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Educator

Jeff Armour — Chief Operating Officer (COO) for the University Students’ Council (USC) at Western University

Jeff Armour — Chief Operating Officer (COO) for the University Students’ Council (USC) at Western University
About Jeff Armour

Jeff Armour (@WesternUSC) is the Chief Operating Officer (COO) for the University Students’ Council (USC) at Western University. Jeff graduated with a B.Sc. from Western University and after a few years of service overseeing the Wave and Spoke restaurant and bars on campus the USC encouraged Jeff to enroll in the Project Management program through Western’s Continuing Studies. Jeff was subsequently promoted to higher-level leadership position in the organization until ultimately landing at the COO role he currently holds. Jeff also recently completed his EMBA at Ivey in July 2023.

Jeff has an extensive background in strategic planning, project management, operations restructuring and realignment, change management and financial strategy.

Jeff is married to Mindy and has three children, Kennedee, Ben and Brad. He was born in BC but grew up in Peterborough, Jeff moved to London for school at Western and never left.

Connect with Jeff: Email | Instagram | LinkedIn | Twitter | Facebook

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

University Students’ Council (USC)

B.Sc at Western University

Western’s Continuing Studies

Eccelerated Masters of Business Administration (EMBA) at Ivey

Sebastian Sassaville – From Everest to the Sahara

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
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Jeff Armour. Jeff is the Chief Operating Officer (COO) for the University Students Council at Western University. Jeff graduated with a Bachelor of Science from Western University, and after a few years of service overseeing the Wave and Spoke restaurant and bars on campus, the USC encouraged Jeff to enroll in the project management program through Western’s continuing studies. Jeff was subsequently promoted to a higher level leadership position in the organization until ultimately landing at the COO role he currently holds. Jeff also recently completed his EMBA at Ivy in July 2023. Jeff has an extensive background in strategic planning, project management, operations, reconstructing, and realignment, change management, and financial strategy. Jeff is married to Mindy, has three children, Kennedy, Ben, and Brad, was born in BC, but grew up in Peterborough. Jeff moved to London for school at Western and has never left. I hope you enjoy this insightful interview with Jeff, and I will see you on the other side. Jeff, thank you so much for coming on the podcast. I really appreciate it.

Jeff Armour
Hey, thanks for asking me. I’m excited to talk with you.

Sam Demma
Something that piqued my interest, obviously we met at the orientation week at Western, but something that piqued my interest that we haven’t talked about is your start in construction, because I come from a family of tradespeople and my dad is a plumber by trade and builds homes. Tell me a little bit about your start in construction and how that led to working at the university?

Jeff Armour
I’ll try and give the Coles notes because I don’t want to take up the whole time, but the Kohl’s notes are essentially, when I was really, like, I don’t think I was 16, my dad was, who’s a doctor, was having his office renovated by a contractor who actually became a close family friend. And he suggested I approach him to see if, you know, I could do some work with them, you know, trying to get in those values of work and then getting pay. And I was the oldest child, so, you know, get out there and lead the way for everyone else kind of thing. So that job, I got it. And that guy, his name’s Robert Thurnbeck, who has passed away since, but was really formative for me. A lot of, even to this day, a lot of the leadership things he taught me, even though I don’t think I for sure he was not trained or anything, it just came naturally to him. He was leading a construction company and working with customers. So it was all of that sort of massaging of, there’s money at play, there’s timelines and all the rest of it. Learned a ton from him. When he passed away, I kind of took over the reins at like 19 years old of this company that had projects that still needed to, and it kind of split a little bit, but there was a chunks of it that, you know, I continued on and did some of the work that he underway. And it was kind of like, I was currently enrolled in the university doing my bachelor of science and it was really appealing to me to be doing that construction. So in the summer I was doing it, I was getting to lead a team of like, you know, there was like 20 years old, let’s say, or 19 years old. And there were, you know, carpenters that were working with me that were like 45 or 50. And the plumbers didn’t want to show up and the electricians were like, I think the price is going to go up. And here I am learning all of these, like you’re thrown into it, trying to make a go of it, and a great learning atmosphere. At the same time, I was finishing my BSc, and at that time, there were some challenges in some of the operations, and I was working at The Wave, which is an on-campus restaurant, not just in terms of financially, and we’ll probably get into that later on about how I sort of like view services in the post-secondary environment. But there was challenges with like people, bumps in seats too, like it wasn’t, you know, working. The general manager, the role I’m currently in, which I now call the chief operating officer, but the general manager at the time called me up and asked my suggestion for improving some of those spaces. And I gave him the recommendations and then he offered me a job and said, like, yeah, I want you to come and do all of that and see if you can fix it. I was young still, like 22, 23, somewhere in that range. And I thought, you know what? I can always come back to the construction, but this kind of interests me. And I will say my parents kind of pushed me a little bit. I think they felt like I was growing up maybe too quickly. I was working seven days a week with the construction thing. You work five days a week and then you do quotes and billings on the weekends and you pay deposit. It was non-stop. And it was probably a little too much. I don’t know. I’ve never asked him about that. Maybe over the holidays I will. But came to the USC, University Students Council, which is interesting because every university has a University Students Council. But the USC, for example, at McMaster, it’s the MSU, McMaster Student Union. Across Canada, the USC is known as the Western USC kind of thing. So I’ll say that a lot, so I’m just preparing the listener for that. Came to the USC, and that’s where things really changed in terms of like, it struck a chord in me where the construction money was great, but I suddenly had these thoughts mid-20s, late-30s of like, maybe it’s not about money entirely. You got to be able to pay your bills. I want to be able to like make sure my kids have what they need to, you know, if they want to play sports or whatever. But you know, me working seven days a week and just, you know, the thing about construction was you could literally see something at the end of the day and be like, wow, we showed up here and there was no second floor and now there’s a second floor on. And when I go back to Peterborough, which is where that happened and where I’m from, I’ll drive around the city and be like, oh, I put the roof on that house, there’s all the addition or like music. Can’t believe that chimney’s still up. The mortar was a little cold that day when we were repointing the channel. My point is, there’s a satisfaction that comes with physical creation. And I think what I tapped into, even though I was just working at the bars and restaurants, was the impact and the purpose that interacting with students at probably one of the most critical phases of their life when they’ve left home and they’re trying to figure out their way and they’re trying to learn and they’re trying to figure out how to make friends all over again and all of that, but in a different, they’re reinventing themselves, but also trying to invent what they’re going to be. And it just really resonated with me. That’s how the two came together.

Sam Demma
Can we go back to Robert for just a moment? It sounds like he had an instrumental impact on you. When I think about people in my life who have played big roles and taught me lots of things. Many of the greatest lessons came in moments when I was extremely emotional or something was happening or I made a mistake or things fell apart and this voice of reason from another human being just changed my beliefs or shifted my perspective in a big way. And I think back to a gentleman named Chris who, when during the pandemic my work was falling apart because all these schools were canceling engagements. And he helped me realize that, although it’s a changing and challenging time, there will be opportunities if you shift your focus and focus on the fact that people are gonna need this work now more than ever, and less people are gonna be doing it. And if there’s less people doing it and more people that need it, don’t you think that could be a cool opportunity if you figure out how to deliver things virtually. And it was like, it just, it was a big shift mentally for me. And so I’m wondering, when you think back to your time spent with Robert, do you have any experiences you can remember where you may have had a challenge or something come up and his lesson kind of pushed you forward? And if so, what was one of those examples?

Jeff Armour
Like, there are several I reference all the time, so I could probably give you an example in different realms. But before I do that, I want to say what you just said about finding a way to deliver this message. I think one of the… I don’t know that I would have accepted this invite from someone else if I didn’t feel like what you’re doing and what you’re talking about is absolutely critical. mental, the access to information that the world has, the mental health struggles that we have, the inability to make mistakes or accept that something is wrong because everything is perfect that you see online. I can tell you right now, it’s not even 9.14 in the morning, I’ve already made like four mistakes. And I love it because if it takes you 100 mistakes to get it right, let’s get through 99 of them real quick so we can get to it being right. But that isn’t the way the world is right now. And people need to hear that. Yeah, you’ve got crap in your backpack, as you say, and you got to get it out of there. You got to own it and accept it. And sometimes that stuff is good. Mistakes are good, right? And I think that’s to answer your question now, is I got to borrow a company truck. He had all these F-150s that had the red and white stripes and they all looked the same. And there I was, you know, and I had just gotten my license the year before and I put one of them in the ditch and I had to call him. And we had just had radios, there was no cell phones. So it was like these, you know, radios that we shared with all the trucking companies and everything. And I had to call and say over that radio, so I knew like 300 people in Peterborough were going to hear this. Hey, I need you to come out to quarter line. And I expected this is a job. He gave me a dollar raise every year, a 50 cent raise every year. You have a job. As soon as you’re done school, you just show up. You’re going to get a 50 cent raise. I expect with every paycheck, you’re going to buy a tool. Here’s a tool belt and a hammer just from a shop. You just pull it down. He goes, and I’m going to get you started. But like you want to see a tape measure in there, I want to see this, you want to see that. And if I took you to the garage right now, I have, it looks like you’re walking into a Rona or a Home Depot because he forced me every paycheck to buy a tool, but he gave me a raise every year. I knew it was coming, right? And I knew I had a job. So there was stability there, but there was also patience when I made a mistake, right? Like put the truck into the ditch. But then there was also like life lesson stuff. Like, you know, so I was the young lad. They always called me the young lad, right? Where’s the young lad today? Oh, I’ve got him in another job site. He’s cleaning up this. Well, we need him over here because we’ve got to move a bunch of drywall and like we don’t want to hurt our backs, that sort of thing, right? But he’d go pick me up and drive me over and he goes, tomorrow’s payday and he’d kind of look at me, you know, and he, you know those Colts, the wine dipped, rum tipped Colts, you know, like I’m sure they still exist, but he always had one in his mouth and he would pull it out and look at me, and he’s like, what do you think if I just paid him on Friday instead of tomorrow, right? And I’d be like, I think they’d be really upset, you shouldn’t do that, you know, and he would do it and then he said, he said, you know, what were they saying, right? And, you know, and he’s like, it’s good to remind them that they’re getting a paycheck and their work is valuable and you take him up for pizza lunch and make a big joke about it and big celebration and like it wouldn’t hurt anyone or anything like that but he really understood the balance and at the time I thought he was being I don’t know what the word is for it it wasn’t self-centered but I believe that it brought joy him handing a paycheck to a person and that person going like thank you. Mm-hmm Do you know I mean like I did a good job and there’s money coming to me because I worked for you and the customers Are happy and he was always so happy he was like a big bundle of joy all the time and all that like and and Even though we’re doing construction and sometimes it was like pouring rain and right out there putting tarps on stuff and it was brute, you know Everybody was happy and I think it was connecting. Everyone now connects work and work life and what’s that work life balance and all the rest of that. Like there has to be a division and work is where you’re unhappy, but life is where you’re happy. Do you know what I’m saying? And I think just separating that is terrible. Like I referenced Wayne Gretzky earlier on. He was someone, it was a podcast recently and they asked Wayne, what’s the magic number? How many hours a week were you practicing? How many hours a week? And he laughed and he’s like, zero. I never practiced. I was just playing the game.

Sam Demma
Ah.

Jeff Armour
The mindset of like, when are you putting in that work so you can go get the joy of in the game is separate. It’s all part of the game, right? I like to just, the game was something that we got to organize once in a while as a bonus, but being able to go out there with my friends and shoot, you know, stick or whatever. So there was a lot of those little kind of lessons about like people finding their purpose in their work and then understanding that, you know, the people that are putting up the skyscrapers in Toronto so people can live closer to their work downtown and make that city more vibrant are critical. That’s critical work that’s going on in the world. And I don’t think, I think people don’t see it that way anymore. They’re all jumbled up about what’s the purpose and what their job is and what they’re trying to do and maybe chasing the dollar a little bit. And they’re not finding happiness in that, I don’t think.

Sam Demma
You mentioned earlier that you realized maybe it’s not so much about making lots of money, making enough money, yes, to pay the bills and have some cool experiences, but that there was more important things. When did that realization come to you? Was that when you were transitioning into working in schools? Because I think, especially for younger teachers and even young professionals, there is this, I guess there’s this belief that to be successful, you have to make X amount of dollars. And I think it traps so many people into doing things that they don’t love just to check a box.

Jeff Armour
Right. Yeah, and yeah, for sure. And I’m not trying to be, there’s a lot of people who work really hard to make a lot of money doing that. And I don’t wanna suppose that I understand that that’s what motivates them or keeps them happy. That’s for a therapist to do to figure out where that comes from, you know, and maybe they ate, maybe they grew up in a household that struggled, you know, with food insecurity and who knows. And then now, having enough money is really important and that’s what makes them happy. Great with that. Great with that.

Jeff Armour
But for me, I think it was the building piece, the builder, the contractor part of me that was great at it. I really feel like I understood it and I connected with it. But I feel like there was a few moments when I was like sitting with a young student. It was – so I worked some nights and sitting there with a young student and they were just talking about how their roommates like – it’s late at night. We’re waiting for their buddies to come pick him up because you know he got left at the bar and whatever whatever and you know Most bars, you know in the world would be like it’s closing time get the hell out We don’t we don’t do that on campus. We make sure everyone gets home safe We try and see that people are leaving and you know, hey, you’re walking by yourself Let me get you foot patrol or whatever like we take it’s just a different approach not not as a maybe as a value proposition But it’s more just like, could run campus and, you know, people are trusting us to take care of their children.

Jeff Armour
Exactly, yeah.

Jeff Armour
So sitting with, and then just broke down and then we had a long conversation. I’m pretty, if memory serves me, we actually gave him a job and he was waiting for his buddies to come back and he’s like, you know, I gotta go home for Christmas and like, I’m pretty sure I’m failing a course and my dad’s not going to be okay with that. Not going to be. And, you know, we had some conversations and it was, I remember that one specifically, because it was outside the bar, it was out, we call it Concrete Beach, it’s outside of the building, but there’s this big area where students, you know, gather on campus. And it was a good conversation that made me realize, you know, wow, like, maybe, I’m going to struggle with this all the way through, but like, because I’m much better at self-deprecating, but like maybe I made a difference in that person’s life, right? And although I can’t see it like I built a second floor in a house, I have to believe I’m making a difference. And that statement, I have to believe I’m making a difference, I say to myself weekly weekly ever since in the 25 years that I’ve been at USC.

Sam Demma
You might not be seeing the second floor, but you’re definitely building a foundation in a person’s life the same way you built a foundation in a building with the work that you do with the USC. What are a few of the parts to your work that you find really rewarding? I’m sure there’s so many, but what are a few that come to mind?

Jeff Armour
Well, an easy one is, so my role is the chief operating officer. I am the, again, I hate talking hierarchically, but just so the listener can understand, on an org chart, I’m the top full-time staff person. So we are staff-run, but we’re student-led. So the boss, my boss, is the president who sits on the board of directors. There’s nine of them, so eight students at large, and then the president. That board is my boss that hires, fires me, does performance evaluations and all the rest of it. That president changes over every year. So they get elected. We come back in January, this, like, in four weeks or three weeks, and we’re going to hear who’s running to be president next year, and one of those people will be my boss and the new board of directors representative. So, first out of the gate, if you think, you know, well, thinking it’s bizarre is okay, because it’s awesomely bizarre, but not being okay with it means you should never work for a student association. You’re not gonna ever accept it if you’re like, oh, I couldn’t take orders from a 22, 23 year old. So that’s probably the best part for me though, is every single year, there’s a new slate of ideas, a new, fresh, sort of like, hey, I love that thing they did last year, I didn’t love this part of it so much. You know, and they run, they develop a platform, and then they open up, you know, I kind of call it when the person gets elected, they get to sit down with the current president because they don’t start until June 1, and myself and we open up the big book of truce, right? Okay, so you said you were going to reduce the price of coffee at Starbucks. We don’t run the Starbucks, right? But let me tell you how we use our on-campus operations to advocate for affordability in terms of food on campus, because we’re always cheaper than the, right? So it was like, oh, well, that’s all I really wanted. And right. So then what we’re going to do is we’re going to do a heavy advertising campaign that says, you know, hey, if you want to bottle a little water, we’re 25 cents cheaper. And we won’t we don’t directly say, you know, the school is this and the school is that we just advertise it because we’ve got a great relationship with the school. They’re actually but they got to pay bills as well. They’re a business and their purpose is a little bit different than what our purpose is. Our purpose, our mission, our vision statement is students have the power to change the world. And specifically, we say students, because although we have elected student leadership, you might think that’s the students that have the power to change the world. We actually it’s all students. So like we do something called midnight breakfast where we put out food during exams. And when those students are studying over and well, then they need that pick me up around 11 o’clock. They can just come over and grab a free plate of eggs and waffles and bacon and whatever. Fill their belly, see some people, get away from their desk, and then go back and study. And we believe that those students, one of them’s gonna go on and figure out a cure for the common cold, or is gonna go write some amazing poetry, or is going to be a great track star, and you know, whatever, and they’re gonna change the world in some way, shape, or form. So that’s why we do what we do, that’s why I get out of bed every morning, is I believe that students have the power to change the world.

Jeff Armour
The second thing is how we do that, our mission statement is we do that by enhancing the educational experience. So we don’t do the educational experience, we do mentoring and training and all of that, so there is some huge educational component, but in this moniker, it’s uppercase educational experience, which is what Western does. So we just enhance it, bus pass, health and dental, bars, orientation week, as you saw, stuff like that.

Sam Demma
With the USC, you’re also directly managing lots of different staff members and I’m assuming people would be reporting to you lots of times during the day. It sounds like you also were managing people on the construction site. In your experience managing people on the construction site and even at the university, what have you found to be effective when it comes to managing other human beings? I’ve had a couple of experiences and it’s challenging. It’s challenging.

Jeff Armour
It is. And that’s the beauty of it is people are challenging. If it was easy, they wouldn’t need a chief operating officer, right? If everyone just came in and did exactly what they said they were going to do and they never got sick and they never were confused about about what the priorities were or all that sort of thing, then it would be really easy. But the key to remember for me anyways is, first of all, you have to have the belief that everybody coming into work wants to contribute and feel valued. So that goes back to, it can’t just be about money. It has to be about something else. And I’ll tell you, if it’s, they’re not finding purpose where you’re at and I’m not talking I’m not talking specifically But the USC If you’re not finding purpose working for a consulting firm in Toronto My hope for you as a fellow human being is that you figure that out quickly Because what you are wasting is resource that you can’t get back You can always make more money, but you can’t get time back if your impact and purpose is somewhere else boy I hope you figure that out quickly. And so that is the approach that I take when managing people is, first of all, are you okay? And do you understand, like, what makes you happy and where you’re finding purpose? And if that isn’t the case, let’s talk about that and work through that. No hard feelings, no harm, right? I’m here to be your, I’m here to help you navigate all this if I can, if I can have the honor of doing that, right? The second thing is you understand then, now if you’re connected to what we’re doing, if you believe the students have the power to change the world, if you believe that this consulting firm that you’re working for is really making the agricultural sector a better place to be and that’s important to you because you’re down as a farmer, then awesome. Like you’re doing, you found it, right? Now do you understand from a leadership level, hierarchically, right? What the expectations are from either strategic planning or what makes impact or where we’re going as a team. And even if we’re all going in the wrong direction, let’s go in the wrong direction together, right? Figure out it’s the wrong direction, make corrections and then figure out what the right direction is. Because you’re not gonna get it right the first time, which is where the third thing comes in, which is patience. So is the person okay? Have they found their purpose? Are they able and willing to contribute? Because I don’t believe nobody comes into work to do something wrong. I’m like, oh, today I’m going to like make these mistakes or whatever. If they’re making mistakes, it’s either because they haven’t been trained. That’s the management’s fault. Or they don’t understand where they’re going. Management’s fault. Or they’re not propped up with the tools and resources to do what they need to do, management’s fault. So someone failing at the frontline level or even middle management, I see that as my, that’s my fault. I haven’t had enough time to talk to them. They’re not getting enough direction. They’re not getting enough. Or, or they’re unhappy. And this goes back to, you know. 

Sam Demma
Wrong position.

Jeff Armour
Are you, and if, and sometimes and I’m not gonna I’m gonna stick with construction to keep it at work from what I’m currently doing There were there were times where I had to sit down with someone not sit down because it’s construction site you know you’re having a coffee and the person be like It’s getting harder to get her to bed on Monday and Tuesday now and when I’m like, oh, what do you like? You know, I always like to do this like well, why not like just do it You know, how about you work here half time so you still get a solid paycheck and you got some money and go try that out. Yeah, yeah, you know what I mean? So encouraging people to be their best and if they happen to be their best where I’m the chief operating officer, that’s a win. The win-win is, or that’s a win-win. The win of that person going and figuring out what, but that attitude goes to the entire place. And people start to feel like, hey, I don’t get what’s going on here. I’m not afraid to ask because I want to be at my best because I don’t want to disappoint the students or I don’t want to disappoint my manager or whatever it is. So those are kind of the three ways. So it’s not really about I’m not much of a like during COVID. Yeah, I had to take a more, you know, firm hand on the wheel, if you will say, but that’s because we weren’t in a normal operating environment. It was like, yeah, you’re all not coming to work. This is what we can do, and this is what we can’t do. And this is, I know you used to like, whatever, like flip pancakes for midnight breakfast. But today what you’re doing is you’re doing a newsletter and you’re helping to copyright that. Like, cause, but you’re going to get, you have a job. So you go back to Maslow’s, like the primary thing is like, are you safe? Do you, can you pay your bills? Can you, you know, and that’s, that’s where you went during COVID. So other than that, I’m, I’m more of a carrot type of person of like, if we do this, wouldn’t this be great? And we can move the needle and move down this path as opposed to running around the office, trying to catch someone doing something wrong. You know, I saw you left five minutes earlier. And like, you know, the madmen approach of like the sixties and seventies and in fair and probably early two thousands as well. I think that approach has entirely changed.

Sam Demma
I was recently attending an event in Quebec City and saw a speaker by the name of Sebastian Sassville, and he has climbed Everest and done these crazy endurance adventures, 240 mile runs across the Sahara Desert. And he recently, more recently, did a bike ride across America, which is one of the most physically challenging, I guess, long-term races you can do. And he mentioned a time during the race when he was about to give up, and he had a team of, I wanna say, seven to 10 people that were supporting him along this two-week journey. He had to be on the bike 22 hours a day for the entire experience. And he talked about a moment where he broke down, it was very close to the finish, maybe a couple of days before the end. And he said, I think I’m gonna give up. And he had a team member basically tell him, no, you can’t because it’s not about you, it’s about us. There’s 10 of us showing up every single day. Sass, you gotta pull your weight. This is about our mission, our race, it’s not yours. And he shared this lesson with all of us in the audience to just remind us that our missions aren’t about us, it’s about we, the team, and all galvanizing towards and moving towards a common goal or a common mission. It sounds like that’s very similar to how you approach the call to action.

Jeff Armour
In my first week taking over this role, it’s funny you say that, for all the management team, the place was, it needed some of what you’re talking about there, and I printed up a sign that said we, and I had all the senior managers put it up. So reporting to me, there were eight senior managers at the time, and they all report, one was like each of the divisions, right? That support the organization and students and put WE up in their office. And within two weeks, everyone was asking like, what’s the WE all about? And it’s like, well, we’re either gonna fail together or we’re gonna win together, right? So that’s a very cool story though. Wow. 22 hours on the bike.

Jeff Armour
22 hours on the bike.

Sam Demma
And not just one day, it’s like two weeks in a row. He was talking about moments where he had hallucinations and he mentioned how vulnerable he had to be. At certain points, he couldn’t even reach down and touch his toes. He’d have to have other team members dress him every single morning. He had people making all of his meals. Talk about relying on the people around you to get the job done and recognizing that you can’t do it all alone. It was just a really cool, really cool, powerful analogy. And I’m carrying that with me in my backpack moving forward. And this conversation just reminded me of it a little bit. 

Jeff Armour
That’s huge. It’s almost like, and I don’t want to dehumanize him, but like, it’s almost like he represented the organization that was doing work 24 hours a day. It was happening. And there were all these people that were propping it up. And even when the organization was ready to fail, everyone was like, they rallied around him, like, you can’t. We’re not gonna let this stop, because this thing we value a lot. And I’m not, I know I realize I’m referring to a human being as a thing, but like, he sounds like he wasn’t even thinking for himself, he was just like, wait, literally just, you know, people were functioning for him, which is, yeah, unbelievable.

Sam Demma
Yeah.

Jeff Armour
I’ll think of that name for you again. I don’t have a pen and paper with me, so I’ll get that.

Sam Demma
Yeah, I’ll share it with you right after the podcast is done. Sebastian Sassaville. Sassaville. And anyway, yeah, it was very inspiring and it reminded me of this conversation. It sounds like you’re also very passionate about the services on campus, like the restaurants. And you worked in operations, you talked about working in the restaurant. Tell me a little bit about how those operate and why you’re passionate about them.

Jeff Armour
So yeah, we have a ton of, the benefit of being a big student association, we have a wide breadth, but we also have depth. So, like we do, we have a club system.

Jeff Armour
Every school has a club system, for most schools have a club system, but our club system has, you know, there’s 13,000 unique members and over 17,000 memberships. So some of those 13 have two memberships in clubs. That’s like a third of campus is involved in our club system, right? The spoken wave operations, although I’m happy that they generate revenue and that’s all great, what I’m really happy about is they’re lined up and working in those operations, 95% of the staff are, yeah, 95 or higher, are students. So they’re students that come in and get trained and work in the environment. And again, that’s important because they have a job, it helps them, you know, we pay back over a million dollars in salaries back to students every single year so that they can, you know, it’s no small, these aren’t small operations. The big thing it comes from is the community, right? And those people get exposed to other people they wouldn’t have met. And I feel like we’re at a bit of a crossroads, and not just post-secondary education wise, but we’ll stick to that, because that’s what this is about, in terms of like, especially with COVID, and you’ve got people in second and third year that didn’t get to go to their grad prom in high school or they didn’t, you know, have those formative experiences in high school. And high school is way too short. They used to be a grade 13. And that’s created a whole other mixture of issues because the drinking age is 19 and they’re coming at 18 or 17 in some cases. And so then that creates, well, what are you going to do when you’re 17, 18? You’re going to go to a house party. Well, this is an unpopular, students would call it a hot take is what I’m about to do here. But I would rather have the students drinking legally in a venue where they can be supervised with smart-served people. And we can put plates of nachos out and they can get food and it can be spread out over the course of the night. And we know what they’re drinking is safe. Or what’s worse is, you know, the recreational drugs that have turned into other things because it’s easier to get that thing going to the LCBO and get, buy a, you know, bottle of vodka or whatever. It isn’t about the vodka. It isn’t about the food and beverage operations making money. It isn’t about the clubs being used by—all those things are touch points on community and whether we want to accept it or not on the drinking and other stuff, the party side of the social side of things, or on the usage side for the services, students are looking for community. And I believe it’s our job to provide that and the universities, and not just Western, across the board. Parents are handing their to us at 17, 18 years old. And there’s an expectation there, in my opinion, that there’s going to be some resources and opportunities for them to build communities and develop and grow the way I did. When I came out, there was OAC, and that was grade 13. And then I moved into university, and I think I was able to go to the bars and all that right out of the gate. And so I made friends really quickly. And those friends were the ones that right before Thanksgiving, one of them would come back and be like, man, I got a turkey dumped. My girlfriend came back from Queens and she dumped me after Thanksgiving. It was called the turkey dump. I don’t know. They probably break up with them now over Instagram or TikTok or something. And then we’d all sit around, go to the spoke and grab some nachos and some wings, listen to Rick McGee and like, you know, sort of like everything would be okay. Instead of now, they don’t know where to go, right? And their roommates, maybe they’re not getting along with or nobody’s home. And so they go on Instagram or they go on social media and then there’s their community isn’t a real community. It’s a fake representation of what the world is. And so when you’re comparing yourself against that with the access to information, but it’s never been higher, the access to information, access to social media and all the rest of that. But there is an all-time low for patience for people making mistakes, saying the wrong word, doing something wrong, and an all-time low of community building. It’s a powder keg for what we see going on right now, which is widespread, you know, anxiety and pain, the actual, like, you know, people can cry on the drop of a dime. And so that’s what gets me going when you ask, well, what are the services? What do they mean? It’s an opportunity for you to, it’s just like, as you know, going back to my biology as you know, the electrons bounce around and hit more things, the more interactions you have, the more chance you have for a reaction. And that’s what the USC, I think, is trying to do is create opportunities for those interactions, which you did and you saw during orientation week. And like, after you left the stage, the number of students who either emailed or texted or DMed, they took a video of you and then sent it to my president Sunday and said like, that was awesome, you know, and right in the middle of the week, you know, they’ve been away from their family for three days now, and we hit them with something like what you had to say, that interaction maybe made them turn around and go to someone that they wouldn’t normally talk to and say like, how great was that? Like, the backpack guy, you know, like, you know what I’m saying, right? And that’s, we’re trying to create those interactions to create a community so that we can create some, at the end of the day, some reiliency.

Sam Demma
I wanna be just cautious of the time. You okay for one more question?

Jeff Armour
Yeah, great.

Sam Demma
Okay, cool. And I think reminding yourself, you said earlier, that I have to believe that I’m making a difference is something that I do consistently. Even after walking off a stage, you know, one time I was doing a presentation and there was a student sitting 90 degrees away from me facing the wall. And the entire presentation I was in my own head thinking, is this person listening? I was getting frustrated and a little bit upset. Is it me? Is it my delivery? What’s going on? And I remember driving home, being a little bit upset about it. And it’s funny because the whole room was engaged and it seemed like this one person was not potentially paying attention and I focused on that. But when I got home, this individual had sent me an email and it was a really long email. And I told this to a mentor of mine named Chris, the whole situation, and he told me, he’s like, it’s not up to you to decide how other people receive the information you share when you’re on stage. It’s up to you to just deliver it authentically, to lead with the mission and the purpose and hope that people will digest it and do with it what they need to. And so that always sticks with me, especially when I walk off stage and I’m not sure if it connected or I’m not sure if it made a difference. So I lean on those words you were saying and even what Chris tells me. But how do you pick yourself up in moments where you might doubt your own impact?

Jeff Armour
Well, I doubt it all the time. That’s why I have to say it all the time. Because although I don’t know that I could recount a moment like what you just shared, which is very, very cool. I kind of see it like I’m a constant sort of I try and be for the world, this constant kind of like, just a light.

Jeff Armour
Do you know what I mean? And it’s there. You want to look at it. And you in your case, yeah, actually look at it. You want to look at it or you don’t want to look at it. Sometimes you want to lay on the beach and get a tan. Other days, you know what, I just want to look at it through a window a little bit. And like, as long as it’s there, I can’t, it goes back to my management principles, like, I can’t assume where you are at in terms of like, you know, if you’re happy or not. But I want to present some thinking that maybe this world’s a little bit different than the way you’re perceiving it at the moment. Because the moment you’re in, if I had looked at myself when I was 20 years old being a contractor, I would have thought, is this my life, working seven days a week? But it was preparing me for a contrast, but also it was giving me data points on what was actually gonna make me happier. So it’s not a failure, it’s like, oh, well you tried being a contractor, it didn’t work. It actually worked great. And I probably could have afforded a bigger Christmas tree if I’d taken it. But like, yeah, it’s, the obligation is to just, I think, share it, and that’s why I say I have to believe I’m making a difference. The nice thing is, is that you have moments like you had that you just shared where someone sends you an email. Or there’s a president that you worked with, you know, six years ago, and they happen to now work for someone else, and you hear them say something to someone else that you told them September of their year, six years ago. And they say, you know, it’s not really about, you know, someone else. You just have to present the best version of yourself and share the light. And, you know, and then you’re like, oh my goodness, that’s the thing that I talked to them about. And now it’s made it different. You don’t realize it until you start see it reflecting back on yourself. And you’re like, okay, maybe this is catching on. Does that make sense?

Sam Demma
Yeah, it does. I think we need more lights in the world. So keep shining.

Jeff Armour
I meant it more like from a chemistry standpoint, that it’s not a river where you have to get in or you get out. It’s just kind of a passive presence, not like the light, like a church or something like that. It sounded like we got religious there, but yeah, I know it’s more, you can take the light in and you can not, you can stare directly into the eclipse if you want. But I wouldn’t recommend it.

Sam Demma
You might lose your vision. Last question, what are you most excited about? There’s so many changes happening in the world. There’s so many diverse student needs. What are some opportunities that you’re very excited about as we move into 2024?

Jeff Armour
I think that what the world is experiencing right now from AI and deep learning to the escalating conflict going on around the world in many different areas, that’s a very challenging time and I have to believe that challenges like that, humanity has always come out on the other side as a better version of itself. And I have three kids and I want to make sure that what the world looks like when they’re ready to shine their own light, we’re running with the analogy now, is a good place to be. And that’s what gets me up every single day is like, can we have to make a change here? There has to be a change that comes from all of this. And we’re being pushed for some reason, and you can never see it in the moment. You know, in that moment, when you’re going through that exam that you’re going to maybe not do well on, or you got to go home and tell your parents that you’re not going to pass or whatever it is. On the other side of that, if we can be patient with each other and we can help each other find our purpose and then we can be clear communicators and give like that’s what the direction is, is clearly communicate without trying to compare ourselves to each other. You know, like you always hear the adage, the only person you should be comparing yourself to is the version of yourself the day before. If we can get to that state, you know, where we just want to better ourselves and find ourselves, that’s what’s driving me. Specifically in 2024, I don’t know, I kind of want to see, I just want, you know, Travis and maybe Taylor Swift to break up or get married one or the other. It’s like something has to happen there because it’s like consuming everything. I’m excited for, you know, we’ve had a good cycle of the route of COVID and the student voice and activities coming back. I’m really excited to see what comes next with that and just, you know, continue to make a difference and hopefully hear more stories about, you know, that light reflecting back for myself so I can keep going.

Sam Demma
Love that. Jeff, this has been an insightful conversation. Thank you so much for taking the time, for sharing some of your ideas, your management principles, and the work that you’re doing with USC. Keep up the great work and all the best in 2024. Keep up the great work and all the best in 2024.

Jeff Armour
I’ll keep going as long as you keep going.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Jeff Armour

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.

Shane Chisholm — Principal of Father Henri Voisin School in Red Deer, Alberta

Shane Chisholm — Principal of Father Henri Voisin School in Red Deer, Alberta
About Shane Chisholm

Shane Chisholm (@ShaneChisholm1) is the Principal of Father Henri Voisin School in Red Deer, AB. He began his teaching career in 1997 after graduating from St. Francis Xavier University with a Bachelor of Science in Physical Education. For ten years, he taught Grades 7-12 Physical Education and Social Studies. In 2007, he completed his Masters of Education Degree in Educational Leadership from the University of Calgary. In 2007, he became vice principal and he was in that position for 4 years. Then he transitioned to principal where he led 4 schools over the past 12 years. 

Through those years he has witnessed the joy, compassion and empathy that each of his colleagues bring to their classroom each and every day. Finding a balance between personal and professional life has been a work in progress for Shane. He holds out hope that someday his Calgary Flames will hold up the Stanley Cup!

Connect with Shane: Email | Twitter | Facebook

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Bachelor of Science in Human Kinetics – St. Francis Xavier University

Masters of Education Degree in Educational Leadership – University of Calgary

Denzel Washington Commencement Speech at Dillard University

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
Welcome back to another episode of the High-Performing Educator. This is your host, keynote speaker and author, Sam Demma. Today we are joined by a special guest, Shane Chisholm, who is the Principal of Father Henry Vosin School in Red Deer, Alberta. He began his teaching career in 1997 after graduating from St. Francis Xavier University with a Bachelor of Science in Physical Education. For 10 years, he taught grade 7 through 12 physical education and social studies. In 2007, he completed his Master’s of Education degree in Educational Leadership from the University of Calgary and became Vice Principal and remained in that position for four years. He then transitioned to Principal where he led four schools over the past 12 years. Throughout those years, he has witnessed the joy, compassion, and empathy that each of his colleagues bring to their classroom each and every day. Finding a balance between personal and professional life has been a work in progress for Shane. He holds out hope that someday his Calgary Flames will hold up the Stanley Cup. Keep on dreaming Shane. I’ll see you on the other side of this episode and I hope you enjoy this conversation. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator Podcast. This is your host, author, and keynote speaker, Sam Demma. Today, joined by Shane Chisholm. Shane, so excited to have you on the show today. Thanks for being here.

Shane Chisholm
Thanks so much, Sam, really appreciate it.

Sam Demma
I see a Detroit Red Wing in the background over there. I guess we’ll just not talk about it.

Shane Chisholm
Yeah, we’ll leave that be, that’s okay. Yeah, I’m not a Flamie’s fan, but Detroit’s a different story, yeah.

Sam Demma
So, one of the questions I always love to ask, starting these conversations is, did you know you always wanted to be in education? And if yes, tell me why, and if no, explain the journey that brought you to where you are today.

Shane Chisholm
Whoa, Sam, that’s kind of a really loaded question because it actually reminds me of your story. I wasn’t as gifted as an athlete as you and when I heard your story, it actually hit me hard knowing about your story about soccer and your knee injuries. And I graduated from high school. I wasn’t really leaning towards education at the time in the 90s. I wanted to be an RCMP officer. I played hockey, I played softball at a very high level. So, and I was, my education was quite decent. So I was felt and was getting coached towards that in high school that that was a possible stream for me. So I went into a Bachelor of Science Phys Ed degree at my university, which is one of the areas where the RCMP came to recruit from. Because we did some of the fitness testing that the RCMP does. So in our first and second year university, we do fitness testing. So I think it’s a part you test that they used to do. And we would do that. Unfortunately, every Friday morning at 8:15 class, so it was a it was not the best time for some of my colleagues in school to test. Yeah, but my second year university, unfortunately, hockey got in the way. And what happened was I had a check from behind. And I can tell you, it was three days before Christmas I can remember it and it was eight seconds into the game after O Canada just popped on my chin strap and puck went towards our bench and I went towards it and I don’t know if I caught a rut or I didn’t turn properly but the guy in behind me caught me square from behind and all I heard was a crunch and I knew that wasn’t the door opening and that was my shoulder. And so I just skated I didn’t even wait for the whistle I just skated right to the end boards to get taken in the dressing room and at that time we had hockey sticks not what Stories from aging myself, but my trainer knew what was up and he Took a piece of the end of the hockey stick of his cut and he stuck it right in my mouth right away to chew on Wow, and I got in the dress room and from there I had a significant separated shoulder and that took me away from, I had to get reconstructive surgery on my shoulder, rebuilt again and I mean it’s brand new, it works great now, but that time period for that year or two, I lost that opportunity to go into RCMP because physically I was unable to do the fitness testing and because of the rehab I had to go through and realized I had to shift gears. And it wasn’t such a bad one. I was still in the phys ed program and getting my degree and realized that I had still a potential to do something else in education. Fifth as well, really impactful teachers in my middle school and high school years that I really thought highly of and I thought, okay, this can be a plan B and 26 years later, here’s plan B.

Sam Demma
That’s awesome. And I’m wondering, you mentioned you had middle school and some high school teachers that had a really big impact. What did those teachers do for you that stuck out in your mind?

Shane Chisholm
Boy, my English teacher in grade nine just took an interest in me. Actually, just took a genuine interest in me. I had a math teacher in grade eight and math was my worst subject ever. I could not do math. And in Nova Scotia, they streamed math even in middle school. So, we kind of got separated into high and low classes. And I was in the high class and unfortunately, got streamed into the lower class. And very thankful because my parents moved me into that class, seeing my struggles, but this teacher in that lower level took an interest in my… sat down with me and helped me re-engage with math. So they actually just sat down, find out who I was, and said of me, you’re that student that is not doing well in my class. And so I kind of felt brushed aside, and I was a quiet student at that time. Yeah, no, I just found that two teachers really just took an interest and took the time to get to know me as well. And so I find that important here in my job is to find out who the kid is

Sam Demma
before even what they do in school. It sounds like sitting down with the student and making time for them is like one of the things to figure out who the kid is. Like what other things do you think a teacher can do to show genuine interest in the student in their classroom?

Shane Chisholm
I think that’s that is probably the biggest thing I know. I’ve gone to student events and and that means a lot to kiddos to go to go to those events. However, I also recognize the balance of being with my own family too. So that you know the teachers do a lot and I’ve seen in the past I’ve done a lot too where in school and so it’s just finding those opportunities not even just in class even at lunchtime. Like and I see it here in my building like my vice principal and my counselor are modeling beautifully they set up lunch dates every day voluntarily with students and students now come down the office and book lunch dates with my VP and counselor And the kids just love it and it’s not about school It’s just what happened on the weekend and they’re the kids just find it so nice to see that and I guess it’s just good for kids to see us in a different light that we that we do sit to eat lunch and we just like the chat like they do in their classroom and I don’t think they see enough of us as a person. They see us as a teacher and we are people too that do neat things, right?

Sam Demma
Yeah, they see you in the grocery store in the town and they go, oh my goodness, you’re here? You’re outside the school buildings?

Shane Chisholm
Yeah.

Shane Chisholm
The principal let you out, yeah, exactly. And I think that’s it. Like the kids love to hear about our holiday or what we did or how terrible a golfer I am. They want to talk about the hockey on the weekend. So I think that’s just, they just want to talk to us because they look, they certainly look up to us as models, but they also, you know, that positive relationship and discussing with kids, just anything with them, I think helps break down barriers as well in the class as far as teaching them.

Sam Demma
You mentioned, you know, education was at first your plan B. And for me, I didn’t even have, I felt like I didn’t even have a plan B. It was like sports and sports ended and this venture, speaking and podcasting and writing, became plan B for me. But the more I leaned into plan B, I realized I actually think I like plan B more than I would have maybe liked plan A had it worked out, do you feel similarly about the way that things have played out for you? And like, yeah, tell me a little bit more about the 26 year journey in education so far.

Shane Chisholm
So, Plan A kind of came up out of really the big plan like you say. I thought I was going to be going somewhere in hockey until about Bantam and at that time I learned, I realized that I wasn’t being watched and and my parents were beautiful about it. They were very humble about it and I think it was just switching gears and I was still good at school at that time but I was just realizing, okay I am not going to the show. But there’s always different opportunities so I shifted gears and started focusing still on my school to get to university and then like I said I had the injury and then I shifted to plan B. And plan B really took me out of Nova Scotia all the way up to a little town in northern Alberta. So plan B took me on my first plane ride. Plan B took me my first, because I lived at home when I was in university. So plan B took me totally out of my comfort zone, being away from home on a plane, no vehicle, in a little northern Alberta town. And plan B didn’t look so good the first day because I got my keys and my box of chalk. So that would really date how old I am. What’s chalk? Yeah, sidewalk chalk. I got my box of color, my box of white and my brush.

Shane Chisholm
And I was like, what is this? And I was a phys ed teacher.

Shane Chisholm
And so I was teaching social studies and phys ed up north for three years. And I was up there and I guess one of the beautiful things about being in a rural area was I learned so much about myself and I learned a lot about education because you have to. You don’t have the resources that a city has but it was a very tight-knit community up there and it was weird because plan B I thought, okay, I’ll be up north forever and the principal pulled me aside after my three years up there and he said, you need to move. And I said, why? And he said, well, either you move or you’re going to be up north for the rest of your life. So either you want to stay up here or now is the time. And the north is beautiful. It’s like, it was incredible up north. A lot of learning, beautiful people. But he said, if you want to move down to southern regions or into more of the city area, it’s time for you to move. And it was this sage advice I received in that third year in February. And so then I came down to Southern Alberta and I was about year two or three here in Rocky Mountain House. At that time, I kind of got tapped by one of the principals there and he said, hey, have you thought of administration? And I was like, no, okay, let’s give that a try. And I guess I ought to look back at it and I kind of just kind of like that continuous learning. And so I signed up for my master’s degree and while still teaching and learned the hard way though. I thought, oh, I’m getting my master’s degree and the principals tapped me, maybe I’ll have a chance at administration. And in our division here at the time, we had what we call the admin pool. So you have to apply to get into this administrative pool, and you have to interview and go through questions, and then you have to get interviewed, and then you have to go in front of a panel of five to nine people to get in. I never made it past a phone call in two years in a row. I actually failed the initial interview twice in a row. And then the third year, I actually wrote a letter to the superintendent saying, I’m not ready for this interview to get to the next level. I’m going to focus on my master’s and becoming a better teacher and a better person. Because at that time, Sam, I was cocky. I was strutting around. I thought I knew what I, because the principal tapped me and because I was doing my master’s. And I wasn’t very reflective at that time. I had a little bit of a ego kind of about me about year 8 to 10 in education there and I always look back and go why was I like that but I was and I think humbling was just learning more about what teachers do and watching the teachers those excellent teachers and how they relate to kids and how they speak to kids with relationships and how they deal with staff as well. That took a lot of, I did a lot of watching and reflecting. So it actually took me four years to get into the admin pool even though I had my master’s completed within that time. So I always tell principals and vice principals, I failed three times basically to get in. The third time was me saying to the superintendent, I’m not doing it this year. So it was almost a fourth time to get into the pool to say, hey, I can do this and want to do this, but I’m a different person. And so I tell, now that I’m older, I hopefully, wiser, I tell young principals, there are times you’re going to fall. And I said, I fell before I even became one. And, you know, I picked myself back up again and that was okay. I fell three times and I learned from that.

Sam Demma
There’s a commencement speech with Denzel Washington and he always talks about fail fast, fail forward, fail often. And I just thought of that when you were explaining your story and it made me reflect on all the times where I have fallen or lacked reflection in my actions and thought I knew everything and I’ve had moments like that, you know? And it takes a lot of self-awareness to zoom out from that current experience you’re going through and look at yourself objectively and change behavior and change the path you’re taking. And so I think that’s really cool to share because there might be a teacher listening to this who’s wanted to be an administrator for a long time and faced similar challenges and hurdles. You said that after those first two years, you kind of refocused on becoming a better teacher and learning more and even like shadowing those excellent teachers and looking at them. And like, what are some of the things that you saw in those excellent teachers? 

Shane Chisholm
Well, one of the things I saw is what I saw first in myself and was I was doing the same thing over and over again and I was not doing a good job of my teaching. So the definition of insanity, right? So, you know, I kind of compare it to my story Calgary playing fans But my Calgary flames have done the same thing over and over again for the same years and they’re getting worse Yeah, so that’s the definition of insanity So and I seen that that kind of a quote like that you continue to do the same thing over and over again you’re not going to get better and I realized I was Traditional in my teachings. I was teaching high school and I was very lecture bound, Charlie Brown type teaching and I wasn’t engaging my students. And so those were some of the things I was looking for elsewhere. And I had a very wise math teacher and he pulled me aside and he just said, Shane, you’re working too hard. You must be exhausted every day standing all day talking. And I said, What do you mean? He said, you’re not allowing the kids to co-create their own learning. He said, you’re not allowing the kids to develop or make mistakes. You’re just lecturing 80 minutes and then another class. And he said, yeah. I said, yeah, I’m exhausted. And he had taught for a number of years and he said, I teach for 10 to 15 minutes and then I allow the kids to… I teach with them and then they teach together themselves and it can be done. Like, you’re allowing, allow that trust to the kids. The kids know how to regulate themselves. If there’s good learning and good framework in the classroom. And he was so right. And in that, because I would safely say I was getting, I was marking like crazy, I was teaching like crazy, and I was like, oh boy, this is all burnout, this is crazy. And then I found a rejuvenation in that, watching the kids create learning out of my teaching instead of just listening to me. That was the biggest.

Sam Demma
And what about some learnings on managing people? Like as an administrator, you know, I’m assuming that that’s also one of the big challenges for new principals, you do a lot of learning on how to manage others. And when you’re a teacher yourself, you manage your classroom and you manage yourself, but you’re not responsible for managing all the other teachers in the school and trying to support everybody so everyone can succeed. What have you learned in managing people?

Shane Chisholm
The tricky part about principal is the actual management piece. There’s so much management, the building and they’re almost like little things on the side that kind of nitpick at you. So it takes away from the real working with students and the staff and the teachers. And so it’s finding the balance of those managerial pieces and setting them aside so that you can be with your teachers and your students. Because those managerial things on the side can really actually impact your day and take you away from what you really want to do. And so the struggle even for me day to day is making sure that I’m not getting caught in the managerial of the building and working with students and staff and getting out in the building to do say walk-throughs or even just a visibility and having conversations with the kids even at lunch break or going out and just volunteering, going out for supervision. Like, I love doing that. It’s just that the minutiae, the managerial stuff of the day can get in the way. Because we’re still a teacher, right? I mean, I’m a teacher, I’m just a teacher. I look at it as, I’m a teacher with a different title.

Sam Demma
Mmmm.

Sam Demma
I love that.

Sam Demma
And there’s also lots of schools where the principal even teaches classes, right? Like depending on who’s available in the school or if there’s a shortage that day or there’s a gap that needs to be filled, you know, it seems like principals wear lots of different hats.

Shane Chisholm
And sometimes I think you’re absolutely, I love those hats and that piece covering classes. I mean, I’m a more middle school, high school trained, so doing kindergarten is quite an adventure for me and I guess you know what it’s kind of a different boost right you get the little ones in kindergarten grade one and two they’re just absolutely love your presence and enjoy your time it’s the it’s the balance of those hats they’re there for the right reason and wearing the proper hat to be there for teachers and students and being a teacher yourself in the school.

Sam Demma
You mentioned a little earlier, making sure that you balance the amount of time you spend getting to know the students in school as you do spending time with your family at home. Because I assume in education, and I see it, it’s like you could be on 24-7. There’s always another assignment to mark and thing to do, but you are also a human being that goes grocery shopping in the community after the school hours and has a family. How do you make sure that your cup stays full and you balance your time? What do you do to make sure that Shane’s taken care of? Well, to be honest, there have been times I’ve not.

Shane Chisholm
There’s just times that it’s unfortunate that I’ve not made, like the cup has overflowed and into another cup. You know, it just seems like a quite overwhelming. I think the bigger thing is, as I gotten older in the past couple years is, you know, I get I’m several years away from retirement. You know, and I want to be happy and healthy going into retirement. Loving the jobs I’m currently in. And part of that is looking after my personal health. So you know I haven’t been in the gym in years and so I got back in the gym. I still play a little bit of golf but nothing nothing is taken seriously. It’s for fun, it’s for enjoyment, it’s for what we call maintenance and I think that’s a big piece. You know it Friday nights and Saturdays the phones put away. I know the school will still be here and I still even though I’ve been doing this for a couple of years, there are times that I wonder what’s happening. But you know what, most often, 99% of the time, there’s nothing happening on Friday and Saturday night that I have to check out. So that’s taken a long while for me to figure out Sam was that balance piece, right? And giving myself time, grace in the weekends where other people have. And you’re kind of like, I have it too. It’s just that maybe I felt guilty and wanted to get things done. And I guess looking at my practice as a principal or as a teacher, what are some good efficient ways to get my job done through week two? So I was looking at where I was getting caught in managerial things, Sam, and I wasn’t getting my principal, teacher, or principal with student work done. And I was starting to prioritize that. The managerial work will take care of itself. And it was also learning how to balance the work within the office suites here as well. So a good flow of communication between my office admin team, my vice principal, has taken, has balanced the work out, and as well ensuring their opinion on it as well. And how can we balance this all out because the whole office actually feels the weight of what’s going on in the principal’s office. The counselor and even the office admin team, the administrative team, they get the whole weight because they’re all moving pieces within the the way I look at it. It’s like the big heart it’s like if one half of the heart is aching the whole hearts experiencing it you know.

Sam Demma
Yeah, absolutely. Maybe that’s what the admin office is the heart of the school. Yeah. So I’m curious, I see a bookshelf behind you and I’m not going to put you on the spot, but like over the years, have you found any resources that have been really helpful in your own personal development? Obviously your master’s degree is a massive educational journey that is invaluable and learning it provides to you and everyone who goes through it. But have you found any other resources that have been really instrumental in your beliefs and philosophies around education or any individuals who have really deeply contributed?

Shane Chisholm
Well, some of the books on the back of my bookshelf there, I’ll be honest, those are about NHL players.

Sam Demma
Nice, that’s fair.

Shane Chisholm
I’m intrigued about their biographies. So Theo Fleury, Sheldon Kennedy, Mark Messier, Bob Iorre. So those are kind of some guys I’ve read about. Just kind of from a Mark Messier, obviously his leadership. Theo Fleury, his life and some of Sheldon Kennedy and Bob Iorre again, kind of the type of player he was. So I can’t, and as well Bob Kroeberg. So I just, and then I guess some of that was just looking at that scene you made it to the pinnacle of the top and Even they struggled Mmm, all of them. Oh, you’ve heard messy like even his struggles in New York with the New York Rangers It just it was in Bobby or I mean obviously when he got traded Chicago after he played the book with the Bruins with his knees, right we have most beautiful skater in NHL and so I think it was just listening and reading their books and seeing that even the people at the top also struggle. And they admitted their struggles and they still wanted to be the best too. And they were still learners. Those are just unique stories. And so to be honest, Sam, I read more of those books to get away from education. Because you can get really caught into it. And again, that’s why I appreciate your book as well, because it’s not necessarily about education, it’s about just growth, and mindset. And I think that’s what I appreciate reading stories about sports and athletes and similar to yours, because it talks about growth and mindset and just how to continue that. And that and that applies in education.

Sam Demma
And it applies to life, right? Whether you’re a teacher or any profession. I read a autobiography of Muhammad Ali over the summer months. And for a while I was so burnt out of reading books. And then I picked up this one and I couldn’t put it down. And it just like reignited in me a passion for reading books again. And I’ve loved reading since I was about 16 years old and I started choosing the books I wanted to read. And that one was a game changer for me. And I remember one specific part of the book that sticks out in my mind is when Muhammad Ali was gifted a bike and he didn’t grow up in the most financially stable household. So getting a bike as a kid was a big deal. And he got a bicycle and he’s driving it or riding it up and down the streets. And one day he stops to grab something at a store and comes outside and the bike’s gone. And he’s losing his mind, his brother’s losing his mind because how’s his bike? And so they start walking around the neighborhood and he stumbles into a boxing gym, or right outside a boxing gym. And at the time he was a young kid, but built like a big dude, like six feet tall, 13 years old, and this boxing coach says, hey man, do you box? And Muhammad’s like, no, I don’t. And he’s like, come on inside. And he taught him the basic foundations of a jab and some of the punches. And Muhammad ended up going back multiple times to this gym over the summer months and started developing what would be his initial start of his career. And the author of the book said, you know, destiny is a function of both chance and choice. Like, the chance was that he would stumble into the boxing gym, but the choice was that he would return back multiple times. And, you know, maybe in your career, what happened by chance was you’d get injured in hockey and be introduced to education, but your choice was to keep showing up and keep learning. Even when you got into principalship and administration, you know, you had some challenges the first two years, first four years, but you kept, you decided, you made a choice to keep showing up. And if there’s an educator listening to this right now who’s struggling or who’s burnt out and they’re feeling defeated and you could kind of share some encouragement with them, what would you say? One, I guess it took a lot for me to ask for help.

Shane Chisholm
One of the things I sense, and I hope it’s not the case for others, but I sense in education it’s very isolated in a sense, because you are given that degree, you’re a teacher, and they say you’re a teacher, and then you get your license from the province, and they say you’re certified, and then you feel the need to be that teacher, and you don’t want to, or I didn’t want to tell someone I need your help asking a colleague for that and and it’s very much the other way around I think we need to lean on each other right away as soon as we come out of university for our brand new teachers and even I see it still our young teachers come out and they don’t want to ask for help because it’s a fear that they don’t know what they’re doing. And I’m still 26 years in, I’m still learning. I’m still learning new ways to do what I’m doing. And so I still ask for help from teachers, senior administration, you know, reading your book, kind of those little tidbits, right? Those, those things always help. So I think that’s the biggest pieces to not necessarily avoid burnout, but just to recognize that there’s always someone there that’s more than willing to give a lending hand or listen to you on the rough days or to help you with resources. And we all, I guess, it’s strange, but education is very neat at paying it forward. And I think a lot of our teachers and principals and vice principals, counselors, and even educational assistants, we all pay it forward. We want to help someone be successful. And I think, and very similar to our students. And I think we miss that piece is as adults, we do the same thing with our own adults helping each other as much as we do with the kids. So lean in on those people that are there and don’t look at it as a sign of weakness, look at it as a sign of strength and joining the team.

Sam Demma
That’s awesome. Shane, this has been a awesome conversation. 30 minutes flew by. Thank you so much for taking the time to chat on the podcast. Keep up the great work, and I hope we cross paths again very soon.

Shane Chisholm
Will do. Thanks, Sam. I appreciate your time. This was awesome.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Shane Chisholm

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.

Ted Temertzoglou — Highly sought-out speaker and lead author on health,  physical literacy and well-being

Ted Temertzoglou — Highly sought-out speaker and lead author on health, physical literacy and well-being
About Ted Temertzoglou

Ted (@LifeIsAtheltic) believes in a world where the skills learned through Health & Physical Education enable all to lead authentic, happy and fulfilling lives. He creates this world by working with Governments, School Boards to implement UNESCO’s Quality Physical Education Guidelines. Ted is an advocate and thought leader for quality Health and Physical Education. He is a highly sought-out speaker and lead author on health & physical literacy and well-being.

With a Master’s Degree in teacher-student relationships and 33 years of educational experience, Ted shares his expertise to help more teachers and students flourish and thrive. He is the recipient of the R. Tait McKenzie Award, Physical & Health Education Canada’s most distinguished award. He is also a certified Personal Trainer with the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology.

Connect with Ted: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)

R. Tait McKenzie Award

Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology (CSEP)

Outlive by Peter Attia

Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) – Teacher Education

Brock University – Master’s Degree in teacher-student relationships

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
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator Podcast. This is your host, author, and keynote speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Ted Temertzoglou. Ted believes in a world where the skills learned through health and physical education enable all to lead authentic, happy, and fulfilling lives. He creates this world by working with governments, and school boards to implement the UNESCO’s Quality Physical Education Guidelines. Ted is an advocate and thought leader for quality health and physical education. He’s a highly sought out speaker and lead author on health and physical literacy and well-being. With a master’s degree in teaching student relationships and 33 years of educational experience, Ted shares his expertise to help more teachers and students flourish and thrive. He is the recipient of the R. Kate McKenzie Award, Physical and Health Education’s Most Distinguished Award, and also a certified personal trainer with the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Ted. It left me very energized, and I’m sure it’ll do the same for you. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the other side. Welcome back to another episode of the High-Performing Educator Podcast. This is your host, keynote speaker and author, Sam Demma and I’m very excited to be joined by our guest today, Ted Tamurtsuglu. He is a friend of mine who is connected through a friend of mine named Joyce, and I’m honored to have him on the show here today. Ted, how are you?

Ted Temertzoglou
Good, Sam. I am super excited to be here with you, and thank you so much for asking me to be a part of your show. I gotta ask because the listeners can’t see what I can see. Behind you is a beautiful home gym. When did you get it, and when did fitness become a big part of your life? Oh, okay, so I’ll start backwards. So fitness has always been a part of my life. I’m an aspiring athlete through school, trying to acquire as much athleticism as I possibly can. And then this is our garage. We converted this, ah, about six years ago. We started building it. And because work got so busy, we weren’t able to get to the gym and stuff, so my kids work out of here, my wife works out of here, I work out of here every day, and now this is what we call Life is Athletic World Headquarters. This is where my work is. Did you have an experience in your own life that tested your health, that inspired you to take it more seriously, or did you just continue from your athletic journey as a student? Yeah, I know I really did, Sam. I knew, you know, I went to six elementary, I went to five elementary schools in six years. So like from kindergarten to grade six. And so that kind of put a pretty big strain on my numeracy and literacy skills as it did our entire family. My parents immigrated from Greece to here. But, you know, the people, the teachers that really kind of saw something in me were my health and physical education teachers. And it was because of them I went on this journey to figure out, you know, I want to do this for a living. It makes me feel good and I want to continue doing it. So that’s kind of really started, started at a really, really young age. I wasn’t an athlete by any means, but I acquired it because of the teachers that I had and the, you know, the areas that I happen to be in. So, yeah, that’s basically how I came to it. And at some point, you decided, not only do I want to feel healthy, but I want to help other people feel healthy too, especially people in the education industry. You know, you’re someone that I look up to for your physical fitness. And if there’s a teacher listening or a superintendent or a principal right now, and you haven’t talked to Ted about how to get your teachers and yourself healthy and feeling good, this is your sign to do so. When did supporting educators and other human beings in their physical health and mental health journey become a part of your story? Yeah, I’ve always wanted to do, Sam, similar to what you’ve done. So when I was younger and I was playing sports and then played on the university level, I always knew, at grade 11, I knew I wanted to be a physical health education teacher and a professional athlete Those were the two things that meant the world to me because I thought I could really affect change If you were kind of like on the world stage right or on a national stage and playing and playing professional football So I got to that level after University and I signed my contract with the Argos and then got hurt at that camp But had at least my education degree to fall back on. So as I got teaching, what I noticed in health and physical education is we didn’t have what was called evidence-based resources. So I kept on teaching the way I was taught. And that’s good for kids who like football and like soccer and like those sports, but the vast majority of kids, they’re not on school teams and they don’t like that stuff. So I thought, oh my goodness, I have to expand my pool here. So what I started to do is inquire about how do we get evidence-based resources into our school. And that’s what really exploded into teacher training. Tell me more about what you mean by evidence-based. Is it tested with large groups of people? I want to know more about the resources that you’ve created that might be of value to the listeners. What we did was in 2,000, 99, 98, 99, 2000, my wife and I were lucky enough to be chosen to write some curriculum for the Ministry of Education, for specifically health and phys ed. So they’re making a new curriculum. And, you know, when you’re in a math class, you have these beautiful textbooks or these visuals that are done by professors and with teachers. And it’s all based on evidence. And there’s so much evidence in the health and wellness field that applies to the health and phys ed curriculum. I thought, hey, wouldn’t it be great if we could get a publisher, get the best researchers, get their research, break that knowledge down where teachers can understand it to deliver it to our kids? Well, now we’re speaking from a place of evidence rather than a place of opinion. Like I may think I know what’s really good for kids as far as exercise progression, but do I really? Like, what does the science say? So that’s what I mean by evidence-based resources. And then we were lucky enough to create textbooks, workbooks, fitness charts that are used in many, many, many schools across Canada and some internationally. So that’s how we got it from there. 

Sam Demma
You started creating this curriculum, you built out these resources. Take me to today. How are you supporting students, schools, administrators, superintendents with their health and with their students and staff’s health today?

Ted Temertzoglou
Yeah, great question. So, largely across Canada, the exception being Manitoba, we don’t have what are called specialists in health and physical education at the younger years. So, what we call the foundation years or the physical literacy years, the years where kids minds are truly like clay and sponges and they absorb a whole bunch of stuff about movement. Whereas other countries like Germany, Poland, Sweden, the Netherlands, et cetera, they do. And I’m not saying that, you know, it has to be a specialist, but we need people who are really passionate about helping kids wellbeing and health and physical education. So the way I support them is we create now I create these online learning modules where teachers take boards, subscribe to them and buy them, and then they disseminate the teachers. I do a lot of live, like in-person face to face workshops, either showing them how to use my resources or showing them how to use the resources they currently have in the classroom. Like literally, I meet the teacher where they’re at, we push in a chair, and then we’re doing movement, and then we’re linking that to numeracy and literacy. So I think the biggest gain we’ve had is that’s where we are. But Sam, I think the real pinnacle happened in 2015 when the United Nations, UNESCO, launched a massive massive literature review on, hey, what would happen if we ran quality, and I’ll define that in a second, physical and health education programs? What would that look like for health care? What would that look like for mental health? What would look, what would that look like in society at large? So they released that. And I just said, okay, I’m UNESCO, I’m going to help you put that into schools. And then helping schools understand the power of health and physical education and how that can make people, you know, well, not only healthy, but feeling really great about themselves. So that’s where we are now. And I wish I could tell you, Sam, that it’s amazing and it’s working really well, but it’s a grind, man, you know, cutbacks in public education, teacher shortages, etc, etc. So but, you know, there’s always a bright side, we got to keep moving forward.

Sam Demma
I was reading a book recently by Dr. Peter Atiyah called Outlive and he talks about, there let’s go, for all the listeners, he just put it in front of the camera and he talks about this concept that for so long people were obsessed with lifespan, which is how long you live and he says it’s not only about how long you live, it’s the quality of life you have while you live a long life, which is your health span. And he talks about the four horsemen, which are these diseases that take us out most often in life and how to avoid some of those things. And he makes this argument that the best possible treatment to avoiding those four things is exercise. Above all else, he talks about sleep and nutrition and all these other things, but exercise. And I’m wondering what your perspective is on exercise and when people ask you, hey Ted, how do I get healthy? You know, how do I feel good? What is your thoughts? What do you share with them? First of all, I got like a major research crush on that guy. So Dr. Peter Atiyah actually went to Mowat High School in Toronto.

Ted Temertzoglou
So he’s TDSB. Yeah, absolutely love it. Sam, I truly believe, and I know this through evidence, that the health and physical education curriculum stands to be the greatest healthcare intervention we have ever seen, if we teach it, especially at the younger grades. And so everything Peter talks about in his book, that’s all in our health and physical and health education curriculum, right? The top 10 diseases that end our lives largely before they should, like that lifespan that you said, and then our health span within it, are all largely preventable if we just moved a little bit more and ate a little better. And not only that, Sam, we’re talking about billions, tens of billions of dollars saved in direct costs to healthcare. So giving kids these tools at a very young age is critically important, more so today than it’s ever been. So I’m not sure if that was your question Sam, sorry I got a little carried away on that. But yeah, that’s where we’re at. 

Sam Demma
How do you prescribe a program for a teacher or a student? Do you have to assess their current abilities or is there a basic foundational level where everyone should start? Like if there’s someone listening to this who let themselves slip through the past couple years and they haven’t exercised much at all and they’re thinking gosh I want to start showing up for myself again. Just as much as I’m showing up for everyone around me. What would be like the first steps?

Ted Temertzoglou
Yeah, the very first step would be truly What thing do you enjoy doing like what really makes your heart sing and then I would build movement around that So if someone was to say, you know, I really really love just being out in the garden. Okay, great, right? So being in the garden is a great physical activity. You know, I like going outside and going for a walk. Fantastic, you know, getting up from a chair and walking is a phenomenal exercise. And then we would vary that. We’d slowly progress the overload, meaning that, okay, yes, you’re walking now and you’ve walked this distance. So now, you know, between this lamppost and that lamppost, every time you go every other lamppost, walk a little quicker and then slow it right back down again. So the gentleman that does a lot of research in this area is a guy named Martin Gabala, another Canadian, who’s been on all kinds of podcasts, including Tim Ferriss. And he wrote a book called The One Minute Workout, because largely the number one reason people do not work out is because of time constraints. But he has shown in all his research, like the minimal amount of exercise that’s actually needed to get people from not healthy or not very healthy to adequately healthy where they’re going to avoid what Atiya calls the four horsemen or those 10 non-communicable diseases is very little, Sam. And we know that prescription. For adults, that’s 150 minutes a week, 22 minutes a day, and two times a week where you’re pushing, pulling, lifting, squatting, lunging things. Those are the easiest things. But the first place I start with either my clients or the students or the teachers is what do you love to do? And there’s so many areas of movement. We gotta find something. I don’t even care if it’s a TikTok dance. That’s amazing for cardio, right? Like I’m trying to bust some of those moves in here, Sam. I’m telling you, I’m cutting rug in here. I mean, those things get your heart rate up fast. So any which way that you can find where movement’s a part of it, and they’ll get hooked because the body craves it, like we really do need. A great book for you too, Sam, after you finish Dr. Atiyah’s, is Dr. Kelly McGonigal from Stanford called The Joy of Movement. She doesn’t talk about exercise, she just talks about when muscles move, here’s what happens to the brain. And a lot of my work right now is that, is connecting muscles to brain, because we know today muscles are like an endocrine system. They’re not just these things that move things. They actually release proteins and they activate certain hormones. And that’s why it’s important to move, because it feels good. 

Sam Demma
It does feel good. It feels great. I was telling a friend of mine, I’m very competitive with myself. I like pushing myself and reaching new heights. And, you know, as much as I push myself in business or professionally with the work that I’m doing that’s usually tied to spending more time in front of my computer and even when I push myself in those arenas and reach new goals and heights and reach more people I Don’t feel the same way I feel when I lace up my shoes and do a 5k run around the block like that physical activity gives me an emotional emotional response and physical response in my body that pushing myself professionally just can’t give me and I recently inspired a friend to start running as a result and after he finished He’s like I haven’t felt this good in years like yes. I’m out of breath. Yes I’m feeling kind of nauseous and tired right now, but I feel so happy and I’m curious like You sound like someone who’s done lots of research. Is there like a link between feeling great and happy and moving the body? Like what is that connection?

Ted Temertzoglou
Yeah, Sam, we’ve got our own pharmacy and it’s right in our head. And the way you access that dealer, I’ll call my drug dealer for now, is the way you access that drug dealer is you move. So there’s this new discovery about 10 or so years ago called endocannabinoids. You probably have heard that ending of that word somewhere, right Sam? Cannabinoids, like cannabis, it produces the exact same effects. So, you know, when it releases serotonin and dopamine and all these epinephrines, we call this the dose response. So D is dopamine, O is the oxytocin, you know, that’s that social hormone that, they call it the hug hormone, where when you’re around friends, you just feel lifted, and we call that energy. Well, that energy is a direct product of oxytocin, right? And then you got your dopamine, and then you got your endorphins and those endocannabinoids. Yeah, we have a drugstore that’s frigging free, and it’s really worth getting addicted to those drugs, you know, because there’s no side effects.

Sam Demma
Yeah, that’s awesome.

Ted Temertzoglou
The side effects are what you just described, smiles, feeling good, wanna take on the world, you know, the sun’s always brighter You know Even the darkest days are a little bit brighter because that’s where your body wants to be we want to avoid pain We seek pleasure and movement is the key to that. 

Sam Demma
It’s crazy You brought up the end of that word and how it relates to Cannabis because this friend of mine that I inspired to run has recently kicked the habit of smoking a vape, which I’m sure many of the educators listening to this right now are very familiar with. And funny enough, every time he gets an urge, the way he stops himself from reaching for it is running or doing pushups. And he says he runs or does pushups and the desire to grab it immediately vanishes. So there is something special happening in the brain when we push our bodies physically and move. And after I was reading that book by Peter Atiyah, I started thinking about my own life and how much time I was spending sitting versus standing versus moving. And I didn’t think the body was made to sit all day. And I want to be someone who’s 80 or 90 years old and able to walk and able to pick up my grandkids, able to enjoy the daily activities of life. And so I think making sure we follow a routine similar to the ones you create for people is really important. I’m curious, out of all the work that you do, what work brings you the most joy and fulfillment?

Ted Temertzoglou
It’s when I’m working with the students, because often when I do the workshops, it’s with teachers and I invite the teachers to bring their kids. And it’s turning on those kids who didn’t think or didn’t see themselves as athletes, right? And you know, my tagline, Sam has always been it’s my like my Twitter handle to life is athletic. We push, we pull, we squat, we lunge, and we do all of these things in normal day-to-day life. So when those kids get hooked on movement, man, I just feel like, you know, I made it a little bit better today. I learned from them because I always ask them, like, what are your limitations? Like, what’s stopping you from doing these things? Because we all want to feel good. I think most people want to feel good. Or at least when we when we feel bad, we want to know what the strategies and tactics are, where we can hit the reset button really quick, right? So we get kids to realize, look, mistakes aren’t a period, it’s a comma. And then you first create your habits and then your habits create you. So finding these things in a positive light for kids, that’s what really lights me up. That’s what makes my heart sing. That’s why I still do this. And that’s why I’m gonna continue to do it. But I think the biggest learning I can have is when people actually tell me why it won’t work. Like, give me roadblocks or perceived barriers, and we got to find a way around these things because, you know, Sam, life expectancy for our kids, like, there was a big paper written, this was way before the pandemic, announced that prevention, a pound of trouble. And basically what it outlined was, this is probably the first generation of kids that will not love their parents. That was before, you know, before smartphones. And I’m not vilifying smartphones, it’s amazing. We have the world’s knowledge at our fingertips, for goodness sakes. It’s a really good thing, it’s not a bad thing. However, too much of it is a bad thing. And when we hook kids, and you know, their attention is drawn to other things and away from movement, man, we’re gonna be in a world of hurt. Not only in our healthcare system, but for them. So, you know, I’m getting on here in my age, and I’m thinking my kids are roughly your age. And I’m thinking, hey, when they start having kids, and I have grandkids, like, I want them to have, you know, very exciting and fruitful lives, but I need them to be feeling really good about themselves. And that’s health and physical education to me. That’s why it’s so critically important. But yet it’s below the maths, it’s below the sciences, but really it’s the most important subject we teach. What can be more important than our health, right? 

Sam Demma
I couldn’t agree more. I heard a quote once that said, people with their health want a million things and people without it only want one. And if I don’t have my health, personally, I’m not gonna be able to focus in math class. If I don’t have my health, I’m not focused in any other subject in school. The only thing I’m thinking about is helping myself feel better. And in Outlive by Peter Etieh, he cites a little study of students that exercise versus students that didn’t and how it improved their cognitive performance in school. So, I mean, prioritizing health not only helps the physical body, but it helps you perform better as a student. So how can it not be the most important thing? And the fact that it’s accessible to everyone on this planet, even if you don’t have a gym in your garage, you know, like you said, walking outside, running outside, just moving the body, makes this such an important topic to teach everybody about, because it could save so many years in someone’s life, not only in terms of their lifespan, but so they can enjoy it longer.

Sam Demma
I did mention it.

Ted Temertzoglou
Oh, sorry, Sam. Go ahead. Go ahead.

Ted Temertzoglou
Sorry.

Sam Demma
No, you go. I have a thought afterwards.

Ted Temertzoglou
Yeah, and then when you think about as well, the Canadian Heart and Stroke Association did this great commercial, Sam, I’m not sure if you saw them, and it’s like, you know, for the most Canadians, the last 10 years of their life, so what Atiyah calls the marginal decades, they’re living in and out of hospitals, or they’re living in and out of chronic care units. They’re not vital. It’s not a vitality part of their life at that point. Like, think about that. You know, seven different drugs. You’re going in and out of hospitals. You’re not feeling really good. And all of those were things that, you know, Hemingway has always said, you know, it happens really, really slowly, and then it hits you like a ton of bricks. So these are really important things for us to get across to our kids. So those last 10 years, we don’t know when we’re gonna get them, but you wanna be going out like you said, like picking things up that you wanna pick up and hiking in the mountains that you wanna hike. You wanna have those things, what Atiyah calls the centenarian decathlon. I wanna be able to do those top 10 things into my 90s or 100s or whatever, you know, God graces this on this planet with whatever. That’s what I want to do. And that’s what I want for people too. 

Sam Demma
You mentioned earlier in the podcast and I caught it and I wanted to circle back to it. You said, me and my wife wrote curriculum. So does she work in the same space that you do? Like, tell me more about this power couple dynamic?

Ted Temertzoglou
Yeah.

Ted Temertzoglou
Oh, you’re too kind. Yeah, that’s so cool. Yeah, Carolyn and I, Carolyn works, so she was a teacher as well. We actually met at the faculty of education at the University of Toronto. Cool. I was a pub manager, so I got to meet a lot of really cool people. I was very lucky. And Carolyn now teaches at the University of Toronto. She’s in teacher education. So she teaches phys ed teachers how to teach physical education, K to grade 12. It’s funny because I used to call them gym teachers. Yeah, and when we do our work together internationally.

Ted Temertzoglou
Yeah.

Ted Temertzoglou
And I remember a teacher was like, no, the gym is the physical space. I am a physical education teacher. I’m like, damn, I’m sorry. But there is a distinction. Yeah, I’ve got a quick side story for you. So when we were in Newfoundland doing some work, the health and phys ed teachers there, they have t-shirts that they wear. And they say on the back, I teach physical and health education, Jim lives down the street.

Sam Demma
That’s awesome. I love that, man. Thank you for sharing some of your passion for movement today on the podcast. I know you’re headed to Vienna to spend a week with some schools and administrators internationally and I’m sure they’re gonna change and build some new habits that are gonna help them as a result of the programming you’re doing with them. If someone wants to learn more about you, check out some of your resources or get in touch, what would be the best way for them to reach out?

Ted Temertzoglou
Yeah, I don’t have a website up and running just yet, but yeah, if they Googled my name or if they want to get a hold of me through email, they can do that too. We can put that, I guess, if you like, in the show notes or what have you. And Twitter, I’m @LifeisAthletic.

Sam Demma
You mentioned, we’ll wrap up on this, you mentioned sometimes the thing that brings you the most joy is helping people overcome those barriers within themselves to reach their fitness goals or to even just get started. It sounds like you’re helping people empty their backpacks and that’s something that we love doing in all of our work. If there was one piece of advice or one thing you would share and encourage anybody listening right now related to their physical and mental wellbeing that you wish the whole world could hear, you know, if everyone was listening, what would you tell people?

Ted Temertzoglou
I would say, just start. Just move one foot in front of the other, baby steps, and then once you get past all those, the rest will just start to come for you, right? The world will open up for you. So from the movement standpoint, that’s what I would say. From a mental standpoint, I would say, look, it’s kind of, I think Seneca said this, we suffer more in imagination than we do in reality. Stop listening to the negative self-talk that we take ourselves through and start focusing on all the great things that you get to do on this limited time that we have on the planet.

Sam Demma
I love it. Ted, it’s been an absolute honor having you on the show. We’re going to have to do this again. Thank you so much for making the time. Keep up the great work, enjoy your travels, and I’ll talk to you soon.

Ted Temertzoglou
Thank you so much, Sam.

Ted Temertzoglou
It’s been an honor and really love being on your show. So good luck with all your great stuff that you’re doing as well. Cheers, my man.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Ted Temertzoglou

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.

Alain Cyr-Russo —Senior Manager of Student Life at Algonquin Students’ Association

Alain Cyr-Russo —Senior Manager of Student Life at Algonquin Students’ Association
About Alain Cyr-Russo

Since 2010, Alain has worked in student life for La Cité Student Association. Originally hired as a programmer, Alain has since proven exceptional skills and dedication, rising to Senior Manager, Student Life.

While there, he oversaw various committees within the Student Association, including the student life committee. He also led events programming, creating a memorable student experience for thousands of students over the years. Alain lent his expertise to La Cité Student Association’s marketing and communications team and the Café-Bistro by overseeing operations for those teams in addition to student life. He recently accepted a position as Senior Manager, Student Life for the Algonquin Students’ Association where he oversees Events, Food Cupboard, Clubs and communities as well as the Equity, Diversity and inclusivity subject matter specialist.

Alain is passionate about the student experience, and he knows that it goes beyond events and programming. For eight seasons, he also served as head coach for the women’s and men’s volleyball teams for the La Cité Coyotes. He also brought the Food Bank to La Cité students and developed a well-being program, ensuring safety while leaving events.

In addition to all of this, Alain has found time to volunteer. From 2021 to 2022 he served as National Conference Chair for the Canadian Organization of Campus Activities (COCA) and is currently serving as the President of COCA.

Connect with Alain: Email | LinkedIn

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

La Cité Student Association

Algonquin Students’ Association

La Cité Coyotes

Canadian Organization of Campus Activities (COCA)

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
Today’s special guest on the High Performance Educator podcast is Alain Cyr-Russo. Alain, since 2010, has worked in student life for the La Cite Student Association. Originally hired as a programmer, Alain has since proved exceptional skills and dedication in rising to the senior manager of student life. Alain is passionate about students’ experience, and he knows that it goes beyond events and programming. For eight seasons, he also served as head coach for the women’s and men’s volleyball teams for the Lassiter Coyotes. He also brought the food bank to Lassiter students and developed a well-being program, ensuring safety while leading events. In addition to all this, Alain has found time to volunteer. From 2021 to 2022, he served as National Conference Chair for COCA, the Canadian Organization of Campus Activities, and is currently serving as the president. He has recently made the exciting transition to the senior manager of student life over at the Algonquin College Student Association. And during this conversation, we talk about what it takes to organize great events that actually fulfill the needs of your students and the students on your campuses. We talk a little bit about his experiences and journey through education that brought him to where he is today and some of his beliefs around building relationships with young people. I hope you enjoy this exciting conversation with my friend, Alain. I will see you on the other side. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator Podcast. This is your host, author, and keynote speaker, Sam Demma. Today we are joined by Alain Cyr-Russo. He is someone that I met at the COCA Conference this past June in Vancouver. He has such infectious energy. He’s just recently made a big transition in his life. Alain, I’m so excited to have you here. Please take a moment to introduce yourself.

Alain Cyr-Russo
Yeah, thank you so much for having me, Sam. This is exciting. And again, like you said, we met at COCA where I’ve been part of COCA for over 10 years now. I’ve been president for the organization now for two and been working for La Cité, which is a small French college in Ottawa. We have about 5,000 students and just recently changed to Algonquin College and now Senior Manager Student Life for the Algonquin Students Association where I left La Cité after 13 years. So, crazy news.

Sam Demma
For educators listening to this that don’t know too much about COCA, you’re someone who has given their heart, their soul, their blood, sweat and tears to this organization. Can you just explain what COCA is and what prompted you to get involved?

Alain Cyr-Russo
Yeah, absolutely. I first attended COCA back in 2012 as an event programmer. And it was an opportunity for me to just network with different people that share the same knowledge or interest within campus life. At the end of the day, we’re all there to, you know, regroups universities and colleges from across Canada, east to west coast, and we give ed sessions, keynote speakers, and we also give an opportunity for people such as you and other artists to showcase in front of these programmers in hopes to give you that opportunity to present in front of students from across Canada. And you mentioned that you recently transitioned from La Cité to

Sam Demma
Algonquin. How has that move been so far over these first few weeks of school?

Alain Cyr-Russo
Yeah, it’s insane to say the least, but it’s been great. You know, when you leave an organization after 13 years, you’ve been there, you’ve cared for it, you’ve started projects that are yours and that you’re leaving and you’re hoping that it’ll stay alive while you’re gone type thing. But the transition has been really good. Algonquin Student Association have been really great and the transition has been smooth. Just because I’ve been doing this for 13 years and I moved into a position that’s very similar, just a little bit more, what’s the word I’m looking for here uh but like a little bit more not niche but um you know I’m focusing just on student life as in before I was focusing on multiple things I felt like I wasn’t giving my 100 percent and I felt like this is an opportunity for me to move to Algonquin, bigger challenges, more students uh and uh an opportunity to to put forward great events and just enjoy my time and learn as well, right? Because as humans, we’re always learning. You never stop learning, and this, for me, was the next path for my personal growth.

Sam Demma
When you say the role you’re in now, you’re mainly focused on students. What are you hoping to accomplish over the next couple of years? And what do you think some of the challenges are that students are facing that you and the association are hoping to address or improve?

Alain Cyr-Russo
That’s a very, that’s a great question. I think it’s important to know that like a senior manager student life, one thing that you oversee is events, you know, just make sure that students are, you know, entertained during their time on campus. I mean studies are important but to network, socialize and enjoy your time on campus is an important factor in you know your life and that’s where you meet friends and maybe possibly co-workers. But I also oversee our student food cupboard as well as clubs and communities and just recently opened a position for equity, diversity and inclusion coordinator which I’m super excited to have on campus. As we know, you know, the international community on campuses is growing, and we just want to make sure that we best serve those students. In terms of food cupboard, I think, you know, we all know that food insecurity is a real issue, and I want to make sure that we help those students in need, because you have to stay focused. And then for us to be able to provide some food to students in need is very important to us. You know, I think most campuses have a food cupboard or food bank now on campus. And I think it’s a great service to have. And it’s just to know how to better that service as well. You know, in terms of international students, we now have a winter coat drive where we ask students and staff to bring lightly used winter coats and or pants. And then we give that out free to international students or whoever needs them. And then clubs and communities. Again, this is like a great place for students just to have common interests, to get together, socialize and play whatever they need. Like, you know, we have an eSport, we have a knitting club, and we have all sorts of clubs on campus just so that students can find other students that have the similar interests.

Sam Demma
You’re someone who’s spent their whole life

Sam Demma
surrounded by education. You’re a student, you got involved in COCA, you worked at La Cité for 13 years, now you’re at Algonquin. When you were growing up, did you know that you wanted to be a director of student life? Or how did this, like tell me more about your personal journey that led you to where you are now.

Alain Cyr-Russo
Yeah, that’s actually a great question because I’ve never really like thought about it. Truthfully, when I was younger, I wanted to be a gym teacher then I was like, I don’t know if that’s for me. I’ve always been active playing sports and staying busy. Afterwards, I wanted to be a police officer. So I originally went to college to become a police officer and that didn’t work out at the very beginning. I’ve done a few interviews and I decided to go back to school in leisure studies. And that’s where I stayed at La Cité. They offered me a job after graduating, saying we’d love to have you as an event programmer on campus. I’ve always kind of been, Even in high school, working with the sports club, or we had two different kind of, one was the workout club and then one was the sports club. I was always involved in student life on campus and even in high school, and I enjoyed it. I enjoy organizing stuff. I enjoy making people happy and just keeping people busy because at the end of the day for me, staying busy and out of trouble is what kept me sane when I was in high school and in college. And I think that’s what’s important to give back to students. So you grew up having passions for sports.

Sam Demma
I think similarly, sports and teaching, you’re mentoring people, you’re providing unique experiences for students. So it makes sense that you landed where you did now. Do you ever think back to your own experience as a student? And were there any teachers in your life that you think had a big impact on you and maybe slightly pushed you in this direction? Another great question.

Alain Cyr-Russo
I don’t know, like my volleyball coaches in high school from from Dallas how really had a huge huge impact on me they were you know recent university graduates when they first started teaching I was in 10th grade at that time and they they kept me busy they kept me you know people that were open to conversation and I think they kind of did push me to just being mindful of things and being, you know, polite and give back to the community. So, you know, I think they did have an impact with me without necessarily noticing it, you know, but did I end up where I really wanted to be? I don’t know, but let me tell you, I very much enjoy it because when I was at college, I played volleyball, which kept me busy, played for four years, but I never really participated into events. And I’ve seen a couple events here and there, but never really went to them. And then when I put on my event in leisure studies, I did a huge comedy show and I saw how students enjoyed it. So when the job offer was offered to me back in 2010, I was like, you know what, I’d love to just do more of this and see students smile and enjoy the events on campus and diversify whatever I can to keep these students interested, engage on campus and socializing and networking. So yeah, that’s kind of where I end up and the impact that I feel that I had from maybe those two teachers. events is a big part of your role now, and was a big part of your role at La Cite.

Sam Demma
Educators listening to this right now, some of them may have the responsibility of planning events for their schools,

Sam Demma
universities, and colleges. You’ve planned so many. What do you think makes for a great event? And how do you kind of consider what events to bring to your school?

Alain Cyr-Russo
So in order to do a great event, I think it’s understanding your clientele, who you’re working with, and who you’re doing the event for. You might have a good idea yourself, but it doesn’t necessarily answer the student needs. I love to interact with students and just understand what they want and would like to see on campus. And then I try and put it together. You know, venues an important part, budgets an important part, logistics and just being organized and make sure that you’re not just doing this on your own, but you also have maybe a team supporting you to give you more ideas in terms of that event. Because I’m a French-Canadian guy, I grew up in Ottawa and I know what I like, but I also try to be part of the organization or like the, you know, build up of this event so that I understand what they actually want and what they’d like to see. You know, do they know artists and people in the community that they’d like to see at this event that would better answer, you know, those student needs? And I think that’s very important. It’s not just about you, if you want, as a programmer or somebody putting an event forward. It’s about understanding the students and what they’d like. I mean, obviously, I don’t have the budget to bring in Drake. I think we have to be realistic here. But it’s just, you know, let’s listen to what they want and need. And when you also have students that are part of an event and putting forward an event, often enough, their students will, or sorry, their friends will want to come and support them as well. And that’s where you get people to come in.

Sam Demma
It also makes me think about how great of a leadership opportunity is for the students when you give them some responsibility in the choosing or planning or organizing of the event. And I would assume that a lot of the events that you put on are widely attended because you listen to what the students need and want and try and cater to those needs. What are some of the events that you’ve put on over the past 13 years that when you think about them, you have these fond memories? And I’m sure every event has been special in its own way, so it’s hard to just single one or two, but what events do you think had a really great impact and really reached those kids due to the needs they had at that point in time?

Alain Cyr-Russo
I mean, obviously, I’m fairly new to Algonquin, so it’s a little bit harder to answer that in terms of the Algonquin side of things. But being at L’Essie T’Aye for 13 years, I’ve put on a lot of events that either work or didn’t work. Obviously, times have changed, so some events weren’t as popular as before. We had a lot of Acadians way back when, like 2012, at L’Essie T’Aye from New Brunswick and they want to do you know uh an Acadian party. So we we brought in like uh you know being here from New Brunswick we we worked with Moosehead as well for getting some decor and just making that vibe. So that was really cool because it brought like all the Acadians on campus together without necessarily them knowing who was from New Brunswick and that part of the world. But then I think one of the biggest events that really I’ve enjoyed in the last couple of years just because we really work with the international department and our students from, you know, Africa, Haiti, is our what we call a multicultural night in the month of February for Black History Month. And we normally get a lot of students wanting to engage and be part of that event. So we’ll normally have, you know, like, we’ve had an event where we had a flag from every country that we have on campus, walk down this tiered seating that we had, and everybody was kind of carrying a flag, they kind of crisscross. And that just gave a real perspective to students of like, hey, like we have people from all over the world on campus, and that really just touched me because I never realized how diversified we were on campus. And then, you know, just part of that night we had students from Morocco, we had students from Canada, from Beronzi, like performing on stage. So it just brought all these cultures to perform together. And it was just really nice to see. And we had over like three, 400 students attending that event, which was fantastic. Especially when you’re looking at a smaller campus, it’s not always easy to get that many people out. But that event really have touched me in the past. And now that is one of the biggest events we’ve put together.

Sam Demma
I know a good fella from Burundi.

Sam Demma
My friend, Mac.

Alain Cyr-Russo
Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Sam Demma
When you’re thinking about students’ needs and desires, how do you collect them? What have you done in the past? Is it about walking the campus and having conversations, using surveys, how have you tried to figure out what students are looking for?

Alain Cyr-Russo
Yeah, one thing that I enjoy doing is just after events, letting students know that like, hey, if you’ve got an idea, come see me. And often enough, like they’ll come see you right after the show or the event and be like, hey, be cool if we could have this. Because surveys Surveys are good, but often enough I find people either don’t answer them, but also you can’t have that real conversation with them. And I find often enough their answers are a little bit grandiose if you want. So like, I’ve had somebody say, I’d love to see you fill in Vion at La Cité. And it’s like, okay, great. I love your idea, but unfortunately it doesn’t fit within the budget. But when you can sit down and actually have a face-to-face talk with a student and actually like hear their passion and what they’re looking for, it’s always great. And I love to just walk, like sometimes just, you know, when we’re just looking at clubs, if I see students are playing chess, for example, and I’m like, oh, we don’t have a chess club, I’ll, you know, approach them and be like, hey, did you know you could, you know, get clubs and funding and, you know, we can do promotion for you, try and get more people interested in this chess community. And they’re like, oh, that’d be great. Like, we’d love to have more people come play chess with us. So just having those approaches and conversation with students is so important.

Alain Cyr-Russo
We had so many different clubs in my school.

Sam Demma
And I think even back to when I was in high school. And I think one of the most beautiful things about clubs is you find like-minded individuals who are passionate about the same things that you are. And I met some of my closest friends doing similar interests as a part of clubs or extracurricular activities. You touched upon the idea of connecting with students one-on-one. I think it’s so important to build relationships with young people when you talk to them face-to-face and hear what they’re looking for. How do you think you build a relationship with a young person?

Alain Cyr-Russo
Well, I think it’s important to not be afraid of students. I find like as we grow older, sometimes like it’s we have a little bit of that disconnect, I find with with our crowd. But I think it’s important to just approach and have that conversation. You know, we’re often stuck, stuck behind Facebook and Instagram and texting, but you can’t build a great relationship with someone when you’re always behind a screen. So I think that face-to-face is important. I think it’s also important to, I think you touched on it, networking. I believe networking is the most important aspect of life because you don’t know who you’re gonna cross paths with, you don’t know who you’re gonna be working with, you don’t know whose help you’re going to need in the future. So just the networking, which is something like COCA has given me a lot, is just a family, a community, and that’s actually, you know, we both met there. So I think networking is a huge, huge factor in life that will bring you forward networking will also give you opportunities and maybe ideas for the future.

Sam Demma
We did meet at COCA and I met so many amazing humans just like yourself there. I’m so grateful that I pushed myself to go. I was listening to some students after an event that I was at recently and they’re walking off the campus and they said to themselves, I’m so great that I’m so happy and grateful that I made the decision to show up. I think that half the time the battle is just convincing ourselves not to stay comfy in bed, but to go to the events and to meet the people and to have conversations. And I’ve found that when you start asking questions, it helps you realize how small the world is and how interconnected we all really are. And I really appreciate you taking the time to come on the podcast here today and talk a little bit about your educational journey, what you think it takes to put on a good event and what the heart of an event is, which is addressing the needs of the people that are going to be in the audience. I appreciate you sharing a little bit about, you know, the idea of how you go about getting that information and having those one-on-one conversations after events finish. And if you haven’t heard it recently, congratulations on the big move to Algonquin. I wish you nothing but the best in the new position. A question I always like to ask all my guests before I finish with the interview is if you could travel back in time and speak to Alain when he was in his first year working at La Cité 14 years ago or 13 years ago, but with the knowledge and the wisdom you have now, knowing what you know, what would you tell yourself? What do you think your younger self needed to hear when you were just beginning the position?

Sam Demma
Wow.

Alain Cyr-Russo
One thing that I wish I did more when I was younger is just read and inform myself. I feel like I often act like I knew everything, and we don’t. I always like to learn, but I never took the steps to get there. So one thing is do communicate with people, do reach out, don’t be afraid, and get out of your bubble, get out of your comfort zone and try something. It may or may not work, but you’ll never know until you do it. So that is one thing that, you know, back in 2010, I was afraid, and it’s something that I definitely tell myself. Well, keep reading. Thank you, Alain, again, for coming on the podcast.

Sam Demma
It’s been a pleasure chatting with you. If you’re comfortable with it, I’ll put your email in the show notes and if any educator tuning in wants to connect with you or have a conversation, they can reach out. But until we meet again, hopefully soon, keep up the great work and good luck in this new adventure. Awesome, I appreciate it. Thank you so

Alain Cyr-Russo
much again for having me on your podcast. It’s been a pleasure and excited to hear the final result if you want. But yeah, anytime, if you wanna share that email, I have no issue.

Sam Demma
Awesome, thanks, Alain. Awesome, thank you.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Alain Cyr-Russo

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.

Daniette Terlesky  — Student Leadership Teacher at Our Lady of Mount Pleasant School in Camrose, Alberta

Daniette Terlesky — Student Leadership Teacher at Our Lady of Mount Pleasant School in Camrose, Alberta
About Daniette Terlesky

Daniette Terlesky (@mrsTerleskysmch) has been teaching for 21 years with Elk Island Catholic Schools. She is currently at Our Lady of Mount Pleasant School in Camrose, Alberta. She has taught grades 7-12 sciences primarily and in the last 4 years has also taken on leadership classes in high school.

She is an avid believer that the more involved students are in extracurriculars at school the more they’ll enjoy their overall experience. Connections are important and celebrating the gifts and talents of all students are very important to her. Leadership gives students those opportunities to get involved and use their gifts and talents to make a difference in their schools and communities.

Connect with Daniette: Email | Instagram | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Elk Island Catholic Schools

Our Lady of Mount Pleasant 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
Today’s special guest on the High Performing Educator podcast is Daniette Terleski. Daniette Terleski has been teaching for 21 years with the Elk Island Catholic Schools. She currently is at Our Lady of Mount Pleasant School in Camrose, Alberta. She has taught grades 7 to 12 sciences primarily and in the last four years has also taken on leadership classes in high school. She is an avid believer that the more involved students are in extracurriculars at school, the more they’ll enjoy their overall experience. Connections are important and celebrating the gifts and talents of all students are very important to her. Leadership gives students those opportunities to get involved and use their gifts and talents to make a difference in their schools and communities. I hope you enjoy this exciting conversation with Daniette Terleski and I will see you on the other side.

Sam Demma
Welcome back to another episode

Sam Demma
of the High-Performing Educator Podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today we are joined by Daniette Terlesky. Daniette, thank you so much for coming on the podcast. 

Daniette Terlesky
Tell me a little bit about where you grew up, what your childhood was like, and maybe provide some context that brought you to the person that you are today.

Daniette Terlesky
Most of my time growing up has been in Camrose, Alberta, and I was big into dancing, so I danced. A lot of my life, wanted to do some sports, but it was hard to fit in with dancing, so I got some track and field in there. Family was super important. Spent a lot of time with my family. I have a younger brother, he was big into hockey, played WHL, so followed him around a lot to watch. And yeah, I didn’t know if I was gonna be a teacher. My dad always said, don’t be a teacher or a nurse. So here I am, I am a teacher. It was kind of to defy him in a little bit, but it was the right fit place for me. And, yeah, now I have two children and we’re back in Camrose and it’s just, it’s a great place to be. And I don’t know.

Sam Demma
Yeah. When you said you’re back in Camrose, did you leave for a period of time and live somewhere else or have you been in Camrose your entire life?

Daniette Terlesky
No, so when I started teaching, I taught my first four years here in Camrose, which was lovely. And then I moved, I stayed with the same school division, but I was able to move and transfer and I worked in Vegreville for about 12 years and then transferred back here and I’m about to start my seventh year back in Kamrose. That’s awesome. You mentioned

Sam Demma
your dad said don’t ever become a nurse or a teacher but also that family was very important to you back when you were growing up and still now. What did your parents do and did it, I guess your dad not so much, but did your mom’s profession inspire you to do what you’re doing today?

Daniette Terlesky
Well mom and dad have business so they they work together in a business But my mom It was highly involved with many different things when I was a kid and still to this day she volunteers She does lots of crafts and she has lots of hobbies. And she’s really taught me to volunteer and help other people. And I think that’s part of why I do what I do.

Sam Demma
What kind of volunteering did you experience growing up? So I can’t even think of all the things

Daniette Terlesky
So I can’t even think of all the things that my mom has done in her time. Like, she helped out at the hospital with palliative care. She’d help out in the church. She just always seems to be involved. And now she’s involved with Rotary, which is great. And trying to get my group of students involved with Rotary too. So whenever there’s a place for her to help, she’s always tried to make herself available. And so I think that’s kind of where I get it from that I think it’s important to help out where we can help out.

Sam Demma
It sounds like she had the heart of an educator, although she got into business.

Daniette Terlesky
Yeah. She was kind of in the nursing profession for a period of time too,

Daniette Terlesky
but it just worked out better to work in the business with my dad. So. Gotcha. Oh, that’s awesome. Out of curiosity,

Sam Demma
Tell me a little bit about your own educational journey that brought you from a student to your first teaching job. So grade 12, I didn’t know what I wanted to do still.

Daniette Terlesky
I had to figure it out and I thought, Oh, maybe physiotherapy, you know, like, just would get me in the door. But I went into general sciences to start off with, okay, thought about pharmacy. And then it was just like, my, my heart kept saying, I think I want to be a teacher, I really do. And so soon as I transferred into education, I think it was my second year university, right fit. I was around the people that were similar to me, we had common interests, and it just felt like the right place to be. So I finished my four years of university at the University of Alberta. I got to teach with a few teachers that had taught me. And now I’m in that position since I’ve been teaching so long that I’m teaching with students or people that I taught.

Sam Demma
Oh, cool.

Daniette Terlesky
Yeah. Been around a while.

Sam Demma
It’s a really unique experience when there’s a full circle moment. And I’m sure although it reminds, you know, those veteran teachers of their age, it’s a full circle moment and it probably, I would imagine makes you feel very fulfilled and significant. What does it feel like when one of your former students ends up on your staff?

Daniette Terlesky
I think it’s pretty cool because obviously we didn’t turn them off of the profession.

Sam Demma
Yeah.

Daniette Terlesky
When they’re in school. Like, it must have been a positive experience. And it’s just, it’s really neat to see them as adults and being in that same profession.

Sam Demma
I think creating those positive experiences for students is one of the most important things that educators can do. You know, some students will struggle with certain curriculum, but making sure they know they’re walking into a safe space where they can express themselves, be who they truly are, and know that they’re being supported by the adults in their life is something that every student has access to if the adults in their life and their school strive to create those spaces. How do you think we create those spaces where students do have exceptional experiences and want to be around school or be in school?

Daniette Terlesky
I think we create the connections. Trying to have those authentic conversations and connections with the students, I think is so incredibly important. Providing clubs, different extracurricular is really important so those kids can kind of blossom and thrive. Our school is, has a great athletic reputation, we have great sports teams, but I see the need for leadership and for the drama programs and those arts and different things like that because not all those kids fit into that route and You want everybody in the school community to feel Valued and important and have something that they can really do well at so I really just think those one-on-one Connections and just different opportunities for them. It’s really important Can you think of a student who you’ve taught or someone in your school?

Sam Demma
That was that was not shy, timid, or struggling, but that wasn’t reaching their full potential, and then through an opportunity, or tapping them on the shoulder, or building a connection, you saw them really personally grow and flourish. Does any students like that come to mind?

Daniette Terlesky
There’s definitely a few. There’s definitely a kid who just graduated this past year. He got involved a little bit with leadership and even when he wasn’t taking the class, he just stepped up anytime we were planning. He’s like, you need extra help.

Daniette Terlesky
So that was really cool.

Daniette Terlesky
And then on a side note, one of the drama teacher and I were involved with some community theater last year. And the drama teacher like tapped him on the shoulder and was like, you should come out and like audition. And he had never done anything like that. And he, he did the show with us and it was just really cool to see him trying new things. And I think he’s just going to be better off a little bit more well-rounded because he, he took that step to try something different.

Sam Demma
Yeah.

Sam Demma
Knowing that you’re extremely involved in the school and like your mom, try to volunteer when you can as well. Why do you think those personal skill building classes like leadership and extracurricular activities are so important in a school setting?

Daniette Terlesky
I think they just give students an opportunity to do something, maybe in a little bit more relaxed environment. There’s not the stress of the studying and the test anxiety and the things like that. You know, they can be them, maybe. And if it’s something that interests them, then it just kind of helps them grow more. And those connection things are really important in real life when you leave the school and everything’s big and scary It’s like if you’ve had those opportunities to try some new things. It’s not maybe as daunting

Sam Demma
You know, you know one of the analogies that I talked about and I share is about the backpack that we all carry and You know I had some educators in my life growing up who helped me empty my backpack and instead filled it with self-belief and courage. And they believed in me a lot. And I’m curious when you think about your own experience through education, if there was any educators in your own life or caring adults that played a really significant role in helping you believe in yourself and inspiring you to keep moving forward. Is there any teachers who played a big role?

Daniette Terlesky
I’ve had some really amazing colleagues, but there’s like an administrator that really sticks out in my head. She was big on praising people in the things that they do well, allowing you the opportunity to do the things you do well, and just always being in your court, helping you, being your biggest cheerleader and things like that. So, I really, yeah, she really helped me to grow and to see a little bit and understand a little bit more also about servant leadership.

Sam Demma
And is this someone who you’ve stayed in touch with or had at one point at the school or a school you worked in? How did you cross paths?

Daniette Terlesky
So yeah, she was principal for three years at the school in Vegreville I was at. And then she moved on, I moved on, and then she actually came in and worked at the school that I’m currently at for a little bit of a short period of time. So it was great to connect again. And yeah, we’re still in contact definitely.

Sam Demma
That’s awesome. It’s funny I think sometimes educators they don’t hear about the impact they have not only on students but also on their colleagues or their their peers. You know maybe you get a lot of handwritten notes or you get every once in a while a student that comes and tells you how significant of an impact you had on them. But I think you know as teachers you also impact the teachers around you. And when things get difficult, you probably lean on the staff in the school building. So I think it’s really cool that she was able to understand the impact she had on you and that you reconnected after a couple of years. I’m just curious, like, what resources have you found helpful in teaching? What resources have you found helpful in trying to engage students or just in general that have helped you in your own personal development and professional development as an educator?

Daniette Terlesky
I’m going to be honest, I’m not big on like reading books and getting the ideas from that. That’s totally fair. I totally am one of those people who love to hear other people’s experiences. I like to see what they’re doing. So, any chance I can go for professional development, I totally take that, especially if I can find free professional development. Just in collaboration with other teachers is huge. But again, I’m one of those people who has to see it. I need to understand it a little bit more. Cause sometimes just reading about it doesn’t mean anything to me. So seeing, doing, um, is really important. And like going to those leadership conferences and hearing from other educators and, and amazing speakers. It just like inspires me to like take their messages and try and use it in my everyday life and teaching.

Sam Demma
Yeah.

Sam Demma
I love that. I think learning from other people’s experiences is one of the best ways to pick up ideas. You mentioned collaborating with teachers. What is a collaboration with another teacher look like? Can you provide an example or how would you go about doing that with someone in the school?

Daniette Terlesky
I’ve been lucky enough to have a few teachers that were teaching the same subjects the same semester and so it’s just like sitting down in their classroom at the end of the day and being like, hey, I was thinking about doing this, like, what do you think? And like, working together to come up with the activity or, you know, and then be like, I did this, don’t do it, it doesn’t work. Or, like, you need to tweak this before you do it, right? So it’s really nice to have somebody else who’s also doing the same thing as you so you can like bounce ideas off of them and just work together and sometimes it kind of lessens the workload a little bit if like somebody’s like hey I already created that you can just use it you know oh like fix it as you need it that really that really helps like why reinvent the wheel they always say I think there’s so much to be learned from collaborating sometimes and a newer teacher might be a little nervous to reach out to the people around them.

Sam Demma
What’s your advice for a new educator who’s tuning into this feeling a little bit overwhelmed or anxious about? starting this new chapter of their life I

Daniette Terlesky
Think you just need to figure out the person on staff who’s still got energy, still positive. Because you’re going to, like this work can get to you and they kind of are stuck in a rut. But if you can find those people who are positive and like so many teachers, like I really actually haven’t come across too many educators who won’t share what they have. Because we’ve all been there. A lot of the stuff I use is still from a teacher I worked with years ago, right? And I just like am tweaking it, but ultimately she just passed it over to me and it helped so much, right? Like you shouldn’t have to start from square one. There should be somebody there who can kind of help you along, give you some training wheels.

Sam Demma
Yeah, it’s fair. It works with biking. Why not teaching? Yeah. That’s awesome. And if there is an educator listening to this podcast and they think, hmm, Inyet seems like an educator that’s still passionate and has lots of energy, I might want to ask her a question. What would be the best way for them to reach out or get in touch with you?

Daniette Terlesky
They could definitely email me. I don’t know if you provide an email, but email is probably the best. I am on Facebook, but I think I have a privacy setting there, so it might be a little bit harder to find me, but my name’s on there. You could try and find me on Instagram too. I’m not really great with all the social media.

Sam Demma
With your permission, I’ll include your email in the show notes of the episode so someone can reach out if they want to get in touch.

Daniette Terlesky
Yeah, absolutely.

Sam Demma
Awesome. Well, this has been a fun conversation. Thank you for taking the time to come on the podcast, talk a little bit about your beliefs in education, the pathway that you took, and share a few ideas for educators to improve themselves and also their practices. So from the bottom of my heart and all the educators listening, thank you so much, and I hope we cross paths again very soon. thank you so much, and I hope we cross paths again very soon.

Sam Demma
Absolutely. Thank you so much.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Daniette Terlesky

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.

Kevin Baker — Executive Dean, Faculty of Business at Durham College

Kevin Baker — Executive Dean, Faculty of Business at Durham College
About Kevin Baker

Kevin Baker (@deankevinbaker) has been a senior administrator in the Canadian publicly assisted post-secondary education system for more than 25 years. He joined Durham College in April 2011 and assumed his current role as Executive Dean of the Faculty of Business in October 2018.

Before joining Durham College, Kevin was a campus administrator, general counsel, and vice president at College of the North Atlantic (CNA) in Newfoundland and Labrador. He has also taught for over 25 years in the Newfoundland and Labrador and Ontario college and university systems.

Kevin has a Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts (Sociology) from York University, a Juris Doctor from Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto, Ontario, and a Doctorate in Higher Education Leadership from Aspen University, Colorado. His doctoral thesis and continuing research examine employees’ innovative predispositions and organizational innovation climates.

Kevin is the father of three adult children and a grandparent of two. Kevin lives in Bowmanville with his partner, Kellie. He is active locally and serves on several local, provincial, and national boards.

Connect with Kevin: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter | Facebook

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Durham College – Faculty of Business

College of the North Atlantic (CNA)

York University – Department of Sociology

Osgoode Hall Law School

Aspen University – Doctor of Education in Leadership and Learning – Higher Education Leadership (Ed.D.)

YMCA Canada

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
Today’s special guest on the High Performing Educator podcast is my good friend Kevin Baker. Kevin has been a senior administrator in the Canadian publicly assisted post-secondary education system for more than 25 years. He joined Durham College in April of 2011 and assumed his current role as Executive Dean of the Faculty of Business in October of 2018. Before joining Durham College, Kevin was a campus administrator, general counsel, and vice president at the College of North Atlantic CNA in Newfoundland and Labrador. He has also taught for over 25 years in the Newfoundland and Labrador and Ontario College and University systems. Kevin holds a Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts in Sociology from York University, a Juris Doctor from Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto, Ontario, and a doctorate in higher education of leadership from Aspen University, Colorado. His doctoral thesis and continuing research examine employees’ innovative predispositions and organizational innovation climates. Kevin is the father of three adult children and a grandparent of two. He lives in Bowmanville with his partner, Kellie. He is active locally and serves on several local, provincial, and national boards. I hope you enjoyed this conversation with Kevin as much as I enjoyed recording it, and I will see you on the other side. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator Podcast. This is your host and speaker, Sam Demma. Today we are joined by a very special guest, Kevin Baker. We crossed paths, I want to say, six months ago now. Kevin, thank you so much for coming on the show here today.

Kevin Baker
Well, thank you for having me. I’m a big fan, so it’s quite an honor to be here.

Sam Demma
We’re here now, but you have lived in many different places. What context would the listener or person tuning in need to understand from your childhood to create a better picture of who you are today?

Kevin Baker
Okay, yes, I’ve traveled a lot. I feel sometimes like I’m a military brat, even though my parents weren’t in the military. So, a bit of a long story, I’ll try and be succinct. My parents and my grandparents were migrant farmers, essentially. So, my family comes from come from rural New Brunswick, very close to the Quebec border, and they were farmers. Back in those days, families often would farm in the summer, and then in the winter, they would migrate to the cities to get other kinds of work to have an income over the winter. Then in the spring, they would go back to their farms and farm again for the summer. It was an ongoing cycle. That was my early life where every winter, my family would come up here and then go back to the East Coast. I don’t remember exactly when, but I want to say when I was probably about seven or eight, that stopped and basically the traveling and sort of the East Coast was it. So I spent most of my childhood there. My father lived in Ontario throughout that time, and so I would often come up in the summer for visits or things like that, but essentially I consider myself an East Coast kid. And then when I was about 16, I decided that I wanted to move to Ontario, to Toronto specifically, to find fame and fortune. roughly about 19 years. I did a bunch of different things. I was a kid when I moved here. I was 16 and I did a bunch of odd and crazy jobs and just tried to survive. Then eventually found my way into university much later. I was a Jane Finch guy. I moved there when I was 16 and I stayed in that general area until I moved away 19 years later. Then I moved to Newfoundland where my wife is from. I lived there for 11 years and then moved back to Durham Region where I live now. 12 years. So, kind of half of my life maybe or close to it in the East Coast and half of my life in Ontario. Sort of mostly the West End of Toronto and then the last 12 years here in Durham,

Sam Demma
You’ve spent a lot of time working in the education system throughout your life. Right. But your own journey into the education system is a little different. You know, you said you kind of stumbled into it at some point when you moved here. Tell me a little bit more about your experiences as a student and how you found university.

Kevin Baker
Right.

Kevin Baker
So, it is truly an orthodox path, I’ll say. You know, I did not like school when I was a kid.

Sam Demma
How come? Like, what about school was not catered to your style of learning or experiences?

Kevin Baker
So, I won’t – I certainly won’t get into all of it now, but I think in my area where I was growing up, education wasn’t really valued, especially for men or boys. So we were largely seen as laborers and as soon as you were strong enough to contribute, you were kind of not expected, I guess, but it was socially acceptable to just think about getting your license, driving, having a job and education didn’t matter. And so there was that part of it. And then I think, you know, I just, so there’s a group of educators who feel that school systems are largely not designed for boys and that they’re very disciplinary and they kind of stop out the creative mindsets that we net sort of, I don’t know if I believe in natural, but they’ll argue that sort of our predisposition is to be busy and active and classrooms make you sit in a chair and be very routinized and all those things. Whether it’s a gendered thing or a learned thing, I don’t want to get into that debate, but I will say that certainly my predisposition is one that is a little bit restless and wanting to constantly be a bit scattered and all that. So the notion, I think, just cumulatively of sitting in a chair day in and day out and doing mind-numbing exercises, you know, and rote memorization, all those things were probably just not my strength.

Sam Demma
Yep.

Kevin Baker
Yep. So there’s that piece. And then, yeah, and then I think just as I hit my teenage years I was really just troubled. I was a bit of a hard case, I think, to use an East Coast expression and increasingly didn’t like authority. And I just really didn’t, yeah, I just wasn’t really into it. I loved the social aspects of school. I had lots of friends and all that, but I just, yeah, it was just painful to go. And so I left when I was in grade 10. And, yeah, and so that was, so I would have been 15 years old and the rule back then was if you could get a job and bring a proof of employment, you could leave when you turn 15 years old. Can you imagine that today?

Sam Demma
Oh, wow.

Kevin Baker
Right? So that’s what I did. I got someone to give me a letter offering me a job and I walked into the school on my 15th birthday and said, I’m done. And I went out and got a job.

Sam Demma
What brought you back? So many years later. Your masters?

Kevin Baker
Yeah. So 12 years later, so a person who’s incredibly influential in my entire life, she’s passed away a few years back, but I referred her as my sister. She’s technically my aunt but we were raised together. She’s the same age as I am and so for me she was always my sister but she had gone through and done everything properly. She finished high school, went to university, got advanced degrees, got a teaching degree and she became a psychologist. Anyway, I used to stop in and visit her a lot when I was traveling past my home. She was always encouraging me to go back to school. At some point, I was really not happy with the work I was doing and I thought, maybe I will look into it. And just by fluke, I found what at the time was referred to as a bridging program at York University and I took it and I loved it. I loved it. It was a humanities course, something that I didn’t even know what that meant. But I took it. We read a bunch of books and I learned how to write essays and I loved it. I just loved everything about it. My classmates were a laugh. We had great, you know, it was great socializing with people in the exact same situation as me. And the teachers were amazing. The professors who were teaching the course, they were obviously, of course, I didn’t appreciate it at the time, but their whole lives were dedicated to helping people just like me. So I took the course, I loved it, and then I registered. The way it worked is if you got a B plus in the course, you could register that you were admitted into York University without your high school. So I got a B plus or an A or whatever, and I immediately ran to the registrar’s office and applied and started that. So that course would have ended in April and I started full-time in May. I absolutely never looked back. It was an absolutely amazing opportunity and unlike my younger life experience, I just fell in love with it. I don’t think there was a course I took that I just didn’t think it was just amazing.

Sam Demma
Do you think it has something to do with the flexibility of choice?

Kevin Baker
Yeah, 100%. So, when you start university, you have to pick a major. And I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I knew my sister was a psychologist and I thought well you know we were raised together I’m pretty sure psychology would be cool and I took it and I didn’t really like it that much so but just by fluke I also was taking concurrently a sociology course and it was a sociology of And I absolutely loved it. You know, it’s all the youth gangs and all the classic sort of deviant stuff and sort of quasi criminology. And I knew instantly, I was like, oh, man, that’s it. If you can get paid to learn this stuff and do this stuff for a living, I’m set. So, so I stayed with that and kind of got to meet some really cool faculty in that sort of criminology space and yeah, never left it, just embraced it. And I did take more psychology courses later, but yeah, it definitely wasn’t my kind of learning style. It was much more, you know, there’s so many students in psychology that they sort of mass produced, so a lot of chance to have a bit of fun learning and more writing than tests. And I’m definitely better at the writing side than I am at the test side of things.

Sam Demma
So, yeah. Well, I guess at some point you fell in love with school and education so much that you decided to go and do a doctorate.

Kevin Baker
Yes, well, that came much, well, it was a double attempt Sam. Okay. So I started my doctorate right after I finished my undergrad. So I finished my undergrad in, do we use dates in these where we disclose how old we really are?

Sam Demma
You can if you’d like to.

Kevin Baker
Okay.

Kevin Baker
So I started my doctorate in 1996 and I did it for three years. And at that time I met my wife and by the time 1999 rolls around we’re having our second child. And I’m thinking that this is no way to provide for a family. And I was kind of really just tired. And I won’t say disillusioned. There were some other things happening in my life at that time but I was really just kind of done with school at the time and well I’ll just you know I’m not ashamed of it so that year the same year and it’s it’s interesting how life happens but my sister was murdered one of my sisters not the one I was referring to earlier, but my younger sister was murdered here in Toronto and my father was dying of cancer. While I wasn’t that close to my father, I think just all those life things happening all at the same time just kind of, I think, hit me more than I realized psychologically or emotionally or whatever. I was just exhausted. I was just, I was just, I needed to change. And conveniently, my wife didn’t like it here. She was from Newfoundland. She didn’t like Ontario, really. And so we made the decision to go back to Newfoundland. And I say back, she went back. I went there for the first time to live. And yeah, and then life happened and it was great. But I was out of the PhD program at that time. And then I restarted my doctorate. And then, so really, I did most of it during COVID. Right. Yeah, so, so that was a, actually an amazing experience. second chance to do it and I really enjoyed the second chance way more than I would have enjoyed the wrapping up the first time through. I did regret it, like, you know, in hindsight, I wish I would have just stuck it out. But having done it later, it was a much better experience. I was ready for it. I knew what to expect and it was such a good experience.

Sam Demma
I was recently reading a autobiography or a biography of Muhammad Ali and it talks about his journey into boxing and how he came from a pretty underprivileged family growing up in terms of their financial abilities and they were able to purchase Muhammad a bike and it was like his most prized possession and he would ride it everywhere and one day he wrote it to a Local shop and left it outside as he went inside to talk to some people and he came out and the bike was gone And he was so upset and and he started walking around and trying to find it and stumbled in front of a boxing gym and Walked inside and made friends with one of the trainers and the trainer asked him. You’re pretty tall for your age how old are you and would you ever consider boxing? And the author went on to explain that Muhammad Ali’s journey into boxing was like equal, it was of equal, it was equal amount chance but also choice. And I think it reminded me of your journey into education. Like you know, there’s the chance encounters that inspire you to go back to school, but then it was your choice to finish it or follow up and I’m just curious the Sister of yours who you consider or is technically your aunt, but you consider a sister It sounds like she was very encouraging What else did she do for you that had a significant impact and inspired you to keep pursuing the journey? Um, good question. But before I answer it, I want to say that I’m, I don’t know what to think of someone comparing me and Muhammad Ali.

Kevin Baker
That’s the one and only time that will ever happen in my life, I assure you. So, I’m still caught on that. So what did my sister do? So, you know, I don’t know. I mean, I think that, I think that what she did was she was the rock of our family. So, you know, like a lot of families will have like a matriarch or that person who just keeps everyone together. So my family, I mean, and it’s funny, you talked about Muhammad and his roots. That farm that I talked about, we didn’t have running water. We carried our water from outside and brought it in the house. We were not wealthy. I wanted a pair of white tube socks with a yellow and green stripe on them. You couldn’t get those at your local cheap store, dollar store type. We didn’t have Walmart, but the equivalent. So you had to order them from like the Sears catalog and my family couldn’t afford to buy me a pair of those socks that matched my teen colors. Like we had no money. So, you know, she somehow managed to persist to university and did exceptionally well. Really enjoyed the experience too, but just did really well. But I think she, so connecting back the dots, sorry, connecting back the dots to my family and poverty and growing up in that environment, I think we all left. Like, no, kids don’t wanna stay when it’s like that, you know, they want the excitement of not living on a farm.

Kevin Baker
Yeah.

Kevin Baker
Anyway, and so we all were gone, like all my siblings, none of them stayed except her. But she always kept us together, like, you know, virtually and, you know, every now and again, we would get together for, you know, a vacation or whatever. But she was the one constant. So we’d always go back to visit her. We may not all go at the same time, but she was the glue. And so I think, honestly, what did she do? I think when you live the life I lived pre-university, I think it’s easy to be down on yourself. You might not express it or manifest that way, but I think at the end of the day you don’t really believe in yourself. Like you believe

Kevin Baker
that you’re you know that you’re undeserving or that you’re you’re ashamed of what you’ve done. You’ve made bad life decisions. You’re a high school dropout and you’re just surviving, right? But she never stopped loving me. Yeah, I think that you know, I think that’s something that sometimes I think people like that in that situation just need that and So I think that’s I mean other than that she was she never really nagged me or she never really did anything profound that you know, I could put my finger on and say, you know, this is how she like she never she never micromanaged my education or questioned my choices about my discipline or what I was doing. She just really just was always there if I ever wanted to just shoot the. Do we beep out those bad words?

Sam Demma
We can.

Kevin Baker
But yeah, she was just a wonderful human being. She, her last few years of her life, she worked as a psychologist supporting elders who had survived the residential schools. Oh, wow. And so, you know, I mean, I remember at her funeral, just how all those people, these are survivors of some of the most traumatic life experiences you can imagine. And they were there, every single one of them, just paying their respects like you would never believe, right? Because this is the kind of person she was. So, so honestly for me the same like you know different experiences obviously I’m not a residential survivor but but she just she just had that ability to profoundly encourage people to you know, find strength and yeah, so that’s what I would say about her.

Sam Demma
I think we find individuals like that outside of classrooms, sometimes inside classrooms, and we never know when they’re going to walk into our lives and can’t estimate the impact they’ll have. You just have no idea. Have you reflected on any people like that you’ve met through your education? Like professors or teachers and who comes to mind and what do you think those individuals did for you that had a significant impact?

Kevin Baker
Absolutely. And in fact, I was just talking about this with a friend two days ago about a little project I’ve been contemplating for a long time. And there’s an old expression, I don’t know the exact wording, but it more or less goes, I stand on the shoulders of giants, therefore I can see, or I’m not sure exactly how that expression goes, but that’s the gist of it. And I was talking about that, and I started this little project a while back, and then I just kind of got away from it, but I’m thinking about re-resurrecting it. And I started writing notes to people like my sister, who had such an impact on me. And many of them were faculty. So, you know, there are a couple of folks at York, while I was telling the story, Rabbi Leo Davids, who was the chair of the department when I first started my education, really just met me, didn’t know me from anyone, and immediately embraced me and was just so friendly and supportive and encouraging. And he’s the one who introduced me to effectively the faculty member who would have become my mentor, Livi Vizzano. And Livi, you know, is, I mean, students love him because of his approach and his philosophy and everything, but he really is the only reason I’m here today and everything, my intellectual mindset and so on. But more importantly, he was just the person who really took care of me. He really looked out for me. He really was there as a mentor, as an advisor, and he was the supervisor of my master’s thesis and also was the chair of my PhD committee at the time. But yeah, so him and one of his students who is, was, you know, we’ve sort of drifted off in different paths in our lives and haven’t really talked much over the last maybe 10 or 15 years, but he had a student there named Kevin McCormick, who was a president of one of the Laurentian College or Laurentian University colleges. And Kevin was ahead of me in the PhD program, but he met me when I was an undergrad. And Kevin, honestly, without him, I don’t know what would have happened. He gave me my first job teaching.

Sam Demma
Wow.

Kevin Baker
He graduated before me and went up to Georgian, brought me up there to teach part-time, and he was amazing. And then just some others, like Claudio Duran at York was just another professor who, I loved him. He was like a father figure to me. He just, he really, yeah, just an amazing educator and taught me so much. And just, there were, I mean, honestly, everyone. I went to law school and, you know, there was a professor there, Mary Jane Mossman, who, you know, just, I don’t know, like these people, it’s like they have this ability to see through the baggage and the rough exterior. I was a very unpolished, I still am, but then I was a considerably unpolished individual. And the fact that they could see something in me and see some potential, even when I couldn’t see it myself, is I think an incredible talent. I don’t know how they do it, but they’re pretty consistently good at it. And it wasn’t just me. I got to witness it often. So anyway, and I’ve written a number of professors over the years, some who weren’t that impactful, but I’ve written them letters or emails that said, hey, you probably don’t even remember me, but I wanna tell you about this one time when you said something to me that just completely blew my mind and changed the whole course of everything that happened after that. And I find that just incredible, right? And they had no idea and probably didn’t think anything of what they were saying to me or doing, but it had such an impact that… I’ll give you an example. There was a guy who was a visiting professor from somewhere in the States, or maybe even Europe, And he was teaching a humanities course and it was pretty heavy humanities course on the Holocaust. And anyway, I was totally into it. I, well, it was pretty heavy stuff, but I really, really appreciated what we were learning. I was, you know, I was pretty ignorant about everything that happened. I mean, everyone knows the generalities, but we were deep into the details. Anyway, he had written a book about it and I’d asked him to sign the book. I just bought a copy and I said, yeah, you’re an author, I want you to sign the book. So, he signed the book for me and he wrote to Kevin, the most curious student I’ve ever met or something like that. And I didn’t know what to think of it at first, but after time I got to appreciate that was actually him complimenting me quite a bit. And yeah, anyway, so, you know, things like that, but.

Sam Demma
Where do you think your curiosity comes from and your interest in getting to know people? Because I mean, we had lunch and I noticed that every person we walked by you knew something about?

Kevin Baker
I honestly don’t know. So curiosity, I don’t know. I think that to some extent, curiosity is maybe a bit innate. I just think some people are more curious than others. I don’t think it’s a good or bad thing. It’s just a different approach or maybe, I don’t know.

Kevin Baker
Yeah, I’ve never really thought about that, Sam.

Kevin Baker
I mean, I think we can foster curiosity. I think it’s educators. Yep. You know, we need to do more of that. And so I think that it can be learned. Maybe I did learn it sort of passively through my upbringing and through other people I’ve met over the years, but I’m absolutely very curious. I mean even before I was going to school, I loved like trivia and games like that. It’s just something I always just love that stuff. So I honestly can’t answer where it came from. That’s fair. Yeah. Yeah.

Sam Demma
You mentioned earlier that the educators that had an impact in your life saw something in you and could see past the baggage. And I once saw a post on social media somewhere that said, imagine if tomorrow morning we woke up and the only thing people could see was each other’s souls. And it’s like there was no face and there was no colors and there was no nothing. How would things be different? And maybe it’s their abilities to just see people’s souls or like look past the human flesh, you know, like, I don’t know. But I’m always trying to provide the listener with like some sort of idea on how they can have a similar impact on the students that they serve. And from what you’ve shared so far, it sounds like giving of your time is a big one. It sounds like providing belief, like placing your belief in other people, even when they don’t see them themselves is a big one. How else do you think educators can build that relationship with their students?

Kevin Baker
Yeah, so I think that when I look at maybe how they approach things, and I see it often in faculty I work with now, and certainly the good ones. I would say that they refuse to be superficial about people. They tend to be, and maybe even a bit, Pollyannish. The great debate in psychology is always whether we’re born good or evil. I think educators generally have this predisposition that people have good potential. Everyone has great potential to be good and contribute. It’s their social responsibility, if not divine task, to find that good in people and to bring it out of them. hokey but I think that the educators that I’ve met over my life who are profoundly passionate about education and it’s not just a job, it’s really what they’re trying to do. They’re really trying to untap that potential in people. I think that’s just the key really. Then it’s not work, right? It’s just a challenge.

Kevin Baker
You know, they’re mining, right?

Kevin Baker
They’re mining for gold and they’re motivated by, you know, nothing, nothing gives me greater excitement than to see someone get it, right? And to do something with it.

Sam Demma
Is that what keeps you going now?

Kevin Baker
100%.

Sam Demma
As opposed to going down a different adventure?

Kevin Baker
Yeah, I mean, I was a practicing lawyer. I could have easily stayed doing that. And I’ve always, from my own personal experience, frankly, and then just waking up every morning since I’ve been doing this, I eased into education sort of after the teaching and then I practiced and then I came back to education, but not really as an educator initially. But so during that transition period, I was drawn back to the education side of things instead of the administrative side, mostly because I really do get great personal pleasure out of seeing growth in people, right? And seeing them, I jokingly refer to it as corrupting minds, right? Corrupting young minds. So, and that comes from my sort of, my philosophy around my intellectual area. But the idea is that, you know, I challenge students to think about things they take for granted, and to rethink them, and to think critically about everything, you know, whether it’s the American dream, or whether it’s around our belief that, you know, if you work hard enough, you will become a millionaire or whatever. We deconstruct all these sort of beliefs. When I teach or even when I’m administrating, but I’m working with students who are learning things, nothing, like my favorite day of the year is convocation. on the stage or I’m giving out diplomas if it’s my direct students and I’m just sitting there appreciating how much impact whatever it is program they finished successfully, how much it meant to them, the emotion, just the raw emotion of whoo I did it, I accomplished something, I didn’t even know if I could and I’m just sitting there beaming because I got to be a part of that. You know, and a small part for sure, but it’s such an amazing feeling. It’s addictive. It’s like, I don’t know, it’s like a drug or something.

Sam Demma
You mentioned that feeling an educator gets when one of their past students earlier like writes a letter to them and how you’ve written letters to a lot of educators in your life. For the educators who are just getting started and maybe don’t have those letters yet, what would you tell them in terms of encouragement or a letter you would give them verbally right now on this call?

Kevin Baker
Wow, so I would say to them, they’ll come, right? Don’t worry about the letters, they will come. And sometimes they won’t come, but you will have a feeling. None of this happens with just one individual. Individuals obviously have profound impact and we can actually have more negative impact potentially than positive individually. But collectively, we’re part of a machine that works to help improve people’s lives, and we can all contribute to that experience positively for sure. And so, you know, whether the letter comes or not is not really that important, but we have to assume every interaction we have with the student is a potential opportunity to help that student and give them a better experience. And, you know, we never know how that will be. And we may not know whether the student’s even grateful, but we can’t, I don’t think we’re looking for that kind of instant gratification or that immediate feedback. I think it’s seeing people later in their lives and you go, oh, yeah, you’re doing so well. And I have some students I keep in touch with and you just see them you see them advance in their careers they they do everything you know you can just clearly see that it worked you know their lives are better and different than they would have been otherwise and you’re just proud of that so that’s motivation enough. I’ve had students who’ve had incredible success, not because of anything I’ve done, I just people I knew over the years. And it’s such a rush to know, you see them on TV or you see them in the news and you’re like, oh man, that was one of my students and you’re just thrilled for them, right? So, I don’t know.

Kevin Baker
Yeah, I don’t think it’s always,

Kevin Baker
I mean, the letters can be moving if you get a letter. Yeah, it’s not a big deal, but I taught a course at Trent University that was very unorthodox in the approach. It was a bit of an experiment. I was just trying to do something very innovative and try and see how students liked it. And this guy wrote me, I don’t know, three or four years later saying, hey, I’m a teacher now and I’m using the gamification approach that I had adopted in this course. He’s like, I’m using it in my teaching now and the students love it.

Sam Demma
That’s so cool.

Kevin Baker
You know, you just had no idea he liked it even. At the time, it was just something I was playing with and trying to make my course more interesting and didn’t know how it really affected anyone. But here I am getting an email from this guy just randomly saying, hey, I liked it so much I’m using it now myself.

Sam Demma
Wow, that’s awesome.

Sam Demma
And you’re like, cool, right? Yeah, I guess you just, you show up and do the work and like you said, make the assumption that it’s making a difference and that is enough to continue to show up. And oftentimes the work you’re doing is not even seen, like planning the lesson for the next day, the night before, a couple hours, or working on the next assignment. And that all happens when you’re not sitting sometimes right in front of the students as well. I recently did a speech for early childhood educators with the YMCA in Brantford, in Hamilton area. And I shared this little story with them that really resonated. And it was an experience I had when I was in medicine out of Alberta. And it was early morning, it was the middle of winter, and I walked out to this rental car to go to a convention center. And there was this guy with a leaf blower. And I was like, what the heck is this guy doing in the middle of the winter with a leaf blower, you know? And then I see him and he’s blowing the snow off of all the cars in the parking lot. And it was like 7 in the morning, 6.30 in the morning. And I just couldn’t stop thinking about the fact that all the people who are going to drive those vehicles in the next couple of hours were sleeping comfortably inside the hotel and would have no idea that this gentleman walked the parking lot for two hours and blew all the snow off everyone’s vehicles. And it just made me think of education and how, like, if you’re an educator listening to this, that is you, like you are making a difference even if the people that you’re impacting don’t realize it. And if you don’t get that thank you handshake because, you know, at the hotel, those people were still sleeping. But if there is an educator listening to this, Kevin, and they want to just reach out to you and ask a question, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?

Kevin Baker
Well, honestly, I would encourage them to just email me probably, it’s probably the easiest. And I don’t know how you put that out there. Do you want me to just give it like verbally now? So yeah, I’m very responsive to emails and typically will respond to people the same day. I am on LinkedIn and if people want to connect with me on LinkedIn, I’m basically, as soon as I know you’re legit, I absolutely will connect with anyone who reached out to me there. So that’s another way to get a hold of me.

Sam Demma
Awesome. Well, this has been a fun, adventurous conversation, and I’m so grateful we sat down and made the time. Thank you for all the work that you do in education and will continue to do. And I hope we cross paths a few more times, whether on the podcast or in person.

Kevin Baker
Absolutely, and Sam, I appreciate you so much. And I’ve enjoyed this, so thank you for having me. And I’ve enjoyed this, so thank you for having me.

Sam Demma
You’re welcome.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Kevin Baker

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Geoff Gauthier — Director of Marketing and Communications at the British Columbia Institute of Technology Student Association

Geoff Gauthier — Director of Marketing and Communications at the British Columbia Institute of Technology Student Association
About Geoff Gauthier

On his second journey with the BCIT Student Association, Geoff Gauthier takes enhancing the quality of student life seriously.

As the Publications Manager running the Link newspaper in the early 2000’s, Geoff had an amazing opportunity to work with closely with students, finding out what they need and what they think, and that experience shaped and defined his need to help them wherever he could.

Fast forward a number of years and a new opportunity to lead the group responsible for delivering student life programming as the Director of Marketing and Communications was too wonderful to pass up.

Geoff is curious and attentive. He’s listening to his students and adapting to their needs and he’s making the necessary changes to provide them with best experience possible.

Connect with Geoff: Email | Instagram | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

British Columbia Institute of Technology

British Columbia Institute of Technology – Student Association

Link Newspaper

The Creative Act: A Way of Being by Rick Rubin

BCIT Hack the Break

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
Today’s special guest on the High Performing Educator podcast is Geoff Gauthier. On his second journey with the BCIT Student Association, British Columbia Institute of Technology, Geoff Gauthier takes enhancing the quality of student life seriously. As the publications manager running the Link newspaper in the early 2000s, Geoff had an amazing opportunity to work closely with students finding out what they need and what they think, and that experience shaped and defined his need to help them wherever he could. Fast forward a number of years, and a new opportunity to lead the group responsible for delivering student life, programming, as the Director of Marketing and Communications, was too wonderful to pass up. Geoff is curious and attentive. He’s listening to his students and adapting to their needs, and he’s making the necessary changes to provide them with the best experiences possible. I hope you enjoyed this enticing and exciting conversation with my good friend Geoff, and I will see you on the other side. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator Podcast. This is your host and speaker, Sam Demma. Today we are joined by my good friend, Geoff Gauthier. Geoff, thank you so much for coming on the show this morning. I appreciate it.

Geoff Gauthier
Hey, you’re welcome. Thanks for having me, Sam. This is wonderful.

Sam Demma
I always like to get started by asking people a big question. What made you the person you are today? Where do you come from?.

Geoff Gauthier
That’s a huge question. What made me what I am today? Yeah, you knwo what, I’m gonna answer your question with a question as I normally do. I’m not even really sure, man I’m freezing up already haha.

Sam Demma
Well where do you come from? Tell me where you come from.

Geoff Gauthier
So I’m from British Columbia, Canada. I’m like mainly from here. I’ve lived here for the vast majority of my life in various places from the lower mainland through the interior, traveled around a bit. Yeah, I think a lot of it is like, what brought me here? I question that constantly. Why do I do what I do and how did I get here? Right? And I was a journalist before all of this, and now I work for a student association in British Columbia. So naturally, I am a service-based person. I like to make sure that people are doing well. And I think that just sort of manifested in how I ended up here.

Sam Demma
Did that come from your parents? Were they of a service mindset or teachers in your life or coaches?

Geoff Gauthier
Or where did that mentality come from? I think probably teachers and coaches. My parents were, I mean, we all have our parental things. I don’t want to speak ill of my parents, but they’re young and challenging. So, my parents were both like 20 when they had me. So, I have relatively young parents. And when you’re 20, I don’t know, you’ve been 20 recently, you know, you don’t really know a lot. And so when you have a child, like, you just do your best to try to like push and encourage that. And like, I know, my dad was a big hockey fan and he pushed me to really hard to like, and my brother to be, you know, to be hockey players. And like, we, we tried our best and you know, you get so far and skill can only take you so far. And then it’s just a matter of other things. Right. So, yeah, I mean, I don’t know if my parents were, my mom is kind of a service person and I think she’s gotten back to those roots, but you know, it was the 80s and 90s and things were different back then. So there were like other avenues and ways of pushing. So I just think I just learned it from watching other people and just like recognizing a need to help others and like ensure success of other people. Right. Like, you know, I can be of service elsewhere, then I do what I can to do that.

Sam Demma
I have a phrase, I say, we can’t lean on ourselves. Sometimes we have to lean on each other. And it’s something that I encourage not only students, but also educators to realize. When there’s a new teacher in a classroom, you don’t have to know all the answers, but you have to be willing to reach out to people in your life to find them, you know? And there are people that want to support you. You talked about watching people in your life and that’s what taught you about service. When I think about the people I’ve watched, one person that comes to mind is my grandfather who came here with nothing and worked on a farm during the day and then did an overnight shift at GM to try and provide for his family, my dad growing up. And he would get boxes of squash from the farm job he did during the day. It was so much produce that he couldn’t eat it or just use it at his house because there was way too much. And instead of just throwing it away, he would put it in boxes, drive around the city, and drop it off on people’s front porches. And he was an individual in my life who taught me the importance of trying to be of service and live that life of service. You mentioned it might’ve been like teachers or coaches. Can you think of any specific person that you think had a really big impact on you?

Geoff Gauthier
It’s funny, man, you mentioned your grandfather and I was thinking about my grandfather. He passed in 2015 or so. Oh, geez. And it was on my mom’s side, and like, but he was, so maybe not necessarily serviced, but he taught me a lot of really valuable life skills. And he was like, kind of had the most impact on me when he passed, it was pretty hard for me. But he, like, it’s the simple things that I remember him teaching me that made me want to teach other people the things that he taught me. So he taught me, he would take me camping and he taught me like how to chop wood and build a fire. And it’s not like, it’s very simplistic, it’s very rustic, but he taught me this basic act of like how to create warmth for people and how to create a comfortable environment out of nothing, right? So it’s like those little pieces. So now I can teach my son how to build a fire and then he’ll be able to teach his friends and family how to build a fire, right? Like there’s all these things that, it’s a very simple act, but it’s like that knowledge, that passing on of knowledge is like a huge thing. So yeah, you mentioned your grandfather. My grandfather was kind of a similar background, came here, was literally born on a, he was born in Canada, but he was born on a latitude and longitude line. There was no hospital, right. He was born on a farm in Saskatchewan.

Geoff Gauthier
Right.

Geoff Gauthier
So, so yeah, he like, he grew up with that, that same ethic of like, you know, you came from somewhere else and you, you, you know, help your community and you, you build that community and you make that happen. So like, he was a big influence on me. I think I had, I had a couple of coaches and I had one teacher along, I had an art teacher in grade 11 and grade 12. She was really influential on like getting me to explore not like what other people were doing, but what I felt like I needed to do. And I think that was a big push. Yeah. Shout out to Mrs. Byfon Schmidt if you’re around. Yeah, she’s rad. So yeah, she like, she just encouraged me to follow an artistic path, which I hadn’t considered before because I was so like into sports and like competition. The artistic side of me was there and she was kind of nurtured that and pushed that out. So those were two kind of really big people in my life that pushed me to learn a bit more about myself and also how to teach others how to do that same thing.

Sam Demma
That’s so awesome. I think the arts get overlooked so much in schools that people disregard them as a potential pathway and also as an opportunity to explore yourself. I think art is such an amazing form of self-expression and I was recently listening to a book by Rick Rubin and it’s like all about arts and you may have actually heard of it. It came out recently. Yeah. And he was talking about the importance of appreciating everything around you and I was on a walk while I was listening to it with headphones in and he was talking about appreciating nature and I just started like looking around and I was like, the world is art, art’s everywhere.

Sam Demma
You know?

Geoff Gauthier
Beautiful, everywhere you look is gorgeous.

Sam Demma
It just forces you to kind of pause. The cool thing that you mentioned about your grandfather is all the activities he did with you, like teaching you how to cut wood and how to go camping, those types of things, they’re all an investment of time. I think investing your time in other people is how you build relationships with them. In the classroom, with students? Like how do educators build relationships with kids or how have you done it in your life so far?

Geoff Gauthier
Yeah, so it’s awesome that you mentioned that. I mean, the biggest thing with everything that I do in my life right now is as you discover as you get older, everything is about relationships, right? So like if I’m selling a sponsorship to a third party person outside of my organization, I need, it’s not like, hey, give me money and I’ll make you, I’ll put your name everywhere. You gotta like talk to them and you build that relationship with them and you build trust and you build a community and you understand each other’s needs. It’s not like, you know, if I’m gonna ask you for money, I’m gonna need to invest some time in getting to know you, getting to know your company, getting to even know your people. Here at the office, it’s the same thing with my employees, with the people that I work with. You know, I talk to them, I know them. I know everybody’s name in my organization. I know a little tiny tidbit of information about them. And I think this comes from journalism. Because I had to keep a lot of names and notes about people, or I had to keep them straight. I need to know my contacts, who’s who, what do they do, and know a little bit about them so that I can know who they are and like have that relationship with them. So I know everybody’s name, I know a little bit about them. I know if they have a dog or a cat or a kid or what they like to do on weekends kind of thing, like a little bit, a little bit about them. It may not, it might be, some of it might be surface, but I can say hello to everybody, including like the, the staff that do the cleaning. Like Habib empties our garbage cans, but he’s still a person and he’s a human and he has a story. And I ran into him in the community, ran into him at the mall by my house. And I was like, Hey man, how you doing? How are you? It’s, it’s always weird to see somebody outside of their, you know, their role that you see them in every day. And I was just like, dude, you live in my neighborhood. And we got to talking and he lives in the neighborhood with me. And I’m like, this is great. Like, I just, I know people around, right? And I’m going to be, I’m a person who’s in a position of power within my organization. I’m going to be in the community. People are going to talk to me and there’s value in making those connections and knowing those people and being able to keep talking to them. I think that’s like a hugely important part of growth as a person and also like an important part of being a community member.

Sam Demma
And it takes that extra step and effort to really get to know somebody, even if it’s not their whole life story and a thousand details, but a couple of small things. I love that nugget. I think educators should treat that aspect of their work like a journalist and take notes and get to know people in their classrooms. I think that’s a really good piece of wisdom and advice. Yeah, it’s super important, man.

Geoff Gauthier
It’s helped me so much in my career, just being able to know people and being able to talk to people on a one-to-one basis and be like, hey, how’s your son doing? Or remember, like, you know, and time goes by so quickly, you’d be like, hey, how’s your son doing? Oh, he’s married and he’s gone off to Iraq. He lives there now. Whoa, holy crap. He was like 12 when I met him. So, you know, yeah.

Sam Demma
So you mentioned that you grew up in competition. Yeah. You know, hockey was a big part of your childhood. You then had this amazing art teacher who kind of poured belief in you and it challenged you to explore different pathways. Where’s the gap between like end of high school to where you are now? Like what did your educational journey look like that brought you here?

Geoff Gauthier
I just, that’s wonderful. So I took a year off after high school because I was-

Sam Demma
Me too.

Geoff Gauthier
Yeah, right? I was like, I was gonna do, so I was playing hockey. Yep. I find that that sort of stopped being a thing, you know, like right around that timeframe, but like 18, 19 kind of thing. Yeah. I’m like, I need to like figure out what I’m gonna do with the rest of my life. It’s not going to be playing hockey at this point, so I’m going to have to figure out what to do. So my dad, I started apprenticing as a plumber for a little bit after high school, which was interesting. I was like, I don’t want to do this. I got my hand stuck in a pipe full of effluent. I’ll use effluent as the word. And I couldn’t get it out, and I had to get somebody to come and cut my hand out of the pipe. And I was just like, oh, I need to do something else. I’m like, I washed my hand a million times and it smelled for like a week. And I was just like, I gotta do something with my life. So I’m like, I’m gonna go to university. I’ve kind of always been interested in journalism. I wanna do that. But I started off, I did a bachelor of arts degree in professional writing, and then went on to fast track a journalism degree. And then I ended up working at BCIT in the early 2000s, and I did a diploma of technology in desktop publishing while I was there. And so like all of my education background comes from basically journalism and print media. And as you know, and everyone else knows, like I used to work at a newspaper and print media just started dying. Newspapers just stopped being a thing that existed. I have all this knowledge in my head about how to like build print processing, and it’s like pretty much useless at this point. So I had to figure out like, how am I going to make this work? And I got a job with a company where I started doing communications, like press releases. I’m like, I’m a writer, I can write. There’s one thing I can do really well, it’s writing. And I wanna be the best at writing, I’m gonna try and work on this and become a really good writer. So I’m gonna like, I’ll write press releases for this company. And then I just got some lucky opportunities in that company where I got to do press releases. I also got to do like machinery installs, which was kind of like a thing that I did on the outside. So like it was a company that does like mining, whole cycle management, whole cycle management. It’s like a tech company, but everybody, it was a small company at the time and everybody did everything. So I was writing press releases. I was creating marketing materials. I was like building computers and like drawing icons for software. It was like, it was a pretty cool, I got to blend my art and my writing and my journalism skills, like all into one thing. And it just sort of blossomed from there. And I just kind of got good at marketing. I got good at like knowing what, build relationships with our customers, know what they want, provide them what they want, really listen to what they’re asking for and giving them those pieces.

Geoff Gauthier
Right?

Geoff Gauthier
And it just sort of, it just blossomed out of that. And I got really good at it. And just, just out of habitual practice. And I’m like, and then that desire and that want to be really, really good at something, you know? So, yeah. And then I, I ran into the executive director, former executive director, weirdly in a liquor store in Coquitlam, I was buying some wine. I don’t really drink anymore, but at the time, I was with my family and I bought some wine and I ran into her at Liquorsworks. She’s like, what are you doing these days? And I was like, oh, I’m working in marketing for this mining company. And she’s like, oh, interesting. And she’s like, we just got to chatting. And it was like, again, I’d made that relationship with her when I worked here the first time, right? And when I worked here the first time, I worked as a journalist. I worked in the publications department. Sorry, I totally glossed over that part. When I worked at the BCIT Student Association the first time, I was in publications. I produced a newspaper. It was the early 2000s, they still existed then, for the students. And I learned about how to be of service to students. And then I was like, I gotta go. I was in my late 20s, early 30s, and I’m like, I gotta go get in the real world and become this, like get some real world experience. And that’s how I managed to get like into that marketing department. And then ran into the ED, talked to her for a little while. And then a couple of months later, she phoned me up. She’s like, hey, why don’t you come back and have lunch with me at the student association? I was like, oh, okay. And like just dumb old Jeff, like not picking up on any cues. I’m just like, oh, okay, sure. I’d love to come for lunch and hang out with you. Cause we’d gone for lunch before in the past. I kept that relationship alive during the decade that I wasn’t here. And, uh, you know, like we went for lunch every once in a while, like it was like every couple of years kind of thing, right. Just to catch up and say hi. And cause she really inspired me to like become who I am as well. So that’s another story I completely glossed over. And anyway, I came back and she’s like, yeah. And she, she had her HR manager with her and they’re like, this is what we’ve been doing with the SA since you’ve been gone. Here’s this new thing that we’ve done. Here’s how we’ve expanded. Here’s all this stuff that we’ve built. I’m like, oh, this is all really amazing. I’m like, I can see the potential of how we can use this to get the students just looking at them. It’s so cool. Then we’re sitting down eating lunch and she’s like, so what would you think about coming back here to work? I was like, what? When I look back on it, it’s so funny because it was so obviously and clearly like a recruitment thing. And I just was like not picking up on it. I was like in my, the prime of my career, in my other job, I was doing really well. I was like, but the problem with that other job is I had traveled a lot. Okay. And this, and so I was like missing out on my son growing up and missing out on seeing my wife. And I’m like, I’m always gone. I’m always at conferences. I’m always in other parts of the world and I’m doing other things, which is kind of cool. But you know, I was, I was gone a lot. So she was like, you want to come here and work in marketing? I was like, yeah, you know what? I was nervous, but I took that step because I trusted her because she’s treated me well in the past. So I came back here and then this is, I came back, I’ve always felt while I was at the other job that instead of like making somebody rich that I’d never met before, I could like come back and help students. I can come back and make a better life for students and make like, I remember how difficult it was for me in university. And I just was like, if I can make a couple of students’ lives better, that’s way more fun than making somebody else get another yacht, who I’ve never met, right? It was one of those things. We ended up, that other company, we ended up getting bought out by a major corporation. And so it ended up being kind of like, I don’t know, this doesn’t really work for me anymore.

Sam Demma
The meaning and significance wasn’t really there.

Geoff Gauthier
It changes, it changes, right? So I needed to come back and I needed to do something with students and then I’ve been here now for four years and I like, three really tough years, but we’re getting back on it now, so.

Sam Demma
You mentioned that that individual who was the director of the school had a really big impact on you and helped you pivot. Like, what did she do for you that made a really big difference?

Geoff Gauthier
So, she asked me a key question and I’ll never forget this because this is like when I was when I was younger, um, I had a manager who was not so great who who was in who worked here and then you know I don’t want to speak really about that but but like The ed app she asked me a very poignant question. She’s like, who do you feel accountable to? Because we were talking about management and like not feeling like I I can trust this person and not feeling like this person is helping me develop my career or meaning to help students in any significant way. And I said to her, I’m like, I’m accountable to the students of this school. I’m accountable to the students of the school. And it wasn’t a thoughtful answer, I blurted it out. And I think that was that moment where she’s like, okay, this guy, this guy actually cares, cares, and actually like believes in this and actually wants to like progress and make things good here. Right. And then, and I shortly after that is when I quit and I left and I went to the other company, but, but yeah. And so I think in the back of her mind, she had that thing where like, we had this relationship where she knew she could trust me. And she knew that if she brought me back here, I would be that person to like help students, to really push the organization to want to do that. And like now I’m in a position where I have that ability and it’s taken some time, but I’m like, I’m getting there now. I’m getting there now. It’s so obvious you’re passionate about the work that you do. I can feel it coming out of you as you’re talking. You’re like, you’re an intense dude. I’m like, I know, I know. Oh, it’s the best way possible.

Sam Demma
You mentioned through university, you kind of had your own challenges. What are some of the things that you’re striving to help to support students now at BCIT that you think would have been valuable if you had when you were going through university?

Geoff Gauthier
So this is the challenge with working in a university setting, it’s like figuring out what most students want.

Geoff Gauthier
Right?

Geoff Gauthier
So when you work for a student association, we’re a non-profit, right? And we’re here to help all students, but the people that you hear from are the students who are sort of the least, yeah, the most engaged and then the least advantaged. Right? So we’re not hearing from the, the middle students are content and they’re happy. So we hear from the students who have many challenges and we hear from the students who have, who are the most engaged with us. And it’s weird, man, you see it, the most engaged students are the most advantaged students.

Geoff Gauthier
Right?

Geoff Gauthier
And the students who have the most challenges are the most disadvantaged students. How do I make that middle ground work for everybody? What can I provide? What kind of services and programming can I provide that helps these people out? So it’s always a challenge to put those two pieces together. And that’s like the hardest part of this job is to like make that balance happen. It’s easy to cater to the middle students. It’s easy to like give the right programming and the right messaging to the middle students. It’s much more difficult to A, keep the engaged students happy, and B, keep the, oh, A and A1. And like, where can I step in to help make everybody’s lives better, right? And when you make someone’s life better, sometimes you make somebody else’s life worse. Or in perception, it’s worse. So, yeah, that’s a tough question, man. Like, I’m just doing my best to try to like, make sure everybody has a good time at school, and is able to make it through here. Because like we don’t provide any education at the association. We provide student life. We provide value and we provide services for free to help people get an advantage sort of while they’re here and then also get them out, right? So they have an advantage over their competition when they get out. And as someone who comes from a background in competition, every possible advantage I can give you to beat out the competition in the future, I’m going to try to give that to you. That’s awesome.

Sam Demma
What events have you, or has the organization, association run in the past that you think achieved some of that goal of catering to the middle, the most engaged and the less advantaged, and really had an impact?

Geoff Gauthier
Yeah, this is a weird question. I mean, you know how things have kind of gotten with the world.

Sam Demma
I guess COVID was weird.

Geoff Gauthier
It was, man, and like I’ve been working, so I started working here again in 2019.

Sam Demma
Okay.

Geoff Gauthier
It was June of 2019. Jeez. So I had like six solid months of like doing really cool programming for students and then we’re all of a sudden everybody’s working from their house. So we’ve just kind of been kicking it back in. But one of the, it’s like I think to like one of the events that’s kind of cool that we do that appeals to my nerdy background where I can kind of help it help out and figure it out. We do a hackathon for the the school of computer studies students and so we’re able to kind of leverage some of my mining contacts to have a company come in and provide data sets to these students who create these sort of virtual businesses and virtual business ideas over a weekend. So we put teams from different schools into or we create teams from students in different schools. So like you get some business students, some marketing students, and some design students, and we put them all together on a five or six person team, and then we give them data sets, and they, over the weekend, they work to create a business plan out of these data sets, or like, and like this is a fun thing for me to like put on for students, and it really only appeals to about 100, 150 students, I’ve said, every year, but it’s, it’s one of those events that like I look forward to it every year. It’s a lot of work. It comes in January, like right after the holiday season. And all my staff’s like, oh, you gotta do that. It’s gonna be such a, it’s so much work. And I’m like, it’s so much work, but it’s so much fun. And yes, I get all excited about it. And what ends up happening is I pair some businesses who are looking for talent, and then I provide them with students who are exceptional within that field. And we get data from those people, we get sponsorship from those people that gives us money to be able to provide more services for more students.

Sam Demma
Right?

Geoff Gauthier
That’s awesome. So it kind of combines, it puts everything in perspective, it puts everything into like what I do, into like a kind of a microcosm of like what we’re trying to achieve here. So that’s why I love that event so much. I mean, you know, you come here and you can feel the excitement and the energy on the Friday night when they start. Everybody’s in the great hall, they’re outside, there’s a buzz, they’re like all excited. Some of them are meeting their team members for the first time. They’re people that, you know, at BCIT we have a very short school year, it’s two years, and they’re in and out really quickly. It’s like you don’t meet everybody, and then all of a sudden you’re paired on a team with a marketing person and a designer and some business and computing students, and you’re like, all right, you all never met, now you gotta work together to create something awesome. And out of that, and then there’s several teams, and so they compete. So I get my competition out of it too. I see my students strive and they want to work and they want to be the best and they want to figure it out. And then on the end of the weekend, on the Sunday, they’re judged and they’re awarded prizes and possibly job opportunities coming out of that. So if there’s something I can provide like that for students that like, A, gets them in front of employers, gets them into a mode where they’re competing to be their best, and pushes them to like work hard and work together and work in a team environment with people they’ve never met. I’m building growth, I’m building challenges, I’m building connections and I’m building relationships. Not me, but you know, my team. I said that, it’s very egocentric, I shouldn’t say me. Our team, our school is building, the event is really building that. And it’s not just me that’s doing it, it’s a combined effort from everybody. But it gets me excited when we do stuff like that, right?

Sam Demma
Is that one of those hackathons where everyone’s in the same hotel, they basically sleep in the same room?

Geoff Gauthier
In the great hall at our campus. They’re like out there, yeah, they stay overnight, they just work all weekend. Sometimes they leave, sometimes they come back, and we roll out like a buffet table. We had a taco bar one year that was really popular. We rolled out a taco bar. Everybody was stoked about that. So we try to feed them and keep them interested and keep them here. And they work really hard all weekend. It’s a satisfying thing for the students to do too. They really get to contribute in a way that’s meaningful and create something cool. And so if I can, I need to do more things like that with other schools and try and figure out ways I can make that happen as well.

Sam Demma
Well, that also facilitates new friends, right? Even if they’re from different schools, you might become friends with someone that you’re gonna talk to for the rest of your life.

Sam Demma
Yeah, totally.

Geoff Gauthier
The weirdest thing happened too, like I coach youth soccer. My son plays soccer and he’s wonderful. He’s a great midfielder, plays really well. I got my team the other day, like on TeamSnap is our program we use. I got the team, there’s the roster sitting there, and I got two new players on my team this year, and one of those players, I was like, this kid looks kind of familiar. And I click on him, and I look at his parents, and I’m like, The parent is one of our key sponsors from the institution who sponsors our hackathon. No way. Yeah, it was like this super weird thing. I’ve never met this kid before. I didn’t even know that she had a kid. And now I’m like, okay, cool. So now one of our key sponsors for hackathons child is on my soccer team. So I’m going to have to be on my best behavior at all times. So yeah, it’s just really, man, it’s funny. And this is what I’m talking about, about how the community thing works, right? How these weird things happen, where you’re in a community, your community, when you work at a school or an institution, is pretty tight-knit. I know people, I’ve known people here since 2001. I’ve met people here when I started working here in 2001 that still work here, that I still interact with on a regular basis. That was 22 years ago, Sam. Wow. Yeah. I still know people, right. And like I’ve gone away and I’ve come back and they’re like, Oh, Hey, you’re back. And I’m like, yeah, I’ve been here for four years. I haven’t seen you yet. Yeah. It’s pretty funny. It’s a big place too.

Sam Demma
Right. Well, it sounds like the funny coincidence finding out that, that athletes, parents, or someone that you knew, that starts from being curious and like exploring a little bit, you know? And you seem like someone who leads with like curiosity. Where does that come from? Where your curiosity stem from? That has been forever.

Geoff Gauthier
That was dangerous when I was younger. Serves me well now that I’m older. Man, I think that’s the journalism part too. I can’t stop. I’m not a very chill person. I think we can discuss that. I like, I remember when I met my wife when we were initially dating and I was like, yeah, cool, I’m chill. She’s like, you’re not chill at all. You’re like zero chill guy. And I’m like, oh, I’ve always thought I was really chill and relaxed, and you’re not relaxed at all. You’re like very high strung. And then so, so I’ve accepted that. And with being high strung, it becomes being curious. But what I have to be careful about is going too far down that rabbit hole, right? Like, I love, I love being curious. I love to know things. I love to know a lot as much as I possibly can. Like you, just even meeting you and listening to you speak, and I’m like, well, I want to know Sam more. I want to get Sam to my university. I want to hang out with Sam. I want to know this guy. I want to talk to him a little bit. I just needed to make that connection with you. I’m like, tell me more about you. And we talked in person for a while afterwards. And I was just like, you’re an interesting person. And I think through journalism, I found a lot of interesting people. And everyone has this really cool story to tell. I haven’t met anybody who’s boring, right? Like people will go, I’m so boring. I’m like, okay, well, tell me a little bit about yourself. Like open up a little bit and let me hear about what you do. Cause you’re not boring. Everyone is inherently interesting. Everyone has a story or something in their background that’s fun or funny or exciting or traumatic or whatever. But whatever the story is, you’re going to have something to tell me. And I wanna know about that. I wanna know who you are. I wanna know like why you do what you do. And I know that’s why you asked me to come on here. You’re asking me those questions. And I’m sitting in back of you. It’s fun. For me, it’s fun. And I know for other people, it’s not fun. And so I’ve gotten old enough now to recognize when people are uncomfortable when I’m asking them questions. So I just back off and I’m like, okay, cool. I get it, right? But like, I used to push, like, you know, no, come on, tell me. Every time I’d find the quiet person at a party, I’d push that person to talk. I wanna know more about that quiet person. Because like quiet people always have the most to talk about if you push them hard, right? Loud people, man, you know what I’m about.

Sam Demma
I hear it all.

Geoff Gauthier
Yeah, I will tell you my life story in a podcast in 15 minutes, and no one cares. But the quiet people, they have cool stories. They have the best stories to tell because they only speak when it’s important for them to speak. So yeah, anyway, so I used to do that, but I don’t push as hard anymore on people. I let them kind of naturally open up to me. I build that trust with them first, right? If they want to talk to me, they’ll talk to me. I don’t need to be a and push them about it.

Sam Demma
I hear you. Yeah, I think the, I’ll make an addition to the importance of curiosity, like genuine curiosity.

Geoff Gauthier
Genuine curiosity, yeah.

Sam Demma
That’s like the, I think that’s the key because even if the person is shy, they feel like the question is coming from a place of love and like really wanting to know more about them. So they’re even a little more encouraged to talk. And I think you do that really well. Like, you seem very curious when you ask questions. And even I remember when you approached me in the hallway, I was like, ah, I feel really like acknowledged by this guy. And I would like to get to know him a little more. And so you talked about the beginning service and wanting to help students. And not only do you do stuff with, you know, BCIT, but you do a lot with COCA for people listening who don’t know what COCA is, like let’s give them a little quick snippet of what it is and what got you involved.

Geoff Gauthier
Oh man, okay, so COCA is the Canadian Organization of Campus Activities and I’m the West, one of the Western Regional Board Directors. Congratulations. Thank you, yeah, I filled in for a year, for like half a year kind of thing, or like eight months, and then I was re-elected this year to keep working with them. And a COCA is an organization that like, I didn’t know anything about it. One of the former directors phoned me up just doing their kind of annual drive to get more members. And they’re like, Hey, you used to be a members. And I’m like, I don’t know anything about this. What is this? And so he guided me through like what COCA is. And I’m like, this is beneficial to be a part of for us to learn about what we can provide for students. I would never have met you if it wasn’t for Coke, right? And like all the people that I work with on the board are all fantastic and they’re all high performers. And I think that’s what, you know, you talk about the high performance podcast, man, these are all people that work extra hard to make things happen for for other people. So like, I’m working at BCIT, I coach youth soccer, I dedicate my time to the board of directors. Like, I don’t, I don’t do a lot.

Sam Demma
I don’t eat. I don’t have time.

Geoff Gauthier
But yeah, I just, it’s kind of this never-ending cycle and I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t do those things. Yeah. You know? And like, and it provides me with these wonderful opportunities to meet folks like yourself and to like, see what is out there. And it feeds my curiosity and I get to know more people and I get to make those connections. And now I don’t have just connections in BC, I have connections all across Canada. So within the universities, like in the university service spectrum, I have connections now and it’s beautiful to hear from them the challenges and the triumphs that they have as well. Right, and see how similar they are and I can learn from them. And I can, you know, I talk, Crystal Ben from St. Clair College, they have, she told me this story about how they have like an eSports coliseum, or like, not a coliseum, but like an arena on their campus. And I’m just like, what? You gotta be kidding me. We have an eSports club here, and if I told them that, they’d lose their minds. They would just go, they’d be like, they have a whole arena for this? Like they have a dedicated space for that. And I’m just like, man. So I’m like, how can I bring that to BCIT? How can I bring that here? How can I, like, how do I make that work on my campus? Right, or I hear from, and that’s like on the other side of Canada. I’m like, how do I do that here? Right?

Sam Demma
I love that.

Geoff Gauthier
I want to know.

Geoff Gauthier
Go ahead.

Sam Demma
I love that it’s not, oh, we can’t do that. Like the first question that pops in your head is how? How can we bring that here? How can we do this? And leading with that, I think so often the thing that holds ourselves back is not other people’s opinions of us, it’s actually our perception of ourselves or our perception of what’s possible for us. And I think removing the words can’t from the vocabulary and focusing on the how and approaching things like challenges, not problems, is such an impactful perspective to hold. And yeah, it’s cool that you just like, that’s your default, it seems like.

Geoff Gauthier
I’m gonna tell you a quick story about that. It’s only been my default recently. I have had to work very hard. I’m a Gen X. I came up skeptical. I worked as a journalist. I had to like, do I believe this person? Is this person lying to my face? Are they credible? How do I fact check this? I didn’t trust anybody for the longest time. And I’ve opened my heart to trust and I’m trying to change my mindset to eliminate can’t, won’t, done. And working in this environment is super challenging because there’s no money in, we’re a non-profit and there’s like, we’re, you know, so how do I create enough resources to build? Right? We don’t have this resource. Don’t tell me we don’t have it. Tell me how we can create it. Yeah. Right? I get that we don’t have it. I’ve seen the budget lines. I know what it looks like. I understand there’s challenges. What could we do to change that?

Geoff Gauthier
Right?

Geoff Gauthier
And I’m just like, and if I instill that in the people that I, it’s so easy to say, I can’t do that. It’s so, I can’t do that. I won’t do that. I’m not going to do it. Right? No, no, we’re not going to do it. No, we don’t have the money. Yeah, that’s so easy to say that. It’s way harder to go, is there a way we can make that work? Is there something that we can do? Is there someone we can partner with? Can we build a relationship with someone who can help us do that?

Geoff Gauthier
Right?

Sam Demma
Like- Can we call that athlete on the soccer team’s dad?

Geoff Gauthier
Yeah, exactly, right?

Geoff Gauthier
Like, hey, I know a guy in the community who might be able to help us. Yeah, that’s another thing too, right?

Sam Demma
I got a person.

Geoff Gauthier
I got a person for that.

Sam Demma
People always say,

Sam Demma
when one door closes, another door opens, added like an extension. When one door closes, another door opens, but there’s always a human being standing behind that new door opening it for you. Exactly. That comes back to your whole point of relationships. And understand that person and know that person and take your time to understand

Geoff Gauthier
Maybe why they opened that door for you. Yeah. Is there a reason for that? And like, can I open a door for them if they did that for me? Would I do that in the same position?

Sam Demma
Well, maybe there’s a person listening to this that would love to open a door for you or would love to get to know you in the hope that you might open a door for them. If someone is listening, an educator, and they just want to send you a message and appreciate you for taking the time to share on the podcast or ask you a question or just connect, what would be the best way for someone listening to reach out?

Geoff Gauthier
Oh man, probably a text message. That’s like the only thing I answer now. Man, I don’t post on social media. Like I have an Instagram handle, it’s @mistergoats. It is pictures of my kid, my cat, and my motorcycle. And my family, and that’s really it. I’m not really active on social media. I’m on Blue Sky, I’m on Blue Sky now. I misspelled my name when I signed up, so it’s @mistetgoats.

Sam Demma
That’s awesome.

Geoff Gauthier
And you can’t change it, because it’s a new platform, so I’m over there if you want to look me up, Blue Sky Social.

Sam Demma
I can include your email and show notes as well, if that’s okay with you.

Geoff Gauthier
Oh yeah, absolutely. Yeah, you can email me anytime. ggauthier@bcitsa.ca. They’ll be in the show notes. Man, I don’t know. That’s how you get ahold of me. That’s the best way to get ahold of me. I don’t, I’ll give you my phone number too. You can, people can text me. That’s the easiest way to get ahold of me. And I’m happy, I’m happy to chat. And if you have like, if you want some ideas or if you want to share ideas or you want to get to know me a little bit, I’m totally open to that. Always good to connect with people wherever I can.

Sam Demma
This has been an awesome conversation, man. Thank you for saying yes, despite not knowing what the heck we were going to do.

Geoff Gauthier
I appreciate you. I trust you, Sam. I trust you. And you’re a wonderful person. I know I’ve only known you for a few hours, but man, you make that connection. Like there’s something about this guy that makes sense. I just, I love that. And I appreciate you having me on. I hit my table and shaking everything, sorry.

Sam Demma
You’re good.

Geoff Gauthier
Thanks again. Everyone, podcast rule, don’t slam it.

Sam Demma
Thank you, Sam, thank you.

Sam Demma
This is awesome. This is awesome. Geoff Gauthier. Right on.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Geoff Gauthier

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.

Rick Gilson – Executive Director of Southern Alberta Professional Development Consortium

Rick Gilson - Executive Director of Southern Alberta Professional Development Consortium
About Rick Gilson

Dr. Rick Gilson (@rgilson1258) started his teaching career in the fall of 1985. In addition to teaching, Rick has worked in school administration at the high school level for 15 years, the last eight as principal at Grande Prairie Composite High School before moving into Central Office. After one year as District Principal in Grande Prairie, Rick accepted the Assistant Superintendent position, focusing on Inclusive Education with Westwind School Division in 2013. In 2018, Rick joined SAPDC as the Executive Director. At work, he loves coaching young teachers, and new leaders and generally just helping folks grow. An avid reader, Rick shares passages and books frequently in Blog, Twitter posts and, most recently, the new ARPDC Podcast series Change Maker Conversations in Education.

Connect with Rick: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter | Facebook

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Grande Prairie Composite High School

Grande Prairie Public School Division

Southern Alberta Professional Development Consortium (APDC)

Football Alberta

Alberta Schools Athletic Association

rickgilson.ca

Tiny Habits: The Small Changes That Change Everything by BJ Fogg

Ryan Holiday’s Books

John Wooden’s Books

Above the Line: Lessons in Leadership and Life from a Championship Program by Urban Meyer

Andy Reid’s 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 on the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and keynote speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Dr. Rick Gilson. Dr. Rick Gilson (@rgilson1258) started his teaching career in the fall of 1985. In addition to teaching, Rick has worked in school administration at the high school level for 15 years, the last eight as principal at Grande Prairie Composite High School before moving into Central Office. After one year as District Principal in Grande Prairie, Rick accepted the Assistant Superintendent position, focusing on Inclusive Education with Westwind School Division in 2013. In 2018, Rick joined SAPDC as the Executive Director. At work, he loves coaching young teachers, and new leaders and generally just helping folks grow. An avid reader, Rick shares passages and books frequently in Blog, Twitter posts and, most recently, the new ARPDC Podcast series Change Maker Conversations in Education.I will see you on the other side.

Sam Demma (01:24):

Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host, Sam Demma. Today, joined by a very special guest. His name is Rick Gilson. Rick, it’s a pleasure to have you on the show here today. Please take a moment to introduce yourself and share with everyone listening a little bit about who you are and what it is that you do.

Rick Gilson (01:44):

Well, thanks for having me on, Sam. Appreciate it. I apologize to the listeners in advance. I, I am in the final few days of that three week cold cough, flu thing that’s been going around the nation, so that was wonderful. And we’re recording just after Christmas holidays, so guess what? Those couple of weeks were like. <laugh>. Anyways, lifetime educator, coach. I’ve coached somewhere in the neighborhood of 70 teams, all total, the vast majority football. Taught for about 30 years up in the Grand Prairie area. Came down to Southern Alberta for about five years as a Assistant Superintendent in the West Wind School Division down the very southwest corner of Alberta. And currently I serve as Executive Director of the Southern Alberta Professional Development Consortium, which serves the 12 school divisions in the South in supporting the professional learning of the teachers down here. And I’ve been past President, well, President, past President of the Alberta Schools Athletic Association, and involved in that pretty heavily for a number of years as well. So, that’s it in a nutshell.

Sam Demma (02:59):

<laugh>, it’s a big nut. <laugh>.

Rick Gilson (03:02):

I am a big nut

Sam Demma (03:04):

<laugh>,

Rick Gilson (03:04):

Correctly stated. Sam <laugh>,

Sam Demma (03:07):

You, you have a wall of books behind you. The listeners won’t be able to see that. When did you start reading so many books and <laugh>? When did self-education become a very important part of your life, and and why did you prioritize that?

Rick Gilson (03:25):

Well certainly if any of my high school teachers are still around, they would say it definitely did not become an important part of my life until after high school. I, I would say that I, I was I’ve been an avid reader for quite some time and now with the advent of Kindle software, Amazon, and all of that, a little bit of an addiction. So I have many books in print, and then I use the Kindle app on my iPad, my phone, and my laptop. And I have probably, I guess around 1300 books or so on there. I haven’t read them all covered to cover. I don’t know that it’s always necessary to read a book cover to cover. but I have read portions of the vast majority and all of many, and just I, on my Twitter account, I live by the adage. The more I know, the more I know I need to know more. Hmm,

Sam Demma (04:27):

That’s amazing. Out of, out of the books you’ve read which philosophies have impacted your career as a teacher the most? <laugh>

Rick Gilson (04:36):

Well, that’s a, that’s certainly a big piece. I think e everything that I read that speaks of the value of the individual to try to draw the best out of people that you’re working with. I, I have a, a personal belief that we’re all sons and daughters of God, and so if we’re sons and daughters of God, we have the, a lot of potential <laugh> to say the least. And so look for those good things and, and so everything that can help with that. I, I’m kind of drawn to and, and that goes all the way back to the works of the stoics Ryan Holiday’s books have been a favorite in those recently. But also you go back into the coaching period of time, and I have an entire section of seven or so books of John Wooden’s and, and, and on and on and on with that.

Rick Gilson (05:37):

And there’s some books where, you know, sometimes you read the book and the book is awesome, and the teachings are awesome, and the author goes on to make some extremely poor choices long after they’ve written the book. And you’re kind of like, how come you couldn’t even follow your own book? <laugh> urban Meyer would be an excellent example of that. His book is, is Great above the Line, it says the title of that book. And I, I really enjoyed the teachings. We as a, a school board and and central office team used it as a book study one year, and then last year I thought, holy cow, urban, follow your own book for crying out loud <laugh>. Oh man. So, you know, sometimes we learn and sometimes we have to learn over, and but I think that’s kind of the piece of it there.

Sam Demma (06:27):

You mentioned your high school teachers would definitely know that your love for reading didn’t start in high school. would they have known that you would be an educator and a coach <laugh>? And, and where did that come from?

Rick Gilson (06:41):

You know, there’s a, it’s a little bit of a longer story, but my father coached my father was a high school graduate. My mom graduated from high school in her forties. and I grew up in Calgary through grade 11. And my father was coaching the senior volleyball team at Churchill in Calgary, so Winston Churchill. And as I came into high school, I tried out and made the junior varsity volleyball team, and certainly anticipated playing for my dad in grade 11. And as I came into grade 11 to try out for the senior varsity team, my dad quit coaching. Other things in his career impacted that. And the next thing I knew in grade 12, we moved to Edmonton and I’d switched sports and I tried out for football at a small high school in Edmonton called Harry Ainley.

Rick Gilson (07:33):

And I’m being facetious when I say small, so about 20, 2600 kids there today. But it was a little less than that at the time. And I played for a man by the name of Brian Anderson on the Har Titans football team, and was actually blessed. And I was kind of, I was his favorite. He kept me, he kept me very close to him on the sideline during the game. so I, I was blessed to learn a lot watching him and watching my teammates play and playing a little. And a few years later in August, I was working at a place called Prudent Building Supplies, making cement. And Brian came in to get a load of cement for his backyard, and he asked me what I was up to, and I told him, I’m going into education, start next week. And he said, you should come coach.

Rick Gilson (08:22):

And I was like, but I hardly even played. And he said, look, you backed up four or five different positions on defense. You were this on the scout offense, you did all these other things you should coach. And so I started coaching and long and short of it is when Brian was inducted into the Hall of Fame in Edmonton, not in the Sport Hall of Fame, but the Edmonton City Hall of Fame. I was blessed to be invited to be there with him. And when park was named him, I was blessed to be invited to join at the dedication of that sport park. And Brian, kind of, when my teams came down from Grand Prairie to play in Edmonton, he was there. So I owe a great deal to a coach that I didn’t really realize at the time in grade 12.

Rick Gilson (09:15):

And, and at that time, second year, grade 12, <laugh>, I got to play two years even really knew who I was. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. So that was great. And I remember as we coached, as I coached the junior varsity at AIN Lee for the four years as at university, that as that came to a close my last year, we had a team that didn’t give up a single point all year. And I was coaching the defense and coordinating the defense. And we got into our last regular season game, and Brian was on the sideline, just had walked over from the senior practice and the other, we were winning handily and we had all the subs in, and the other team started to drive towards the end zone, and everybody wanted to finish the season without getting scored on. And so there was a lot of, hey, you know, put us back in coach from the starters.

Rick Gilson (10:09):

And I started to do that, and Brian said, I would’ve thought you might’ve learned a different lesson from your time on my sideline when I made this mistake. And so we, and I’m paraphrasing, I don’t remember the exact words. Yeah. But I called the starters back and I said, guys, we just gotta cheer these guys on. It’s a team record. We gotta cheer these guys on. And sure enough, the backups were able to force a turnover. And we didn’t get scored on. We gave up one point in the playoffs when on a punt return, our punt returner slipped just, just barely in the end zone. So that was it for the year. So that’s kind of how it goes.

Sam Demma (10:50):

It sounds like Brian enabled the potential in you or in some ways helped you see the potential in yourself when, as you described in high school, you barely even knew who you were especially in your grade 12 year. And you hold that belief that you know, we are all sons and daughters of God, and if that’s true, then we all have massive potential. How do you think Brian helped you see the potential in yourself and as educators, how can we help our students or the people in the, in front of us see their potential?

Rick Gilson (11:23):

You know, it was a combination of Brian and my dad <laugh>. I do remember my dad walking across the field when Amy had won a game quite handily and meeting Brian at midfield as the team was walking off, and I was walking off and kind of like, oh, oh, what’s that up to, up to you now? And dad had coached, remember he had coached a long time and he kind of pointedly asked, you know, when you’re winning 49, nothing, do you really need to keep the starters on the field? And so there was these conversations that took place between two adults in my life. And, and I had my ears open and, and kind of understood that principle from a, a long ways back. And I, I think the, the piece of it is you know, I graduated and moved to Grand Prairie, that’s a four, four and a half hour drive away from Edmonton and, and Ainley and, and just at different times, you, you touch base and run into each other.

Rick Gilson (12:22):

And as I said, when I brought my teams down, he would see, he would come watch the games and and even came up a couple times for exhibition games. I, I think it’s just the piece of being willing to mentor and support. And, and the same thing applies in an English or social studies class. That’s what what I taught is just try to see the best, see the potential. Don’t overreact to some of the behaviors that initially ob be there, or, or definitely don’t overreact to the, I can’t, you know, I don’t get, I, I’m not, I don’t think I can do, you know, if we, if we overreact to those and we don’t invite people to see the potential or invite people to see the possibility of themselves being able to do then we miss a chance. We miss, we miss, or they miss a chance, but we miss a chance to positively impact the trajectory.

Rick Gilson (13:27):

Like we, we never don’t impact the trajectory of, of those we interact with. I don’t, I don’t believe very much in neutral. Mm. you know, we, we might tip, tip the nose of the plane down a little bit or tip the nose of the plane up a little bit. But the idea that we can kind of pass through each other’s life and not do anything, I, I’m not so sure that I accept that notion. So if I’m gonna impact, I’d much prefer to impact your trajectory up, even if it’s something as simple, I say to the, the youth and the team, the students that I’ve taught or coached, certainly the youth I work with now, you know, if somebody’s got a name tag, talk to them and use their name, you know, and that’s at the gas station. The hotel doesn’t matter. wherever you are, if someone’s got a name tag and you can see the name tag, then use their name that’s gonna positively impact the trajectory. And it’s also gonna make you a little more responsible for how you interact with that person. Cuz they’re not just a, they’re not just a nobody that’s Steve, or that’s jazz meat or whatever the case may be. And it’s okay if you don’t pronounce it perfectly. They, they’ll tell you, if you ask honestly, sincerely how to pronounce it, they’ll tell you and they’ll appreciate it. Mm-hmm.

Sam Demma (14:51):

<affirmative>, I’ve read about the importance of using people’s names in the book, how To Win Friends and Influence People when I was 16 years old and it, I, I bought the book from Value Village. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, which is a local thrift store near my house. And Value Village had, and they still do, they have this book purchasing system where if the book is listed for 7 99 or under, their price is 99 cents. And if the book is between 7 99 and 1499 sticker price, then their price is a dollar 99 in the store. And if it’s over 1499, then their price is 3 99 or something like this. And if you buy four, you get the fifth one free. And I remember I picked up that book from Value Village and I read the chapter that was all about the importance of using people’s names. And I went back the next time to buy some new books.

Sam Demma (15:45):

And after I picked out four or five books, they were all non-fiction. And some of them were biographies. Most of the sticker prices were 1499 and above, which meant in their system it would cost a few dollars per book. And when I got to the cash register, it was the first time I had become conscious of this idea of trying to address everybody, not just the people I knew, but total strangers to me by their names. And she had a name tag, I can’t recall her name now because it’s been many years, but I did use it. And she went down from typing or punching in buttons on the calculator to looking at me. And she paused for a couple seconds and said, do I know you

Rick Gilson (16:23):

<laugh> <laugh>?

Sam Demma (16:25):

And,

Rick Gilson (16:25):

And I said, you do now

Sam Demma (16:27):

<laugh>. I said, I said, no, but I, I would love to meet you. You were talking now. And we started talking and one question led to the next, and I found out that her daughter went to a neighboring high school, was in the same year as me. And before I knew it, we had a great conversation and she scanned all the books through as 99 cents and they were all supposed to be four or $5 each. And I didn’t use her name with the intention of walking out of there with less expensive books, but it was interesting to me because I was like, wow, I had a better experience, she had a more pleasant experience and I got some great books and a good deal <laugh>. and I think that was the first time I was introduced to that idea. What, what other tiny habits do you think are impactful in our everyday life? whether as an educator or just as a human being.

Rick Gilson (17:17):

Now, did you pick Tiny Habits? Cuz it’s the book right Over my shoulder here behind me is that I did

Sam Demma (17:22):

<laugh>.

Rick Gilson (17:22):

Were you, were you picking the low hanging fruit here?

Sam Demma (17:24):

<laugh>

Rick Gilson (17:26):

First, let me say that. I don’t always get free books <laugh>, but by using names, I don’t always get a reduction on my meal or anything like onto that. but I do get a smile mm-hmm. <affirmative> and, you know I could tell you just at an, an Italian grocery in Calgary, I, the lady didn’t have a name, so I asked her her name name tag. She had a name of course, <laugh>, but she didn’t have a name tag. So I asked her what her name was, she told me. And I said, well, that’s awesome. Nice to meet you. what’s been the best thing of your day today? And she paused for a minute and she said, well, you asking me my name? Hmm. And, and she’s got a smile. And actually that caught me off guard. That ac that kind of hit like a little bit of a sledgehammer, you know, and you’re like, whoa.

Rick Gilson (18:17):

But that, that was like a pleasant sledgehammer, I should say. Yeah. <laugh>, you know, so it just bounces back and you’re, you’re off having a great day. And I guess that segues a little bit. Tiny Habits is a, is a fantastic book. I don’t know that you meant for me to talk about the book, but the author is BJ Fogg, a professor at Stanford University, and one of the tiny habits there that, that I have been practicing now come up here in February, it’ll been two straight years where it’s called the Maui Habit. And basically every day on Maui is a great day, right? And so we all get outta bed pretty much the same way. When I speak with larger groups, I’ll, I’ll actually ask them this, say, you know, is there anybody here who gets outta bed hands first? And they kind of look at me like, no, I mean, obviously we all swing our feet out of the bed and you, and you stand up.

Rick Gilson (19:12):

And so the Maui habit is that as you put your feet down, you think a little bit about your day. And as you stand up out of the bed, you say out loud, today is going to be a great day. And then you celebrate. And, and that’s the principle behind Tiny Habit. You know, what’s the trigger? The trigger is your feet hitting the floor? What’s the action? And then what’s the celebration? And the closer your celebration is to the action, the more likely the habit will last. Hmm. And so, and, and I mean, I get up usually quite a bit earlier than my wife, and so I whisper it <laugh> and you know, the celebration can be a little shoulder shimmy or whatever it is you wanna do. It’s your choice. You decide your celebration. but I do believe in, you know, that it just states where you’re starting your day, even a day that’s filled with meetings you don’t necessarily want to go to or meetings you, you’re not really looking forward to.

Rick Gilson (20:19):

It still states that, and plants in your mind that seed that today is going to be a great day. Not necessarily all of it, but on the whole, it’s a great day. And of course, any day that we’re above the ground as opposed to six feet under the ground, you know, it’s a good way to take a look at things. But so, so that’s, that’s one that carries me through and, and trying to be somewhat optimistic. I, I think folks might suggest sometimes I’m overly optimistic, but trying to be optimistic is a good way to go. About your day beats the heck out of being a woe is me.

Sam Demma (20:59):

Hmm. There’s a, the spiritual teachers named Sat guru, and I often listen to some of his YouTube lectures, and I find his, his preaching, but also his concepts very applicable. And one of the things he often says is, you know, you came here with nothing and you will leave with nothing, which means that most of what happens while you’re here on Earth puts you on the profit side, doesn’t it? And not on a financial standpoint, but from a life experience standpoint and, and what you experience while you’re here. and it’s, it’s often a reminder for me to try and find the gratitude in everything that occurs and unfolds mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And I think it really resonates with that idea of starting the day with the intention of today is gonna be a great day. And the Maui habit is that because of like the actual state of Hawaii? It’s

Rick Gilson (21:53):

<laugh> Yeah, it, it, well, no, yeah, it, it’s the island in Hawaii, Maui. Okay. And, and it’s literally BJ fa like I’ve been to Maui many times some, several times with all-star football teams from Alberta. Oh, nice. And yeah, there’s a, that’s a good way to spend 10 days in early August is with a bunch of high school football players practicing in the morning and scrimmaging against Maui area teams. It’s great. but yeah, he just, he, he lives in Maui and he just says, Hey, you know, it’s a great, it’s, it’s hard to get up in the morning in Maui and say, oh man, this is terrible. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. So just, that is, that’s the name that he applied to the habit, and it’s called the Maui Habit. And, and I don’t mind sharing that habit with anybody that that asks, you know, so that’s the story behind that. But, you know, we, we take with us into the next life, everything we learn and everything we experience in this life. And yeah, I think it was, I don’t know, it might have been Denzel Washington, it said you know, your hear isn’t followed by your Brinks car with all the rest of your stuff and everything else, you know, we don’t have that. So

Sam Demma (23:08):

Yeah, there’s a powerful Denzel Washington speech at Dillard University mm-hmm. <affirmative> that I find very refreshing and invigorating to watch. And one of the, one of the lines he says is, I hope you kick your, I hope you kick your slippers under the bed. So you have to bend down to grab him when you’re down there, stay on your knees and say a quick prayer of gratitude, <laugh>. And it’s a great, it’s a great speech. who are some of your biggest influences, or it sounds like your coach and your dad were two of them as you were going through school, and even when you started your career as an educator. Is there anyone else that you think had a big impact on your philosophy?

Rick Gilson (23:51):

Well, I, I, I would be remiss if I didn’t, it’s not, yeah. I would be remiss if I didn’t say that. I’ve been richly blessed by my opportunities to study the gospel of Jesus Christ, you know, and to try to live the principles that are taught there. I do believe in the principle of eternal life and things of that nature. And so those are pieces I’ve had significant leaders in church and in, and in athletics throughout, throughout my life. I think I’m, I’m inspired by just, just like me, fellow everyday ordinary folks who are, are working through the challenges of raising a family trying to trying to work when, you know, we all want our children to be born perfectly healthy and stay healthy. I have colleagues who have, you know, had a young son diagnosed with childhood leukemia, and they, and they lose that young son far, far, far too early in that life.

Rick Gilson (25:05):

And watch how they’ve handled that. And, you know, you just keep your eyes open for people of character. And I, I don’t know that names are important. Yeah. you know, you’re, I’m inspired by some of the athletes that I’ve had the good fortune of coaching. I was a young man by the name of Jeff Halverson that played football for me up in Grand Prairie and went on to play football for the Okanagan son. And the thing about Jeff is in my high school memory, I think he scored somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 touchdowns. And, and I never saw him do anything except toss the ball to the referee and then go celebrate with his teammates. Hmm. You know, no matter how big the game. And he went on to play for the Okanagan Sun and was having a record shattering, not just record breaking, but a record shattering season rushing and scoring and, and all the rest of it.

Rick Gilson (26:04):

And 2004. and, you know, I’d phone him and, you know, how, how did the game go? And that, and he would talk about these teammates. He even would talk about former high school teammates who were playing for Victoria at the time, and Uhhuh <affirmative>, he talked about how they did, and he talked about how his teammates did and, and all that sort of stuff. But you couldn’t get him to, okay, but how many carries did you have? Or how many yards did you get? Or, you know, and, and he, he didn’t bother to ask, cuz if he didn’t wanna tell you that that was fine, you know, you could read about it the next day in the paper or whatever the case may be. Unfortunately, he away suddenly at practice that in that record breaking year he still led the nation in Russian, even though he passed away in the first week of September. Wow. And but he just was in all my experiences with him just a ton of fun to coach and, and work with. But he wasn’t perfect, you know, he didn’t do well in Calm ever <laugh> the career and life management course that you had to have to graduate. Yeah. and it drive me crazy in that regard, <laugh>, but you know, they’re there, they’re, there are people to learn from all around you. I mean, Sam, you, you are how old?

Sam Demma (27:27):

 23 now.

Rick Gilson (27:28):

Yeah. So you’re 23 going on 50 with your reading and like you’re an old soul kind of bit. You know, you’re, your thirst for learning is inspiring. You know, you’ve watched these, you’ve watched those, you’ve, you’ve read some of Wooden’s work. You, you’re keeping your eyes open and you’re learning and you’re receptive to learning. Well, that’s a great example. And anytime you see that with anybody around you, people who are curious and thirsty and desire to learn a little bit more, I, I like wor learning and working with those kindred spirits.

Sam Demma (28:05):

Where does the curiosity come from? Because I think I’ve noticed it in other people too. And it’s inspiring for me as, as it is for you, even when I’m speaking with you, I, I am energized by the conversation and excited to hear your ideas and where they’ve come from. But where does the curiosity come from for you?

Rick Gilson (28:27):

Let me ask you to finish this sentence. Just snap snap, right? You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him

Sam Demma (28:33):

Drink

Rick Gilson (28:34):

<laugh>. Okay. Everybody says drink. And, and I get that, and I always say thirsty. Hmm. You see, if you can help a horse be thirsty, they’ll drink. And, and so the same, it’s the same piece with, with our work with each other, you know, curious and thirsty. Think of those things together. If you’re curious about something, if you have a, an appetite to learn, then, then you just need some folks who will bump you a little bit with, Hey, have you heard of this? Or, take a look at this. Or, or, here’s that. Like you talked about Denzel Washington’s commencement speech at that particular university. He’s done three or four. And you know, if we just, if you and I just right now said to folks, Hey, around commencement time, it’s a pretty good time to go on YouTube and do a search. You won’t find all of the commencement speeches that are on there, great <laugh>, but you will find some. Yeah. And you’re going to learn something from those. And, and, you know, you can take a look at that. it, it’s the same around sharing, sharing books when someone says, oh, you know, I really wonder about, or I’m struggling with. And you’re like, well, you don’t have to read the whole book, but take a look at this, you know, and, and be willing to share. those, those are kinds of pieces that can help you get there. But it’s,

Rick Gilson (30:10):

It’s the idea of inviting people to think about the possibilities or letting yourself think about the possibilities. And you can do this, you can learn this DIY is, you know, that whole do-it-yourself world. well, accepting responsibility from my learning no matter what that might be, and then being open to the notion that other people are putting things out there for us to learn. And by reading about them, talking about them, thinking about them, and sharing them, we’re spreading a good word whenever we can.

Sam Demma (30:56):

Hmm. I think it’s really fascinating that you’ve taught a lot, but you’ve also coached a lot. I’ve interviewed a lot of educators as well, who speak very highly about the connections between athletics and education and just teaching and mentoring in general. I’m curious from your perspective what are the connections between coaching and teaching?

Rick Gilson (31:24):

I don’t think you can be a good coach without being a good teacher. Hmm. It, it’s interesting to me that I don’t know, I think it’s this book here. I’m, I could be wrong.

Rick Gilson (31:44):

It’s called Mastery Teaching by Madeline Hunter. And it might not be the right, right book, but there was a time when Andy Reid, the head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs, had a teaching book like unto this, and it might be this one that he gave all of his assistant coaches when they came on. And, and his whole premise was, if we can’t be good teachers, we can’t be good coaches mm-hmm. <affirmative>, because that, that’s, those two things are 100% interwoven. Now, what are you coaching for? That’s a key piece in and of itself, right? Like, I always prefer to win, but in, in everything, like, I, I like winning, I like winning a lot, but it was incredibly important to me that we won the right way when I was head coach up in Grand Prix. And so the notion that, that we can and must be good sports in how we win.

Rick Gilson (32:48):

So we won a lot of championships, but we also were blessed to win a lot of league most sportsmen, like team awards voted on by the other teams. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, you know, which is, which is kind of gratifying. It’s the same pieces as I would say to my, my players. I would love for you to go on and play junior and university football and go to the pros and fortunate enough to have a few who got that far from Grand Prix all the way to the CFL and, and coached some other kids on Team Alberta teams and national championship teams and things of that nature that some even played in the nfl. but if you’re not a good father, a good husband, a good employer, a good employee, then I didn’t succeed as a coach or, or a teacher, you know? And so with the teacher side, it’d also be, you know, I was mostly coaching guys, but when I, I did coach a couple of girls basketball teams, it’s the same piece.

Rick Gilson (33:53):

Just change the gender roles and all the rest of it. But again, you can be the best athlete you can be, but if you’re not a good person, so I, I take a look and we never know everything about somebody, right? But you, you take a look and you watch someone like a Steph Curry and how he carries himself and how he carries himself with his family. Right Now, I’m, I’m quite taken by coach Robert Seller of the New York Jets. I watch a lot of his press conferences. I am very intrigued by his thought process. And he made a comment early last year in his first year of coaching at the as head coach of the New York Jets that in the end, I, I could look it up, but I’m just gonna paraphrase on it. Yeah. At the end of every day, there is a game film of that day, and you, you and I, there’s a game film of our days too.

Rick Gilson (34:52):

And the truth is told in watching that game film, you can’t hide from the game film. And again, I’m paraphrasing, paraphrasing this statement here, but the, our game film of our life and game film in football is incredibly important <laugh>, right? But so our, our game film of our day and our interactions with all the people that we interacted with and our efforts to do things and learn things that game film does not lie. And, and that’s us, that’s just on us. It does, you know a coach looks at a game film and says, how come I can see you speed up right here on this play? Why weren’t you already going as fast as you could go? Hmm. Well, and when we look at the game films of our days, you know, what did we do with those days? Now that doesn’t mean there’s not leisure time and everything else. You’re not meant to be frantically going about day to day 20 24 7. And remember that Sam <laugh>,

Sam Demma (36:00):

I I was gonna say right before the break, I was imparted with some great wisdom over email by a gentleman named Rick Gilson <laugh>

Rick Gilson (36:07):

On the

Sam Demma (36:08):

Same, on the same topic of moving, moving quickly, but not being in a hurry. <laugh> ghost.

Rick Gilson (36:16):

Yes.

Sam Demma (36:16):

Oh, sorry.

Rick Gilson (36:17):

Be quick, but don’t hurry.

Sam Demma (36:19):

Don’t hurry. Yes.

Rick Gilson (36:20):

And go slow to go fast. Yep.

Sam Demma (36:23):

That’s so true.

Rick Gilson (36:24):

Both John Wooden’s statements.

Sam Demma (36:26):

I was listening to a interview with Mike Tyson, and he was reflecting on his journey as a fighter and controversial individual. but he was telling the interviewer that one of the reasons he loved boxing was because it showed him the truth. And I think what he meant by that was when you stood in the ring whether you did the, you did the required re required training it showed when you, when you started the fight, because if you didn’t, you weren’t prepared. And you couldn’t run from that truth once you stepped into the ring. And I think it’s the same for all sports. There’s no shortcut. You either took the ball to a field and kicked it a thousand times or you didn’t. And once you step on the field and the whistle blows, that effort shows. so I think it’s a, a cool analogy for life, because for me, when I was growing up as an athlete, it always reminded me that there were no shortcuts.

Sam Demma (37:27):

And if I wanted to improve, I could, but I had to put in the, the effort and the, and have good coaches, and was blessed to have some amazing coaches. many of which, I mean, I’m not playing professional soccer today, but many of which really impacted just my personal philosophy. I had one coach who, it was a principle that all of our shirts were tucked in, and it was so much of a principle that if during the practice someone’s shirt fell out, he would blow a whistle and start looking around the room, or looking around the field silently until we all checked our shirts to see if ours was the one that fell out <laugh>. And he would wait for us to tuck the shirt back in before practice continued. And there was a cobblestone pathway down to the field. And if you had walked on the grass and he saw you walking down the grass, he’d wait until you got right up to him to shake his hand before telling you to young man, please walk back up the Cabo Sloan pathway and walk back down.

Sam Demma (38:22):

He had the principle of shaking every coach’s hand before leaving the field, even if you didn’t know the coach’s name, or they were the coach of a different team. and it’s funny, it’s been years, but all those things still stick so freshly in my mind, and I think have really helped shape my own discipline and philosophies in life. So I, I think you’re, you’re absolutely right. You can’t be a good coach if you’re not a good teacher, but if you are a good teacher and a good coach, you not only help students or young people with their athletics, but you shape the people they become. And I think it’s a really big responsibility.

Rick Gilson (38:57):

Yeah, it is a big responsibility. I, I’d say you, you, you can’t be a good coach without being a good teacher. You also probably can’t be a good coach or a good teacher without being a good learner. Hmm. you know, so all of those things are combined, and you also gotta remember every time you coach, you’re, you’re coaching your team, but your team doesn’t play against itself. I mean, it does to an extent, right. There is a, there is an element where you need to be your best. You Yep. Let the other team take care of themselves, but the other team is, is populated with the same age. They, the other team is populated by a group of young men or young women who have parents and loved ones. Like they’re not an alien. You’re not, you’re not playing against an alien. Yep. Right?

Rick Gilson (39:58):

And so any notion that they’re somehow not worthy, Hmm. That’s when, you know, I’m, I’m more than happy to have that debate discussion with anybody. You know, you, the pre-game talk where the coaches like you know, they’re this and they’re that, and they’re this. I can, no, I cannot abide by that. It’s like, why? They’re, they’re not demons. They’re other people with their dreams and aspirations and everything else. And play the game. Play as hard as you can. Like, I’d say hit ’em as hard as you can. Pick ’em up, test them off, tell ’em, good job. Go next game, next play. Hit ’em hard as you can. You know, you gotta play your best. You gotta do your best. But they’re young men or young women just like you with dreams and aspirations, just like you, they have parents, they have families. They might have had a crappy breakfast this morning, just like you did what, whatever the case may be. Yeah. Right. But we’re somehow, we’ve got to get back to where we see that we are the human race, but we’re not in a race against each other. And this, we can do better than we’re doing. we’re not sliding over into a politics conversation right now, but as a society, we can do better. Mm.

Sam Demma (41:25):

I love that. If you could, if you could travel back in time with the, you’ve had coaching and teaching and walk back into the first classroom you taught and tap yourself on the shoulder and impart some wisdom on yourself, not because you, you know, needed to hear it, but you think it would’ve been helpful to hear this when you were just starting in this industry. and in with this vocation, what would you have told your younger self?

Rick Gilson (41:55):

 first off, I would apologize to the students that I had in the, in the first 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, 35 years of my career, <laugh>. because each year I hope there’s a better me, and definitely most definitely when it comes to assessment talking from an educator point of view in terms of grading and marking and evaluating and all of that I didn’t do it differently from other people, but I think collectively in the eighties compared to 20 22, 20 23, what, you know, what I, what I know now, I would do all of that very differently, which spills over into coaching and spills over into leadership. you know, the, the, the simple fact of the matter is life is, and I’ll use the education assessment term formative, and there isn’t half as much about education that is summative as in, here’s your grade, and now we’re over that.

Rick Gilson (43:08):

That’s nowhere near as important to me now as it was made to seem important then mm-hmm. <affirmative>. and, and I think that’s probably the biggest piece. I think standardized exams and all the rest of those things, man, I’d put ’em all the way over there and just say, go away. you know, so, and like I said, I’ve done administration all the way through principal central office, the whole bit. It’s, it’s just not the piece. I didn’t get a 79 yesterday, you know, on whatever it was that I was assessed on. I don’t think I’m going to get a 79 today either. But that doesn’t stop me from reflecting on how I worked and how I did and how I interacted and how well I listened when my super amazing all-star best in the world wife was speaking. you know, I, I think that, that, those are big, big pieces that I’d do entirely different on the restart.

Sam Demma (44:19):

Thank you so much, Rick, for taking the time to chat. This has been a really insightful conversation. I thoroughly enjoyed speaking with you and hope that we can maybe turn this into a series and do a couple more parts. <laugh>

Rick Gilson (44:31):

<laugh>

Sam Demma (44:32):

I, I really appreciate you making the time to have this conversation. And if an educator is listening to this or a coach and they wanna reach out and ask you a question, share an idea, what would be the best way for them to send you a message?

Rick Gilson (44:46):

Well I’m on Twitter at @Gilson1258. My email is the one that’s gonna last for the longest. It’s probably rick.gilson@sapdc.ca. And rickgilson.ca is my blog and, and things. I’m not a, as a daily, a blogger or as frequent a blogger as I’d like to be. but perhaps that’s next in life. We’ll see. But so there’s all those ways to get ahold of me and we’ll go from there.

Sam Demma (45:23):

Awesome. Rick, thank you. Thanks

Rick Gilson (45:24):

Very much. Thank you very much, Sam. look forward to meeting you in person when you get out west here in your Canada-wide journey that you’ve got on Tap <laugh>, and look forward to working with you more in the student leadership piece moving forward. So keep it going. Like I say, you’re, you’re young, but boy oh boy, you are thirsty and that’s really fun to see. So keep it going, <laugh>.

Sam Demma (45:47):

Thanks Rick, I appreciate it. And we’ll definitely stay in touch.

Rick Gilson (45:50):

Take care.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Rick Gilson

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.

Jeevan Dhami – High school teacher and current Leadership Department Head at Panorama Ridge Secondary School in Surrey, British Columbia

Jeevan Dhami - High school teacher and current Leadership Department Head at Panorama Ridge Secondary School in Surrey, British Colombia
About Jeevan Dhami

Jeevan Dhami is a high school teacher and current Leadership Department Head at Panorama Ridge Secondary School in Surrey, British Columbia. He originally began his career as an Outreach Worker in 2014 at the same secondary school he would return to as a continuing teacher in 2019. With an extensive background in community work through various organizations, Jeevan consistently pursued academics while attending Simon Fraser University to further his education. He completed his Bachelor of Arts with a focus in History and Criminology, then a Bachelors of Education with a focus on Environmental Education and is currently working on completing his Masters in Educational Practices.

Outside of the classroom, Jeevan can be found keeping up with his other passion of sport, by coaching Senior Boys Basketball. As a former student-athlete, he understands the importance of transferable skills through sport, which he hopes to pass on to his players and his community. His philosophy on life and teaching is based on the power of connection as he works to create a sense of belonging for people within his community.

Connect with Jeevan: Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Panorama Ridge Secondary School

Simon Fraser University – Criminology Major (Bachelor of Arts)

Simon Fraser University – History Major (Bachelor of Arts)

Simon Fraser University – Bachelor of Education

Canadian Student Leadership Association (CSLA)

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 on the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and keynote speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Jeevan Dhami. Jeevan is a high school teacher and current leadership department head at Panorama Ridge Secondary School in Surrey, British Columbia. He originally began his career as an outreach worker in 2014 at the same secondary school he would return to as a continuing teacher in 2019. With an extensive background in community work through various organizations, Jeevan consistently pursued academics while attending Simon Fraser University to further his education. He completed his Bachelor of Arts with a focus in history in criminology, then a Bachelors of Education with a focus on environmental education, and is currently working on completing his master’s in educational practices outside of the classroom. Jivan can be found keeping up with his other passion of sport by coaching senior boys basketball. As a former student athlete, he understands the importance of transferrable skills through sport, which he hopes to pass on to his players and his community. His philosophy on life and teaching is based on the power of connection, as he works to create a sense of belonging for people within his community. I hope you enjoyed this conversation. I surely did, and I took so much away from it. And I look forward to seeing you on the other side.

Sam Demma (01:28):

Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Super excited to have a good friend on the podcast today. We met, we met last year in May, and then again this year, again, last year. No, again, this year in September. Jeevan Dhami is a good friend, a connection through the Canadian Student Leadership Association. My man. Introduce yourself so people know who you are and a little bit about what it is that you do.

Jeevan Dhami (02:00):

Hey everyone. Happy to be here. Like Sam said, met met this young guy at the conference in Cloverdale about a year ago, and I just loved his energy and had to reconnect with him. We’ve been touching base from time to time, and he was able to come talk to our school. Myself, I’m a, a teacher here in Surrey and I’ve been living here for about 15 years now, and had to kind of adjust to calling Surrey my home, but it’s it’s a place that I, I, I think I, I’m finding, finding my own in.

Sam Demma (02:41):

15 years. Where were you before the 15?

Jeevan Dhami (02:45):

So, I was actually born small town up in central bc Cornell, BC is my, my hometown. It’s a small little town, 10,000 people. great place to grow up. Great community. Lot of outdoor things to be doing very close-knit community. So when you when you got in trouble, the whole town knew about it? And

Sam Demma (03:11):

Are you speaking experienced?

Jeevan Dhami (03:13):

I was yeah, I was definitely one of those kids that would be reported on <laugh>. Nothing like criminal, but it was all like the, the gossip growing up and especially in the like Indo-Canadian community here. it was, it was a small, small town, but we had a big population. So coming with from a family that I have four older sisters that were always, you know, I idolized, oh, your sisters are so good. And being the youngest of the siblings that was supposed to live up to that standard, and like, who, who’s you are their sibling. Like, they’re so nice and respectful and you’re just a bratty kid. But <laugh>, I, I think a lot of it was just immaturity at the time. Yeah. and being the, the only boy you’re often afforded a lot of luxuries that your sisters don’t necessarily get, so may have taken advantage of that. Luckily, I, those sisters of mine kept me in check pretty, pretty well and helped, helped me learn from my mistakes and helped me shape the person that I hope <laugh> I am becoming now. Maybe learning from those things.

Sam Demma (04:33):

Were you still in that hometown of yours when you had the realization that you want to work in education or one in your own journey as a student? Can you remember pinpointing, I want to be a teacher or work in schools?

Jeevan Dhami (04:48):

Yeah. My path was, it was a little different. I, I was always good at school. School came easy to me, but for me it was more of the social side of things. I, I loved sports and I loved athletics. just being a part of that community, it was very interesting for me. Cause growing up in that town, there was always, there, there was a lot of segregation for the most part kind of unspoken. So there was a brown school and a white school, and I ended up being the one living in, in the communities where I was at the white school. So I didn’t necessarily fit in with that community, and I didn’t necessarily belong with the brown kids, so I was kind of always in the middle. So I didn’t always feel like I, I belonged to one particular group.

Jeevan Dhami (05:37):

I at first I didn’t appreciate it at the time. I felt like growing up, you’re not realizing that, Hey, I, I don’t fit in. I don’t belong in certain aspects, so where do I fit? You feel like you’re a, a piece of the bigger puzzle, but you don’t know where exactly you, you sit or where you lie. So it took some, for me to realize that that was my biggest strength actually. Like, I was able to kind of maintain those strong relationships. And when you get into high school or it becomes a melting pot, like everyone’s together, you know, the people that you see at Temple on the weekend, you’re seeing on a day to day basis, and the people that you see and your Monday to Friday school session are now your teammates. so it just becomes a, a tight knit community.

Jeevan Dhami (06:21):

And that was, that was part of my process though. I tend to take advantage of that being a troubled student I think at the time, I, I was smarter than for my own, than my own good. And I would finish my work and then I would become disruptive. I wanted to be the class clown and make jokes and make my friends laugh, and things like that would talk about me in trouble. but my path to school, I always, I always loved learning. I always loved school. It became my, my, my safe place. didn’t necessarily have, you know, the best childhood growing up kind of thing. so there, there’s a lot of emotional issues and, and dealing with a lot of that. As a young kid, I didn’t realize that I was leaving more of a negative impact than a positive, but I had those leadership qualities that a lot of my teachers saw in me.

Jeevan Dhami (07:19):

So instead of kinda disciplining me, ridiculing me, they, it, there’s a few one in particular that tried to harness that energy and kind of switch it to the good. so he, he had always been like a positive pillar. He is a very, very great role model to look up to. And just slowly getting to build that relationship as I matured as a student we just had a lot of good conversations. I loved his energy. you, you never saw him with without a smile on his face. And then you did, you knew that, you know, something had happened, like somebody had crossed the line. And that kind where I got to see a, a real positive educator where it was his demeanor on a day-to-day basis. And he never actually even taught me in my senior year of high school, just the day-today passing. Right. So I would see him in the hallways. I would, I would finish my work in class, and I’d sneak out to just go have a conversation with him. And sometimes I would get in trouble for that as well. But

Sam Demma (08:25):

<laugh>,

Jeevan Dhami (08:27):

I, I think he saw just how vital those were for me to develop in those moments. And solely over time, I started to progress and I found that you know, history was one of the few subjects that I actually consistently enjoyed. and it was just something that I always was connected to. So I knew that I wanted to go to school to study history, and I always had three career choices in mind. So I was always drawn to policing, teaching, and law, and policing and law would always change at number one. I just wanted to come back and, and help my community and, and make a bigger impact. But teaching was always consistently number two, and I didn’t catch it at the time. Actually, someone recently pointed out that all three of my choices were about serving the community, but teaching was probably where I’m gonna have the biggest impact.

Jeevan Dhami (09:27):

I just never realized grade 12 student that pointed like, oh, you’re actually quite, quite accurate on that, especially now. I teach in a school of 1600 kids, and yeah, that number kinda continues to grow, so, so hopefully it’s like a ripple effect. But yeah. my plan after, I didn’t wanna leave small town, I loved the rural life, but my family decided that we were moving to the lower mainland and sold my house at the start of my grade 12 year, I’ll never forget it, one of my best friends at the time, he lived next door to me, and we had been living next door to other for about 10 years, and he got home and, and was talking the driveway. And he, you’re not gonna tell me, tell me, tell you what, like, you’re selling your house. I’m like, I’m selling my house.

Jeevan Dhami (10:21):

Like, yeah, I saw it in the paper, like, I didn’t know that you’re moving. I said, neither did I. This is my start of my grade 12 year where I want. Yeah. So I, I was quite annoyed at that, but household. But my mom and I, we, we stayed in the basement suite just so I could finish off my grade 12 year. And it, it was nice to see that little small sacrifice just so that I could have the year that I wanted. but yeah, as, as I wrapped up high school, I wanted to continue my education in the University of Northern British Columbia up there. I had, I had my goals and my plans, and this just kinda threw me, threw me for a loop. So I had to go back and go back to the drawing board. Coming from a small town I didn’t have a lot of insight, I guess, or guidance on how to navigate life in the lower mainland, but I knew that song and Fraser University’s reputable school, so, okay, I’ll, I’ll apply there.

Jeevan Dhami (11:24):

I can still live at home in Surrey and I can commute. And little did, I knew that that commute was gonna be an hour and a half on a bus sky training every single day one way, and then another hour and a half <laugh>. So I found it to be quite miserable. I actually hated living in the lower main line. I was quite miserable. Just didn’t really try to make positive connections or relationships with, with people. I always had kind of one foot out the door. I planned to just do my first year and I’m gonna move back up north. I’m gonna live with some of my old buddies, and I’m gonna, I’m gonna have fun up where I want. And I still have those three top career choices in mind. But slowly I started, I started working in the community. So my first job here was working at the local Y mt a, which is just a few minutes Nice from my house.

Jeevan Dhami (12:22):

And I, I went to interview for a front desk position and I didn’t get that job, but they really liked what they saw and suggested I’d be a part of youth programming. And so I went for a second interview there, and I started working in youth programs where I was just, you know, coaching little kids, soccer basketball, some sports programs, running birthday parties on the weekends and <laugh>. It was interesting. But I made a lot of strong connections there. And I realized, okay, well the lower mainland’s not, not too bad here. I started making some good friendships and, and relationships and started really being involved in my community and accepted that, Hey, I’m, I’m going to be here. This is my new home. And started to see the impact that, you know, I could have or that this community could have on me.

Jeevan Dhami (13:13):

And slowly started to get more involved in there. Actually, I met one of my best friends who’s they him and I met, but he was in a different department in the Y than I was. And he would kind of come into my space without kind of announcing himself. He would get a lot of positive energy and I’m like, well, who’s this guy just kind of coming up in my space? And I would do the same in his counteracting. We slowly did like the spider-man me, where we just pointed at each other like, Hey, the reason why I think we’re butting heads is cause we’re so much alike. And he brought me into a volunteer position running a youth leadership program. And slowly just opportunity after opportunity kept coming for me. I worked for different municipal organizations for the city, for other municipalities, just running different youth programming.

Jeevan Dhami (14:08):

And slowly along those ways, while I’m trying to pursue a career in law, I I was in the process of writing my lsat. I was actually working in an accounting firm at the time as well. And the accounting goes to me is like, oh, you’re going into law. Like, have you sold your yet <laugh>? And I found that very interesting because this was the same person that would have to spend nights away from his family in the office. I was like, okay, so this, yeah, it’s very, very strange to me. So he, he kind of talked about how, you know, that it’s a tough field to be in, and I didn’t know if my personality would match. I was a process of applying for law law schools and things like that. I wanted to be a lawyer. I was chasing affluence. But internally, I think I deep down knew that that wouldn’t be build, it wouldn’t gimme fulfillment or joy. Where I found joy was working with young people where I was making a positive impact. And slowly I kind of contemplated my, well, what am I doing? Like, this is not the career field I wanna be in. And I went back and I reached out to that, that teacher and said, okay, like I’m really, I’m contemplating my career choice. I think I want to go into teaching. And he said, oh, yeah, I, I knew that you were gonna do that when, when I met you in high school, like grade eight. You like <laugh>.

Jeevan Dhami (15:34):

Exactly, yeah.

Jeevan Dhami (15:35):

You’re like, ah, shut up, <laugh>.

Jeevan Dhami (15:38):

That was interesting too. Like, he, he made that comment. He was like, well, I saw those qualities in you, and I just don’t think you saw em in yourself at the time. And I figured eventually that you would, would find them for yourself. And so it was very interesting having that conversation. And I was still doing a lot of community work. so I ended up working for the Story school district as an outreach worker. Nice. And again, that was just, just kind of lateral moves that started from like my first job at 18 at the Y which just led me to new opportunities new jobs. And eventually I realized after working in some, some of these inner city schools I realized that I could backdoor into teaching, so I could still work at the same time while keeping my, my current job while I finished my teaching degree.

Jeevan Dhami (16:31):

And as an outreach worker, I, I often share, this is, I call it, call it serendipitous, call it state, whatever you will. But my first posting as an outreach worker was at this school that I was first posted at as a teacher in the exact same classroom. So it’s weird how things kind of lined up for you. So that’s, that’s kind of what took me to my path. And I’m, I’m still teaching at that same school. I, I’m slowly getting a little bit more comfortable. I’m, I’m technically five years teaching, but I’ve been in education since I was like 18, really. running those, those programs, a lot of youth education. So although my, my teaching credentials are, are fairly new, I think I have a lot of experience just working with within my community. And my current school is, is a little bit more of an affluent neighborhood, but the majority of my work has come from inner city schools that it is not the most affluent.

Jeevan Dhami (17:37):

And that some of the most rewarding experiences I think I’ve had. It’s, it, it’s definitely tough to build those connections where, you know, the goal of teaching is to, you know, teach content for the most part. But in, in those areas, it’s often tough to even get to the criteria, the, the curriculum because you’re dealing with, you know, getting kids to school mm-hmm. <affirmative>, making sure they’re fed supporting families in need. And there’s so many other things going on where, where teaching can kind of take a back door. So it’s, it’s nice being in this school because there is a high level of academics. So I get to do a lot more with my academics, but I still get to teach a lot of those personal social things that I learned from the inner city school. So it’s something that’s always been ingrained in my process. I think that’s one of the most rewarding parts of the job is you get to tie in different aspects. We’re not just teaching them, you know, content as social teachers. I’m not just teaching ’em about World War One, World War Two, and yeah, teaching them lessons about, you know, how, how you treat one another. How we learn from our past mistakes and grow as individuals, not just, you know, regurgitate this content that I’m teaching you. There’s, there’s more there.

Sam Demma (18:54):

That’s awesome. I love your journey and I appreciate you for sharing it. That was a, a phenomenal overview, <laugh>, and I really appreciate it because it seems like you, all your jobs leading up to education were involving programming in youth. So although you didn’t know for a long time that you wanted to be a teacher, you could kind of looking backward, realize you were doing it all along in different ways, <laugh> which is pretty unique and cool. you mentioned that teacher a few times when you were a high school student who you would finish your work early in class and go and visit and have a conversation with, and then you talk to him afterwards as well. What did he do that had such an impact on you that you wanted to go and spend time with him? Like, why were you drawn to him to chat and have conversation?

Jeevan Dhami (19:47):

Yeah, I think through my whole journey there, there’s three main educators that pop out for me. I think most kids are lucky to have, have one positive adult in their life. But I think along my path, I’ve had three. so my, my first one was one of my, my younger teachers Mr. Law, Mr. Law was my elementary teacher, <laugh> is this an awesome guy? He, he actually taught all of my sisters. So he was that first one to be like, you’re, you’re there. Brother <laugh>

Sam Demma (20:19):

<laugh>.

Jeevan Dhami (20:20):

He, he was one of the, my first teachers that taught me more of the fundamentals about basketball too. So I, I love basketball, playing up is my favorite hobby and pastime. and he was the teacher that would often give up his recess, his lunchtime, his after school to give up the opportunity to just shoot around in the gym. and I think that’s the first time that I got a glimpse of, you know, positive teacher that makes so many sacrifices outside of the classroom. so yeah, Mr. Law was like one of the first, he, he kind of paved the way for building those relationships. And then that other teacher is, is Mr. Stall. so Mr. Stall, he, he was another, he was another brown teacher, one of the few that we had in our school. So it was easy for me to kind of look up to him as mm-hmm. <affirmative>

Jeevan Dhami (21:13):

As someone that I could connect with. And someone that’s kind of been in similar situations where you don’t necessarily fit with one group or the other, you’re kind of in between. And he was a volleyball player. Well, volleyball is not the sport to be playing, right? Like, so there’s, there’s a whole bunch of different things there. But it was more of his, his positive demeanor and his optimism. Like I said, he just, he very rarely did not have a smile on his face. And I think that’s something that I, I really wanted to internalize. I don’t think I necessarily had a lot of positive adult male ro role models growing up. And to see someone that was that positive and optimistic about the, the daily world, even when there are so many bleak things going on, it was just a refreshing take on how to navigate life and approach it with that positive and optimism.

Jeevan Dhami (22:06):

And I think that’s what I internally did feel. I just didn’t know how to express that in the best way. And, and slowly, I do consider my, myself an optimist for the most part. I always try to see the best in, in, in people in situations, but I think a lot of that does stem from, from Mr. Saul there too. I still keep in touch with him. I tell him often, okay, you, you gotta come back and, and chat with me. Like, we gotta narrow down where this epiphany happened, like how you saw this. We, we keep in touch from time to time. And then so that was kind of like the early high school years. So so part, part of my journey again is like grade eight. I, I had a huge, like, falling out with a, a lot of my friend group.

Jeevan Dhami (22:55):

And grade 9, 10, I was like, well, you know, I’m just gonna step away from sports. Like, I, I’m not gonna play anymore. Like, I don’t feel like playing junior ball. I’ll play some community soccer here or there, but I away from the thing that I connected to most, and then slowly that, that was more like personal relationship stuff. I just didn’t feel like being involved in drama. Mm-hmm. And some of the negative toxicity that can be involved in sports. So I, I stepped away and that’s probably one of my bigger regrets. I don’t live life with a lot of regrets, but if I could go back and, and talk to my younger self, like, don’t quit, man. Like, just keep playing. Like whatever, it’s, you love the sport, stick with it, and who knows what doors can open up with for you.

Jeevan Dhami (23:41):

But I think, I think I missed some critical development there. not to say I was gonna go play in the league or anything like that, but, you know, maybe, maybe play some post-secondary get some my school paid for. But I think I kinda closed that door when I made that decision. But I was very fortunate that third adult was a coach. Mr. Capper. Nice. He he came back and he, he’s actually from the Maritime. He played basketball at Queens University, just giant man. I, I’m, I’m six four and I think he was like 6, 8, 6 9, snap

Jeevan Dhami (24:21):

Probably like the tallest person that had, so he came back and so he started teaching at our school and somehow we convinced him to coach our senior boys team. And like the guy just had a wealth of knowledge and just spent so much time working and helping me develop as a player. And it was fun. I got to see the, the fun of sport again and play a little bit of a higher level for, for myself, pushing myself. But it was the same thing that I saw, like in Mr. Law. Like, we’d finish our practice and I would play him one on one and he would crush me every single time. But, but slowly, like, I started to get better and then I like, like, I can beat this guy now. Like, he, I don’t think he ever let me win, but I definitely did earn, earn my my victories over him. again, it was just, I think the biggest thing that I take away from all three of those guys, it was not so much what they outta classroom stuff that they did, their personal sacrifice of their time. And obviously I recognize it more as a teacher now, but definitely it, it’s that extra commitment. The, the extra stuff that they did that stands out for me,

Sam Demma (25:39):

Well, we’re on the street, is that you’re the new MR. Law for some high school students at pr <laugh>. You just took a bunch of them after school to one of their games out in Langley. And whether you realize it or not, you’re now making the same sacrifices that they made for you when you were a student and they were a teacher and a coach. So keep doing what you’re doing. It’s making a, a big difference. And you never know one of those kids might come back and be on a podcast 20 years from now, <laugh>, <laugh> and be saying the same things. Right.

Jeevan Dhami (26:12):

Yeah, hopefully, I think that’s the goal. yeah, on that note, I did just have practice and we played some bump and I went three and just, just beating these young guys, so, got it. I was extremely gas, I’ll tell you that bump, it’s a lot of shape right now. But that conditioning piece, that’s been fun. But I, I think that is the goal is just to hopefully give these young people an opportunity to find some, some positive connection or, or open up some doors for them that they might not see themselves in. And like I said, <laugh>, you don’t know it at the time, but a lot of these adults see it in you. And I think that’s the one thing that is tough about teaching is you won’t know the impact that you’re having. Cause sometimes it’s not gonna happen in the moment. one thing that I would say is these, these kids today, they’re, these kids today sounds like such an old man <laugh>. They’re, they’re way more in, in tune with their, their emotions and, and expressing of them. So it’s very nice to see that a lot of the, these students now are expressing like, Hey, I appreciate this teacher. I express my, my gratitude in certain situations. I see the sacrifices that are being made. I see the impact that you’re making. And it’s nice to see it. And hopefully we, we see it a little bit more in, in that meantime. Cause most often

Jeevan Dhami (27:59):

Choosing to do this, and we’re hoping for the best and hopefully they find their success and maybe one day they’ll appreciate it and then thank these teachers that they make a positive impact. But it took me time to go back and thank those individuals for sure.

Sam Demma (28:14):

Nice. it’s so cool. sports was a big part of my high school experience and it definitely helped me become the person that I am today. And I can think back to coaches that I had who had a big impact on my life. when you think about your transformation and your whole journey through education as a student, but also as a teacher what is it that you’ve done as a teacher but also teachers did for you when you were a student that you think enabled you and them to build such tight relationships? Or how do you like build a relationship with a young person as a teacher?

Jeevan Dhami (28:57):

Yeah, that’s, that’s a gray area for me because I think a lot of my teacher training told me that I have to be extremely professional at all times and I can’t blur that line. so this is still something that I’m trying to navigate. I think for myself personally, it’s unfortunate because I do want to, you know, share my, my, my silly my goofy side, my drop my guard a little bit here and there. But I think a lot of my training has told me that I don’t have that luxury where I can see some of my colleagues and my coworkers, they can blur those lines a little bit. whereas for me, I, I don’t feel like I can do that just yet. maybe <laugh> if, if things change down the road, nice, but maybe get a little bit older, wiser. But for now, I, I think for me, my biggest thing is just trying to role model that behavior.

Jeevan Dhami (29:59):

I think providing some of these young people with, with someone that looks like them, that is representative of their community, that is doing something different than the expectations. So right now we are, like I said, we’re a fairly academic school. Yeah. And when you, I, I teach a career course, so most amount the time the kids are like, oh yeah, my, my parents said I gotta be a doctor, lawyer and professional in, in this field. And like, man, you’d be such a good teacher. Like, oh, my, my parents wouldn’t like that. So it, it’s tough to navigate that. So trying to kind of role model that you can be more than just your, your, your parents hopes and dreams. Like yeah, honor them, do what you can to live up to some of their goals and expectations, but at the end of the day, you still have to find what gives you purpose and meaning.

Jeevan Dhami (30:50):

And that’s part of my journey and my story that I’ve, I’ve had to discover is that, you know, I, I wanted to pursue law because I felt like, hey, that was a successful career that would be respected. It would give me a financially stable life and all of those Xs and os that it, it’s, you know, completing. But at the end of the day, it wasn’t giving me that fulfillment, that personal joy, that happiness, I think that I, I find in, in youth work, and that’s kind of one of my main teaching perspectives is you can’t pursue a career or take an opportunity because your coach is telling you, your parents are telling you, or I’m telling you, you have to find your more internal drivers and, and hopefully if you listen to your, your, your gut feeling a little bit more you, you can make that positive decision for yourself.

Jeevan Dhami (31:45):

So showing them that there’s an alternative route while still building positive relationships in a professional manner, I think it just kind of helps for me to role model the behavior that I want to see in some of these students. Nice. It’s, it’s making that difference. Cause I, I, I see it where, where some of like, not, not to say anything negatively about any of, yeah, my, my colleagues, but I see it easier for them to, you know, blur those lines a little bit. They can try to relate to those kids on a more personal level where they’re allowing their personalities, their, their, I don’t wanna say unprofessional, but like I guess more of their, their silly, their, their authentic selves a little bit more. Whereas for me, I, I try to do it with any professional. And I think part of that is more of my, my upbringing through this educational system.

Jeevan Dhami (32:47):

I think a lot, a lot of educators that have come into is like, sometimes young male teachers get a negative reputation in the school, especially when you’re in vulnerable situations, if you build strong connections with kids. And I think that’s happened in the past where I’ve, I’ve had strong, meaningful connections, but, you know, people in the same field or superiors will question your motives or your intention. Mm. Right. So it’s, it’s kind of like a toxic thing, which is unfortunate, but that’s always kept in the back of my head. I would never want anybody to question my, my professionalism or my motives for building strong connections with kids. So if I always remain professional, I’m leading by example with these kids and I can still make strong bonds within those confines. Yeah. But I, I don’t have to, you know, take it down to a personal level.

Jeevan Dhami (33:41):

I don’t have to be their friend to only maintain a relationship. I can still remain their teacher Yeah. But still have that positive connection. I think that’s what all three of those teachers did for me is they role modeled that behavior. They maintained that professional, the professionalism of being the teacher and not just my friend even as much as they, that I consider them to be my friends at the time. Yeah. they kind of drew the line in the sand inadvertently without blurring in. I think that was very important for me to kind of realize that there are structures and parameters in PA place and those need to be honored, but you can still build meaningful connections despite those. Nice. If that makes sense. I dunno. It does, if I answered your

Sam Demma (34:32):

Question. It does. Yeah. Absolutely. you b yeah, it sounds like you build a strong relationship through taking an interest in the young people in front of you, but in a professional manner. <laugh>. and I, yeah, I appreciate you sharing the, the context and some of the insight and how those teachers did it, did it with you. when you think about your journey in education so far, and you’ve been formally teaching now for, did you say you’ve been formally teaching for five years, right?

Jeevan Dhami (35:01):

Yeah. But going on five, no officially,

Sam Demma (35:04):

But been working with youth for much longer. if you could kind of go back to your first role at the Y M C A, but with the experience you have working with young people now knowing what you know now, like what advice would you have given your younger self if you were restarting a journey working with youth? And not because you would change anything about your journey itself, but you thought it would be helpful to hear before you jumped in.

Jeevan Dhami (35:32):

Man, that’s a, it’s like this, this is where Sam comes in to shine and stop me. you know what I, I think that is, it’s tough cause I, like I said, I’m not one that wants to live on a regret or Yeah. Or anything like that. So I don’t think I would really change a whole lot. Yep. But if I could go back, I would just tell myself to, to trust my gut. Mm-hmm. I think internally I knew that a youth work is where I am finding the most passion and joy that I can trust that and, and jump into it a little bit early. I don’t know if that would change where I am at right now. I think it may have just kickstarted it to, to be doing that a little bit earlier. I think what, from my path and my journey, I think there was a few extra years that I took to figure out what exactly I wanted to do.

Jeevan Dhami (36:28):

Nice. So there was that wall between, you know, completing my undergrad and, and finding that outreach work position and then deciding, well, okay, now I’m gonna go into teaching. Whereas a lot of the, but see, and that’s the thing. Cause if, if I were to go back and, and jump into it sooner, I don’t know if I would’ve the same experiences. So we do this, I do this activity with my kids. we’re in grade 12, so within the professional confines, but well, it’s actually called Dear Johnny in activity. I just call it dear. They get to <laugh>, they get to put questions and honestly into a a and I spend some time like asking them, because for weeks on end, I’ll, I’ll often grill these kids like, okay, what are your goals in life? What do you want to achieve? What, what can I help you with?

Jeevan Dhami (37:22):

Kinda thing. So that’s a lot of the one-on-ones from my perspective. So, nice. I try to spend some time doing it. But e every single year is very unique. And I actually shared that I do this activity with some of my colleagues and they’re like, terrified. You just let them ask you any questions. And honestly, <laugh> like, I’m like, yeah, a hundred percent. Like I had the same conversation. I was like, Hey, like, be respectful. I’ll be as open as I possibly can and I’ll be honest. But if you guys are are respectful about your questions, I will answer that. Like, whatever you have, gimme my personal life, my, my career path, my, my teaching perspective, my views on sports, politics, whatever it is. Cause part of my approach is I, I don’t tell them how to think or tell them what I think. I provide them with the evidence and the, the content and I let them make their own decisions.

Jeevan Dhami (38:15):

Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. But they’ll often ask me like, oh, what political party would you vote for? Like, what, what political party do you think I would vote for? So it’s just like probing with questions. So we did this activity and every time is different. And one of the kids asked me what was my most rewarding moment in, in teaching. I was like, whoa. Like that. That’s a good question for grade 12 students to be asking. Yeah. And I, I’ve never really had that question. And I’ve done this like dozens of times. It made me think. And the one moment that popped out was my role. It wasn’t teaching, it was being an outreach worker. So I worked at this one school in elementary school actually. So again now a tough environment to be with cause I can very well with high school students, but elementary is just different level of emotions and was running this afterschool program.

Jeevan Dhami (39:09):

And there was one student that was a like 12 year old girl with an attitude of like, a 17 year old, just don’t talk to me. I don’t wanna be here. I don’t belong here. But she was a part of my afterschool program and she showed up every single day. And this was a tough school working with a lot of students in communities. And this kid just came in every single day. But she would always come in with the attitude of, Ugh, I hate this guy. Like, why are you here? Why do I have to be here? And it was the same attitude I got every single day. So for two years I did that in two years consistently. Like this girl never attacked whatsoever, never gave me a smile, never acknowledged that she appreciated the program. And slowly when I figured out, hey, like I’m gonna be going to teaching, I’m gonna be stepping away.

Jeevan Dhami (40:05):

Like, it was very important for me to have that transition where I wasn’t just to cut off the tie. Yeah. So I worked with my managers and so we had support staff at the time, and one of my friends, he was just coming into the role and I thought, Hey, he’s gonna be a great fit for the school. I think it would be awesome if he could take over for me, but I don’t want it to be like, G’s gone and he’s in. Right. I think it would be far more beneficial for the school if we have a transition where he’s shadowing me. The kids are building relationship as an extension of me. They’re seeing that, hey, this is G’s friend. Like he is similar. So we don’t have to feel as sad if, if, cause I did build some strong relationships minus that one girl <laugh>.

Jeevan Dhami (40:50):

Ah. So slowly we, we transition, I started to step away and she comes in once I announced, I’m like, okay, like this is ej. Like he’s gonna be taking over for me because I’m gonna finish my teaching program and, and I’m gonna be an official teacher. And most the kids were happy and that that same girl goes good. We like EJ better than you anyways. Like, I’ve been here like two years grinding it out with your attitude day in and day out. And EJ is gonna come in and, and you’re gonna love him. Ejs a great dude. So I was like, I had no problem with it. I’m like, that’s fine. My, my goal worked right For, for her to be that like passing the torch, like that’s fine cause that’s what those kids needed. And same thing. Then the last day, I’ll never forget it she, the student that, that despised me on my last day, she just breaks down in tears, man, just falling and comes in and just wraps my legs.

Jeevan Dhami (41:58):

Just bear hugs me. And this kid would not let go. Like, she was just an emotional mess. And like, I’m not an emotional person. I don’t break down a lot. But that broke my heart, man. Like, even now, like I still, like, I get a little welled up thinking about it, unfortunately. But like, that was, that was the, the moment, like, holy crap. Like, this is what my biggest learning opportunity is as a young person to realize, hey, this kid will tell you to f fall off, tell you they hate you. Say that they don’t want to be here, but they still show up. They still meet you and you are making a bigger impact than you’ll ever know. So that was like one of my most defining moments. And it’s something that I’ve always kept in the back of my head as I keep teaching.

Jeevan Dhami (42:46):

So when these kids are like showing in late to class, I’m like, well, they’re still showing up these kids that are, you know, falling asleep in class or whatever it is. I’m like, well, deep down, did you have breakfast today? Mm-hmm. <affirmative> like, did you have a good night’s sleep? Are you having, you know, emotional issues? Are you having family issues back home? Are you being bullied in harass? So those are the things that kind of go through the back of my mind. It always reminds me of that student. So when you tell me if I could go back and, and change anything, I think if, if I were to risk changing that moment, that has kinda helped define me right now. I, I don’t think I could provide any advice <laugh> if I were to risk that. I think that is probably one of the most defining moments for myself as, not even as a teacher or educator, just as a person, as a human being. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, it’s what stands out most to me. So I, I don’t think I could go back and provide much advice. Maybe just, hey, trust, trust your gut. Trust your gut. You gotta trust your gut. You know what you’re doing. And don’t be afraid to, to take that risk, that jump.

Sam Demma (43:53):

Nice. Man. I got goosebumps when you explained that story too. So <laugh>, it’s super visceral and I hope lots of educators have the opportunity to experience something similar throughout their career. I think that’s a really cool memory and learning. And yeah, I appreciate you for coming on the show. This was a really great conversation about your journey and some things that have gone on through your career path and some of your philosophies around education and relationship building. If someone is listening to this and wants to reach out and ask you a question, what would be the best way for them to get in touch? Do they write a with Dear Dhami at the top or <laugh>

Jeevan Dhami (44:33):

<laugh>? Send me an e send me an email. Dear dmi <laugh>. yeah, I, i I try to practice professional courtesy again, try to respond to my emails. Email is probably the best way to contact me, it’s just dhami_j@surreyschools.ca. You can, you can try to reach out to Sam, maybe Sam can connect us as well. Appreciate the work that Sam does. I think it’s part of why I wanted, wanted to do this and why we’ve maintained such a strong relationship is I think you and I have a lot of similarities in personality type, and I got a few years on you now, but I see a lot of those things in, in you as a young person. So I, I I think it’s important that anyone listening to this is just the biggest thing I can say is just show up.

Jeevan Dhami (45:28):

Just be present. I think the strongest connection I’ve made with my kids, with, with other educators, with, with people like Sam and people in the community, is when you show up and be present just for, for, you know, 10 to 15 minutes, give them everything you have. You might be sacrificing a little bit of your personal time, but you know, if you’re a teacher, the kids will appreciate you, you know, giving up your free time to come watch them play their sport or participate in their, their band event, their acting debut or whatever it is. Those kids will eat that up and they appreciate it so much more than they will ever tell you, and I hope you all have that moment that I just shared. And even if you don’t, keep showing up because one day, whether you know it or not, you are making that moment for so many people that you may never know about. So I appreciate Sam, keep doing the work that you’re doing. And anyone listening to this show up, be present and you don’t know the ripple effect that you’re creating, but you casting that stone, they’re, they’re definitely out there.

Sam Demma (46:40):

You heard it here first. You gotta strive to be someone’s Taco <laugh>, thanks for coming on this show, my friend. Keep up the great work and we’ll, we’ll connect and stay in touch very soon.

Jeevan Dhami (46:51):

Awesome. Thanks a lot Sam.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Jeevan Dhami

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.

Martin Tshibwabwa – K-12 Educator passionate about Special Education, Social Sciences, and Languages

Martin Tshibwabwa - K-12 educator passionate about Special Education, Social Sciences, and Languages
About Martin Tshibwabwa

Martin Tshibwabwa is a K-12 educator passionate about Special Education, Social Sciences, and Languages. He relishes the opportunity of guiding students to attain their learning goals and feed their desire to be lifelong learners. Democracy is about engaging everyone. Henceforth, his pedagogy is led by the concept of Democratic education – A concept that promotes the development and celebration of diverse learning experiences.

Connect with Martin: Email

Listen Now

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Resources Mentioned

What is Democratic Education?

What is Special Education?

The Transcript

**Please note that all of our transcriptions come from rev.com and are 80% accurate. We’re grateful for the robots that make this possible and realize that it’s not a perfect process.

Sam Demma (00:00):

Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Martin Tshibwabwa. Martin Tshibwabwa is a K-12 educator with a passion for special education, social sciences, and languages. He relishes the opportunity of guiding students to attain their learning goals and feed their desires to be lifelong learners. Democracy is about engaging everyone. Henceforth, his pedagogie, is led by the concept of democratic education; a concept that promotes the development and celebration of diverse learning experiences. I hope you enjoy this exciting conversation with Martin and I will see you on the other side of this interview. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host, Sam Demma. Today we are joined by a returning guest who has recently taken a new step in his educational journey. Super excited to have him on the show. Martin Tshibwabwa, it is a pleasure to be here with you. Please start by introducing yourself and telling the audience what it is that you do in education.

Martin Tshibwabwa (01:11):

Greetings everybody. Sam, thanks for having me once again here. I appreciate it. And yep. As you did mention, it’s my second time back on the podcast and I’m excited to be here again. And myself in a little nutshell, I am a publicly funded teacher in the elementary panel and right now I’m a special education teacher and I also teach french as a second language. And that’s pretty much me as a, in a nutshell on my role in education right now.

Sam Demma (01:42):

Why education Did, did you always wanna be a teacher? Did you always wanna work with kids or did you wanna be a farmer but decided to only do that during the summer months? <laugh>?

Martin Tshibwabwa (01:55):

Well, it’s it’s fun, right? Cause we’re, we’re always constantly learning. And before heading into teaching I went to medical school. It didn’t work out. I had a little burnout. So came back reset and while taking my time off, I decided to jump into something new, which was education. Give it a shot, loved it. And ever since, been in education. And then during the summertime, as you mentioned, I do farming. Cause when I was in medical school, I was in an offshore school and that’s where I got the taste of farming cuz I go get my produces in a farm. And the farmers, I helped them out. They taught me some skills that I learned there. So while I was at home during the summertime, it became a hobby. And the hobby turned into now and every, every summer passion that I do,

Sam Demma (02:49):

Not only did you do middle school, school offshore, but you were on an island, correct?

Martin Tshibwabwa (02:54):

That is correct.

Sam Demma (02:55):

There’s no, that’s correct. There’s no better place to go to get an education than on an island <laugh>.

Martin Tshibwabwa (03:00):

That’s right. I was saying no man is an island himself. Right. We’re always standing on the backs of others.

Sam Demma (03:05):

It’s so true. And you still use some of your medical learnings. I remember one day I was feeling really sick and, and you said, Sam, I have a recipe for you. Just make sure that, you know, you don’t drive after this one <laugh> you gave me, you know, cool mixture of lemon and a couple other ingredients to kind of soothe your, your cold. And I <laugh> it was, it sticks in my mind to this day.

Martin Tshibwabwa (03:30):

Exactly. That’s true. That’s something I learned too. Right now just pass it on to you. Just share it, share what I know I share with you also. Right?

Sam Demma (03:36):

Absolutely. So tell me a little bit about your current role in education and how it differs a little bit from what you’ve done in the past. Cuz you’ve just made a, you just made a transition,

Martin Tshibwabwa (03:48):

Right? I was on the high school panel and I transitioned over to the elementary panel. And when I transferred over to the elementary panel, I got the opportunity to teach France as a second language. And that was very rewarding because it it took me outta my comfort zone. Mm-hmm. Versus coming from a full day French school to an English speaking school. It challenged me because I had to I had to attract English native speakers to learn French. Keep in mind that when the French teacher shows up, it’s pretty much break time for everybody. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, you need to get them back on board and to get them back on board, you need to find strategies. Like what do you do within the frame of 40 minutes? It was challenging, but it’s fun because you get to know your students and they get to know you and you end up building relationships.

Martin Tshibwabwa (04:42):

And I realized that in anything actually before you move forward in any content, and you can probably speak on that yourself before you dive into something or you dive into your material, there’s no stance in diving in it right away if you don’t build a relationship with your audience. So I realized that the number one thing is building a relationship with your audience. Mm-hmm. Once you’ve established that relationship, everything else was in place. And after serving that role, I went back to special education and special education. It’s my baby and I’m loving it right now. Mm-hmm. Cause I’m learning things that I didn’t know, especially being the elementary panel, I’m working with younger students and with those students I’m able to learn something that I would’ve not seen in high school. Because in high school they come to us, they’re already molded, they know where they’re headed. Whereas in elementary, we’re working that individual. We’re molding them into which learning styles best suits them and not able to see both sides of the coin. It’s, it’s rewarding.

Sam Demma (05:44):

That’s awesome, man. I, I’m inspired by your enthusiasm despite the changes. I think sometimes as humans we approach change with disappointment or we approach change with fear and anxiety. And it sounds like you’ve really dove in and embraced the changes and have put on the learner’s cap and tried to learn new things. And you mentioned the importance of, you know, building that relationship with your audience as a teacher in a classroom, especially as the French teacher. I’m curious to know like how do you actually do that? If there’s a teacher listening to this that’s thinking Martin, I’m also the French teacher of an elementary school and I struggle every time I walk into my French class. And the kids, they just don’t seem to listen. They always talk over me. what would you tell them? Like what are some things that you do to try and build that relationship that you found has helped in the classroom?

Martin Tshibwabwa (06:47):

I find that sometimes you need to let the individual take control also of the classroom environment. Let them take control. Sometimes I let them take control. Sometimes you may not be able to teach and that’s okay. Sometimes you may be able to teach for the full 40 minutes and sometimes you may just be able to teach for half the 40 minutes. And that is okay because I feel like when you try to go against the grain, that’s when there’s no resolution because there’s always gonna be heads bumping. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Whereas if there’s a balance, it’s true that we have a job to do to deliver curriculum. But I always tell myself, as long as learning is still happening, even if we’re going off topic still try and bring them back on the topic. For example, if I can bring an example at this moment, let’s say we’re talking about verbs.

Martin Tshibwabwa (07:35):

You being from Italian background, I’m pretty sure you have the same thing in Italian where you have verb tenses and everything has a gender or a number. Same thing applies to French, but in English doesn’t happen. So a fun conversation I like to do is students have seen already some verbs in French or we’ve done already some vocabulary words. And I try to tell them to pick up some differences that we find in French that we don’t see in English. So yes, the conversations are happening in English, but really they’re talking about French content. So I know that later on, at a later time when I come back on it, I dropped down my notes as students are speaking and I can make reference back to what they’re speaking about in English. And it’s funny, for example, let’s say if I hear you say something to one of your peers, when I’m delivering my lesson, I might come back to you and say, Hey Sam, by the way, do you remember on X day you did say this?

Martin Tshibwabwa (08:30):

And it’s funny cause you’ll see the kids, I will light up and say, whoa, you’re paying attention <laugh>, but you didn’t say nothing that day during class. Mm-hmm. And you can just see like by doing that too, you’re still building a relationship but they don’t know. And then when they see that, you actually refer ’em back to some points that they mentioned two weeks ago and you’re bringing it back in your lesson. They get more engaged. It’s true, it’s in English, but when you come back to your lesson, you’re showing them the difference. So they can see both sides, English and French. Except that in French there’s more rules to follow. Where in English we don’t have that.

Sam Demma (09:06):

Hmm. Yeah. That idea of active listening and repeating back to students weeks later, things they said previously. It’s such a smart idea that I think any educator can pick up, put in their toolkit and use in their classrooms. Do you take notes in a notebook? Do you have a notebook for each of your classes? Or where do you capture the, the points or ideas so you don’t forget them?

Martin Tshibwabwa (09:29):

Oh, time goes by quick in 40 minutes. So luckily enough we have technology. So I take, I drop down notes on my phone right away. I dropped down notes, make a reference point, dropped down notes. And it’s funny cuz I know we’re not supposed to be using our cell phones, but kids will look at me and they’ll, they know I’m not texting because they always know that I, my, I have my phone loud and I always tell students like, hey, like I have no problem for you using your phone, but you have to be able to self-regulate. I won’t be the one being a police officer or a security guard or a patrolling or a helicopter on top of you to tell you put your phone away. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, I put my trust in you. He guys know when and not when to use it. So when you guys see me on my phone, it’s funny cuz sometimes I’ll have my notes when I’m writing on the, because that’s a French teacher, you constantly traveling.

Martin Tshibwabwa (10:16):

So I dropped out my notes on my phone because it’s much more easy to handle or my tablet and students can see, they always know that I’m taking notes. Mm-hmm. Because I used to use a a notebook and when I used to use a notebook and then students would see their name in it, it gave a bad impression. They always thought that I was dotting down something that was not positive about them. But with the phone or a digital device, I find that it’s different for them. Or sometimes I’ll, if I have the chance to have my my laptop with me, I’ll use my laptop. But the convenience of having a handheld device is different than having a laptop. Right.

Sam Demma (10:51):

Hmm. That’s a,

Martin Tshibwabwa (10:52):

So versus being the traditional method of writing down notes on a paper using a digital device, I find it’s more of a calm environment for the students.

Sam Demma (11:01):

That’s a great idea and a unique perspective that I didn’t even think of. Especially from the student’s perspective. Seeing their name being written down. I think when I was a student, if I saw my teacher write my name down in a notebook, I would be like, oh my goodness, what did I do? <laugh>,

Martin Tshibwabwa (11:17):

Something’s happening. A phone call. Or you staying during recess. Right.

Sam Demma (11:21):

Yeah. So I like that. Thanks for sharing. Yes. You, you mentioned that special education is your baby. Tell me more about that passion for special education. Why is it something you love so much?

Martin Tshibwabwa (11:35):

I love it’s so much because it puts it in perspective that every individual, every child can learn. Hmm. Different ways, different strategies, different methods. But at the end of the day, the results are there. Versus being the traditional classroom or being in a life skills course every child can learn. And that’s one thing I love about special education and it’s constantly challenging. And nowaday days are the same, just like in the classroom.

Sam Demma (12:06):

What about teaching and working in special education makes you feel like you’re making a serious impact? Because I would imagine you feel like you’re making an impact whether you’re in, you know, a special education classroom or any other classroom in a school building. But I think there’s a, there’s a large opportunity in special education to feel like you’re making a very significant difference.

Martin Tshibwabwa (12:30):

Absolutely. Well it comes back to first as a team, of course it’s not just me. We have a team and it comes back to first as a team having a purpose. And once you have that purpose, you find creative ways to advance. And by advancing you’re actually persevering and you’re helping the child reach the full learning potential. So I think having those three things is the main, the main foundation for learning versus special education or non-special education students. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And also, it’s funny, funny enough, special education students who are gifted are actually part of special education. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. So I find the three things to keep in mind is first to have a purpose. Once you have that purpose, you find creative ways to problems. And once you get that creativity and purpose concept together, it is actually the gasoline to continue to persevere.

Sam Demma (13:31):

Hmm. Can you share a story about a student, any student who you’ve seen, develop and reach their full learning potential by participating and by a team of people, like teachers like yourself supporting that individual special education or not? does any student come to mind that makes you internally smile? <laugh>,

Martin Tshibwabwa (13:56):

Myself,

Sam Demma (13:58):

<laugh>?

Martin Tshibwabwa (13:59):

Yeah. Yes. Myself. Like I look at my journey at first I’m a native French speaker and then when I was younger my parents put me in a French day school for about, I can’t remember exactly, but let’s say about three to five years from there I got withdrawn. They put me back in an English school language barrier, kept on pushing, learning, learning, learning. And then once I was done, I was still in elementary school. I wanna say when they put me in English schools, I bought in grade four, grade five, no grade three or grade two. And then fast forward to grade four, five, all the way to grade eight, they put me back in a French school. So my brain was confused cause I was going back and forth. Yeah. So once I was done grade eight we were living in Ontario at the time.

Martin Tshibwabwa (14:50):

Before that we were in Quebec. So when we moved to Ontario, they put me into a French school after grade eight. And then high school came, when high school came, they shipped me back to high school and English. That’s when the challenges began because I came prepared, I was prepared in French content. And when I get to high school, it’s a different ballgame because now you have the two streams I apply in academic. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, I went into the academic route. It was tough because brand new language for me, yes I was around English, but having learned all my elementary years in French, a little bit of English, but mostly French. And then the sudden switch, it was tough. It was always an up climb for me, an up climb and up climb. And things didn’t work out as planned, but I still succeeded.

Martin Tshibwabwa (15:40):

I had a combination of applied in academic courses and then from there I went to, as a prep, I didn’t wanna go to university right away. I went to college. College was an English. Fast forward university was English. But I find that college helped me more. And my last two years of high school helped me a lot to ease my transition to college as a WHI year student and then university. And then funny enough, I went to med school, but then when med school did not work out, med school was in English. When med school did not work out, this where the twist happens, teachers college, I completed it all in French

Sam Demma (16:17):

<laugh>. I thought you were gonna say that vet school was in Dutch or something. <laugh>.

Martin Tshibwabwa (16:21):

Oh no, no. So that’s the twist. So it’s funny how it went from English to French, French to English, English to French. And then when it came to teachers college, I completed the whole content in French. And here I am now. Which I kind of loved it because it’s an academic context in both languages. So it really put things to perspective for me. And I have a better appreciation now for learning

Sam Demma (16:50):

And language. It’s, it opens so many, it opens so many doors, breaks down so many barriers. If there’s a teacher listening who also teaches French and their students often say, miss, why are we even learning this? Or Sir, why, why are we doing this? We don’t, we don’t care about this language. Like what would your response be if you were talking to a student like that or telling a teacher to help them or coach them through a response to a student?

Martin Tshibwabwa (17:18):

Well it’s funny cuz as you said when students say that I actually agree with them, I do agree. I tell ’em, okay, French, French is not the as is not useful for you. Or as they were saying, I hate French, French sucks. I say, you what? I do agree with you. But tell ’em the reason why I wanna do the why because I can say when we go to gym class, I don’t like playing soccer or I don’t like playing basketball. But why did you try? Mm. Did you try learning? And when I ask them questions like that, you can see their, like the expression that they say dear in front of a headlight, they dunno what to say because it’s almost as if they’re trying to escape a topic that they haven’t invested themselves enough into or for other reasons. And I find that when I ask, when actually agree with them, first of all it catches them off guard because usually when people disagree, you find a reason to bring them back to positivity. Mm-hmm. But me, immediately I say, you know what? I do agree with you French does sucks. What can we do about it though?

Sam Demma (18:22):

Ah, <laugh>.

Martin Tshibwabwa (18:24):

Or if they say, I hate French, I agree with you, I hate French too. And then this way they get clever, they’ll tell me, well you do speak French. I’m like, yeah, but I also do speak English. And right now I’m telling you in English that I also do not like French <laugh>. So when they do ask me sometimes why I don’t like French, I’ll tell ’em, well first of all, there’s a lot of rules to remember and I get it when you have those rules to remember, you feel defeated. But it’s well starting with the baby steps first, going back to the beginning, knowing your gender, your number and your verbs, tenses. Once you have those three things done, anything else is possible. And I believe it’s the same thing in Italian, correct me if I’m wrong, but mm-hmm. <affirmative> in French, we have two important verbs to have and to be. Those are the basics. Once you know the verb to have and to be, which is wan, that’s the foundation. And then you of course include your tenses present, past tense, future tense, and your vocabulary words that you inserting there. And just remembering the role of masculine feminine. Once you have that patted down the doors open. And a lot of students, when I started showing them those examples, they started to grasp the concept.

Sam Demma (19:38):

Hmm. That’s awesome. I think one of the reasons people get into teaching and education is because they want to help a student reach their full learning potential. As you said it, you gave the example of yourself and I think it’s a great example. So thanks for sharing. I didn’t know that about your journey that you switched between English and French speaking schools your entire life. <laugh>. When you think about students that you’ve taught, is there also any young people that come to mind who maybe were going through a challenging time or didn’t feel like they were smart enough or good enough and through perseverance and continual effort and showing up, they were able to transform their own personal beliefs about themselves and kind of grow into their own potential?

Martin Tshibwabwa (20:24):

Well, absolutely. And I feel that March, 2020 brought a lot of things to light with the, the shutdown with the Covid 19 pandemic. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> it brought a lot of things to light where students included ourselves. We had time to completely shut down and reset. And during that reset, because there’s no distraction, including ourselves, adults, students had that moment where they were shut down, but they had time to also reflect. Cause when things are going the right way before Covid we’re constantly galloping from activity to activity. We have sporting activity after school, but we have dance lessons, recitals, et cetera. But when the shutdown in Marshall 20 occurred, a lot of students were just like us at home, nothing to do. And a lot of them started to doubt themselves because now they had no distractions away from school. So when they’re at home, I saw a lot of students that when we returned to e-learning and also in-person learning, they had a dislike for school.

Martin Tshibwabwa (21:38):

A lot of behavior that we did not seek come out. Were starting to come out. And it’s during that time where you find you can help students by having them look at their strengths and their needs. And one of the things that I always, I I always like to do is how can we take your needs and turn them into fuel if you hear in the right direction to reach your full learning potential. And of course in the beginning it’s hard but to, interesting to go back to their agenda. Agenda or even journal and write down a goal that they wanna accomplish. You know, the big picture, but write down your goal. It’s funny enough cuz I have a gentleman who I speak to quite often, his name is Justin Oliman, actually. He’s, he was one of the coaches for the Toronto Raptors.

Martin Tshibwabwa (22:32):

And one of the things that he told he, he mentions is the 2019 championship goal that they had. So they had different goals that they wanted to achieve during that year. And with those goals, they ended up actually reaching the championship and they won. Yeah. So that’s one thing I tried to include also with students who are doubting themselves. Have your big picture, have your championship that you wanna reach, but of course you wanna reach it overnight and you put yourself some, some mile some, some small milestones that you want and also celebrate those small victories. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, which goes back also to your concept of small consistent actions. So implementing those two concepts together I find actually helps students get back in the right direction and keep them motivated to reach their goal. Right.

Sam Demma (23:27):

So what keeps you motivated? It’s, it sounds like you pour a lot into the students and help them find their needs and turn their needs into fuel. What keeps you, what keeps you going?

Martin Tshibwabwa (23:41):

Honestly, ask questions. Ask questions. Like, for example, yourself. You see that I’ll shoot you a text. Hey, how do you do this? Explain me. How do you do that? And how do you, what, what works and what, what does not work for you? And, and that’s one thing I always do. Even my pros, I’ll send ’em an email, I’ll shoot them an email just to see how to go about something. And of course when you ask a question to somebody, they’re pretty much the master. And I can’t remember which book I was reading, but there’s a philosophical pH philosophical book that I was reading. It does say Learn from the master. You take what the master does, but you replicate it, you replicate it, probably the exact same recipe, but at the end of the day, you also wanna make it yourself. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> put it, put a piece of it of yourself in it because something that you do, I cannot deliver word for word the way you do with your ambience. But learning from you, looking at the way you deliver something, if I can replicate it, but also put a, a a concept of my own in it Hmm. Will just continue making that concept better.

Sam Demma (24:52):

Yeah. It’s kind of like borrowing the recipe but adding a few extra ingredients of your own that you think will compliment it. And

Martin Tshibwabwa (25:00):

Exactly.

Sam Demma (25:01):

The longer you make it, the more you try different new things. And a year from now, that concept from somebody else was the foundation of a totally brand new thing that you’re doing. Right.

Martin Tshibwabwa (25:11):

Exactly. And it’s funny enough cause I have another good friend of mine who’s a chef and he always tells me when I go to one of his classes, sorry, one of his one of his one of his excuse one of his events, he always says, no recipe should be followed to the tea. Mm-hmm. And the reason why it says is because when you read out a recipe in a book, it doesn’t tell you, for example, if it tells you, okay, put three cups of sugar, my cup can be different than the cup that they’re talking about. So instead of falling your recipe to the tea, what you should do is follow the recipe. But as you’re following that recipe, make it your own by tasting it. If it’s to your liking. That’s it.

Sam Demma (25:58):

I love that. I’m starting to get hungry,

Martin Tshibwabwa (26:00):

<laugh>. Exactly.

Sam Demma (26:02):

If, if an educator Martin is listening right now, wants to reach out to you, maybe they’re in a transition in their own educational career, they wanna ask you a question, just connect and have a conversation, what would be the best way for someone to get in touch?

Martin Tshibwabwa (26:17):

Well, email, email’s the best way and we’ll have my email listed at the end of this podcast and they can touch base for email, email’s the best way to reach out right. And then from there we can when whatever’s needed.

Sam Demma (26:30):

Perfect. And one final question before we wrap up the interview. What are you most excited about in 2023?

Martin Tshibwabwa (26:39):

Oh my goodness. Just staying healthy. Staying healthy and contribute to that healthiness, getting to good healthy habits, good diet and working out and a balance and work habits. Right. We remember that because sometimes we get cut up and we don’t take time for ourselves.

Sam Demma (27:01):

Very true. Likewise

Martin Tshibwabwa (27:02):

For you too.

Sam Demma (27:03):

Yeah, I was gonna say the same, to be honest. A friend recently told me, you know, people with good health want a million things and people with bad health only want one. And it was just this stark reminder how important it is that we take care of our physical, mental, spiritual wellbeing. Because without it, nothing else really matters. So I wish you the best of health this year, continued success, amazing habits. Let’s definitely stay in touch and keep up the great work.

Martin Tshibwabwa (27:34):

Absolutely my brother.

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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.