journey through school?


Karen O’Brien (11:37):
Definitely. I, well, I moved five times growing up, my father kept getting transferred, so that’s, that’s, you know, it creates a little little, now I look back, I think. Okay. You know, you had to make it the transition. It creates a little chaos in your life. Every time you move. The most difficult move for me was probably the middle grade 12. And so you know, that, that was a tough transition for me. I had an economics teacher who was awesome and really sort of looked out for me. I must say he, so I actually enrolled in economics initially when I went, you know, nice went to university ended up getting an English and economics degree. But, but I, I think that, that was because, and he was like, you know, just one of those teachers who was like, Hey, in the hallway and, you know, built the, like totally made me feel like, okay, I’m part of this.


Karen O’Brien (12:37):
Mm. Even though I don’t feel part of this school, I, I know in this class, I feel like I’m definitely part of this. So so I do think that I also think when I started out in teaching, I was really, really so super curriculum focused. Mm. Like, like that was my, like I knew the curriculum and I was like, you know, had my lesson plans and I was like, I was on it. And I had a, a great 10 class who was gifted in rich class and they were challenging. And so I stopped trying to make them fit my curriculum, that they taught me that that’s not gonna work. and started talking to them about what they want to do. So I’d say, okay though, this is what the curriculum says you have to do.


Karen O’Brien (13:32):
How do you wanna show me that you do that? And, and this was many, many years ago. So it was so my classroom probably appeared a bit chaotic in those days compared to other classrooms. But but like, I love that class. And I, and so that’s what started me on this journey thinking, okay, you know, this, this is yeah, this is, this is how, how you teach you. Don’t, you don’t teach curriculum, you teach kids, you teach students. And, and if you’re always focused on I’m teaching the student, whatever the curriculum is, we can bring in.


Sam Demma (14:10):
Hmm. I love that. You know, you mentioned your economics teacher as well. Sounds like they, they played a huge role. Can you PI point what they did specifically that made you feel like a part of the class? Like, I, I’m curious because I, I know I’ve had teachers like that in my own high school journey. And if you asked me my favorite class, I would tell you world issues, class with, you know, Michael loud foot . So what are some of those things that you think he did or they did for you?


Karen O’Brien (14:35):
Well, part of, so part is there’s twofolds. So the one is a passion for his subject. You know, he loved it. He loved, and he loved the world. So economics, I suspect like world issues. We didn’t have world issues, but economics gave us the opportunity to look at what was happening in the world and then interpret it through the economic lens, through what’s happening. And, and, and so everything seemed like you were getting this, this passionate person about his subject, but getting an understanding of the world and what’s going on in the, in the world that, you know, you’re about to enter as an adult. So though that combination of his passion for the subject and his understanding that students wanna see the relevance, right. We want like, like make this relevant for me, make me understand why this is important. So and he did the curriculum became very relevant to me.


Karen O’Brien (15:29):
The other piece was the, the constant one on one talks. When I look back, he was, he was, you know, he kind of would do a lesson at the front, but he was always, you know, beside me, or, you know, or checking or sitting or pulling a chair or grabbing two desks and putting two, like help this person with, like, he was constantly like, you know, his classroom evolved with relationships as well as with the curriculum. So it wasn’t like we weren’t all just getting the curriculum, getting information from her, from him. We were, we were you know, part of the learning journey as he circulated through and went. And I think that that’s the teachers who, who are on the learning journey with the students and, and meet the students at whatever step they’re at to get them to the next step or help get another student to help them get to the next step.


Karen O’Brien (16:25):
Like, that’s, that’s the learning journey. So if they’re part of it, rather than the, you know, purveyor of knowledge, it’s, to me, to me, that’s, that’s the key to, to really being excellent at your job and for students to then trust you. Because if you are the expert students, I don’t know. I just get the sense that students just sit and passively take it, and then they watch for, oh, did you make a mistake? I’m gonna watch for it kind of thing. Yeah. Like it becomes a little, little bit of a us, us versus him or her or them. But if you’re, if the teacher’s on the learning journey with the student, then I think, you know, everybody leaves.


Sam Demma (17:07):
Yeah. Cause they feel just like them. It’s like, we’re both learning, you know? Yeah.


Karen O’Brien (17:12):
Yeah. Yeah. My students taught me something every year. Like I, I was teaching English and I just still remember this one young person was so funny cuz I was, he was really struggling with the poetry unit and that day we divided everything. Anyway, he was struggling with the poetry unit. So I was explaining it and I was, you know, going, oh, this is so cool. And this is what the poetry’s doing. And he said, okay, I understand. He goes, you understand that? I’m never gonna love this stuff. Right. And I go, okay, hear you. I will, I will back. Like, like I thought, okay, I’m a little Mure. So I I’m, I’m okay with you not loving it. Let’s get down to what you need to know. Yeah. And move on. And he was like, okay, good. So we


Sam Demma (17:55):
Were good from


Karen O’Brien (17:56):
Then on like I thought, okay. Learning again. Right. I get that.


Sam Demma (18:01):
That is so funny. that’s awesome.


Karen O’Brien (18:04):
It was so funny.


Sam Demma (18:05):
Yeah. And so no thinking about your role again, as a, you know, the re-engagement officer in the past couple of years versus this year, how has it changed? Like has there been a huge need for it during like, you know, COVID and what are some of the challenges you’ve been faced with and how have you tried to overcome them?


Karen O’Brien (18:24):
So huge challenges cuz I’m used to going and meeting with the student face to face. So arranging a phone call or a Google hangout as, you know, students don’t turn on their cameras and you know, there’s, there’s, they don’t always attend. Not that they always attend it in person, but so huge struggle. So I have so what I’ve done is I’ve primary to use the staff in the school. So is there someone in the school they were connected to? And I talked to the school and so then I try a three-way Google hangout or a three-way phone conversation because if they had a student success teacher or a guidance counselor or somebody or a math teacher, whomever that they really connected with and that teacher feels they can help. Then, then we were on setting up the Google meet with them, with them to sort of introduce me.


Karen O’Brien (19:19):
So we work a lot of the administrators do that. A lot of the vice principals know these kids really well. So they, we did a lot of three-way Google meets initially. So we worked with that. I got a cell phone numbers whenever I could for kids and would start texting because I can get a response, even if it’s short initially from texting. So just lots of texting check-ins really looking again for that agent, like what, what can I get to help them not necessarily school, but what can I get to help them? So I’ve used, yeah. The Google meet with, with a, a caring adult who introduces us texting some kids I’ve just driven to and said, will you just meet me outside? And we can talk. So some kids I’ve just said, you know, are you willing to do this?


Karen O’Brien (20:10):
So if they are, yeah, we just, we, you know, safety protocols stay distant and stuff, but we’d you know, go walk in a park or, you know, whatever, or just stand outside their house and they’d stand in the doorway and I’d stand back and talk to them. So I did a number of those too, just to try, I you know, used whatever I could, we have Halton learning foundation here. There’s a barriers account. So if a student is struggling, their family’s struggling financially, you can we can give them grocery gift cards. So in some, sometimes I deliberate those and that was my way so, so that was my way in with some of the kids to, to try and engage them in that conversation. I definitely used that a lot. Because a lot of these kids yeah, don’t don’t have much, so that was my way in. So rather than yeah, so I just, yeah, showing up, I mean, I really just have to show up where whatever way they’re willing to show up, if it’s a Google meet or texting or a phone call or on their front porch or, you know, at the door of their building, whatever. Yeah. I just try to show up and be there.


Sam Demma (21:27):
That’s awesome. And did you find that this year there was more support, but you were able to still, you know, do the same type of work, but it was just more difficult and more work or did you find that it was a lot, like it was a lot harder and maybe more students might have slipped through the cracks as a result of the challenges that


Karen O’Brien (21:50):
I felt that more students were slipping through the cracks this year. Although I I’ve been doing my tracking this week and, and summarizing, so we, I feel as a board, we have a good handle on our students. So I, I worried that they were flipping a slipping through the cracks, but that’s partly because I wasn’t seeing them. Oh, picture man. I’m so, so accustomed to seeing them and doing the check-ins that way. But, but I feel we have a good handle on them. There are definitely more suffering from mental health challenges all sorts of other challenges. So we have social worker workers working through the summer mental health, there’s all those things. So I’m feeling like the kids are, they struggle more. Yeah, definitely struggle more, but I’m feeling like they’re connected. You know, we see how, how well they stay connected throughout the summer, but I’m, I’m hoping that we have enough connections that we’re hanging on to them and, and we’ll get them back in September. I’m so looking forward to face to face in September, I’m feeling like we just need to hang onto them and get them back and then support them once they’re back.


Sam Demma (23:06):
Yeah. Couldn’t agree more. It’s it’s so different. I even think about the work that I do speaking this students and doing it virtual is one thing doing it in person is a totally different thing, you know? Totally. So, yeah, I couldn’t agree more. And if you could go back seven years and speak to Karen when she was just getting into this role, what, like what advice would you give your younger self and knowing what you know now?


Karen O’Brien (23:31):
When I I think knowing what I know now, when I first got into this role, I tried to cover everything like do it all, but that brought no depth to my work. Right. So, so, so cover every possible thing. And what I learned is I personally don’t need to cover every PO. I need to make sure everyone’s covered all the kids are covered, but I don’t personally, like I’m not the only person, I’m the only person in my role. And there’s no other role this in the board, but that doesn’t mean there. Aren’t a lot of other people out there who I can tap on and say, Hey, can you connect with these kids? Or even people in the community you know, informal, informal mentors in the community. Like there’s so many people. So I think, I think what I’ve learned is to build that network over the years.


Karen O’Brien (24:22):
So even if I’m not the person you know, diving deep with that kid and helping them every step of the way, I’ve got them connected to somebody who can help them navigate that. And, and they may cycle back in and ask me questions the odd time. But I, I think, I think that I would tell myself to just like focus on not focus on the kids, but focus on your network and who can help and, and who you need to tap on because the, the faster you do that, the more help you’re gonna get for these kids.


Sam Demma (24:55):
Yeah, love that. Such a good piece of advice. Well, Karen, thank you so much for coming on the show. Really appreciate it. If someone’s been listening and they’re interested in the conversation, or just wants to chat with you, what would be the best way for them to reach out?


Karen O’Brien (25:09):
They’re welcome to email me. So obrienk@hdsb.ca.


Sam Demma (25:18):
Cool, awesome. Karen again, thank you so much. Enjoy the rest of your summer. This is probably coming out in September so if you’re listening now, you’re probably wondering what the heck, but , we filmed it in the beginning of July, so enjoy your summer and I’ll talk to you soon.


Karen O’Brien (25:33):
Okay. Thank you so much, Sam.


Sam Demma (25:35):
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; 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 Karen O’Brien

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. Adam Browning – Director of Learning Palliser School Division

Dr. Adam Browning – Director of Learning Palliser School Division
About Dr. Adam Browning

Dr. Adam Browning (@AdamLBrowning) has been an educator for 17 years. As a system-level leader, he is primarily responsible for curriculum and diversity supports for a school division of over 40 schools and approximately 9000 students.  

He is a researcher in applied linguistics and an instructor at the University of Lethbridge. Much of his research focused on early literacy and language skills and how students transition to more academic uses of literacy.  He is especially interested in motivation and how we can better engage students with literacy.  

Connect with Adam: Email | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Palliser Regional Schools

University of Victoria – BA in History

University of Calgary – Doctorate of Education in Applied Linguistics

Malcolm X Autobiography

The Power of Making Thinking Visible by Ron Ritchhart

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, I have the distinct honor of interviewing Adam Browning; Dr. Adam Browning. He’s been an educator for 17 years and as a systems leader, his primary responsibility is for curriculum and diversity supports for a school division for over 40 schools and approximately 9,000 students. He is a researcher in implied linguistics, and an instructor at the University of Lethbridge. Much of his research focused on early literacy and language skills, and how students transition to more academic uses of literacy.


Sam Demma (01:13):
He’s especially interested in motivation and how we can better engage students through and using literacy. I hope you enjoy this interview. It was very interesting and intriguing, and I will see you on the other side of the episode. Adam, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on this show. We had a great chat last week, and I’m glad that we, we made some time to make this happen. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit behind how you got into the role and education you’re in today.


Dr. Adam Browning (01:42):
Awesome. Thanks for having me and connecting me. I’m glad to be, this is my first podcast. That’s new for me, so just excited for the opportunity. So I guess the question is kind of what brought me into education. It’s a long story and I know that it’s probably longer than what I could cover in your podcast, but I’ll admit this you know, at the expense of some of my colleagues hearing it. I don’t think I was a great student. I wasn’t an engaged student, you know, I struggled throughout K-12, and I remember in grade one, you know, my mom will tell me now that maybe they thought I had a learning disability that I just I wasn’t really clueing in areas of literacy and other pieces of language that they thought I should be at that time. And looking back, you know, out of all the time that I was in school and that I struggled, I can think about a few times where I was successful. And I think a lot of that success came from connection with a great teacher and, and that’s what brought me here is being a struggling student, and then to somebody who’s become a teacher, principal, and a director of education and a, I guess, a, an instructor at the university, I just see such an opportunity for what an awesome role model adult and a teacher can do to make a profound difference in the lives of kids. Yeah, that’s kind of what brought me here.


Sam Demma (03:07):
Well, tell me more about your own experience as a student. You know, you mentioned struggling a little as well. Did you have any educators in your, in your journey as a student that showed you the importance of having a caring adult in your life?


Dr. Adam Browning (03:25):
Totally. And I think back to, you know, who those educators were and just how impactful they were. I had a principal in elementary school named Dr. Farran and I guess I became a doctor around vocabulary and I remember Dr. Fe always being in the library and he’d looking at a dictionary and pulling up words and just kinda showing me the power of language. I remember in grade six and this is a student, you know, who I wasn’t really engaged was always struggling being compared to my older siblings, that there was time for us to memorize or to about a poem and be able to, to say that poem and speak the poem. And I memorized the poem. This offered Lord tenons, the charge of light brigade, probably can’t fully recite now, but no, still lot that, but just felt empowered by him, not through wrote memorization, but just the power of learning about words, learning about literacy, about poetry and being proud that I could do something and he really celebrated it.


Dr. Adam Browning (04:23):
And I was that student who probably didn’t have as much confidence. I didn’t have as much confidence and just having that opportunity to, to do something and do it well. And, and have it be known in the school, made a huge difference for me. And I think about, you know, in junior high, as it got tougher, as it does is for many students just running into that one teacher, Mr. Whitmore, social studies, grade 11, who just made content accessible for me, showed me that I could have a passion about it. I would probably say that history. And then land-based learning outdoor education are some of my most favorite subjects to teach and he just made it cool. I could talk about contemporary topics. I could really look at it critically. I could access it. It wasn’t learning from a worksheet. It wasn’t learning from a textbook.


Dr. Adam Browning (05:11):
And I found success as this student in those classes. And I just thought that that’s something that if I was to become a teacher, I could bring and I hope that’s what I brought to education. I, I, you know, I think that kindergarten to 12, that system probably university too, it’s like a race. Mm. And any given year, I’ve heard this before a student can fall behind and then they have like cumulative disadvantage cuz you fall behind and you going to learn the next thing and it just gets harder and harder. And so I think that a obviously there’s changes that people can make at the system to be more inclusive of students. But at any given year student can meet that one teacher who will have such an impact on them that their, their growth, you know, either as people or as students is gonna grow more than a year and you can have that type of impact on a student so that they don’t become disadvantaged.


Dr. Adam Browning (06:03):
I know that researchers and other people are gonna talk about just how important education is. And there’s always exceptions to that role where some people don’t have education. They do great things. I think largely education is super important and not just on a, about how we form as people and being able to be part of that, I think is fundamental to who I am. You know, I’ve always been into social justice and wanting to create meaningful change as a student university. And I thought about ways to do that. And I’ve had these pivotal moments in my life where I’ve thought about my career choices. Was I gonna go on to be a lawyer or was I gonna, you know, stay in school and be a teacher? And I chose the education path. I don’t regret it. It’s been awesome.


Sam Demma (06:46):
You know, people sometimes say, I can’t hear you because your actions are speaking so loud. Right. I can’t hear what you’re saying because your actions are speaking so loud and you’re somebody who has been in school practically your entire life. Is that correct?


Dr. Adam Browning (07:00):
yeah, I think so. Yeah. Yeah. It’s probably probably like a few months at a time where I’ve had some reprieve for it. But up until about January of this year, I’ve been a student my entire life.


Sam Demma (07:12):
that’s awesome. So you, you know, you’ve lived that philosophy of the importance of education in your own actions, which I think is so important, but bridge the gap for me, you know, how did you go from not the best student struggling in school to getting into teaching, you know, understanding that having a, an adult figure in your life who believes in you is really important, could have taken you in many different paths. You could have become a coach. You could have worked with young people in, into different capacities. Why teaching? Like when did you know that you were gonna get into teaching and what did that journey look like?


Dr. Adam Browning (07:46):
It’s a funny one. I was in a Tim Hortons, probably in like the early two thousands and I was studying for an exam and I just found myself working there late night. And I had a conversation with this guy who was a teacher who I had never met. I didn’t know. And I’ve never seen since I wish I could thank them. Wow. And I had written my LSATs at the time, my law school entrance exam. And I’d done well well enough to go to law school. And I thought about it at that time of what I was gonna do. And I was either gonna go to this teachering education program where I’d been offered acceptance into or into law school. And we just ended up having this generic conversation where he talked about his life as an educator and what learned and what he was able to do.


Dr. Adam Browning (08:30):
And, and I mean, the biggest piece was, he said, you’re gonna give up some income, there’ll be some challenges, but the impact that you’re gonna make on lives of kids and what you’re gonna be able to do like in society is gonna be something that is so awesome for you. So I really took that away and I thought about it and I had turned around and I had these three choices of either going to do a master’s degree going into teaching or going into law school. So at that point, I said, well, I’m gonna take a little bit of the best of both. I’m gonna do a master’s degree, but I’m also gonna go into teaching. And I started teaching in the middle school and the tougher school in the city where I, you know, I started teaching it was a community school and a really diverse school.


Dr. Adam Browning (09:16):
And it had that reputation with some of the kids of being the place where maybe they had had some trouble kids to learn. And I just found it to be an awesome experience. Like day one, just the connections that I was able to start making with students. I started my practicum there and then I was able to work there shortly. But the connections I was able to make with students about things that matter to them and be friendly with them. And, you know, I still have students who reach out to me today near 20 years later. And it’s reminding me that I’m getting older, but it’s just awesome to see what they’re doing in their journey, because they were able to find something that they were passionate about. And I feel like as a teacher I was able to do that, find something that a kid is passionate, find something that a kid does well and work from there, and anyone can grow. I have that firm belief that anyone can do better. And anyone can be successful. It’s not just a catchphrase. It I’ve seen it. And so I’ve lived my my work life around that.


Sam Demma (10:10):
I love it. And when you first started, you were teaching, I assumed then you moved into a pre position and now you’re, you know, you’re working at a, a little bit of a higher level and you might be responsible for different tasks. What do the differences look like? And what did you enjoy working, you know, in the classrooms versus what you’re doing now and vice versa, what do you enjoy what you do now versus working in the classrooms?


Dr. Adam Browning (10:33):
I missed the classroom and this was the first year where I’ve really been and able to kind of get back into the classroom as a teacher. But classroom was awesome. You know, that direct connection with kids and you’re involved in their learning. It’s exciting. You learning can be fun. I remember, you know, teaching grade eight science and we were building bios and it was messy and it was loud and there was lots of tables. And my principal would walk in the room and kids were bios, or they were doing these Ru Goldberg experiments to learn about motion and science. And I felt like a topic that I learned from a textbook at times was a topic that I could teach through experience and kids would enjoy it. And so I really missed that part of education. But I moved up into administration fairly quickly was, and two years after teaching, I was an administrator and did that for about 10 years.


Dr. Adam Browning (11:22):
What I liked about that is that I could really take what I was doing in a classroom and build support for that at a school level. I could see as an administrator, tangible areas where I could build relationships with all kids throughout the school. And I remember being that student who was in the hallway, who would be sitting as flush against the wall as you could, so that the principal didn’t see you, cuz you’d be in trouble. You know, I always enjoyed dealing with those students because I could find out what was going on with them at home. You know, I had probably not the easiest family life or the easiest life growing up. And so I know that behavior’s really communicative of what a student has going on. So finding that way to be that support, to be that listening ear. That was really cool.


Dr. Adam Browning (12:07):
And I could see that as tangible differences that I could make for a student every day, you know, and I wasn’t always coming to teach a class. Sometimes it was like, this is how you tie a tie. I remember some great six kids who were celebrating, I guess, a mini graduation and they were fascinated with it. And just being that first person to teach them that I felt I felt honored. And so that was really cool. Those were the positives, I think in this role that I have now, I have a greater opportunity to make system change things that I’m passionate about with literacy or with language. I have an opportunity to advocate for that and do that at the system level. Like I didn’t during a school, the challenges, I don’t always see the tangible impact it takes. Sometimes when you’re looking at dealing with 40 something schools and, you know, over a thousand staff and 9,000 students seeing that tangible difference in that individual student’s life take time at a system level and something I’m adjusting to,


Sam Demma (13:10):
You mentioned me able to make system ch system change at this level at that sometimes you can’t see the change that’s happening or the impact that’s having on the direct student, or maybe even the direct staff member. But I had one educator to tell me, and you meant, you actually alluded to it earlier that sometimes your job as an educator is to plant this seed and water it. And sometimes that doesn’t grow or you don’t see it grow for 15, 20 years. Like you mentioned, now, you’re having students email you and tell you, you know, how great it was to learn X, Y, or Z, or that they’re working in a specific field or industry. And that probably lights you up. So I would, I would encourage you to just keep doing it with a, with a open heart, knowing that it’s still making a change, whether you’re here, it or not. Tell me more about the, the initial years in administration, if there’s someone else listening who would love to also make that jump, like what do you think helped you, you know, make the jump as well,


Dr. Adam Browning (14:12):
Make the jump to teaching to administrator.


Sam Demma (14:16):
Yeah,


Dr. Adam Browning (14:19):
I think when you work on as a staff, as a teacher and you see what a great principal can do, it really makes you enthusiastic about the potential now unquestionably. And I’ll say, I think that being a principal is probably the toughest job in education. Certainly I think it’s tougher than my, a job and you deal with a lot and you support a big staff of teachers, but the benefits of it and the positives of it are unparalleled. You know, I look at the time that I was a teacher and I, I started as a principal at the age of 26. So I was somewhat younger and I had some teachers on my staff, some of whom were in their fifties, they were closer to retirement. And I just had such a supportive group of teachers to help me learn along as a principal. You know, there’s no class that prepares a principal.


Dr. Adam Browning (15:05):
People will say that masters programs prepare principal or leadership quality programs. I think they help, but a lot of it is just lessons that you learn as you go and that you learn working with others from teachers. And I feel like a good piece of being a principal and a good piece of advice I would give to principals is to listen to your teachers. Mm. You always looked at books and their slogans like feed the teachers or to lead the kids or, or ways to distribute your leadership so that you’re empowering teachers to lead a school with you. Not just being led by you, but leading with you. And I feel like, you know, doing those things and seeing those things, every, just like every student had a positive teacher, teachers who have had a positive principle and they see what a difference it can make for a school community for them and for, or students, you know, maybe enthusiastic about taking that step.


Dr. Adam Browning (15:56):
It is a big jump. It’s not one that you get paid substantially for. And you have a tougher job, but you can make a difference for people. Yeah. And I feel like, you know, one of those, those things that I’ve taken away and I, I, I don’t usually push or market catch for raises or slow group slogans or programs, but this has been something big for me is like servant leadership. The idea that you can lead by helping others just finding ways to give a teacher that release time so they can go get a coffee. And then you’re spending that time reading with their kids, things like that are really cool. As a principal, you get a lot of flexibility in your, your schedule that you didn’t have when you were a teacher, but it’s an opportunity for you not to sit in your office. I’ve always heard, you know, people say, you know, you have an open door policy. I don’t have an open door policy. I mean, my policy is I gonna be out there or I won’t let my door hit me in the ass on the way out. You know, I think that we’re gonna out in classrooms and talking to parents and talking to students and just being really visible. Favorite part of being a principal, playing Dodge ball with the kids.


Sam Demma (17:00):
Mm love that. That’s awesome. And being that you’re a, someone who loves literacy, I’m sure you also read books. And I would love to know if, if any of the reads you’ve come across over the years as an educator have been really foundational or impactful for you, maybe in some of your own philosophies or principles as a leader.


Dr. Adam Browning (17:22):
That’s a great question.


Sam Demma (17:24):
I’m putting you on the spot here.


Dr. Adam Browning (17:26):
No, that’s great. Because then you, I think about, you know, what I’m endorsing or really what made that difference for me in terms of what I read, you know, I’ve read a ton of things about research, about literacy. And it’s not a book per se, but I’ve had some, some fundamental things that have changed my, my thoughts. So I’ll share two things, I’ll share a book and then I’ll share a thought changing experience if that’s okay. Yeah, that’s perfect. I think one of the more recent things that I’ve been looking at and I’ve been reading, that’s been impactful on my work is this book called making, thinking visible by Ron Richards. So he’s written a series of books, making, thinking visible and creating cultures of thinking. And it’s very focused on, I would say almost the relationships that we have and the dialogue behind learning.


Dr. Adam Browning (18:17):
I look at the challenges that we faced with the pandemic and learning, moving online. And I think that a lot of what we experienced in education before is challenges like student engagement. It’s just been exacerbated. It’s basically all of those challenge, but it’s created this sense of urgency and made it really apparent. And, you know, Ron Richard takes this approach to learning and these learning routines about having these, you know, not question and answer, but more of this rich dialogue with students and this rich learning routine that makes you know, learning transfer results in deep, deeper thinking and more critical thinking from students. And I’ve been big about that lately and reading it and then seeing the opportunities for it. And so that’s something that I feel like has helped definitely shift my, my thinking, think some other things that I’ve looked at that have really shifted the way that I felt on vocabulary and language learning my dissertation, my doctorates around vocabulary acquisition.


Dr. Adam Browning (19:18):
Cool. One of the biggest areas that I look at with language that really impacts the student is your vocabulary and part of what really delves the student to read. So, you know, to kind of put it into, I hope no linguists or list to this, cuz they’ll say he just did a really rough job with it from K to 12, by the time a kid gets to university, they gotta have around 80,000 words, 15 to 18,000 word families, 10,000 of these words are gonna be these heavier academic words. And these words that we get taught directly the next 20,000 are gonna be words that we hear in context through good conversation. And this last 40,040 to 50,000 are gonna be words that you have through your experiences and deeper and wider reading. Hmm. So the more you read, the more you experience, the better it’s gonna make your vocabulary and linguists won’t always agree on a lot.


Dr. Adam Browning (20:12):
I think most to them would agree that a kid’s early vocabulary is probably gonna be the best predictor of their academic success. And so, you know, I was speaking to a mentor of mine and saying, well, if only 10,000 are these first ones, the words that were taught explicitly, but the rest are reading. Why do we focus on that, that vocabulary acquisition so much that explicit, direct vocabulary acquisition. And so I’ve spent a lot of time researching that and looking at that of just how do we get kids engaged in language? And I used to take this approach as a researcher of being more on the cognitive side of language, where you count on the amount of vocabulary, you profile students language, to look at it. So much of what I’m seeing now can easily be measured. Mm it’s like the engagement factor for a student to wanna learn about something that they’re engaged in.


Dr. Adam Browning (21:02):
So they show their own agency and their own interest to get into a subject. Doesn’t always have to be through reading. Sometimes it’s through video or other media forms. It’s powerful and it’s something that’s tougher to measure and it’s really changing the way I’m thinking. So here’s the experience part. I was in a, a session with a a friend of mine and I would almost say an informal mentor, but David Bouchard, the very well known Metty author and David, you know, has had a profound impact on because I’m met, you know, his area’s literacy. That’s my area. He is much more well known than I am, but you know, someone that I aspire to be like, and he said something to the audience and I felt like it was almost calling me out. And he said not, everyone’s gonna be a doctor and drive Mercedes.


Dr. Adam Browning (21:50):
And we all found that funny, but then he said it needs three things. They need a hero in literacy like that positive adult role model who makes them like learning. They need a, they need time and they need a good book. Not everything is easily measured. And remember when he was saying that I was in the midst of writing my doctorate dissertation and I’m thinking about counting words, and I still believe in that aspect, but he just really opened some doors for me to, to think about literacy differently. And so not everything’s that that’s shaping who I’m becoming as an educator is books I read, but it’s also experiences called conversations. They have a big impact.


Sam Demma (22:31):
And what experiences did you have as a student that also built the beliefs about servant leadership and social justice? Like where did that passion or where did that? Yeah. Where did that passion come from to also focus on that aspect of education? Not only as a teacher, but also maybe when you were a student,


Dr. Adam Browning (22:54):
It probably didn’t come in until high school, but it came in that one social studies class where, you know, the teacher was teaching us in a way about contemporary history where I didn’t have to read a textbook that I didn’t see myself reflected in. You know, I grew up you know, my mother’s met and my family’s met my met individual. And I remember learning about history and it being so far removed from what I knew of my mother’s background, you know, we used to learn about the met resistance and we would hear it be called insurrection and that Lou re was a trait. And it was just such a difficult learning path. And so to make history accessible and take ownership over it was that really tough part. And this one teacher where I felt so alienated as a student learning, especially from that cultural aspect, he had just made it open where I didn’t have to read from a textbook.


Dr. Adam Browning (23:47):
I could go and find other things. And he’d challenge you. He’d tell you go to the public library and pick up sources that you wanted read on a topic. I mean, he, let me read Malcolm X. It changed my life, reading that book. That’s awesome. And you know, very much, even though Malcolm X was in teacher, brought me into education, I felt really empowered to learn about different topics and just to see the power of the pen and what learning can do to advance a social cause. And that’s really, I’d probably say the fundamental moment where I saw that difference I could make in education, but just the power of information and the access to information. Mm


Sam Demma (24:28):
That’s a great book. I love Malcolm X’s autobiography. There’s a part where talks about one of his first jobs being shoe shining along with hustling, but that, yeah, this that’s so cool. When you’re talking about this teacher, it instantly makes me think of my own world issues teacher. Like the teacher hand is down that had the biggest impact on me was my, his class was called world issues, but I guess it was social studies and he also didn’t have a textbook. In fact, he just had this white binder that had probably close to three or 4,000 sheets of paper in it. And he started the semester by walking in front of the class and saying, I wanna introduce myself, but I also wanna say, don’t listen or take word by word anything that I’m gonna tell you as the truth. If something makes you interested or curious, I want you to go and verify all the facts yourself.


Sam Demma (25:20):
And I remember being a student thinking this guy’s crazy. Like he’s the teacher, you know? But then it started to make so much sense and it became my most enjoyable class. You know, you talked about earlier, the idea of your student or your teacher making lessons accessible as well and making you feel culturally, and also just overall included in the, in the class. He was someone who would get to know us on, on such a, a level that he would teach a lesson and then say, oh, Sam, by the way, to you, this means X and oh, Adam to you, this lesson means X and oh, Koon to you because you’re interested in X, Y, and Z. This means X. And he would take the lesson and paint it with our interests so that we become interested in it. And I’ll never, yeah, I’ll never forget his class.


Sam Demma (26:10):
And he was someone who led by example, but without telling you, you know, I didn’t know that while I was in school, Mike for the past 24 years, ran the food drive and helped you know, bring a million pounds of food and goods to local shelters or that he collected enough pop, can tabs to build a eight wheelchairs and no one, he didn’t talk about it, but he would just, you know, he would teach his lessons, was super passionate about the content and then would be doing all this great work and living out what he thought was a, was a great life. And he’s retired now. And I’m curious to know well actually wanna wrap this up, but on two final notes, when you, when you retire know and you’re not that old, so hopefully got some years left , but, but when you step away from, you know, teaching, what is the legacy that you wanna leave or the, the impact you wanna leave behind. And then I’ll ask you one follow up question before we wrap up.


Dr. Adam Browning (27:07):
I got a ton of thoughts I wanna leave behind. I think the biggest thing that I’ve tried to leave behind right now, and no I’m not ready to retire, and it’s not even an age until I see that. I mean, I’ve wanted a number of students to just go on and come back and share their success and see enough of it that they’re making that change in the world, either becoming educators or just being passionate about something. And I don’t, I, I feel it and I see it, but I haven’t coming off. And that’s really the Testament to the work that you do is that kid in kindergarten, grade one who come back and they see you and you see that they’re just doing something wonderful. And they let you know, the more I see of that I might get there. And I haven’t been in education long enough to see enough of that.


Dr. Adam Browning (27:47):
Nice. I’m starting to see students of mine who become teachers, and I’m starting to see teachers of mine who are becoming administrators. And I’m proud of it. Think on one of my last schools, you know, the staff, at least three of those people have become administrators. And I just feel like that’s something that I want to continue to see. So now I’m focused really on building leadership opportunities for people to become leaders in various capacities. That’s something that I want to see behind that I’ve created this ongoing system of sincere leaders and learners who are giving back to the, to the community. And I think that I hope I lead behind a Testament of literacy where so much of what we do is just having students engage in positive literacy experiences. And I remember as a student going to the library and picking up things that I wasn’t necessarily connected in class, but I was connected to ideas and to have someone who can value that, and then just encouraged that, that literacy learning or students creating things and those natural opportunities for it. I would like to leave that behind on a system where we celebrate literacy, we don’t just measure it. That’s something I’m looking forward to leaving behind


Sam Demma (28:59):
You. You made me think about what, what informal path I took to start liking literacy or just books and reading as well. I’ll share really quickly. I hated reading. growing up. You couldn’t get me to read a book. I just, I was too focused on soccer and sports. And it was when I was 16 years old and got diagnosed with a condition in my hip known as FAI. It stands for ephemeral acid, tabular impingement, essentially the head of my femur wasn’t round. Then it was tearing up the cartilage in my right hip. And I just got diagnosed with it. I was taking six months off soccer. And while I was taking the time off, I told my dad, I wanted to build a gym in my basement. And he said, great, I’ll help you pick up the equipment, but you have to find a way to pay for it.


Sam Demma (29:44):
And so I started a Salvato grass, cutting service, and started cutting my neighbors lawns and awesome. I started flipping gym equipment on Kijiji. I’d buy rusted plates, you know, scratch them with an iron brush to get the rust off spray, paint them, sell them for full price. I was pretty excited about it. And you know, after a couple, once I had enough money to blast some equipment and I found a gym that was closing down in Toronto, and I connected with the person, we agreed on a price. I got my dad to deliver on his promise and drive me to downtown Toronto. And, you know, I spent 45 minutes going up and down these flights of stairs, grabbing these dumbbells. And I was just having a conversation with the guy who sold it to me and asking him, oh, why are you was in your gym?


Sam Demma (30:22):
And he was like, you know, I have this dream and vision to coach people. And I’m writing this book right now. And he, you know, went down this long explanation of how he’s changing his life. And he’s super inspired by different work. And he’s like, oh, do you like reading? And I was like, no, you know, I, I, I actually, he hate reading. I don’t read too much. And he was like, oh, you should read a couple books. In fact, you know, maybe start with these. And he gave me a short little list and I remember being inspired because I kind of looked up to this guy. He seemed like a very cool individual. He was selling me Jim equipment. So I thought, you know what, I’m gonna give this a shot. And I remember going to indigo and buying, you know, two or three of the books on the list and reading them, not understanding too much of the books because they were not, they were self-help books and they weren’t really related to anything I was experiencing or going through in my life.


Sam Demma (31:13):
So it was a little out of context, but I remember reading them and thinking, wow, this is pretty cool. And I ended up making value village, a thrift store, my biggest bookstore. And, you know, if you buy I four books to get the fifth one free and I would go there every couple months and buy some new books anyways, I’m going on a long path to say that I think sometimes students get inspired to read and to get more involved with literacy when it’s coming from someone outside of the actual educational system or walls, because when their teacher tells ’em to do it, maybe it’s not so cool. But when someone you look up to does, it’s a different story, you know? But yeah, that was my experience. Anyways. I think what you mentioned about leaving behind is, is awesome. And now, if, if I could ask you the reverse question and take you back to your first year of teaching, knowing what you know now, you know, based on the experiences you’ve had and the learnings you had, what advice would you give your younger self when you were just starting? If you could give yourself a handful of pointers,


Dr. Adam Browning (32:16):
I would tell myself to take the time to walk around and see what’s working. Right. I moved into administration really quick, and I felt this to challenge right off the bat to help every student and to help every teacher in education. And so rarely in the day, you know, when you’re dealing with, especially my current role, I end up dealing with lots of issues. But that’s always been that case throughout education. I think I would go back and I remind myself to find opportunities to see what is working, right. So that you’re not just, you know, immersed in issues because there’s so many success stories that are out there in schools, whether it’s a student, that’s doing something excellent or a passion that they have. And if you’re focused too much on the on challenges, sometimes you miss those, those opportunities. Mm.


Dr. Adam Browning (33:01):
And so I’d tell a younger, less patient version of myself. I give ’em the grasshopper speak and speech and say, this is something that, you know, you’re gonna come to learn. And, and I would’ve tried, I probably wouldn’t have been ready to hear it at the time, but I would’ve learned, I would’ve stated that. And just to your point, I think that, you know, we all need to do that. I think back in myself as a student, I can’t remember how many books I read that were part of a course that were something that I remember fundamentally, as you know, this was that book that really made me love literacy. And so we talked about things that I’m reading that have influenced me. I read a ton of stuff in my field. Some of it’s great. I, I don’t know if it’s always that book that really influenced me, but I can think back to grade nine to a book that I read, that wasn’t part of the course or any class.


Dr. Adam Browning (33:49):
And I was a struggling learner, but I was reading things. And I think if we find opportunities for students about things that they’re reading or things that they’re passionate about, that they can connect with literacy multimedia literacy, if we can find that and bring it into school so that it’s not the other way around, we can just push those opportunities even sooner so that when you’re out there shopping for something and you’re looking, and you’ve gone and purchased these books at indigo, like your experience, because it was something that you were interested in, let’s bring that into school. Yeah. And then find a way for you to connect that to a subject that you’re working. I find that too often, we’re too regimented on what kids should learn, read, and not giving enough flexibility. And if we don’t do that, students may not have those opportunities to have like a sincere learning experience and a celebration. And it’s just a missed opportunity. So we need to bring more of that in. I appreciate you sharing that. That’s awesome.


Sam Demma (34:42):
Yeah, of course. Well, one more thing to share before we wrap up, I’ve started thinking a lot about what influences and inspires young people recently. And when I get to the heart of it, a lot of it comes down to music and art. I think like every student, no matter if they listen to different genres, all love and listen to some form of music. And, and I’m speaking on behalf of myself, which is a little biased, but I think in high school, we all have certain rappers or musicians or pop stars or rock bands that we like listening to and are inspired by. So I thought, wouldn’t it be cool if I could try and inspire students to deepen their learnings or think about new things through a different art. And so I’ve been, and speaking, you know since I was 17 and just recently decided, let me try a different form of art. And so I’m writing a spoken word album and it’ll come out in the middle of 20, 22, it’s gonna be called dear high school me, and it’ll be all about conversations and challenges. I went through as a, as a high school student in the hopes that this different form of literacy might inspire other conversations or, you know, learnings. So we should connect again, closer to that. I would love to share with you and see what your thoughts are.


Dr. Adam Browning (35:51):
I’d love to take a look at it. That sounds, that sounds great. See lots of students doing that. I mean, I wish I had that opportunity in school, and I’m glad that you have that and hopefully more students do, but I’m looking forward to seeing that. Cool.


Sam Demma (36:03):
Cool. Well, Adam, thank you so much for taking the time outta your day to come on the show. I really appreciate it. If anyone’s listening, people are listening for those who are listening what would be the best way for them to reach out if they, if, if they wanna engage in a conversation with you?


Dr. Adam Browning (36:19):
I’m on Twitter, @AdamLBrowning on Twitter, easy to find and says educator. And that’s probably the best way or just Palliser Schools division; that’s where I work.


Sam Demma (36:30):
Okay, perfect. All right, Adam, thank you so much. Stay in touch and keep up with the great work.


Dr. Adam Browning (36:34):
Thanks Sam.


Sam Demma (36:35):
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; 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 Adam Browning

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.

Lewis Keys – Lead Child & Youth Coordinator California National Guard

Lewis Keys – Lead Child & Youth Coordinator California National Guard
About Lewis Keys

Lewis Keys (@thejoelkeyssr) is a Texas native that comes with over 10 years of experience working as a Youth Development Professional. He specializes in the areas of teen engagement, family enrichment, and activities programming.

Now a resident of Sacramento, CA, he serves in a senior-level leadership position providing resources and programming to military families throughout the State of California. Lewis truly believes that “connection with today’s youth is built by healthy transparency from those who lead them”.

Connect with Lewis: Email | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Upward Bound Program for High School and Middle School students

Boys and Girls Club of Greater Sacramento

California Guard – Youth Programs

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 I have the awesome privilege of interviewing Lewis Keys. I had the amazing opportunity to work with him and his youth over at the California national guard for a six week program over the summertime. And he actually, you know, was open to the idea of coming on the show to share a little bit about his own experiences working with young people and his journey in a leadership position working with youth. Lewis is a Texas native that comes with over 10 years of experience working as a youth development professional.


Sam Demma (01:10):
He specializes in the areas of teen engagement, family enrichment and activities programming. Now a resident of Sacramento, California, he serves in a senior level leadership position providing resources and programming to families throughout the state of California. Lewis truly believes that connection with today’s youth is built by healthy transparency from those who lead them. For more information, I’ll drop Lewis’ contact information in the bio of this episode so stay tuned for that, but enjoy the episode and I will see you on the other side. Lewis, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show all the way from California . Why don’t you start by sharing a little bit behind your own journey and how you got into the work you’re doing today with young people?


Lewis Keys (01:56):
Well, right on man. Well, Sam, first off, man, it’s a pleasure man to be here. I’m excited to have gotten to, to have known you so far, man, and, and an honor to be here on this podcast. But man, how I got started, it started back in 2010, and I was working with a program called upward bound in back in college. It was a summer program for high schoolers; well, middle schoolers and high schoolers who wanted to get, you know, 6-8 weeks of the college experience per se on campus and stuff like that. And so, you know, I worked that I was a, a activity leader for, for that, and that was fun. It was great and I realized like, you know, I had a knack for, you know, reaching young people, you know, and talking to them and meeting them right where they were and understanding that they aren’t, that they aren’t, you know, just troubled kids per se, but they are young people that need older guidance.


Lewis Keys (02:59):
and so I, I came to realize that and again, over the years I’ve worked with various youth organizations, the boys and girls clubs, great organization. I worked with other smaller organizations I’m originally from Texas. So I worked in community organizations in Dallas. So that was fun obviously. And then I made a move here to California continued to work the boys and girls club. And now I work with military youth. And so it’s been a journey it’s been good. So that’s kind of how I got my start.


Sam Demma (03:32):
Did someone inspire you when you were a young person or did some, did you have an older human being that gave you wisdom when you were a young person?


Lewis Keys (03:42):
You know, it was, it was a lot of different people from football coaches, baseball coaches family, friends relatives, you know men, men that I looked up to that were really encouraging, even women, you know, who were super encouraging and, and saw potential and said, Hey, you, you have something great. You know, don’t lose it. But I think the most pivotal inspiration was my aunt. She told me I was probably about 14 and I was sitting in my, my, I was at my grandfather’s house and I was in the back room and I was watching TV and she said, come here. And I walked over to, but I walked over there with my head kind of slumped down, you know, head down, just kind of slow, whatever she said, stop. She said, pick your head up. And I said, okay. She said, pick your head up. She said one, we don’t walk with our head down. We’re not gonna walk with our head down. We want you to see where you’re going. Right. And she was speaking obviously with vision and stuff like that for the future, but she was like, you know, pick your head up. But then the next thing she said, I want you to tell you, I wanna tell you something. She said, never forget your influence.


Sam Demma (04:48):
Mm.


Lewis Keys (04:49):
And she told me that and I never forgot it. And I remember, and I always keep that with me that no matter who I’m talking to or whether it be young, you know, young kids or whether it be, you know, adults, other adults, no matter I go, I always remember her words, you know, remember your influence. And so that is that, that I would say that’s the one person who really inspired me a lot.


Sam Demma (05:14):
Speaking in front of any group of people, young or old is a huge responsibility because of that fact you have influence or over them, you know, how do you make sure that your messaging and your programs that you have run are helping students and influencing them in, in positive ways?


Lewis Keys (05:34):
I look at it I’ll be honest. I, I take a look and I say, what would I have wanted when I was their age? Hmm. You know, I put myself back in their shoes and say, what would I have wanted and also needed. Right. for example, you know, I, we try to do, I try to make sure we do career prep, college prep, things, also exposing them to entrepreneurship. I try to make sure we expose them to financial literacy, you know, things like that. I, cause I say to myself again, what would I have? What did I need at that age? And what would I have wanted?


Sam Demma (06:07):
Mm that’s a really good way to look at it. And you know, I want to go back to 10 years ago when you first initially started I’m sure like, like yourself and anyone who does something new for the first time, it’s a little bit challenging and it’s a little bit different. Did you have any experiences or road bumps along the way that you really learned from as a youth worker?


Lewis Keys (06:27):
Yeah. Yes. And that, that particular challenge came in the form of you can’t beat too familiar with those you lead. And so I had to understand that though, I though I had enjoyed having fun with the kids and we played and we did different activities and games. They had to still view me as a, an authority figure as a leader. Right. And I had to mature as a leader. So that definitely a roadblock that I, that I had to grow into that I had to learn and I had to develop that skill.


Sam Demma (07:05):
Yeah. Well, could you, if you don’t mind, if it isn’t too much to ask, can you tell me a little more about the experience or and if it’s you know, some names you can change the names or, you know, just to keep it private


Lewis Keys (07:16):
Of course. No, no, of course, man. I was, I know, especially really I’d say, I, I didn’t, I didn’t catch it about 20, about 2010, but it really caught up to me about 2012 or 2013. When I worked the boys and girls club, I was in Dallas and worked at a particular club down there and I’d gotten to know the youth, you know, I, I had probably out of college graduating under undergrad, maybe a few months. Yeah. You know, so I wasn’t too far removed from still being a student. Right. And I was a graduate student at the time. And so I was only five, six years, you know, separated from some of these kids in aged. And so I found myself doing activities that were fun with them. And I remember doing some activities that were really fun and we had days and days out where I would joke with some of the kids and, and laugh and we’d play.


Lewis Keys (08:11):
And I remember one time where I knew that there had to be a line to be drawn. We were on our way to a, a, a program that evening could all collegiate steps. And that’s where you take some of your older high school seniors, or your whole older high school kids, sophomores, juniors, and seniors, and you get them exposed to different things, preparing them for college. Mm. And I remember that evening on the way there having one young man, I won’t say his name, but having one young man, he just, you know, he was one of the ones that I would always joke with laugh and he would go back and forth. But this particular night he was, he was being a little bit extra, as we would say, he was doing a little bit more than, than most. Yeah. cause he just, you know, he saw me as a friend, so he just kept going and kept going. And even while we were there collegiate steps, I’m like, Hey, stop talking. You’re playing too much. He would dismiss me, man, whatever, whatever, whatever. Mm. And I remember, I remember that night I had to have a very good, good, good, good talk. A very good talk. And I’m to said like that, I had to have a very stern talking to with him and letting him know like the way you acted tonight was completely outta bounds. Mm.


Lewis Keys (09:25):
You were completely outta line. You, you were, you weren’t listening to nobody, you know, you weren’t doing any of this and it wouldn’t be, I would be well within my right to suspend you from the club or whatever. And then he said something to me. He said, well, it’s not my fault that you act like one of us.


Sam Demma (09:43):
Mm.


Lewis Keys (09:44):
And it was, it was a chin check. I had to take it Sam. Honestly, I had to take it right on the chin because it was it right. Then it taught me that you can’t lead them and also be a among them. Mm. And so I had to take that into consideration. And then from that moment on, I changed the way I approached programming, the way I approached leadership, the way I approached getting to know kids. And I learned that you have to establish a boundary up front of, I am in charge and I’m here to, to encourage you and lead you. Right. But I am not one to be messed with. I am not your friend. Right. I am one to help to the next level. And so that was definitely an experience I had to I had to take you with me. I went home that night, not, I mean, it was in my mind, just replant and replant to grow from that experience. I had to learn from it.


Sam Demma (10:40):
Thank you for sharing. First of all, and being vulnerable to share the whole story. I appreciate it. And I’m sure all the educators listening right now. Appreciate it also. And you know, being 21 myself, I sometimes feel like students might feel as though I’m just like them. And there might be a blurring of boundaries in certain situations. So hearing you say this now is kind of making me think how I can apply it to my own situations when I’m working with young people as well. So I, I appreciate you sharing. How do you think we bridge that gap between being relatable, but also being the leader? You know, like those are, they seem like they’re two separate things, but I feel like we can bridge them. Like how do we actually practically do that?


Lewis Keys (11:18):
It’s one, one word transparency.


Sam Demma (11:21):
Mm


Lewis Keys (11:23):
It’s one word transparency. You have to be obviously have boundaries, obviously. Well, two words, boundaries and transparency. One, you set boundaries, which you do at the beginning. You say, Hey, I am, I am here to lead. I’m here to encourage, I’m here to help push you to the next level. But also people don’t con connect with someone they aren’t, they don’t feel connected to, they won’t connect unless they feel like you can relate to me. And how can, how can I, as a I’m I’m, I’m 32, right. As you consider, you know? Right. but I’m , but I’m, I’m 32. Yeah. And how can a 17 year old feel connected to a 32 year old through experiences? Mm. Me being vulnerable about and, and transparent about my experiences. You may have experienced, you know, you may be that 17 year old may be experiencing a time where they’re ensuring themselves.


Lewis Keys (12:17):
They’re not confident as whether it be as a athlete or as a singer, as a writer, as a, a, a musician or whatever as a leader. Well, I can take you back to what, 2006, when I felt UN not confident as a athlete when I had scholarships, but I wasn’t what I wanted to take. When I felt, when I dropped the ball, you know, all these different things, sharing our transparent stories, right. Because stories are what connects us. Right. If you think, look at human history, everything we know most of what we know about human history is passed down through stories. Yeah. And so I think it’s a, it’s being trans parent about our stories, right. Within the bounds of obviously keeping it appropriate of course, by being transparent about our stories and seeing how we can encourage them and bridge that gap so that they can say so that that young person can say, wow, okay. Yeah, they may be older, but that here it is. But they understand


Sam Demma (13:13):
Story are universal. Right. I, I think that’s why it’s so important that we share them. You know, if a teacher’s listening right now, how would you recommend they share their stories with their kids? Like how do you usually share your personal experiences with your programs and with your students to make sure they can build that relatability?


Lewis Keys (13:31):
Of course. I, if anybody’s listening, if you, you wondering how, how you can set that up, I would say it starts with environment first with the setting. You, I wouldn’t say, try to try to share your stories while they’re taking a standardized test. Yeah.


Sam Demma (13:45):
not the sound,


Lewis Keys (13:47):
Not really the, not really the moment. Yeah. But set it up, set up your environment, set up the setting where it’s comfortable letting some boundaries be known saying, Hey, we’re gonna keep this thing appropriate, but Hey, I want us to have an open space today. I want us to have some free talk today. Right. Cause a lot of times, you know, we say, okay, well we have to get the programming done. We have to get the lesson in or whatever, but it’s okay to pause for about 45 minutes and say, Hey, let’s, let’s have some moments to share. You can set it up. It can be something that is on go. It could be twice a week. You know, things like that, setting up moments and times where they can share and, and what they’re going through. And of course with teenagers and even with younger kids, they’re not gonna tell you everything that’s going on.


Lewis Keys (14:30):
Right. But asking those filler questions, how you, how you guys feeling what’s been going on with you guys, what’s happening. I do a thing. Something that I do is called high, low time. And so we do high, low time. I do with some I I’ll I’ll ask, Hey, we’re gonna do some high, low time. And what high, low time is, is that tell us some highs from your week, some positive things, some great things, some good things that happened. Some things that you saw or you were like, yo I’m I really, I was really appreciating that, but then tell us some lows, some things that you didn’t like, some things that happened that weren’t so positive. Right? And so what that does is that begins to open up, right? The can so that they can begin to, you know, start to unpack some things. And you’ll be surprised how many kids will start to look forward to high, low time, because they’ll get a chance to unpack stuff.


Sam Demma (15:16):
And other people in their life might not be asking them those same questions or willing to hear it or not even be aware of it. Whereas when it’s an outside source, it’s almost like a strange ally, right? They they’re, you’re there to support, but you’re not a family member or a friend. And I think that makes a huge difference. You do this in class, like during the sessions we do on Friday at the beginning of the last one you asked, tell us some highs, tell us some lows and students are sharing question for you. Why military youth now you’ve progressed in, you know, worked with many different young people. Now you’re with the California guard, what’s brought you to, to this specific, or what’s called you to this specific group of kids.


Lewis Keys (15:57):
You know, I honestly think that there is a need and I think there’s one a need. But also I think that powers beyond myself understood that COVID was coming and that, you know, I, I think we’re all called for a certain time and for a certain season and certain places. Yeah. And I believe that where I am now I was needed here for this particular time for COVID happening, right. For pre COVID because here I am, you know, this guy that used to work with, with, with and girls club youth and, and you know, kids in impoverished neighborhoods and, you know, coming from, you know, an impoverished neighborhood myself relating to that, to now working with military youth, you know, some of these youth, they, they may not even understand like, wait, what, I don’t, I don’t get this. I don’t get that.


Lewis Keys (16:50):
What are you talking about? And I think it is been, it’s been a, a good experience, but I think being here now what’s brought, it, brought me here. Now it is opening up perspectives mm. For our kids opening up perspectives. Because a lot of times, you know, depending on where we’re brought up, where we’re raised, what we do, we see the world one way mm-hmm . And I think that I have been privileged since being here to expose our military youth here statewide to things that that are different than their surroundings, different than their, what they’re used to. Right. They see things differently. And I think exposing them to some, some, some realities and, and some different things here of, of the, not just the state, but in the world. And I think it’s been a, it’s been an encouragement. It’s been a benefit, not only to our youth, but not only to our program, but even to some of our leaders, you know, they tell us, thank you just for what you share and what you offer. So yeah,


Sam Demma (17:50):
Love that. Love that. Thank you so much for sharing a little more about the program and what brought you here now? Where do you see yourself in like five or 10 years? , it’s a, sometimes it’s a tough question, but where, where do you see yourself in five, 10 years,


Lewis Keys (18:05):
Man? I, I honestly see. I, you know, I truly see that, you know, I’ll progress in other ways, whether it be speaking abroad in different places. I, I definitely see myself leading leading a, whether it be a, in a church setting, whether it be a, a, like I said, religious setting in that, in that aspect, but then also, but I also see myself obviously, different business ventures, all these different things, but I above all, I see myself taking care and loving on people still. I see myself to love on people.


Sam Demma (18:42):
I love that. That’s awesome. Cool. Lewis, thank you so much for taking the time today to come on the show and just chat a little bit about your philosophies and how you approach your programming with these young people in these programs. If someone wants to reach out to you and have a conversation, what would be an email they could, you know, reach you at or the best way to get in touch?


Lewis Keys (19:04):
Sure, sure. If you guys reach out to me, you can reach out to my personal email; it’s lewis.keys@yahoo.com. So reach out, love to hear from you.


Sam Demma (19:32):
Lewis, thank you so much again for coming on the show. I can’t wait for the next week session and we’ll talk soon.


Lewis Keys (19:39):
All right, Sam. Much appreciated, thank you brother.


Sam Demma (19:41):
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 Lewis Keys

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.

Barrie Walsh – Retired math teacher in the Halifax Regional Centre for Education

Barrie Walsh - Retired math teacher in the Halifax Regional Centre for Education
About Barrie Walsh

Barrie Walsh (@bwalsh125) has been teaching math for more than forty-four years in the Halifax Regional Centre for Education. Barrie has won awards, including Teacher of the Year, three times at Sir John A. Macdonald High School, now Bay View High School. Although officially retired for several years, Barrie continues to assist students with math every day. Barrie spends all of his time at Five Bridges Jr. High. He works as a substitute but volunteers about one hundred days each year when needed.

During his early COVID days, Barrie set up a video studio in his home so that he could give extra help to students wherever they live through an online setup using Google Classroom. In the early days of his career, he would make home visits to get students caught up. Barrie has a core of beliefs that he believes make him a highly effective teacher. His beliefs emphasize continual patience, kindness, apology, vulnerability, and reflective thinking.

Connect with Barrie Walsh: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Halifax Regional Centre for Education

Five Bridges Junior High School

Website from the University of California greater good website

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Barrie Walsh

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.

Carl Cini – Principal at Iona Catholic Secondary School (DPCDSB)

Carl Cini - Principal at Iona Catholic Secondary School (DPCDSB)
About Carl Cini

Carl Cini (@cjrpc55) is the Principal at Iona Catholic Secondary School in Mississauga. He began his career at Loyola CSS in 1995. Since then, Carl has been a Law, History and Economics teacher at St. Joseph CSS and St. Edmund Campion CSS. Upon moving to administration, he was a vice principal at Our Lady of Mount Carmel CSS, John Cabot CSS and St. Joan of Arc CSS before becoming a Principal.

During the past 27 years, it has been a pleasure to mentor students to see them grow in so many ways. Carl is focused on provided a variety of opportunities for students to grow into well rounded adults. He can be seen in the gym, on the field, in the audience, driving the bus and visiting classrooms to see students in action. He celebrates the success of every student. Carl firmly believes that we only as successful as our students and teachers, and with that in mind, reaches each individual in the way that student and teacher will best learn.

Connect with Carl Cini: Email | 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

Iona Catholic Secondary School in Mississauga

St. Edmund Campion Catholic Secondary School

St. Joseph Catholic Secondary School

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):
Carl welcome to the high performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Please start by introducing yourself.


Carl Cini (00:10):
My name is Carl Cini and I am the principal of Iona Catholic Secondary School in Missassauga.


Sam Demma (00:17):
At what point in your educational journey did you realize you wanted to be in?


Carl Cini (00:26):
Well, when I was in university, when I first went to university, I thought, you know, I’m gonna go into business and go make money and all of those things and the more and more I took courses, well, I took my first business course. I didn’t like it, so that didn’t help. And and then the, the more and more I started, you know, doing things around campus and, and the courses that I was taking, I did some volunteer were and some coaching. At that point I realized that that working with young people was gonna be my calling.


Sam Demma (00:52):
That’s amazing. When you say the things, when you say doing things around campus, what did that look like? Or what were the things you got involved with that made you realize this work was meaningful and something you really wanted to do?


Carl Cini (01:06):
Well, I had more to do with sort of hang on one second.


Sam Demma (01:11):
No worries.


Carl Cini (01:19):
When I was at university I was a tour guide. I was a mentor to like new people that came to my campus and did a little bit of peer tutoring. I was involved with with student council and and just, and then as I said, coaching, I was coaching basketball for young people and coaching a team in our, it was an as a competitive intermural league. And so I was there as well. And like I said, the more and more I got involved and the more and more I was talking to people in you know, in other years it just kind of made me think a little bit about some of the mentorship I didn’t get when I was in school and and thought that this would be a great opportunity for me to you know, to share my talents and to share my experience with other young people and to help them grow and develop.

Sam Demma (02:13):
Paint the picture. So you, you finish your degree or your teaching degree and what did the journey look like from there?

Carl Cini (02:22):
Okay. So, I mean, I will give even the journey, getting to teachers college was not an easy one. Yeah, please. It took a couple years for me to get into teach interest college and and even at the time it was very much based on marks and not so much on experience and other things. So I didn’t, I didn’t get in, I applied a couple times. I didn’t get in. I remember being at U of T and sitting in a meeting with all the other people that got rejected and being asked you know, being told, you know, if you have experience and, and you have decent marks, and this is your second time around, you know, you might wanna book a meeting with the registrar and see what’s happening. So I booked a meeting, I went into the meeting and the guy basically told me at the time, he said, you’re got good marks.

Carl Cini (03:08):
You got good experience. But your application just lacked, possess. Well, unfortunately at that point I kind of was like, okay, I came all the way down here and you tell me my application. And I kinda said to him, so if I put in old folders, I mean, it’s gonna be any better than it was. And I went on a bit of a tie rate to say that, you know, what your system is flawed. You can’t pick people so solely based on marks. And that, there’s lots of other things that, that encapsulate being a good teacher, but by the time it was all over, he’s like, oh, I guess we made a mistake. And then he let me in on they on appeal. Wow. And so I made it through teachers college, which was a phenomenal year. I, I was with some really, really great people. Interestingly in that year, all of us that were on student union were all students that got in on appeal.

Carl Cini (03:56):
I thought it was a bit of an interesting process back when that happened. And then, you know, and I graduated, I took a, a job at school by the water at Harbor front leading field trips in may and June. And then I got my, you know, I got on a Duffin peel, got called for a supply job the first day of school. And as they say, the rest is history. So they it was it was a bit of a journey.

Sam Demma (04:19):
You’re not the only one who’s had a journey going to education. Every educator has a different story. How did you pick yourself up and keep going when you were kind of facing those barriers or the nos and the rejections?

Carl Cini (04:37):
And I knew, I, I just knew that that’s what I wanted to do. Like they, they talk about education being a vocation or being a calling. And that’s exactly what it was like for me, it was like nobody was going to stop me from going to do it. Like, in fact, I mean, I would have, at that time when I was going through this you know, if we didn’t get an Ontario teacher’s college, there was always the option to go to the us to the Buffalo schools. And I have a number of who are excellent teachers who did their EDU, their education education in in Buffalo. So I was all set and ready to go to Buffalo and you know, had all my paperwork in and, and I did everything I needed to do to get in. And then I just happened to get in, in Ontario instead. So I chose you know, I always, to me anyways, it was, would’ve been better to to be in Ontario then to have to go to another jurisdiction. I had friends that went to Australia for teachers college. I mean, I was prepared to do and go wherever in order to, to go into, go into education.

Sam Demma (05:34):
Understood the willingness to do whatever it takes is something that I think is super important, not only in be coming an educator, but any path you choose to pursue in life. So I appreciate you sharing that little insight and story. What, what, so once you got accepted tell me more about the journey from the moment you got into education to where you are now.

Carl Cini (05:59):
So I originally at the, and again, this was like 94. At that time, I, I mean, I always wanted to be a high school, a high school teacher. However, I also knew that the jobs are few and far between for my qualifications. So my qualifications are in my degrees in economics and politics. So I didn’t really have great teachables to go into secondary plus at the time I know that there was a push to have more men hired into elementary schools. So I did my teacher’s education and junior intermediate. And because of my economics degree, I had quite a bit of math. So I was able to, to start to go through that, that angle. And so I went through and, you know, took my, my courses for English and history and intermediate. And then I continued through teacher’s college.

Carl Cini (06:47):
And then, like I said, when it was over, I I took it the, the best education job I could find, which was leading field trips. And then when I, I applied to almost every school board that I could think of I will say the only thing is I only applied to Catholic school boards. I did not apply to the public school boards. I mean, my education has been in Catholic schools. And, and even when I went to university, I went to Kings college at Western and I specifically chose a Catholic university to go to, because it, to me faith is, is a very important part of, of everything that we do. And so I did want to work in a Catholic school board. So I applied to all of them, ended up getting a position at Duffin peel. And, and again, at that time, you used to have to check a box as to what you wanted to supply teach for, whether it be for areas in elementary, secondary, or for French. So I just checked on up all the boxes. And then on the first day of school, I got a call from a high school that they needed me to come into supply teach. And again, I was there supplying for about the first three weeks before I got my first LTO job at Loyola. And it’s been fantastic.

Sam Demma (07:56):
You mentioned you took the best job you could get in education and they, it was leading field trips, which I think is amazing. When you just were starting out, what, what, what about leading field trips do you think was so special?

Carl Cini (08:11):
Oh, I, I thought it was great. I mean, first of all would be the outdoor part of it. We were outside all the time and the program was different depending on what grade we had and and what exactly the, the field trip was about. So there was certain themes with regards to the field trips, if I recall. And you know, a lot of it had to do with the history of Toronto and how Toronto developed. And, you know, we were, I remember showing pictures, standing on a parking garage and showing students pictures of what the Toronto skyline looked like in 1880, what it looked like in 1912, what it looked like in 1950. So students can see the growth and development of Toronto and just being able to work with different students from a whole variety of different grades. It also had me even have a better idea as to what I wanted to do when I, you know, sort of a grade that I might wanna teach when I get to when I get to schools. And then the other part, just the flexibility of the whole thing. You know, learning very clearly that you have to be flexible and you have to tailor your, your pedagogy and tailor what you do to the students who are before you at that specific time.

Sam Demma (09:15):
Understood, understood, and the different roles you’ve held in education which one has been the most meaningful for you. And I know it’s a difficult question to ask because they all provide such awesome experiences and can give you, you know, the opportunity and ability to make a very positive impact. But what’s your role, have you found the most, me meaningful or enjoyable as well personally?

Carl Cini (09:41):
Well, I think I might have to separate those two people and enjoyable. I mean, I really did enjoy being a classroom teacher and and I really loved it. And then I became a department head for canner world studies and, you know, being able to be in the classroom every day, I, I missed C tremendously. But I will, but then I will turn around and say that the most meaningful job I’ve had is the one that I’m in right now. Hmm. I think being a principal of the school it, it was interesting before I became an, like I told I did not wanna do this job. I remember scoffing at people who wanted to be principals at one time, cuz I’m like, why would you wanna be away from the kids that our job is to work directly with our students.

Carl Cini (10:20):
Yeah. And that, you know, to put yourself in those positions put, takes you away from that. And I reached the point in my career. I had an administrator who who kept pushing me to do, to become, you know, to go into administration. And and he made a comment to me where he said to me that, you know, when you’re in your classroom, you influence the students that are around you. And then you coach and you participate. And, you know, your 90 students are a hundred, maybe whatever, 120 students every day that you get to influence. And when you move into a leadership position, you influence more and more and more students. Cause I mean, as a, as a classroom teacher, not every student’s gonna have you, not every student is gonna be in your class. And I mean, I know that I sat at graduations and, you know, when we had some really big graduating classes at 400, 450 students and they’d be walking across stage and I’m like, I don’t know who that kid is.

Carl Cini (11:10):
I’ve never seen that kid before. Mm. Because they did, you know, they didn’t take the classes that I taught. They didn’t, you know, or maybe they did. And then I wasn’t their teacher or, or they didn’t participate in the co-curricular activities that I supervised. So I, I couldn’t know them all. But, but then as you continue to grow and you continue to move into leadership, not only do you influence more students, but you also get to influence the teachers and you influence the systems and the runnings of the school so that everybody is impacted by. So you get to increase your impact on the, you know, on the number of, of individuals as you move into leadership positions. And, and that I think is incredibly, incredibly meaningful as a principal. And even talking to my other principal colleagues where, you know, we will call each other when we’re having the dilemma and how we’re gonna deal with this, or how we’re gonna deal with that. And you know, and then again, you’re also being able to have an impact on even other schools that you’re not even really a part of, because you can be part of those conversations on a, on a, on a more broader scale,

Sam Demma (12:14):
Such a good point. You bring up, you also get to witness probably from a bird’s eye view, how different programs and bigger initiatives are impacting the whole school, like school culture. And you probably get to from a, another large perspective bird’s eye view, see how students are being impacted by these programs as, as well. Have you over the past, you know, dozen years you you’ve been working or more than a dozen years over your whole you know, career, have you witnessed programs that you’ve brought into schools or that your teachers brought into schools have an impact on the students? And can you remember any of those stories of student who is very transformed by something in the school? That kind of is a hopeful story. I think these types of stories during a difficult time remind educators, why the work they do is so important. And I’m wondering if you have any that come to mind.

Carl Cini (13:08):
I mean, there’s a number of, of programs that that I’ve been able to be a part of. And, and I have to say, say, I can’t take credit for any of these programs because I never did them by myself. It always requires a team approach in which to do that. And I know that as a, you know, this is my 15th year as an administrator that my role is, is in supporting what teachers do, because my other thing with any program is any program has to have legs programs, have to outlive you the person and have to outlive the people who do it because they’re gonna change. So whether they move schools or not, every student deserves that, that kind of quality programming, regardless of the person who is in front of them to deliver it, or whoever happens to lead their school or not.

Carl Cini (13:50):
So I’ve always been very cognizant of trying to make sure that whatever it is that we run is something that’s gonna have a long, you know, a longer standing tradition or legacy if you wish you know, moving forward. So, I mean, an example, one of the schools I was in, they had a program for the students that were in that were taking locally developed classes. So these are some reluctant learners or students that had some learning disabilities. And, and the program was set up. It was, I thought it was a phenomenal program and I was happy to be a part of it to help, to support that where students would take so courses would be paired up. So students would do religion and the learning strategies class and they would do it all year long. So it’d be the same teacher teaches both those courses, but it was all year long.

Carl Cini (14:37):
And then the other was science and math. So in period one and two, those students were together. They, we were able to take courses instead of teaching them in a semester, we were able to teach them over the course of the full year. And then as the day progressed you know, they ended up being able to take their elective classes. And a lot, a lot of leadership was put into those classes because it was the same the same four teachers over the course of the whole year that were working with those students with academic resource you know, we were able to spread the curriculum out and by doing that, we could fit in more leadership opportunities. And there were many of those students who may not have been college bound who ended up being college bound because of the program.

Carl Cini (15:20):
You know, I always find it interesting. I mean, we really don’t know the impact of the programs that we ha that we develop or that we put in place for students until almost years later. So I mean, I remember meeting a student from that program. I was at the grocery store and the student was there and the student came up to me and said, Hey, sir, do you remember me? And, you know, again, I, I get good, I’m good with faces, but sometimes after a certain amount of time, you can only keep so many names in your head. So, you know, I said, you know, yeah, I REM I do remember you, but I’m sorry. I don’t remember your name student told me their name. And they had said like, what a transformative, what a great support they felt in that program at that school. And that they, that I think they’re is now they’re an electrician and that they never would’ve been able to do that, or even have the confidence to continue to go forward and run their own business if they weren’t in that program to start off with,

Sam Demma (16:11):
Wow, it’s, it’s such a cool thing to reflect on because there’s so many people listening to this who are probably considering education as a vocation, or who might feel like it’s the right thing for them to pursue. Or there could be some educators tuning in who have been burnt out by the challenges over the past couple of years. And I think at the heart of this work is the students and, you know, seeing them transform or seeing them resonate with an idea shared in class or seeing something that’s done in school support. Hello them. Oh, can you hear me? Hello? Hello? Hello. Oh, oh, there we go. Sorry. I must have cut out there for a second. Right? I’ll edit that part. No worries. I was just saying, thank you so much for sharing that story. I think at the heart of education is the students and for an educator listening, who is just considering getting into this vocation or who thinks it’s right for them, you know, what a great reminder that the work that you’re go going to be able to do can transform kids and change lives. And then what a great reminder to an educator who might be burnt out right now as to why this work is so important. What are, what are some of the challenges that your school community has faced over the past, you know, two years? And what are some of the opportunities that you think have come out of the times as well?

Carl Cini (17:33):
There’s been tons of challenges. COVID has forced us. And I think it’s, again, you’re right. It’s a challenge and an opportunity at the same time, because all of this, you know, the, the in and out, and sometimes we’re virtual, sometimes we’re not, you know, hybrid and all of those things what it has done is it’s forced us to re-look at what we do, how we do. So I’ll give you an example. When we first in that March of 2020, when we first went on lockdown and we had to, you know, start to move things to a to a virtual virtual platform. And I remember talking to specifically our math and science teachers and saying, you, we really need to have a look at that curriculum and you need to separate your curriculum into two categories, the must haves and the nice to haves.

Carl Cini (18:24):
And, you know, that was the beginning of, of starting to re-look at what we teach and how we teach it. And really how important is the stuff that we have done on a regular basis so that we can change it, not just to fit a different platform and a different delivery system because that’s also been the hard part. There are many teachers who have wonderful presence with kids and have relied on that presence you know, to forward and, and to move their program forward and be able to take a advantage of those teachable moments and, you know, and those connections that come from being in the same room as the te you know, teachers and students being in the same room. However, when we went to a virtual virtual mode of learning where students didn’t necessarily have their cameras on, there was a distance that took place.

Carl Cini (19:10):
You couldn’t see each other. I mean, and I mean, everybody knows this, that when you’re with someone in a room, the personal connection, and I guess, you know, again, not to the person with the vibes and the mojo that takes place between the connection between those two individuals is so different than when you’re trying to speak to somebody through a screen especially when that individual’s not necessarily responding. So again, it forced teachers to rethink, you know, how they do what they do. And, and that’s been a huge challenge because there’s, I mean, teachers love consistency. And and normally we work on predictability as there’s so many variables in EDU in teaching that they’re and things that we don’t know that can change the way we do what we do. You know, a big challenge, as well as the mental health of our students.

Carl Cini (19:55):
You know, the way that COVID hit the best I thing I saw was a was a cartoon. And it was circulating around quite a bit during COVID that we may all be in the same storm, but we’re all not in the same boat. And, you know, you’re in a yacht, or if you’re in a cruise ship, you’re gonna feel that a lot differently than if you’re bombing around on a piece of it. So, you know, depending on the situation that some of these students were in and, you know, some of them were taken out of their safe space for a lot of ’em school was the place where they were safe and where they grow. And it’s, it’s sad to say, but for some students, home is not a safe place, and yet they were forced to stay in that home and not go anywhere for an extended period of time.

Carl Cini (20:32):
So trying to teach whether it’s math or science or history to a student who has very, who is mentally not doing very well they’re not gonna learn a whole heck of a lot. So there was a lot of learning that had to take place amongst the, the teachers so that they could do things differently. And there was a lot more that we had to learn about our students. I mean, it was pretty personal when you, you think about the fact that you were in a student’s bedroom or in a student’s kitchen or in a student’s home that we would never have seen before.

Sam Demma (21:04):
Yeah.

Carl Cini (21:06):
A student at school.

Sam Demma (21:07):
Such a good point. It, the challenges are similar. I I’ve interviewed a lot of educators and, and the challenges are similar. And I was intrigued by the opportunity. You mentioned about the list of the must haves and the, maybe not as important things, but are things that we could change. Do you have any examples of things that actually changed or like things that were adjusted or, or analyzed or looked more closely at that you think are starting to shift?

Carl Cini (21:38):
Yeah. I mean, I look at our math curriculum is a big part of that, right? So again, the, the idea of going through this, this process of having, you know, the, the must haves and the nice to haves means that you have to know your curriculum top to bottom. So it kind of forced our math department to be able to see all the courses. So what’s the continuum. So, you know, if a kid happens to be taking grade nine or grade 10 academic math, you know, they can possibly go and take either 11 U math or they can take 11 M math. So then what are the really, really important skills that they need to the master in order for them to be successful at the next course? Hmm. So it, it did force a more global view of what it is that we were doing.

Carl Cini (22:17):
It also forced teachers, I think, to have a look at the curriculum documents and look at our overall expectations. So, I mean, again, math was a perfect example. They, I know in the grade 10 academic math, there were a number of of certain expectations around around, I think it was geometry that were, that were dropped because it’s like, well, they’re not gonna see this unless they happen to be taking a specific course in grade 12. Mm. So, you know, let’s, you know, do the things that they need to know the more number sense and, and factoring and, and things like that. I know science was the same. I and then, I mean, my, my subject area was history. And so I was speaking to our history teachers and trying to implore them to, you know, not spend all this time doing world war I and world war II.

Carl Cini (23:03):
And let’s get, you know, let’s start moving, maybe move that stuff a little bit farther down the line and or a little bit faster doing it a little bit faster so that we can get kids to see themselves in history curriculum. Which I think which more and more important considering they’re living a historical event. I mean, you know, even what we’re seeing right now. Yeah. How we taught that great tennis course forever. What we’ve just seen is really reliving the, the Winnipeg general strike and the lead up to the Winnipeg general strike in 1919. So, you know, all of that becomes more and more important in making sure that it’s connected to things that we’re doing now, instead of spending, you know, all kinds of time talking about, you know, maybe world war II battles or or spending, you know, additional time on the rise of the nineties and things like that that are still important. I mean, everything’s important, there, there’s, there’s no doubt that, that these pieces of content are important, but contextualizing it so that the student can see themselves in the curriculum becomes really important, especially when you don’t have all the tools that you would normally have in, in which the teacher program.

Sam Demma (24:02):
Yeah, totally agree. Not to mention the real time events like what’s occurring right now in Ukraine. Like things like that can be brought into the classroom and have such an impact or conversation, you know?

Carl Cini (24:15):
Yeah, definitely.

Sam Demma (24:16):
That makes total sense. That’s awesome. It’s cool to hear that things are shifting and changing and the opportunities are being looked at. If, if you could, if you could take all the experience you’ve had in education, kind of bundle it up, travel back in time, tap, you know, tap your younger self on the shoulder. And when you were just starting in education, knowing what you know now, what advice or feedback would you, would you give to yourself?

Carl Cini (24:45):
There’s a few things I think I would say to myself, I, I, I think the first one is the patient. There’s no rush. So I mean, even to go back what we talked about before, I mean our job, most of the time we are not going to see, we’re not always going to see the progress our students make. And particularly in our most difficult students, I mean, our job is to plant seeds and seeds, you know, germinate and they grow at a great, and so do the students that are in front of us, and yes, we’re gonna see students grow and develop, but we can’t focus all our energy on those because it makes us feel good to see that progress when it’s really the students who maybe we don’t see the progress at the same rate, who we’re probably doing the best work with and the ones that we really need to focus on.

Carl Cini (25:25):
So I would say, be patient, be patient with the students who, and their, their growth and development. Not everything has to be done right away be patient with yourself. You gonna make a lot of mistakes. And you know, there’s gonna be lots of things that you don’t know and you need to be kind to yourself and you need to be patient that you’re gonna be able to handle those things that, that come your way. I mean, there, one of the things that I’m hopefully other sure others have said the same to you before is, I mean, E education brings a lot of sleepless nights. Mm. And, and a lot of o’clock wake ups going, man, I probably could have handled that situation better. Or, you know, I could have, you know, maybe I should have said this to this student instead of that.

Carl Cini (26:04):
Or, you know what, I should have said this at this point, which would’ve maybe created a, a better aha moment for the student. And I did it. And, and all of that takes so much time in order in, in order to figure that out and to go through that. So I think the biggest advice I would give to myself or to any new educator is, is be patient. And then the other one I would say is ask for help. You’re not going is by yourself. You’re not going through it alone. I, I mean, when you’re coming in, in your first year teaching, and you’ve never taught a class before, you can’t know what, you know, when you’re 10 years in, or when you’re 15 years in, because all those experiences teach you how to navigate those situations. And, and there are people in your school and people who, you know, your whatever network that you’ve created, who have been through it before. So don’t be afraid to ask for help as well. You don’t have to know everything.

Sam Demma (26:57):
This isn’t again, only advice for education, but I like it’s such universal stuff. And I’ve appreciate you sharing that and like, reflecting back on your own experiences. This has been a phenomenal conversation. It’s already been 30 minutes. We’re getting close to the end here. If, if somebody listening wants to reach out, ask you a question, send you a note or a message. What would be the best way for them to get in contact with you?

Carl Cini (27:24):
The best way would be via email. My my board email account. carl.cini@dpcdsb.ca

Sam Demma (27:37):
Awesome. Carl, thank you so much for taking the time to come on the show. I really appreciate it. Keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon.

Carl Cini (27:45):
Thanks.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Carl Cini

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.

Natasha Bathgate – Director of Learning and Innovation at West Island College

Natasha Bathgate - Director of Learning and Innovation at West Island College
About Natasha Bathgate

Natasha Bathgate (@NLBathgate) is the Director of Learning and Innovation at West Island College, Calgary. An educator for 17 years, she is passionate about people, nature, and good design.

Natasha was born in Wales, emigrated to Canada in 2008, and lived in Vancouver for 10 years. Currently in Calgary with her husband and twins aged 10, Natasha is driven by a need for continuous growth, new experiences, and feeling strong.

Connect with Natasha: Email | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

West Island College

Royal Road University – Masters of Arts in Educational Leadership and Management

IB Leadership Certificates

Choose your Own Adventure Books

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 Natasha Bathgate. She is the director of learning and innovation at West Island College in Calgary. An educator for 17 years, she is passionate about people, nature and good design. Natasha was born in Wales, emigrated to Canada in 2008, and lived in Vancouver for 10 years. She’s currently in Calgary with her husband and twins who are age 10, and Natasha is driven by a need for continuous growth, new experiences, and feeling strong. And I know you will take all of that and so much more away from our conversation today, so enjoy. Natasha, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show this morning. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit of the reason behind why you’re so passionate about the work you do in education today?


Natasha Bathgate (01:34):
Sure. So I’m originally from Wales in the UK which is the kind of land of daffodils and male voice choirs and rugby. And I came to Canada over 20 years ago now and just first of all, moved to Vancouver and fell in love with Vancouver and decided that at some point in my life I wanted to, to be living there permanently. So I’ve now been living in Canada as a Canadian citizen since 2008 I think; 2007/2008. And funnily enough, I didn’t actually get into work in education for many of the reasons that other people may have. My pathway was not exactly traditional. I, the reason I got into education is because I wanted to get permanent residency in Canada and when I was looking to, when I was looking to fill out all of my papers to come, to, to move to Canada they had a list of careers that were on that were, were acceptable to get a get permanent residency.


Natasha Bathgate (02:38):
And at the time I was working as a travel consultant and travel consultant originally was on the list. And then at that time, September 11th happened and the Canadian government took all travel related careers off the list. So I was ready to put my code in the code of the job I was doing. And and then it was no longer there. So I just was chatting with a few friends in Wales and around in a pub one day. And and I said, look, I really wanna move to Canada. What am I gonna do? I looked at all the list of things and I considered vending machine repair technician. Yeah. I thought, okay, I can train in that pretty quickly. So maybe I could do that. And then one of my friends said, Hey, why don’t you go into teaching? I think you’d be pretty good at teaching.


Natasha Bathgate (03:21):
And I just thought, no, like why would no never considered that? Why would I do that? Yeah. And she said, well, and I thought, what would I even teach? And anyway, I was, I was quite good at art at school and I I yeah, I enjoyed drawing and painting, so I thought, okay, I’ll just go and see if I can do that. So I started, I arranged to I arranged to shadow my old art teacher in Wales and I just thought, okay, well, I’ll see if I see if I would be interested in doing this. So I shadowed her for a little while. Then I submitted my application to do a a postgraduate for kit in education so that I could become qualified to teach. And anyway, kind of fast forward a few, a number of years, cuz it still took a long time to get the actual qualification, the work experience, the visas, et cetera. But finally I, I managed to move to Canada and that’s what got me into teaching.


Sam Demma (04:19):
That’s so that’s, that’s such an,


Natasha Bathgate (04:21):
But I did actually. Yeah. And it turns out I I do, I mean, I’m not teaching right now. I’m director of learning and innovation, but I for the last like fif 16 years, I’ve been teaching and I love it because it’s even though I’m not directly teaching, I’m still obviously very closely connected to it. I just it’s, it’s so interesting. It’s never boring. Like there’s never, you know, you, you never go into the school or the classroom thinking, oh God, it’s gonna be another boring day. There’s never a dull moment. And because every student is different and every student has different backgrounds and different experiences and different little quirks and it’s just such a great fun place to work.


Sam Demma (05:03):
Well, I was gonna ask you like, what was your first role? And maybe you could explain what director of learning and innovation looks like as well, because I’m sure many people are wondering that sounds like a cool role and I’ve never heard of it before. So yeah,


Natasha Bathgate (05:16):
I know. It’s funny. Yeah. So well, yeah, so originally I was an art team, so I was teaching art for a number of years. And then I became the kind of department head of, of a, of a department that had a bunch of different subjects to do with arts and technology graphic design, computer science, all that. And then I started to become really interested in educational leadership and about I think five years ago now I did my masters in educational leadership and management at a really awesome university called Royal Rhode university in Victoria, Vancouver island. Nice. And the reason I kind of chose that university is because they really have a very kind of future focused, collaborative, innovative approach to teaching leaders to become leaders. Hmm. And so, so yeah, so I got into educational leadership because I really just wanted to be able to have a bit more impact and influence on the future of education.


Natasha Bathgate (06:18):
And I think that I was able to influence the students in my classroom on a daily basis, but I got to a point where I thought, you know, I want to be able to be part of decision making at a, a broader level. So that’s why I got into educational leadership. So my role is really, I feel I found myself, I felt I’m quite lucky Rudy, cuz my role is about, you know, I get involved in educational research. I continually sort of observe teaching and learning in the classroom. I work with teachers and ask them like, you know, what do you need to be at your best? Like how, how can I support you to be the best teacher and the best person? And then I, and then I just I guess building relationships with teachers to help them be the best teachers they can be.


Natasha Bathgate (07:04):
And some people, some schools will call this role director of academics. So it has different job titles, but it really is about making sure that the, the teaching and learning that’s going on in your school is aligned with, you know, your vision, mission and values it’s aligned with where you believe the future of education should be. And and it’s just kind of, you know, if we say we want students to be curious, then what does teaching and learning look like for students to be curious? And what does the teacher look like if they, if you, if you want that teacher to infuse curiosity in students, then what should that teacher be doing? So I don’t get involved with the day to day. I don’t get too involved with the day to day kind of operational stuff. Like that’s why I think I’m quite lucky. I really do love this job. Yeah. but yeah, I think that’s, I think that’s it up.


Sam Demma (08:00):
That’s awesome. And you know, from talking to Jim and from also just reading a ton on the website, I found that you take like the school takes a very personalized approach, tries to create a very personalized approach for every single student and learner. I would assume like that’s a big part of your work as well is like, would I be correct in saying that? And what does that look like? Like for you or for the school?


Natasha Bathgate (08:21):
Yeah. With teachers, cuz I guess I, because I work closely with teachers. Yeah. So I’m trying to per I’m trying to personalize the professional growth for teachers. Hmm. So it starts off with, it starts off with a one-on-one conversation towards the beginning of the year and setting goals. And the goal is of course aligned with, you know, the teaching and learning quality standards for the province. But once we’ve had that conversation, then I, I make notes about what that person has said. And I, and I work hard to try to find things that I think would interest them. So if I’m suggesting professional development activities, I might suggest books. I might suggest connecting them with certain people. Like I, I try and I try and build capacity in individuals by really connecting them with other people as well, who could, who could support them. Nice. And that’s kind of also the, my approach that was my approach to teaching as well. When I was, when I was teaching, that was my same approach. I just want to find out, you know, what is it that person needs, wants enjoys and how can I build their capacity by drawing upon those, those things.


Sam Demma (09:37):
I love that. And you know, you mentioned goal setting as well. Has that been a foundational pillar in your own personal life? Like think back to when you were still in whales, like is one of the first things you did is sit down with a pen and paper and like write out your own personal goals. Like tell, tell me more about that.


Natasha Bathgate (09:52):
So I don’t necessarily write them down and I know that’s key thing that if you write them down, then it’s, you’re more likely to achieve them. But I do, I’m very, very goal orientated oriented. I’m very driven by goals. And even if I don’t write them down, I’m kind of quite determined to achieve them. So, so for example, I was determined to move to Canada no matter what. And I knew it was gonna take a long time and I, and it, it did take an extraordinary long time because even once I got my teaching qualification, I, I still had to get a couple of years experience teaching in Wales before I could even submit my application to, to move here. And I think the same with, with getting the right to become an educational leader. I originally had applied to a university in, in Vancouver that I thought was gonna be good to UBC and and no disrespect to UBC anyones listening this, but , I, I had an application to, to, to go onto their educational leadership program, their masters I was accepted.


Natasha Bathgate (10:58):
And then as I was choosing the different courses, I was, I couldn’t choose the courses until after I’d been accepted. And then once I chose the different modules, I was reading the descriptions and thinking, I don’t know, this doesn’t sound like a particularly future focused, you know, innovative learning environment for me. And, and I was so set on being an innovative future oriented leader. I realized then that, that university wasn’t gonna be right for me. So I withdrew and that meant I was back a year. I, I, I kind of wasted a year, I suppose, cuz I then had to submit an application to another place that did fit what I was looking for. So I, so that’s an example, I suppose I am very goal, goal oriented and, and I’m, I’m prepared to, you know, to take a side step if it means taking longer to get the right thing.


Sam Demma (11:51):
And it sounds like with your work supporting educators, one of the goals is to really make a huge impact on the, on the students because that’s kind of like the end results you’re hoping for by helping the teachers become better and more equipped to, to teach their students. Like if that’s the end goal, how do you think right now we, we make students feel seen, heard and appreciated in this, the, you know, very different and difficult situation.


Natasha Bathgate (12:15):
Well, you know what I think actually I’ve been reading a little bit about like generation Z and what, what gen what, what your generation the characteristics, I guess, and one thing that I’ve noticed is that I don’t even know if they need much help, like your generation is so, so driven. And so so intent on making an impact and not afraid to speak up about things that they believe need to be talked about. And I’ve noticed in my I’ve noticed in recent years that that students are this generation all they need is the space to be, to, to be heard. Yeah, they don’t need, they don’t even need much encouragement. They don’t even need to be, you know, it’s like, here’s a space, here’s the time we’re gonna have this meeting come and say what you need to say. And, and, and I, I think that the students right now, the generation right now are incredibly capable and brave.


Natasha Bathgate (13:20):
And I think that, I know it sounds kinda corny, but I do think the future’s safe. Like I think the future is safe in, in your hands and, and this generation. So, so back to your question, I guess it’s I think it’s really important to know what it is that to, to be constantly aware of the issues of today that we need to make sure that we’re getting voices around the table. So, you know, for example, obviously a, a big piece of a, a big, I, it’s not issue, but a, a big topic, I guess at the moment in education and around the world is, is diversity, equity and inclusion. And how can we make sure that, that everybody feels safe and included and valued and respected and honored and appreciated. And they’re all fairly, you know, you wouldn’t think that would be too difficult, but, but I’ve realized that some students don’t feel safe and valued and honored. And when you ask students, if you just have the courage to ask them, what’s your experience like what’s going on for you? Mm-Hmm and what, what should we be doing differently then, then it’s, I guess it’s that sense of my moral, I, I feel a sense of moral responsibility. I feel as an educational leader, I feel a moral responsibility to, to give these students a voice and to actually act on it, you know?


Sam Demma (14:52):
Yeah. I, I, I think that’s so important and I’m assuming over this past year, those conversations have started to happen and have been happening. That’s, that’s amazing. And is it usually in the form of a one-on-one conversation or do you find it being more of a group conversation? Like how’s it working?


Natasha Bathgate (15:09):
Well, I mean, I’ll give you an example. I think earlier on in the year I had sent, I had sent a communication out to our alumni saying just really kind of an invitation, I suppose, to anybody who’s, who has expertise in advancing your organization or, or your community with diversity, equity and inclusion, or anyone who has an interest in this area, or anyone who has experiences at, at w that they want to share with me, please reach out. So it was just an open invitation. And I, and from that, I had just a small number, but six people contacted me. Some of them met, some of them kind of contacted me as a group. And I, so I met with them as a group and then one of them was just as an individual and that, that started in January. And it’s really kind of built in momentum to the point now where I’m now.


Natasha Bathgate (16:03):
So I, I meet with this kind of group of alumni only once a month, but but I’m also meeting with some students from us within the school who are sharing their experiences and, and sadly their experiences have not been, you know, have not been great. And and it’s, it’s, it’s been very difficult to hear, you know, when you’ve, I’ve only been at school for two years, but I know that other people who have been there longer feel, feel terrible, that, that some people have not out great being at the school for the last number of years. And also not also not necessarily realizing and not knowing that, but now that the stories are kind of out now that we have that awareness. Now we can start to develop an understanding around, well, what contributed to that? Like, what as leaders, what, what should, and could we be doing to, to to make everybody feel, you know, to help everyone feel safe and included in the school.


Natasha Bathgate (17:01):
And now we’re at the point where, I guess I, I’ve also introduced some of the alumni to our, some of our current students, so they’ve kind of met and shared their experiences. And now this week, hopefully we are about to start a student pluralism group, which is really around, let’s start having discussions about, about how we can, how we can make the school, I guess, a more inclusive place. Nice. But we have incredibly intelligent, passionate, brave individuals at the school who they just need, you just need to unlock. And they’re like jumping into there. , it’s just a case of turning the key. You don’t even need to open the door, like they’re ready. So it’s, it’s an exciting place to be in education right now, I think.


Sam Demma (17:48):
And it takes a ton of self awareness as a school community, as educational leaders to address those things, because it’s uncomfortable. Right’s not, it’s, it’s not a uncomfortable thing to do, but it’s definitely the right thing to do. And I think it’s cool that, you know, you’re very passionate about addressing those things and, and kickstarting those conversations and unlocking those doors. So the conversations can happen. You, you mentioned that, you know, you didn’t go to UBC because it didn’t feel like they had the right training materials that would lead to the innovative approach you were hoping to take. What, what do you think the future of education looks like being someone who sounds super passionate about innovation in the future? Like if, you know, if you could jump into time machine in travel there, what would you suspect to change or be different in the future?


Natasha Bathgate (18:34):
Well, I think that I think that we really need to explore a bit more about where learning happens and to be more open, to learning happening in different places other than a school building. And I know that already takes place. I know that people go on, you know, experiential learning trips to different parts of the country or different countries. And you know, and we have, there’ll be sort of work experience. And at our school, we have few experts come in. So it does happen to a certain extent, but I think we need to have much greater flexibility in mainstream education. So for example, my kids are homeschooled. I’ve got twins who age 10 and my husband was really passionate about homeschooling them, which was kind of funny, cuz I I’ve been a teacher for a long time. So I was like,


Sam Demma (19:23):
You sure,


Natasha Bathgate (19:24):
I wasn’t. I know I was thinking, well, this is strange. Is this like a sort of slap in the face of my profession here? But anyway, he, he really wants to do it, so I’m going along with it right now. But so they he’s been homeschooling them for, for just over a year and it, and it turns out that because of COVID, it’s fine. It, it makes sense. But what I’m noticing though, is that what he does is he pieces together. They’re learning experience through all different things. So they go, they go to a place in Calgary called Phoenix foundation, which is kind of like a school for homeschool. And you can choose what day of the week you go, depending on what what’s happening on that day. So they, they go once a week to that, then they meet up with a huge homeschool network group and they have different activities outside.


Natasha Bathgate (20:09):
And then they share like the parents will share expertise and do little workshops. So, so anyway, there’s that flexibility and, and choice over learning that is also about homeschooling. But what I think would be even better is if they could also have a consistency of going to choosing to go to a particular place for a couple of days where they’re gonna meet the same people all the time and build up those relationships and have that consistency and have, have that expertise from teachers. But then to be able to say, actually for like Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, I’m gonna go to this place here and learn from these different experiences. So this is a bit of a long-winded answer, but I think the key really with, with learning is, is flexibility of where the learning happens. And, and to, to make it normal because it, in so many places right now, like there’s, you know, there’s schools that are outdoor schools, there’s schools that specialize in project based learning there’s schools that specialize in the arts there’s schools that specialize in everything. But, but if you want, you kind of have to be all in, like, you know, if you choose to go to an outdoor school or a, or a school that it specialize in project that only does project based learning, then you’re kind of, you’re invested in that one thing. But I think the future of education and mainstream education, I think needs to be that that those options become, become commonplace.


Sam Demma (21:40):
Yeah. Yeah. It makes a lot,


Natasha Bathgate (21:41):
It’s only a subtle, it’s only a subtle change. It’s kinda like, you know, they should be able to create their own adventure, you know, create your learning adventure and, and you know, what, what works for you.


Sam Demma (21:51):
And I think that comes back to what you mentioned earlier about, you know, sparking curiosity. Like I think back to books I used to read and the choose your own adventure books were the funnest, you know, I would say flip to page 70, if you want to try this. And, and I’d much rather read those than reading a blank book just right through. And I younger. So yeah, I think we could definitely pull that model into education. Yeah. Which is a really interesting idea. And if you could go back in time and speak to younger Natasha, the first year you got into teaching, like knowing what you know now, what pieces of advice would you give your younger self?


Natasha Bathgate (22:26):
Oh my gosh. It’s tough one. I think just yeah, I think, I think probably just to have


Natasha Bathgate (22:43):
Just to, to learn from other people, like I was terrible at classroom management at the start and, and, and I think learn from other people, observe other people watch what’s going on, watch the experts and learn from the experts. It’s not to say that I didn’t, but I didn’t get looking back. I think if I had made more of an effort to ask another teacher, can I come and can I come and watch your class? I know you’ve been teaching for 10 years. I’ve heard that you’re really good at this, that and the other. Can I come and watch? So I think seeing each seeing really learning from learning from people who are better than you at something and not being, not being embarrassed to, to say, I’m, I really suck at this. I need to get better at it. Can you show me, can I learn from you? Mm. I think that’s something that I would probably do because I, there was a time when I think I did struggle with, I was working in a school in, you know, terrible schools in Wales and England, where, where they throw paper balls at you, like as a teacher, you you’re, you know, yeah. I had things thrown at me. I had a garbage can thrown at me. Wow. so it’s really about survival in that, in that, in that situation. And I think I needed some more survival tactics.


Sam Demma (24:00):
Being, being a soccer fan. I was gonna ask you, are, were they hooligans? yeah,


Natasha Bathgate (24:07):
That’s funny. They were, they would wanna be hooligans. They were, they were hooligans in training for sure. Yeah.


Sam Demma (24:11):
That’s funny, that’s funny. Awesome. Well, this has been a phenomenal conversation. If someone’s listening right now and has been inspired in any way, shape or form and wants to just have a conversation, what would be the best way for someone to, you know, get in touch with you and reach out?


Natasha Bathgate (24:26):
Well, I do use Twitter and I use LinkedIn. I think my Twitter is just @NLBathgate I think, and then I don’t use LinkedIn as much, but yeah. Twitter or LinkedIn or even yeah, I think those would be the best. I would just put those, you can incorporate those into the podcast.


Sam Demma (24:43):
Sounds good, Natasha. Thank you so much.


Natasha Bathgate (24:45):
And then I, and I’d be happy to have a conversation with anybody for sure.


Sam Demma (24:48):
Perfect. Thank you so much for doing this and coming on the show, I appreciate you sharing some insights and some of your experiences. Keep doing great work and I’ll, I’ll see you soon.


Natasha Bathgate (24:56):
Thank you, Sam. Thanks a lot. Okay, bye.


Sam Demma (24:59):
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 Natasha Bathgate

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.

Katie Lewis-Prieur & Sarah Abrams – Consultants at the Ottawa Catholic School Board

Katie Lewis-Prieur & Sarah Abrams - Consultants at the Ottawa Catholic School Board
About Katie Lewis-Prieur & Sarah Abrams

Katie Lewis-Prieur (@klewis_prieur) has been in education for more than 25 years, many of it in the classroom teaching English and Drama before working in system-level positions at the Ottawa Catholic School Board.  She is blessed to be part of the Specialized Pathways team as the Experiential Learning consultant for K-12.

Sarah Abrams(@SarahMAbrams) has been with the Ottawa Catholic School Board for the past 22 years.  She spent the first 20 years of her career as a high school teacher and Guidance Counsellor and is currently the Guidance and Pathways Consultant for the board.  Sarah is passionate about helping students discover their pathway and supporting guidance teams in breaking down barriers for students to access whatever post-secondary path they wish to take.   

Connect with Katie: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Connect with Sarah: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Ottawa Catholic School Board (OCSB)

Specialized Programs – OCSB

New Teacher Induction Program (NTIP)

Carleton University – BA in Journalism

Brock University – BA in English Language and Literature

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 we have on a pair of guests, not just one person, but two people, two very incredible influential people that I’ve done a ton of work with, but are also just phenomenal human beings that I call two of my friends now. We have on Katie and Sarah.


Sam Demma (00:59):
Katie has been in education for more than 25 years. Many of it in the classroom, teaching English and drama before working in system level positions with the Ottawa Catholic School Board. She is blessed to be part of the specialized pathways program team as an experiential learning consultant through K-12. But the reality is she’s actually moving on to a new position. So stay tuned because maybe we’ll do a follow up episode with her next year and her partner in crime Sarah is also on the show today who has been with the Ottawa Catholic School Board for the past 22 years. She spent the first 20 years of her career as a high school teacher and guidance counselor, and is currently the guidance and pathways consultant for the school board. She is passionate about helping students discover their pathway and supporting guidance teams in breaking down barriers for students to access whatever post-secondary path they wish to take.


Sam Demma (01:49):
The two of them bring together a wealth of knowledge. I was a part of one of their career fairs about six months ago now, or maybe four, three months ago and they do such amazing work. So I hope you enjoy this episode as much as I enjoy chatting with them, and I will see you on the other side. Katie, Sarah, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you both together on the show. This is the second time only that we’ve had a group of three on the show. So I’m, I’m super excited about it. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about why you’re so passionate about the work you do in education today. And Sarah, feel free to kick this one off.


Sarah Abrams (02:29):
Well, hi Sam. I’m Sarah Abrams. I work at the Ottawa Catholic School Board and I am the guidance and pathways consultant. So I work with the guidance departments across our school board. And I’ve always loved teaching. I love working in a dynamic environment like a school where every day is different. You never know what, what is gonna come at you that day. There’s not too many jobs where you can participate in dressup days and spirit weeks and, you know, take kids on field trips and watch watch them learn new things and get excited about things they didn’t know. And so, and also building the relationships with those young people and with my colleagues has inspired me. So, you know, for me, education has always been my passion and I love everything about it.


Sam Demma (03:15):
Love that. Awesome, Katie what about yourself?


Katie Lewis-Prieu (03:19):
Well, thanks for having us on today. I’m Katie Lewis-Prieu and I’m the experiential learning consultant for K-12 for the Ottawa Catholic School Board, and I get to work every day with people like Sarah. The reason I’m doing this job is because I think kids getting their hands in and doing practical work and exploring careers is something that’s gonna change their life, and I’m just privileged to be a part of it.


Sam Demma (03:44):
Mm love that. And when you guys both come together, you create a power house of a team and I I’ve seen the impact firsthand. What are some of the projects that you’ve run this year? Things you’ve put on and worked together and, and created that been really passionate about, or, or that went well, I know this year has been challenging. We’ve, we’ve been limited in many ways, but I feel like there was also some opportunities and you’ve taken advantage of those. And Katie, maybe you can answer this question first.


Katie Lewis-Prieu (04:12):
I think this has been an incredible year for us in spite of the pandemic. It’s my first year working as a team mate with and so it’s been incredible just to build that relationship and to see what we can do. And we usually start with what we’re trying to accomplish before we set out what our goals are. And so this year we had a nice kickoff at the beginning of the year with OCSP career week. And it was one of those weeks that had been doing well and things were happening in schools, but when the pandemic hit a huge challenge, right, because you can’t have all these presenters coming into your school to talk about their post-secondary programs or entry into the world of work. And so that was our, our first major challenge that we hit this year because we knew it was still really important for students to be able to explore these careers. So we decided to, to tackle it head on and to create a really dynamic week where teachers and students could access all sorts of activities career panels really great resources for them to leverage. And so that was, I think, our first success.


Sam Demma (05:25):
Awesome. Yeah. That’s great. And Sarah, maybe you can touch on some of the other things that have happened this year. I’m sure there’s a bunch of other things happening behind the scenes every day, each and every day


Sarah Abrams (05:35):
There absolutely was. And, and a big part of what we wanted to do was figure out how we could bring this rich experience, financial learning, and, and also one of our goals is to, to bust pathway myths. So we also, we want students to know that college and university, aren’t the only options for them that some students will go directly to the world of work. And some students will go into apprenticeship program. Some will take a gap year and, and that’s one of our big missions is to bust those pathway myths. So one of the things we did was we have created with a community partner on fee career panels. And we’ve had several of those throughout the year, this year. And the pandemic has actually opened our eyes to the possibilities with this. So in prior years you would have this career panel at one school, you’d only be able to reach a few students, but because we were in the pandemic, we had to reach rethink things. And we were able to do them virtually and bring in hundreds of students. So hundreds of students have been able to learn about careers in manufacturing and the arts in English in all kinds of areas that maybe they wouldn’t have done before. So that’s been an excellent opportunity for us.


Katie Lewis-Prieu (06:49):
And if I can just add on if, if you are not aware of the careers that are out there, how can you possibly know that this is something that you want to explore? And I know your messaging, Sam has always been go out there and taste things like it’s a, a banquet or a buffet. And that’s definitely our message as well.


Sam Demma (07:07):
I love that. And I was gonna say, you know, Sarah, you mentioned fifth years and, you know, MIS myth busting, well, if your name’s Sam DEMA, you would take a fifth year of high school, a gap year after the a fifth year go to college for two years, drop outta college and then get into the world of work after, you know, three years of trying to find things and, and figure things out. So it’s, the work you’re doing is so important and I think it needs to happen in, in every board and hopefully it is happening in every board and keep doing it because we need it. I’m curious though, we start this conversation and asking both of you, you know, why are you passionate about this work? What led you down the path of education? Like, did you have teachers in your life who deeply inspired you to, you know, take on this path or did you just stumble into it by a mistake and have been here since, like, I’m curious to know why you’re working in education today and, and Katie, maybe you can kick this one off.


Katie Lewis-Prieu (07:59):
Well, when I was little, I used to parade around in my backyard pretending I was ginger from Gillin island. So I knew that I wanted something that was engaging. I thought I was gonna be an actress when I was really little and there just weren’t the, the career classes to support that there was no ran a class in my high school when I went to school. So I had to look for something else. And being an actress just didn’t seem reasonable at the time. So I thought I want to work with people. It was just a part of who I was that I, I definitely not a solitary person. I, I like to collaborate. And so teaching in journalism were the, the two things that really grabbed me with the limited, you know, exposure to career exploration that we had at the time.


Katie Lewis-Prieu (08:48):
So I ended up actually doing a journalism degree at Carleton university. And then just as I was about to graduate from that, we were in the middle of a recession and I thought, well, I’m just not the type of person to sit back and do nothing. And I thought, well, I’m gonna go in and I’m gonna finish my English degree. And while I was doing that, I thought, you know what? I actually really like how much more collaborative being a teacher was. Cause there were a lot of people trying to scoop each other in the journalism program. And I thought I’d rather work with people as opposed to trying to top them. So that’s definitely how I started heading into teaching and was a high school teacher and taught English and civics and drama for many years before I started working at the school board. And did two terms as the arts and indigenous studies consultant. And last year had the great opportunity to sit in a leadership role for a year while my colleague was on leave. And then this opportunity opened up for experiential learning and I jumped right at it, cuz I thought this is exciting.


Sam Demma (09:54):
Cool, awesome. That, that, you know, I was gonna ask you, but I didn’t want to age you there. Let’s What’s Gilligan’s island ,


Katie Lewis-Prieu (10:03):
You’ve got to be kidding me. Gilligan’s island was the bomb. When I was a little kid, it was a little show and Gilligan was stranded on an island with six castaways. And one of them was bombshell actress who walked around everywhere in an evening gown on this deserted island. And so she was just it for me when I was a little


Sam Demma (10:25):
Kid, I love that. I’m gonna, I’m gonna go earn some brownie points with my parents with that one later


Sarah Abrams (10:30):
And


Sarah Abrams (10:32):
Sometimes we still have to tell Katie not to wear her ball gowns to work, but


Katie Lewis-Prieu (10:38):
You can’t see what I’m wearing down below. It could be, you know, heels in a full skirt.


Sam Demma (10:43):
I don’t know if you can hear it, but the whole crowd’s laughing. it’s awesome. Sarah, you know, what did your journey into education look like?


Sarah Abrams (10:55):
Mine was similar in some ways to Katie, but, but also a little bit different. I always have wanted to be a teacher, so I did follow a very linear pathway, which is something I’ve, I’m trying to bust for a lot of students. But I think part of that was because I was number one, a bossy older sister, and I had a much younger brother and he was my first student. So when I, I was about 10 and he was four, I was making him sit down and listen to me and I was teaching him to read and teaching him everything I wanted to teach him. And then the other thing was that I had a lot of family members who were in education, so that influenced me greatly. And, and I probably can remember every teacher I’ve ever had. So I really, for some, and it just, it just called to me from a young age.


Sarah Abrams (11:42):
But throughout my career, I’ve really realized that within teaching you can do so many different things. So I have, have not been static. I started out teaching history and English in high school and, and I was very much a yes person. So I was tapped on the shoulder and they’d say, we need someone to teach parenting. And I would say, okay, we need someone to teach hair styling. Okay. and so I’ve done a lot of different things within my school which culminated in a position as a guidance counselor, which I absolutely loved. I would, I could do that forever. I loved working with kids in student services, but that also then led me to this position at the board, working with the guidance teams from all of the schools. So I think education is a nice career because there are so many different things you can do. You don’t have to just stay in one path. There are a lot, there’s lots of opportunity for growth and for learning. And that’s been great for me.


Sam Demma (12:38):
I love that. And one of the most pivotal people in my high school career was my guidance counselor. She had countless conversations with me and my parents miss Diana. Yeah, Diane, her last name’s escaping me right now, but she, she would help me because my pathway was, I was trying to go to the us for soccer. And like, I can’t remember. I had probably, probably at least two dozen meetings with her in my last year of high school to try and figure things out for NCAA. So it just goes to show that every role in a school, whether it’s in the physical school or as a consultant, plays a huge role on impacting young people. And I’m curious to know, because I know you’ve, you’re not directly in touch with students, but you probably hear a lot from the schools and the principals. What do you think some of the challenges that schools and students are facing right now? And we won’t stick on this question too long because I don’t wanna get negative, but what are some of the challenges you think we’re facing and maybe Sarah, you can kick it off and then I’ll pass it back on to Katie.


Sarah Abrams (13:40):
Well, for me, and I think this would be similar for guidance folks. I can speak sort of for them a little bit. It’s the building relationships piece. I’m all about building relationships. I like building relationships with the counselors that I work with and the teachers that I work with. And as a counselor, I L loved being able to call a student into my office and have a chat and, and you build relationships with those students and that’s what, where you build the trust as well. And so with COVID and having to shut down and then start and shut down, and then we have some students going completely virtual. It is very, very hard to kind of keep those relat ships going and build new ones. So for me, that’s probably the biggest challenge, I think right now, due to COVID. I mean, lots of people are, are facing lots of personal challenges in lots of different ways, but in terms of my career, I think that has been something that I’ve really had to be conscious of and figure out how to build relationships in different ways. And I think teachers and counselors, schools are doing the same thing.


Sam Demma (14:38):
Yeah, no, I agree. Yeah. Katie, what, what do you think?


Katie Lewis-Prieu (14:42):
Well, my job is experiential learning consultant and challenge. It’s pretty hard when you’re on lockdown to, you know, when you, you start thinking about, well, what can I do? So for sure, there’s been a lot of pivoting and it’s hard. I think of just our, our theater students alone, because it’s something I’m very passionate about. And those students aren’t in most cases, not getting the opportunity to have that full theat or experience where you’re under the spotlights you’re you know, in scenes with other people, even just the, the, the acting piece where you can’t even make physical contact with someone to, you know, if you’re seen as telling, you’re trying to get somebody to snap out of it and the scene, you would normally be shaking them. You can’t do anything like that. So that was a huge challenge coming in. And I do worry about the mental health of our students as well, cause we’re social beings. But I think what Sarah was describing with those relationships is just the, the key to everything and, and still trying to give students opportunities to connect with the outside work world through things like learning partnerships has become crucial this year.


Sam Demma (15:58):
Hmm. And along with each challenge comes some form of an opportunity. I would, I would suppose that one of them is technology. You’ve probably learned a dozen new skills and tools. I mean, you’re wearing, very, no one can see it, but yeah, it looks like a pair of gaming headphones and I wouldn’t say you’re a huge gamer or who knows, you know,


Katie Lewis-Prieu (16:22):
You’d be right Sam when I play Mario Cartt my children laugh at me.


Sam Demma (16:28):
Yeah. So what are some of the opportunities you think have arise from the situation this year are some of the things you’ve learned that have been really helpful and we’ll start with Katie.


Katie Lewis-Prieu (16:41):
Well, I think Sarah alluded it to it earlier. Just the opportunity for the reach, like, you know, whereas you might have had an individual teacher setting up a session in their class where they had a guest speaker coming in, we’ve had these opportunities to do things like career panels where, you know, if we had I think one of the ones we ran for one of our other initiatives OCS B steam week, I think one of our career panels, we had over a hundred classes that’s classes wow. On the call. So in that one, I think we had three different panelists. So students were hearing from three people quick, 45 minute meet where the teacher is, you know, getting a chance to engage in that career exploration with their students. And then all sorts of crazy fun stuff have, has come out of those calls as well.


Katie Lewis-Prieu (17:37):
And I think it’s opened up our students and teachers to further inquiry. Us doing OCSP steam week actually came from the challenges that we faced with OCSP career week. And it grew into something huge. And there were a lot of teachers, I think, who, because they had opened themselves up to technology, also opened themselves up to new things like learning about stem or steam subjects. And so I think there’s just been enormous growth for everyone throughout the process and technology is allowed it, I mean, it can be so frustrating at times when things aren’t working out, but what an opportunity to reach so many more people. And also to have fun, we set up all these challenges as well. For OCS B steam weeks is stem challenges where students were doing these rub Goldberg machines. And I don’t know if you know what they are, but they’re like a chain reaction thing where they’re, you know, setting up slides, like, you know, maybe a ruler in a marbles going down there and it’s gonna hit something else and pop into something else. And we just loved seeing these students with that whole perseverance piece where they were setting up their systems and it didn’t work the first time, but they kept going. And then when you see those videos and you see their face and they are so proud of themselves, that they got it to work. That’s a huge thing.


Sam Demma (19:09):
Yeah. Oh, I, I agree. I totally agree. It’s funny, those, those contraptions, I think they happen in physics class. I might be wrong, but


Katie Lewis-Prieu (19:19):
, we had kindergartners doing it as well. Wow.


Sam Demma (19:22):
yeah. That’s, that’s awesome. So cool. Yeah, I remember it feels like yesterday I was in grade 12 and my buddy was making one for his grade physics assignment. Sarah, what do you think? Like what, what are some of the opportunities that you’ve seen arise outta this crazy situation?


Sarah Abrams (19:38):
I think I, I think Katie’s answer was bang on, but, and just to add, you know, or to, to echo what she’s saying. I think the challenge of as a history teacher, too, I think of challenges in the past, the great, the world wars with any big challenge that a society faces comes the opportunity for growth and creativity and some of our, our most amazing achievements and accomplishments come out of those tough times that we face as a, as a, as humanity. And like the, the growth in technology, especially among educate, I think is something that I have never seen before in my whole career. It’s and it’s because it was necessary, right. It was something that teachers had to do and, and we had to do as well. I’ve never learned so much about technology as I have in the last year.


Sarah Abrams (20:26):
And so I think that’s just opened up the doors to so many different things. One of the things Katie and I are involved in right now is providing, working with our partner, Algonquin college, providing our students with different virtual workshops on coding and using laser cutters and a 3d printing. And it’s all virtual, but the kids are able to learn how to do this stuff on their computers. And then at Algonquin, something will actually be 3d printed or laser cut or, or whatever. And the teachers are learning this too, and it’s making teachers more comfortable with all of the new technology that is up and coming. So I think if you look at it with a positive spin, there are a lot of challenges, but a lot of growth has come out of it.


Sam Demma (21:13):
Yeah, no, I couldn’t agree more. I think it’s, it’s great growth. Like it forced, it’s forced growth almost like you grow up as a kid and you hit your growth spurt and then you stop growing. It’s almost like we’ve been to grow more at past that point. And it’s painful. You have aching pains from the new growth spur. And not to say that the challenges aren’t there, cuz they are like, it’s a crazy time and people are struggling, but it’s cool to focus on the positives for a second. You know,


Katie Lewis-Prieu (21:42):
And neuroscience tells us that we need to be lifelong learners. We need to keep bill holding those neuro connectors. So as, as tough as it has been, and it has been tough for some people like just the new skills that we are picking up this year are definitely something to be applauded.


Sam Demma (22:02):
Yeah. No, I agree. Totally agree. And you know, I’m curious to know when you were both students, so think back what are some things that educators in your life did for you that had a huge impact? And I’m, I’m curious to know, maybe you can pinpoint one teacher in something they shared or did. Because I think educators sometimes underplay the impact they have because they don’t see it sometimes. And with this story you can share about how they’ve impacted you it’ll remind educators that they’re having an impact on their own students and also give them some ideas on what’s important in the classroom. And Katie, you seem like you had an aha moment. So oh,


Katie Lewis-Prieu (22:43):
A hundred, a hundred percent. I had an incredible English teacher when I was at St. Joseph’s high school called Mary Lynn Oche. And I had her for a bunch of years at a time cuz it was when Catholic education was just starting to get the funding. And I remember we were studying Hamlet and she would not give us her opinion on whether Hamlet was mad or whether he was putting it on. And I remember being so upset at the time that she wouldn’t tell us her opinion, cause I really did value her opinion, but it was so smart of her because it forced us to use our own critical thinking skills and to make our own mind. And that has stuck with me. And she’s also one of the people who let me teach a class about journal is one of my independent study projects. And that certainly was one of those key things that made me think, okay, do I wanna go into journalism or teaching and gave me a sense of confidence that you know, I could be engaging in front of a class and, and it was just a little thing that she did by letting me try something out that had a major impact on me.


Sam Demma (23:55):
Wow. Love that. I love that it’s like giving you a responsibility almost absolutely. To succeed or fail and either, or it would’ve been a success,


Katie Lewis-Prieu (24:03):
But with support, with support, you know, we talked about what it would look like and it wasn’t something so hugely overwhelming that I couldn’t be successful at it, but I also got good feedback. And to me, that’s, that’s an enriching, deep learning opportunity.


Sam Demma (24:19):
Love that. Love that. Sarah, how about yourself?


Sarah Abrams (24:23):
When I think back, I, like I said earlier, I can remember every teacher I had and I think each of those people had an impact on me at some point, but I do remember in particular, a grade eight math teacher and I, I wasn’t the best math student. But she always took the time with students at lunch or after school. And she was very friendly and really encouraging. And her name was Phyllis Perry. And I still think about her sometimes. And I think I wrote her a letter actually, when I became a teacher thanking her for what she did. But one of the things I think back at is I don’t remember the lessons I learned. I don’t remember the curriculum from each of those teachers that I had. I remember other things remember, you know, what they talked about or how they made me feel mm-hmm or you know, those kinds of things. And I think sometimes as teachers, we forget that it’s not all about the curriculum. It’s about that relationship building and it’s about the impact of caring adult can have on a student. And for me, those are the, when I think about the teachers I had, it was it’s really the ones who were the most caring adults in my life that, that really stick out.


Sam Demma (25:31):
Yeah. So true. So, so true. And it’s funny cuz I’m reflecting now asking this question on my own experience and teachers who change my life, did the same thing that you’re sharing now. Like they, they took the content and personalized it for every student in the class. They knew what we liked. They knew our hobbies. They, they took the time to get to know us. So I think it’s great. Yeah. It’s such a, those are all great examples. And if you could go back in time and speak to your younger self, you know, the first year you got into education, what advice would you give your younger self, knowing what you know now and yeah, Katie, you can,


Katie Lewis-Prieu (26:08):
You can


Sam Demma (26:08):
Go first.


Katie Lewis-Prieu (26:10):
Well, I remember being terrified, absolutely terrified when I, I started teaching, I didn’t have the educators in my family like Sarah did. So I really leaned on the colleagues who were at school with me. One practical piece would be not to pick up every single thing I assigned because I remember hitting Christmas and just being in tears because I had a stack of paper this high that I had to get through. And mark and I, I had gotten so busy that I wasn’t keeping up with it and it was overwhelming at the time. And I remember just being in the laundry room and crying. Aw. But it was, you know I look back and I got through it and you, you really do lean on people to give advice to you. And we’re a learning community mean if you know, a school is working well and functioning well, you’re not teaching in isolation, you’re teaching as part of a team and that collaborative piece.


Sam Demma (27:11):
Yeah. Love that. Love that great advice. Sarah, how about yourself?


Sarah Abrams (27:18):
I think for me too, it’s, it’s probably a little bit about, you know, do don’t, don’t worry as much about the curriculum. The curriculum is super important, but be yourself. I, I remember when I first started teaching, I thought, okay, I’m, I’m young. I need to go in and I need to be, you know, a mean teacher. I need to lay down the law and I need these kids to know that, I mean business and, you know, that’s the only way that they’re gonna pay attention and learn. And, and I learned very quickly that if you try to be something you’re not, students will pick up on that very quickly. And when I actually was comfortable enough just to be myself and to, you know, I’m, I’m naturally sort of a caring, motherly kind of a teacher and, and every teacher has their own style and, and every style is good. But that was my style. My style was not to be the hard nose, you know, strict disciplinarian and it worked better for me. I found my students responded better to me when I was authentic. And and when I just, just went in there as, as myself and that has worked really well for me.


Sam Demma (28:23):
Hmm. Love that, love that. Those are, I get a different answer every time I ask an educator so thank you for sharing. It is cool to see the different, you know, the different answers and examples and I appreciate you sharing. This has been a great conversation. It’s already been almost 40 minutes, so thank you both for being here and sharing in this conversation. If a teacher or an educator wants to connect with you, like what would be the best way to reach out and Sarah, maybe you can share first, you can share maybe a Twitter or an email address, whatever you prefer.


Sarah Abrams (28:52):
Well on Twitter, I’m @SarahMAbrams. So that’s definitely a way that people can connect with me, Sarah with an H and Abrams with no H and we can, we can share that with you later. And my email, absolutely. I’m happy to answer emails and it’s sarah.abrams@ocsb.ca.


Sam Demma (29:13):
Awesome. Katie, how about you?


Katie Lewis-Prieu (29:15):
And it would be the same two ways for me also on Twitter. I’m @klewis_prieur. And my school board email is katie.lewis-prieur@ocsb.ca.


Sam Demma (29:41):
Awesome, love it. Well, Katie, Sarah, thank you both for coming on the show. It’s been a great conversation. Keep up the amazing work and I will talk to you soon.


Katie Lewis-Prieu (29:50):
Thanks so much for having us; this is an honor.


Sam Demma (29:53):
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 Katie Lewis-Prieur & Sarah Abrams

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. Kirk Linton – K-9 Principal, EdD in Learning Sciences & Music teacher/trumpet player

Dr. Kirk Linton - K-9 Principal, EdD in Learning Sciences & Music teacher/trumpet player
About Dr. Kirk Linton

Dr. Kirk Linton (@krlinton) is a school principal in Calgary. He graduated with his Ed.D. from the University of Calgary in the Learning Sciences in 2019 and received recognition at the national level for his research on teacher professional learning and research-practice partnerships.

He is the recipient of the 2015 Distinguished Vice Principal of the Year award from the Canadian Association of Principals as well as the 2015 Alberta Distinguished Leadership Award from the Council for School Leadership. He has presented at conferences nationally and internationally.

Dr. Linton is passionate about creating engaging and authentic learning for students and teachers and he has worked tirelessly to create cultures of innovation in the schools he has served. He is a husband, father of 3 sons, and a trumpet player in his spare time.

Connect with Kirl: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

EdD in Learning Sciences – University of Calgary

Canadian Association of Principals (CAP)

Council for School Leadership – Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA)

Dr. Linton’s Personal Website – The Principal’s Viewpoint

Canadian Association of Professional Speakers (CAPS)

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 was actually connected by one of my colleagues at CAPS; CAPS stands for the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers. At 21 years old, I’m actually the youngest member and youngest ever board member . I bring in all the programming for our membership and all the different speakers to our chapter.


Sam Demma (01:00):
And one of my fellow members name Joyce connected me with Dr. Kirk Linton, and I’m so excited she did because he is a phenomenal human being. Dr. Kirk Linton is a school Principal in Calgary. He graduated with his educational degree from the University of Calgary in the learning sciences in 2019 and received recognition at the national level for his research on teacher professional learning and research practice partnerships. He is the recipient of the 2015 distinguished vice principal of the year award from the Canadian Association of Principals, as well as the 2015 Alberta distinguished leadership award from the Council for School Leadership. He has presented at conferences nationally and internationally. Dr. Linton is passionate about creating, engaging, and authentic learning for students and teachers, and he has worked tirelessly to create cultures of innovation in the schools. He has served. He is a husband, father of three sons, and a trumpet player in his spare time. He used to play in a band. You’ll hear about it in today’s interview. Anyways, I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I enjoyed it, and I will see you on the other side. Kirk, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself, and sharing a little bit behind the reason why you’re so passionate about the work you do in education today?


Dr. Kirk Linton (02:26):
All right, we’re going right into the deep end. Here we go. So my name’s Kirk Linton, and I am a principal of a K-9 school in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. I think I’ve been a Principal for, this is my fifth year, in education; about 18 years I do believe now if I’m counting and definitely been one of the more, were interesting dynamic, wild, challenging years of my career. Right, so before we get into all that kind of business though, I have three kids of my own. Right, so I have a 14 year old, a 10 year old, and a 7 year old, and they’re just a wonderful bunch of kids. And like, I like to say, I have get to live the k-9 life at school and the k-9 life at home.


Dr. Kirk Linton (03:09):
So I get the full experience of what that it looks like for, for better or worse both as a parent and as a teacher and as a principal to right. So, okay. So, so yeah, basically education. So yeah, I’m passionate about education, right? The reason I’m part of the passionate, because I do have kids, right. So I see what it looks like. And I see what what happens when the, the best occurs in schools. I see the connection that forms with teachers, the influence, the impact that people have on the lives of young people. That’s probably the reason that I’m here today, Sam, right. Is I, you know, I, I got to experience some really powerful teaching, got to have some really amazing connections with some of my teachers. And I think every single one of us, you know, strives at the end of the day with all the other stuff that’s going on in the background, we’re trying just to really form those connections with those kids, have those opportunities to speak with just have those deep connections with kids, support families and do our best for them.


Dr. Kirk Linton (04:06):
Right. it doesn’t always happen all the time, but we certainly do the best we can.


Sam Demma (04:10):
Yeah. Ah, I hear that. And I totally agree. Thank you for sharing. What led you down the path of education though, because if I’m correct from reading your blog and having convers with you prior, you know, you were quite the musician and I’m curious to know, you know, how it all led you down to teaching and education.


Dr. Kirk Linton (04:29):
Absolutely. So, yeah, my I originally wasn’t going to be a teacher that was, my wife now was the one who was always gonna be the teacher. She, she knew that she was early on. She had a sense that the direction she was going I was really passionate about music. I’m a trumpet player. And so that was something that I started piano when I was in grade six, started picking up the trumpet when I was in grade seven and really got into it. And I picked the, the best instrument out there, which is the trumpet of course. Right. So so my dad really tried to push me into going, going into flute, cuz he said, the flute is thing that’s really small. It fits inside your backpack. You need to go something small. And I said, well, I don’t want to go with something small.


Dr. Kirk Linton (05:08):
I want to go with something big, nice, big sound. And I said, I want to be a part of something that, you know, you can be rock and roll jazz, you can be classical, that kind of stuff. So, so I kind had a sense that was what I wanted to do. And then, you know, what, what happened is that this is it. Like I ran into some teachers who were, are incredible, right. And it was through the musical world that I became. And I started to realize that music and education and music and teaching kind of go hand in hand, right? There’s this kind of apprenticeship model that happens where you learn a skill, you develop as you go. And I think it’s similar for athletes, right? Who are kind of learning and, and being coached. And they either going down that road too, as you, you move forward, you connect with people and these people are so passionate about what they do, but they’re also passionate about you and helping you succeed.


Dr. Kirk Linton (05:50):
And so that definitely played into my career as an educator. So I went down that road, got into high school you know, started getting lots of opportunities to play in some really great places in, in university. And then went into university and you know, just continued on down that path until I hit a point where I had my, my wisdom teeth removed in my mouth. Right. And so I was, I was dead set. I was gonna be a professional Trump player. And then of course I had some nerve issues that came out of that and some other kind of injury stuff. And at that point, you know, I kind of realized that I may need to start looking in a different direction that maybe that, you know, physically, I wasn’t gonna be able to keep pursuing that my heart certainly was still there. And I think at the end of the day, I still feel very much like a musician deep down. Right. and still you get to live that life vicarious through my family and through my own kids. Right. Yeah. But yes, I mean music passionate about music. And like I said, I think the experience of being in music was something that really informed me as an educator and continues to feed me.


Sam Demma (06:50):
Hmm. And it’s interesting looking at music, you know, when you play music, the audience listening, enjoys hearing it. And I think you can, you can create a, a similar response in the lives of students by sharing wisdom and information in other ways that will be like music to their ears. that could I, that like that yeah. Help them help them in other ways. That’s such an awesome story. And you know, you mentioned that you had some mentors and teachers who really inspired you along the way. Yeah. And one of the things you, you highlighted was their passion. Passion is a huge thing. And I believe it’s contagious because it’s the same reason that my teacher, Mike loud foot grade 12 social studies teacher totally changed my life. He came to class and when he spoke it, it was so clearly evident that he cared about what he was sharing. And that’s what made me buy into his lessons. And I’m curious to know passion aside. What else do you think your teachers did for you and whether it’s the music teacher or the classroom teachers that you’ve had that made a significant impact on you as a student and that, that encouraged you to buy in to the lessons they were sharing in teaching?


Dr. Kirk Linton (07:51):
Well, I mean, I like to go back to that the saying or the truism, right? That the three most important things in education are the relationships, relationships, and relationships. Those are the most three important things. Right. I, I think it’s that deep sense that people believe in you and that they, they care for you and that they have dreams for you. I, you know, I, I think back I had it was just a short session. I did a summer program with a conductor from a university from the states. And he used that language with his kids or with the students. I mean, we were adults at that time, right. We were 1822 in that kind of range. And for each of us, he’d only known us probably for hours. And he connected so deeply with us that right out of the gate, he would say, Kirk, my dream for you is the, this right.


Dr. Kirk Linton (08:41):
My dream for you is this. And all of a sudden what happens to you is you go, this guy barely knows me. He already cares enough about me, that he has a dream for me. He expects big things from me. Mm. Maybe I should have a dream for myself. And maybe that is something that I can, you know, is possible. It’s funny cuz now the school that I’m in too one of our school models is dream believe and achieve. So I have a dream. Right. but now, you know, I started using that even with my own students and I started using that same language and you know, it’s a way of sort of giving it to them and saying, have a dream, but also saying, I care enough about your dream to support you, to get to that dream. So that was, that was pretty inspiring stuff.


Sam Demma (09:20):
Ah, I love, that’s such an amazing story. And even when I think about my own teacher, Mike loud foot, he would take his, he would take his classroom content like you’re saying, and then apply it to every student’s life. So he’d finish a lesson and say, Hey Sam, for you, this means at Y and Z and Julia for you, based on what I know about you, what this means is X, Y, and Z. And he would take his classroom content. And I, I guess I could, I would call it the shotgun technique and he would try and make it applicable to as many people in the classroom as possible which is a unique way of, of going about it. And I think that that’s what most teachers, you know, strive to do in the classroom.


Dr. Kirk Linton (09:56):
It’s such a special quality, you know, to be able to see that in each of your kids and communicate that to each of your students and then to develop them individually. But that’s, that’s the key having that dream for each kid.


Sam Demma (10:08):
Mm. And how do you think we, you know, back to relationships, relationships, relationships, how do you think we build those with students? You know, even when we might be going through a challenging time, like COVID 19, is it about checking in? Is it about, you know, how do you build those relationships?


Dr. Kirk Linton (10:28):
It’s been a tough year. It’s been a really difficult year to build those relationships this year. At the same time that I have felt like we have collectively gone through something together. So at the same time you have challenges, you have opportunities, right? Mm-Hmm so the challenge of this year has been that disconnect or the, the feeling of lack, lack of control over what’s been happening around us. You know, even this week, weekend I was contact tracing, right? Telling people they have to go into isolation, telling my families that they have to isolate even within their households, those sorts of things, those are difficult, difficult conversations, but they also provide opportunities for that connection to grow as well. So, you know, I’ve been saying that, you know, leadership is a, a rainy day job. Well, 20, 20, 21, we’re living through a Monsu right.


Dr. Kirk Linton (11:23):
This has been a, a crazy long downpour all year long. It has challenged each of us it’s it’s, it’s made us all sort of reevaluate how we do what we do. So we’ve had to reach out out lots of different ways. So, and I think about the evolution of this for me and as a school community, since this began. So back in last March, right? So we you know, heading into March, no one had a clue what was gonna happen. Yeah. Where things were gonna head. I can still remember because in Alberta we found out, I think it was four o’clock in the afternoon, on a Sunday afternoon that we were no longer gonna go into classes into school. We’d still have classes, but we had to basically pivot turn around, shift our practice within a day to, to the next day and walk in the next morning and figure out what the heck we were doing.


Dr. Kirk Linton (12:16):
Right. and nobody really knew. And so, you know, we had all different people with different comfort levels with technology different confidence levels around how they could manage that whole situation. And so as leaders in that situation, they’re trying to sort of as se, where is everybody? Mm. So, you know, I, I came in like with my little bit of a little bit cocky and kind of said to everybody, you know what, you’re gonna need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Right. And I was like, this is, we’re gonna be uncomfortable for a while. We’re gonna have to get used to that and get comfortable. But, but Sam, it was the wrong thing to say. It was the wrong thing, because I didn’t need to say that people were already so far out of their regular element. That that was just one more reminder to them that, whoa, I am so uncomfortable at this point in time that I don’t even know what to do.


Dr. Kirk Linton (13:05):
Right. we also had people, of course, who were bringing their own health issues and concerns into the building at that point in time, right? The are uncertain about their own health, about their friends, about their family. And so of course it became really real, really fast when I had staff members come to me and say, listen, like I have an underlying health condition that if I get sick, this is gonna be a big issue. Or I have a son or a daughter or a mother or a father who, if this hits that this is gonna be, become a big issue. So what we’ve asked our teachers to do this year is a tremendous act of courage and bravery. And I cannot be more proud of what we’ve done as teachers and as a profession that we’ve been able to walk into this monsoon of a year and continue need to do the best we can for our kids, for our students and for our communities.


Dr. Kirk Linton (14:00):
You know, when I first looked at what do we do here? Because my, my fear in all of this is we were going to lose that sense of community and we were going to lose our kids. Do you know what I mean? Yeah. I think every educators may fear was that these kids were going to walk out of our building and that, where would they go? What was gonna happen to them when they were home? Did they have the support systems they needed? Were mental health concerns gonna be dealt with? Would we even know the mental health concerns were going on so that we could help and support? So there’s this huge sense of sort of health, right? So for me, the way that we just, we just kept reaching out and the number one thing was just making sure we were making contacts.


Dr. Kirk Linton (14:45):
So I just kept pushing people, you know, make those phone calls, talk to people then you know, how do we connect on social media? How do we use the social media? We’ve got to sort of keep those kids engaged with us. So we were posting things like our daily announcements and prayers and jokes and things like that online. So the kids still felt like they were part of the school. Nice. you know, I used my trumpet in that context, Sam, like I, you know, I, we, me and my, my kids got out on our front weight. And so my, my, my oldest plays violin and my middle plays violin, and my youngest son plays cello. And so we were putting on driveway concerts. nice in the neighborhood. Nice. and so we’d get out there every Sunday afternoon, and then we would play a couple tunes. We’d always end with some kind of star wars lick at the end of the day. And nice. And after a while we developed some some following, you know, we were pretty big stuff, Sam, we probably had like 10, maybe 12 people who would come and bring their lawn chairs.


Sam Demma (15:38):
That’s amazing.


Dr. Kirk Linton (15:39):
but we’d also, we’d also film it too. Right. So I would you know, we’d play old Canada, we’d film that and I’d post it up online, that sort of thing. So that for the community, so it was just ways of reaching out. And I think we all were, I mean, that was sort of the, the honeymoon phase of the pandemic, if you will, at that point. Right. there was still lots of energy and hope and we’re all like, oh yeah, we’re gonna change. You know, there was maybe a little bit of sense of, you know, yeah, this is exciting in a, in a way it’s, it’s, it’s new, it’s different. We’re gonna figure this out huge challenges. We knew what was we thought we knew it was coming. But we, you know, we move forward in that kinda way. As I’ve watched the year progress, and I’ve seen some of the, the constant sort of stress that’s gone with that the adjustments that are, are constantly having to be made between moving online, moving back into person you know, we have kept our kids as well as we could and dealt with the situation the best we could. But holy Dina, this has been quite the year, Sam.


Sam Demma (16:39):
Yeah. It’s, it’s something that I’ve heard echoed between all the interviews I’ve done. I’ve interviewed over 90 educators now for the past six months. So I’m averaging dozens of conversations per month. And the, the common thread is, is, is what you’re sharing. So you’re definitely not alone and neither is your school. And before I continue, I wanna make sure I give you the applause you deserve for your, your driveway shows.


Sam Demma (17:09):
Just in case those 12 people in lawn chairs, didn’t, didn’t show appreciation enough.


Dr. Kirk Linton (17:14):
They weren’t that loud, Sam, for sure.


Sam Demma (17:17):
That’s okay. But you mentioned earlier that with every obstacle, BEC there, there comes along an opportunity with it, you know? Yeah. With every, you know, plot of dirt, you can plant the seed. What do you think the opportunities are like, you, you have obviously a growth mindset when you’re even talking about focusing on of the opportunities in a difficult situation, what are some of those opportunities?


Dr. Kirk Linton (17:44):
Yeah. And I think that’s something that you know, we have to focus on the opportunities, right. I, I think that’s something that we have to take this and acknowledge that this is a new perspective. Mm-Hmm, we’re never going back to that world. That was February 20, 20, right. This is where we’ve moved on and we’re somewhere different now. And I think that there will be a, a kind of reckoning that occurs over the years to come right, where we sort look back and say, where were we before this? And where are we now? And sort of what happened in that, in between period that got us to here. Mm-Hmm I, you know, early on, I said, I think that the end result of this is going to be a renewal of the education system. I think that, you know, we, weren’t very at agile as a system, we were very, you know, sort of like, you know, just lots of people, lots of stuff.


Dr. Kirk Linton (18:34):
And I think what we’ve learned how to do is really to adjust quickly and to change our practice. So, you know, in that period of time, this, in those first, early months of the pandemic, and even into this year, I’ve probably seen more professional learning and occur amongst teachers and staff of all types as we’ve had to sort of navigate this time and, you know, the use of educational technology, which may have been a, a tougher sell you know, about five years ago. And it’s funny because when I look there was a lot of excitement in the turn of the millennium, right? So early two thousands were people really excited about what technology could do. Mm. And there was a period of time where we all got a little bit afraid of our own technology, because we went, whoa, this is all of a sudden taking over my life.


Dr. Kirk Linton (19:21):
And I don’t know where to go with it. And then whoa, what’s going on with our kids, what’s happening with the students, right? What are they doing with the technology and how’s that impacting their lab? And so then all of a sudden there was a pushback. And so probably the, the last five years there was kind of a swing in the other direction of, we’re just gonna totally shut this down or pretend it’s not happening. Mm. What we’re seeing now is teachers are, are kind of reassessing and going back and say, so how do I use technology to deliver learning, but not only that, but to kids create, right. You know, we talk about kids have the ability to take in content. There’s a lot of, you know, they’re really good at using YouTube. They’re good at scrolling through Instagram, but when it comes to creation and making things with technology and doing things with technology, we sometimes make assumptions.


Dr. Kirk Linton (20:08):
They have skills that maybe they don’t and need to be the developed. And I’d say the same was, is with the teachers, is, is just knowing what the tools are, how they can be applied pedagogically and how they can be used to actually create that student learning out there. And so what I’ve seen is, you know, in this flipping back and forth between online and in person we’ve had to become really flexible in what we do and use the tools and new and be really innovative, just do everything differently. We’ve had to rethink everything, right. You know, we’ve rethought everything from how we, you know, teach to how we structure our school day,


Dr. Kirk Linton (20:45):
How we come into school, how we have lunch times, how we do recess, all those sorts of things. Right. So things have really significantly changed in a lot of ways. And as with a lot of things, there’s things that, you know, we would toss out and say this, if we can never get back to not doing this, that’d be awesome. But like wearing masks, for example, I don’t think anyone wants to keep wearing masks for too long. On the other side, though, there are things that we would absolutely keep where we’re going, why wouldn’t we do lunch this way? Why wouldn’t we organize ourselves a little bit differently? And so there have definitely been some positives that will come out of this, but, you know, I think there is a period that’s coming where we’re gonna all have to sort of sit back and have a chance to reflect. Hopefully the end is in sight here, Sam. Yeah. Right. Where we all can kind of sit back and go, okay, what was that all about? And then we make the meaning of that. I think, as we move forward,


Sam Demma (21:35):
I love it. And it’s funny, you mentioned the, hopefully the end is in sight. My dad was driving home the other day and Rogers globally went down or at least nationally, and , my dad gets home and I’m like, dad, you hear about the phone? He’s like, yeah, my radio, wasn’t working either. And I’m like, oh my goodness is the end in sight. Like . But no, I follow, I follow. I’m hoping the end of, of COVID is in sight as well. And you know, we’re able to do some of the things that we’d like to get back to doing. I’m curious though, you’ve peaked my interest now. How, how have you changed the structure of your school day and maybe even the lunch are some of the things that you think are really cool that have been changed and you wanna keep the same?


Dr. Kirk Linton (22:17):
Well, I mean, you know, some of them were really basic, right? The way we came in the school, you would always have the traditional, everyone would stand up in big clumps on the tarmac and you’d hold the kids outside, right. Until that bell went because you can’t let them in early. So what’s changed on that front is that we are now having kids come and staggered entry and they come right into the school first thing the morning. And so it’s funny, we had a really rigid structure before that had some benefits to it from the standpoint of the quiet, the school’s nice and quiet before the school day, that sort of thing. But what I have found is that allowing kids to have sort of a soft beginning to their day, where they have 10 or 15 minutes where they’re in ahead of time and they have the chance to just sort of come in and settle and the teacher’s not jumping straight into instruction.


Dr. Kirk Linton (23:01):
And everyone just has a chance to sort of chill out for 10 minutes has actually been a really friendly, good thing for our, our students. Right. start of the year, we did a, a staggered entry as well, where we brought in only a third of the class into each, for each day. So for three days, we just brought in 10 kids instead of bringing in 30 for the first day. And that gave our teachers that chance to have that relationship building time mm-hmm and spend more quality time and really get to know each student. So you’re not doing that for first day with 30 phases, you don’t know doing the roll call and never really getting to know them. And I gotta say that was a huge positive something that we, we heard as well. Right. we used to have our lunches in the gym altogether.


Dr. Kirk Linton (23:43):
It was loud, it was noisy. The kids were all over the place. And so now they’re having lunch within classrooms. And so it’s just a little bit calmer and, and more settled and, and I’m finding the kids are enjoying that piece as well. So yeah, I think, you know, from those standpoints, oh, staggered stagger lunch times two recesses. We, we’re not doing them all at one time, so you’d have one big us we’d have, or in our case it was two, we’d have 350 kids out at the same time. And, you know, it was just a lot going on all at the same time. And now we’ve gotta set up so that each of the groups goes out separately. And so there’s more room, there’s more space and the kids just there’s less conflict on the playground. Right. So, so small things that you wouldn’t have changed because it was the way it had it always been done. And now you have the reason to go back and try it a different way, and you realize, Hey, it’s actually possible to do this in a different way. So it’s not a bad thing.


Sam Demma (24:35):
Yeah. It’s small things. I wear this wrist brand that says small, consistent actions. And it’s the, yes, the phrase that my teacher taught to me when I was 17, that like totally changed the way I look at my life. And in fact, so much so that I keep this little turtle on my desk as well, to remind me that it’s okay, if you’re moving slow, as long as you’re thinking about, you know, what, what it is that you’re doing or making progress, you know, putting one foot in front of the other small actions, small, consistent actions. Yeah.


Dr. Kirk Linton (25:02):
I was listening to another podcast I think. And they were talking one degree turns. Yep. That that’s how you, how you turn in a big ship or you turn it all. That’s how you make change. It’s one degree turns everyone. You don’t need to do a 180. Yeah. And I think when I think about my own leadership journey too, I always used to be like, oh, it’s gotta be transformative. Like this is, you gotta know that something significant has changed. The whole system’s turned upside down and now it’s turned to see that. Yeah. Can. So working in that sort of way, slowly one degree turns is gonna get you where you want to be.


Sam Demma (25:33):
I was so fascinated by the philosophy when I was 17, that we started picking up garbage as the small action. And you know, we, we ended up filling close to 3000 bags of trash over the past four years from just one hour weekly cleanups with it’s. And so like, that’s our practical case study of that example as well. Yeah. And it’s so apparent that it’s happening in schools right now, all across Canada, all across north America, you know, small, you’re making small shifts, but it sounds like it’s making a huge difference, you know, in the schools. And also probably with the student safety, I would, I would assume


Dr. Kirk Linton (26:07):
A hundred percent, right. Small but powerful things. And I think the little things add up and I think we’ve really seen that, especially in a pandemic environment, right. Where we we’re seeing that those little choices that people are making along the way really have a real impact on others. And so I think as educators, that is always what we’re trying to show kids, because we are trying to give the next generation that sense of stewardship that they carry forward and make better the things that we’ve got. Right. And so that’s, that’s always the goal. So yeah, I like that. I think the 1% turns the small movements with intention, the small decisions, that’s, that’s something that’s a real life lesson. It’s tough to be patient for that though Sam. Right.


Sam Demma (26:45):
It is. But, but Hey, the, the turtle beats, the, the turtle beats, the hair and the race, right.


Dr. Kirk Linton (26:52):
Yeah. Well, yeah, you’re more patient than me, I think.


Sam Demma (26:54):
So if you could go back Kirk and, and speak to your younger self, you know, 18 years ago before your first year in education, knowing what you know, now, what advice would you give your younger self?


Dr. Kirk Linton (27:08):
I would probably say, you know what cuz I think that I, I had these high goals of being the professional musician. I had a taste of that and we had really, you know, I, I think what I would say to myself is it’s okay, this is not an either or right. Mm, this is a, this, and you can be that and that you can continue to be these different things. It’s the ever expanding sense of yourself, right? That we, we grow, we don’t necessarily lose the things that we’ve done before that we continue to build on them and that I can be a musician and be a principal and I can be a musician and be a teacher and be a dad and have all these different roles sort of coinciding and that they don’t I don’t lose them as I move forward that they continue to, to grow and shape and change into who I am. And that’s not a static thing at all.


Sam Demma (27:58):
I needed that advice when I was 17 and having injuries as a soccer player. So don’t only pass that forward to younger educators, but pass it forward to your students as well. I think it’s so important. I, I think of it like a book. Like imagine your life was a book and it only had one chapter; that would be the most boring book ever and I think when we, when we mold ourselves into different positions and to solve different problems and to experience different things, what we’re essentially doing is starting new chapters, you know? And I think it makes it more interesting, more relatable so that’s great advice. Kirk, thank you so much for coming on the show. I really appreciate it and this has been a great conversation. If an educator has enjoyed this and wants to reach out to you, what would be the best way for them to do so?


Dr. Kirk Linton (28:45):
They can find me on Twitter if they like @krlinton. That’s definitely one spot they can reach out to be there. I think that’s probably the easiest thing to do.


Sam Demma (28:53):
Okay, perfect. Kirk, thank you so much again and keep up the great work and I’ll talk to you soon.


Dr. Kirk Linton (28:58):
Awesome. Thanks Sam. It’s been a pleasure


Sam Demma (29:00):
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 Kirk Linton

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.

Sean Ruddy – Principal of Student Success and Specialized Programs at Near North District School Board

Sean Ruddy - Principal of Student Success and Specialized Programs at Near North District School Board
About Sean Ruddy

Sean Ruddy (@SeanRuddy14), is the Principal of Student Success and Specialized Programs at the Near North District School Board. He started his career teaching in the Rainbow District School Board and for the last 17 years has been a Vice Principal, Principal, and System Principal with the Near North District School Board.   

Sean has his Masters of Education from Nipissing University where his focus was on Safe Schools and using Restorative Practices to build relationships in schools. Sean has presented his work at the International Institute of Restorative Practices World Conference and the International Confederation of Principals Convention.

He has a strong belief that all students can learn.  Sean believes that finding creative ways to engage and support students will lead to an increase in student achievement and well-being.

Connect with Sean: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Near North District School Board

Rainbow District School Board

Masters of Education – Nipissing University

International Institute of Restorative Practices

International Confederation of Principals Convention

Specialist High Skills Major Program (SHSM)

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 (01:02):
This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Sean Ruddy. Sean is the Principal of student success and specialized programs at the Near North District School Board. He started his career teaching in the Rainbow District School Board and for the past 17 years has been a Vice-Principal, Principal and System-Principal with the Near North District School Board. Sean has his masters of education from Nippissing University where his focus was on safe schools and using restorative practices to build relationships in schools. Sean has presented his work at the International Institute of Restorative Practices world conference and the International Confederation of Principals convention. He has a strong belief that all students can learn. Sean believes that finding creative ways to engage and support students will lead to an increase in student achievement and overall wellbeing. I hope you enjoy this enlightening conversation with Sean. I will see you on the other side, all the best. Sean, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show, please start by introducing yourself.


Sean Ruddy (02:07):
Yeah, thanks Sam. My name’s Sean Ruddy and I work for the Near North District School Board. Currently, my role is the Principal of student success and specialized programs. And the board office is located in North Bay, and we cover roughly about 17,000 square feet. So geographically we’re a fairly large board, and it stretches kind of from Perry Sound in the west, to Sturgeon Falls and in North Bay; in that that basic geographic area there.


Sam Demma (02:42):
At what point during your own career exploration phase of life, did you realize that as you is where you want it to work?


Sean Ruddy (02:50):
Yeah, it’s funny. Everybody seems to have a different story about how they end up in, in this in this spot. Graduating from from secondary school, I went on to post-secondary school. I, I was going into business, so I had no intention of, of getting into education at all. I was really fortunate enough to volunteer coach at a, as my, my high school that I graduated up and and, and got to work with some, some students and, and coaching them hockey. And for me, I really used the word coaching and, and teaching kind of interchangeably because they’re essentially, in my view, they’re, they’re the same thing. Really got to, to see that I was making a difference and, and that you know, you know, you knew it was as a your experience with soccer. You know, when you, you have, you have some success as a team and, and you, you know, as a leader of that particular team it certainly gives you that that thrive to, to want to do more. So I quickly figured out that that, you know, impacting students was something that I wanted to do for a living and then applied for teachers college and, and kind of the rest is, is history.


Sam Demma (04:05):
You mentioned coaching, how has athletics played a big role in your involvement at school and also outside of school?


Sean Ruddy (04:12):
Yeah. Athletics is huge. And you know, speaking of athletics, I know you’re a soccer guy. Yeah. Is there, is it a better timing camp, Canada to be a soccer fan right now? You know, like it’s,


Sam Demma (04:23):
Especially for me, because two of the guys who play on the Canadian men’s national team used to be teammates. So not only are they winning, but I’m able to personally cheer them on.


Sean Ruddy (04:33):
Yeah. That that’s incredible. Yeah. No sports sports has had a huge impact on, on my life as I believe it has on, on, on yours. The, you know, all of those lifelong skills that you learn in terms of you know, collaboration and you know, and teamwork and you know, putting the the common goals of the groups ahead of your individual interests, all of those are, are foundational leadership philosophy that, that I’ve taken from my years of playing sports and and try and implement it to you know, everything that I do here at the, at the schoolwork.


Sam Demma (05:11):
Awesome. you mentioned that the, the word coach and, and the word teacher could be kinda used interchangeably, what do you mean by that? And where do you see the striking similarities?


Sean Ruddy (05:21):
Well, I see, you know, you, you know, if we go back to using the, the coaching analogy, right, if you, you, you replace the team with your class and those are all interchangeable. And the, the really neat thing, and as you would know, is that every, every person is different. So every player that you have on your soccer team is different. Every kid in your class that you have is different. They all come from varying backgrounds and, and are motivated in, in different ways. And you know, you, the way I see it, the role as you’re as the leader or the coach, or the teacher, you have to figure out how each individual student learns and how to get the best out of that individual kit. And you know, it’s, and it’s no different on the, on the quarter on the field. And you know, the best best coaches are able to maximize the potential in each of their individual players, you know, and all going towards the you know, a common goal. So that’s where I see it. They’re, they’re, they’re really interchangeable from, from my point of view.


Sam Demma (06:22):
So you started teaching tell me a little bit about your first role and then bring us through the progression to what brought you to where you are right now.


Sean Ruddy (06:31):
Yeah, so I, I was fortunate enough out of teachers college to get hired in a, in a little small, a small town notes side, February called lava. And it was with the rainbow district school board, and I’m from north bay. So it was, it was outta town. So I spent one year there really immersed in teaching pretty much everything you can think of because when you’re in these small communities, there’s no such thing as specialized teachers. So you, you have to everything. So it was, it was great to, to live and learn there. I was able to eventually get back to the north district school board and taught for a number of years and then became a, a vice principal. And now I think I’m about 17 years into administration, a a on, through a few different secondary schools. And and this is my second year in the central position at, at the board office. So I I’ve really kind of been in, in every area of the board.


Sam Demma (07:31):
That’s amazing. You’ve played every position on the field.


Sean Ruddy (07:34):
Yes. Yeah.


Sam Demma (07:37):
Central role. Tell me a little bit more about what it entails and what your roles and responsibilities are, and some of the projects maybe that you’re focused on bringing in or running.


Sean Ruddy (07:48):
Yeah. So, so for me, you know, my focus is on student success and, and any of those specialized programs that we can put in place to, to help impact student achievement and our wellbeing within our board. Some of the, some of the ones that we’re really proud of is all of our secondary schools have specialist high skills, major programs. I and those were a variety of different programs from hospitality to construction, to business and arts. Students are, are very fortunate now where they have a number of options that they can focus based on their interests. So, so that’s one that certainly falls within my portfolio. Another one that we’re re we’re really excited about is we have a dual credit program with Canada or college here in north bay. So they’re a partner with us, and we offer a variety of, of dual credits where a student can actually go to college and get a, from the college and a credit from high school. So it’s you know, if you think of some of those the shortages that we have in the skills trades this is a great program to encourage our youth to get in there and and, and really get involved in a, you know, a career that would be very beneficial to them. And then we’re also lucky we’re, we’re launching a couple of new things for September we’re, we’re launching a, a dual credit and video game design.


Sam Demma (09:10):
Oh, nice.


Sean Ruddy (09:10):
So you know, some, some unique things like that, so that’s going on. And then, and then one other one that will likely be announced probably when the podcast airs is that our school board is partnering with Everest academy hockey academy. Wow. And we’re gonna have a, we’re gonna offer a high performance hockey academy combined with an academic program with the near us district school board, which will be unique in, in one of its kind. And again, trying to you know, find the interest of students to engage them in their academic career.


Sam Demma (09:47):
That’s amazing. I think the high performance program sounds like something I would’ve loved to be involved in for soccer when I was growing up in the school. So sounds like a final opportunity for students. What, what keeps you hopeful personally about this work on the days when you show up and there’s global pandemics or on the days you show up and things are a little bit difficult.


Sean Ruddy (10:10):
Yeah. You know, you know, Sam as, as an education and a, a leader I think your only option is to Mo model hope for your your, your teachers and students. Like, yeah. These last two years have been challenging for everybody, not just in, in education as we you know, continually pivot between timetable structures and in school and outta school. And you know, the people that are looking up to you, your, your teacher or your, or your students, they’re looking for that calm, steady beacon of hope. And you have to be the model for them especially during times of crisis and chaos. So I mean, the, there are going to be some lasting things out of this this pandemic, one of them we’re doing right now, we’re, we’re able to connect from, you know, hundreds of kilometers away in real time in, in video. So there’s all kinds of opportunities where we can get students in front of experts from literally around the world you know, through zoom or teams or, or those types of things. But yeah, no, there’s we’re gonna get through the other side that we, we always do. And again, as a leader, I think all you can do is, is to be that model of hope and, and optimism, and and continue to find ways to make things work even in, in times where it it’s very difficult.


Sam Demma (11:35):
I couldn’t agree more. I think you’re absolutely right. Being hopeful. Yourself definitely rubs off on those, around you, especially in the leadership position. So that’s awesome. When you think about programs that have happened in the past can you remember the transformation of a student who went through a program or was ever a part of a, of a class or a team that you’ve coached, who, when they started were very different than when they, you know, completed it or came out the other end? And if it’s a serious story, you know, you can change their name just to keep it a private


Sean Ruddy (12:11):
Yeah, no, there’s, there’s so many Sam having been around you know, I think this is here 22 for me in education. There’s so many stories. You know, if you just think of your own experience going through high school, when you, when you entered grade nine and you know, the maturity level of, of grade nines that were in your class, and then you, the, that same group walking across the stage four or five years later there’s, there’s just a massive change just in maturity. And, and, you know, as educators, we’re, you know, we’re proud of the accomplishments and seeing that transformation for sure. And certainly I know your your educators would be certainly proud with the, that you’re doing not only with, with this podcast, but also the work that you’ve done in your community.


Sean Ruddy (12:58):
So, so thank you for doing that. Just, you know, there’s so many individual stories. It’s hard to, to pick out one, but I can give you like, just a general just a, just a general basis on, in terms of kind of my involvement in, in terms of impacting students. It’s so difficult in the education businesses, because you don’t have that instant feedback. And it’s so hard to you know, I like, I think of one of my colleagues who’s a principal out in sturgeon falls. He also runs a, a wood business. And if you think of something simpler like that, and you, you compare it to education. So not to say that the wood business is simple, but a pile of logs get dropped off. And he goes out there and he works all day on a Saturday, the logs get cut up and they get stacked nicely in court.


Sean Ruddy (13:46):
So he can look back at the end of the day and all that hard painstaking work he’s done. You can see that it’s made a difference in education. We’re, we’re doing that pain making work day in and day out. And, and it’s really hard to see that until there are times like graduation. There’s one, one example. I met a, a former student in the grocery store and he came up to me and he said, you know, he’s told me about how successful he’s been, told me about an interaction that I had with him in the hall one day now, to be honest them, I had no it’s one of a hundred interactions we’d have with students in the day. So I had no recollection of this interaction. He said, he said, you know what? You really made a difference with what you said to me that day.


Sean Ruddy (14:27):
And I stayed at school and I, I continued to go on. So if I have any advice around that for our educational colleague out there is to not underestimate any interaction that you have with a student, no matter how small you think it is, because you know, depending on that particular student, it, it makes a huge difference. And I also equate you know, the work we do in education to my golf game, going back to the sports analogy again, right? So, you know, I’ll go out. I don’t play as often as I’d like to, but I’d go out and shoot 85 or 190 shots, 85, 90, 95 shots. And many of those are frustrating shots and they don’t go where you want them to go, but without fail, there’s one or two that you hit, whether that’s that nice long drive, or you drained a long pot that goes in and you get that satisfaction of doing something that makes you wanna play again. So when we get that feedback from students, oftentimes it’s not until they’re long graduated and you meet them at somewhere in the community you really realize the difference that you make and it makes you want to keep keep going back.


Sam Demma (15:34):
That’s a beautiful analogy. I’ve played golf for one summer, and I don’t have many of those moments yet, but they’re coming.


Sean Ruddy (15:43):
You got it. They’ll come.


Sam Demma (15:45):
Yep. I go, I do a lot of swimming, actually. It’s a dual sport athlete when I golf. Yeah. Yeah, that’s amazing. And if you could, and you may be echoing some of the things you just shared now, but if you could take all the experience you’ve had in education this far bundle it all up, go back in time and tap yourself on the shoulder. And your first, second, third year of education, knowing what you know now, what advice would you have given to your younger self?


Sean Ruddy (16:13):
Well, I think we all all, all of us that are in education are, are fairly driven to be successful. And, and to get to that point, you have been successful. You’re going to fail. You’re, you’re gonna try things and you’re gonna fail. And as frustrating as that is, you know, looking back now, that’s exactly how we learn. Yeah. Like we try things and we fail and, and we reflect on it and do it again. The most powerful lesson that I learned really early on is that I, I ended up working at a school that was about 45 minute drive away from, from my house. So at the end of the day, I had 45 minutes of, of kind of quiet reflection to think of about what happened during the day and reflect on how I can, you know, do it better.


Sean Ruddy (16:58):
So you know, make those mistakes, think outside the box, make connections with kids. You know, kids are the variable, right? Like they, they change, they, you, you, what you did five years ago, won’t necessarily work this year. You’re gonna have change. The kids are the, are the variable. So you know, continue to adapt and and reflect and, and make mistakes. And that, and that’s how we learn. And you know, what, El Sam, I think it’s also fair to show that vulnerability, even as a, as a leader right now, show that vulnerability. Yeah. We continue to make mistakes and that’s okay. And that’s how we learn, but you reflect on them and, and you keep moving on. And you know, as a leader, I think it’s important to, to show that you know, that, that vulnerability.


Sam Demma (17:46):
Finally, before we wrap up here today have you found any specific resources helpful for your own development and education and coaching? Maybe the resource is actually even a person. So, you know, you can mention a mentor or even something you’ve read, watched or been a part of that’s had an impact on you.


Sean Ruddy (18:05):
Yeah. There’s, you know, nobody gets a this far in their career without help from, from people along the way. And there’s many, many people that had a, a big impact on, on my career in particular, the, the first principal that hired me in the rainbow board, Fred law took me right under his wing and, and gave me that permission to make mistakes and, and, and learn. So that was great, but you know what, to be honest, the, and I’m not a, a huge social media presence or, or person. Yeah. But the the best PD that I’m I’m getting right now is you know, following a variety of people on Twitter. Like there’s so much positive PD that that’s out there again, right. So, and it connects people from all areas and all boards and you know, where you can collaborate on, on pretty much any topic you want. So it, it really kind of shrinks the the world. And and basically any topic that you, you want, you can find somebody all else that’s either tried that, or would like to try that with you. Cool. And you can go from there.


Sam Demma (19:16):
If someone wants to reach out to you, ask a question, bounce some ideas around or collaborate after listening to this podcast, what would be the best way for them to get in touch?


Sean Ruddy (19:24):
Yeah, probably the best place is they email Sam. So it’s sean.ruddy@Nearnorthschools.ca. And I do have Twitter, although I’m not, I use it more for PD than being active and it’s @SeanRuddy14.


Sam Demma (19:39):
Awesome. Sean, thank you so much for coming on the show. Keep up with the great work, and I look forward to talking to you again soon.


Sean Ruddy (19:45):
Awesome. Thanks Sam, I really appreciate the opportunity.


Sam Demma (19:49):
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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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.