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Educator

Patrick Bohnet – Executive Director of the Central Alberta Regional Consortium (CARC)

Patrick Bohnet - Executive Director of the Central Alberta Regional Consortium (CARC)
About Patrick Bohnet

Patrick Bohnet (@patrickbohnet), is the Executive Director of the Central Alberta Regional Consortium (CARC). Patrick has over 30 years in the field of education. 29 Years as an educator with 23 years of those as a school administrator.

His teaching career has always been in rural Alberta Schools in all K-12 grades. His education includes a BEd, MEd in Educational Administration, and EdD in Education Technology. Patrick received the John Mazurak Scholarship for his work in Education Technology. In addition, he was a Curriculum Implementation Support Consultant for 6.5 years with CARC and now as the Executive Director for CARC the last 6 years.

His background as a competitive athlete in hockey, national golf, world curling tour has helped with many years of coaching. He has coached many school teams over his career, coached hockey, and was the Director of Player Development for Alberta Golf.

Keys to his success as a teacher, adminstrator, and coach has been building relationships and having strong communication skills.

Connect with Patrick: Email | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Central Alberta Regional Consortium (CARC)

John Mazurak Scholarship

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 Patrick Bohnet. Patrick is the Executive director of the Central Alberta Regional Consortium, CARC. Patrick has over 30 years in the field of education, 29 years as an educator with 23 years of those as a school administrator. His teaching career has always been in rural Alberta schools in K to 12 grades. His education includes a BEd, MEd in Educational Administration, and EdD in Education Technology. Patrick received the John Mazurak Scholarship for his work in Education Technology. In addition, he was a Curriculum Implementation Support Consultant for 6.5 years with CARC and now as the Executive Director for CARC the last 6 years. His background is a competitive athlete in hockey, national golf world. Curling Tour has helped with many years of coaching. He has coached many school teams over his career, including hockey, and was the director of player development for Alberta Golf. The keys to his success as a teacher, administrator, and coach have been building relationships and having strong communication skills. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Patrick Bohnet, and I will see you on the other side.

Sam Demma (01:29):

Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host, Sam Demma. Today we’re joined by very special guest, Patrick Bohnet. Pat and I connected maybe six to eight months ago now, and we are doing some work together in the new year, and I’m so excited to start off the year having him on the show to talk about his journey through education, but before we two, before we get too far ahead and jump in, I want to give himself a opportunity to introduce who he is. So Pat, please tell the audience listening who you are and what it is that you do in education.

Patrick Bohnet (02:03):

Absolutely. So long journey, it’s over 30 years in the, the education kind of realm. I started my teaching career in 1987, fall of 87, graduated from University. I, it’s interesting the journey started, I was in business program and my girlfriend’s dad at the time said, Hey, would you like to help coach my hockey team? And my girlfriend’s younger brother played on this team, and I’d played high level of hockey here in, in Alberta. And I had parents come to me and say, oh, you’d be a great teacher. So halfway through my four year business program, I switched to education and, and never looked back. So out of my 29 years, 23 were as a school administrator, Vice Principal or Principal. When I graduated, there were no jobs near Edmonton, so that’s the University I went to. So I, I found a temporary contract in a, a little town, about an hour west of Edmonton and that contract ended and then in fact, it’s kind of neat, the, the guy that does one of the Oilers host shows pregame and, and Postgame, I was his volleyball coach and my first year of teaching, and I’ve gone to see him at the Oilers games, and his dad was my Principal. So anyways, he remembered me.

Sam Demma (03:45):

Wow. <laugh>.

Patrick Bohnet (03:46):

It’s one of those things in, in this conversation today, it’s about impact that, that you have on kids and how you remember them or they remember you. Anyways, then I went up north as far north in Alberta as you can get in Fort Veril Vermilion. So now I’m only a two year teacher. And then my third year I became a vice-principal, so highly unusual too to start an admin program. Then I moved back closer to Edmonton, raised a couple of my own kids and was in one school division for 23 years. And then currently I work for central Alberta Regional Consortium, and we’re one of seven organizations in Alberta. We’re unique to Canada. The government provides funding for professional learning for teachers, administrators, educational assistance, librarians, secretaries, the whole gamut. And I became a consultant for, did that job for six and a half years, and then went back to be a principal for three, two years and another small town just outside Edmonton, and then back gained as the executive director of, of one of our seven offices in, in the province. So it’s been a long journey but there’s been many great things along the way.

Sam Demma (05:12):

I have a quote unquote extended family in Red Deer Alberta. Half of the family wears Calgary flames jerseys in the other half, whereas Oilers Jerseys <laugh>. And one occasion I was in Red Deer speaking, and they invited me to stay with them, and they put me in a jersey and brought me to a game. And the dad’s name is Chris <laugh>, and he was the only one wearing the flames jerseys, and it was a flames Oilers pregame. And of course the Oilers won. And the third goal, they scored, he like stood up out of the chair and was demoted to the bar area. <laugh>. but there’s so much passion for sport, and it sounds like sport has played a big role in your own life. do you think there’s any correlation between coaching sports and teaching? And if so, like what are they and why do you think they’re so complimentary?

Patrick Bohnet (06:06):

A, absolutely. So when I, I look back and it’s relationships and understanding, you know, I’m gonna say kids, teens, my favorite group has always been junior high, the grade seventh to nines. but a as a a teacher, and again, things are different now. There was always that expectation that as a teacher you kind of chipped in and, and became a coach. And because of my background, you know, personally in, in excelling in sports, it was that chance to give back. So there’s always that kind of, if you’ve been involved in sports and become, became a teacher, it’s much easier now to fill that role based on, on your experiences, you know, and, and I was very lucky. I played to the highest level that you could in amateur hockey. one of my coaches was Ken Hitchcock, who, who won Stanley Cups and coaching in the N H L.

Patrick Bohnet (07:08):

Wow. it’s funny, the last school that I was teaching in in Warburg was quite the connection because Dave Hoal who’s family farm connected to the school’s ground, he’s the coach of the Seattle Stockton right now. And Lindy Ruff also from that town, he’s also still a coach in the N nhl. So it’s was really weird that we had these connections. But, you know, nowadays it’s, it’s interesting being a principal. The, the passion and, and extra time and work that you put into outside of teaching and planning, you don’t find as many teachers that want to, you know, coach kids. It’s like, okay, I’m done. It’s four o’clock I’m going home. Which, which I, I never grew up with that there was that inner expectation and you did it, and I loved it.

Sam Demma (08:10):

That’s the interesting part. It at times can feel like a big responsibility and investment of your time, but you loved it. W why do you think you felt that passion and had that extra ambition to do extra cooking activities versus maybe today there’s a little bit of a lack of that.

Patrick Bohnet (08:33):

I, I think, you know, it became one of those, you, you don’t find out till afterwards what kind of impact that you made kids. And, but I also found it was an ability to make that deeper connection with kids. Mm-hmm. You know, outside of school, kids go to school. Do they love school? Some kids do. Yeah, some do don’t. But when you take kind of a, a role in the things that they love you, you garner a totally different respect. The, the kids, the students, you know, even if I wasn’t coaching and I’ll, you know, we talked about this, you know, briefly before, but as a school administrator or a teacher, you show up at the hockey rink or the, the dance recitals and the kids see you there. They know you don’t have your own kids taking part, and the parents are going, well, why is he here?

Patrick Bohnet (09:37):

And the kids see you and they try harder. I I it’s like, wow, you know, this person who’s a role model in our, our school has come to watch me and the parents garner a different respect for you too. And, and it’s one of those, he came here to watch our kids play. He’s gotta be a good guy. He cares. Mm-hmm. So when you had to have those positive or difficult conversations, you, you could work on a different level. You know, you weren’t this intimidating person that was a teacher or a school administrator. You were part of the community.

Sam Demma (10:19):

I saw a post the other day that said, young people spell love and care t i m e, and it’s about the time you invest in them and their lives. That has a really big impact. It’s hard to make sure you don’t spend too much time to the point where you burn yourself out, especially when there’s so many responsibilities and so many things that you could attend and be a part of, especially if you have a giving and caring heart and really wanna show up for kids. How do you balance your own need to fill your cup with pouring time and energy into young people? And also nowadays, teachers,

Patrick Bohnet (11:01):

It, it becomes a time management thing. You know, when you talk about the burnout. Yes. You know, there are times of the year where, you know, report cards or parent teacher interviews, you can’t just put Okay, your coaching duties on hold or vice versa. You know, you’re in the league championships and you have these extra practices or things like that. So it’s a matter of like preparing well and advanced and knowing, you know, on a calendar when these things take place. And, you know, the hard part too is having my own kids and being part of their lives. Mm-hmm. And, and my wife. It’s one of those balances where they’re affected too, all of this, not just your career or, or your coaching. So it’s, it, it takes some extra time, effort, energy, but it’s rewarding. You know, you, you look back and go, oh man, I, I was so tired and I made it, made it through all of that. But, you know, it’s that impact thing thing. And balancing all of that in your life, knowing, well, you know, we’re very lucky as educators that, you know, you get additional holidays at Christmas or Easter in the summer, where now you can really focus on, you know, your family and, and home versus, you know, coaching and teaching.

Sam Demma (12:31):

Yeah. It’s so true. And you can golf <laugh>, spend some time in the great outdoors, visit your grandkids happy birthday to, is she your youngest or,

Patrick Bohnet (12:44):

Yeah, Kellyann is just turning two today. And she’s the youngest grandchild and other grandsons are five and soon to be seven.

Sam Demma (12:57):

 pat shared some really great advice with me. If you’re starting to feel a little bit of resentment with the students in your classroom just tell your kids to have grandkids and it’ll all change <laugh>.

Patrick Bohnet (13:07):

Yeah. There’s a, there’s a new light around little kids and we, we just, you love them to death and they’re yours. And, you know, you can be that spoiled grandparent. You don’t have to have that responsibility of raising them and spoiled them.

Sam Demma (13:23):

<laugh>. That’s awesome. You, you mentioned some of the coaches that you’ve had and were honored to have as an athlete in education. I’m assuming you also had mentors that played a big role in your development as an educator. When you think about your coaches and your mentors, whether in sport or in school, what are some of the lessons you think they taught you that are foundational to your belief system now?

Patrick Bohnet (13:48):

You know, it’s that, that team atmosphere, whether you’re, you know, part of a team and not realize it. So I, I look back and my, I’m gonna say my third principal he was big on relationships amongst staff. Mm. So every Friday, you know, staff went to the Legion and he made us feel like, you know, he’s connected. He cared about us and provided opportunities. Here again, you know, he had family as well, but it was like, all right, I want to spend some time with you guys and show you that I care. And, and just off the record, do these types of things and, and function. So it was one of those, you build a great team, the results are amazing. Mm-hmm. And, you know, you always hear that common term. There’s, there’s no I in team. And it’s true. No one teacher, one principal can’t run a great school. It takes everybody. So acknowledging that, and I’ve always kept, kept that philosophy moving forward and you know, so that, that was kind of a mentoring, you know, impact. we had a 25 year reunion for our midget hockey team.

Sam Demma (15:11):

Oh, wow.

Patrick Bohnet (15:13):

Ken Hitchcock coached and he remembered all of us. And, and it was like, you’ve coached so many people at so many levels and he remembered like little things, you know, letting me and my buddy crawl in the crawl space at the sports shop, cuz that’s where he worked and picking out our own hockey sticks. And so it, it was neat. And he sat at my table and, you know, and I said, you were like, you spend more time with me than my dad. And he did have an impact. So, you know, I always joke and say, oh yeah, the garbage cans are getting thrown around in that dressing room. Cuz he was that kinda coach <laugh> back then. And I don’t think he, he does it now. You know, when he, his last coaching job, he had a stay with the weathers not long ago, but it, it was amazing the impact of, you know, a coach or a principal that kind of resonated with you. And I always thought, well, why? What did they do? And it was made, made me feel part of a team. I was important no matter what my ability and level was.

Sam Demma (16:26):

What makes you feel special? What does somebody do that makes you feel special? Is it them spending time? Is it them getting to know you? Like it it sounds like relationships and building relationships with students is really important. How do you do it?

Patrick Bohnet (16:43):

I, I think a lot of it has to do with you don’t try to build relationships, but what you want to do is understand how they tick. So I’ll call it all of the, the forgotten kids or the, the low achievers. I always resonated with them because I had the ability, all right, I wanna listen. I’m not gonna sit there and, you know, jam something down someone’s throat until I understood either the parent or the kid. And once you hear that, right, there is a deeper understanding of why things are taking place, behaviors, actions, et cetera. And then you work on that and go, you know, maybe a punishment isn’t the best solution or the, the solution all of the time. Maybe it’s something different. And listening was a, was a huge piece in building those relationships. So all of a sudden those kids would say, Hey, he’s listening to me.

Patrick Bohnet (17:51):

He cares about me. Do I do things special for them? Not really <laugh>, but then their behavior changes. Hmm. So that, that was, that was huge. And I had that ability over time, you know, whether it was going to see these kids doing something in their community or being part of their community, or just listening and finding out where their background is. And, you know, there’s a big word that we use in education calling differentiation. So, you know, every kid learns differently, so you need to teach them differently. You need to also treat them all individually differently as well. You know, and you sometimes you got feedback from your teachers going, well, why didn’t that person get a, you know, seven day suspension and then that person didn’t. Well, once you understood the situation, maybe the, you know, that decision didn’t warrant that individual

Sam Demma (18:52):

Time. Times are changing constantly in education. There’s new requirements being put in, in place. There’s new curriculum being put in place. As things change, as things change, there’s challenges and opportunities. I’m just curious, what do you think are some of the opportunities that exist in education right now?

Patrick Bohnet (19:14):

I, I think there’s so many more opportunities for teachers to grow within their profession. You know, when I became a teacher, you know, Mike Consortia, I didn’t know existed. Mm. And it didn’t exist probably until, I think we’re been around for over 30 years now. But knowing that, hey, there’s things that I can go to and learn to increase my professional capacity that’s there. Like the provincial union, there’s conferences and our organization. So there’s many opportunities to become a strong teacher. I think the workload is different. You know, I always look back and I, I went through three different generations. The first generation was, you know, you, you as a student, there were rules and guidelines. And if you were in trouble at school, you were in trouble at home. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And then in the, I’m gonna say in the nineties when the youth act came into place, you know, that’s when all of a sudden kids are going, I’m reporting you, you know, social services, <laugh>.

Patrick Bohnet (20:33):

So that changed things. And, and then the next generation is, and I’ve always been in rural school settings, but single families, single parent families, that changed the dynamics in the education field. And then finally technology, you know, I, I was one of those people that I embrace technology and it, it can work so much for you or so much against you. And so kids behave differently, think differently. And if you’re, you can see that you have to adjust. So, you know, I’ve been a change agent my whole life. People say, well, do you still do the same things that you did? No, absolutely not. I’ve had to change, you know, how I do things, what I do. I, and I don’t say to keep up, but to be stronger at what I,

Sam Demma (21:34):

It’s funny you mentioned the three different generations you’ve interacted with so far in education. I say so far because maybe it’ll be a fourth that you consider soon. <laugh>. my uncle Peter was sitting across from me at the dinner table at Christmas dinner telling me stories about my grandfather who passed away when I was 13 years old. One of the stories was about him running onto the soccer field after dropping his son off at school because a student was screaming at him. And my grandfather ran right onto the field and grabbed the kid and say, like, yelled at him and then proceeded to go to the principal’s office. And the principal was like, Sam he had the same name as me. He’s like, Sam, you can’t just go onto the field and grab a student. This is not acceptable. And, you know, if that happened today, you’re getting charged, you’re going to jail. Like the times have definitely changed. One thing that hasn’t changed though is the importance of engaging and communicating with the parent community of the students in your school. And I’m curious if you have any philosophies around engaging parents as a teacher, as an administrator, to support the success of their kids.

Patrick Bohnet (22:45):

Yeah. And parents can be your best enemy or, or your worst enemy. And one of the things that I learned early in my career is you can gain, I’m gonna say trust from your parent community. It goes a long ways. Mm-hmm. You know, again, like, you know, being part of the community, they can’t say, well, you’re just this flyby night guy that comes in for the day and disappears. So that, that, that part was always huge. But the other part that you quickly found out is everything that goes home with the student isn’t the whole story Hmm. One side of the story. So you, you always had those difficult conversations with the parent, and I always made sure that the, the student was in the same setting when he had those difficult conversations. And, you know, I would never say to the parents, you know, your kid was lying, but it was like, you know what, little Johnny or Sally or whoever it is Nope. Tell, tell your story to both of us right now. And now that student would go <laugh>.

Patrick Bohnet (24:05):

Oh, and the truth would come out. Yeah. And, you know, and not making a big deal about it and coming, you know, to a resolution. Sometimes you had a parent going, Hmm, well that wasn’t the story that I got. I’m sure glad I got it now. And they react differently. Hmm. So then from that day forward, it’s one of those, all right, we, we need to make that call to the school first and have that conversation. So, you know, those things happen over time and, and word gets out that, okay, you know what, let’s, let’s check in with the, with the teacher or the principal or whatever before we, you know, come to running out in the field and grabbing a kid. <laugh>. <laugh>.

Sam Demma (24:53):

Yep. That is definitely not a good way to react as a parent. Take notes if, if parents are listening right now, <laugh> pat, you’ve been in education for a long time. You have lots of experiences and wisdom. When you think about your journey and the things that you’ve learned, if you could travel back in time and tap your younger self on the shoulder when you started your first job teaching, you wouldn’t, not that you would change anything about your path, but if you could just speak to your younger self when you were starting that first year, what advice would you give that you thought would be helpful to hear?

Patrick Bohnet (25:31):

 <laugh> it was interesting. You know what, I was, I was lucky that I was a good student, but I wasn’t a good kid. So not being a good kid helped me understand dealing with the kids. So I’d look back and, and, and there were times where were myself and my buddies, we would intentionally make teachers lives miserable. Mm. And, you know, call it a cheap form of entertainment. If I went back and go, yeah. You know, I, I I maybe that would’ve been the best advice. You know, there’s ways to have fun, but to, you know, whether it’s other classmates or students or the teachers, that word bullying, it always came to mind. And it was like, I look back, I was one of those, but it was, I was a bully to the teachers. Hmm. Too. And so if I, I, the advice I’d say is, you know what? There’s a, there’s a better way to develop relationships. Cause I remember my first student teaching job was in my junior high school.

Sam Demma (26:44):

Oh, wow.

Patrick Bohnet (26:46):

You know, in the lunchroom, a couple of the teachers said, you’re gonna be a teacher. And I go, yeah, I hope you get some of what you gave us <laugh>. And, and, and it’s, it’s true. Like it was, you know, I didn’t need to do those things. You know, it didn’t gain me any respect from my peers. They probably looked at me and said, oh, you were a jerk. So yeah. That, that would be the advice. <laugh>,

Sam Demma (27:17):

I appreciate the honesty and transparency. I think we can all reflect on a time where we’re not proud of actions that we took. I was suspended when I was in grade seven. But I think it’s those situations where we, if we choose to reflect on our choices, where we learn the most and develop the most as people, and I’m sure those same teachers who in your first year teaching talked to you in the lunchroom, are now a lot of your respected peers. and hopefully some of your friends, are close friends. But Pat, thank you so much for taking the time to come on the podcast. Share a little bit about yourself, your journey, your beliefs around education. This was an awesome conversation. If an educator listening wants to reach out, ask a question, suggest you switch the hockey team that you currently cheer for or invite you out to play a round a golf, what would be the best email for them to reach out?

Patrick Bohnet (28:14):

Actually what’s my favorite sport, Sam, that I play

Sam Demma (28:20):

It’s golf, right?

Patrick Bohnet (28:21):

Yeah. So my personal email is golfbum@telus.net. That, that would be the easiest one if you’re, you’re looking, you know, outta the profession. And then, you know, I do have my work one which is pbohnet@carcpd.ab.ca. If you’re looking for know some professional learning or professional advice, there you go.

Sam Demma (28:50):

Awesome. Patrick, thank you so much for coming on the show. Keep up the great work and I’ll talk to you soon.

Patrick Bohnet (28:55):

Yes. Looking forward to February. We’ll see you soon, Sam.

Sam Demma (28:58):

I believe that educators deserve way more recognition, which is why I’ve created the High Performing Educator Awards. In 2022, 20 educator recipients will be shortlisted, each of whom will be featured in local press. invited to record an episode on the podcast, and spotlighted on our platform. In addition, the one handpicked winner will be presented with an engraved plaque by myself. I will fly to the winner’s city to present this to them and ask that they participate in a quick photo shoot and interview on location. The coolest part, nominations are open right now, and they close October 1st, 2022. So please take a moment to apply or nominate someone you know or work with that deserves this recognition. You can do so by going to www.highperformingeducator.com/award. We can never recognize educators enough.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Patrick Bohnet

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.

Connie Shepherd – Ontario Educator of over 20 years

Connie Shepherd - Ontario Educator of over 20 years
About Connie Shepherd

Connie Shepherd (@Connie2Educ8) is an Ontario educator who has worked in the education system for over 20 years. She began her journey as an educational assistant working with students with diverse needs, which played an important role in her belief that all children can be successful and providing opportunities for all students to shine is essential to a strong education system.

Connie is a graduate of York University and completed her Bachelor of Education at Brock. She is a lifelong learner who has continued her learning through many additional qualification courses, including leadership. Connie is currently an Elementary Guidance and Experiential Learning Teacher which provides her with the opportunity to support students to explore the many possible pathways available to them through experiential learning.

Connie is passionate about fostering a learning environment that supports the development of transferable skills and empowers every student to see themselves as important and successful.

Connect with Connie: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

York University

Bachelor of Education – Brock University

Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies

Working as an Educational Assistant – Ontario College Application Service

myBlueprint

Tinkercad

Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford Commencement Address

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 Connie Shepherd. Connie Shepherd is an Ontario educator who has worked in the education system for over 20 years. She began her journey as an educational assistant working with students with diverse needs, which played an important role in her belief that all children can be successful, and providing opportunities for all students to shine is essential to a strong education system. Connie is a graduate of York University and completed her Bachelor of Education at Brock. She’s a lifelong learner who has continued her learning through many additional qualifications courses, including leadership. Connie is currently an elementary guidance and experiential learning teacher, which provides her with the opportunity to support students to explore the many possible pathways available to them through experiential learning. Connie is passionate about fostering a learning environment that supports the development of transferable skills and empowers every student to see themselves as important and successful. I hope you enjoy this conversation on the podcast with Connie, and I will see you on the other side. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host, Sam Demma. Today we have a very special guest, a high energy guest, an impactful educator. Her name is Connie Shepherd. Connie, please introduce yourself so everyone tuning in knows a little bit about who you are and what you do.

Connie Shepherd (01:30):

Amazing. Well, good morning, Sam. My name is Connie Shepherd and I’m an elementary guidance and experiential learning teacher. So I serve for the most part grade sevens and eight, so middle school ages. We do have some grade sixes and yeah, we do a lot of experiential learning. We do a lot of exploration of career pathways and opportunities so that students really have an understanding that, you know, there’s not one pathway. So the focus is really not what do I wanna become, but more of a who do I wanna become, and then looking for what fits with that.

Sam Demma (02:11):

Where did your passion develop in terms of helping students realize there isn’t just one pathway that exists for them?

Connie Shepherd (02:20):

 I think a little bit. I think a lot of it has to do with my journey. you know, I didn’t I didn’t graduate high school and go directly to university. I went to college and I worked as I worked for the Children’s Aid Society for a little while, and then I worked as an educational assistant for several years. And then as I just kind of experienced more opportunities, I said, you know what, I’m gonna go back to school and I’m gonna do my bachelor’s, and then I’m gonna do my Bachelor’s of education and become a teacher.

Sam Demma (02:54):

Yes. That’s so cool. Was there, I mean, the stigma around different pathways in d streaming Yes. Is something that’s really big today. What was that like when you were going through the system?

Connie Shepherd (03:08):

 so we had advanced general and basic Okay. As opposed to applied an academic. I think d streaming is amazing. I don’t know that, I think that at 13 years old, you should be making decisions that could have a long-term impact. I taught grade eight for about 10 years, and you would see students who at 13 are, they’re just not there yet. Mm-hmm. And then they’d come back and visit in grade, in grade 11 and they’d be like, miss, guess what I’m doing? And you could see their growth and they kind of found their pathway and they found their passion. And I mean, I see to students all the time think about the subjects that you really excel in. It’s because you love them. Hmm. Right. And so sometimes students just need a little more time to map that out.

Sam Demma (03:57):

Hmm. And you, you’ve obviously had a different pathway to education when you were a student 13 years old and someone asked you, Hey Connie, what do you wanna view when you grow up? What’d you tell them? A teacher? Or like, <laugh>, how did you land on it?

Connie Shepherd (04:10):

So I I, I was very interested in law.

Sam Demma (04:13):

Nice.

Connie Shepherd (04:14):

The con, the concept of borrowing that much money to go to school. cuz I had to pay for my education and borrow, borrow, borrow for my education. I couldn’t wrap my head around that. And at that time in the education system, no one really said to you, the best investment you can make is in yourself. Right. And I think students really need to understand that. And that’s where, you know, embedding financial literacy into what we do helps them see that bigger picture. Right. yeah. Investing in yourself. I think that’s huge. At the end of the day, I think I landed where I was meant to land. I go to work every day and just love what I do. I wake up energized every morning. And that’s what we want for our, our students in the future. Right. Happiness is not necessarily how much you make. Right? I mean, you could be making a ton of money and wake up every morning dreading going to your, to your job. That’s, that’s not happiness.

Sam Demma (05:13):

Hmm. It’s obvious that you’re passionate about what you do. The first time I talk to you so much energy is overflowing, <laugh>. where does your, where does your energy come from? Are there any things that you do to make sure that you can show up and be a hundred percent of yourself when you’re not at school?

Connie Shepherd (05:32):

Yeah. I, I just, I believe in being an authentic person. I, I am who I am. Right. yeah. I’m a mom to three kids and every day I walk into the classroom and I just, I wanna be the kind of teacher that I am hoping my children, my children have. Right. And I want to provide students with the opportunities that I hope my children have. I’m a huge advocate of public education. I think we have an incredible education system and I think if we really want this education system to shine, we need to be all in and in everything I do inside, outside school, I’m always all in

Sam Demma (06:10):

<laugh>. That’s awesome. <laugh>. it’s funny when you’re saying that I think back to a role model of mine. His name was Nipsey Hussle and he is a rapper and one of his phrases was All money in. And his whole philosophy was, everything we make, we’re putting back into this. We’re putting back, we’re gonna put it back into the community. And that’s different, different way, different life, but definitely a similar philosophy. for someone who’s listening, maybe a person who’s contemplating getting into education and doesn’t really know much about what your day-to-day job looks like, they might know what, you know, one teacher in a classroom’s job looks like. What exactly are you doing? and yeah. What does a day in the life look like or a week in the life look like?

Connie Shepherd (06:55):

So I serve a lot of schools. Some of my schools are very small, so sometimes I’m between two schools during the day. Like during the day of school in the morning, a school in the afternoon. just recently we’ve been doing some activities with coding. Nice. and so for some schools and I really try to see where teachers are at and see how can I best support them. Right. So coding is new in both the math and science curriculums. So I’m in the Catholic School Board, so we are preparing for Christmas. And so working with students on coding animated gifs.

Sam Demma (07:32):

Nice. <laugh>.

Connie Shepherd (07:33):

Right. You like that. and then teaching them how to send it as an email to a family member, a loved one, and teaching them how to schedule their send. So it goes out Christmas morning. so that kind of ties into our Catholic graduate expectation of being a ca a caring family member. Right. and just adding that creativity. And I think some of the highlights of, you know, just in the last week is, oh miss I got it. I figured it out. Which was amazing. But also watching the teachers learning and, and coding their own Christmas gifts and them celebrating that, oh, I got it. Right. But then I’ll have other schools that really wanna focus maybe a little bit more on equity or indigenous education. So with a school in the afternoon this week, we really kind of explored the land acknowledgement mm-hmm. And what the land acknowledgement really means and why it’s so important that we say it every day and we acknowledge it every day. so that was that. That’s, that’s the last week

Sam Demma (08:39):

<laugh>. Yeah. It it sounds like every week is very different from the previous one. Absolutely. what are some of the projects or initiatives you have worked on in school communities throughout the span of your career and experiential learning that when you think back on it brings you so much joy because one, you had so much fun working on it, and two, the students just got so much out of it.

Connie Shepherd (09:07):

So my partner and I, cuz I do have a partner and she’s amazing. And so my partner and I put together a Power Me Up conference, which empowers students to lead. so we work with our intermediate students and train them to lead sessions and they could be wellbeing, they could be STEM related. And so it’s, it’s a lot of work to put it together and work out all the logistics like transportation and getting all the different students to the location. But when the event takes place and you see students shine Right. And you see students who, who see themselves as leaders, that is incredible. Yeah. We have a large guest behind me. I’m so sorry. <laugh>.

Sam Demma (09:54):

We love large guests. <laugh>. This is awesome. one more family member entering the podcast, <laugh>.

Connie Shepherd (10:01):

That’s it.

Sam Demma (10:02):

That’s so cool. So the power, what, when did the concept for the Power Me Up conference come to life?

Connie Shepherd (10:08):

So the concept for the conference was my partner Vicky’s concept. Right. Her and her team. And at that point we were not partners as elementary guidance teachers cuz our role didn’t exist mm-hmm. <affirmative>. and so the first year we, we did it together, which was amazing. Right? So I had so much learning that I experienced, which was amazing. The second year, well that was 2020 and we were really excited to make it bigger and better. And then, I don’t know if you’ve heard, but there was like this pandemic thing. What’s that? And so, yeah, exactly. so that didn’t happen the next year. We were still in that situation where we couldn’t really travel or bring people together. So Vicki and I decided to go virtual things happen for a reason. and it was pretty incredible because we did the Power Me Up conference on a virtual level.

Connie Shepherd (11:06):

And rather than impacting let’s say 250 students, we were able to have over 1800 students participate. Right. Wow. Pro pros and cons. So no, it wasn’t in person. and we just took the different materials to different schools and teachers were in their classrooms. They were led through the stem or art activities. and they just did it in their classrooms and, you know, blew it up on Twitter with sharing all their pictures. Right. We had, we had a science activity where students were kind of exploring mold with Brett. And so we would drive by schools and all you could see in the schools in the windows was all this bread hanging <laugh>. And it was just, it was kind of awesome to drive by one school. Oh, there’s their bread. Oh, there’s another window full of bread <laugh>. It was, it was fantastic. So Right. We learned from experience, right. Which is what we, we do as experiential learning teachers. And so what we learned through that experience was we were able to have such a larger impact. So this year we are doing both virtual and in person Nice. so that we can again just share the joy, share the opportunities.

Sam Demma (12:23):

Is it a two day event? Three day event, one afternoon? What does it look like?

Connie Shepherd (12:27):

So the in-person event is one day this year we are going to do it four times. Cause our schools feed into four different high schools. Mm. So each high school is go going to be hosting a one day event for their feeder schools. which is great because we’re gonna get the kids into the high schools and they can, they can see themselves in that environment, see what that environment looks like. And then last year our virtual conference was over two weeks. This year it’s going to be over one week. So we’ll have four one day in persons and one one week virtual.

Sam Demma (12:59):

When you think about your entire journey through education, were there mentors that you had that, it sounds like collaboration has been a big part of your own learning, especially with Vicky and other people that you’ve worked with. Have there been any educators or teachers who, that you’ve learned a lot from or that you think kind of took you under their wing and mentored you when you were just getting started?

Connie Shepherd (13:22):

Abs Absolutely right. I mean, I think I, I was really blessed to work in a school where, and I, I was there for my entire career until I took on this role. Hmm. and it was just a sense of community in that school amongst all the staff. Everyone was there for each other. Everyone would, you know, if I would be like, I have an idea. okay, let’s sit and talk about it. Sometimes when I say I have an idea, people get a little nervous <laugh>. Right.

Sam Demma (13:48):

That’s good.

Connie Shepherd (13:49):

Or, or, or I’ll have, or I’ll have an administrator go, okay, how much is that gonna cost me? Right. But I’m like, no, no, no, but hear me out. Right. so at my school for a few years there, we did a whole school musical production.

Sam Demma (14:02):

Nice.

Connie Shepherd (14:03):

Which was amazing. So every educator came together. So we had educators working with students on the backdrop, educators working with students on sewing costumes. Every class had a song to participate in. Right. Students throughout the school were actors to bring something like that together, whole school level and to have the performance happen and have families there watching their children. Right. These are the things students remember. Right. If, if, if you said to one of my students who taught you py, in theory <laugh>, they’re gonna be like, I dunno. Right. but what do you remember about, you know, your year in grade seven or eight? Well I remember we had this huge school production, or I remember we went and did this. These are the things that students remember. Right. This is what makes their educational experience beautiful.

Sam Demma (15:05):

Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Yeah. I think back to when I was in grade seven, in grade eight, and some of my biggest memories are field trips or some of the dances <laugh>.

Connie Shepherd (15:16):

Absolutely.

Sam Demma (15:17):

And all, all the extracurricular activities and the learning in the classroom, you know, teaches you how to learn, I believe. But some of the stuff we don’t actually even remember years later and might not even be a big part of our life. But yeah. The memories last a lifetime. So that’s

Connie Shepherd (15:33):

A Right. And, and the learning how to learn.

Sam Demma (15:35):

Yeah.

Connie Shepherd (15:36):

Right. Like, so I, I really I really focus, I try to focus a lot on our transferrable skills. Right. So the idea of collaboration, right. So you’re gonna collaborate in your entire life. Yeah. Right. In different formats. Right. The idea of being innovative and creative in your thinking and problem solving in any environment you’re in, we need to be using these skills all the time. So ensuring that we’re providing students with opportunities to work on and develop and strengthen those, that skillset, it doesn’t matter where they land, those skills will be like key for their success.

Sam Demma (16:14):

I know with experiential learning, there’s really no boundaries. Like, you come up with some cool ideas and if people are on board, you give it a try and learn from the experience. have there been any unique tools or resources technologies or anything at all that you’ve found really helpful or really unique that you think even educators in a classroom could benefit from looking into or exploring?

Connie Shepherd (16:39):

Absolutely. So I use my blueprint a great deal. I don’t know if my blueprint was around when you were in school. It wasn’t around when I was in school. I think it’s an incredible tool. So I do an activity with students, I do it twice, right? So first is planning forward. So where they, they pop in, okay, well you know what, what, what do I have to take in grade nine? Right? Because you only have so many electives in grade nine. Yeah. Right. and then what do I have to take in grade 10? But then I’m like, well what are my options in grade 10? Right? Like, what is hospitality? And I’ll say, well, it means you get to eat your homework, which is awesome, <laugh>. Right. And, and if you like eating well, learning how to cook is kind of important. Right. and then we look at, you know, they’re like, why don’t I have to take science after grade 10?

Connie Shepherd (17:26):

Great question. Let’s talk about that. Right. Well, because now you get to kind of explore the sciences you’re super passionate about, oh my goodness, miss I can take law. Yeah. You could totally take law. That’s so having them just open those doors and see what those options are. But even having our teachers see, see them, we, we need to see ourselves as kindergarten to grade 12 educators. Right. So seeing like after they leave, after they move on, what are the, what are their opportunities? What’s available to them? Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And then we do another time in the spring where we do planning backward, where I choose a career. I’m kind of curious about, I explore that career and then I look at what’s the post-secondary pathway to get me there. Okay. So let’s say I have to take a college, a college course. So maybe I wanna do like computer animation of some sort, right?

Sam Demma (18:18):

Yes. so let’s say that’s what I wanna study in college cuz that’s my passion. Great. What are the requirements in grade 12? And then we work our way backwards all the way to grade nine so that they can see there’s a bit of a map to it. and if I don’t come back and do planning backward with students, they actually get upset with me. <laugh>, they’re like, miss remember you said we were gonna do this, but when that happens, what does that tell me as an educator? That this is important to them. Yeah. That they enjoy it. Right. Tinkercad is what I was using for coding the gifts. Kids were coding for two hours and then I say to them, you realize we’ve been doing math for two hours. Right. They’re like, no we haven’t. I go, absolutely. We have <laugh>. Right. We’ve been doing, like, we’ve been playing with Radius and and and size and we’ve been translating and rotating. Oh my gosh. We’ve been doing math for two hours. Yeah. You’re you’re learning. It’s insane. Right. <laugh> like, wow. Yeah. we use we videos. So we’re also doing a film festival in our area of schools. so allowing students to be creators. Right. So that’s a great opportunity for them.

Sam Demma (19:25):

The film festival is something you’ve done a few times now, right? Is

Connie Shepherd (19:29):

This is our, this is our second year

Sam Demma (19:31):

And last year I remember you were telling me some of the videos students created were just mind blowing. The

Connie Shepherd (19:36):

Mind blowing. Right. some students were doing animation, some students hand drew everything Hmm. but student voice came out. Hmm. Right. What they were passionate about. And again, just like when you, when you learn what you, what you en enjoy learning about and you, you take that pathway when you can share your voice and when you can share your story, students are all in mm-hmm. Right. Especially our adolescent learners because, you know, life is really all about me right now.

Sam Demma (20:10):

I think back to, there was a Steve Jobs commencement speech and he says the only way to do great work is to love what you do. And I think it’s so important to love the work that you’re doing. And if you haven’t found the thing yet, then keep looking in such an exploratory period of time when you’re in grade seven, grade eight and elementary school, even in high school. Trying to figure out, I was lucky enough that I had the access to my blueprint when I was a high school student and really enjoyed using it as well. And I would imagine that even back when I used it to what’s capable on the app now or the pathway opportunities that exist are very different. <laugh>. absolutely. Because there are so many unique opportunities now that didn’t even exist when I was in high school.

Connie Shepherd (20:53):

Well and we share that with students, right? Like 50% of these students are gonna be working career pathways that don’t exist. Hmm. Right. And when I try to explain that, cuz they look at me Right. With confusion on their face. Yeah. And I’ll be like, let’s just talk about Facebook. I know Facebook is for the old people, right. <laugh>. And of course they laugh, right? Because they’re like, my mom has Facebook mis, I’m like, of course they do. Right. I go, but it’s only 25 years old.

Sam Demma (21:15):

Hmm.

Connie Shepherd (21:15):

Like, it, it’s really, it’s it’s quite young. And now we think about the fact that there are people whose literal career is to manage a social media account for a company. I don’t even think that existed. Yeah. 15 years ago. Yeah. Right. So the idea of what’s to come, right? So this is why it’s the, it’s the who do I wanna become? Because we don’t know what the, what is <laugh>.

Sam Demma (21:42):

Hmm.

Connie Shepherd (21:42):

Right. We don’t know what’s coming.

Sam Demma (21:44):

Yeah. I I saw a post on LinkedIn the other day of a friend of mine who every year sets goals. And this year she said, I’m setting learning learnings, like things that I wanna learn as opposed to goals that I want to achieve. And I thought that was a really cool mindset shift a little bit away from the what do I wanna do to who do I wanna become? Right. Like what do I wanna learn? and then the the what kind of figures itself out based on your skillsets.

Connie Shepherd (22:10):

Exactly.

Sam Demma (22:12):

So yeah, I thought that was kind of cool connection. When you think about your journey through education you’ve obviously been in the industry now or in the space for a while, if you can Oh,

Connie Shepherd (22:24):

While we’ll go with a while. I like, thank

Sam Demma (22:26):

You <laugh>. You have lots of wisdom is what I’m trying to say. <laugh>. if you could, if you could like take all your experience, all the wisdom, travel back in time tap Connie on the shoulder in her first year of working in education, but with the experiences you’ve had now, not that you would change your path or anything, but what would you tell yourself cuz you thought it would’ve been helpful to hear when you were just jumping in and getting started?

Connie Shepherd (22:54):

Hmm. That’s a really good question. I, I think I think when I went to the faculty of education, right, like you walk out and you walk in and you wanna, you have all these great big ideas Hmm. Which you should always have. Don’t let go of those great big ideas cuz that’s, it’s incredible. Right. I think I’d tell myself to be kinder to myself. Right. I, I guess I didn’t have enough time and I wasn’t doing everything that I thought I was, was gonna be able to accomplish my first year teaching. Right. So, and, and I, when I talk to new educators now, I I I just, did you do your very best today of yeah, of course I did. Okay. Would you look at a student and say, you need to do better than your best? Well, no, I would never say that. But then why are we saying it to ourselves?

Sam Demma (23:53):

Hmm.

Connie Shepherd (23:54):

Right. Did I give my best today? Did I give a hundred percent today? Right. I’m gonna make mistakes along the way. That’s part of learning. Right. That’s part of that learning journey. So I, I would’ve probably told myself to be a little kinder to myself and not so hard on myself.

Sam Demma (24:09):

Hmm. Wh where do you think the, I think we’re all our biggest critics, but

Connie Shepherd (24:13):

A hundred percent

Sam Demma (24:14):

Did you play sports growing up? Where did that competition with yourself come from?

Connie Shepherd (24:18):

<laugh>? Yeah, so I did, I played, I played soccer for a really long time. where did I, I just, I’ve always been competitive with myself. I, I said, Hmm. One of my greatest strengths and one of my greatest weaknesses. I set very, very high expectations of myself.

Sam Demma (24:36):

Hmm.

Connie Shepherd (24:36):

Yeah.

Sam Demma (24:38):

Yeah.

Connie Shepherd (24:38):

I don’t, I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I don’t think that’s a terrible thing, but I think that I need to just be like, okay, so I didn’t achieve that yet. Right. The that power of yet. Right. I’ll, I’ll get there.

Sam Demma (24:52):

Yeah. And that’s funny. Like sometimes I have an idea of how something’s gonna play out in my mind and in, in, in real time. It doesn’t play out the same way it does in my mind and I have to remind myself it’s okay. Like it’s it’s okay if it doesn’t play out exactly as I envisioned it too. We just gotta continue moving forward and learning and iterating and rolling with the punches and

Connie Shepherd (25:15):

Yeah. And taking a detour and that’s okay. Yeah.

Sam Demma (25:18):

<laugh>. Yep. Taking a different road. I was saying exactly. I interviewed educator one time and she was telling me that a lot of her students feel this pressure, like you mentioned earlier, to figure out what they need to do or want to do at such an early age. And she would share this analogy about getting to a party and she, she framed this question. She said, Sam, if I told you your friend was having a house party, what are all the various ways you could get there? And I started listening out all the options. You know, I could ride my scooter, I could ride a bike, I could call an Uber, I could ask my mom, I could pay the pizza guy to pick me up. I could walk there, I could get a helicopter, <laugh> you know, like all these outrageous options. And she’s like, the reality is every one of those options will get you to the party at a different time.

Sam Demma (26:06):

Some will take you 10 times as long, but you will arrive at a party. And the reality is, it might not be the same party is that all your friends are everybody else, but the method of transportation that you choose is what makes your life interesting and, and a fun and unique adventure and journey. And I just thought, wow, what a powerful, what a powerful analogy. I gotta throw a house party now and get all my friends to walk, ride their bikes and <laugh>, scooter <laugh>. but yeah, that’s kind of what I think about when I think of encouraging young people to realize your path will look different and unique. And that’s not a, a bad thing. It just means you’re being true to yourself.

Connie Shepherd (26:45):

 and I think it’s awesome that the paths look different.

Sam Demma (26:48):

Yeah.

Connie Shepherd (26:48):

Right. I mean, the fact that we are individuals, we need to celebrate that. Why, why does my path need to look like someone else’s path? Yeah. It doesn’t.

Sam Demma (26:56):

Yeah.

Connie Shepherd (26:57):

That’s so true. Right. My path is me.

Sam Demma (26:59):

Amen. <laugh>. Yeah. I love it. <laugh>. Connie, thanks so much for coming on the show. This was a really fun conversation. If anyone wants to reach out, ask you a question, or share some ideas or collaborate on a big idea that might get them in trouble <laugh> <laugh>, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?

Connie Shepherd (27:18):

Yeah, people can email me or they can get hold of me on Twitter. Right? I am @Connie2Educ8. Yeah. <laugh>.

Sam Demma (27:34):

Thanks. Okay. Awesome. Connie, thanks for coming out the show. Keep up the great work and I look forward to chatting with you again soon.

Connie Shepherd (27:41):

Me too, Sam. Have a great weekend.

Sam Demma (27:44):

I believe that educators deserve way more recognition, which is why I’ve created the High Performing Educator Awards. In 2022, 20 educator recipients will be shortlisted, each of whom will be featured in local press. invited to record an episode on the podcast, and spotlighted on our platform. In addition, the one handpicked winner will be presented with an engraved plaque by myself. I will fly to the winner’s city to present this to them and ask that they participate in a quick photo shoot and interview on location. The coolest part, nominations are open right now, and they close October 1st, 2022. So please take a moment to apply or nominate someone you know or work with that deserves this recognition. You can do so by going to www.highperformingeducator.com/award. We can never recognize educators enough.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Connie Shepherd

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.

Mitchell Duram – Learning Support Lead at F.P. Walshe School in Fort Macleod and Student Leadership Advisor

Mitchell Duram - Learning Support Lead at F.P. Walshe School in Fort Macleod and Student Leadership Advisor
About Mitchell Duram

Mitchell Duram is the Learning Support Lead at F.P. Walshe School in Fort Macleod. He is currently teaching English Language Arts; he’s also taught Science, Mathematics, Social Studies, Health and Life Skills, and Career and Life Management (CALM). In his first year of teaching, he was awarded the Lieutenant Governor Social Studies Education Student Award and was nominated for the Edwin Parr Teacher Award.

With the support of his amazing colleagues, Mitchell leads Student Leadership (a school-based team) and Livingstone Leaders (a division-wide team). Both of these groups have dedicated student leaders who strive to make a difference in both their schools and in their communities.

Mitchell is passionate about supporting students in setting and achieving personal, academic, and career goals. He firmly believes in Livingstone Range School Division’s vision of “Every student, every day!”

Connect with Mitchell: Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

F.P. Walshe School

Awards – Alberta School Boards Association (ASBA)

YMCA Canada

Goose Chase App

University of Lethbridge – Faculty of Education

Alberta Student Leadership Summit

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 of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Mitchell Durram is the learning support lead at FP Walsh School in Fort McLoud. He’s currently teaching English language arts. He’s also taught science, mathematics, social studies, health and life skills, and career and life management. In his first year of teaching, he was awarded the Lieutenant, the Lieutenant Governor Social Studies Education Student Award, and was nominated for the Edwin Par Teacher Award. With the support of his amazing colleagues, Mitchell leads student leadership, a school-based team and living stone leaders, a divisional wide team. Both of these groups have dedicated student leaders who strive to make a difference in both their schools and in their communities. Mitchell is passionate about supporting students in setting and achieving personal, academic and career goals. He firmly believes in living stone range school divisions, vision of every student every day. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Mitchell and I will see you on the other side. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator. Today we have a very special guest. I was introduced to this individual Mitchell Durram after being in Claresholm, Alberta and getting stuck in a ditch during a snowstorm. <laugh> Mitchell, please take a moment to introduce yourself so everyone knows who you are and what it is that you do.

Mitchell Durram (01:32):

My name is Mitchell Durram. I am a teacher at FP Walsh School in Fort McLoud, Alberta and I wear many hats in my role as well too. So I’m involved with learning support and I’m also involved with our student leadership group, which is how Sam and I got connected. Our regional student leadership group, our school division, our school leadership group. I am lucky to work with amazing people to run those groups, and I am just very excited to be here this morning as well, too.

Sam Demma (02:09):

Awesome. Thanks so much for making the time and taking the time to join me on the show. What, when you think about your journey through education, if you go back all the way to the beginning of your career search as a student yourself, did you know when a teacher asked you, what do you wanna be when you grow up, that you wanted to be a teacher or working specifically in schools?

Mitchell Durram (02:31):

I did, when I was in elementary school, it was teacher right away, and then as I got a little bit older, my interests grew and I started trying out potential different careers in my mind. So at one point I wanted to be a lawyer. At one point I wanted to be a psychologist, but I would say it was probably around grade 11. I was working at the y, I was teaching swimming lessons. I was lifeguarding where I kind of came back to wanting to be a teacher because I saw the impact that I was having, even in swimming lessons. Like it’s a very, it’s a very practical impact, but it’s a powerful one. Yeah. Seeing, seeing kids go from being terrified of being in the water to swimming and having the best time and playing games. So that’s, I think where I really came back to being a teacher and, and wanting to pursue that in post-secondary.

Sam Demma (03:34):

You mentioned working at the Y was that something you stumbled into on your own accord? Did someone tell you, Mitchell, you should work at the y it would be a great role for you? I would love to hear a little more about that aspect of your journey.

Mitchell Durram (03:48):

Well, I had a big, big motivator in my mom who was like, Mitchell, like this, this is a really good opportunity to be a lifeguard, to be a swimming instructor, to have a really awesome summer job, to be able to meet new people. And so I was a little bit resistant at first to the lifeguarding part of it because I knew that I really liked working with kids, but I was a little bit nervous, I think, about being the lifeguard <laugh>. So it took some time to warm up to that. But I, I really, once I got into it, I could see the benefits of being in that role, and my confidence grew and it was, it was really good. But I, I had my mom be someone to say, this would be really, it’s a great opportunity and you should do it. So I’m very grateful for that.

Sam Demma (04:54):

Curious, now, did you have to ever save a life?

Mitchell Durram (04:59):

I have dealt with multiple seizures, which were all like, they all ended up being okay. So that was really good and Okay, good. <laugh>, you know, I’ve jumped into the pool maybe twice for some other stuff, but those were more minor in comparison, so Okay. Yeah. Made it through pretty, pretty good, I would say. Yeah.

Sam Demma (05:26):

Very cool. You did the job

Mitchell Durram (05:28):

<laugh>. Yeah, that’s right.

Sam Demma (05:30):

You mentioned one of the cool aspects of it was seeing a student or a young person who couldn’t swim and then months later seeing them swim and the transformation that occurred in their skills and abilities. And I would imagine it’s very similar in school, and I think that’s why so many people get into education. They want to make a difference. They want to speak into young people’s lives and see them transform. When you think of students that have been a part of your programs and in your class, or even just in the school at large, is there any stories of students you can think of where they started the school year, started the semester, were very shy and timid, and maybe they were going through a challenge that no one else really knew about, and by the end of the year blossomed like a butterfly, <laugh>, you know, like, is there any stories like that that come to mind? And if it’s a serious story, you can also change their name or use a different name to keep it private.

Mitchell Durram (06:29):

Yeah, I, I’m lucky that I work in a, a grade six to 12 school. Hmm. And so I see students starting in grade six, and I am lucky enough to see them grow up over the years and the confidence, the sense of belonging that happens over those years. I can think of so many students who we look at in grade six and we see all of their strengths and we see all of their stretches, all of their areas for growth. And by the time they hit grade 10, 11, and 12, just the strides, the gains that they’ve made in both their strengths and their stretches, they’ve become more strong in what they already were, were strong in. And they’ve used a lot of that strength to improve in the areas that they want to improve in. And we have an amazing team of staff at our school. We have an amazing admin team. We are very lucky to have a lot of supportive people. And so I think of some of the school traditions that we have that help students to get from point A to point B, I think of the classroom activities that we do to get students from point A to point B. There’s just so many students that come to mind when you ask that question that it’s hard to, it’s hard to narrow it down. Yeah.

Sam Demma (08:08):

You got me curious now, when you said school traditions and classroom activities, are there any traditions exclusive to the school you’re at now that you think are really awesome that helps students? I would, I would love to hear about them. <laugh>.

Mitchell Durram (08:21):

Yeah. There’s one that comes to mind that when I first started at, at the school that I’m at at Walsh, I was just in awe of the amount of participation and the sense of belonging that it brought. So it’s it’s called Shark Week and it is coming up, actually, it’s in, it’s always in our last week of school before the break. And it stands for something. Can anyone tell you what it stands for? Probably not. <laugh>. I think it’s, I think Shark is super happy. Awesome. Really cool with a K and then week I think starts with Walsh, but then I, I lose the acronym from there. Nice.

Mitchell Durram (09:08):

<laugh>. and it’s essentially just a week long set of activities during our lunch hour where we have students in teams and they do friendly competitions. So our first day is usually we change it up from time to time, but our first day is usually window decorating contest. And at our peak before C O V I D, we had, I think it was something like 22 teams. And these are teams of five to seven. Okay. And we have a school of just around 400. So like that’s a huge number of students participating in this event. And then there’s people who aren’t participating that are watching and cheering and, and partaking still as, as spectators, which is really cool. So yeah, our first day is window decorating. Our second day we usually have some sort of like human decorating contests, so like <laugh> and we have paper and like different decorations and ornaments. the third day we usually do some sort of gingerbread building competition. Nice. The fourth day we do a scavenger hunt. We, in the past have used this really cool app called Goose Chase, and it has little different activities that you can do and it gets points, it gives you points for those different activities. And then our last day usually is culminating in a lip sync battle.

Sam Demma (10:49):

Nice.

Mitchell Durram (10:50):

<laugh>, which is very fun. Very, very fun.

Sam Demma (10:52):

That’s so cool. And it’s different. yeah. This Goose Chase app sounds kind of unique too. Is it something where you can create the games you wanna use on it and make it your own? Or is it just an app filled with games?

Mitchell Durram (11:08):

No, you, it’s essentially a way to create a scavenger hunt with points. So you put in the activities that you want and then you determine how many points. And it’s a variety of activities. So you can take pictures, you can do voice recordings, you can do little like quiz questions. And then there’s someone who is kind of running it back in a classroom and awarding points and you can award bonus points. So if they do something with some extra pizzazz, they can get some bonus points. Nice. So it’s a really, really cool app. And it’s free, which is also nice.

Sam Demma (11:48):

Get it on the app store today,

Mitchell Durram (11:49):

<laugh>. Yeah, that’s right. We’ll plug for Goose Chase. That’s

Sam Demma (11:53):

So cool. Okay, let’s go back to high school or elementary school. You knew you wanted to be a teacher then you explored into different careers. Tell me about the first role you did in education and what brought you to where you are today?

Mitchell Durram (12:08):

Well, I went to the University of Lethbridge, which is quite well known for its education program. Hmm. And that’s kind of what drew me to Lethbridge. I grew up in Calgary and so Lethbridge, it was really nice because it was close, but it was also, it was also a good program just for teaching and education in general. Nice. And so through that program I’ve done, I did three Practica. The first one I did in Calgary, the second one I did in Cardston. And the third one I actually did at the school I’m teaching at right now. So I was very lucky and grateful because I did my last practicum and they liked me enough to keep me around and then keep me around a little bit more. And here I am about four years later and I am very, like I said, very grateful to still be at the school where I did my first practic, my last practicum. yeah, it kind of feels like home a little bit.

Sam Demma (13:20):

Yeah. That’s awesome. Did you jump in both feet forward and start helping with extracurricular activities, student council, those sorts of things from day one? Or did you transition into those?

Mitchell Durram (13:34):

I was pretty much in it from day one. I started with student leadership, kind of through my mentor teacher. So in your last practicum at the U of L, they pair you with a teacher who is your support person and who observes you and gives you lots of feedback and, and is an amazing resource. And so she actually is the person that I’m still running student leadership with at our nice school level. And she, she signed up for it and just because she was running it and I was in there, I helped out where I could and was just inspired to be a part of that group as well because the students are amazing and the, the things that we’re talking about, like school belonging and and school spirit are things that are important to me too, very important to me. So it just made a lot of sense to join in and, and, and be an advisor for that group.

Mitchell Durram (14:42):

And then for the regional district level group, I kind of jumped in both feet for that too. Nice. And it was just, it was a field trip. We had word from our central office that Yep. We are meeting as a Livingston leaders at that point it was the Regional Council of Student Leaders. Okay. we’re meeting as a group and we’d love to have some students from Walsh and I was the person who could bring them over to central office. So I had the opportunity to do that. And then it was actually at that meeting that we were talking about going to the Alberta Student Leadership Conference. Nice. And I was very on board with that and it just kind of grew from there. And then I think it was the first full covid year that I was asked to be kind of one of the main advisors for that group. Nice. Along with another colleague who is just so wonderful. And so I got to take on a little bit more responsibility there too, which was amazing.

Sam Demma (15:52):

How do you think building relationships with students during these extracurricular activities differs from building relationships with students in the classroom? I think they’re both both very possible and it happens in both situations, but do you think there’s like a special bond that gets formed in those, in those extracurricular activities? And if so, like how and why? <laugh>?

Mitchell Durram (16:18):

I think they both help each other, if that makes sense. So me having relationships with students in a different light in an extracurricular setting, strengthen my relationships with students in the classroom that I was teaching. I think it also though helps when I have a really strong relationship with a student in class and I see them being a leader. Mm. And I can say to them, I see this here. And I think it would make a huge difference in our school life and potentially in yours too, if you maybe joined in here as well mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And so I think both have so much opportunity attached to them that it’s hard to say one is stronger or more special than the other, but it is certainly really beneficial to see students, to see people in just a different light in a different situation. And I, I love spectating at sports events. I have a very busy life on top of work and just outside of school as well too. Yeah. And so I would love to coach, but I just, I don’t have that opportunity because of my time constraints mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And so even there, I, I get to see students in a different light by going to watch a game and the relationship that a coach might have with a student is going to be different than what I might have. But it’s, there’s just so much opportunity in all of those different areas. I think.

Sam Demma (18:00):

I love that. What a great perspective on the difference, but also the strength of having those both as a part of your practice. I, when I was in elementary school and even couple first years of high school, whenever I would see one of my teachers at the grocery store, I would be like, oh my God, you know, miss Sons, what are you doing here? And it was funny because at the younger ages, you think as a student, like, this teacher lives at school, like they don’t have a life <laugh>, you know, like they come, they teach and this is what they do. And it’s like, no, they’re also human beings that go home and have a life outside of work. And I think when you fill your cup by doing other activities away from the school, it helps you show up as a hundred percent of yourself and pour more into your work. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, you mentioned, you know, that you have a very busy life outside of the school building which I think is true for every, every human being outside of their work situations. And I’m curious to know, what are the some of the things that you do outside of school that help you fill your cup and enjoy the journey that is life <laugh>?

Mitchell Durram (19:13):

Yeah. Well, I am lucky to have a group of friends where every week we, we play Dungeons and Dragons.

Sam Demma (19:22):

Nice.

Mitchell Durram (19:22):

Very fun. And we are doing that virtually just because we have people kind of in different locations that are joining in, which is really nice as well. Cool. we, we have that weekly and then I love movies, so I try and watch a movie as as often as I can. Nice. And I love being with friends. I often drive up to Calgary where I have a lot of friends still and, and visit with them and, and get the chance to just relax and be around people. I find that gives me a lot of energy and then making time just for myself as well too, to reflect and think about the day and my, my drive, cuz I don’t actually live in Fort McLeod, so my drive is about a half an hour. Mm. And I am really grateful for that time. I often have people say, oh, those, those highways must, you must dread them. and sometimes I do <laugh>. Absolutely. Yeah. But I am appreciative of the half an hour there and back to kind of wind up for my day and, and think, and you know, if I need to blast Taylor Swift and just nice live that life or if I need to just kind of sit in silence and, and think about the, the day and transition into home that’s been really helpful and, and really positive for me as well too.

Sam Demma (20:56):

Mm. Spotify or Apple music?

Mitchell Durram (20:59):

Apple music.

Sam Demma (21:01):

Me too. Actually. <laugh> Nice.

Mitchell Durram (21:03):

Okay. Yeah.

Sam Demma (21:04):

But I feel the fomo around this time of year when all my friends are posting their Spotify wrapped stacks on social.

Mitchell Durram (21:11):

There’s, there’s an Apple replay now though, which has a similar thing. So don’t have to feel completely left out. That’s how I felt anyways. <laugh>,

Sam Demma (21:20):

If you said Spotify, I was gonna ask you how many minutes on Taylor Swift <laugh>.

Mitchell Durram (21:24):

Oh, a lot. She was, when I did my apple replay, it didn’t say, I can’t remember if it said how many minutes. Yeah. But she was my number one artist. Listen to artist and album and song, I think

Sam Demma (21:37):

<laugh>. Yeah. And triple 11. Yeah. That’s so cool. yeah, these are all awesome things. I think for me, especially around this time of year when the sun’s not out as much, it’s starting to get cold. my lips are cracking. I also try and make time to see friends cuz I feel a little bit of a mental change and a shift. I love that you have a weekly appointment with your friends to play virtual board games. That’s freaking awesome. And I think it’s so important that as educators we maintain these habits that bring us happiness and fulfillment and connection and community because things get difficult, you know? And it’s important to have those pillars in our lives. so thank you for sharing some of yours. When you think of mentors, people that have played a role in your professional and personal growth, who comes to mind and what did they do for you? Or what do they do for you that makes a big difference?

Mitchell Durram (22:34):

Well, I think of, and I mentioned this before, my mom is a big mentor for me mm-hmm. <affirmative> and an important person in my life. And the encouragement I think, and financial support and, and, and, and <laugh> how often has been really instrumental in me getting to where I want to get to. Mm. I think of teachers when I was younger who supported me. I think of my grade nine teacher. She was really helpful in me losing a little bit of my perfectionism. Didn’t go away completely <laugh>, but helped me to see that it’s good to look at the bigger picture and not always focused so hard on the finer details of,

Mitchell Durram (23:32):

Especially when it was giving me a lot of anxiety and making me really frustrated with myself at times. And she helped me to grow with that I think quite a bit. and I think of my grade 11 teacher who also continued on with that work of helping me to be less of a perfectionist, but also helping me to think more deeply about issues Nice. And understand different complexities that I was maybe missing before. and then I think of a lot of the teachers at the school at Walsh where I’m working right now, who have supported me along the way and have been resources for me to go to and say, I really don’t know what to do here. Can you help me? Help me figure this out? And have always been there to help me to do that. I think of all of the the different things that I have struggled with and grown because of in my role. And I wouldn’t have been able to grow without that support of knowing that, you know, failure is going to happen and that’s okay. Yeah. We support you and we’re in your corner. That sort of, that sort of sentiment. So I really appreciate those people as well too. And I am still a relatively new teacher. Like I, I have only been at teaching for four years and so there’s still so much left to learn and there always will be. Yeah. And I am lucky to have so many great mentors at my current school to help me to, to grow and to, to be a better, more effective educator.

Sam Demma (25:27):

It sounds like there are so many connections you’ve made at this school and so many kindhearted people willing to help and support and I’m sure they learn just as much from you as you do from them because whether it’s a year in two years, 20 years, everyone brings a different flavor and a different perspective and different past experiences, which lead to unique perspectives. people are one of the main resources in education. Are there any other resources that you found really helpful? whether that’s apps like Goose Hunt, <laugh>, or associations that you found helpful just in general, like is there any other things you found helpful that another educator could benefit from looking into?

Mitchell Durram (26:15):

Definitely. I am very lucky in my current role to be working with lots of different external agencies and the, the supports that they can provide and the resources that they can provide. I was teaching Health last year and then career in life management the year before. And so being able to use resources from Alberta Health Services and being able to use resources from money mentors and being able to use resources from, there’s so many organizations out there that are wanting and excited to help. the student leadership side of things like the Canadian Student Leadership Association is just so fantastic and we’re grateful for the conference that they’ve put on and the, the other events that they host. but there’s so many great ideas shared in their blog and in their newsletter that it is very worthwhile to to be involved with that organization. And I also really, really like having just so many resources available. Sometimes I think it can be really overwhelming just

Sam Demma (27:42):

Because so many options.

Mitchell Durram (27:43):

Yeah, that’s right. And it’s, it’s really challenging to kind of narrow down what you need in that moment. Yeah. And so I think I have tried to take the approach and sometimes it’s really challenging to do this, but of looking at one or two resources per semester maybe and seeing what I can use and what supports are available through those resources or those organizations. And then implementing that incrementally. So it’s not so overwhelming. I remember too, I think I, I’ve got this advice through my university education because so many times I had professors say, don’t, don’t look for YouTube videos during your class and show them <laugh>. Cause there are so many. Yeah. And you need to watch them beforehand and you need to make sure that it’s gonna work for you. And so I I almost think about these resources and organizations like YouTube because there’s so many and they’re all so wonderful for different reasons. It’s just finding what’s gonna work for you and taking the time to look at that. And it’s gonna be overwhelming because we all know when you search in YouTube, there’s gonna be hundreds of results and it just takes some time. So, so yeah. I I would say if, if anyone is struggling with that, like I did it, it is good to narrow it down.

Sam Demma (29:20):

Hmm. Ah, that’s awesome. Thanks so much for sharing that. If you could travel back in time, tap your younger self on the shoulder four years ago and say, Mitchell, this is a piece of advice that you don’t know you need to hear yet, but you need to hear it. And not because you would change anything about your path, but you thought it would be great advice for someone who is just starting to teach.

Mitchell Durram (29:45):

I think it’s really challenging to have work-life balance in this profession. And I still am working on that. That’s something that’s still a professional goal of mine. And I think the advice I would give myself would be it doesn’t need to be 100% perfect, amazing. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> every single time all the time in every single moment. And we recently did professional development in a needs-based approach for students and meeting meeting students where they are. Nice. And something that really stood out was this idea that we don’t need to get it right all the time. And there’s a lot of power in forgiving and apologizing and that is for yourself and that is for students as well. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And so I think knowing what I know now and knowing the challenges of work-life balance, it is worthwhile to put your heart and soul into this. And I can’t think of any educator that I know that doesn’t do that, but it is also worthwhile to know that it doesn’t have to be amazing.

Mitchell Durram (31:26):

Perfect. Wonderful. Every single second of the day. And knowing that will give you a little bit more time for yourself I think, too. yeah. And I also think of Brene Brown, who I love her Ted Talks and really wanna read her, her books as well too. Books. Book I think books now. Books. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Anyways I think of her Ted Talk, the power of vulnerability and being vulnerable is again a powerful thing. Mm-hmm. And I think being vulnerable with students is powerful too. So I think my other small piece of advice would be saying to myself, it’s okay to have vulnerable moments with students. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And it’s a good thing to have vulnerable moments with students.

Sam Demma (32:27):

I love that. Sometimes students are sitting in front of you, look really looking up to you and putting you, you know, you on a pedestal. Like you’re almost a superhero to them and sharing the vulnerable moments helps humanize yourself in the classroom and helps them relate to you because they are struggling and going through things as well. And yeah, I think that’s really, that’s really great solid advice still. So thank you for, for sharing. If an educator is listening to this and wants to reach out to you, ask you a question, join your virtual board game <laugh>. I’m totally joking. but if someone wants to reach out and ask you a question or share resources, what would be the best email address or way for them to get in touch with you?

Mitchell Durram (33:09):

Probably through email would be the best and it would be duramm@lrsd.ab.ca.

Sam Demma (33:22):

Awesome. Mitchell, thank you so much for taking the time to come on the show. I appreciate it. Keep doing great work and I look forward to keeping in touch and seeing you soon.

Mitchell Durram (33:32):

Absolutely. Thanks so much.

Sam Demma (33:36):

I believe that educators deserve way more recognition, which is why I’ve created the High Performing Educator Awards. In 2022, 20 educator recipients will be shortlisted, each of whom will be featured in local press. invited to record an episode on the podcast, and spotlighted on our platform. In addition, the one handpicked winner will be presented with an engraved plaque by myself. I will fly to the winner’s city to present this to them and ask that they participate in a quick photo shoot and interview on location. The coolest part, nominations are open right now, and they close October 1st, 2022. So please take a moment to apply or nominate someone you know or work with that deserves this recognition. You can do so by going to www.highperformingeducator.com/award. We can never recognize educators enough.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Mitchell Duram

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.

Jairek Robbins – Performance Coach, Best-Selling Author, International Speaker

Jairek Robbins – Performance Coach, Best-Selling Author, International Speaker
About Jairek Robbins

Jairek Robbins (@jairekrobbins) is one of the worlds leading business and life strategists. He is a Best-Selling author. FastCompany calls him inspiring and says he’ll make your life less ordinary. Forbes says Jairek will teach you how to succeed. Deepak Chopra will advise you to go to Jairek to help create meaning and fulfillment in your life.

Brian Tracy applauds Jairek’s ability to teach people how to develop meaning and purpose in life and then to make a difference in the lives of others. Looking for ways to level up in life and business? Jairek is your guy. You can connect with Jairek here: https://www.instagram.com/jairekrobbins/

Connect with Jairek: Email | Instagram | Twitter | Facebook

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

jairekrobbins.com

Ideal Day Exercise – Jairek Robbins

Live It!: Achieve Success by Living with Purpose by Jairek Robbins

The Complete Guide to Activating High Performance by Jairek Robbins

Learn It Live It Give It with Jairek Robbins Podcast

FastCompany

Forbes

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. A few years ago, I had a podcast called The High Performing Student. I did about 250 episodes on the show, and every episode was geared towards helping students become the best versions of themselves. There were a few episodes and interviews in particular that I found so valuable, that I thought I would share them on this podcast as well. And you heard the first two earlier this week, one with Dr. Ivan Joseph, another one was Sarah Wells. And I’m just as excited for today’s interview with Jairek Robbins. Jairek Robbins is one of the world’s leading business and life strategists. He is a bestselling author. Fast company calls him inspiring and says he’ll make your life less ordinary. Forbes says Jairek will teach you how to succeed. Deepak Chopra will advise you to go to Jairek for help for creating meaning and fulfillment in your life.

Sam Demma (01:02):

Brian Tracy applauds Jairek’s ability to teach people how to develop meaning and purpose in life, and then to make a difference in the lives of others. Jairek Robbins is Anthony Robbins, Tony Robbin’s son, and is doing such amazing work in the world with businesses, individuals and philanthropically. So I hope you enjoy this very meaningful conversation with Jairek, and I will see you on the other side. Jairek, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Student podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show. I actually want you to start by reciting to the audience what your ideal day would look like and you don’t have to get it word for word, but let the audience know what your ideal day would look like and give us a peek into who you are and, and what you appreciate and love in life.

Jairek Robbins (01:49):

Sure. So are they familiar with the Ideal Day concept?

Sam Demma (01:54):

That’s a great question. They should be if they’ve been listening to this show for a long time, but you can give ’em a little refresher as well.

Jairek Robbins (02:00):

Okay. So I, I remember I was living in Africa. I was teaching organic farming. I was in a village just outside of Jinja. It’s this little farming village. It was a pineapple village is where I was. And I got malaria twice. At one point, the doctor sat me down and told me I had six days left to live. And I remember thinking at 20, what, 22 years old, 21 years old. Like, that was not the plan. And, and there were so many other things I wanted to do and, and I, I wanted to get married. I wanted to travel. I wanted to finish school. I wanted to have a business. I wanted to have a child. I wanted to, to help more. I wanted so many things just flash before my eyes. And I remember sitting down and thinking, wow, number one, I hope he’s not correct.

Jairek Robbins (02:49):

I hope I have more than just six days, but if I only did have six days, how would I need to live my life so that on day six, I could high five myself on the way out and be thrilled to do so? And I remember thinking about that, and j j just wondering like, what would I, how would I wanna live? How would I want to treat people? How would I wanna be remembered? How would I want to remember the people around me? And, and I started to think about this day, and it was more about creating little memories each day, soaking in the magnificence of life, just being able to see the wind blow through the leaves and talk to someone and, and say something that might put a smile on their face. And as all of this started to come together, I realized that my ideal day was just being able to reach people, you know, and, and bring a little light into their world.

Jairek Robbins (03:59):

And I was like, that. If I could just do that, that would be amazing. Now, I also realized that without a vision, people perish. And so I thought about that and I was like, well, maybe I should have a vision beyond the sixth day, otherwise I’m kind of in trouble <laugh>. So, so I thought about it and it’s like, well, all those things I just flashed before my eyes that I said I wanted to do. I better write ’em down and, and not just hope they happened, but actually have a plan that they were gonna happen. So I I, I literally had a little journal with me and I started writing down like the specific things I would do and, and finishing school and finding someone to get married with, that we love each other, and, and falling head over heels in love and, and having a family and traveling the world more and making a difference, and building a school and building a hospital.

Jairek Robbins (04:48):

And, and like all these things started to come out. And then it seemed a little overwhelming. I was like, how in the heck am I gonna do all of that <laugh>? And so I was bouncing between like, just observing the wind in the leave, in the leaves to like, oh my God, there’s so much I want to do. How in the heck am I gonna do it all? And what I figured out was if I could just summarize in the future what just one day would look like, maybe, maybe I could just make that one day happen. Hmm. And then my thought is like, well, wait a second. If I could make the one day happen, I could probably make the whole vision happen. Yeah. But let me just figure out the one day. And so for me, that’s where that one day, the ideal day process came from.

Jairek Robbins (05:40):

 and at the time, I don’t remember the exact one I created back then, but I remember when I got home and I got a little bit healthy, and I, I finished school and I was going into business. I remember I was working really hard one year, and I sat down and I said, you know, if I could have, and this is a great phrase to start with, if I could have it all my way, mm, if I could have it all my way, I probably won’t get it all my way. But if I could have it all my way, here’s what I’d put in my ideal day. And, and so I just wrote it all down as if I could have it all my way. And so I just thought about it. If I could have it on my way, here’s what life would look like.

Jairek Robbins (06:17):

And I’d wake up in the morning, I would work out, I, I would be with someone that I’m head over heels in love with. we, we would, you know, meditate and journal and mentally, emotionally, physically, spiritually prepare for our day. We’d go get a vigorous workout in. We, we would do something together around, you know, connecting and deepening our relationship, filling each other’s buckets and cups so we feel full and overwhelmed, deepening our connection to each other. fast forward, you know, have some great breakfast, and then get into the day. And, and in the day, I’d be part of creating things that help people. That’s something that’s really important to me. I, I, I seem to like humans a a lot and, and I like to help ’em, you know, how can I help these people live a better life, be a little bit more happy, be a little bit more healthy, be a little bit more fulfilled in all that they’re doing?

Jairek Robbins (07:09):

And so, over the years, we’ve learned how to specialize in three spaces, which is how to help people discover and create lasting love. How to help people have, you know, increased personal performance mentally, emotionally, physically, and how to help people you know, to grow their businesses and, and create a, a profit center that can fund the life they wanna live. And, and so as we’ve done these things, that was part of my vision back then is creating elements, creating content, creating experiences, creating tools that would help people make this kind of stuff happen. Fast forward throughout the day be able to take time for lunch and, and go spend time laughing and communicating with someone I really love. Fast forward even more. when it came time to the sunset, one of my favorite things my wife and my son and I go do every single day as we go out to the beach here and we watch the sunset for 15, 20 minutes, and, and being able to just soak in the magnificence of life every day and observe just the miracles of nature happening before your eyes fast forward into the evening I’d probably be either laughing, so watching something or doing something that, that brings laughter and joy or learning, doing something that, that we could learn and, and, and deepen our knowledge or experience around something.

Jairek Robbins (08:26):

And so my wife and I right now we’re taking accounting at, at Harvard online. So we do our accounting course every night. And, and we’re just learning more about you know, the books of accounts and how to use ’em and, and how to track ’em and all that jazz. So, so we’re, we’re doing all these things, but that was kind of the vision. And then before bed, just reflecting and reviewing, if this was my last day, what are the things I’m truly, truly grateful for? Before wrapping it all up, I love that

Sam Demma (08:54):

There’s so much to unpack. And you hit on so many major buckets, things that you would call the majors versus the minors. You talk about it in chapter two. You hit on health when it comes to working out. you hit on professional, you know, when it came to working and creating products that help others. Jim Ron always used to say, we have to stop majoring in minor things. And I think you’re someone who believes in that as well. What are the major categories of life and why is it important that we focus on those big buckets before we address all the other sometimes trivial stuff?

Jairek Robbins (09:30):

Sure. Great question. If you look at majors, how, and I believe they’re different for different people, there’s some that are gonna be the same across the board, but, but people have their priorities in life and, and they’re gonna figure out what’s most important to them. That the key with a major, if you look at it, you gotta ask yourself, by investing a significant period of effort, thought, energy, resources into this part of my life. Hmm. Number one, is it good for me? Now, people like to try to argue this and, and, and debate. There’s certain things that are good for you, and there’s certain things that are not. Period. And, and you, you, you know, if you go to the doctor, there’s certain things that are good for you. There’s certain things that are not, some things will put you into the hospital. Some things will get you out of the hospital.

Jairek Robbins (10:22):

And, and just think of it that way. So, so when you think of kind of where you’re gonna focus, are these things good for you? Number two, life isn’t just about you. That’s why when I was saying, Hey, as much as if I could have it all my way, that’d be great. Well, the truth is, life isn’t just about me. Life is about all of us. So the second part is not only is it good for you, but is it good for other people? Hmm. Is it good for other people? Number three, does it feel good? You know, you can find something that’s good for you, good for others, but my gut, it, it feels like crap. It’s horrible. Yeah. But, but number three is, is it, does it feel good? And then number four, is it good for the greater good of humanity? The whole, not just people alive now, but people alive. You know, when we’re dead in the future, is it something that’ll serve much longer than us? And so if you think about that and you just kind of analyze all the major categories of your life, if you analyze all the things you spend the most time doing, just ask, is it good for you? Is it good for others? Does it serve? And do I enjoy doing it? And, and if there’s a sweet spot where it hits all four, my goodness, it’s probably pretty smart thing to keep doing.

Jairek Robbins (11:39):

But if it doesn’t feel good, it’s not good for you, it’s not good for others, and it doesn’t serve, it’s probably a distraction. It’s probably something that you’re using to numb or avoid the things you really need to be focused on. And so I use that kind of framework to think about this and then look at the categories and say, you know, is being healthy as a human, mentally, emotionally, physically, spiritually healthy? I don’t know. Do you think that’s a good idea or bad idea? I’ve yet to meet a person who goes, yeah, it’s a bunch of crap. You don’t need help. <laugh>. That’s a major, that’s a big one. What about, you know, there’s a big uprising right now over the, the horrors and, and how horrible capitalism ish. Okay? But at this point in history, you’re going to either need a trade, which a tradesman or a tradeswoman was someone who knew how to make horseshoes or knew how to you know, sew things into garments or knew how to go and source food.

Jairek Robbins (12:53):

so you’re either gonna need a trade, some value you can add to society, that society would trade you a place to live supplies and things you need to survive and live a life, or you’re gonna need a job, you’re gonna need something you can do as a job or a business that’ll provide you income. And, and you can use the money to then trade for the supplies and stuff you need. So either you’re gonna need to have some value within you that you can trade for it, or you’re gonna need to have some type of income or job or business to get there. So that’s kind of a major, you know, I was teasing my little cousin. I was like, I don’t know if the pizza guy is gonna give you a pizza if you just give ’em four high fives <laugh>. Like, it doesn’t generally work that way nowadays.

Jairek Robbins (13:40):

You, you’re gonna need something to offer, you’re gonna need some value to bring the life. And the most predominant value in the world right now is some sort of currency. And a currency is nothing more than agreed upon element of life that people have agreed, ah, this is valuable. I always thought about this. If you, if you take a dollar and look at the physical form of it, and you’re like, what is the tactical value of a dollar? Hmm, not much. Like if, I mean, you can’t do much with the actual thing. Like you could kind of eat it, but that’s not gonna work out well long term. You might be able to light it on fire, but that’ll last like 42 seconds. <laugh>, what do you, what can you do with it? Nothing. Yeah. But we carry this stuff around, or the digital version because society as a whole, this community or group or, or or tribe of people has come up with the concept and agreed that this is worth a certain amount of value.

Jairek Robbins (14:42):

Hmm. If people stopped agreeing that it was worth that, there’s no use for it. I remember I was flying to go see a client in London and I landed, ran to the train station, got to the, you know, central London, ran, hopped in a taxi, took off, got to the meeting a few minutes late, and I went to go pay the guy and I said, Hey, can I just pay with a credit card or Venmo or pay? Like, what do you got? And he goes, no, I only take cash. And I was like, can I pay you with US dollars? He went, no, how much is it? He goes, 66. You know, it was like 66 or 67 pounds, which is British currency. I was like, how about I’ll give you a hundred dollars, it’s worth more. Or I I 150. Like, I offered him significantly more than just a different currency. And he went, no, I don’t want that. What am I gonna do with it? <laugh>, I like to take it to the bank. They’ll give you pounds. You’ll have more pounds from this than I than if I just gave you pounds. She was like, no.

Jairek Robbins (15:40):

I was like, okay, gimme a minute. So I went inside, I went to the bar, I’m like, maybe this person’s smart. I’ll give you a hundred dollars if you give me 50 pounds or 60 pounds, whatever it was, like, you will make money on the transaction. Bartender looked at me and said, what am I supposed to do with that? I was like, you gotta be kidding me, <laugh>. So I went to my client at the table and I said, here, I’m in a weird predicament. Can I give you a hundred dollars or $200 in return for 66 pounds? And he is like, dude, here’s the money. Don’t even worry about it. And I started laughing. I’m like, no, no, I’ll pay for dinner. He’s like, no, no, you’re good. And I’m like, come on. And, and so I finally went and paid the guy pounds. And I just realized in the moment, they didn’t agree to the value of the bill.

Jairek Robbins (16:26):

That’s it. And when someone stops agreeing to the value of the bill, it’s not worth anything. Now, it’s interesting is that’s not true with your life. Someone else doesn’t have to see value for you to be valuable, but you have to be able to look in the mirror and see value for you to be valuable. So if you don’t see value in you, there’s no value there, no matter how much the rest of the world sees it. And so that there, there’s factors in here that are important of perception. Now we all agree that certain things are valuable. And so that’s kind of a major, you know, we have to agree on some type of value exchange in order to gather the resources in, in life you wanna live. So that, that would consider that a major, being able to add value of some way or some sort to be able to exchange for the things that you’re looking for.

Jairek Robbins (17:21):

 relationships, I’ve, I’ve met a lot of people and no matter how much value you add, and no matter how much you’re loved by society, and no matter how big of of a car you can get, or house you can buy or trips you can take, when you add all this stuff up, if you don’t find someone to share it all with, it doesn’t feel like it’s worth much. And so that’s kind of a major one. Can you find someone to share life with? Like, first, can you figure it out? But then second, once you kind of figured it out, can you find someone to share it with? Otherwise it gets pretty lonely. other categories that exist in there how are you gonna manage your resources every day? How are you gonna manage your time? How are you gonna manage your focus? You know, no matter how great your life is, if you sat there and focused on the one thing that was wrong with it all day long, you’re not gonna have a pretty great life.

Jairek Robbins (18:13):

You’re gonna have a horrible life cuz you’re focused on the one thing that’s wrong with your whole life versus no matter how challenging your life is, if you focused on the two things that are good about it, you’re gonna feel pretty good regardless of the circumstance. So I think focus is probably a, a pretty big major where you focus your time, effort, and resources. So there’s lots of these, but you can sort through ’em and just make pe you know, if, if you make yourself think, you’ll start to realize there’s a pattern in the pattern is if it’s not good for you, it’s not good for others and it doesn’t serve the greater good, you probably shouldn’t be doing it. But if it’s good for you, good for others and serves the greater good. Sounds like a pretty good idea.

Sam Demma (18:52):

<laugh>. I love it. I love the qualifying criteria. You mentioned earlier that maybe a last point could even be if it, if you enjoy it, if it feels good. And I know there’s young people that argue that playing Fortnite feels great <laugh> and playing video games. But, but you talk about the difference between, you talk about the difference between fulfillment and just taking actions or the difference between Yeah. Like what is the difference between fulfillment and just taking everyday actions?

Jairek Robbins (19:22):

Sure. So I, I would say the difference between pleasure and fulfillment. Pleasure is something that feels good in the moment, but quickly goes away. something that’s joy-filled is, or, or something that is, I’m trying to think of the right word. So fulfilling would be the other word is it’s something that not only feels good now, but if you look back 10 years from the future, it still feels good to think about. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, give you an example. pleasurable might be someone going to a party and deciding to just make it a rager. They drink alcohol, they eat a whole bunch of junk food. They, they stay up way too late. They, they just trash their body. Now in the moment they might, it might feel good. They’re like, yeah, that was great. The next day it feels horrible, but a week later they’re like, Hey, I’m the fun one.

Jairek Robbins (20:18):

And then they, it feels good. It’s exciting. People laugh, but 12 years later when they look back they go, I don’t know if that was so smart. And the reason it doesn’t feel so smart is because they’re in their hospital and the kidney stopped working. Hmm. And they go, yeah, I don’t know if that was such a great idea. I mean, I was screaming Yolo at the time, but now that I’m in dialysis, spending four hours a day plugged into a machine to filter my kidney just to stay alive, I don’t know if that was the smartest thing in the world. Now the hard part is you only realize that when you’re in the situation. Cuz most people say, well, I’ll never land up like that. And you don’t think it will until you’re there. And then you go, wow, I should have maybe taken a little bit better care of myself.

Jairek Robbins (21:10):

And so some of these things we’re talking about, you just have to learn how to decipher between pleasure and fulfillment. And again, that’s saying, Hey, will this feel good right now? Yeah. Do I think this will be a great idea 25 years from now? probably not, but who cares? No, no, no, no. Probably not. You said, okay, good. So if it’s, if it’s okay now, but horrible, then why don’t we just find something else to do that’s great now and great then that’s not that hard. You’re creative, you’re smart, you’re, I mean, use your imagination. Come up with something that qualifies for it feels good now and it’s gonna feel great then.

Sam Demma (21:53):

I love that. That’s such a great, that’s such a great difference or a differentiation and something great to think about because I think a lot of young people, and I’m not just, and I’m also young <laugh>, but we fall into this trap and you know, one of the reasons is because the five people you spend the most time with might pressure you into doing certain things. Now at the end of the day, it’s always your choice, but people are always gonna push their opinions, thoughts, and beliefs onto you. and I’m curious to know how you personally have defended yourself in those situations. And one, one against the opinions of others, even when it was family. you know, in your book you talk about how you wanted to travel and, and volunteer right out of your schooling and even your family were against it. I, I’m in a similar situation. I took a fifth year and a gap year, and both times my parents were like, Sam, what the heck are you doing with your life? And I’m like, no. Like, I know what I’m doing. so my question is, how do you go against other people’s opinions when it’s people you love the most or your best buddies and friends?

Jairek Robbins (22:58):

Sure. so in the book we have a little acronym we use on how to, how to navigate this and what to do to fortify your mind and emotions. but, but let me give you some bonus on top of that just to think about where I would start is, ah, I just saw this quote the other, let me see if I can find it real

Sam Demma (23:20):

Quick. Yeah, go for it.

Jairek Robbins (23:21):

It was a beautiful quote and it had, it was spot on with this. It might have deleted.

Sam Demma (23:29):

Ah, that’s okay.

Jairek Robbins (23:36):

oh, it’s gone. it was a great quote. It was talking about, I’m trying to remember what it was. It was something along the lines of the magic of life is how quickly you can align with what your soul’s calling you to do. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And I remember reading that and just thinking, wow, that’s so true. Can you, can you quiet the chatter? Can you quiet the noise? Can you quiet the opinions? And can you deeply listen to what you’re genuinely called to do? I think it was Jim Carey who said, depression is nothing more than your avatar, getting tired of wearing the mask. And I was like, oh, this guy says some cool stuff from time to time, <laugh>. And I was like, you know, when you see people who feel depressed, when you see people who have anxiety, when you see people who are are, are caught most of the time it’s because they’re spending so much effort and energy trying to be something they’re not.

Jairek Robbins (24:33):

And it’s just, they’re trying, they’re trying so hard to, to fit into something when that’s not their way of life. That’s not how they were made to be. Hmm. And so when I look at that, I always ask the question of the foundation of any human, which is kind of three buckets. And each bucket has a label and the label of bucket one would say, I am enough. And I always ask the question, like, for you, what does it mean to be enough? Have you ever sat down with a pen and paper and said, top of the paper, I am enough, dot, dot, dot. And then filled in the paper, what makes you enough in your own mind? Not what society says, but what, what do you think makes you enough? What has to happen for you to feel like you are enough? Just you just breathing.

Jairek Robbins (25:20):

Not a human doing, but a human being, just being you. What has to happen for you to feel like you’re enough Second bucket? I have enough. It is an interesting one for people. I’ve lived in places with no running water, no electricity, no toilets. It’s rural farmland. You take a bucket. I mean, you walk a quarter mile down the road, you fill a little jerry can of water, you drag this thing home like a strong man competition. You boil it for 30 minutes just to get a glass of drinking water when it finally cools. As long as a bug doesn’t land in it, cuz if it does, it could possibly kill you. So, and if a bug lands in it, you gotta boil it again and then you gotta wait another 30 minutes for it to cool. So I’ve lived in these places and I’ve lived like that for a significant period of time.

Jairek Robbins (26:07):

And I can tell you it doesn’t take a lot of stuff for people to have a beautiful life. But that’s not what we’re told. That’s not what we’re shown. That’s not how, what we’re fed over and over and over again. We’re, we’re shown that if we don’t get in line and wait for 17 hours to just get the new merch drop that, my goodness, we’re certainly not gonna have a good life. And it’s like, really? I mean, I met kids there who have literally one outfit, like this is their school outfit, their play outfit, their church outfit. This was the one outfit they own. And they were just glowing with joy and they enjoyed every heck moment of their life. And they were out talking with their friends and hanging out and doing cool stuff. And I was like, man, they don’t have anything telling them that the one outfit they wear every day is good or bad.

Jairek Robbins (27:06):

Therefore they literally don’t care <laugh> because they haven’t been taught to care about that. Now they watched me, I had a book with me and I was highlighting a few lines in the book that I thought were interesting and they went, oh, you can’t write in the book. I was like, it’s my book, why can’t I write in it? And they’re like, no. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, that’s not allowed. And I was like, why? And I, I talked to some of the other kids and I asked them and they said, oh, because oftentimes we only have one of those books for the entire village. We have to share. Hmm. You, you can’t write in it because it ruins it for everybody else. I went, what a difference. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, what a difference that is. They value certain things that they’ve been taught to value, they value knowledge there. Where I’m sitting and watching people line up for 12 hours outside of a certain store in New York City to get a merch drop cuz they value a brick that says Supreme.

Jairek Robbins (28:07):

Think about that. Yeah. One group of kids is thrilled to get a new book. Another group of kids can’t wait to spend all their resources to get a brick that has a logo on it. <laugh>, now the brick is actually worth 30 cents or maybe 60 cents at Home Depot, but because they smack their logo on it, they’re gonna try to sell it to you for $300. And then some kid sits outside and feels like he finally has enough in life, or she finally has enough in life. I haven’t seen a lot of girls buy the brick. So I’m gonna say like he, he for some reason feels so fulfilled in life because he finally has enough, because he’s bought a brick with someone’s logo on it. Now I’m not mad at him. If that’s what finally feels like enough in life, that’s awesome. But for you, what does it take to have enough for these kids that I met when I was living in a village in Uganda?

Jairek Robbins (29:00):

It was just waking up with a breath in your body was more than enough. As a matter of fact, I met a young lady. I was, I don’t know if you’ve ever done this. You, you ever flipped through Instagram and like you, you see a girl that just catches your eye and you’re like, whoa, whoa. So I had that experience. I was flipping through and this young woman caught my eye and I was like, wow, holy Moses. And I’ll never, lemme see if I can find the picture real quick. I literally kept it cause it was so good. And I remember seeing this young lady and just being blown away at what was going on. And I was like, I have to know more about this human. So I did some research and I, I, I figured out who she was. I read her story, unbelievable story.

Jairek Robbins (29:51):

Hmm. And the more I learned about her, the more impressed I was. I was like, this is an unbelievable human. I need to talk to her. And so I reach out and I interviewed her, and then I also interviewed her husband. And I was like, I have to know more about this. And as I was interviewing her and her husband, they shared one of the most unbelievable stories I had ever heard. And I’ll, I’ll, I’ll tell you just a little snippet of it here the whole thing’s over on our podcast. But as I’m scrolling for this photo, I’ll, I’ll just share a little bit about what she shared. She was born with cystic fibrosis, which means after so long her lungs have a chance of literally just stopping, just stopping. Like one day she’s okay and can breathe. And the next day her lungs just stop.

Jairek Robbins (30:50):

Hmm. And that happened to her. She was rushed to the hospital and, and put on machines to be kept alive and, you know, waited and waited and waited. And at some point they found a match, or they call it a donor match. And they brought it in and they hooked, hooked her up to a machine. And, and literally they cut her open straight down the middle of her body, opened her up, cracked her ribs open, pulled out the lungs that were in there, put in a new set of lungs, sewed them in, put her back together and sewed her shut straight down the middle of her chest. Wow. And I paused right there and went, holy Moses, that is incredible. And that wasn’t it. Like she got done. And they said, okay, you know, hopefully these work, and if they do, you’re gonna live a great life.

Jairek Robbins (31:47):

 you know, you’re on your way. She left, met a, went out, lived a great life, met a guy, fell in love, got married. Fast forward. She, she told him, she’s like, Hey, just so you know, <laugh>, we fall in love. There’s a chance I might just cease to exist one day. Like my lungs just stop and I’m out. And he, he’s like, I love you. It doesn’t matter. We’ll do this together. So they got married and then one day she just had a seizure outta nowhere. And so she had a seizure. They rushed to the hospital, see what it was, and her lungs stopped working again second time. And they sat there, analyzed everything, reviewed everything, checked everything. And they came, the doctors came back and said, listen, here’s the deal. The likelihood that a second double lung transplant is gonna work is so low that it does not make sense for us to do this. It makes more sense for you to just go on hospice and slowly live out the rest of your days until you can live no longer and you die. Hmm.

Jairek Robbins (32:54):

PS our team can’t help you. And we’ve also notified the other hospitals nearby of what the situation is. And they said they can’t help either. And she went home crying and she told her husband, I didn’t fight this long to stay alive, just to give up now. So they wrote a hundred letters to a hundred hospitals asking for help. Can you help me? Four wrote back and said, we might be able to try. One of them accepted her in and said, come here, we’ll hook you up and help you. We’ll figure this out. Hmm. Good work, ucla. They brought her in, they took care of her, kept her alive on machines. One night, two in the morning, she gets a call. We found a match, meaning a donor. They bring her in, cut her straight, open down the middle again, the ribs, open her up, pull out the old lungs, put in the new lungs, sew everything together, close her back up, sew her shut, put her on machines to stay alive and see if it works.

Jairek Robbins (33:53):

The next morning, her husband said, I interviewed him. And he said, the next morning when my wife woke up, I saw the biggest smile I’ve ever seen on her face in our entire life. He said, I wish I could tell you that our wedding day, she had a bigger smile, but I would be lying if I said that I saw the biggest smile I’ve ever seen on my wife’s face. And he said she had this tube down her throat to, to breathe. So she couldn’t say anything, but she, she asked for a board and they were asking her questions, who are you? What day is it? What time is it? What year is it? And she scribbled something and had the biggest smile on her face. And as she turned the board around, it just said, I can breathe. And she said, the greatest feeling I’ve ever had in my entire life is the ability to take a breath on my own free will and fill my own lungs without needing assistance or machines to do so.

Jairek Robbins (34:50):

Greatest feeling in her entire life. I went, wow. Wow. And I, I, I can’t seem to find the picture, but the picture was the day after that surgery, she was sitting in a, in a wheelchair. She had the biggest smile I’ve ever seen on a person’s face. She had two thumbs up and she had her glasses on. Oh, here it’s, let me, let me throw this up on the screen so you could see it. It’s a little graphic if someone’s watching, but let me throw this up so you could see it. This was the picture that caught my attention. Wow. And I just saw her and thought, wow, what a great human. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And not only did she add stitches straight down the middle of her chest, but there was a tube coming straight outta the middle of her body. That tube was because after they did the double lung transplant, there was some type of hiccup and her heart started to fill with fluid. And so they had to do an open heart surgery to drain the fluid back out of her heart directly after the double lung transplant. And so her name is Kayla Haber. She’s a wonderful, wonderful, inspirational human. I highly recommend following her on Instagram and online. She has so much good news to share. Hmm. And the thing that stood out to me was circling back to the bucket that says, I have enough.

Jairek Robbins (36:32):

Realizing that if you can breathe on your own free will, you have more than enough to have a great life. And someone like Kayla’s fighting for the ability to breathe every single day. And she fights for something that so often we take for granted. And it’s just thinking about that. And it’s not saying, oh, my life is okay and I get it if I compare it to someone else. It’s not about comparison. It’s just the realization that if you can breathe on your own, you have everything it takes to have an unbelievably beautiful life.

Jairek Robbins (37:08):

Final part is, I’m loved enough so I am enough. I have enough. Final one is, I’m loved enough. This is an inside game. There’s not a person on this world that can make you love yourself and not love yourself in egotistical way, but truly appreciate who you are. You know, I always ask people, when’s the last time you turned your phone into selfie mode? And they always go, oh. And I’m like, no, no. Listen to the rest of it. <laugh>, when’s the last time you turned it in? Selfie mode. And the important part, look yourself straight in the eye. I’ve heard that the eyes or the windows of the soul. When’s the last time you looked yourself deep in the eyes, all the way deep into your own soul and told yourself three things you actually appreciated about yourself? When’s the last time you looked deep into your own soul through the window of your eyes and, and identified two things that you’re really proud of, of how you’ve shown up today? When’s the last time you’ve looked deep into your own soul through the window of your eyes and identified one thing that you really think you’re excited to go experience in life in the future?

Jairek Robbins (38:20):

For most people, the answer is, I’ve never done that. And how do you think you can pour love the people around you if you’ve never poured love into yourself? You can’t pour from an empty cup. You gotta fill your own cup every day. And I say, screw, screw a cup. Go for a bucket. Let’s go big

Sam Demma (38:41):

<laugh>. I love that

Jairek Robbins (38:43):

<laugh> fill, fill the bucket. Fill that bucket. And I think if you had a routine every day that talked about filling the three buckets, I am enough. I have enough. I’m loved enough. And if you were overflowing from first thing in the morning, my goodness. As you move throughout the day, imagine how you could pour into all the people around you. And what I’ve noticed is if you see peculiar behavior outta people, stuff that doesn’t seem healthy, doesn’t seem happy, doesn’t seem good. It’s usually because one of these three buckets has a hole in it and it it, there’s a deficit. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, they’re feeling like they’re not enough. They’re feeling like they’re not loved enough, or they’re feeling like they don’t have enough and therefore they’re behaving in a way to try to compensate for it. Because when someone feels like they are enough, they have enough, and they loved enough, all they want to do is help others and share it.

Sam Demma (39:31):

I love that. And

Jairek Robbins (39:34):

Wow,

Sam Demma (39:34):

So much. There’s just so much great nuggets, <laugh>, and not a whole story. and I hope that if you’re listening right now, you’re taking notes and writing this stuff down so you can ask yourself these same questions, whether it’s tonight in the mirror, tomorrow morning, when you wake up, depending on when you’re listening to this. Yeah. How do you, how do you find purpose? Something that a lot of young people always ask me is, Sam, I don’t know what my purpose in life is. And I don’t know that you find it. I think you create it. I think you explore. Sure. And I think you have a, a phenomenal story in Uganda with a man you came across who, who created his purpose. And it was one of the most beautiful things. And I’m, I’m hoping you can share the story about the leaves. Sure.

Jairek Robbins (40:14):

So when I was living in that village there, you know, my thought is, how often am I gonna be able to wake up in a village in the middle of Uganda? Like, I don’t know, at least the months I was there. But besides that, I’m not sure how many times I’d get the chance to do it. So I was like, Ooh, I’m gonna squeeze the juice out of this. And so one of the things I promised myself I would do is wake up every morning and watch the sunrise. I was like, that’d be so cool. And so I woke, I set my alarm, figured out the time. Every morning I wake up to watch the sunrise. And I started noticing there was this little old man that every morning would come out of the, the kind of village clinic or hospital that was nearby. And he would just do the same thing every freaking day.

Jairek Robbins (41:02):

And he would do it every day at sunrise on the dot. Never missed. I was like, this dude is wildly consistent. Like he must have a really good alarm clock or something like he doesn’t miss. And, and like every day he come out and get this long fetched broom and he’d kind of stretch his back a little, and then he’d step down the couple steps and he’d work his way from the steps of the clinic all the way down the path to the, to the main road. And he’d just, you know, step, step, sweep, sweep, step, step, sweep, sweep. He’d sweep this whole road. And then he’d get to the, get to the main road, turn around, step, step, sweep, sweep all the way back and clear the leaves off this path. And I remember the first day just being like, oh, cool. It’s a dude sweeping leaves. <laugh>,

Jairek Robbins (41:48):

You know, 10th day, like, man, he’s pretty consistent. 30th, 40th day. Like, this dude has not missed the whole time I’ve been here. This is crazy. But by like month three, I was like, I gotta talk to this guy. Like what in the world? How did he learn such discipline? Like this guy doesn’t miss. I’m like, this is amazing. It’s like Steph Curry with three points. Like this dude just drains him every day. How does he do that? And so we, we, I went and interviewed him. I, he didn’t speak English and I didn’t speak lu ganden, which was his language. So I found an interpreter, a friend of mine who was like, Hey, can you translate? She’s like, sure. So he went over and I asked him, you know, why do you do what you do? And he was, he looked at me and he kind of shrugged and she said something and he kind like tilted his head.

Jairek Robbins (42:34):

And he is like, cuz I’m supposed to is what she said. And I was like, no man. Like, why do you do what you do? Like why? What’s the purpose? What’s the reason? What’s, and she’s like, she looked at me, she’s like, I speak English stupid. Give me a second. Like, I know what you’re saying. Let me ask him in a different way. Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever done that. You’re traveling in a place that, that isn’t English isn’t the main language and, and you just, you know, say it over and over again. Think you’re just finally gonna land. It’s like they have no clue what you’re saying. <laugh> try a different word. So I was like, no, why? And she’s like, shut up stupid, gimme a second. So she turned around when and talked to him again and said something different. And then she was talking to him.

Jairek Robbins (43:14):

All of a sudden this guy turned around and got like the biggest smile on his face that I’ve ever seen. And I, I was looking at this guy, I’m like, yeah, yeah, ta ta. She’s like, okay, hold on. And I was like, what did he say? And she said, wow, that was cool. Like that was beautiful. And I was like, no, no. What did he say? And she says, you know, he said, the reason I sweeped the leaves is I, because I believe every human being, whether it a small baby about to enter this world or a sicker elderly person about to leave this world, I believe they deserve a clear path to do so. And I remember thinking, wow, wow man, this guy found so much purpose in sweeping a dirt path every day. Hmm. Just clearing leaves off the path. And like you said, there’s millions of young people all over the world who can’t figure out what their purpose is, who can’t figure out why they’re here, who can’t figure out what they’re supposed to be doing.

Jairek Robbins (44:21):

What if it’s as simple as finding deep joy and purpose in just living your life every day. Now we live in a society that says, that’s it, that’s all my purpose is. But this guy found immense joy, unbelievable fulfillment in living life every day. And I watch people who own a brick with a label on it. <laugh> not happy. Yeah. And not fulfilled. That guy didn’t own anything like that. He lived in a broom closet. The most proud thing he owned was the fact that in his broom closet there was an electricity panel hooked to a hooked up to the one wire in the whole town that had electricity so he could charge a cell phone. He, he was so proud of that. The only other thing he had was a hat collection, which included three hats. So I gifted him my hat before I left and he thought it was cool. He had four hats by the time I left. That’s it. That was his whole life collection right there. And he was so proud of it.

Jairek Robbins (45:31):

And people like to say like, oh, finding joy in the little things. I was like, I don’t think that’s little. Finding your purpose in life is a big deal. And if this gentleman was able to find so much joy and so much purpose in something so simple, I think that’s unbelievably beautiful. And I think to challenge more of us to say, Hey, can you find your purpose in something so simple yet profound of your daily life? Can you find purpose in loving on the people you care about? Can you find purpose in doing simple chores throughout the day? Can you find purpose in meaning in supporting your family and community? Can you find purpose in meaning in, in doing something that brings you joy in sharing that joy with others? Hmm. It doesn’t have to be complicated, but we live in a society that’s been built to generate revenue from us.

Jairek Robbins (46:31):

I remember I was in Ecuador and I, I was on a tour and I looked up and I saw a billboard and I went, huh, that’s interesting. And I asked the lady who’s guiding the tourist, I said, Hey, is the lady on the billboard? Is she from here? And he, she was like, I don’t know n n not like from this city, but like, is she Ecuadorian? Like is she from Ecuador? And she looked there and she’s like, no, no, she’s not from here. And I was like, where is she from? And she’s like, maybe Mexico. Maybe Brazil. But like, she’s not from Ecuador, we don’t look like that. I went, that’s interesting. I wonder why they’d use a person not from there to advertise what beauty looks like. And then I started walking around in the US cities and looking at billboards and watching TV commercials and realizing that in the United States we use models, quote unquote is what they call ’em from Europe, central and South America. We use models from other parts of the world to show young people what beauty looks like.

Jairek Robbins (47:38):

And then I went to Europe and realized they used models from America to show people what beauty look like. Then I went to Asia and when you’re in one part of Asia, they use models from other parts of Asia. And I’m like, why would they keep doing this? And I realized, cuz when I asked the lady from Ecuador, why would they use a model that’s not from here to represent beauty? And then it clicked. I said, how do you know she’s not from here? And he says, she said, cuz our bone structure doesn’t look like that. Our cheeks don’t look like that. Our jaw line doesn’t look like that. The shape of our face doesn’t look like that. And I said, then why would they use that as the epitome of beauty, the aspiration of beauty, the thing you have to try to become. And it clicked. And I realized, because no matter how many times you buy their product and put it on, you’ll never get there, but you’ll feel a little bit closer. And I was like, no wonder people don’t feel like they’re enough. Hmm. An industry makes billions of dollars telling you you’re not enough. And if you just buy a little more of their crap, eventually you might be a little closer than you were. Wow.

Sam Demma (48:51):

It’s wow. <laugh>, I’m speechless. Like, there’s, there’s so many examples I could think of when you talked about that even in, you know, friend groups that I have and, and people that are my age and my life.

Jairek Robbins (49:06):

What

Sam Demma (49:06):

Our crazy realization, thank you for sharing that story and, and all the stories you shared were, we’re almost outta time here, <laugh> and I, I that I had a ton of questions that we didn’t even get a chance to touch upon but this is a beautiful conversation and I’m, I’m curious to know where can people reach out to you? Where can people learn more about you? Where can they buy your book? I just read it, live it. It’s a phenomenal book. And it’s not only a book you read, it’s, it’s a, it’s an exercise, it’s a workshop. If you follow along with the steps and, and you actually do them as you read, it’s a phenomenal exercise. Where can they find your book? Where can they connect with you? Where can they learn more about you and maybe even work with you if they wanted to?

Jairek Robbins (49:45):

Sure. Our books on Amazon, easiest place to find it. It’s worldwide. If you want to check out one of our programs, if you want to go through a program to help be happy, healthy, strong, fulfilled, stuff like that, you can go to Udemy I think the code is highperformancekw.com and it’ll, it’s like $129 program. I’ll give it to you for like 10 bucks or 12 bucks on Udemy. We have students, 5000 plus students in 119 countries around the world actively in that program right now. So it’s a great program. People love it. They’re people all over the world are, are just raving about it and really enjoying it. And then if you want to just connect and, and stay in touch, I mean find me on Instagram. I’m weary to use social media as a connection point just ’cause I know there, there the, again, the algorithm is built to keep you on there, not necessarily to make you healthy. So yeah, you can find me on there, and, and we just try to push out good thoughts every single day to support people in, in being happy, healthy, strong, and fulfilled.

Sam Demma (50:50):

I believe that educators deserve way more recognition, which is why I’ve created the High Performing Educator Awards. In 2022, 20 educator recipients will be shortlisted, each of whom will be featured in local press. invited to record an episode on the podcast, and spotlighted on our platform. In addition, the one handpicked winner will be presented with an engraved plaque by myself. I will fly to the winner’s city to present this to them and ask that they participate in a quick photo shoot and interview on location. The coolest part, nominations are open right now, and they close October 1st, 2022. So please take a moment to apply or nominate someone you know or work with that deserves this recognition. You can do so by going to www.highperformingeducator.com/award. We can never recognize educators enough.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Jairek Robbins

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.

Alison Fantin – Principal of Kirkland Lake District Composite School

Alison Fantin - Principal of Kirkland Lake District Composite School
About Alison Fantin

Alison Fantin (@alisonjfantin) is the proud principal of Kirkland Lake District Composite School in the District School Board Ontario North East. She is passionate about equity, student voice and helping young people reach their full potential. 

Connect with Alison: Email | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Kirkland Lake District Composite School

District School Board Ontario North East

Undergraduate Programs – Lakehead University

Faculty of Education – Lakehead 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 (00:01):

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 Alison Fanton. Allson is the very proud Principal of Kirkland Lake District Composite School that is in the District School Board of Ontario Northeast. As we come up to the holidays, I am super excited to take a quick pause on episodes with Alison’s being the last one before our little break. I hope you enjoy this insightful conversation with Alison, and I will see you on the other side. Alison, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show. Please start by introducing yourself.

Alison Fantin (00:46):

Well, thanks for having me. My name is Alison Fantin and I am the principal of Kirkland Lake District Composite School, which is a grade 7-12 school in Kirkland Lake Ontario.

Sam Demma (00:56):

When did you realize as a student yourself that education was the career you wanted to pursue?

Alison Fantin (01:03):

So, I actually had an epiphany in grade 11. Mm-hmm. I I had a, a classmate that I didn’t know very well who missed a, a few days of work. My geography teacher told me, cuz I was ahead on this one particular unit, could you please work with her out in the hallway just to kind of try and catch her up. He was kind of using that peer tutoring model and I did that and I realized that I understood the work myself a million times better by teaching it that she was really happy cuz she understood it and it was really fun. And I went home and I said to my mom, I think I wanna be a teacher. And my mom was a teacher is, was a, worked for 35 years in education, was a grade one teacher. And she said, oh, are you sure <laugh>? Yeah. And I said, I’m sure. And she said, oh, but you’ve seen me at nights and weekends working. And I said, yeah, but you know what, mom, I really think I do want to be. And, and I’ve never regretted it.

Sam Demma (02:03):

That’s amazing. That student that you first taught officially <laugh> back in grade 11 is that someone you’ve stayed in touch with? Is that like

Alison Fantin (02:12):

A I have, I have, yeah. Yep. She’s very successful. she’s become a lawyer and you know, we’ve both, yeah, we’ve both done good things with our lives, so, yeah.

Sam Demma (02:23):

So take me to the grade 11 moment and then project the future forward. So you had the epiphany in grade 11. What did that look like as it unfolded over the next couple of years before you got into education?

Alison Fantin (02:34):

Yeah, so I continued to, you know, kind of take the classes that I wanted to take. I, I was always sort of more of an art student than a science or math student. and continued to take courses that, that interested me. Always kind of seized any opportunity I had though to be a peer tutor or to be someone who could you know, help others learn as much as possible. Always try to organize study groups and, and that actually served me really well post-secondary. So and then, yeah, it, it took my my honors Bachelor of Arts at Lakehead University and my teaching degree there as well. And then went to work and haven’t looked back.

Sam Demma (03:14):

That’s amazing. what was your first role, and take us through the various roles you’ve worked and just give us the snapshot of the journey.

Alison Fantin (03:24):

Okay. This is buckle in.

Sam Demma (03:27):

Yeah, I’m ready. I’m ready. <laugh>.

Alison Fantin (03:29):

So I started teaching in 1987. This is year 35 for me. I started working in terrace transcriber at Lake Superior High School. I was an English and geography teacher. Okay. got married, moved back to my hometown of managed wad where I was a high school and elementary supply teacher, and then a high school teacher. we moved again to a little tiny town called Go Gamma, where I had my kids and I was able to do some adult night school. then we moved to gain my husband’s a forester and we kind of went all over Northeastern Ontario. we’ve been in Engelhart since 1996 and I’ve worked at so many schools in the board here in all sorts of roles. most recently high school principal, but I have been an elementary principal, elementary vice principal, secondary vice principal. And a role that was really near and dear to my heart. I was a special education resource teacher for a number of years.

Sam Demma (04:27):

Hmm. Each role provides its own unique set of opportunities and challenges. Yeah. and pros and cons. And tell us a little bit about the role you’re in right now and what you think some of the opportunities are and challenges in the role but also why you enjoy it.

Alison Fantin (04:43):

So the role I’m in right now is principal of a high school. I work really closely with my vice principal. the two of us manage a seven to 12 school. the opportunities in this school are just phenomenal because we have so many outstanding staff who, who really are leaders in their own areas. and we’re big believers in letting people shine and do what they wanna do and giving them the freedom to fail and, and not worry about that and try to kind of regroup if they do. and that extends its well to students. and, you know, giving students a chance to take on leadership roles if they can and, and really try new things. And, and because of that our school has had, you know, tremendous success in all kinds of areas. We’re really proud of our work with our makerspace.

Alison Fantin (05:37):

We’re proud of our work with indigenous studies. we’re proud of our work supporting LGBTQ plus students. but more than anything else, I would say we’re proud of the relationships that we build with our students. it’s a very, very rare time when a student ends up in my office that I say to them, well, who’s your person here? Mm-hmm. And they can’t tell me who that is. So that’s that, you know, those opportunities have been a little bit squelched because of the situation the last couple years. But it so that, and that comes to the challenge part of your question and, and, and how do we kind of connect, you know, when sometimes we’re virtual, how do we continue those growth opportunities when sometimes we literally can’t be in the same space? That’s been challenging, but it feels like there might be light at the end of the tunnel. So I’m, I’m, I’m holding onto that right now.

Sam Demma (06:29):

Ah, I love it. I love it. W what has this year been like? it sounds like the covid has still been a challenge, but we’re getting to the point where it, it hopefully is gonna be in our rear view mirror sooner than later. What has this year been like so far?

Alison Fantin (06:45):

It, it’s, it’s been challenging. You know, I think people are very covid weary. it’s, you know, it’s hard for students to stay engaged when you know, a lot of the things that, that, that many kids love most about high school just isn’t available to them. Extracurriculars and that sort of thing. So, you know, the fact that we’re able to do that again, we have our first tournament here in the gym today. We’re super excited about that. Ah-huh. Yeah. And I, I’ve just really kind of tried to shepherd everybody through this you know, tried to be available to support them. people are tired and people are stressed and people are anxious and worried about their vulnerable family members. And but, you know, the weather gets nicer. We get to get outside. Life gets better immediately. So

Sam Demma (07:35):

What does the shepherding look like? Tell me a little bit about that. When, when you’re in a role where you’re trying your best to provide hope to everyone how do you do that? Like when your perspective, like, what does that look like day to day?

Alison Fantin (07:48):

Well, and, and you know, sometimes it’s not that it, it, it often is, but sometimes it’s not providing hope because I try not to ever tell anybody something that’s not true. Yep. and so I’m, I’m, and then sometimes things do, they’re just awful. And, and, you know, and people are overwhelmed and tired and exhausted and they have family issues. And sometimes it’s, it’s just allowing people to kind of get it all out and just share what they have. That’s, that’s an, that’s making them feel anxious or worried or tired or, and, and kind of give them support. Sometimes it’s trying to take things off people’s plates. often we will as a, as an admin team, ensure that there aren’t additional demands put on our staff if we possibly can avoid it. Hmm. Really try to let teachers just focus on their classrooms and their students in these weird times because that’s where your energy’s best spent. Right. you know, other initiatives are great and we wanna do them, but maybe just not right this minute. So it’s being very protective of staff and of students and of parents. you know, we have a lot of parent phone calls, a lot of parent concerns worried and legitimately so, but we can reassure them most times, so.

Sam Demma (08:59):

Got it. Ah, makes sense. Makes sense. what do you think some of the opportunities are in education? there’s definitely challenges, but when you look at education as a whole, what do you think some of the areas where there are opportunities?

Alison Fantin (09:11):

I, I’m a, like such an optimist and, and the reason I am an optimist is because I see the kids that we have mm-hmm. <affirmative> and I just, I, I am amazed every year at what they can do and what they do do and what they are hoping to do. You know, the fact that they’ll take on these leadership roles and come with these wild ideas and, you know, share the, the compassion that they have for each other, the cheerleading that they have for each other, the support that they have for each other. It gives me such a, you know, lots of people are worried about the future. I’m not worried about the future. Cause when I look at the, the people that we’re leaving it in the hands of, I just think they’re gonna be just fine. These kids are smart. They, they know so much more about the world than we did when we were young be, and I, I think that’s just the connected internet world that we live in.

Alison Fantin (09:58):

Mm-hmm. <affirmative> you know, you, in the old days, you used to be one person sitting in a room and you didn’t know anybody like you now, even if you are that one person in your whole town, there’s 50 people in the next town over or in the next country, over whatever. So I, I think the opportunities through technology especially have just opened the doors for kids. But I also think because of that, kids are, are willing to dream bigger and, you know, we try to really encourage that as much as possible. And, and because we are a school in a small town, that’s an active part of what we do. You know, don’t think, you know, there’s nothing wrong with staying here and working here, and if you choose to come back, that’s great, but you should know what your options are because, you know, there are tremendous opportunities here in town for our students, but there are also tremendous opportunities in other places. We just want them to be aware of everything. And I think that the one thing that, that always ties kids back again, and I’m gonna sound a little bit like a broken record, but is the relationships that they establish. And they tend to establish relationships with teachers who share their interests or share their passions. And so they’re able to explore those more as well. So those are opportunities as well for kids.

Sam Demma (11:06):

Hmm. I love that. When you think about your journey throughout education, I’m sure you’ve had many people that have helped you along the way. when you think about resources, whether that’s people, books, courses or, or like anything at all that you think has informed the way you show up today what are the things that come to mind that you think are worth mentioning or sharing?

Alison Fantin (11:28):

Our board has done like a ton of work around many kind of ways that we can support students who have different needs. But the one thing that’s been particularly helpful for me in the, in the role that I’m in is the work we’ve done around trauma informed instruction. Nice. and Gene Clinton is a leader in that and, and we’ve had the opportunity to receive some professional development development from her. Hmm. she’s the one who’s most like directly changed my practice. Cool. it makes me think about when I have a student in crisis, is this, is this actually them acting out or are they reacting to something that’s happened to them in the past? how can I connect with the students so that they feel like they can approach me? One thing she talks about is the power of, of greeting students in the morning.

Alison Fantin (12:20):

And Bec ever since she talked about that, I’ve done it literally every day. We’re at the front door, we’re greeting every kid that comes in gets a good morning. If we know their name, we say their name. Little easier now, you know, we we’re recognizing them. Even with a mask on you, you get about two inches of, of eye, but you start to recognize the eyes. but you know, it’s, it that is powerful and, and the number of problems that get solved in those 10, 15, 20 minutes in the morning as kids are coming in is phenomenal. So she talks a lot about recognizing that that adverse childhood events can really impact a student’s journey through life. And we really are trying to honour that and recognize that and work with that and not judge kids when they react in a way that seems disproportional because that’s probably not disproportional for them. It’s probably completely logical. So we really are trying to work with our mental health ne team and all of our staff to kind of support students.

Sam Demma (13:13):

I love it. Very cool. when you think about your journey through education, I think you mentioned 35 years. Yeah. Thank you for your service. <laugh> <laugh>. you’re doing an amazing job. when you think about all the different roles and experiences, if you could bundle it all up into some advice that you would give your younger self when you were just starting to teach, like knowing what you know now, what advice would you give to your younger self or to anyone else who’s just getting into this vocation?

Alison Fantin (13:43):

So, so this is the advice that I give to our new teachers and, and, and I tell them the temptation is to feel like you need to know it all. The temptation is to feel that you need to do it all. The temptation is to try to pile in as much curriculum as you possibly can into every lesson. None of those things are realistic and none of those things will make you happy or your students happy. So, you know, be don’t be afraid to say, I don’t know, don’t be afraid to to feel like you have to be the, the guru of everything. And don’t worry if a lesson goes awry and takes you in a whole new different direction because there’s rich learning that can be had there as well. And I’ll tell you, if I’d had that advice and actually listened to it in my first year, it would’ve been really helpful for me because, you know, when you’re a new teacher, you, you almost can’t help yourself. You, you work and work and everything’s perfect and it’s aligned and you try to stay within the walls and make sure that you’re meeting ticking off all those boxes and the hours you work are stupid. But I really, really try to talk about and model work-life balance if I possibly can because it’s such an important piece of making a teacher first of all successful. And secondly, for them to stay in the profession because we don’t want them burning out and leaving cuz they’re exhausted.

Sam Demma (15:01):

Yeah, that’s so, so true. If someone is listening to this conversation, has enjoyed something you shared or something that was mentioned, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?

Alison Fantin (15:12):

I’m on social media sort of sporadically, so I’m gonna suggest they email me. That would probably be the most effective way. I don’t know if you’ve put that in your show notes or not, but I it’s Alison.Fantin@dsb1.ca. It’s probably the, the most direct. And I, I welcome anybody who has a question or a concern or wants to tell me that you’re wrong about this, I’d love to chat about that too, so.

Sam Demma (15:35):

Awesome. All right, Allison. Well thank you so much for taking the time to come on the podcast. I really, really appreciate it. Keep up the amazing work and yeah, we’ll talk soon.

Alison Fantin (15:44):

Thanks Sam. I’ve really enjoyed this. Thank you.

Sam Demma (15:48):

I believe that educators deserve way more recognition, which is why I’ve created the High Performing Educator Awards. In 2022, 20 educator recipients will be shortlisted, each of whom will be featured in local press. invited to record an episode on the podcast, and spotlighted on our platform. In addition, the one handpicked winner will be presented with an engraved plaque by myself. I will fly to the winner’s city to present this to them and ask that they participate in a quick photo shoot and interview on location. The coolest part, nominations are open right now, and they close October 1st, 2022. So please take a moment to apply or nominate someone you know or work with that deserves this recognition. You can do so by going to www.highperformingeducator.com/award. We can never recognize educators enough.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Alison Fantin

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.

Karl Fernandes – Teacher, Presenter and Life-long Learner

Karl Fernandes – Teacher, Coach, Writer, Guest Speaker and Life Long Learner
About Karl Fernandes

Teacher, coach, writer, guest speaker, life long learner: Karl Fernandes wears many hats as an educator. Blessed beyond measure in his career, Karl has taught in each academic division for the Toronto Catholic District School Board. Karl believes strongly in experiential learning and has an extensive history of engaging his students in local and international service projects. He is actively involved in mental health and natural health initiatives and has worked with numerous organizations to develop well-being resources for students and teachers.

Karl has also instructed at the post-secondary level, and currently serves as a course instructor and professional development facilitator at the provincial level for the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association. He has presented to OCTs and teacher candidates at conferences and workshops across Ontario.

Connect with Karl: Email | LinkedIn

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Toronto Catholic District School Board

Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:01):

Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Karl Fernandes. Karl is a teacher, coach, writer, guest speaker, and lifelong learner. He wears many hats as an educator. Blessed beyond measure in his career, Karl has taught in each academic division for the Toronto Catholic District School Board. Karl believes strongly in experiential learning and has an extensive history of engaging his students in local and international service projects. He’s actively involved in mental health and natural health initiatives and has worked with numerous organizations to develop well-being resources for students and teachers. I’m so grateful that a past guest that we had on the show, John Linhares, introduced me to Karl. Karl has also instructed at the post-secondary level and currently serves as a course instructor and professional development facilitator at the provincial level for the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association.

He has presented to OCTs and teacher candidates at conferences and workshops across Ontario. I hope you enjoy this insightful conversation with my friend Karl, and I will see you on the other side. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator Podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today, we have a very special guest. We connected a few times before this podcast, and I’m so excited to finally have him on the show. Karl Fernandes. Karl, please start by introducing yourself so everyone listening knows a little bit about who you are and what it is that you do.

Karl Fernandes  (01:39):

Thanks, Sam. It’s my pleasure to be here with you this afternoon and to share a bit of my background. I guess I describe myself as both an educator and a lifelong learner. I am a teacher with Toronto Catholic, and I’ve taught in different communities in the city for years. All the grades, like from the little ones right up through high school, and I’ve also had the opportunity in recent years to teach post-secondary and to work with teacher candidates, and now I also work with the, at the provincial level with the Catholic Teachers Association. And I’m doing a lot of teacher training there. It’s just a terrific way to continue my own learning. As I said, lifelong learning is, it’s real.

Sam Demma (02:19):

Where did this passion for lifelong learning develop or stem from?

Karl Fernandes (02:25):

You know what? I think it, it, it comes just from the realization that you, there’s so much you don’t know. Hmm. And, you know, your mistakes inform you. So you, it’s tough because, you know, it’s your pride sometimes, but then you have to recognize well about all the things you maybe didn’t think of or didn’t know. And so it’s, it’s something you learn along as you go along the way. It’s really about the questions you asked, right? That’s what leads to better understanding and better thinking. So that’s something that comes from your work with students. But I think it also comes from just being intentional about how you live your life and how you have your interactions and your experiences. And if you allow yourself some space to be still and not to feel like it’s always about, like you have to look ahead, but sometimes you need to look back.

Karl Fernandes (03:18):

You need to be right here, and then you get a better perception and perspective on things. So I think that’s something life’s taught me a bit. And I don’t think you start off recognizing your lifelong learner, but it’s just that we’re all on this journey, you know, to try and make meaning of this time we have. And I think that’s where I started recognizing. I, I went back to grad school years after I’d got my teaching certification and all that. And I was, I was probably the most excited person in, in the rooms at times because I knew I was doing it because I just wanted to continue my education. It wasn’t about I need this to get that. And I did meet some people that were doing that and, and that’s fine. But I felt that for me it was more about, let me take this at this stage of my life.

Karl Fernandes (04:05):

And I didn’t wanna be thinking, oh I could have done it. I just decided not to. I, I knew it mattered to me. So I had a great support network. And in the end, I think it kind of reinforced at that stage in my life, a lot of things that you know, I was intuitively leading towards, you know, the idea of how knowledge is. It’s a reward in and of itself, right? To, to work through a problem, to think about different perspectives, to gain a better understanding, to hear someone else’s point of view. All those things are part of just being willing to learn. And hey, you know, we learn things when we get in the kitchen. We learn things, you know, in so many different aspects of our lives that I think it’s there for everybody. Just, you know, and when you see other people that are inspired to go back and learn something or take a course on the side, you celebrate that. Cuz I just think it’s, it’s such a pathway to their thinking and, and maybe something that becomes a passion project or whatever. Right. So yeah, I see it as natural

Sam Demma (05:02):

Stillness is something that’s very familiar to you. You’ve written about it in a few online teacher articles and magazines. You mean it both in a physical sense of sitting down and not moving, but also in a, I guess a metaphorical sense of not living in the future, but living here and now. but let’s talk about it from a physical standpoint. I know that being still and meditating or finding that pause is something that you practice often. Why do you do that? And do you advise other educators to explore trying that themselves?

Karl Fernandes (05:39):

Yeah, it, it’s something where you have to keep putting yourself in a position, you know, to, to learn and grow and to help your students do the same, right? So even pre pandemic this is something that, you know, the whole idea of mindfulness and meditation, we have to resist this thing that it’s the flavor of the day. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> as if it’s kind of like a trend or like a new way, right? Because it’s actually ancient in, its in, its in its wisdom and in its methods. So we, we need to sort of put that aside cuz that’s one of my, my cautions right now. I do a lot of real work in this area. And this has happened organically and authentically as someone that, you know, you have to be thinking about how you’re managing you know, your sense of wellbeing.

Karl Fernandes (06:28):

If you’re gonna lead others, you know, you’re gonna lead your students. And, you know, equally important, you have to think about your students and recognize that if they’re not feeling well, if they’re not feeling good the math lesson doesn’t matter, right? So what can you do? Right? Of course, you wanna be a present and a welcoming figure, and you wanna create a classroom that’s inclusive and dynamic. And, and those things are things that we take pride in, right? And you build through the year, but then you have these other, you know, I don’t wanna, like, it’s sometimes we use an analogy of a toolbox, right? Mm-hmm. And you pull things out and you know, you know what to use and all that. And I actually did a pilot, I was involved with a pilot project some years ago that involved bringing wellbeing practices to students.

Karl Fernandes (07:11):

And you know, through that I had a chance, I had already was committed to a lot of these practices, including the idea of meditating. But to be able to have my, you know, guide my students through these and learn some new things because the people leading it were really top rates. So it gives you a chance just to expand again, to expand your learning. But I saw firsthand, you know, I mean, we, I, if you’ve created an environment that’s safe and welcoming, it’s amazing where students will, you know, where like, they’ll, they’ll come along, you know? So they were, I, I had a, a beautiful group of grade eights that year. A lot of ’em, huge kids, you know, athletes, scholars, the whole, the whole nine. But they didn’t hesitate, you know, if I said, look at, this is what I like to try.

Karl Fernandes (07:54):

They, you know, they already, you had gained their trust and they, they, they also understood that you were putting them in a place where they had an opportunity to try something that could benefit them. It wasn’t something that would, was meant to make them feel self-conscious or, you know, put in a spot. So I, I witnessed it firsthand that they were willing to, to try these things. We did, you know, some of the elements of of breathing exercises and, and physical exercises that are connected to yoga that just would help them with their the relaxation and it, you know, then they’d write about it a bit and how they felt about it. So then you get that sense, and then you do other things, you know, that help them build a sense of community and their appreciation for each other in life.

Karl Fernandes (08:37):

You do things like gratitude circles and it just, you know, builds. And so what was fascinating is from there you know, we, we changed grades and assignments as the years unfold. And I was in with a younger group of students who maybe were a bit more challenged by issues around self-regulation. And this was just pre pandemic. So we started on this journey too, in the fall. And at the beginning, I know for some of ’em, it was really challenging because, you know, I would try to create the right environment, you know, dim the lights, close the door and all that. But then, you know, meditation really teaches you, it’s just like life. Like it’s, you can’t write it up the way you want it to be an expected to happen. So I’d leave the door open a couple times. Someone would walk in already talking to me before they actually saw what was going on.

Karl Fernandes (09:21):

And I just like, you know what, we’re present in this moment, so we’re just gonna stay with this. And it was something where I’ll catch up with that person later. But the priority right now is, you know, we’re gonna continue our breathing. And, you know, the thing I loved about ASAM is that was unfortunately the year where we had to transition to online learning. Mm-hmm. And these these habits that we had developed in person, we extended to our online sessions. And so we would have it as part of our, you know, I would always be throwing new things into the mix to keep the kids feeling connected and that, you know, that, that this matters. And that was one of the things we did. And it absolutely was a, a joyful thing. And I mean, it, it, it, the science is all there, but I can also speak to it from like, from the heart, from an emotional level, just to see your students to look up and see that they’re completely engaged in this.

Karl Fernandes (10:13):

At the beginning you got the kids that are eyes open looking around, you know, wanting to see if any of their friends are maybe looking around too. But, you know, little by little they kind of come to it. And it’s not for you to, to judge or to scold or whatever it is. You just keep the in imitation open. And it’s tough because our minds are just used to overprocessing and racing and, and jumping around and all that. So, you know, wanna go back to your original thought stillness, right? It just, it, it, it allows you to be just a little more aware and when you’re done. ‘Cause the kids at the beginning thought maybe they’d get sleepy. And I said, it’s the opposite that happens, right? Like, you can talk to ’em a bit about the science of your alpha waves and just help them understand a bit that this actually benefits you. You become more alert and more present. So I, I would en I would encourage it. I, I would think, you know, you need to sort of find out a bit, especially if it’s not something you’ve done yourself. And you can always, there’s so many great resources online and apps and really legitimate websites, platforms that are developed by people that are in this field, so that if you wanna get started, there’s always a, a pathway for you.

Sam Demma (11:19):

It’s such a cool thing to hear about that you’re doing in a classroom with students. I’ve benefited greatly from meditation, from silence, from nature. And I think it’s just awesome to hear that you’re creating those spaces with young students. I didn’t stumble into that when I was in high school. I stumbled into it listening to podcasts, and I would’ve loved to have a teacher introduce me to those things at a younger age. You mentioned you create these safe spaces, and I’m curious to know, how do you think an educator creates a safe space? Like, how do you create a space where students feel like they can be themselves, feel like it’s okay to fail?

Karl Fernandes (12:01):

Yeah, that’s important, isn’t it? Because if you don’t make it clear that we’re inherently gonna make our mistakes and we’re not always gonna have the result we want mm-hmm. <affirmative>, you’re creating a climate that isn’t really welcoming and isn’t really gonna, you know, reach the students. So I think, you know, it starts with just that idea that, you know, when you’re in education, you generally are guided by compassion and a and, and an interest in your students. And, and that comes out in many ways. Sometimes it’s just the being that stable, welcoming presence for them, because they may not have enough of that in their lives. And sometimes it’s just the, you know, the little conversations you can have if it’s in line or, you know, as you’re going out, extracurriculars, field trips, all that. I think what you’re trying to tell the student is that as much as their their homework, it sure it matters.

Karl Fernandes (12:54):

And, you know, all these other things matter. It’s the person that matters the most. And kids have this innate ability to sense when they’re in the presence of someone that welcomes them and will, you know, kind of encourage them. So if, if, if you’re just worried about the rule or the, the way it’s done, you could lose sight of the bigger picture. Whereas here’s someone who’s not that different from us, right? Who’s maybe messed it up a bit today or maybe forgot the thing they should have brought. And maybe, yeah, it is the third time, and that could be trying, but if the child understands that what you’re trying to address is the the actual action of the behavior, not the person, you know, there’s the real opportunity for them to, to reflect and, and children of all ages, like they, they, they, they can come to this place, right?

Karl Fernandes (13:46):

One of the fascinating things that you often, that, that I find I, I enjoy doing with students is when it comes to evaluating a piece of work ask them to evaluate themselves, including with the grade, it’s amazing how hard they’ll be on themselves. Mm-hmm. Right Now you get the occasional kid that’s gonna give themselves the flying a plus <laugh>, but, and you know, that’s all good. But you know, when you, when you’re, when you ask them a little further, they’ll, they’ll come down from that too. But so many, I mean, that’s our human nature, right? And I think there are all these studies out there that talk about how many negative comments we tend to absorb in the course of a day. And even the talk we do with ourselves tends to be a little bit more critical. And so I think as a teacher, you’ve gotta check that sometimes, you know, and you’ve gotta remind yourself that, you know, you can put a lot of positive energy.

Karl Fernandes (14:32):

You don’t have to be like singing songs and clapping hands and all that to show that you’re happy, right? Yeah. Sometimes it’s this calm and peaceful environment you create. I mean, gosh, remember with my younger students years ago, I’d played classical music while we were working, and that was one of those years of the EQAO tests where, you know, scores were like such a big concern and the province and all that. And you know, when your students are asking, can they have, can they listen to Mozart while they’re doing their math work or whatever, I mean, something’s happened, right? And it’s not always classical, but it’s just the fact that we can go there. And so you can just create these little dynamics and you also instill trust, right? So for me, like there are a lot of policies without getting too much into teacher speak, you know, the idea of needing to use the bathroom or get a drink.

Karl Fernandes (15:15):

Like that’s, to me, that’s, it’s automatic, but the only condition I place on that is you’re not going for walks around the school, right? Like, there are things you can do in the classroom if you need to get up, and you have to know when you’re, you know, you need to leave. But if I’m if I’m teaching a split grade, let’s say, and I’m teaching the other side, my students that are currently in independent work, they understand like they’re allowed to get up and go, but it’s a trust thing. If even once I find they’re roaming around or they’re, you know, there’s something that’s, you know, a bit of a disappointing choice they’ve made, they have to answer for it. So, you know, I think when you put all these things in place, it’s for everybody. It’s not just for the student that’s easy to trust.

Karl Fernandes (15:53):

Hmm. Right? It has to be for an invitation for all of them to reach a standard. And I think putting expectations forward, I, I’ve, I’ve talked to people over the years to try and understand this better, and I, I really feel it’s true because sometimes you have a group where you recognize they’re struggling, you know, maybe they’re struggling with expectations or with their academics or whatever. And the question is, well, do you lower the standard and just, you know, make sure everyone can jump right over the fence and get these high grades that may be inflated or whatever. Or are there other ways that you need to think about this? How do we, how kind of scaffold it so that they can, you know, see progress and start reaching. And I tend to prefer that. So I think when students are in a room where they understand their expectations, but there’s also, you know, acceptance and forgiveness and understanding all these things that kind of come part of saying, Hey, we’re all human. So I like that you mentioned failure, because if we’re afraid of it, there’s all this stuff about fear failure. And I think you’ve worked in that space as well about encouraging people to overcome that. It, it, it’s important because then we shift our mindset. There’s a whole thinking around the growth mindset, and that can only come if we see these things that don’t work out as opportunities as opposed to complete failures. Right.

Sam Demma (17:05):

I, I couldn’t agree more. I love that you mentioned this idea that you’re not addressing the person you’re addressing the action or the behavior. And that was a big thing for me as a student because I attached my self worth to my success as an athlete. And I thought subconsciously, if Sam wasn’t seen as a great soccer player, he’d be worth nothing as a person. Whereas in reality, soccer was just a game I chose to play outside of Sam Demma human being. and when I was able to identify that it was a lot easier to overcome the challenges, the mental barriers that I had to moving on and starting something new and continuing to build my life mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And I feel like you kind of addressing students by saying, you chose to make this choice. that doesn’t, that’s not necessarily a great reflection of you as a human being. It’s just a choice you made. I’m not addressing you. I’m addressing the choice. Let’s talk about the choice together, not you as a person. I think that’s a great way to have difficult conversations and it’s a lot more disarming. so yeah, I thought that was really, that was really great distinction and I appreciate you making it. Did you know when you were a student walking the hallways of the schools you attended that you wanted to work in education as a teacher?

Karl Fernandes (18:22):

Absolutely not. No <laugh>, I didn’t see it. I, I, I knew, I guess there were probably, it’s, it’s, you know, life is such a mystery, right? Like, where we go and the people we come across and all the things that we’re gonna do, it’s, it’s, you gotta love that, that it’s so unscripted. But I know some people say that they, they figured it out. They knew from time. And I, I just wasn’t in that camp. I, I think the things that probably I could occlude into us, I, I enjoyed presenting and I was pretty good at explaining things to my classmates. if, you know, we were working out certain problems, not in all subjects and not in everything, but, you know, oftentimes I could, could lend a bit that way. And I did get a chance to work with youth a co I took, you know, I was always, you know, on the move picking up a job wherever I could, you know, growing up just to sort of, you know, take care of things and, you know, self put myself through university, the whole nine.

Karl Fernandes (19:14):

So I had to I just, and I also wanted to try everything, you know, I thought, hey, life is about this. It’s not just, you know, one thin line to walk. So I did get a chance to work with students a couple times, including at a sports camp actually. And you know, that was an absolute blast. You know, I just found how much I loved being in that space and you know, all the things that come with it. Cuz when you’re with them all day, it’s a little bit like school, right? Except it’s all about sports, <laugh>, this whole, whole whole you have to learn a lot about your, I mean, know we, we refer to as classroom management, but people misunderstand that thinking. It’s about like managing kids and rules and expectations and it’s really about creating environment, you know?

Karl Fernandes (19:54):

So anyways, I think those things helped inform me, but really and truly, I didn’t sort of listen to that voice properly until I was into my university years. And it wasn’t a sort of a fallback or something. It was literally like, well, which path am I gonna take now? I was really interested in international relations and I had done some you know, like a number of studies and things and I was feeling strongly drawn to that, you know, cause I had an interest in politics and, and, and global issues environment. And so I felt that there was something there that was really calling me. And then there was this thing about, boy, you get to do so many amazing things in, in school and I wasn’t the model that you’d expect to become the teacher, you know? So it was something I had to reflect on a bit.

Karl Fernandes (20:43):

But I realized that, you know, there were certain things that were aligning for me that suggested, you know, even when I’d be in university and I was presenting or I was doing other things, I thought there that space is, is, is fascinating, so I should stay open to it. And then I kind of was, I I I was doing the two degrees concurrently, so I was pursuing my international relations and I was pursuing my work through teachers college. And I think if I was gonna be quite honest with myself, my international relations work was, was really lighting up. I was loving it. And I felt like, you know, my mind was alive and sometimes in, in, in teachers programs, I was a little bit more, you know, we’d be having debates about phonics and I wasn’t particularly excited <laugh> about stuff like that sometimes.

Karl Fernandes (21:27):

So I wondered, you know, even as I was going through it, I didn’t know where I was gonna land. But I kind of ended up lending both because I did some international development projects as a volunteer. And that took me into countries in the developing world where I really got to, you know, do the work and meet people and see things and, and, and reflect on them. And what it’s done is it’s kind of informed my practice because one of the things that I am, I’m homely proud of as an educator is that I’ve connected my students to service projects throughout the years mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And, you know, it, it is a bit of a leap. You don’t, it’s not a scripted thing. You figure out, okay, what are we gonna do about this situation? Or how can we get involved? And, and then you have to just have the courage to say, well, may not be perfect, but let’s, let’s put this together.

Karl Fernandes (22:11):

And, you know, so I think in a way, now that I look back at it, all the pieces were there for me. I just didn’t know, you know, what the puzzle was supposed to look like. And in a, in a unique way, I’ve kind of blended these different parts of who I am. So environmental work and international work and, and, and social justice work have all kind of combined. And of course I love the material I get to teach, but you know, your, your, your teaching extends so far beyond the lesson, right? And ideally you’re connecting students to the world in whatever form, and you take kids outside and they just, they just, they’re overjoyed. It’s like, wow, we get to go and do something. Right? So you don’t want to just think of it as a static, you gotta check off. Cuz that’s the thing. There’s this weight, you know, you gotta check off all these objectives and lessons and there’s so much more than that. So I guess that’s a wandering answer, but I guess that’s kind of reflective of my path in education. I don’t think it was something I, I recognized until it just aligned and I realized, yeah, this is, this is right for me.

Sam Demma (23:15):

I’ve had a diverse representation of answers when it came to this question. Some being, I used to play school with my, with my family members growing up and acted like I was the teacher to, I totally just fell into it randomly to, I like an answer like you shared. I liked certain aspects of education like presenting and realized I was passionate about it and, you know, during my university degree got into it. So I think it’s cool to hear that everyone has a very different journey to education because someone might feel overwhelmed or like they missed the boat if they’re a little bit later in their education and have started pursuing something differently. So thank you for sharing that. Your path was a little bit different. Steve Jobs always says you can’t connect. Well, he did say you can’t connect the dots looking forwards. You can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that at some point in your future, the dots will connect. And it’s a part of his commencement speech and it gives me the goosebumps whenever I’m really discerning a tough decision. And I try and remind myself that, ah, this seems very challenging right now, but I’m sure a year from now looking back, it will all make sense even if I can’t make sense of it in the moment. And that kind of sounds like your journey to getting into education <laugh>. So

Karl Fernandes (24:33):

Yeah. Yeah,

Sam Demma (24:34):

Yeah. Yeah. I appreciate you sharing that. At what point in your educational journey did you start presenting to other teachers and educators? it sounds like you always had a passion for presenting.

Karl Fernandes (24:47):

I think it’s more I was, you know, willing to step forward. I think that’s part of where you, you try to lead in whatever way you can. Cuz in the end, you know, in a school, you’re part of a community and you, you want to contribute in a meaningful way. And it’s tricky because, you know, it’s, it’s one of the tensions that sometimes can exist in schools where you can feel that things are being pulled in all kind of different directions. And so my initiative isn’t more important than another initiative, but perhaps, you know, it’s been in place, it’s been formed and it’s ready to be rolled out and then along comes something else. And sometimes you have to just, you know, move with it. So I say that because I guess sometimes it’s just you’re, you’re asked to do it.

Karl Fernandes (25:34):

I remember years ago, I have to think about this really, but I, I think in one of my first couple years of teaching I was asked to, it was more like, oh, just, I was the new guy, right? So I was like a year or two in, and we, we were at some kind of event and I think I was supposed to either do the welcome or the thank you to somebody and I was just, it was literally like, Hey, can you do this in two minutes, <laugh>? Yeah. So I thought, sure, you know, but it wasn’t exactly something that I knew. It was more like, well, we need someone to do it, let’s ask you kind of thing. And, which was fine. I but I was also, you know, asked by people that were friendly enough that I thought, sure, if I can help out I will.

Karl Fernandes (26:13):

But I remember after that some people came after me and says like, wow, do you do that stuff all the time? Like, no, I just did that cuz you asked me to. But I think, you know, ultimately what it is Sam, is that if you, if, if you’re trying to be purposeful, and I, I think thoughtful about things and that doesn’t mean you’re, it’s rehearsed and you’ve got it all right. But just you think about it, I think that just lends for more opportunities. But the rest of this is unfolded over time. Like sometimes it was school events where, you know, we’d put on, we’d put on some amazing presentations for parents, you know, where the students were, obviously the, the, the, the focus Nice. But you’d need to have it stitched together. And sometimes it was coming together, so, you know, last minute and like with different pieces, like, I’d be working, I, I also work with music in the school, so with one, some of my partners are like, okay, so which one we’re doing next?

Karl Fernandes (27:06):

And all that stuff. And then it would just, you know, I would, I would always wanna give students the mic wherever it’s possible, but where the, where situations are unfolding and it’s not maybe you know, like people can rehearse. That’s possible. Yeah. Yeah. And then, you know, sometimes it’s just like, Hey, this is just live to, so you’ve gotta be ready. Yeah, I’ll take it at those stages. And you know, when you have graduation ceremonies and stuff, one of the things that I felt was so important was to address the grads as a teacher and just thank them and wish them the best. And you try to do it in a poignant, meaningful way because, you know, not all of them gonna get called up for these awards and things like that. And I always think about those other kids that, you know, this is a big piece of their life, you know, this is the foundational piece, and they need to know that they mattered and this whole journey mattered.

Karl Fernandes (27:47):

And it’s not about, well, you know, who got the whatever award. So I kind of, I guess more and more would step forward in those lights. And then as you unfold in your career, you think again about what matters and where you can contribute. And part of that’s also finding the things that you are passionate about and that you know, where you can authentically discuss. Because if it’s something that, like, I, I can, I, I really enjoy teaching math and language and all that, but I, I don’t think I could get really jazzed up to do a presentation on some of that. I can help, you know, and, and, and learn with others and all that. That’s all good. But if I get to talk about, you know, mental wellbeing, if I get to talk about the environment or social justice or classroom management, I’m all in.

Karl Fernandes (28:32):

You know. So I think when I, when I went back to grad school, that kind of unfolded a series of interesting pathways where it went from being in class to, you know, I met someone who worked in I think it was the international education department there. And then I got a call from students asking, could I present at a conference? And then I said, sure. And so I did that. This is for university students. And then from there I was asked to teach a, a certificate course. And then, you know, it just one thing, I guess in the end, you get an opportunity and then it’s what do you do with that opportunity? And, you know, in, in recent years, I’ve been really enjoying my work with the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association. You know, it’s the provincial level for Catholic teachers in the pro in, in Ontario.

Karl Fernandes (29:13):

I see. And the, the professional development work they do is just fantastic. So, you know, when I came into this some years ago, you just apply and you know, at the beginning you’re in with a lot of really well established people. And so I was just like, I was, again, the new kid, so to speak, but I’m just happy to, you know, learn from others and talk. And then eventually you get tapped and I, I did a presentation and that led to something else. And then I think about within a year, I’m delivering the keynote at a, a conference for educators in Eastern Ontario. And I thought I was doing a workshop when I put my <laugh>, my, my work forward. And they said, no, it’s a keynote. And I was like, okay. And then I thought, well, that’s, that’s fine then, you know, I mean, I believe in what I was gonna talk about, and it was about a teacher’s journey and how we have to think about, you know, how we restore ourselves and how that in turn helps us to create these climates for our students.

Karl Fernandes (30:02):

So I believed in what I was gonna talk about, but they did select it. And then from there, I guess it’s, it’s rolled on. So I, I’m, I’m very, very grateful that I’ve had these opportunities, but I also take each one as, you know, extremely important that it matters. And I, I value the time of my audiences. And oftentimes it’s the conversations you have after the session’s done where you feel so good because you’ve reached someone and they come up specifically to tell you that, or they want to talk more about your ideas. And I’m sure you’ve had plenty of those moments, cuz I know how inspiring your talks are, but this is what we try to do. It’s just about taking what we know and then maybe passing it forward or helping people move along. And then we reflect too. So no two presentations are the same mm-hmm. <affirmative>

Karl Fernandes (30:44):

And each group, I’ve, I’ve spoken to teacher candidates, I’ve spoken to teacher groups, you know where they may be getting a PD session and I’ve done an online in person, it just, you know, you just, you just adapt to whatever the environment is and just try and figure out how can I contribute something here that’s, that’s meaningful. And what can you say, you feel so fortunate when you hear the feedback afterwards that people have benefited in some way. Right? But you don’t rest on that. You know probably, I suspect you have this too, as a presenter, you’re never satisfied. You keep thinking, oh, you know what, here’s a little something I wanna try and do a little differently for the next one. Or, this audience is a little different. I always wanna know a bit about my audience. I don’t wanna take anything for granted.

Karl Fernandes (31:24):

So I’ll be doing a presentation this week to some teacher candidates, and I wanted to know a bit more. And it turns out they’re graduate students, so that means that they’ve had a little bit more time with their program, and perhaps they’re coming at this from different lenses. They wanna look at things at. So that’s important to me to consider when I do the presentation. So, you know, I think it’s opportunities they come and I think it’s just that slow patient work where you put yourself in a situation, but I was never the one to sort of say like, like it’s, it’s, how do I say? Like, I need to get to the front of the line. I think I’d rather be tapped on merit than sort of try too hard to say, you know, me. And now I think I feel, you know, that I, I have a, a lot that I can contribute. And so if I am asked, I, I like to say yes. And so I think that’s a lot about life too. You know, just try and say yes and then invite the opportunities to come.

Sam Demma (32:19):

That’s awesome. You mentioned teacher coming up to you afterwards and how they often tell you how it made them feel and they wanna talk about your ideas further or how it connected with them. And it made me think about success because oftentimes we, well, in the presentation world, you feel like your presentation was a success. When someone walks up to you and says, oh my goodness, Carl, that was amazing. It really connected. I have these new tools to bring into my school. And I’m curious to know how you define success as an educator, not as a presenter, but as an educator. And the reason I ask is because

Sam Demma (32:56):

I think a lot of educators wanna make a positive difference in the lives of the students in their classrooms or the teachers they’re leading. If they’re the principal or the principals, if they’re the superintendent, it, it all comes down to helping mm-hmm. <affirmative> and changing people. But sometimes after a presentation, people won’t walk up to you and tell you how great it was, even though it was, and they still have the connections, but maybe they didn’t feel confident enough to come and tell you, or you changed the student’s life, by the way you talked to them in class for a semester. But they tell you about it 20 years later. And you’re left wondering, well, did I make a difference? and Tom, I’m curious to know, like, how do you define success as an educator? So you don’t, you don’t mislead yourself to believe you’re not making a change or a difference in those moments where people don’t rush up and tell you.

Karl Fernandes (33:51):

Yeah. That’s, that’s that’s a really thoughtful thing to, to ask. And I guess to reflect on, you know, that’s one of the dilemmas about being a teacher, right? Like every, most people think they’re doing it really well, and some people are very hard on themselves and maybe they are trying well, but they’re just, you know, presented with challenging circumstances. And, you know, we’re an egalitarian workforce in a way, right? A teacher is, you know, we’re presented with, you know, more or less the same conditions no matter where, I mean, there are variances of course, but by the nature of our employment, this is what it is. We’re not, you know, vice president of teaching and <laugh>, you know, like something like that, right? It’s just you, you, so what you try to do is, you know, learn to be effective, you know, learn to really succeed with your curriculum.

Karl Fernandes (34:42):

Like you need to know your stuff. And on that, I’m, I’m, that’s where I’m uncompromising, you know, like, you can’t teach something you don’t understand and you know, so you have to put the time in to know your material, to understand, you know, the nuances of it, the, the, the traps that students will maybe get stuck with and all that you need to consider changing grades to sort of see how the building blocks form. Like, that’s one of the things I really loved about going down to primary after years up with the older students and just sort of seeing how things come together at that age. And then I was like, oh, you know, I remember sometimes when my intermediate students would struggle with a concept and I’d be working with them at that level trying to figure out how to plug in for them.

Karl Fernandes (35:21):

And then what it probably turns out is this concept wasn’t fully grasped at a younger grade. They didn’t see it, and then they think they can’t do it. And then it just becomes something, whenever it comes up, it’s like, oh, not that like, you know, like, I’m not good at that. And so when you can sort of see it from all these different levels, you can plug in a little differently and you try to just reinforce it in a way that you hope they’ll carry enough forward, that they’ll feel, I can do this. You know, I’ve got this and that’s what you want to help them feel. But you’re right, it’s, success is abstract in a lot of ways. You know, it’s not performance based. It’s, it’s really a, an intuitive and a a reactive kind of thing, right? How do you feel when you walk out each day, right?

Karl Fernandes (36:08):

Or when you walk in each day at the end of the year. To me that’s an emotional time, you know, like it really is, as much as your birthday and a calendar year are times to take stock and to think about things the end of a school year, oof. When you get to June, I mean, I love my break, but that’s a tough month because, you know, you’re all sensing it, right? It’s kind of like a, a joy and also the bittersweetness of knowing this is gonna end and the students feel it too, you know, no matter what grade they’re in, they recognize this comfort, this, this, these dynamics that are in the room, these jokes that you share, these little routines that you’ve created. So when a student walks up to you in the schoolyard and you know, are waiting till they get to be in your class again, you gotta take that and, you know, just sort of just feel that you reached, you know, yeah.

Karl Fernandes (37:00):

That, that, that, that, that mattered there. And when they remind you, even if it’s repeatedly, do you remember when we did whatever it is mm-hmm. <affirmative> and including the online piece, right? Like, I’ve got students that talk about that. We used to go on these walks into the forest cuz we couldn’t really go very far. <laugh> you know, everything was for prohibited, so, yeah. You know, so it’s like, okay, so I’d make up reasons to take the students out and do science, you know, in front of the school. Like, Hey, we’re gonna look at these trees and we’re gonna look at whatever it is and just let’s get outside. Right? And so we’d go to the forest for these walks and then when we went online in whatever that was, January of that year, I told them, listen I, I searched this up when I found these online like ritual nature walks where someone go put, I guess puts a GoPro on and then goes for it and then you can walk along with them in a sense, right?

Karl Fernandes (37:45):

So I asked my students, would you like to try this cuz there’s some amazing places to go. And they were so enthused about it. And then of course, being these enthusiastic kids, it happened to be the first one I showed them as a winter walk in this forest, and they’re convinced it’s our forest. I’m like, that’s not our forest. Like there’s, there’s <laugh>, there’s almost a river running through it, right? <laugh> then, then they’re convinced it’s me. And like I went out there that morning, like I’m in my kitchen, like <laugh>. So, but you laugh about it together, right? And so I think if I know that those little things mattered, then you feel a sense of, okay, so when I, when when fully grown adults who were my former students, reach out, reach back need to come in and just wanna be in, you know, in your company, how can you not just be overwhelmed with gratitude that like, you know, they don’t have to, right?

Karl Fernandes (38:36):

Like they can be well on their way in this world, they can think back or not. And you can’t measure that. You can’t know, right? The, the test of time is what it is that you just have to trust that you’ve done what you can. And if you’re sincere as a teacher, you do your best and you also recognize that you, you weren’t perfect, you know, you did make mistakes and you hope that there weren’t ones that, you know, maybe you can’t get it back. So you just hope that, you know, they, they don’t take the wrong thing from you. But there’s that old expression I won’t say it properly, but it’s, you know, people may forget what you did and you know all that, but they’ll never forget how you made them feel. And so I think, you know, I, I’ve, for whatever it’s worth, like I’ve been invited to former student’s weddings and you know, like now some of ’em are playing in bands like, sir, you gotta come hear me play.

Karl Fernandes (39:19):

And I’m like, sure. You know? So I think those are the, those are some of the markers, right? And I think you, you know, when you get to talk about, they come back and they want to talk about how we won the football championship or the soccer championship way back or you did house league with them. And for some kids, like you see them score their first goal, right? <laugh> because they haven’t really played a much outside of the opportunity to have a House league or something like that. So I think if you were to somehow find a way to quantify all that and put it together, that’s probably a bit about what success would feel like. But ultimately I think you, you know, in your heart, if you’re, if you’re, if you’re being guided by principals and if you don’t stop seeing the students, you know, in front of you is who matters. I think that’s where you can sort of, you know, feel really good. Cuz I really appreciate all the other things I get to do, but none of that would matter very much if I was shorting it out on the, in the classroom side, right? Mm-hmm.

Sam Demma (40:18):

<affirmative>, I love that. Thanks for sharing. this has been a very insightful conversation. It’s already been almost 50 minutes. Before we wrap it up, I got some random rapid fire questions for you. Are you ready?

Karl Fernandes (40:31):

Oh, let me try. Okay.

Sam Demma (40:32):

What’s your favourite sport?

Karl Fernandeas (40:34):

Ooh, gotta be soccer.

Sam Demma (40:36):

What’s the last song you listen to?

Karl Fernandes (40:39):

Ooh, probably whatever my son’s made me listen to <laugh>. He’s always putting earbuds in my ear and says, dad, check this out.

Sam Demma (40:46):

<laugh>. That’s awesome. That’s awesome. what was the first grade that you taught?

Karl Fernandes (40:55):

As a professional? It would’ve been grade seven.

Sam Demma (40:58):

Nice. who are you cheering for the World Cup?

Karl Fernandes (41:04):

Sam, now I I, I gotta be careful with this one, right? Because I don’t know who you’re back in, but I’ll tell you what I mean, Canada was, I was so hopeful for them, you know, I went down and get a chance to watch them play at BMO last year before like everyone was in on the bandwagon and it was just a special night watching these guys just light it up. And so I, I think, you know, they, the moment may have been a bit much, I felt they had a really great opportunity in that first match and it just got away. And then from there, you’re looking uphill, right? Like, you know, the math of World Cup, if you get the first one, you’re in a good spot. If you get a tie or a draw, you still are in the conversation, you lose and suddenly the pressure’s on, right?

Karl Fernandes (41:40):

And they didn’t go from a difficulty easy, right? They went from difficult to more difficult <laugh>. So I think that was regrettable and I, it did kind of feel in the end they didn’t have their best showing. They didn’t look, they were kind of exposed at times. So that was tough because I was all up on Team Canada. I was ready to, I wanted for this city too. I really think I’ve said this to a few friends and family members, but I think what Toronto needs to see happen, they needed to see can’s team go for it, you know, have a little bit of a run and get excited about that. I think the city would’ve just been, you know, would’ve let it up. Yeah, exactly. And if, if this, you know, this beloved Toronto Maple Leafs team of ours ever <laugh> succeeds here. I’m telling you it’s gonna be unreal.

Karl Fernandes (42:23):

So I hope, but to answer your question honestly, I think the Final eight are really like, there are some powerhouse teams there. I would put in the top tier, I’ve gotta believe the way Brazil and France are playing. They’re the class of the, the tournament and right underneath that you’ve got a solid group of about three teams. And there, there are very few that I’d say, I don’t wanna say the wrong team and maybe have someone say wait, <laugh>, but there are a couple that I think are probably longer shots to, you know, get to the semis. But how about I gotta ask you too then, like who are you looking at?

Sam Demma (42:51):

You, you just never know. Right? Okay.

Karl Fernandes (42:54):

My, that’s safe. <laugh>,

Sam Demma (42:55):

My, my team was definitely, I was training for Canada. I didn’t yeah, think they were gonna win the World Cup, but I wanted to see them win some games. Yeah. next would’ve been Italy, but they’re not in it and Greek, which are both of my half, half and half my ethnicities and neither of them are in it. So <laugh> yeah, those are cut short. So now I’m just watching for the beautiful game, but I’m not exactly really cheering on anyone and it sounds like you’re in the same boat. So that’s I, I like you said, you know, you appreciate it. It is such a beautiful game and if you’ve, if you played it as you have it, you know your level and you just, you, you can appreciate it, you know, it is, it is such an intricate sport and all the little skills that go into the buildup, that’s what, you know, just makes it so special. Cuz you know, you can watch a basketball game and there can be 200 points scored <laugh>, you know, easily between the two teams and, you know, with soccer they can, they can 120 minutes and Yeah, exactly. Right. And yet the drama and the tension and all that is so, you know, so strong that if you, you have to just sort of appreciate it for, you know, it’s all the, all the things and make it up. So yeah, I’m, I’m all in for good soccer.

Sam Demma (44:03):

Last question for you.

Karl Fernandes (44:04):

Sure.

Sam Demma (44:06):

Educators tuning in, listening, if they wanna reach out to you, ask you a question, what would be the best way for them to get ahold of you or ask, ask a question?

Karl Fernandes (44:16):

Fair. Let me think. I guess if they’re, if they’re with the any Catholic school board, you can reach me through OECTA because I am part of the professional development network. I’m also with Toronto Catholic, so all teachers know how teacher email works, where, where it’s your name and then the name of the board. So there’s there. I’m really light on the social stamp to be honest. I think it’s one of those things that, it just didn’t really connect for me very much and I just felt that I’m, I’m happier in person and all the opportunities I could ask for have so many have come my way but a couple years ago I was encouraged to start a a LinkedIn profile. So I, it’s lightly used, but it’s there too if anyone, you know, needed to reach me that way too.

Sam Demma (44:55):

Awesome. Karl, thank you so much for taking the time to come on the show. It’s been a pleasure chatting with you. I hope we can do a part two maybe a year from now when we all have different, different perspectives and are on different parts of our journey. Enjoy the indoor workouts as it gets cold, and I look, look forward to staying in touch.

Karl Fernandes (45:15):

Sam, I’ve gotta thank you not only for the opportunity of being so great as a host and guiding this, but I think, you know, the work that you’re doing for young people and also just to recognize teachers because, you know, we’re, we’re in a really unique stage right now. You know, in society and there, there, there is a lot of frustration and, and, and, and everything else, and we see it at ground level, you know, with in schools. So for you to actually make a point of giving teachers a chance to talk about, you know, what we love doing and all that, that’s that’s a rare opportunity and it’s, it’s greatly appreciated. So I hope as well for you that, you know, your path continues to lead to all these really meaningful projects and so it’s appreciated.

Sam Demma (45:57):

Thanks, Karl. Appreciate it a lot. And again, we’ll, we’ll talk soon. Maybe I’ll bump into you in the forest <laugh>.

Karl Fernandes (46:03):

Love, love it, love it. But we’ll both be still at that time anyways. Right. So <laugh>, thanks Sam, appreciate it.

Sam Demma (46:11):

I believe that educators deserve way more recognition, which is why I’ve created the High Performing Educator Awards. In 2022, 20 educator recipients will be shortlisted, each of whom will be featured in local press. invited to record an episode on the podcast, and spotlighted on our platform. In addition, the one handpicked winner will be presented with an engraved plaque by myself. I will fly to the winner’s city to present this to them and ask that they participate in a quick photo shoot and interview on location. The coolest part, nominations are open right now, and they close October 1st, 2022. So please take a moment to apply or nominate someone you know or work with that deserves this recognition. You can do so by going to www.highperformingeducator.com/award. We can never recognize educators enough.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Karl Fernandes

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.

Suzanne Imhoff – Art Teacher at St. Croix Falls High School and Student Leadership Advisor

Suzanne Imhoff – Art Teacher at St. Croix Falls High School and Student Leadership Advisor
About Suzanne Imhoff

Suzanne Imhoff, is a 7-12 Art Teacher at St. Croix Falls High School in St. Croix Falls Wisconsin. She is a Nationally Board Certified teacher with 27 years of teaching, coaching and advising experience. She started her career at Siren Schools then moved to St. Croix Falls High School after 4 years and has been there since working as an advisor for the SCFHS Student Council, CLOWNS(elementary student with high school student mentoring club), basketball and softball coach.

Her work with student leaders began back in 1995 with the Wisconsin Association of School Councils and has developed into a passion for helping student leaders reach their full potential. She guides students in her own school and throughout the state of Wisconsin on their own leadership journey. She truly enjoys seeing students move out of their comfort zone and seeing them grow as people.

She keeps her personal creativity going by creating edible cake masterpieces breaking from that only to make decorated sugar cookies at Christmas time. Sweets Creative Confections is an ode to her mentor and father who, even though gone physically, inspires her every day to be the best educator and person she can be.

Connect with Suzanne: Email | Instagram | LinkedIn | Facebook

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

St. Croix Falls High School

Siren Schools

Wisconsin Association of School Councils

It’s All in Your Head: Get Out of Your Way by Russ

CADA State Convention

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:01):

Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Suzanne Imhoff. She is a 7-12 Art Teacher at St. Croix Falls High School, and St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin. She’s a nationally board certified teacher with 27 years of teaching, coaching and advising experience. She started her career at Siren Schools and then moved to St. Croix Falls High School after four years and has been there since working as an advisor for the SCFHS Student Councul, the CLOWNS(elementary student with high school student mentoring club) basketball and softball coach. Her work with student leaders began back in 1995 with the Wisconsin Association of School Councils and has developed into a passion for helping student leaders reach their full potential. She guides students in her own school and throughout the state of Wisconsin on their own leadership journeys.

Sam Demma (00:57):

She truly enjoys seeing students move out of their comfort zone and seeing them grow as people. She keeps her personal creativity going by creating edible cake masterpieces, which you’ll hear about on the show today, breaking from that only to make decorated sugar cookies at Christmas time. Sweet’s creative confections is an ode to her mentor and father who, even though gone physically inspires her every day to be the best educator and person she can be. I hope you enjoy this energizing conversation with Suzanne and I will see you on the other side. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today we are a joined by a very special guest that I met when I was in Turtle Lake, not in Canada, but in the US of A <laugh>, and her name is Suzanne Moff. She was a part of a, a conference that I was a part of and she came up to me after the presentation and showed me a picture of a beautiful cake she designed <laugh> along with letting me know that she was involved with state leadership and her school’s leadership. And it got me really excited to, to invite her on the show and she’s here with us today. So, Suzanne, please introduce yourself and let everyone know a little bit about what it is that you do.

Suzanne Imhoff (02:16):

Hi. Yeah. I met Sam first virtually a couple years ago when the pandemic happened, and then in person. I’ve been teaching for 27 years now and been with student leadership for that long. Started out in Siren, Wisconsin, but stayed there for four years and I’ve been with my current district for the next 24. I, well, truth be told, was never going into education and was never going to deal with students, with kids ’cause that’s what my parents told me I was gonna do <laugh> and so I was gonna do something completely different. Yes. And then I found myself and everything I was doing for fun outside of what I had to do and going to school was teaching, and so finally I got on my own way and went into education and I, I’d love it.

Suzanne Imhoff (03:11):

There’s just nothing else I’d rather do. I, I think about it and with everything that’s gone on in Wisconsin with education and I guess the United States for that matter I like, oh, I could open, like key said, open my own bakery, and then I’m like, oh yeah. And then I could have a side room where I could have people come in and I could teach ’em how to do things. Oh, so you’re back to teaching. So why get out of teaching to go back into teaching <laugh>? so it’s just in my blood. It’s just what I love to do. I, I can’t really see myself doing anything else. I, I love coaching, I love teaching art. I love the student leadership portion of it, which I’ve been doing since 1995. Probably Sammy weren’t even born, but you know, there’s that

Sam Demma (03:54):

<laugh> you mentioned you’ve been teaching for 27 years and in, you know, in student leadership for that long as well. Does that mean year one you started with student council and helping out with extra cooker activities where you could

Suzanne Imhoff (04:09):

Actually I was involved with the state student council organization that I belonged to Scott Association of School Councils even before I got my first job. Oh, wow. I graduated in May and got a call and said, Hey, we need some help at this leadership camp. I’m like okay. Don’t know what that is. They’re like, okay, we’ll be in Stevens point at one o’clock on a Friday. And I’m like, okay. And I did, and I was hooked saw what it did for kids in one week. the difference that that camp made, I thought, oh, this is something I need to be involved with. And so when I got my first teaching job, I coached basketball. I had been coaching basketball all through high school and through in college, played basketball in college. And then I, I just knew that the classroom isn’t where everything is learned.

Suzanne Imhoff (04:59):

And to me, you can learn just as much on the sports field or in a club if not more of what you need to take out of, you can teach the X’s and o’s you know, addition, subtraction and all that kind of stuff. But truly a student, a kid learns, develops, becomes who they are in these other things. And that’s why I feel it’s so important that they are happening and that I’m able to guide students with that, I guess. Hmm. I, I feel like I do more of my teaching outside of my actual classroom than I do within my classroom.

Sam Demma (05:34):

Hmm. You mentioned that that first, you know, student leadership camp that you went to, it just really opened your eyes to how important those types of activities were because it has the potential to change a young person’s life. You’ve been involved in teaching for 27 years and student leadership, and I’m sure you’ve seen so many like student transformations. can you think of a student who at the start of a new year was really timid and shy or was struggling and by the end of a leadership experience or just, you know, a full year of school really butterflied and just really grew per personally as a, as a, as a human being? And if so, what was that story like? Share it with us. And the reason I ask is because I think educators, that’s why they got into teaching in the first place cuz they wanted to make a difference, you know?

Suzanne Imhoff (06:26):

Yeah. it’s, it’s funny the two stories come to mind. well the first one was a girl who Shai wouldn’t say anything. She was actually she would in small groups would be fine, but was never, she’s like, I’m gonna lead behind the scenes. I’m gonna do this. We had an assembly. I knew she could be that person and I knew she could go out but would never put herself out there. had an assembly. All the kids are in a homecoming assembly needs to start. And I handed the microphone. She’s like, what am I supposed to do with us, Michael? We gotta get this party started. And she’s like, yeah, but, but I go, they’re all way to go. She’s like, what? What? And she stuttered and she, but she went out and she did it. And to this day she will still come back and say, I will never forget that day.

Suzanne Imhoff (07:12):

I didn’t think I could do it, but I knew that you would never tell, put me in a situation cuz it’s something I’ve always told my students, but that you would never put me in a situation that you didn’t think I could do. Mm-hmm. I would never, I, and I, I tell ’em, I’m not gonna ask you to, you may not think you could do it, but I’m gonna put you out there cuz I think you could do it. And she’s like, I, I knew I could do that. Wasn’t comfortable with it, didn’t wanna continue to do it, but I did it and I lived and was able to take that experience and into her adult life. And now she’s married and has her own children and she still comes back and tells that story. The other one I have it was a of a, a boy who as a freshman you couldn’t get two words out of him. Mm-hmm. His end result was becoming the state student council president and then going on to Yale University and graduating from there.

Sam Demma (08:09):

Damn.

Suzanne Imhoff (08:11):

I never thought anything of it other than I was doing my job. I’m like, I saw something in him. And again, I, like I said, I’ve always told the kids, I’m not gonna put you in a situation that I don’t think you can do. And I had him doing things. I’m like, oh, Matt, why don’t you try this? Oh, Matt, why don’t you try this? Why don’t you do this here, go do this. I need you to do this. And each year I just pushed him a little farther. He was my student council president and had him run for the regional officer and then as the regional president, he ran for the state president and became that. And I, and it never really dawned on me, I guess and thought about it until his graduation party and his parents came up to me and they’re like, thank you.

Suzanne Imhoff (08:53):

I’m like, for what? And they’re like Matt’s going to Yale because of you. And I’m like, no, he’s not. Matt’s going to Yale because Matt’s smart. Matt’s got a lot going for him. He’s done a lot of great things. They’re like, no, you put him in situations where he could be successful and make himself better and that we thank you for that. And I never looked at it like that. I just looked at it like, oh, I need to help this kid get to his full potential. I need to get him into positions. Putting him, taking him places, taking him to those, you know, leadership things that where we met. and that’s why I do what I do. And that to me is that’s the pinnacle. That’s, that’s my driving force behind things is, oh, that made, you know, those are like what I call my career makers <laugh>.

Suzanne Imhoff (09:42):

Mm-hmm. <affirmative> sometimes I’m just like, why am I doing this job? And then I’ll get a text or I’ll get an email or I’ll get, you know thank you from a parent. And I was like, oh, okay. Well that’s why, that’s why cuz I touched that person’s life and I was able to help them move forward in a positive direction. So Yep. Okay. Worth it. Check. And then I can con that fills my bucket and I can continue to move on. And if it’s only one student a year, that’s one more student than I would’ve done had I not been in that position or not kids in those positions. So, Hmm. That’s why I do it. But those are two of the stories that really come to mind when I think about did it work? Do am I doing the right thing? And so, yeah.

Sam Demma (10:21):

Did did you have an educator in your life when you were growing up, tap you on the shoulder and help you try and reach your full potential? Like it was, is there a full circle story

Suzanne Imhoff (10:31):

<laugh>? There is. Well, it’s kind of funny because I just didn’t realize it until after the fact, but my dad was an educator. Mm. well he was a teacher and then became a business manager and then became a superintendent. I hated every minute of that <laugh> thought, oh God, never would I ever do that to my children. I will never be an educator, they’ll never go to school with in the same school. They’re like, I’ll never do that. Both my children will graduate from the same high school I teaching. So never say and ever. but I did have a a teacher who I’m still in contact with that is the person that I could go to for whatever. And she taught health class of all things. and, but she was just somebody I could talk to. And I look back at having that one person made a huge difference in my life.

Suzanne Imhoff (11:23):

And if I’m that one person, whether I have ’em as a student or not, meaning if they’re come to my art class and wanna take art class, they’re all my students. They’re all my kids. I really call ’em my kids. but having that means that I’m there for that person and didn’t realize how much the mental health part of it was a big deal back then that I needed, that isn’t, you know, it wasn’t put out there as mental health like it is today, thank goodness. but yeah, so I’m still, still in contact with that person. Still have a great relationship with them and see him all the time when I can when I go back to the hometown. And so yeah, I guess I did. But my dad was also that person that, you know, he saw it, he knew it, he told me wish he wouldn’t have, would’ve saved me a lot of time in college, but I had to figure it out for myself. I might have that little stubborn streak in me. I like to call it determined streak. I like it. <laugh>, <laugh>. But I did, I had to get outta my own way and see it for myself before I could actually achieve it. So I loved that my students to see that as well.

Sam Demma (12:33):

The, there’s a book I really love called it’s All in Your Head and the subtitle, the book is Get Out of your Way and the Every Time You Say It, that Book’s Confidence in my Mind. <laugh> one of the things I admire about you is that you’ve continuously pursued your other passions along with your teaching and your education work. And sometimes people that get involved in education get so consumed by it that the things that they also love doing. Take a backseat. One of the things I know you love doing is designing cakes and <laugh>, not only maybe baking in general, but not only do you like designing cakes, but you’re pretty damn good at it. <laugh>, <laugh>. The cakes are freaking awesome. thank you. Can you tell me a little bit about how you manage the time? Like, of balancing both losing yourself in education and service of, of young people, but also making sure that you, you spend some time on things that bring you joy personally as well?

Suzanne Imhoff (13:34):

Well, yeah, it’s, there’s times where I’m like, oh, why did I say yes to make this cake? Cause you have a full-time job, do that. And then I start making it and it’s creativity and that it, as much as it, I’m like, oh, I don’t really have time, but it de-stresses me. So I actually doing that forces me to do something that makes me happy. I working with fondant or modeling clay or gum paste, it’s just edible clay, it’s what I do. It’s, you know, people like, oh, did you, you know, go to a class? I’m like, no. Well, maybe I guess college when I worked with clay, but that’s all it was. It’s, it’s, you know, it’s edible clay. People are like, oh, it’s too pretty to eat. I’m like, well eat it because it’s cake. And if you don’t eat cake, that’s just dumb <laugh> cake.

Suzanne Imhoff (14:20):

I mean, so yeah, it’s, you know, I, I like the sculpting aspect of it. I, and it’s my release and I work late at night. I’m a night owl. Yeah, I’d like to be able to sleep. I’m not a morning person. I get up when I do it and I, for myself that extra cup of coffee the next day sometimes. And and obviously more you practice the, the better you get. I am by no means a perfect cake decorator or sculptor, but it’s gotten easier. I’m able to do things faster, so that helps. and it’s funny cuz I do involve my family cause they’re my daughter, she’s an artist, but my husband and my son, no, not at all. <laugh>. I love them dearly, but it’s just not their thing. Yeah. But I ask them, what do you think of this? And they’ll be like, you know, if they’re like, here’s something or if there’s like something they have something’s off on it then I know that the person, cuz I’ve been staring at it for so long that, you know, can’t see.

Suzanne Imhoff (15:19):

If they see it, then there is something that needs to be, or if I’m just being over critical of myself. but it really is a stress really for me. I can actually physically feel myself less stressed after making something, creating something, be it out of cake or decorating cookies or whatever it is. so it might be more time. I might get a little less sleep, but in the end it’s worth the de-stressing that it does for me. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> and the family doesn’t mind cake scraps that I cut off to level the cake or sculpting <laugh>. That’s never an issue. Always having frosting in the fridge, never an issue

Sam Demma (15:58):

<laugh>.

Suzanne Imhoff (15:59):

So it, it benefits them as well sometimes.

Sam Demma (16:02):

Just to give context to the listener, this is not a box of cake you buy from the grocery store mix with eggs and 30 minutes later, voila. this is a cake that you would buy at a charity event for $2,800 <laugh>. These are cakes that look identical to a dinosaur. Cakes that have Rapunzel with her hair coming down the cake and going all the way around the base. how long does it take to bake one of these and design one of these cakes?

Suzanne Imhoff (16:39):

Roughly takes, well it depends upon how, you know, if I’m sculpting or whatever on average I would say the least amount of time I’d spend on a cake would be seven hours. And I have spent probably 24 to 30 hours on cakes. It depends upon what the amount of sculpting that I’m doing. and if like for a wedding cake you know, if I’m making cupcakes then I’m at it. I’m making the toppers that go along with all of those those kinds of things. So it all depends upon the amount of sculpting that I’m doing with it. I absolutely love making sugar roses. Those are very time consuming, but they’re so therapeutic. I absolutely love, love, love making them and that my goal is always to make them look as realistic as possible. People are like, oh my gosh, that was made outta sugar. So yeah. But you can eat it

Sam Demma (17:28):

<laugh>. What, what was your introduction to baking? Was it something that you were introduced to in school or how did you get into it?

Suzanne Imhoff (17:37):

Really, I had seen stuff on TV and my son was having a jungle birthday party. cuz I’m that mom who goes overboard on birthday parties. <laugh> always have it’s hard baby. And so I decided, oh well you know what? Let’s just try this. And that was my first cake and he was eight, he’s now 18, so 10 years ago I guess. and I’m like, oh well that wasn’t too bad. And then my daughter had her birthday, well his was in November and hers was in February. So then I’m like, oh, let’s try her. So she had a pink poodle. So I just started sculpting out of the spawn stuff and just kind of blossomed from there. I didn’t, I didn’t really have a, I dunno, I’ve always lud to bake, so that was never an issue. but the whole cake part of it was, oh well I used to watch Cake Boss a lot and then Ace of Cakes. I absolutely love the fact that he would be like, wow the wack and do different things and try different things and stuff. So I haven’t convinced my husband that I need a wood shop in my son’s spare bedroom when he leaves and goes to college next year. So I’m working on that. But

Sam Demma (18:44):

<laugh> That’s awesome. baking teaching, you mentioned that coaching has also been a part of your educational journey in your life. Tell me a little bit about that.

Suzanne Imhoff (18:55):

Yeah, I coaching is just to me is an extension of the classroom. it’s just another place to teach students how to be them, be their best selves and it takes it one step farther because they have to do that and also be a teammate and help others be their best selves. so I find that as a challenge in a different level of it’s a different level of commitment. it’s not necessarily, yes, you have your exes and nos and you’ve got your plays and you’ve gotta do all that stuff, but I’ve always taught, taught my student, my student athletes that you guys have to work as one. Cuz I coach basketball and softball. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, those are the two sports that I have coached. and you have to work as one and you’re only as strong as your weakest link.

Suzanne Imhoff (19:48):

Not Michael, but it’s something that I, I think is true because you can have all parts going and one part doesn’t go it, the play’s not gonna work. And then what are you gonna do? I mean, there’s a lot to be said with that. So either you’re gonna just fall apart or you’re gonna adapt and figure out how to make that part work. Or you’re gonna figure out, okay, if this isn’t gonna work with that part of that’s not, that teammate’s not gonna do what we’re gonna ask him to do, then how are we gonna work around that? How are we gonna adapt to the situation? How are we gonna, you know, basketball, you adapt to the defense and all of a sudden one time down on the floor, they’re playing zone. The next time they’re playing, man, you gotta change your def your offense.

Suzanne Imhoff (20:26):

And can you react to that? How do you react to that? Do you just give up? Do you just panic? Do you, you know, so there’s just so many life lessons that can happen on the court and getting to know kids on a different level. it’s a win-win because then it comes back to my classroom and they see me in a different light and I see them in a different light. you know, sometimes they come in and they’re like, you can just tell that they need some space. It’s like, okay, you’re gonna take this, we gotta come back to it. But, you know, take this time, take the same thing on the court. You know, they can come into practice and I coach girls and there’s drama, always drama hate. It drives me crazy. What are my girls? You have to be the best teammates when you are on this court.

Suzanne Imhoff (21:12):

I don’t care if if your teammate just kissed your boyfriend right before you walked into practice. It’s doesn’t matter on this court. Yeah. Because on this court, you guys are the best friends, you’re the best teammates. Now when you go outta here, you have to sell that whatever way. But when you’re on this court, you are together as one and outside of here has to go away. So you have to kind of separate that and how it’s just like going to a job. You know, there’s people you, you have to deal with at your job that you don’t have to deal with outside. And you have to figure out how you’re gonna manage that within that timeframe and make things successful for you and your teammates. And how are you gonna build them up even if it’s somebody you don’t like that happens. That’s life.

Suzanne Imhoff (21:53):

So, and that’s the one thing about it. I just love that you’re able to, to teach them the life skills that they can have going forward and translate that into every other part of their lives. and getting to know them. Just some of my, the students that I come back in I see all the time are the ones that not necessarily were in my classroom, they were on my court or they were in my student council, or they were in our clowns mentoring group. I mean, those are the ones that you kinda get to know at a different level versus here’s my subject matter, learn that and then we’ll, I’ll give you a grade and then we’ll move forward. So it’s learning and meeting kids where they are and meeting ’em on a different level. and being a human to ’em, you know, it’s like, it’s kinda like being their friend but not, but it’s a respect, like, I’m still your teacher, I’m still your coach.

Suzanne Imhoff (22:43):

Mm-hmm. <affirmative> I’m here for you. But we aren’t gonna cross, you know, there’s that line of respect of I’m gonna respect you, you have to respect me, there’s boundaries. but I’ve, I’ve got you, you know, I’m here for you. I will do what I can to help you get through whatever it is you need to get through or meet the needs, your needs at that at that moment. And coaching allows me to do that, which I really, really enjoy. It’s tough this year cause I’m not coaching cause my son’s a senior. so I’m missing that. And I’ve had some of the middle school kids who I coached last year. They’re like, what do you mean you’re not coaching? I’m like, I can’t give you everything that I need to give you because I want to be able to be there for my son and I don’t think it’s fair. Let’s just leave practice early. I’m like, well that doesn’t put you as a priority and as a coach, if I’m coaching you, you are a priority to me. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And if I can’t give you that full priority, then it’s then I’m not going to be that person there for you. So I just love the relationships. I, I, I kind of thrive on those relationships. I guess they mean a lot to me.

Sam Demma (23:49):

What is the clowns mentoring program? The name caught my attention, but I’m sure it’s amazing. <laugh>.

Suzanne Imhoff (23:56):

Well, I have 35 high school students who choose to dress up as different clowns. scary. And what they do is, I know four times, it’s four times a year. We go here at the high school. We will plan they get, they have the, they have their their rings is what we call them. We have a ring leader and then there’s three or four column to work together. They plan a half hour lesson that they’re going to teach elementary students in grades 4K through fourth grade. Nice. they had to come up with their icebreakers, the activities, the, how are they gonna wrap it up. they give ’em a treat, but they plan the lesson, they execute the lesson. They just happen to dress up as clowns. a different persona for them to, it helps the high school student kind of release like, oh, I have this call makeup of and I look like this.

Suzanne Imhoff (24:50):

So, and then they’re going in front of these elementary kids who just absolutely adore them. And anything that they say comes out of them, you know, is, is golden. but I do see the high school students learn just as much as these elementary kids. They the lessons are all based on, we have a program called Saints Cares for St. Falls Saints. so each month has a different target. one is manners or gratitude or empathy. And so the students will base their lessons that they’re gonna teach the kids on whatever month it is that we are going to, to make the visit. each group visits two to three different classes through that day. We get, we hit every classroom in those grade 4K through fourth grade. and we have four classrooms per grade level. So it’s, it’s, it’s something that, it’s funny cause I don’t really have to work hard to get kids to wanna do it.

Suzanne Imhoff (25:42):

Cause these kids had the clowns come and visit them. And every time I ask ’em, why do you guys wanna be a com? They’re like, oh, it was so, it was awesome when they came, they taught us so much. And I wanna give that back to, I wanna give that experience to these kids right there as a, as a mom, as a teacher, as an advisor. That’s why we do what we do. If we can teach our children to want to give back for what they got out of something, that to me is makes it all worth it.

Sam Demma (26:13):

That’s so, cause

Suzanne Imhoff (26:14):

It was a program that was, yeah, it was a program that was gonna die. And I’m like, no, this can’t die. I have had my children go through it and I see what it does for these kids. So I took it on because I had nothing else to do, which is not true. But

Sam Demma (26:27):

<laugh> you know, earlier, a couple minutes ago you said that you turned down coaching because you knew that you wouldn’t be able to give it the time it deserves. You wouldn’t be able to prioritize the students, the athletes. And then you’re just telling me now that you said yes to doing the clown thing and, and you were busy like you already had other things going on. I think it’s so rare to have an educator that like truly wants to say yes and finds it very hard to say no. Because I think there’s also the reverse that want to say no and try and avoid saying yes to things. And yeah, I just think it’s really cool to hear your perspectives and, and to have you on the show. the clown program. My follow up question was gonna be, have you had a student who was impacted by the clowns and then became one? but you answered that, that that’s so cool that it’s, it’s been around for that long and the impact is now transforming into the teachers of the program. You said it was about to die. How did, how did you resuscitate it? <laugh> the, the program.

Suzanne Imhoff (27:30):

Nobody wanted to do it. And so I’m just like, Nope, I’m gonna do it and we’re gonna kind of restructure it and we’re gonna make it. It kind of was starting to get be the, the previous advisor wasn’t really having the kids stay focused. They were kind of just the high school kids, not Mm. it and wasn’t really putting the effort was kind of just there to, to do it and was like, yeah, I’m done and nobody was gonna step up. I’m like, they’re like, well if nobody’s gonna do it, then we’re not gonna have the program anymore. And I’m like, this just means too much for both the elementary kids and the high school kids. Like I said, I see these high school kids, they’re putting themselves out there. Yeah. I got kids who don’t say boo to high schoolers, don’t say anything and they’re willing to go and stand in, in front of a room of 20 little kids, elementary kids and teach them about good morals and values.

Suzanne Imhoff (28:27):

I mean, if we don’t want that as a program, I don’t know what we want <laugh>. I mean, if we would and to have high school students want to teach that and model that. I mean, it’s a mentoring group. We call it that because they have to follow the behavior that they’re teaching. And I have to turn kids away cuz I can only take so many. and they know that there’s, there’s high expectations and if they don’t follow, I’ve had to head kids, you know, I’m like, guys, your grades matter. You have to be a student first. you have to carry a c or above. It’s, you have, these are expectations. These kids they may not know of, but they know how you are behaving and acting. And you have to be that role model with or without the kind of, the story behind it is they’re like, so for some of the kids are like, we know who you are.

Suzanne Imhoff (29:20):

You’re a high school student. They’re like, no, every clown has a doppel, ganger human <laugh>. So they have a twin in the human world. <laugh>. So anytime a human is born, a clown is born as well. And the clowns are like 472 years old and they’re their age is their, their lunch number actually <laugh>. and so that’s how they get it. And they’re like, well why aren’t you? Why is it just your face that’s white? So they paint their face white and, and a symbol on there because the older they get the more the whiteness spreads as a clown. And they’re pretty young so they’re not, they’re not old enough to have their whole body coming in. White makeup <laugh>, there’s a whole story behind it. You know, it goes with that whole Santa Claus Easter bunny, that kinda thing. And

Sam Demma (30:09):

Is this totally created, like the whole story is created by you and and the group of people. That’s so cool. Yeah.

Suzanne Imhoff (30:16):

Yeah. And they, like I say, the kids, the, all of my clowns, I have all but two cuz two have moved in and our clowns have gone through it. They saw them, they and they’re like, we totally thought that was, they were, that was a real, real thing. <laugh>. and, and like I said, but they’re like, it was so cool that would, they would come and that they would spend time with us cuz they go out to recess with them. So they teach ’em these lessons. They eat lunch with them, they go out to recess, they play games with them. and there are, you know, they just remember that again, it goes back to that time outside the classroom that makes a difference in a kid’s life that I, I have had a student tell me, they’re like, you know, the clowns cup came and that was the only day I felt special.

Suzanne Imhoff (31:05):

Mm-hmm. Because they would sit with me and they would talk with me and they would play with me. And I really truly felt special on the days that clown came to visit. So that’s why I wanna do this. I want, if I can help one person, so what I do and the reason I do it is the same reasons they do it. And so that to me is why I’m like, oh yeah, can’t, and we don’t, we’re self-funded. The kids have a a fee. They buy their own makeup, they come up with their own costumes. They’re all themed costumes. It’s not like your traditional clowns. like my, my daughter is currently one and she’s strawberry shark cake. She doesn’t like you call, she just like calling strawberry. So she wears course,

Sam Demma (31:46):

Of course. The

Suzanne Imhoff (31:46):

Strawberry sweater. Yeah. No, I’m like, ah, strawberry shortcake.

Sam Demma (31:49):

Of course there’s a cake in there. Strawberry

Suzanne Imhoff (31:51):

Leggings, strawberry earrings. She puts the white makeup and then puts strawberries on her face. Strawberry headband. So they’re kind of, each one has a theme. Mitz he’s a baseball clone. and then we have qb, he’s the football clown. Yes. So yeah, they’re all different kind of themes and the kids love getting dressed up. I mean, who doesn’t? Cause I do

Sam Demma (32:14):

<laugh>. This is, this, this program sounds amazing. <laugh>. it’s funny, I was talking to an educator the other day from, it would’ve been British Columbia, one of the provinces like far far west in Canada. And he was like, every year I go to California to this conference called Kata. And it’s like the, it’s a big leadership conference in California. And have you been before by any chance?

Suzanne Imhoff (32:37):

I’ve heard of it. I’ve wanted to go. Go. I’ve heard of it.

Sam Demma (32:39):

Yeah. So, so ba basically what he told me was like, leadership in Canada is like a cookie leadership in the US is like, Suzanne m h’s $2,800 cake <laugh>. He’s like, he’s like, it’s a, it’s just a different, it’s just a different experience. Like it’s so, it’s such a big part of the culture and such a big part of the education system. And for someone who’s not familiar with like a statewide conference, like what does that look like? What does a statewide leadership conference look like?

Suzanne Imhoff (33:12):

It’s funny you asked because I’m hosting the one our school is hosting, the one we’re having this year. so you’ll have kids from all over the state come in. We have a keynote speaker. It’s a two day conference, usually a Sunday, Monday. they come in and we have a keynote speaker and then we have regional business meetings where we elect officers, state officers. Nice. talk about things that hit on the regional levels. The state of Wisconsin’s divided into six regions. and then opposite that they have what we call super sectionals cuz they’re a little bit longer. So they’re our sectionals where we have presenters who will present on anything from mental health to how to lead after high school, how to lead in high school, how to any aspect, servant leadership fundraising, I mean, you name it, we, any topic that the kids would want to potentially hear about.

Suzanne Imhoff (34:15):

So we have those. we have banquet, we award like regional administrators of the year, state administrators of the year. Oh wow. also advisors give different leadership roles. And then we have some entertainment of course dances and fun things like that. And then on Monday we have another keynote speaker, but then we have other sectional breakouts as well. The ones on Sunday are typically led by adults, but the ones on Monday are led by students. Oh, wow. So different groups will put together some, like maybe presenting on a service project that they do or different organizations that they work with or different ways that they lead in their school or how they can get students involved. how do they run their homecomings? How do they run different community service opportunities different things. So whatever they want to, how to run a meeting, how to I know this year we’re gonna be bringing in some kids who have graduated.

Suzanne Imhoff (35:21):

Matt, the student I talked to you about earlier, he’s gonna come back and, and sit on the panel and say, okay, how did you take your leadership from high school level to the college level? Mm. And then from college, how do you take it beyond there? So there’s gonna be sectionals based for like freshman and sophomores and then once for juniors and seniors. Like, how can I continue this? I’m here, I’m in this small and a fishbowl of my school. How do I take it to the next level of college if I’m going to, you know, say UW Madison or a big school or even if I’m going to a private school, how do I stay involved and how do I use what I’ve learned going forward? So those will be there’ll be four, three different opportunities, but there’ll be probably 15 to 1220 different sessions.

Suzanne Imhoff (36:04):

Wow. And then we have a closing thing and they, then they go home. So that’s our, the state cover. So it’s a, we have big speakers come in, but then we also, I like the breakout sessions where students can go and, and learn different things that maybe interest them. So, nice. But that’s, yeah, on Sunday it’s usually adults. It doesn’t have to be. but then student led breakouts, which again, it’s putting kids in leadership situations, they have to lead the group, they have to lead these, you know, presentations. So they’re learning skills just as much as the person attending the students that are attending. So

Sam Demma (36:40):

That’s awesome. Yeah, I was gonna say, when you mentioned awards for administrators of the year and stuff like that, that’s, that’s really cool because it’s part, it’s partly for the educators and the adults as well, not just the, not just the students. So, oh yeah. That’s cool. I’m, I’m assuming there’s a big community around it, like each, each year is it held at a different school and all of you come together and it’s like, oh my gosh, Jane, I haven’t seen you since last year. Yeah.

Suzanne Imhoff (37:06):

<laugh>. Yep. Oh yeah. It’s, it’s, it’s kinda like old home week whenever we get together and be able to, you feel like you just pick up where you left off the last time. You know, it’s a nice network. it that you can build as an advisor. I’ve, you know, I’ve relied on these people, some of these other advisors that I’ve met through this, you know, and through the state conference and through other activities that we’ve done that I’m like, oh, guy sitting on the email, okay, this is my situation. Have you guys ever experienced this? Some have, some haven’t. Hey, gimme some tips. Check. I mean, you, you can’t, can’t live in a bubble and think you’re going to, you know, get it all solved yourself. Learn from others’ experiences, steal ideas, you know, share what you’ve done with, you know, oh yeah, you’re gonna run this at homecoming.

Suzanne Imhoff (37:52):

Oh, we did that. Just know that, you know, this is the issues that we ran into or this is what was so successful. You know, why reinvent the wheel? Let’s take it and make it better. And sharing, I, I think you have to know, you have to work together. You have to give ownership to, you know, or give away the ownership. It’s not mine, it’s ours. Let’s make it all better and let me learn from you and you learn from me. And again, the end result is making students better and whether up here in northern Wisconsin or they’re in the southern part of the state. So that’s the important part.

Sam Demma (38:25):

Yeah, that’s a beautiful perspective. I was recently at a professional development conference to learn in Calgary, which is about a four hour flight from where I am now. and while I was sitting in the crowd, there was a slide that came up on one of the presenter’s presentations and the slide said something along the lines of, when a group of people get lost together in developing and building a worthy cause and none of them care about who gets the credit for it, that’s when real change gets made. And it sounds like this statewide type of a conference is, is similar. It’s like everyone’s coming together with the goal of hoping to make students’ lives better and help them reach their full potential. And to also help, you know, appreciate some of the staff that played a role in their lives. I just think it’s a really beautiful thing.

Sam Demma (39:11):

It, switching gears for a second, if you could travel back in time, tap yourself on the shoulder the first year you started teaching, but maintain all of the experiences you had now, kind of like getting in the back to the future car, but not going to the future. But going back if you could like walk into that first classroom you taught, tap yourself on the shoulder and say, Hey Suzanne, this is the advice I think you need to hear. not because you would change anything about your path, but knowing what you know now and what the experiences you’ve had, what would you have told your younger self?

Suzanne Imhoff (39:44):

I guess the one thing I would say would be it’s okay to the, to let my students fail. Hmm. I know that, and we’ve always said it, but to truly let them fail in what is happening. and not worry if it is a reflection on whether I failed or not. Hmm. and that’s, that was, that’s probably been the hardest lesson for me to learn. Cuz I’m like, okay, so alright, you’ve gotta do this. Oh, they’re not doing it, I’ll just do it. Hmm. No, I need to like let them not do it. if they were supposed to have a poster out and advertise it and then we don’t get as many people, well guys, we didn’t get as many people why what the reflection and evaluation of anything that I’ve done. That would be the one thing is looking at, you know, the failure as okay.

Suzanne Imhoff (40:40):

And it’s kind of cliche, but it’s a learning experience and I didn’t truly embrace that until I was into, well into my teaching and advising. And that would be the one thing that would be like, okay, no, you need to truly realize that it doesn’t make you a bad person because the event wasn’t as successful as you’d hoped. Mm. Or the lesson didn’t quite go as you had planned. That’s okay. What are you gonna do next time? What are we gonna, where, how are we gonna move forward from it? and know that it’s okay, that’s gonna happen. And if it doesn’t happen, that’s when you aren’t moving anybody forward because you don’t really truly learn or get better. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> if you don’t go outta your comfort zone. Hmm. And I, that was, I knew it. I’ve had had people tell me that, but I didn’t truly embrace it. And that would be the one thing I would go back and cuz there’s like times where I’m like, you know, if you had to let that kind of not go and not have done all the things for the kids, we would’ve gotten to the better place that we are now sooner. Hmm.

Suzanne Imhoff (41:52):

If that makes sense. It does. This took a little longer, kind of like when my parents, if I were to <laugh> listen to them going out, out of the box, I would’ve gotten into education a little sooner. But

Sam Demma (42:03):

Yeah. Hindsight’s 2020, right. <laugh> right

Suzanne Imhoff (42:06):

Own way. That’s what I I i that you just need to get outta your own and realize that you can do this and you will make mistakes, but you’ll get there and you’ll get there sooner if you stop telling yourself that you can’t do it.

Sam Demma (42:22):

Hmm. I love that. I think it applies for educators as well. You know, you’ll become the educator you always want to be when you stop telling yourself that you can’t or that that you don’t have the skills required or whatever the story might be. But yeah, I appreciate you for sharing a lot of your wisdom and insights today on the show. If someone’s, it’s already been almost like 45 minutes. If, if someone I know we, it’s a great episode. If someone wants to reach out, ask you questions, buy cake <laugh> <laugh>, well, what would be the best way for them to reach out and get in touch with you?

Suzanne Imhoff (42:55):

Oh yeah, sure. Emailing me is probably the, the, the best way that I check that constantly, but that’s imhofsu@scfschools.com

Sam Demma (43:14):

Awesome. Suzanne, thank you again for coming on the show. Keep up the great work, and keep baking those cakes and we’ll talk soon.

Suzanne Imhoff (43:20):

Oh, you’re welcome. Thank you for having me. I really appreciate it. It was great. It was fun.

Sam Demma (43:24):

I believe that educators deserve way more recognition, which is why I’ve created the High Performing Educator Awards. In 2022, 20 educator recipients will be shortlisted, each of whom will be featured in local press. invited to record an episode on the podcast, and spotlighted on our platform. In addition, the one handpicked winner will be presented with an engraved plaque by myself. I will fly to the winner’s city to present this to them and ask that they participate in a quick photo shoot and interview on location. The coolest part, nominations are open right now, and they close October 1st, 2022. So please take a moment to apply or nominate someone you know or work with that deserves this recognition. You can do so by going to www.highperformingeducator.com/award. We can never recognize educators enough.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Suzanne Imhoff

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

Dr. Ivan Joseph – TED talk (21 million views), Speaker, Author and Self-Confidence Expert

Dr. Ivan Joseph – TED talk (21 million views), Speaker, Author and Self-Confidence Expert
About Dr. Ivan Joseph

Dr. Ivan Joseph (@DrIvanJoseph) is a six-time Coach of the Year recipient and Director of Athletics at Ryerson University. He is a sought-after speaker on developing personal and organizational leadership. He has a BA in Physical Education and Health, an MS in Higher Education Administration and a Ph.D. in Sports Psychology. His popular Tedx talk on the skill of self-confidence has garnered over 21 million views. For more information on Dr. Joseph, please visit, www.drivanjoseph.com

Connect with Ivan: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

www.drivanjoseph.com

Ryerson University

BA in Physical Education and Health – Graceland University

Graduate Programs – Drake University

PhD in Psychology – Capella University

You Got This: Mastering the Skill of Self-Confidence by Dr. Ivan Joseph

Positive Affirmations

Expert Secrets by Russel Brunson

Workshops by Dr. Ivan Joseph

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:01):

Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is someone I have really wanted to interview on my podcast for a very long time. His name is Dr.Ivan Joseph. Dr.Ivan Joseph is a sixth time Coach of the year recipient and Director of athletics at Ryerson University. He is a sought after speaker on developing personal and organizational leadership. He has his BA in Physical Education and Health, and Masters in Higher Education Administration, and a PhD in Sports Psychology. His popular TEDex talk on the skill of self-confidence has garnered over 21 million views. Dr. Ivan Joseph is also an actor, a father, and a very amazing human being. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Ivan, and I will see you on the other side. Ivan, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast.

Sam Demma (01:02):

Huge pleasure to have you on the show after reading your book, watching your, your TEDx talk that has over 21 million views, I want to start this off in a different fashion. I’ve, I’ve listened to a lot of your interviews. I want to get vulnerable right from the start so you can have the chance to introduce yourself, but I want to ask you personally, what is an aspect of your life where you lacked personal confidence and you followed your own tactics and tools, systems and strategies, to change that situation and, and, and let us know how that happened?

Dr. Ivan Joseph (01:35):

Well, well, thank you for having me first of all, Sam, and, and I’ll say this, your question I can answer it at 10, 12, 15 different ways. You know, the, the situation with confidence is, is that you, you acquire it, but then once you achieve success, you move on or you get promoted that struggle comes back because you’ll feel imposter syndrome seep in, and then you’ll manage it, you’ll master it, because we’re hard workers. Then you’ll get to the next level, and again, you’ll feel like you don’t belong. You’ll feel like, oh my goodness, they’re gonna, they’re gonna catch me. And, and so there’s not one situation, I’ll give you one situation, but recognize that this is one of many. So I’ll give you the first example. When I became the Director of Athletics at Ryerson University, recognize that I came from a town of 1200 students from a school that only had 1200 people in it.

Dr. Ivan Joseph (02:29):

So to combine the school and the town, you had 2,500 people, no Walmart, no McDonald’s, no stop signs, no stop lights. And they plumped me into this director of athletics job where I went from managing one person and a budget of 30,000 to bud, to managing a budget that ended in millions, and having to wor work an administrative assistant, lead people, manage people. I didn’t know how to do any of that. And so here I was in this big city of Toronto, millions of people in charge of a budget rebuilding a hundred million maple leaf gardens, and I felt like I was an imposter. And so I did what I know and what I know worked well as a soccer coach, really, which was, I was first there, I was last to leave. Mm. I read everything I could. I found myself a mentor when I didn’t know. I didn’t pretend. I didn’t know, which is that instead of fake it till you make it, I said, I don’t know. Let me get back to you. I asked for help. And most importantly, and this is the criti critical piece, is when I, when I wanted to run away and push the easy button and quit, I just talked to myself out of it. Hmm. And that allowed me to grow into the job.

Sam Demma (03:47):

What did that self-talk look like? When, when we’re in situations where there’s a negative voice, one, how do you create that space to realize, like snap out of the initial moment and realize I’m having negative thoughts right now? And then what course of action do you take to reverse that?

Dr. Ivan Joseph (04:05):

Well, I’ll tell you, I remember it as Claire as day, right? Seeing myself walking down young street off the go train, and here I am, like in my briefcase, in my suit, a guy who never ever wore a suit. I was a tra, I was a soccer coach. I wore, I wore track pants and shorts, and I’m like, who is that guy? That’s not me seeing the reflection off the building. And I was like, stop it. Right? Stop it. I remember sitting in meetings and people are like, oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God, I don’t know what I’m doing. Stop it. Stop it. And so, I d I use what athletes use what I teach my students, which is sports psychology techniques, physical actions, right? These are called thought stopping or centering actions. You use those actions to say, stop.

Dr. Ivan Joseph (04:50):

Right, stop the negative thought and then replace it with the positive affirmation. And you’ll hear me talk about that later on. But with, you can’t stop that negative thinking. What had happens is it influences your beliefs. And soon when you start to believe something about yourself, then it influences your actions. And soon as your actions start acting out, then people, your peers, your bosses, your friends, they will start seeing you and treating you differently based on those actions. And when they see and treat you differently, Sam, it starts that cycle over again. Well, they don’t think I’m good enough. Well, I mustn’t be good enough. Oh, man, I made a mistake. Why is that guy making so many mistakes? I’m not gonna put him in that position. And this vicious self-defeating cycle starts over and over again that it’s hard to break out of.

Sam Demma (05:40):

And when you realize you’re having a negative belief, I understand the physical action, the changing of the rubber band onto your other wrist was something that you read about, you wrote about in your book for your athletes on the soccer pitch or any pitch. Once you realize it and you stop it, how do you replace it? do you use affirmations? Like what’s the next step to build the new confidence that should take that negative beliefs place?

Dr. Ivan Joseph (06:04):

Yeah. And you have to replace it with something, right? You, you can’t just say, stop. And that’s when these automatic affirmations need to come like that. Mm. And so the time isn’t when you’re having a negative thought to think about your affirmation. You prepare your affirmation, so it’s ready to go, and it comes just like that. And so my three are, nobody outworks me. I can learn anything. And I am the captain of my ship and the master of my fate. I use that one. I am the captain of my ship and the master of my fate. When I feel overwhelmed, when I’m like, I’m not in control. I use, nobody outworks me. When things don’t come easy, I’m like, I’m gonna, I’m gonna show up first. I’m gonna, it doesn’t matter how long it takes and when it’s, things are hard when I’m not getting it, oh my gosh, this is complicated. I can learn anything. These are reminders for me that just say, okay, get me in the right spot again. Recognize that my affirmation isn’t I’m gonna make a million dollars. Maybe some people wanna do that, but I subscribe to genuine, authentic affirmations that are about behavior.

Sam Demma (07:11):

I love that. I’ve been walking every morning after my buddy Nick comes over and works out in our backyard, you know, trying to stay covid friendly. So we do it outside on a little bar gym that I built, and I walk after he leaves every morning, and I listen to a three minute YouTube video. And I know you’re a big fan of Muhammad Ali. Oh, yes. And there’s a whole section in the video, and every time I hear it, I just get goosebumps. and it puts me in this mindset that just, it just forces me to take a hold of my day. And when he’s saying, you know, I am the greatest in this YouTube video, and he’s talking about how all these people are gonna doubt him you know, I’m trying to think of the exact words that he uses in the video. He goes, all you chumps are gonna bow when I whoop him, all of you, I know you got him. I know you got him picked. I’m gonna show you how great I am. And every time I hear it, I just imagine myself in that moment. And so I’m curious to know, in your own personal development of self-confidence in studying, does visualization play a huge part in this process as well? Affirmations are awesome and amazing. Do you also visualize

Dr. Ivan Joseph (08:17):

A hundred percent? I’m a, as a sports psychologist, I’m a big believer in visualization. Hmm. Let me teach you, let me talk to you a little bit about a study that what I teach my students. They, they went in and they tested downhill skiers. They put these electrodes onto their busts so that they could see when they were going through the gates and down a mountain, how would the muscles fire? And they were in their lab, and they could see, okay, the, this one fires at this amplitude. Oh, when he’s turning this quad fires, this arm goes, here’s where they relax when they go on the straightaway. And it was amazing, right? This was like, wow. Then they said, okay. Then they took those same skiers, and they said, now, just watch yourself going down. Right? And as they were watching themselves going down, they hooked up their muscles, and they found that their muscles still fired.

Dr. Ivan Joseph (09:01):

Not at the same level, of course mm-hmm. <affirmative>, but they were still firing significantly less, but in the same pattern, in the same racial as they were watching themselves go down that mountain. Then they said, close your eyes and imagine yourself going down the mountain as they close their eyes and imagine themselves going down the mountain again, their muscles still fired in that same pattern, that same frequency, not the same level of amplitude as when they were watching it, but in the same place. So what that was saying is that we are rehearsing that our mind could transfer that energy and that pattern of learning to our muscles, even just by imagining it. The power of visualization is a strong piece. I like to visualize, visualize everything that I’m doing, every little scenario, what I’m coaching, when I’m teaching, when I’m leading, I want to know what I’m going to do. I want to imagine what success looks like. I also wanna imagine what an adversity or a roadblock would look like, so that I have my plan in place so that I’m ready. And I’m not, I’m not panicked. I’m not frozen. Right? I don’t imagine just the great things. I do try to spend some time not imagining when things go wrong, but imagining what my plan of action will be in case things go wrong, so that I can see my way still to victory.

Sam Demma (10:17):

So powerful. When I think back to my own soccer days and the athletes that I had four of my teammates now play in the mls mm-hmm. <affirmative>, the ones who succeeded all had a, a super drive. Like they just all wanted to, you know, play soccer every single day. But I found really interesting was they all watched hours upon hours of soccer. They were obsessed with following every different league that exists in Europe and in Canada and the us. Does watching somebody else kick a ball also fire the same pathways in your brain that you would fire if you were kicking a ball? Like, does visualization also work when you watch somebody else do it?

Dr. Ivan Joseph (10:58):

I will say this the psychology behind is what you’re asking is the social learning theory by a gentleman by the name of Bandura. Right? And so what they will say is that you can learn through observation. This is what, like, you think about this whole YouTube world. Everybody watches YouTube and they learn how to do things before, back in the day. You have to go and watch somebody apprentice with them, learn all those things. So for sure, I, I can’t speak to whether the muscles are firing the same way, but I can say that you can learn through observation, especially if somebody is telling you what to look for. Look at the angle of the leg, look at the, look at the way the angle is locked. Look at how they land on their plant foot. And so you’re saying now you’re watching the things to look for, and now you can go back and mimic those same behaviors and model them in a way that will ensure success.

Sam Demma (11:48):

Hmm. No, I like that. And you just even alluded to some points in your TED talk, by the way, when you talked about planting the foot and leaning forward knee over the ankle, you talk about the importance of catching people while they’re good. This can be used from a management perspective. It can be used from a coaching perspective. You know, the importance of encouraging someone’s positive actions instead of coaching their negative ones. Yeah. That idea. Do you also use it for yourself? So in moments where you maybe didn’t have the performance that you expected, instead of focusing on all the things that went wrong, you focus on the one or two things that went right. Is that something you could also use personally?

Dr. Ivan Joseph (12:25):

Absolutely. I, I think it’s really important. What I use even more than that though, is about focusing on the positives, which is nice. I also say, what am I here to learn? Hmm. When things go south, when they don’t go where I want them to do, I wanna focus on what did it teach me? What are the teachable moments? Because as well as focusing on what went wrong, right? Or what went right, that’s great. Okay, what went right? I also need to think about the gap. Hmm. And, and that gap is, okay, what am I here to learn? And I’m not focusing on the negatives. I’m focusing on the teachable moments when I’m looking at myself. And if I can think of everything as a learning opportunity that prepares me for the next one, and that prepares me for the next one, then I don’t get caught up on the negativity. I get caught up on the teachable moments of that failure. And that’s, for me, key to moving forward.

Sam Demma (13:14):

And you have to stay open-minded, right? Yeah. That op, being someone who’s open-minded will give you opportunity to look at yourself objectively and take that feedback and use it to, to grow. Sometimes we get feedback and it, it, it hurts our ego because, you know, everyone has an ego. They care what people think. is there a difference between ego and confidence? Can you explain the difference? and especially for like young people that use a ton of social media and feel the need to validate themselves. Like, I just wanna know if there’s a bit a difference between ego and, and real confidence.

Dr. Ivan Joseph (13:52):

For sure. And let me go back, because the piece that will feed this is that feedback part when you said, sometimes we get negative feedback and it impacts our, our ego. So recognize that there’s two types of feedback. One is negative and one is critical. Hmm. Negative feedback. What’s wrong? Why it didn’t work? This idea is not good. You didn’t do this, you didn’t do this. You need to come back. Negative critical feedback. Here’s why I don’t think it’s gonna work. have you tried this? This is not good. Have you tried this, this, and this? Hey, I think you missed it. Here’s what I was looking for. Hmm. And so the difference is what’s wrong, but opportunities or avenues for you to go in a different direction. They’re giving you advice. And so that’s really, that’s really key for you to recognize that if somebody’s giving you critical feedback, they’re invested in you.

Dr. Ivan Joseph (14:41):

As I used to tell all my people when I’m coaching you and I’m giving you critical feedback, the willingness of me to expend energy on you means that I believe that, that you can deliver more, and that you’re capable and you have the potential to excel. When I’m not giving you any feedback, you should be worried because I don’t think you’ve got any more to give, and you’ve reached your ceiling. So that’s the first part. The second part is how does it not affect your ego? And when, what’s the difference between ego and confidence? Ego? Is this me telling everybody else how great I am? Mm-hmm. Look at me, look at me, folks. I’m a champion. I’m good. Think about it. When you’re in grade school, Sam, and you’re in the playground, or, or it was that track and field day, and you gotta do the three-legged race or the ball toss or high jump, or the hundred meter sprint.

Dr. Ivan Joseph (15:28):

And you win your first, your second, your third, whatever your ribbons are they used to give you. And do you put them on? And do you walk around the schools like, look at me. Look, I won the first place in the ball toss. I’m a three-legged race champion. Yeah. Ooh, no. The confident person doesn’t need anybody to know how good they are. All right. You put those ribbons in your bag and you go home at night, you put ’em on and in front of the mirror, you say, yes, I’m awesome. That is okay. Cuz you still should tell yourself you’re awesome. You should still remind yourself of how great you are, just egotistically. You don’t need to shout it to everybody else.

Sam Demma (16:06):

Sometimes you’ll have a belief in yourself that other people don’t see. And I know you’ve had firsthand experience with this, with a player on your team when you were coaching, who at first it seemed like this player was not gonna fit in and not going to excel, but that person’s self-belief propelled them forward. And if I’m not mistaken, became the captain of your team and went to a national championship with you guys. Yes. Yes. how do you cultivate that amount of belief in yourself when other people might not agree with you?

Dr. Ivan Joseph (16:40):

That’s a really good piece. So part of it is you’ve gotta make sure when other people don’t believe in you. And so you’re getting it from the left on all, you know, you gotta make sure you’re having other places where you’re getting the opposite, right? Because if you’re bombarded with your mom telling you you’re no good, and your brother and sister telling you’re no good, and at work they’re telling you no good and your boyfriend or girlfriend are telling you good, no good and all the media’s telling, then it’s gonna beat you up. And so you’ve gotta make sure that, let’s say it’s the coach, then you’re surrounding yourself with other people who are able to counter that voice, that you’re also making sure that you’ve written your letter to yourself, where you’re reading your confident thoughts, that you’re also using your affirmations, but most importantly, that you’re also working towards the goal diligently with great effort to close the gap.

Dr. Ivan Joseph (17:31):

Cuz it’s no magic button. You can’t just show up. A coach says I’m no good, and then the next day I just show up and expect a different result. He also gotta put in the work. And if you’ve put in the work and the repetition and the effort, good things will happen. They always do. But at the same time, Sam, you never know, just like you just didn’t make it as a professional athlete because of injury or whatever. Hopefully you’ve got the right people around you that will tell you when it’s the opportunity is right for you to pivot and go in a different direction.

Sam Demma (18:02):

No, I love that. And I think it’s so important. Who we surround ourselves with matters greatly. I think it was Jim Rowan who said, you become the average of the five people you spend the most time with. Yes.

Sam Demma (18:12):

Why is that important? You know, I remember when I was a soccer player, my coach always used to tell me before I asked for the ball, Sam, make sure you check your shoulders <laugh>. And I remember in the middle of the game, and you probably preach this to your players all the time, I played in the midfield. And so I’m looking behind me to check my shoulders and I don’t check. And as I turn around, someone comes and sly tackles me and my left leg. And that’s when I tore my meniscus in my left knee the second time. And I remember after, you know, years went by, I realized what a great analogy check your shoulders is for life. You know, how often do we turn around and say, who am I surrounding myself with? and if you don’t do it, you know, in life, just like in sports, if you don’t check and you turn around randomly one day, there’s, there might be some people there that shouldn’t be there and it might be causing you problems. So why do you think it’s so important to be aware of who we surround ourselves with?

Dr. Ivan Joseph (19:01):

Well, we know that in sport and in psychology, that emotion is contagious. Hmm. And so think about that. When you’re in a, when you’re in a dressing room, I could walk into a dressing room and I know when a team is on, you could feel it in the air. Hmm. You can feel it, you can cut it with a knife. Also, I can tell when one person gets angry, how that can just run through the entire room or panic or whatever that might be, or excitement or energy. We don’t know. Whatever that’s pheros, whether that’s hormones, what that is. But this science is, is irrefutable that, that we can catch the mood of other people. Hmm. And so when I think about that, I think about the group that I’m speaking with or hanging out with. Do they push me? Are they good for me?

Dr. Ivan Joseph (19:46):

Are they good to me? Are they drivers? Are they, are they ones? Like, yeah, yeah, yeah. You know what? You’re right. When somebody comes and gives you hard news, yeah, I can’t believe that coach doesn’t believe in me. I can’t that believe that boss didn’t gimme the opportunity. And they’ll say, yeah, you’re right Sam, you deserve it. I can’t believe it. You were robbed. Or do they say, Sam, you didn’t do what you were supposed to do. You know what? You should have delivered it like this. You need to go back. Do they push you up or do they tear you down? Hmm. Do they allow you to live in that self-belief of I’m a victim? Or do they say, no, we could do better? And you think about those kinds of people and how do you separate the weak from the chaff?

Sam Demma (20:28):

I think, I think catching other people’s emotions could be even more dangerous than catching the flu

Dr. Ivan Joseph (20:35):

<laugh>. Oh, a hundred percent. They will, it will limit you

Sam Demma (20:39):

And it holds you back because like you explained, you know, your beliefs lead to your emotions, emotions to actions, actions to results. And if those, if those beliefs change because of the people you’re hanging out with, it changes literally everything else. It’s like a domino effect. Yes. I spend a lot of time hanging around people who don’t take no for an answer. <laugh>. And I know you’re one of those people and I remember you watching your TED talk as well, and you know, you asked out your, your wife for the first time you know, and she said no. And then her friend came back and told you, you know, there’s a small chance that if the world was falling apart and <laugh> and you know, we need to recreate to save humanity, then, then, you know, maybe we could, you know, maybe it would work. And, and you said, well, there’s a chance <laugh> and you kept going. Right. now maybe you could, you could share a little bit about where that beliefs was built for you. Cause I believe all of our beliefs come from past experiences, like where that belief came from that you didn’t take no for an answer. and maybe even how I reached out to you and what you thought

Dr. Ivan Joseph (21:44):

<laugh>. Oh my gosh. You know, it’s interesting. You know, first off, I’m an immigrant, right? I was born in, in Guyana, south America. My parents came to Canada when they’re 27 years old. Hmm. And so, you know, and immigrants have a very common theme that run through them, meaning work twice as hard, be twice as good. Yeah. Right. You know, like that, that your parents have drilled that into you, your grandparents have drilled that into you. And so you know that the opportunities that you have that will come your way, you gotta fight for. And I saw it in my mother and I saw it in my father. And so those were two, two role models for me that really helped put that behavior of twice as hard, twice as good, twice as like always mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And so, you know, after a while people are gonna say no.

Dr. Ivan Joseph (22:28):

And so you gotta just decide what are you gonna do. You can either feel sorry for yourself or you can try again. You can try. And then when you get a little bit of success, then it creates this pattern of belief in yourself that allows you to keep going. Right. And again, I wasn’t stalking my wife, so I don’t want anybody out there to think, oh my gosh, this guy’s a creepy old man. Right? Yeah. It’s like, oh, let me try again. Right. She, you know, if she let me see. Right. And there’s nothing wrong with thinking that there’s another opportunity to try something different perhaps, whatever that might look like. You know, I, you know, you are a perfect example, Sam. I was not, you know, there’s a certain level of podcast that my partner sends me on Sonny’s like, okay, how many followers do they have?

Dr. Ivan Joseph (23:05):

Will it elevate the brand? All these things? Is this the message they want to go on? Right. And here you are a young whipper snipper, and you were persistent, right? You were, you didn’t take no financial, you came back and you didn’t come back the same way, which is an important piece. You came back with some, you did your homework, you were creative, you sent this message, this video that you were compelling. How could we not say yes to somebody who cared and was so intentional and put so much effort and time into preparing his pitch? We had no intention of saying yes, but you compelled us so that we could not say, no,

Sam Demma (23:45):

I’m writing a chapter in a book right now, it’s gonna be called Dear High School Me. And it’s like, it’s like lessons from my younger self from someone not far removed from high school. And your reach out is gonna be one of the chapters <laugh>. And you know, the whole lesson is that when we’re all little kids, I think it was before the age of four, we hear the word no a couple thousand times and it gets ingrained in our body. You know, we, we fall off the counter and you know, or hopefully you don’t fall off the counter, but <laugh>, you know, something happens and your parents say, oh no, don’t do that. And we associate no with never again. Yeah. No means never. And I’m trying to help people understand that. No, doesn’t mean never when you hear the word no. Although, like you said, there are some situations where no means no and don’t cross that boundary. Yes.

Dr. Ivan Joseph (24:31):

Thank you. Thank

Sam Demma (24:32):

You. Outside of those situations, <laugh> no, doesn’t mean never. It actually means how can you show this person that you care, build trust, and be more creative in your reach out? Yes. And every time that I’ve changed my approach whether it’s with you or other situations I’ve gotten, you know, great responses and, and great results. do you have any examples in your life aside from, from the relationship that you discuss in your TEDx talk where someone initially told you no and things thereafter maybe slightly changed?

Dr. Ivan Joseph (25:05):

Yeah, I think, and I think your point is really strong and make sure your audience knows we’re not talking about consent. Yeah. So let’s put that over there. Yeah. We’re talking in the business world that there’s always an opportunity to get your foot in the door. And so when I was, when I wanted to be a coach, I didn’t get the job. They said no a bunch of times. So you know what I did? I volunteered, I worked for free. And a month before or two weeks before the season started, the coach left and they were stuck. They didn’t have anybody else. They paid me less than the scholarship of my athletes. So as the head coach, I was the lowest paid person on that team, but I didn’t care. Yeah. All I wanted was an opportunity. And when I got the opportunity, I took the most of it.

Dr. Ivan Joseph (25:51):

I worked like a dog. We won the conference championship that year. We were 13 and one first ever championship they ever won. I was the conference coach of the year. Right. So recognized that, you know, no meant not yet. But what did I do while they said no? I went and got the coaching courses, I went and got the coaching license. I read this book about coaching. I spent an and learned this about coaching. I watched games on TV to learn and do everything I could. So when the opportunity gave me a small crack, I was ready to take advantage of it.

Sam Demma (26:25):

I love that. So powerful. And you talk about this in your summit, the speech you did, I think it was for jack.org back in May 5th, 2020. A young lady asked you the question, you know, how do you, how do you find what you love doing? There’s so many different, you know, opportunities available and there’s so many different options and you gave some awesome advice about, you know, maybe you volunteer and you know, that’s how it started. For you, what is your advice around helping, you know, maybe students or young people find what they’re good at or what they love doing?

Dr. Ivan Joseph (26:56):

I say we all know what we love because it’s the thing that we do. And all of a sudden time flies. Mm. In sports psychology, we call it flow. When have you ever done something, it’s like, oh my gosh, I can’t believe that. Like, where did the hour go? Yeah. Whether that’s reading a book, whether that’s playing your hockey, playing your game, like, my gosh, what are those activities that put you in the state of flow that you look forward to doing and you can’t wait? You know what they are? Put a make a list of them. When I, when that was asked for me, what do I volunteer to do? And I couldn’t believe it was soccer. You can’t make a living as a soccer coach. This is 25 years ago. I tell you that, that soccer coach led to me being and making a ton of money, which I never wanted to do. That wasn’t the reason I was driven towards it. But what happens is, when you do what you love, excellence happens. And when you become the best at what you do, people are willing to pay for the, for that service. And so, I I just remind you that even though you think, well, I can’t make a living doing what you love, there’s always a way.

Sam Demma (28:03):

I think it’s Russell Brunson, this guy who does a lot of internet marketing, he started a company called ClickFunnels. He, he started a business teaching people how to make potato launchers <laugh>. And this is the first thing he did. And, and I remember just reading it in one of his books, expert Secrets, him talking about there’s almost some market or an opportunity in every single field. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> what matters is how much you’re willing to give of your time, your effort, your energy towards becoming a master in that thing. Because there’s no, there’s no, there’s no job position just waiting for you. Sure there’s jobs out there, but I think you create it through your actions that you take every single day, day in and day out. Yes. and you’ve created a wonderful career for yourself. And I want to take this interview down a professional route for a second.

Sam Demma (28:53):

Yeah. Over the, over the past four years, I’ve been obsessed with helping students become real world ready, trying to figure out what makes a high performing young person. And based on my own personal success and conversations that I’m having with, you know, phenomenal humans like yourself, I’m taking this assumption and I’m putting it to the test. and so I wanna test this assumption here with you today. There’s six characteristics. All I wanna know is, do you think this thing was foundational to your success? And how did you develop it over the past couple of years? so here’s the first one, and you’re already someone who does this day in and day out for your job, but it’s professional and persuasive communication. So I believe that a high performing student, performer, athlete, whoever it is, has to have the ability to effectively share ideas with others that not only inform them, but inspire them to move into action. And you speak all around the world. So is professional communication something that has been foundational to your success? And how did you develop it as a skill?

Dr. Ivan Joseph (29:52):

A hundred percent. Right. Persuasive communication. And I will say it this way, I would put the other side of that as well. And maybe you have it in one of your six. It’s not just persuasive communication, it’s also empathetic communication. Hmm. Persuasive and empathetic because empathetic in insinuates that I’m listening and I’m hearing and I’m able to speak to the things that matter and resonate with the people. Hmm. And that is really key. Right. Because you can’t be persuasive if you don’t know what matters to the other person. I love that. Okay. So how did I put, how did I get when I was a teacher, when I was a professor, I probably did four or five different one hour lectures a day for 10 years.

Sam Demma (30:34):

Yep.

Dr. Ivan Joseph (30:35):

So I got to be really good repetition, repetition, repetition, <affirmative> repetition.

Sam Demma (30:40):

Mm-hmm. <affirmative> and variation. I’m sure you’re giving different lectures all the time, which helps you

Dr. Ivan Joseph (30:45):

All the time. All the time. And I never wrote ’em down. I’ve studied them, but I wanted them to be authentic and novel. And so, and I evaluated that didn’t work. That was no good. Okay. This was really good. Let me, let me do this part again.

Sam Demma (30:59):

Love that. Okay. That’s phenomenal. And thank you for the the additional feedback. If anything that I mentioned sparks a new idea or an extended version of the principle, please share. the second assumption is that these people have the trait of taking care of their mental and physical health, meaning they exercise their mind and their body. Yeah. Has that been something that’s been foundational to your success? And how did you develop the habit of exercising, meditating, and all these amazing actions that we should all take?

Dr. Ivan Joseph (31:29):

Yeah, and I like that you said meditating because that’s that mental, that’s the physical, it’s the spiritual. And so work-life balance is really important. I think that we recognize that, you know, we must work hard, we must work hard. That’s the only way to get ahead. But if you don’t shut it down, if you don’t restore, you don’t get the great ideas. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And so that’s a really important piece. And so I haven’t gone out to say, I love to exercise. I don’t work out for the sake of working out. I play, I get my workout through play. Love it. Whether that’s playing on a soccer league, whether that’s whitewater canoeing, that’s, whether that’s playing squash, that’s my jam. But that’s my space for flow. Recognize that your workout might be something completely different. Don’t think that if you’re not doing physical exercise, you’re not good. Your workout might be mental. Just you’re the puzzle person. You’re the crossword person. What it is, is a thing that allows you to get to that stage where you restore and regenerate your soul and your spirit. So I really believe that’s a key principle.

Sam Demma (32:26):

I love that. I love that analogy too, that everyone gets it a little bit differently from different sources. One of the criticisms I had of a lot of self-help books were that they tell you that you have to wake up at a specific hour in the morning and do these three specific exercises in this row, and you’ll have a successful life. And I think it’s so false, right? We all have a goal in a morning routine to feel a specific type of emotion Yeah. Or to cultivate a specific type of belief. And there’s so many different activities that you could do to help you attain that goal. and I think it also applies like you’re saying to mental and physical wellbeing. So I love that. The third the third assumption is emotional intelligence. So these are, these are performers. These are people who are aware of how they feel and can give themselves a little bit of space to recognize the emotion and take action to support that emotion or despite the emotion. So you know how to say no properly, how to say yes. how to understand how other people are feeling in relation to a situation. I think there’s a ton of different definitions of emotional intelligence, but we’ll just define it as being self-aware. has that been foundational? And how did you develop that awareness?

Dr. Ivan Joseph (33:38):

Well, that’s a, you know, I don’t know how I developed it, but I, I think what I call is emotional awareness or intelligence. I call it insights. Mm. right. The ability to read the room, the ability to pick up when you’re being too much or too little, or when to walk away, when to push, when to just let this person have their moment because it’ll avoid a conflict. And that’s time for another conversation. You know, I think one of the things is in order to have insight, you have to be reflective. You have to really evaluate, well, that went wrong, or, I did really well there, what happened? Because I don’t know if you can read a book and say, this is who I am. But I think if you’re really insightful, you start to reflect on where you screwed up, where you hit it out of the park, ah, I didn’t get what I needed. Let me try it this way next time. And that’s how you acquire that level of emotional intelligence.

Sam Demma (34:30):

Hmm. I love that you talk about it in your book, or was it the interview with Louis? Hows the, the gut feelings, right? Yes. and you mentioned that when you shy away from those or act despite those little, you know, those little voices in your head or those gut feelings, that things typically go wrong

Dr. Ivan Joseph (34:48):

Every time,

Sam Demma (34:49):

Still holds true.

Dr. Ivan Joseph (34:50):

Every, every single time. It usually ends up costing me more money. Makes me unhappier gives me great frustration. Yeah.

Sam Demma (34:58):

Cool. Very cool. <laugh> love that. fourth assumption is that these, these students are grounded in the present moment, meaning they take lots of action daily mm-hmm. <affirmative>, but they do have goals and a vision that they’re working towards. So they have a future focus. I’m, I’m assuming from day one you wrote things down on paper and, you know, had goals and visions for yourself before anyone else even believed in you. but is that something that you think has been foundational to your progress and success And, and what, what made you from day one, grab a pen and paper and start writing things down that you wanted to happen in the future, if you can remember?

Dr. Ivan Joseph (35:33):

Well, yeah, I’ll say it wasn’t from day one. It was after I flunked out and was embarrassed and was ashamed and he was humiliated and I needed to start over. And when I needed to start over, I said, well, what am I gonna change? What am I gonna move and how am I gonna respond and react to this? So hitting rock bottom and reacting to failure, put me in this path. And then I started writing one year goals, three to five year goals and 10 year goals. I always do my, my goals in those three buckets, right. Because I want to have a long-term plan so I know where I’m going. You know, if I want to be a college university president, I better sit on a university panel that searches what they look like now. So in 10 years I can see what they’re looking for. I have time to start prepping myself. Mm. When I wanted to be a L’Oreal vice president, you know what I needed to get certain skills, I better start getting those skills now. So three years from now, I’m ready for when the opportunity comes. And so I’m a big believer in writing down your goals and not just your long-term ones and, but your short-term ones, but here’s the key, Sam, not too many. Mm-hmm. Because then you won’t become an expert in anything.

Sam Demma (36:41):

Yeah. It’s like the whole idea of don’t go a mile wide. Go a mile deep. Yes. and ah, it’s so true. And I hear it so much over and over again, and I love it. It’s such an important thing to remind yourself of. perfect. The fifth characteristic is building strong habits. Right? Excellence comes not from what we do once, but what we do day in and day out, even when we don’t feel like it. Do you think that habits have played a huge part in your life? Or do you act more sporadically? and has that been foundational to your success?

Dr. Ivan Joseph (37:15):

Well, I’ll say it this way, I wouldn’t say it’s habits. Okay. Right. I would say it’s values. Hmm. The values drive my consistent response and behavior to things. Cool. And so, because you know how they, I’ve tried 30 days to find a habit, 30 days to be, I like I, I tried to work out or be a vegetarian for 30 days. They’re they 31, thank God that’s over. Yeah. Right. I work out, I work out, I work out. I did 30 days of pushup, 40 days of pushup. Soon as I missed three days in a row, that habit’s gone. Yeah. Right. And so that is the one I’ll say that I struggle with. And it doesn’t mean it’s right, but I will say that habits are typically something that are about behavior. Mm. And what drives behavior for me isn’t habits, it’s values. Mm. And that is the key. And what I mean by values is you’re the core beliefs about who I am, what I’m about.

Sam Demma (38:06):

I love that. So key, so important. And I think, I think back to a situation that didn’t align with my values, that forced me to make a decision out of a couple things. I think of a relationship that I had that I, that I recently ended. I think about a speaker agent who, a speaker agency who at first I had written down, you know, I’m gonna be represented by these people and I’m super excited. And then they approached me with the contract and the terms totally did not, not align with my values or the vision I created for myself. And there was this internal conflict that just stirred up in me. And right away I was questioning everything <laugh>. And I had everyone in my life telling me, you have to do this and you have to do that, and you should do this. And then I couldn’t sleep at night knowing that it, I was about to go against that gut voice that I had. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. so I think knowing what your values are and taking actions based on those and in alignment with those is what’s really important. Is what you’re saying. Yeah.

Dr. Ivan Joseph (39:04):

For

Sam Demma (39:05):

Me. Okay. Yeah. No, I totally agree. I love that the, the fifth, the fifth, the sixth, the sixth characteristic that I believe is super important is being a perpetual learner. So someone who is one, always open to feedback, cuz you’re gonna learn from feedback, but two, reading consuming information, whether it’s podcasts, books, speeches you know, even something like this kind of sparked the idea at the, at the end of your book, you have a list of your favorite reads, and I think there’s six or seven books listed there. I think perpetual learners are people who read one book and then have six more that get added to their list, <laugh> Yes. That they wanna read in the future. do you think that that’s been foundational in your success? And how did you cultivate that desire to want to learn? It’s a lot easier to grab a b a bag of Lay’s chips and watch Netflix all day. <laugh>

Dr. Ivan Joseph (39:54):

No, you’re still, I, I’m glad this one is last because this is the one that needs to stick. Hmm. Right. you, I say often when I coach soccer, sometimes I win. Most times I learn. Hmm. Right. And, and this is the key, right? Learning helps sets you up for success if you’re willing to approach it really in a student-centric perspective. Meaning I’m here to learn not just from reading a book, not just from watching a podcast, but in every single aspect and interaction that you have. I remember watching a Disney movie, oh, I love the way he said this about Simba and leadership. How can I employ that to my soccer game? I remember watching and reading Graham Henry’s book on legacy from the New Zealand, all Blacks. How am I gonna use this about how I build culture? We can’t learn enough and learning should never stop. I think about all my great mentors, some of them are 70, 80 years old and all the work they’re doing, and you know, in the old days it used to be just reading books. But in today’s world, it’s YouTube, it’s podcast, it’s Instagram, wherever it is. But make it an f make it a a thing for you to do and make it a part of your routine.

Sam Demma (41:07):

Hmm. I love that. And was that desire cultivated in you because you came to a realization that you wanted to know more, you wanted to learn more. Was it, was it a teacher that prompted you to it or was it because you failed? Like, because like, I tell students this all the time, but sometimes the switch doesn’t go off. And I’m curious to know what the trigger is to help someone understand like, learning is, is, is necessary <laugh>, you know, it’s needed.

Dr. Ivan Joseph (41:32):

Well, I’ve got intrinsic motivation, meaning I always want to be the best. Cool. And in order to be the best, I I don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Yeah. Who else has done this and what can I learn in order to expedite my learning, my advancement, my progress? Because I could still do it, but what might take 10 years of me trial and error. I could shorten the one year by somebody’s teachable moments. And I think that’s really important. And if you’re not a book reader, then find a mentor and apprentice because that learning can happen the same way, maybe even better.

Sam Demma (42:06):

I often say mentorship is probably the, the lost form of teaching. Maybe watch it in movies, whether it’s Star Wars with OB one Kenobi or the Karate Kid, Mr. Miyagi. Right. so that’s awesome that you’re, you’re enthusiastic about that. Yeah. Those are the six As, those are my six principles, six assumptions. I’m curious to know, and I’m not gonna put you on the spot if one doesn’t come to mind, but is there anything that you would instantly add to that list?

Dr. Ivan Joseph (42:32):

Yeah, I think the, for me it’s that whole thing about you are steeped in grit and resilience. Hmm. Meaning how you respond to f failure setbacks, you know, that’s my jam. Whether you call it confidence, whether you call it mental toughness, resiliency, grit, hardiness. But that is a key piece that should be part of your mantra because whether you like it or not, you could be as, as insightful and as persuasive as you want. You will experience failure as you progress through life. And your response to that, your coping mechanism will really determine whether you continue on your path or you jump off and you give up.

Sam Demma (43:11):

I love it. No, that’s awesome. And you have a course coming out for students? I think, I believe it’s coming out in the spring or sometime in the future. Yeah. what, what is it all about? Tell us more. if you’re listening, tell the listener where they could find it as well.

Dr. Ivan Joseph (43:26):

Sure. the Skill of Self-Confidence masterclass, if you go on my website, dr ivan joseph.com, you can go ahead and there’ll be a time where you’ll sign up for that. And I think it’s coming out this spring, I should know that sort of stuff. <laugh> or you, if you were just saying, you know what, I’d just rather learn about this confidence. I don’t wanna join and pay money for a class go to dr ivan joseph.com front slash confidence and you could download a a workbook, 15 steps to self-confidence free workbook for you.

Sam Demma (43:54):

And if you’re wondering, I’ve downloaded it as well for the, for the listener, and it’s phenomenal. So definitely check it out. Ton of great gold in there. Yeah. It’s, it’s, it’s good stuff. And if someone just wants to connect with you or maybe even ask a question what would be the best way for them to do so?

Dr. Ivan Joseph (44:09):

You know, you can find me in all the socials. @DrIvanJoseph is my handle on Instagram. @DrIvanJoseph is my handle on Twitter, so I’m out there LinkedIn, anyone. And I’m happy to respond and, and give any feedback that you folks might want.

Sam Demma (44:24):

You talk about an Apple video that was featured, I believe it was 1966 and 97 97. That’s my, that’s my dad’s birthday. I shouldn’t forget that one. <laugh>. <laugh>, you know, here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the troublemakers. I just wanna say I hold you to that regard and yeah. This was phenomenal. Thank you so much for taking the time to do this, and I look forward to continue reading your books as you publish them and taking some of your courses in the future.

Dr. Ivan Joseph (44:52):

Thanks, Sam, appreciate it. You did a great job. Thanks for having me.

Sam Demma (44:55):

I believe that educators deserve way more recognition, which is why I’ve created the High Performing Educator Awards. In 2022, 20 educator recipients will be shortlisted, each of whom will be featured in local press. invited to record an episode on the podcast, and spotlighted on our platform. In addition, the one handpicked winner will be presented with an engraved plaque by myself. I will fly to the winner’s city to present this to them and ask that they participate in a quick photo shoot and interview on location. The coolest part, nominations are open right now, and they close October 1st, 2022. So please take a moment to apply or nominate someone you know or work with that deserves this recognition. You can do so by going to www.highperformingeducator.com/award. We can never recognize educators enough.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Dr. Ivan Joseph

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.

Sarah Wells – Olympic Athlete, Speaker and Founder of the Believe Initiative

Sarah Wells - Olympic Athlete, Speaker and Founder of the Believe Initiative
About Sarah Wells

Obstacles don’t scare Sarah Wells (@SarahWells400mh). As a 400m hurdler, this Olympian’s reputation was forged through overcoming challenges and achieving the incredible. Take her debut at the London Olympics in 2012, which came despite an injury that had her sidelined her for months just the year before.

Outside of competitive sports, this athlete is coaching people to pursue excellence through the Believe Initiative, an organization founded on—fittingly—a message of resilience. Most recently you would have seen Sarah pushing her limits on the latest season of The Amazing Race Canada.

Evidently someone who understands the importance of building resilience and self-belief, along with the power of purpose, you’ll want to listen-up when this Olympic semi-finalist and Pan Am Games silver medallist takes the stage.

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

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

sarahwells.ca

London Olympics

The Believe Initiative

Become a Chapter Head – Believe Initiative

The Amazing Race Canada

Pan Am Games

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 is a very special interview with a very special educator. She is not one that works directly in the classroom every day as a teacher or a principal or support staff, but she works with thousands of young people every single year with an amazing program called The Believe Initiative. I’m so honored to call this individual a very close friend of mine. Her name is Sarah Wells; might ring a bell. Obstacles don’t scare Sarah Wells. As a 400 meter hurdler, this Olympian’s reputation was forged through overcoming challenges and achieving the incredible. She debuted at the London Olympics in 2012, which happened despite an injury that had her sidelined for months, just the year before. Outside of competitive sports, she’s coaching people to pursue excellence through the Believe initiative, which you’ll hear about today. An organization founded on a message of resilience. Most recently, you would’ve seen Sarah pushing her limits on the latest season of the Amazing Race Canada. She is a phenomenal speaker to youth and organizations and has so many amazing stories to share. I hope you enjoy this conversation with my good friend Sarah, and I will see you on the other side. Sarah, why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about what it is that you do.

Sarah Wells (01:32):

So, my name is Sarah Wells. I am an Olympic 400 meter hurdler. I am a adoring fan of Mr. Sam Demma <laugh>. No, I’m honored to be here really. Excited to share a bit of my story, who, where I got started, honestly, in track and field. I wasn’t good at any sports and I had a high school teacher see me in gym class and he was like, you need to do track and field. And at that point, it was early into my high school experience, like it was like near the end of grade nine. And I had already been cut from every single high school team, like basketball, volleyball, soccer, badminton, cut from every team. So when the teacher is like, you should, you should come to the track team, I was like, no dude, I already got cut from every team at this school. <laugh>

Sarah Wells (02:16):

Like, you don’t want me on your team. And he was like, no, no, no. I just saw you run to the ball, do nothing with it, <laugh>, but then run away like really fast again so you can accelerate. I I wanna teach you how to hurdle. Hmm. And so I was like, okay, sure. So I go out and I end up finding hurdles and falling in love with the sport and end up setting my sights eventually on the Olympic games. And that high school teacher and I, we stayed coach athlete for the next nine years until we made the Olympics together, which is pretty unheard of and not, you know, your classic story. But yeah, it was a wild ride. I was convinced I wasn’t athletic and then suddenly I was <laugh>.

Sam Demma (02:56):

And at what point did you turn back and decide it’s time for, for me to share these experiences and stories with other people? You speak for clients like r BBC and huge schools and you start your own initiatives that we’ll talk about later as well. At what point did you turn back around and say it’s time to share and give back in speaking?

Sarah Wells (03:12):

So I was kind of head down into sport once I realized that I had some potential. But once I made the Olympics, I had a story to tell of what had gone on. And you know, the <laugh> short form of that is really, I had an injury. I sat out for what was supposed to be three months and turned into nine months. Wow. And I had never touched Olympic standard before. And so everyone was telling me like, you’ve just sat out for nearly a whole year, like you’re not gonna make it. And on my first day back to training, I got the word believe tattooed on my wrist. And I said, when I make the Olympic Games, I’m gonna put the Olympic rings underneath here. And six months later, <laugh> you know, shockingly even to myself, I make the Olympic games. And I finished that tattoo and I put the Olympic rings underneath exactly where I said I would.

Sarah Wells (03:59):

And so I’m like, holy mo, believing in yourself works. And my parents, they were really proud and so they were te telling their friends what I had done. And my parents’ friends were like, come talk to my kids’ school. And so I was like, okay. And so I walk into a gymnasium, I’m like, this is what happened. And like, I got a tattoo. Don’t get a tattoo though. Don’t tell your parents. I told you that <laugh> and like, just believe in yourself because if you believe in yourself, you achieve your goals. Look, I did it and I started sharing that story. And for four years while I was still training cuz I wanted to make a second Olympic games I was getting to speak and share that and inspire others and realize, you know, how powerful this what had happened to me could be used for good to help inspire other people. And so it was so exciting and it helped me fund my training and training camps and, and competitions and helped me continue to develop and get faster and stronger. And, you know, right before my next Olympics at it was the 2015 PanAm games, I ended up winning a silver medal and only losing to the number one ranker in the world. And so it really set me up to be like, okay, the next Olympics, 2016 Rio Olympics, I plan to go win a medal and call it a career and speak all I can <laugh>.

Sam Demma (05:12):

That’s so cool. I gotta be honest with you, when I think about any running athlete, like the first thing that comes to mind is like, fors, Gump, <laugh>. I’m just like running for hours. And I’m curious to know because as a soccer player myself, like training is fundamental to the game. Like, if you don’t train, if you don’t go to a track and you don’t run, you don’t become a faster sprinter. You know, you have to go to the track and you have to run. But I have to imagine that there’s, there’s certain days where like the running just became so melodic and you just, you know, it was like, it was like you didn’t wanna do it. Like I have to imagine there was times where you just didn’t wanna do it. And how did you get yourself through those moments and continue to push yourself past your limits every training session to get to where you were when you competed in the games?

Sarah Wells (05:55):

Oh yeah. There was a thousand moments I could probably think of, of days. I was just like, dang, why do I do this? Like this sucks. Like I laugh at the shirt that one like Nike made that shirt for runners that said, running sucks. <laugh>, <laugh>. Cause it does, it sucks. It’s so hard. Like, and it’s like a bunch of other teachers that say like, my sport is your sports punishment. Like that is what track and field is. Yeah. And even though I just joked about how I wasn’t good at sports and then I just said like, eventually I found track and field, it’s like I wasn’t good at sports, I was good at exercising <laugh>, I was good at just running, you know, and being able to put in work. And it wasn’t always fun. Like you said, there was many days I wanted to give up and just say like, ugh.

Sarah Wells (06:36):

So it’d be so much better if I could just like stretch for the whole practice, you know? Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, like, I don’t wanna push my body hard. But the ways I was able to rise above that in moments you just really didn’t want to was I think kind of twofold. Like one, there’s a little bit a around the like remembering your goal and like picturing yourself, like vividly picturing yourself what it’s gonna feel like and look like when you do get that goal. Mm-hmm. And there was moments in workouts where like I would show up kind of like a soggy cracker, like, ugh, am my coach, I wanna cracker <laugh>. Yeah. That’s saving a lot. and I would just be like, I don’t wanna be here today. Like I’d be cranky for whatever reason, maybe I had a bad work at the previous day or I didn’t get a good sleep and my coach would be like, you know what?

Sarah Wells (07:28):

Like get to it. Like I don’t care. Like this is what it’s gonna take. And what he would do sometimes is mid interval, like we’re approaching the end, this is where I’m, I’m wearing thin on grit and motivation and energy and I remember specifically this one workout we were doing hills and you are basically walking by the time you get to the top of this hill, like it is so challenging. We had done a bunch of figure eights, like you run diagonally all the way across and all the way up and then you jog down and you run diagonally all the way across and all the way up to draw figure eight. And we had to do like six sets of this and it was terrible. And I had already thrown up, I think at this point once <laugh>. And so I had to keep going.

Sarah Wells (08:06):

And my coach, I remember this like second last interval, which is one of the hardest intervals because you’re not done, you still have one more, but you’re so beat by that point. And so it’s like one of, it’s the second last interval, I’m running up this hill and as I like am getting to the top, I wanna give up, he can see I’m slowing down and he just yells to me 55 seconds, which is the time I needed to run in order to make the Olympic games. And it’s just like, just hearing him yell that in the moment, I was like, I’m tired, I’m exhausted, I don’t wanna keep going. But the second he yelled 55 seconds, it just anchored it all back to like, why am I doing this? What is this gonna help me? What brick does this help lay? And finished that workout and was like so pleased with myself of like, because he said that I didn’t give up because he said that I crushed the last workout or the last run.

Sarah Wells (08:56):

And like, I think a big part of how you push forward on any day, you don’t feel like doing your homework. You don’t feel like going to school, you don’t feel like doing the job that you signed up to do, you know, is by remembering like vividly what is the thing that this lays a brick for, whether it’s in a week from now, a month from now, a year from now, whatever that is. so that’s one thing. The, the second thing is a bit more anchored, less big picture and long term and more tangible on like a daily, weekly practice is I would keep a workout journal that would have, what was my workout? What times did I run, how was I feeling during the workout? And what I could do is every training season is cyclical. Like you have a base season where you do a long, like a bunch of hard long intervals.

Sarah Wells (09:44):

Then you have specific season where you’re doing, it’s kind of long and it’s really fast. And then you have kind of race season where you’re doing less volume but really high intensity and you follow these cycles every year. And so the workouts might be mildly different, but they’re a little bit the same at each time of year. And so I would keep a log and I could look back years and years worth of my, of my log and say, look, at this time of year last year I was only at this point and I don’t feel like running today, but look how much further ahead I am. Where else can I go? What other new heights can I reach? Or it holds you accountable of like, ugh, I was faster at this point last year. I need to keep going as much as I don’t wanna work out today.

Sarah Wells (10:25):

If I have this big goal then I, I need to push today. Like regardless of whether I wanna be here or not. And it just is a little bit of an accountability partner being held to that log. And you know, it might not be a daily practice for you if you’re doing this like with school or anything like that, but I would encourage you to keep a log of like things you were working on, what went well, what were the practices you were doing like character building practices, not like athletic sport practices that were enabling you to become the best version of yourself that were enabling you to take a step forward in your goals. And when you can see that and look back of like, oh, last fall in September I was so organized and I was committed to blocking time to work on school and I was committed to networking and reaching out to organizations I could volunteer at so that I was building my brand and my volunteer opportunities, then you can suddenly motivate yourself to be like, shoot, I better be doing that again. And you can push on the days you don’t want to because you’re held accountable to what you know works cuz you have tangible qualitative science to show that it does. So that’s really the kind of the two ways I would push beyond motivation is one remembering and anchoring to that big goal vividly. And the second thing would be keeping a log so you can hold yourself accountable to things that work and things that don’t.

Sam Demma (11:43):

Sorry. Do you have a second tattoo that says 55 seconds somewhere <laugh>?

Sarah Wells (11:49):

No, not yet. Not

Sam Demma (11:50):

Yet. That’s awesome. So cool. I love that.

Sarah Wells (11:52):

Love my believe tattoo. I’ll share this like quick story by I got the tattoo and I had been injured and my parents knew I wanted to make the Olympic games, but they really didn’t believe it was possible. They really didn’t like, not that they don’t love me, but I don’t really don’t think that they believed that it was possible. And I, I got the tattoo secretly. I finished my very first after the doctor cleared me to run, I finished my first workout and I was like, you know what I’m doing? I took my friend and I was like, let’s go. And I walked right from the practice to the tattoo parlor. I didn’t have an appointment. I literally walked in and I’m like, I need a tattoo blue, I believe on my wrist. So I get it. I didn’t tell anyone. And then I was at school so my parents didn’t see me. And I went home at Thanksgiving and I showed my dad and I got this believed tattoo and my dad said, you ruined Thanksgiving. <laugh> <laugh>. It was amazing. It was like kind of hilarious because yeah, he did not believe that was necessary. No pun fan. He’s a fan of the tattoo. Yeah, right. Yeah. Yeah. He’s a big fan now though. He’s like, that’s awesome. Great job. Love that. You made the Olympics good work.

Sam Demma (12:56):

Yeah. Now, now it all makes sense, right? It’s funny, I, when I was 18 after my first knee surgery, I got this tattoo and it’s a, it’s a Latin phrase. Yeah. and it says Vinke keur, which means he who endures, conquers, you know, if you can endure pain, suffering, hardship training, now you can conquer and <laugh>. Well, did I know that I was gonna stop playing soccer after two more injuries, but <laugh> But I applied to all areas in life. Like I think it’s a, it’s a mindset Yeah. More than anything. Totally. But I’m curious, like from your perspective, what do you think makes up the mindset of an Olympic athlete? Like if I was to take some surgical equipment and like poke your brain and like figure out like what makes up Sarah’s mindset what do you think, what do you think the things are that would be included?

Sarah Wells (13:42):

So I think there’s, there’s people really put Olympic athletes on a pedestal Yeah. And think that they’re these like special humans that they must ha like you just ask me, can you get into my brain and look around and say our brains are gonna look very similar. Yeah. Like anyone, like while Olympic athletes, yes, it is a, is a unique thing that we are one of the best in the world at one specific thing. But so many of us, we had opportunities presented to us that we were able to, to take advantage of. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And there’s a professor, a Canadian professor that studies resilience that talks about how we admire the rugged individual, but we should be admiring the resourced individual. And really it’s about resilience and grit and all of that. Like there there’s some nature aspect of it of like, yes, someone might be willing to to harness or take advantage of an opportunity that’s presented them.

Sarah Wells (14:45):

They might be more inclined to do so. But it’s more about are those resources presented to the person? Like that’s how you can be resilient is when you have more opportunity, when you have resources in front of you. Now someone might say then, okay, so am I screwed? I’m in an underprivileged neighborhood and my school system doesn’t have a lot of things in front of me. Like, am I screwed? Then it’s like, well no, because there are, there are resources that like now it’s just like unfortunate that you have to take more of a role in choosing to go find those resources. Mm. But don’t blame yourself of like, I’m not resilient because like clearly I don’t know how to push past challenges clearly I don’t know what to do. Like, instead it’s like, okay, get, just acknowledge that it’s not, it’s not you, you’re not the person who’s not resilient.

Sarah Wells (15:35):

You’re not the person that’s not rugged, you’re not the person that’s not gritty. There’s not enough resources. And so ask for help in that moment. Like, I had a year where after having a very successful high school career, when I went to university, I got hurt right away. Like within the first few months I got injured and it was one of my first like really big injuries and I didn’t perform provincial on that provincial level. I like barely performed well on the national level. And I was so convinced, like, okay, it was the end of the road. I was a good high school athlete, this is it for me. And I had coaching staff and in a support system around me that never stopped believing in me. Mm-hmm. And they kept pouring resources into me. They kept providing the opportunities, they kept putting me on the track because one of my coaches said, talent doesn’t go away.

Sarah Wells (16:27):

And he said that to me. Did I believe it in that moment? No way. If you looked in my brain then, oh, let’s look for the grit in here. It wasn’t there. <laugh>. Yeah. It wasn’t there. What I had was, I had this amazing coach around me that said, talent doesn’t go away, Sarah, go get back on the track, try again, do it again. Do it again. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> until suddenly I realized myself like, oh shoot, he’s right. <laugh>, here it is. I found it. It took a while though. And so I think asking for help, like I I, when my coach said, look, what do you need? When I said I I just don’t know if I can make it. And he was like, Sarah, tell lets go away. What do you need? I said, I just need reminders. I just need you to keep telling me that this is possible then.

Sarah Wells (17:07):

And by doing that, I was able to open a door to find, to have him understand what I needed and then I got the resources I needed to then be resilient and be gritty and become an Olympic athlete. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And so as we are all struggling with how do we be gritty? How do we become more resilient? How do we become more resourced? It’s like ask for help. And it, you know, ask for help has become quite trend right now on, on the like mental health space. And, and I think it’s so important there, but it doesn’t have to be like asking for help. Cuz I’m like, I’m so struggling that I’m like in the deep end over here, but asking for help for like literally simple things like, oh, you know what? I ha you, I could come into practice one day and be like, I’m having a rough day today.

Sarah Wells (17:49):

So in the last interval, remind me my big goal mm-hmm. <affirmative>, because you know what? I’m gonna start to let go of it then I’m just gonna, it’s gonna start slipping. And so I could at the beginning of practice, just tell my coach, Hey, I’m gonna need you to remind me why we’re here today. And because having him there, because he would remind me of that, like those external resources is like really what helped me get to the place I’m in. And even what I’m doing now, and I know we’re gonna get to that in a bit. Like, I’ve now built a youth organization and we help others build resilience and self-belief. Even what I’m doing now and how I’ve been able to build this organization and impact 120,000 youth and get on stages and do all these incredible things, it’s not because of me, it’s because of amazing people.

Sarah Wells (18:32):

I’ve like said, Hey, this is the mission I’m on. This is what I’d like to do. I don’t know how I’m gonna get there. But just so you know, <laugh>, that’s what I’m planning on doing <laugh>. And because I say that out loud because I’m brave enough to believe in myself and just put it out there, even though it might not come true, well suddenly that person who hears it is like, oh, I know someone you should talk to that might be able to help you with X. Oh, actually you wanna do that? I specialize in that. No way. Crazy. Yeah. And then I’m like, leapfrogging forward has nothing to do. Like, I won’t say nothing. My mom would be so mad at me, Sarah, you should be more. She would be like, want to. Yeah, exactly. You gotta believe in yourself isn’t your whole thing. Yeah, exactly. and I do like, I do believe in myself. I, I constantly say like, I believe I, if anyone can do this, I believe it’s me, but I believe I can do it because I’m willing to put the goal out there to ask for help and find the resources necessary. And I think, you know, if you looked inside of the, the mindset of an Olympic athlete, I think you would find an incredible incredible ability to ask and receive help.

Sam Demma (19:41):

Hmm. That’s such an interesting play on the idea. And I, I love that you went that way with it. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, it, it even got me thinking about this idea that like, you could be so prepared, right? Like the fastest runner in the world may have never mm-hmm. <affirmative> ran on a track and we just don’t know it yet. Like there could be someone who’s faster than Ussein Bolt who is better at swimming than Michael Phelps and Yeah. And, and we just don’t know it. Why? Because maybe they’ve never been presented with the opportunity to swim or run or mm-hmm. <affirmative>, they didn’t even know it was a thing and they haven’t asked for help. Right. You know what I mean? Like, I think it’s oh hundred percent. That’s such an interesting perspective. So asking for help and the mindset piece aside, what does your schedule look like back when you’re like full out training for the Olympics? Like, what does the work look like? Because I’m, I wanna make sure everyone listening knows, like despite the fact that you asked for help when you had opportunities, you still had to show up and like give your heart out to the training process every day.

Sarah Wells (20:40):

Yeah, absolutely. It was a ton of work and, and you have to be putting in, you have to be willing to put in that work. and I certainly was, my coach would probably tell you that there was workouts. I would come cause I would be so like if I had a bad workout the previous day or I had a bad race, then to me, like the only way to get better is like, you just push your body like crazy. Like I just wanna give it everything tomorrow, <laugh>. And so like there was days I showed up to the track and I would be like, I wanna run today till I throw up. I was just so committed to the thing. He’s like, okay, you crazy person. and of course we had a program and the way that program was lined out is we trained like five or six days of, of the week depending on time of year.

Sarah Wells (21:20):

So if it was base training season, we might, we trained six days a week with one day off. If it was closer to race time, we would, we would take two days off because you wanna have even more recovery to be ready for your race. So in, in the fall, I’ll paint, I’ll paint you kind of that picture, but so Mondays would be like speed. We would be doing like fast, like 60 meter sprints, 40 meter sprints, like block starts, like super, super speed. and that’s really about pushing the glass ceiling of your ability to go fast. You’re recruiting more muscles. you’re learning how to connect your nervous system to develop power and be like quick outta the blocks, kind of that stuff. So that day is speed and it includes weights and stuff. Tuesday would be lactic threshold. So if you’ve ever tried to run as hard as you can and your muscles start feeling like goopy full of like a burning sensation that’s lactic acid <laugh>.

Sarah Wells (22:15):

It’s like a milky kind of substance that goes all over your muscles that prevents oxygen from being able to like get inside of the muscles. And so as you run your hardest and fastest, your body develops, lactic it, it produces lactic acid, it starts making your muscles kind of milky and you have to train the system to then say, as it gets milky, take that milk and then turn it into energy. <laugh> learning that system is a it, you have to train your body to learn how to do that. So Tuesdays are brutal because all I’m trying to do is teach my body how to deal with that misery and pain and uncomfort and like discomfort. And like, my goodness, it’s a rough day tho those days I would hang out in your garbage cans over top of ’em a lot. So Tuesdays was terrible. Wednesdays would be like weights, like it would be pretty light, really focused on strength.

Sarah Wells (23:01):

Thursdays would be speed based, but this time it would be long speed. And so it wouldn’t be about 60 meters. It wouldn’t be about 40 meters, it would be about 220 meters. So it would be half my race, but all out. And so, you know, it would be a a rough, you’d, like, you’d still be put in a lot of work. You’d, your nervous system would be exhausted by the end. Friday, again a very like kind of light day because we wanna prepare for Saturday, which is another day, like Tuesday, which is the muscle milky, get to a garbage can and throw up at the end like, and not <laugh>. Now I’m making a picture like as if like two times a week I’m constantly running, but like certain times of the season that was the case. but yeah, you followed this, this and then Sunday off recover.

Sarah Wells (23:48):

You know, and for me, anyone who knows me knows I’m a treats fanatic and so I’d be like eating chocolate chip pancakes or breakfast on Sunday and <laugh>, you know, eating dessert at dinner and like ice cream galore and you know, it wasn’t the best fuel ever, but I, I couldn’t eat garbage on the day I had to do a workout because I would feel worse and, or I would throw it up <laugh> and so it would be Sunday I was like a yeah sleep, do schoolwork and try to like eat the food that I wanted. so that’s what a, a overarching week would look like. Now in a four hour practice, five hour practice, it would be my warmup alone takes like an hour where you’re doing jogging and drills and ankle mobility stuff and just getting ready, primed to go. And then once you’ve done that hour long warmup, well now you do a few biometrics to work on recruiting muscles and, and fast off the ground kind of stuff.

Sarah Wells (24:46):

Then you would do sprint drills so that you start training your body because when you’re running really fast, it’s hard to rewire the way you move your body. So we’d do sprint drills before we’d even sprint to try to like anchor in the way you should be sprinting. And then I would do hurdle technique drills because I’m a hurdler, so there’s a whole technique side around that. And so then I would have to do those drills. Then I might start doing reaction time stuff out of the blocks. I’ve just done my plyometrics. I’ve just rewired my brain of like, this is how you should be sprinting so that I do my out of the block stuff. Now I might actually start my runs. And so I would do things that we call strides, which would be at a certain pace. Cause whatever workout we’re about to do, we wanna start priming our body to prepare to run at a certain pace.

Sarah Wells (25:29):

So we do strides at a certain, like, okay, if I wanna be running 13 second one hundreds or cuz I’m about to run a 300 that I, I wanna be able to run 42, 41 seconds with like, and I need to be doing that. So I would do strides. Then we’d take like five to eight minutes recovery to like, almost just reset that your heart rate kind of come back to normal. And then after that five to eight minutes, now you start the actual interval training. And now the interval training is the like, you know, run milky body, you wanna die curl up in a corner. So like, depending on what the workout is like that can take, it could take an hour, take an hour and a half, like who knows how long that ends up taking depending on what the workout is. and you’re not running for the whole hour, an hour and a half, but the faster you run, the more recovery time you need.

Sarah Wells (26:17):

But that recovery time isn’t spent like just chilling on the sidelines because if you ran really fast, you’re, you’re in cheetah mode, right? So you run super hard, you throw up, you curl up in a corner, you feel like you’re gonna die, you’re waiting for your heart rate to come down before you have to walk to the start line and do it again. And I’m painting a very like dr. Dramatic picture and it’s not like that all the time, but I wanted to like give you the, the a day that we would go through more than one time a week.

Sam Demma (26:41):

I love that. It’s awesome.

Sarah Wells (26:43):

<laugh>. Then we’d finish the intervals and now we would do our like cool down jogs. We’d do med ball circuits. You’re throwing around that really heavy medicine ball. And then you go down to the weight room, finish your weights, then you get into a cold tub where you go above your belly button, full tub of like ice, icy covered water. Stay in there for 10 minutes and then you try to warm up, like get back, get your muscles back to like normal temperature and go fuel protein, carbohydrates. Like get ready for your next session.

Sam Demma (27:14):

<laugh>.

Sarah Wells (27:14):

That’s crazy.

Sam Demma (27:16):

<laugh>. You can write a whole book on it <laugh>. That’s so cool. what would you tell someone listening right now who has been told that what they wanna do with their life isn’t possible? Like I’m sure that, you know, when you don’t believe in yourself, you have little chance but mm-hmm. <affirmative>, you know, when you don’t believe in yourself and other people are telling you it’s not possible, but you know, there’s a student listening who still wants to do something. Like what, what would you tell them? What pieces of advice could you share?

Sarah Wells (27:44):

I would say find someone to show you what’s possible. Hmm. And what I say, what I mean by that is I had this perception in my brain. I wasn’t good at sports, right? I wasn’t good at sports. So how am I ever gonna be an Olympian? Like Olympians, they’re superheroes, they’re people that have perfect seasons and they never get injured and they’re, they win every race and they’re the best in the world. You know, they, they can’t have a bad day. They’re the best in the world. If you’re the best in the world, you don’t lose to Sally on your team because Sally on your team isn’t making the Olympics. And if you lose to Sally, you’re not going to the Olympics. And guess what, Sarah, you’ve been sitting out for a year so there’s no way you’re going to the Olympics and all of that.

Sarah Wells (28:24):

I believed all of that had to be perfect, had to be flawless Olympians pedestal. And then in 2008, four years before I made the Olympics, I had a teammate who I trained with day in, day out. I saw him get injured, I saw him miss training. Sometimes I saw him lose races. Guess what happened? He made the Beijing Olympics on a not flawless season on a you know, moments of defeat, moments of whatever. And he still made it. And he showed me what’s possible. Hmm. He helped me realize that you don’t have to be perfect and it’s, you have to work hard. You have to like want it, you have to do the thing, the things that you can do, but doesn’t have to be perfect. And as impossible as it may seem, cuz halfway through the season, I don’t think people thought he was gonna make it either.

Sarah Wells (29:13):

And then he did. And so it was like he showed me what’s possible. And so the next four years it was like, head down, let’s do this. And then when I got rocked <laugh> the year before, it was like absolutely. People told me it was impossible. I thought it was impossible at times. But I also just like tried to keep reminding myself of this thing of like, what he had shown me, how much like you did not have to be flawless. And of course like that, that sense of self-belief, like, okay, and mom, I don’t need you to believe in me. I believe in myself right now, you know, <laugh>. Yeah. And so while it’s hard to see and people are telling you it’s impossible and you yourself might feel it’s impossible, I would encourage you to just like, you know, we, we have such privilege and opportunity to have access to so many resources online through social media like YouTube, like podcasts that show you what’s possible. And so if you feel right now your goal is impossible, like go research someone who’s done what you wanna do, because I bet you there’s someone out there that maybe hasn’t done the exact thing you wanna do, but has done something in that ballpark, has done something in that arena or has reached the same height in a different industry or capacity in some way. And it’s just like by, by fostering a bit of that, that spark, you remind yourself what’s possible.

Sam Demma (30:30):

Hmm. I think what’s so unique is that you’ve now created an entire organization that gives that feeling to thousands of young people like <laugh>, like if they don’t believe in themselves, like you come in and you like, you like shove the belief in them <laugh> if that’s the right way to put it. But like, tell me about the Belief Initiative and what it looked like when it started, what it looks like, what it looks like right now mm-hmm. <affirmative> and why you’re super passionate about it.

Sarah Wells (30:59):

Cool. So I mean, yeah, the Believe Initiative came about for, for a few reasons. Like one I, that high school teacher that saw me in gym Classon told me to do track and field. That teacher believed in me before I ever believed in myself. And so the Believe Initiative can really play a role in being that coach for as many people as possible because of what we talked about. Resources are important, having access to opportunities are important and not everyone’s gonna have that coach or teacher in their high school. So how can I come into as many high schools as possible and be that teacher for them and say, Hey, try out for that thing. Go do that thing, pursue that passion. Show yourself what’s possible kind of thing. So it, it really, it has like an spark in an essence way back from the first time I ever even explored the support of check meal.

Sarah Wells (31:44):

It also comes from, I told you the story here and now about how I made the Olympics. but there’s another story of how I, four years later don’t make the Olympics. Hmm. And it was shocking to me because I was in the best shape of my life and as I had mentioned previously, I had just come off winning a PanAm game silver medal. And so I was supposed to, and I’m using air quotes right now for the audio listeners, I was supposed to win a medal. And so when I didn’t even make the Olympics <laugh>, it was, it was I don’t know, like I felt completely defeated and I felt I had failed and I thought I had lied to people because previously I had been telling people, if you believe in yourself, you achieve your goals. Hmm. And now I believed in myself and I did not achieve my goal.

Sarah Wells (32:27):

And so when this happened, I actually took a whole year off sport. I quit sport for a year. And in that year off I did a ton of reflection and thinking and I realized you don’t build self-belief through achievements. You build self-belief through action. Mm. Because I actually believed myself more strongly after not making the Olympics even more so than when I did <laugh>. And I think that’s cuz you build it through, you build self-belief through action. And I was willing to go to the Olympic trials a like in the 2016 year when I ended up not qualifying. I was willing to not let my circumstances define my outcome to go for it anyways. And so I was like, oh, okay, like you build self-belief through action. How can I help other people build self-belief through action? And that’s when the Belief Initiative was founded and I was like, I wanna help students connect a passion they have and a problem they wanna solve and they can use that passion to solve that problem and build self-belief through action.

Sarah Wells (33:23):

Hmm. And so we started this out by just going into schools and doing like one-off assemblies. Like, okay, this is how I believed in myself, this is how you can believe in yourself here. Let’s talk about ideas that you have that how you can build self-belief through action. And it started like that and then it grew and it grew and we signed a corporate partner that allowed us to do cross country tours. And we’ve been in like most provinces in Canada and a handful of states. And we went way up in Northwest Territories in like, you know, 40 degrees north of the Arctic Circle. We did authentic Dogsledding. It was so cool <laugh>. but you know, it’s been so, I’ve been so fortunate to travel all over and get to inspire young people everywhere. And when Covid hit, we couldn’t go into schools and we couldn’t do what I had been doing, which was more of these like tour based summit experiences.

Sarah Wells (34:13):

And teachers were also completely overwhelmed and did not want to, nothing did not have time or energy or resources to be able to deliver this program with their students. And so I totally get that <laugh>, I completely understand. It’s like been a wonky year. And so what we’ve decided to do is actually say, okay, if teachers are overwhelmed, well there’s some pretty awesome students out there that they can, they can lead this. Like why do we need the teachers? We don’t need them. And so, you know, if you’re listening to this and you are a student and you are a student leader looking for a leadership opportunity, like we want you, because the way that this works now is we have students apply to become a Believe chapter head. And you lead that chapter and we give you the training and resources and everything you possibly need to run a successful chapter.

Sarah Wells (35:03):

You have other peers, you get access to chapter heads from all across the country, actually all across North America. Cause we have some US chapters as well. Nice. And you can run this belief chapter at your school, you get a leadership opportunity. We actually provide you different training and access to mentors and things like that. And then you get to empower your chapter members to build these believe passion projects, which helps them connect that passion. They have problem they wanna solve and they use the passion to solve the problem. So the chapter heads, they really become the champions because while we enable them and equip them, they really are the the ones that help gather these members and then empower them to do really great things in the community. And it’s a great story for them to tell as a leader to say, Hey, university applicant application.

Sarah Wells (35:48):

Like, here’s what I’ve done and here’s how many students I’ve inspired as a young person. And it’s been so cool to see on my end because I used to be limited by how many planes I could get on and days I could be in a school and how many, you know, days I could spend overnight in an airport. But now it’s like with being able to empower these other, these amazing student leaders and I’ve no doubt, whoever you are listening on the other end of this you student leader. Yes. You, I would like you to apply <laugh> to become a chapter head because it’s this incredible group and it’s been so cool to watch the chapter Heads from All Over, connect and support each other and share best practices. And so you know, personal plug here, you can go to believe in aship.com and if you hit the Believe leadership tab, you’ll find where you can apply and become a belief chapter at your school or in your community.

Sam Demma (36:40):

I love that. And I just wanna plug you times too <laugh> you know, not only will you be able to have awesome stuff on your resume and you know, build an awesome initiative in your school, but like your peers will look at you like a freaking hero for <laugh> for bringing something together during a time where everyone is so far apart, you know Right. Physically and emotionally. yeah. So I feel like this is needed now more than ever. And so if you’re listening to this, like take it as a sign, take it as a signal to go to Believe initiative.com, sign up become a chapter ahead, spearhead an initiative at your school and also meet Sarah Wells, the freaking Olympian <laugh>, you know, it’d be pretty cool. so I love that. That’s amazing. And you’ve impacted 120,000 students so far, is that, is that right?

Sarah Wells (37:32):

Yeah, 120,000 students. we’ve had like approaching 10,000 students who have initiated projects. Yes. we haven’t been able to track impact of projects on everything, but we just started tracking it in the fall. And so just, you know, 2020 fall we had projects that impacted 19,000 people. And so that’s, that’s only tracking the projects we had in the fall <laugh>. And so I know it’s gonna go far and wide from there and we’re gonna start tracking and reporting that more so bigger numbers to come

Sam Demma (38:03):

<laugh>. All right, cool. Sounds good. Believe initiative.com Leadership tab?

Sarah Wells (38:07):

Yep. The Believe leadership tab.

Sam Demma (38:09):

Okay, cool. Sounds good. And if anyone wants to reach out to you, send you a, a note or a comment or a message, what would be the best way for them to do so as well?

Sarah Wells (38:18):

So I’m on Instagram and Twitter @SarahWells400mh, which is like Sarah Well’s 400 meter hurdles, which is a really big regret and I really should just change my social media handle, but I don’t think is that bad, like <laugh>, will you change your social media handles? Does everyone just be like you’re gone? But yeah, @SarahWells400mh on Instagram and Twitter and then you, you can contact me through the website as well, so.

Sam Demma (38:42):

All right. Awesome. Sarah, thank you so much for taking the time to come on here and share a little bit behind the scenes about yourself, your story, your initiative. I really appreciate it and I wish you all the best in the future.

Sarah Wells (38:53):

Thanks, Sam.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Sarah Wells

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.

Chapter One: Empty Your Backpack (Read Along)

Sam Demma: Global Keynote Speaker and Bestselling Author
About Empty Your Backpack

In Empty Your Backpack, Sam Demma demonstrates that your dreams are within reach, and it’s the beliefs you carry and the actions you take that determine whether you will achieve them.

Demma guides how to move closer to your dreams faster than you ever imagined. He shows that by cultivating empowering beliefs while committing to consistent actions that fuel your creativity and growth, you can make things happen in your life the way you envision.

Are you weighed down by people dismissing your dreams as unrealistic? You have big dreams. There are things you want to accomplish, but maybe they feel out of reach-especially when people tell you they’re impossible. That heavy feeling of doubt is your backpack. It’s full of limiting beliefs and dreams crushed by the opinions of others. It’s time to empty your backpack and release that weight from your shoulders.

Demma’s guide offers actionable ideas to help young people keep faith in their dreams even when those around them lose theirs. He reveals pathways that can help bring dreams to life and empower you to be the best version of yourself.

Empty Your Backpack is an easy-to-follow guide filled with tried-and-tested principles and inspiring stories from Demma’s remarkable life that will help you optimize your beliefs and actions to get you where you want to be.

Connect with Sam: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Empty Your Backpack on Amazon

Empty Your Backpack (Signed by Sam Demma)

Empty Your Backpack Animation

Empty Your Backpack Project

The Story that Inspired the Project

The Backpack of Beliefs

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 episode is a special one. It is not a normal interview. It is a read along from my most recently debut published book; “Empty Your Backpack.” It was released on November 18th with an in-person book launch in Pickering, Ontario. There was just under 300 people in attendance and the book has started to make its way into classrooms. We had our first class set ordered from a school in the Toronto Catholic District School Board and have sold just over 400 copies. If you enjoy reading along with me in this chapter, number one, Empty Your Backpack, please reach out and we’ll make sure to get you some books as well. Without further ado, I’m gonna go ahead and read to you chapter one, Empty Your Backpack, Belief: You Define You.

Sam Demma (00:59):

It was an ordinary evening and I wasn’t prepared for what was about to unfold. After eating supper with my family, I returned to my office in the basement to prepare for an Instagram live. That night I was being interviewed by a young leader and we’d be talking about leadership, the importance of service, and helpful ideas for young dreamers. In the first 40 minutes of the interview, there was great conversation and lots of laughs. Then we invited viewers to ask questions or share a little bit about themselves. One viewer jumped on and explained that they had two goals in life to become an actor and to get 50,000 followers on social media. I politely challenged the person to explain what gaining followers would help them accomplish. What they shared blew me away. If I became an actor and had thousands of followers on social media, people at school would stop bullying me and calling me a loser.

Sam Demma (01:55):

This person explained that their life was filled with bullies, that they spent most of their time crying and that they had considered ending their life on many occasions. They then turned off their camera and went silent. The hairs on my arms stood tall. I could feel their pain through my screen and my eyes welled with tears. I found myself at a loss for words. This bright young individual had considered ending their life because of other people’s hurtful words. Those words repeated over and over became personal beliefs, beliefs that they carried with them. The interviewer and I reassured this individual that everyone watching loved them and wanted to see them do well, and then we shared some resources that would allow them to find the help they needed that was beyond what we could provide. After the call ended, I couldn’t get this situation outta my mind.

Sam Demma (02:47):

I felt compelled to reflect on my experiences dealing with words that other people used to define me. What I wish I could have helped that viewer believe in that moment is that other people’s words don’t define your worth. Words are meaningless jumbles of letters until you the person hearing them give them power. Often the negative things people say about you are a reflection of their own internal battles and have little or nothing to do with you. How would your life change if you truly believe that and allowed others words to slip off your back like books in an open upside down backpack, your invisible backpack? Each of us walk around with an invisible backpack strapped to our shoulders. In this bag, we carry our experiences which inform our beliefs. We also carry the beliefs, expectations, and opinions that other people give to us, some good and some bad.

Sam Demma (03:45):

These also inform our own beliefs. Other people’s words can hold real weight. If you let them, they can become bricks that you carry on your back and they can occupy space in your mind. They can stop you from acting or they can propel you forward. Words can unify a divided nation or cause mass destruction. Unfortunately, as humans, we tend to give more energy and attention to the negative things people say about us rather than the positive things. This is the negativity bias. It explains why you can forget hundreds of compliments but not the one terrible thing someone said about you. Like most humans, you probably spend a disproportionate amount of time focused on the one negative comment wondering what’s wrong with you, rather than feeling grateful for all the positive ones. After I speak at conferences in schools, attendees often fill out feedback forms to rate my performance.

Sam Demma (04:40):

I’ll never forget the feedback from one event I did in Alberta. It was all extremely positive except for one comment, typical motivational speaker. The last thing I aim to be is typical, so I took this comment to heart. It made me feel sad and frustrated. It wasn’t extremely negative and the event organizer still hired me to speak the following year, but I spent over an hour thinking about that comment and allowing it to bother me before I shifted my focus. Maybe you can relate. Maybe you got a fantastic grade on a test but couldn’t get over that one stupid mistake you made. Maybe you’ve allowed the negativity in your life to overshadow all the spectacular things that make you you. Maybe you’ve been carrying around hurtful words in your invisible backpack and they’re weighing you down. Can you recall something negative someone said to you that had a lasting impact on your confidence and self-belief?

Sam Demma (05:38):

If you’re like me, you not only remember what the person said, but you can rebuild the entire situation in your mind. You remember the name of the person where and when it happened, and most importantly, how it made you feel. Left unaddressed. Thoughtless comments from careless people can take root your mind and over time become your limiting beliefs. Imagine that a belief that was never yours to begin with ends up being the thing holding you back and weighing you down. Even a comment someone made to you when you were a child can inform the decisions you make for the rest of your life. You might believe you’re not good at music because your parents told you that at the dinner table. You might believe you can’t play basketball because your high school coach said you are too short. You might believe you can’t build a new skill after the university because someone told you it’s too late and you should stick to what you know.

Sam Demma (06:34):

Over time, your backpack fills up and if you don’t stop to remove the beliefs that aren’t yours, you may end up living a life that’s not yours and fall short of your true potential. Shortly after my second knee surgery, my soccer coach jokingly yelled at me from the sideline in front of the entire team. Hey bud, are you going to get up off the bench and play or are you going to retire soon? At that point in my athletic career, I was routinely breaking down in tears in front of my family and friends. I’d limp around school on crutches with a bag of frozen peas strapped to my swollen knee at home, I’d perform every exercise possible to speed up my recovery so I could get back on the field to play the game. I loved the mental and physical stress of rehab. Doing an internship at a gym and driving an hour and a half to attend practice only to sit on the bench and spectate was overwhelming to say the least while on earth with the coach, the person I’m supposed to look up to and learn from, say something so needlessly hurtful.

Sam Demma (07:40):

It was comments like this along with my own mental battles that created my resentment toward the sport. My backpack became so heavy that after I decided to stop playing soccer, I unfollowed all of my former teammates on social media and block the coach. Seeing or hearing anything about that part of my life stirred up deep sadness and anger. I hope that some of my teammates read this book and realize it had nothing to do with them and everything to do with my insecurities and internal battles. It took me over two years to find my peace and rebuild myself. My grandma was the one who taught me that if you have nothing nice to say, you shouldn’t say anything at all. Now I understand what she meant. Words cut like knives when they’re aimed at insecurities and you never know what someone is going through. Just because you can’t see someone’s backpack doesn’t mean they’re not carrying it.

Sam Demma (08:33):

It’s obvious that my coach didn’t understand the impact of his words, but the negative thoughts they created stuck with me for a long time. There are still nights when I wake up in a panic from a dream about playing professional soccer. My coach’s comment isn’t the only one I’ve needed to remove from my backpack. Teachers who never taught me approached me at school reunions to offer unsolicited lectures on why I should be in school because they want what’s best for me. Relatives at picnics have tried to convince my father to encourage me back into formal education suggesting that I’m wasting my time in life. Luckily, I regularly take the time to empty my backpack and my parents continue to witness the 10 to 12 hour days that I work in my basement studio and support me without hesitation. Find peace knowing that people rarely see the full picture of your life. Let everyone share their thoughts and nod vaguely If you don’t feel like arguing, but don’t internalize or hold onto the things that stop you from following your path. It’s important to respect others, but you don’t need to consume their beliefs and opinions. You are your own best advisor. No person on this planet has gone through.

Sam Demma (09:59):

No person on this planet has gone through and experienced exactly what you have. Your experience matters. Don’t buy into the limiting belief. That experience comes from age. That’s probably a message someone put in your backpack a long time ago. Sure, time gives you an advantage because it gives you the chance to try different things, but time can also be wasted. I know 20 year olds who have had more experiences than some adults in their forties or fifties experience comes from experience, so be confident in your decisions and stop discounting the power of your beliefs and choices. Whose beliefs are you carrying? Your backpack accumulates beliefs from many sources including family, friends, school, media, religion, and most importantly, past experiences. The latter includes others’. Past experiences, often close family and friends will project their beliefs onto you, so be careful which beliefs you place in your backpack.

Sam Demma (11:00):

Let’s say your dream is to open a restaurant and you have a cousin who failed attempting something similar. Ask them if you should open a a restaurant and they’ll tell you absolutely not simply because their past experience involved failure. Find someone who runs a successful restaurant and they’ll likely tell you it’s the best business in the world. In both cases, the other people are projecting their past experiences on you in the form of their positive or limiting beliefs. Be aware that you may also come across successful people who will tell you not to pursue the thing they’re doing carefully consider their opinions as they may help you avoid a future disaster, but ultimately make your own choice. Even if they seem successful, they may not find the life they’re living meaningful. Remember, your definition of success is personal and someone else’s dissatisfaction with their work has nothing to do with you.

Sam Demma (11:54):

In this example, however, you should give the successful restaurant owner’s perspective and advice more attention than your cousins because the restaurant owner is currently doing what you wanna do. Fill in your backpack with the thoughts of people who’ve never done what you wanna do is pointless. A pilot would never ask a passenger how to fly the plane. When someone gives you unsolicited advice or tells you why you can’t do something, ask yourself, what past experience did this person have that resulted in this belief? And remember, people who are hurting often hurt others. Someone you know might be trying to tell you how to live your life because they’re dissatisfied with their own. Sometimes when a person can’t do something themself, their ego wants to believe that you can’t do it either. Don’t listen to their words or place them in your backpack. Instead, find someone successful who is doing exactly what you wanna do and ask for their advice.

Sam Demma (12:50):

The rapper La Russel said it best during our interview. Impossible is the opinion of the incapable. Start repacking. After taking other people’s negative beliefs, comments, and opinions out of your backpack, it’s time to fill it with things that will support you along your journey. The first things to repack are people who push you to grow personally and professionally. As a soccer player, I was a midfielder. My main responsibility was to receive the ball from the defense and successfully pass it forward to the offensive player so we could score goals. My coach would always yell at me, Sam, check your shoulders. He wanted to ensure I was aware of who was around me so I wouldn’t receive the ball and then turn toward an opposing player. Similarly, it’s important to constantly evaluate who’s surrounding you in your life. The people you invest time in will rub off on you whether you like it or not.

Sam Demma (13:47):

You’ll assume some of their beliefs and habits. This doesn’t mean you need to cut off all of your friends and become a lone wolf. Just take note of how your friends’ actions influence you. You want friends who will keep it real with you while also being your biggest supporters. My best friend Lucas is one of those people for me. When I decided to drop outta university, he consistently reminded me to bet on myself. He believed in my abilities more than I believed in myself, and we would make time to meet up and talk about our dreams. I’m so grateful for our friendship. You don’t need a large circle, but you need at least one person who will hold you accountable and believe in you. Next, fill your backpack with the beliefs and opinions of people who’ve achieved greatness. Their beliefs are the blueprint for success.

Sam Demma (14:36):

These can be individuals who inspire you even if you’ve never met them. Weeks after I got my driver’s license, I started driving to and from soccer practice on my own. The drive was 45 minutes each way, so every day I spent an extra hour and a half in the car. That quiet time alone inspired me to begin listening to podcasts. One of my favorites was the Sports Motivation Podcast, hosted by a former professional football player, Niho Bo. In each episode, he’d break down the mindset and habits you need to dominate your sport and reach high level performance. I made a habit of arriving at practice 15 to 30 minutes early so I could jot down notes from the podcast in a Dollar store notebook. I still have those notes and eventually Nee became a personal mentor. He’s responsible for a large part of my belief system in early business success.

Sam Demma (15:26):

On average, I consumed two to three hours of music and interviews daily, and I encourage you to listen to and watch content that reinforces powerful thoughts and helps you dream bigger, find role models you relate to, and listen to their content on repeat. Emptying and refilling your backpack starts with awareness over the next few days, weeks and months, try to catch yourself. When a negative belief enters your mind, write it down and spend some time figuring out where it came from. Once you see that it’s not yours, let it go. Remove it from your backpack. Set aside time to do this again and again until you reach your goals and find peace of mind, life becomes more meaningful when you stop carrying around and acting on other people’s thoughts and opinions. The fact is, no one cares about your life as much as you do, and along your journey people will say negative things.

Sam Demma (16:20):

People might tell you that your dreams are stupid. They might call you ugly or a loser. What you do with their words is up to you. Be selective about which ones go into your backpack. Their words do not and never will. Define your worth. From this day forward, whenever you feel your backpack getting heavy, flip it upside down, allowing the unsupportive words and beliefs to quickly slide out and onto the pavement behind you. Emptying your backpack is a lifelong process. Chapter one, takeaways other people’s words, don’t define your worth. The negative things people say about you are a reflection of their own internal battles and have little to do with you. You have an invisible backpack strapped to your shoulders. Check it often to see what beliefs you’re carrying along your journey. Take out the ones that are weighing you down. Other people’s beliefs are often a projection of their own past experiences. Not all opinions are equal. Repack your backpack with supportive friends, inspiring media, and the beliefs and opinions of people who are currently living your definition of success. In the next chapter, we’ll explore a belief that will help you navigate another reality that can be very uncomfortable. Your journey will look different from everyone else’s

Sam Demma (17:46):

<laugh>. I did not just clap for myself on my own podcast <laugh>. I hope you enjoyed listening to me read chapter one of Empty Your Backpack. Feel free to share this episode with your class to listen to it all together to have a meaningful discussion about what it means to empty your backpack and what it actually means to have a backpack at all strapped to your shoulders in the first place. If you’re looking for some follow up activities that can go along with this audio recording, please send me a message, and if you’re at all interested in buying some copies of the book, you can do so on Amazon and by searching Empty Your Backpack, or if you’d like a class set or signed versions, you can go to shop.samdemma.com. Again, that’s shop.samdemma.com and buy them directly from me or send me an email at sam@samdemma.com. Have an amazing rest of your day. I hope it’s a very productive one, and wherever your journey in life takes you next, make sure that your backpack remains empty. I will see you next week on another episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Sam Demma

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.