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Empty Your Backpack (Spoken Word Poem)

Small Consistent Actions Sam Demma - TEDxYouth@Toronto
About Empty Your Backpack

Here is the link to watch the animation on Youtube:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JwlHs-Mkvnc

Empty Your Backpack is a spoken word poem created by Sam Demma that encourages you to realize that people’s words don’t define your self-worth. It is a video filled with emotion, hope and perseverance. It was directed and animated by Ben Clarkson, a Juno-nominated illustrator, artist and animator.

If you enjoyed this poem, you can check out the entire project, book and poem at www.emptyyourbackpack.ca

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 Animation

Empty Your Backpack Project

The Story that Inspired the Project

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):

Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator Podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today we have a different type of podcast interview, one that will leave you feeling very emotional in a very hopeful and inspiring way. Over a year ago now, I hosted an Instagram live call with a student. If you don’t know what that means, think of a video call, but with a live audience with 50-100 students watching on Instagram who can comment live while you have a video call and bring individuals up on screen to have a conversation. A student joined who I had never spoken to before and after we started talking, he told me very quickly that his biggest goal in life was to be an actor, and his second goal was to have 50,000 followers on social media. Slightly confused, I challenged this young man who we’re gonna call Josh for the sake of today’s podcast, to explain to me what in his life would change if I snapped my fingers and instantly he had 50,000 followers.

Sam Demma (01:10):

What this young student said, I will never forget. “Sam, if I had 50,000 followers, kids at school would stop bullying me and calling me a loser. My life is filled with bullies. I hate myself. I hate going to school, and I’m turning off the camera on my phone because I’m ugly.” Josh remained silent for a few moments while every student watching started filling the chat box with the most positive stuff, the most amazing comments. We connected him with his guidance counselors to make sure he felt supported, sent him merch in the mail to make sure he felt like he was a part of a community. But after the call ended, I couldn’t get this question outta my mind. How is it that this young man who has such a bright future is allowing the words and opinions of a select few individuals who don’t even care about him to affect the way that he sees himself every single day and the choices he’s making?

Sam Demma (02:14):

You know when you have a conversation and five minutes after it ends, you remember what you were really trying to say? I was sitting in my basement at my office desk on my rolling chair. When the call ended, I got up. I started walking to the first floor of my house up the staircase, and as I got midway, halfway up the staircase, what I was really trying to say to this young man, Josh finally came to mind. What I wished I could have helped him realize live on that call is that people’s words don’t define your self worth, that you don’t have to carry around the thoughts, expectations, and opinions that other people or society, places on your shoulders. What I wished I could have helped Josh realize was that he had the possibility, the potential to empty his backpack. I believe every one of us, yourself included, carry a giant invisible backpack on your shoulders and in your backpack.

Sam Demma (03:18):

You have your own personal beliefs that you have built and picked up based on your unique life experiences. But as you went through life, you also started picking up the thoughts, expectations, and opinions that other people gave to you, whether you asked for them or not. Things like, you’re not good enough, you’re too fat. Who do you think you are? What makes you believe you’re credible for this? This is never gonna work. Any of these sound familiar? If you and I never take the time to empty our backpacks of these lies, these negative beliefs that other people have given to us, we end up starting to believe them and we tell ourselves these lies, which become our internal dialogue and stories and ends up holding us back.

Sam Demma (04:12):

Imagine that the one thing holding you back is a belief that was never even yours to begin with. After the call with Josh, I started reflecting on my own experience, dealing with the words and opinions that other people placed on me. Growing up, I got extremely emotional and I started working on something minutes after that call that has finally come to life and I am so excited to share it with you right now on this podcast. It’s something I have quietly worked with Ben Clarkson, a Juno nominated illustrator, artist and designer. He took a spoken word poem that I put together titled Empty Your Backpack and turned it into a beautiful animated video. Here on the podcast, I’m going to play the audio portion of that three minute spoken word poem, and if you enjoy it, there’s going to be a link to the YouTube video where you can watch the animation and hopefully share it with the young people in your life who might benefit from hearing a message just like this one. Okay, here it is. Grab some popcorn and enjoy.

Sam Demma (05:31):

Yo, you gotta stop carrying around the thoughts and opinions of everyone else. You gotta stop. They put the world on my shoulders. I couldn’t carry it. With each appointment, doctors words getting scarier, those walls became my second home. I mean a barrier that put my heart in my hands where they were tearing it. They say, you gotta love the game. That’s why I married it. But by 17 divorced a dream and buried it six feet underneath my skin. I was embarrassed that life was black and white when I didn’t wear my jersey. Words cut like knives when they’re aimed at insecurities. Yeah, thank you, coach. I’ll never forget what you said. Your words still went through my mind while I try to make amend, I wish someone would’ve told me that my words define my journey, not the name on my back or the number on my jersey. So hear me out people’s words. Don’t define your route. You bet on you since day one. You define yourself. It’s time you grab your backpack and empty it out and stop carrying the opinions of everyone else. Grab your backpack and let it all out. This is your life. Ain’t nobody else.

Sam Demma (06:41):

It’s been five years since I stopped playing, but someone grabbed the piper cuz I’m still paying. I passed gold 22 times that I was collecting, but my boardwalk is not what you’re expecting. You see my mind is like a broken record. It keeps repeating. I mean, why do I still dream about when he was speaking? I feel five years of new journals. I feel five years with new hurdles, but this one I can’t seem to jump. Call me Jeffrey Drum swear you could search it up. This is nonfiction and whoever said words will never hurt me must have been burdened by insecurity. Cuz I can tell you firsthand that sometimes people’s words can feel like quick sand that gets you stuck. So when you find yourself sink, and let me lift you up cause people’s words don’t define your route, you bet on you since day one. You define yourself. It’s time you grab your backpack and empty it out and stop carrying the opinions of everyone else. Grab your backpack and let it all out. This is your life. Ain’t nobody else.

Sam Demma (07:43):

It’s time someone gave you your permission to forget what they said and focus on your vision. You only got one life to make it happen. So quit carrying the comments and all their reactions. You see, people are gonna say what they say, but unlike Nintendo life is a game that you can’t replace. So stop searching for the button, and I know it’s hard when their words put you outside and people these days seem to speak more boldy when they’re on line. That’s why I’m taking this moment to rewind and remind you that what matters most is how you see yourself in your mind. You see people’s words. Were never define your route. You bet on you since day one. You define yourself. It’s time you grab your back pack and empty it out and stop carrying the opinions of everyone else. Grab your back pack and let it all out. This is your life, ain’t nobody else.

Sam Demma (08:42):

If you enjoyed the poem, it would mean the world to me if you sent me a message at sam@samdemma.com via email, I would love to hear from you. There is also a book titled Empty or or Backpack that goes along with this project. And April 3rd, we will be traveling across Canada with the giant four foot backpack of beliefs bringing these messages into schools in front of students all around the country. If any of this sounds interesting, send me an email or check out the official tour website that includes the book, the Backpack, and all the information. emptyyourbackpack.ca. Again, that’s emptyyourbackpack.ca. I will see you very soon for the next episode and I hope you have a fantastic week ahead.

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.

Sheri Lowrie – Communications and Events Coordinator at the University of Windsor

Sheri Lowrie - Communications and Events Coordinator at the University of Windsor
About Sheri Lowrie

Sheri Lowrie (@sherilowrie) is currently a Communications & Events Coordinator at the University of Windsor. In March of 2022, Sheri received the Windsor Proud Award, which recognizes an individual who continuously demonstrates they are Windsor Proud and an excellent community ambassador. She has worked at the University of Windsor for 20 years and enjoyed different roles, from Program Administration to Academic Advising and Recruitment.

She is incredibly passionate about the students, building valuable relationships, making an impact in the lives of young people and being a part of a student’s journey. Sheri finds herself busy in her community by sitting on different boards and committees, coordinating events, and running for the municipal election in her town. She plays hockey and, since the pandemic, found a new love for golf. Sheri believes in personal growth and development and tries to show up each day as her best version. She wants everyone in education, from students to faculty and staff, to know that all they can control are their attitude and effort and knowing that will help them tackle anything.

Connect with Sheri: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

University of Windsor

Employee Recognition Awards – University of Windsor

What does an Academic Advisor do? – University of Windsor

Bachelor of Arts (BA), English – University of Windsor

Bachelor of Arts (BA), Communication, Media & Film – University of Windsor

Bachelor of Arts (BA), Sociology – University of Windsor

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 (00:55):

Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast.

Sam Demma (00:59):

This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Sheri Lowrie. Sheri Lowrie is currently a Communications & Events Coordinator at the University of Windsor. In March of 2022, Sheri received the Windsor Proud Award, which recognizes an individual who continuously demonstrates they are Windsor Proud and an excellent community ambassador. She has held a career at the University of Windsor for 20 years and enjoyed different roles, from Program Administration to Academic Advising and Recruitment. She is incredibly passionate about the students, building valuable relationships, making an impact in the lives of young people and being a part of a student’s journey. Sheri finds herself busy in her community by sitting on different boards and committees, coordinating events, and is currently running for a municipal election in her town. She plays hockey and, since the pandemic, found a new love for golf. Sheri believes in personal growth and development and tries to show up each day as the best version of herself. She wants everyone in education, from students to faculty and staff, to know that all they can control are their attitude and effort and knowing that will help them tackle anything. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Sheri, 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, Sheri Lowrie. Sheri, welcome to the show. Please start by introducing yourself.

Sheri Lowrie (02:28):

Thanks so much for having me. It’s really exciting. I’ve, this is actually my first podcast, so I’m excited to, excited to that you invited me on and be able to just ,to chat. So just a little bit about me. I graduated from the University of Windsor in 2004 with my Bachelor of Arts in English literature and language. And I minored in communications in media film and in sociology. And then I started working for the University right away and, but then also got to go travel around and live in New Zealand and visit Australia and backpack Europe as well, before I really settled into my career at the university. And then, you know, flash forward 20, you know, so years later, still here, still enjoying my career, but have also endeavored on running for municipal election in my municipality of Kingsville. So that’s gonna, you know, come to a close next week. So by the time this airs, maybe we will have, have a result. We’ll see what happens. But that’s a little bit about me, married, two kids, and just really living the dream.

Sam Demma (03:43):

You mentioned travels through New Zealand, some parts of Europe. Was that a part of you trying to figure out what you wanted to do, or tell me more about those travels and how they informed the choice you made to get into education full-time?

Sheri Lowrie (03:55):

Yeah, of course. Cause you know, I, all, everything is part of our story. So I think that having that experience really helped shape who I was gonna become. And cuz it was, it was early on, you know, after graduation. So I had finished school, got a job with university right away as, as a contract recruiter where I got to travel Ontario. So then I got this bug of being able to travel and being able to travel independently as a, a young woman. And so then as that contract was kind of coming to an end, I was like, Well, what do I do now? Like, let’s go see the world and really like open up my, my eyes to what’s out there. So New Zealand felt safe for me and safe for my parents as well to, you know, let me kind of go off and explore it.

Sheri Lowrie (04:42):

It was at a time where internet was becoming more relevant. There were internet cafes back then, and so I knew I could check in with my parents every few days and it was being away that made me realize that Canada was home. So I didn’t know exactly what my future held, but I knew that that that year in New Zealand and traveling around and living in a van. but you know, working along the way as well, it made me know that, you know, Canada was where I wanted to at least settle down but still experience all these fun travel things while I could. So I returned back and then I did another recruitment contract traveling Ontario again. And then that’s when I went out and packed Europe after that. And then it was after the Europe experience that I, I settled in and, and really focused on my career at that point in time. So being in the mid twenties by then and wanting to look to start to to buy a house. So it just got all that travel out of me that I felt confident in being able to go and figure out what my journey at the University of Windsor was gonna be in my career.

Sam Demma (05:55):

So after the traveling recruitment, what was your first, I guess, official full-time position and what are the different roles you’ve worked since?

Sheri Lowrie (06:04):

Okay, so when I first came back, so my first full-time job at the university would be in recruitment as well. So I covered a maternity leave in the beginning of my career was a little bit of maternity leaves. And I think a lot of young people these days, they do see that contract work and you, you need to look at it as really valuable because you’re getting that experience, it’s building your skill set, it’s really shaping your resume. So that first full-time job was a student recruitment officer where I was aligned with the faculty of arts, Humanities and social sciences and that was my home faculty. So I absolutely loved that position. from there, you know, I moved around the university, I went into university advancement or university campaign, so that’s fundraising. So I was a development officer there and got to find out what it was like to ask alumni to give back.

Sheri Lowrie (07:02):

And you know, we have as staff and faculty and alumni, that’s how we support our university in our own ways, whether through student scholarships or you know, capital projects. So I got to do a lot of interesting work around campaigns and fundraising. Then I moved over into the Center of Professional and Executive Education where I became a program administrator. And so then this got to, let me see that, that whole full circle of a prospect student, whether international or domestic. And then coming into university what their experience was gonna feel like as, as the person that’s administering administrating their program and then bringing them through to graduation and on to becoming an alumni where then that fundraising circles back. Now, did you have this great experience? Do you wanna give back to your, your university? So in the program in Min I did a lot of grad programs, so working with master’s programs in several of our faculties and even some partnerships with our, our social work program in the Toronto area as well.

Sheri Lowrie (08:10):

 from there I went over to academic advising, which was one of my career goals early on was I really felt that, you know, like Aunt Sherry or cousin Sherry or how I could like help out students in their academic journey. I loved course planning. I love figuring out a timetable and how to piece that together and helping a student get to figure out a degree audit so they can get to the end and make sure they’ve taken all the right courses. So I had a couple years in academic advising and then I went back over into student recruitment and now I am in I’m doing a, a temporary small mat leave cover for student communications and events for the, the Office of Student Experience. So even though I’ve been at the University of Windsor for 20 years, I’ve got to have really good opportunities inside of it through different roles.

Sam Demma (09:06):

 it sounds like you’ve really done a ton of different things, which is so unique and it gives you a unique perspective when you approach whatever role you’re currently gonna be working in. You sound like you were very passionate about the academic advising which is why I kind of had a follow up question for you. I’m sure it’s a conversation you’ve had before and so many other educators have it. Student walks into your office and they’re like, Aunt Sherry I have no idea what the heck I wanna do with my life. Like what, what is the practice that you would put forward? What would you say when a student walk in the office confused, overwhelmed with that sort of response?

Sheri Lowrie (09:48):

Yes, such a, such a typical day in my office, <laugh> academic advising for sure. And it usually, like you have those students that know exactly what they wanted to do and they’ve known it forever and that’s where they’re going. But 50% of of students change their major. They change their mind. They really have no idea. And what I really want students to know is that you don’t have to know right now. And even, even now, I’ve had several different jobs at the university, like your career can go in so many different ways. And so when that student walks in is like, what do I do? Then it’s, let’s try and unpack what are you passionate about mm-hmm. <affirmative>, like what lights you on fire? Like what do you wanna study? What do you wanna read more about? Like, let’s not think about the job, let’s just think about what is this four years going to look like that you are going to be excited about it.

Sheri Lowrie (10:45):

So that way when you graduate, it’s, it’s, the degrees are just backing you up. It just says that you had what it took to go through four years and develop the skills that an employer is looking for. So let’s not care that you’re gonna become a probation officer at the Windsor Detention Center. We don’t know that you’re gonna become that, but we care about your criminology course. If that’s what’s making you excited is that you wanna learn about crime and society and, and drugs and policing and all of this, then let’s study that and we’ll worry about getting that job after. So I also would always recommend students go to career advising too. Cause those are experts in that field. So I’m really good to help them with their courses and that degree audit. But I also think that it’s worth a lot of value to go take a career test and to see like what different things are out there. And at the end of the day when I look at my little kids, I’m like, you know, so many of the jobs that are gonna be there for them don’t exist yet. Mm. So not having to know and have it all figured out but for those that do have it figured out, good for you and follow that dream and go for it.

Sam Demma (11:58):

What keeps you hopeful to show up to work every single day and put your best foot forward? There’s obviously the great moments, the very smooth conversations, and on the other end there’s obviously the overwhelming aspect of work sometimes with so many projects being thrown on your plate with deadlines that seem way too short, <laugh>. what keeps you motivated and hopeful to show up, be your best self and do your best work?

Sheri Lowrie (12:26):

That is absolutely amazing question. I think I was actually given an award this year for the Windsor Proud Award. And, and I think that that is something that it’s, that’s what keeps me going. I really had an amazing time in my university undergrad experience. So like my professors were great, I changed my major, but it was seamless. I had no idea what I wanted to do, but my experience was really good. Like I loved being a student and so even though I didn’t know what I’d wanna do, I knew that I wanted to be in education and I, so I didn’t know what it looked like. I didn’t know who I was gonna become, but I knew that, that I wanted to work for the university. And then once I got a job there, then it just kind of snowballed after that, that now here I was working for.

Sheri Lowrie (13:26):

So some people will say I was lucky, right? I got a job right out of school. but I also think that took a lot of hard work and effort and it is that hard work and effort that still keeps me going. Like I wanna be proud of the work that I do. I want to be proud of where I work and what my university represent. I don’t understand how anybody who could graduate from anywhere and then go out and speak negatively of that institution because all that’s gonna do is devalue your own education. Yeah. So I, I’m the one that’s out there praising good word, like wins are proud. It was a good school, it was a great experience for me. It’s where I wanna show up and go to work every day. cuz I know I am valued as well and I know at the end of the day the students, they’re my customers and I want to provide them with a great customer experience.

Sheri Lowrie (14:20):

And when they come back and they send that one little positive note and I put it into my Happy Smiles folder that just says, okay, I helped that student, whether it was at the beginning of their journey and they were 17 and didn’t know what to, how to, how to apply and I helped them, or it was throughout their program or as an alum, whatever it was, how if I had an impact and they took the time to thank me, then that keeps me going too because I know that I’m making a difference in people’s lives and you know, just trying to have them have a good interaction with me, feel good about myself. The only thing I can control is my attitude and my effort. And so how I show up every single day as the best version of myself. So I think just being a good person is, is what keeps me going.

Sam Demma (15:07):

I love that the only two things I control is my attitude and my effort. I feel like if we carried those sentences around with us when things weren’t working out too well, it would really empower us to try and change our perspectives and continue to put our best foot forward despite external circumstances we can’t control. speaking of which, there have been many <laugh> what were some of the challenges that you inter faced during Covid and more specifically you and how did you and the team strive to overcome some of those challenges?

Sheri Lowrie (15:43):

It was definitely a time that we’ll all remember, right? Like that this is something that we’ve lived through together and so much research will be done in years to come to look back on the experience that we had. So when, when it, when we first shut down and we came home at that time I had six year old and a three year old. So to pivot to online learning for my kids, but also have to do my job and then have how do I then at the time as a recruiter, so how do we then, I would’ve been out in high schools. I would’ve been driving, I would’ve been going around visiting students face to face interaction all the time. And I was amazed that within one week we put an entire recruitment platform online, we established our virtual coffee chat, which then became, I found even more valuable for a student because if I’m standing in a hallway of a high school or in a gym or an auditorium or a cafeteria, you know, students can just walk right by and they can, in the back of their mind they’re like, Yeah, I saw Windsor in my school today.

Sheri Lowrie (16:54):

 but they didn’t have to come talk to me. Whereas if a student books a coffee chat with me online, they’re coming with actual questions, wanting to have a conversation, they’re in their comfort zone because they’re wherever they’re comfortable having that chat. And it’s one on one, it’s me and that family. And I think that was one of a, a true blessing that came out of Covid. And then at the same time, that challenge of having to do my kids at the same time, well a lot of students. So I would work seven in the morning till 10 in the morning and then I would teach my kids all day and then I would work seven at night until 10 at night when students were online and wanted to talk to me. So it was definitely challenging for sure, and it made me see that I probably did have a calling to be a teacher.

Sheri Lowrie (17:44):

I really enjoyed teaching my kids. but no regrets there at all. but it also made that flexibility of life and work life balance and we can do our jobs in a different way and we don’t have to be afraid of it. And we can have change even though it’s scary and we can pivot as much as I hate that word and how, which we had to use it. but there was, there’s definitely a lot of challenges. But, and I’m excited as a hybrid that we have now where I can still use this beautiful virtual background to have a coffee chat <laugh> but be doing it from, from home and being on campus and having that interaction and the face to face again, but still being able to get that balance. So I think Covid actually did some really good things for us.

Sam Demma (18:33):

That’s a virtual background. <laugh>, don’t give away the secret. <laugh>

Sheri Lowrie (18:38):

<laugh>. It’s funny cuz in the winter someone will be like, Oh, it’s so nice there. And I’m like, Yeah, there’s no snow at all. <laugh>,

Sam Demma (18:47):

You mentioned you’re Happy smiles folder out of the notes and messages that you keep stashed away in that folder, are there any stories of impact of students being really transformed or sharing their gratitude for your help that stick out in your mind that you return to often when you’re not feeling the best? And the reason I ask is because I think stories of student transformation remind other people in education why this work is so important and re-energize their personal wise. Do do any stories come to mind that you wanna share?

Sheri Lowrie (19:27):

Yeah, actually there’s one that she, she, it’s really in my bag right now that’s cool. <laugh>, It was a car, like a card and like handwritten. She had come, I had seen her in her high school or however the initial interaction was. Virtual coffee chat, I don’t remember. But I started that recruitment process with her and then, you know, she visited campus. Most important thing to do is visit your campuses that you’re thinking about going to. And so she came, like, she put in all this effort of trying to figure out where she wanted to go. Her mom and her came for the tour. I sat down with them, I mapped out what some stuff would look like, you know, like just a really good conversation station, stayed in touch throughout the next part of the cycle where you’re now converting and becoming, like choosing which one you wanna go to.

Sheri Lowrie (20:19):

And you know, just reaching out, doing my normal thing. And she then decided not to go to Windsor, which is fine. She would’ve been a student from the gta. So Windsor is a little bit of a hike, but she took the time to send me a card and so just addressed it to the universe, like my name and the university ones address. And so it had to go through the process of distribution to find its way to my desk. And then in this card just saying how even though she didn’t pick Windsor, that I still made an impact on her to want to go to school. And that it was the interactions with me, just Windsor felt too far and that maybe it was in her future, but that she needed to start closer to home. But without what she had with me, she doesn’t know if she would’ve went to school or if she would’ve chose college or taken a year off or done something else.

Sheri Lowrie (21:11):

And so it’s, it’s cards like that and moments like that that I’m like, I impacted that person’s life in that moment without even knowing it. And that’s, I think what’s, what’s so important and why you go to those, those folders to just reread those messages to say, yeah, like this is why I do what I do, because people really appreciate it and sometimes it’s confidence that they need or they just need to know that they, they can go to school and just relieve some of that anxiety for students. so that’s one story of, of several that, that I, I remember recently of someone just reaching out and I was, the fact that it was a card and handwritten just blew my mind.

Sam Demma (21:58):

<laugh>, you’re probably more familiar with opening bills and opening handwritten letters, which makes that even more special. Yeah. When you think about all your experiences in education, I would assume that most of the impact you’ve created in the life, in the lives of students who have come through your offices, who have worked with you was the result of building a strong relationship. And I’m curious from your perspective, how do you build a relationship with a student as a caring adult?

Sheri Lowrie (22:32):

Yeah, that’s a great question too. And it’s so true. Like everything, you know, everything is a relationships like people, people are people. And it is a, it definitely is about building those relationships. I think for me is I’m very, I love, I want to be an active listener and a lot of students just need to be heard. And so when, you know, I’m first meeting a student and I’m gonna use a student that I met when I was in academic advising, and he came in and he had failed out two universities and he basically was like, I want you to give me a chance. I can, I can do this. These are the reasons that I didn’t do well before, but I need somebody to believe in me and I promise you I’ll go to law school one day. And I was like, you know what, what do I have to lose?

Sheri Lowrie (23:27):

All I have to do right now is believe in you. And so I work with registrar’s office, we accept and admit this student, and then I say, You need to come back and see me every semester because I wanted him to know that I do care and I want to see that you, like, I’m gonna challenge you to be true to this word that you’ve said that you are going to make this the time that it works. And he came back every single semester and with his A’s and showed me that he had done it and he also had that value in me that somebody was there that believed in him. And so like that’s how that relationship was built was on like, respect, challenge, honesty belief, and then just genuine care, right? And then I got to see him graduate and he did go on to law school.

Sheri Lowrie (24:22):

And so, and I hope that he remains someone that stays in touch for forever, right? Like it’s, it’s amazing when you can see a student all the way to graduation and all they wanna do is introduce you to their parents or have a picture with you at graduation because you are someone that they feel that they had a relationship with. And what one of my actual dream jobs possibly is being able to be that person that is with them from recruitment till the end and that they felt like, yes, like I had that, that girl in my life and she helped the whole way through and she always cared. And so I, I value the relationships that I have been able to build. And mind you, not every single relationship wants to stay with you the whole time. So, but for those that that do want that relationship back, I think any employee at a university or college or they, that, that student has to matter. It has to be the number one reason that they, they go to work because those are our customers and those are the ones that are our future. So it’s just so important to give them such a great experience

Sam Demma (25:35):

On behalf of all the families and students you’ve helped who haven’t told you how big of an impact you had on them. Thank you very much. You know, you’re, you’re changing lives and doing great work right now, so keep it up. if you could take all your experience in education, bundle it up, travel back in time, tap Sherry on the shoulder, her first day working a full-time job in this industry or vocation I should say. What advice would you give your young, your younger self, Not because you would change your path at all, but because you thought it might be helpful to hear this as some advice as you embark on this journey in education.

Sheri Lowrie (26:16):

And this is probably so true with so many things of just, you know, what you learn in your twenties versus your thirties and now in my early forties to be able to look back to that, that 2020 year old self, 22, you know, fresh outta school, trying to get a full-time job. And I think it’s just like work hard. Like that’s if you work hard, you will prove yourself. You have new try things, try new opportunities. Don’t be afraid. Just put yourself out there. And at the end of the day, I think personal development and growth is so important. And I wish I would’ve started to invest in myself in my twenties instead of just work as like, just prove, prove proof to everybody else. I think if I would’ve taken some time on that personal development instead of in my forties would have made that much more of an impact. So I want those 20 year olds definitely great work ethic, work hard, prove yourself, but remember you in this whole grand scheme of life and finding out who you are and taking the time to work on yourself.

Sam Demma (27:48):

Beautiful. Sherie, thank you so much for coming on the podcast. You wrapped it up so nicely. If a young educator or any educator is listening and wants to reach out to you, ask a question, start a conversation, what would be the most efficient way for them to get in touch?

Sheri Lowrie (28:03):

I would, I definitely would welcome that. Probably the easiest is by my email, so sherio@uwindsor.ca

Sam Demma (28:15):

All right. Cheerio, my friend <laugh>, thanks for coming on the show. This was awesome and keep up the great work.

Sheri Lowrie (28:22):

You as well. You are doing some great things in this world, so I appreciate it and give you gratitude as well.

Sam Demma (28:29):

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 Sheri Lowrie

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.

John (João) Linhares – Vice Principal at St.André Bessette Catholic School in Ajax, Ontario

John (João) Linhares - Vice Principal at St.André Bessette Catholic School in Ajax, Ontario
About John Linhares

John Linhares (@MrJLinhares), is the Vice Principal at St André Bessette Catholic School in Ajax, Ontario. John started his journey in Education in the year 2000 after graduating from York University’s Concurrent Education Program and has been privileged to work with the Toronto Catholic District School Board as well as in the Durham Catholic District School Board over the last 22 years. His journey as a Vice Principal came during the pandemic, as he felt the need to support the DCDSB’s virtual school which was home to over 3600 students.

John truly believes in an inclusive model for education, and strives to get to know each one of his students’ and their God-given special gifts and talents. He is passionate about effective use of technology and 21st Century learning in the classroom to help engage students today and prepare them for their future. He also is passionate about the arts as a vehicle to help students reach their full potential in the learning process and to express themselves to help define their individuality through creativity. He is a life-long learner who is always willing to listen and explore obstacles from an out-of-the-box perspective.

Connect with John: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

St André Bessette Catholic School

York University – Concurrent Education Program

Toronto Catholic District School Board – TCDSB

Durham Catholic District School Board – DCDSB

DCDSB virtual school

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:57):

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 that I see walking around my block almost every single week. His name is John Linhares. John is the vice principal at John (João) Linhares – Vice Principal at St.André Bessette Catholic School in Ajax, Ontario. John started his journey in education the year 2000 after graduating from York University’s Concurrent Education program and has been privileged to work with the Toronto Catholic District School Board, as well as the Durham Catholic District School Board over the last 22 years. His journey as a Vice Principal came during the pandemic, as he felt the need to support the Durham Catholic District School Board’s Virtual school, which was home to over 3,600 students. John truly believes in an inclusive model for education and strives to get to know each one of his students and their God-given special gifts and talents.

Sam Demma (01:50):

He is passionate about effective use of technology and 21st century learning in the classroom to help engage students today, and prepare them for their future. He also is passionate about the arts as a vehicle to help students reach their full potential in the learning process and to express themselves to help define their individuality through creativity. He is a lifelong learner who is always willing to listen and explore obstacles from an out of the box perspective. I hope you enjoy this conversation with John, and I will see you on the other side. Today, we have a very special guest. I actually see him a couple times a week while walking around the block. <laugh>. His name is John Linhares. John, please feel free to introduce yourself.

John Linhares (02:33):

Hey Sam. Thanks so much. Yeah, I feel like we should be walking right now, actually. Cause Yeah, we’re always like crossing past, like crossing ships here. I’m John Linhares and I’m super excited to, to be here with you. I’ve seen you in person in your inspirational conversations and your inspirational presentations with our schools. You know, I’ve been following you as well the last couple of years, and I just was very happy to take on this, this little invite to come in on your show for a bit.

Sam Demma (03:00):

So you’re in education, what do you do? How did you get into it?

John Linhares (03:05):

So, yeah, so it’s it’s been a pretty long, like I’m not kind of, I was that kid who grew up basically knowing that I wanted be a teacher okay. And I would wind up my toys and all that. I pretend, and I was an only child, so the creativity had to come out. And yeah, so I know I, so from a young age I wanted to do that and started teaching in 2000. So it’s been essentially 22 years. And I love it. Obviously I do love it. The pandemic kicked in and another passion, the minus technology. So when the pandemic kicked in, we were all went virtual Yeah. Class. When virtual, I just felt this urge to be like, Listen, I need to help out more. At the time I was kind of in a small bubble of classes and could only help out a few people, I guess.

John Linhares (03:49):

And were reaching out to a few people to help them out. So that kind of inspired me to wanna help more people. And so I reached out to some people at the boards, listened, You guys need help with, with, you know, getting people on board with their classes and helping out. Like, what are we gonna do in the situation? you know, let me know. So that’s how I, I got on board with that. And as luck would take it, you know, the next step into my career was becoming a vice principal. And just led me to this path to being a vice principal. And the first school that I was a vice principal at was the German Catholic virtual elementary school. First of its kind created or we were announced of it, ironically, the morning of my interview come vice principal <laugh>.

John Linhares (04:33):

So I’m like listening to this like broadcast by the director and a few principals and superintendents and you know, I’m like waiting. Cause they, they, you know, I had my interview, let’s say at 10 30 and they said, Listen, your might be late. They’ve got this, you know, this big ment they’re making out to the whole board. So I’m like, Gary, no worries, I’ll just listen in. And then once that’s done, then I’ll pop on the zoom. It’s all good. And I remember hearing about this virtual school, I’m like, That’s it. That’s where I, to me, and went into my interview and saying, You know what, at the end of it, I just made a pitch for it. And yeah, I have to say three years later I’m still with the virtual program here with German Catholic. And it’s been quite the journey for sure.

Sam Demma (05:13):

What are some of the things about working with the virtual school that you absolutely love? I think over the past couple of years people have realized how important technology is, but before that may have resented it a little bit and always, or, you know, preferred the in person learning, which has both have pros and cons, but what are some of the things that you love about the virtual school?

John Linhares (05:35):

A hundred percent. Like I think that you’ve nailed it there. That there are, again, I think for me, I’ve always loved technology and I’ve always embraced it and I’ve always helped a lot my colleagues who don’t feel comfortable with it. Right? Like there’s a bit of a fear out there when it comes to it. And so just helping out my colleagues in that sense and new my students to move through those things is really key. Yeah. but with the ver the thing that, that I love the most is that when I get passionate about is when I hear kind of people kind of dismiss it and that it is not a viable option. And I have to disagree with that wholeheartedly, especially after seeing some of our kids. Listen, it’s not for everybody, a hundred percent. It is not for everyone. you know, we know that being in person with people and all that is definitely a great place to be.

John Linhares (06:19):

However, for some of our students, they do struggle in person. Like they have a hard time going to class every day. They have to put on a big front to be there for whatever reason, be on anxiety, be it social anxiety, be it just having a hard time reading people sometimes. Yeah. So just the overall, like too much noise going on or just too much business going on, you know what I mean? So for them, they’re succeeding in virtual and that in that reason alone I feel very passionate about it, that it does work for a lot of a few of our kids. not for everyone. Definitely for those kids that they do well and they succeed in, Yeah, I think we have to provide the best that we can for them. A hundred percent.

Sam Demma (07:02):

Where did your passion or love for technology come from? Did you grow up playing Atari in nta? I did. I

John Linhares (07:10):

<laugh> I saw it all summer actually. That little like little joy signal that Yeah, a hundred percent. No, I, I’m actually not a massive gamer, to be honest with you. Yeah. but I think just the creative side, I am very creative. I, I’m a bit of an artist and I think just dabbling into that creative side of things. sorry, my email will probably continue dinging as we do this. Okay. All good. It’s it’s it’s just something that I always kind of tapped into enjoyed. I just like the creative process of the technology side of it. And then I remember years ago, God, it’s really 2004 I got involved in this program in schools and it was about differentiating. So that is that, you know, we don’t, when we teach, we look at the kid and like what their talents are and what they’re about.

John Linhares (07:51):

And it’s, think of the same assignment to everybody. For an example, you may have a choice of assignments so that, you know, if you are artistic, you can tap into this assignment. If you’re more of a writing type person, you can tap into that. If you’re more of an oral person, you can go and tap into that and create a presentation on this, Right? There’s no need to have everybody doing the exact same thing. So from that project that I did there was some ministry funding for smart boards, which I’m sure you probably noticed Smart board is, but for South <inaudible>. And that is basically something that, gosh, that was like what almost 20 years ago wasn’t very heard of, but something that started coming out because it was helping, again, a few students in the classroom to engage in their classroom, Right? Get to a little more shy kid who may have you know, some issues with their writing.

John Linhares (08:36):

They were actually able to communicate their learning through the smart board in the classroom. So it became a little bit of a project. And I remember the school I was at, nobody had a smart board at the time. We were one of the first primary, or the first elementary classes to try and out. And by the time I left that school, three years later, every single classroom had a smart board. Yeah. So all these kids were engaging and just like, excited about it and just really, again, igniting, reignited about their learning, which was awesome. And then I went from another school and the same process happened. I got there no smart boards. I’m like, that’s not happening. I, I’m by my own or you guys are, find the funding for it. And sure enough, they’re like, Oh, no, we’ll support you. Right. And so, yeah, so I got a smart board and then again, five years later, every classroom had one in that school. So it’s, it, it’s your motto, Basical, that you bring on your mantra, right? Like it’s small things. Yeah. Small. Its in actions, it’s small, consistent even like little projects, little things that carry on. Right. So

Sam Demma (09:34):

Yeah, big time. You peak my interest when you mentioned you’re a little bit of an artist, you can take out the little bit of a part and tell me a little bit about the artist side of John <laugh>.

John Linhares (09:43):

Oh gosh. Yeah. So the artist side of John is like, I know I totally self-taught. I just always loved drawing, you know, doodling, that kind of stuff. Yeah. And, and then just explored it more as I grew, grew older and had my own time to explore different genres and that kind of stuff. I love going to art galleries and, and going to like installations. Like we’ve launched all that Toronto and all that kind of stuff. I see. and then that, that actually led me to working at All Saints Catholic school, which about five years ago now, six years ago opened up our first arts and media program which was very exciting. Cuz again, there are other boards that have art specific schools and our board did not. It was a lot, It was an air that was lacking and I was super excited to get on board with that. And was the grades the grade eight teacher there, one of the grade eight teachers there, but also teaching the visual arts to our grades seven and eight students. So that year, the few years that I was there, definitely a highlight in my career because it was you know, marrying my two passions of, well, three passions of teaching technology and also art. So was great.

Sam Demma (10:49):

It’s, it’s such a unique perspective and story because I think sometimes certain people veer students away from artistic pursuits because they might not be quote, realistic. and I’m curious to know your perspective, like when you see that in a student that they have a passion for an artistic field and you know, one day I wanna work full, you know, full time in, in an artistic industry. How do you kind of guide them or what, what do you share with them when they tell you that?

John Linhares (11:20):

Yeah, for sure. That’s like, I think compared to like several things, I think for myself, like I always wanted to be a teacher. Yeah. But I also thought, okay, I don’t wanna have just one path, right? You don’t wanna down any doors like that. So I always say like, try to keep as, as many doors open as possible and I’m, and I’m listening with kids, right? I’m not gonna be like, Yeah, no, you can be the best artist, you can be the next van goal. Like, listen man famous after they were dead, that’s not gonna help goal <laugh>. So that’s just the truth, right? So like, yeah, I do tell them absolutely keep going at it. And, and for some of these kids might get here some great programs that you should look into, be it the arts that we have, be it, you know, going to OK ad looking at term whatever, right?

John Linhares (11:58):

There’s ways that you can pursue that. But I always say there’s almost like a plan A and plan B, right? The arts are something that you can do that fuel your soul and you know, you can do it on the side or you can do it in conjunction with another job or another passion of yours, right? So just dealing with both of those, I think it’s the same about kind of conversation. We’re talking about an athlete, right? Like you have a kid, fantastic athlete in school and absolutely don wanna crush everybody’s dream, right? Like, yes, you can do this, absolutely, but at the end of the day, don’t close any doors. So what else you have? And you can try and aim for both or keep both going concurrently. Absolutely. Yeah.

Sam Demma (12:33):

Yeah. No, that’s great advice. what keeps you motivated personally to get up out bed every single day and keep doing the work you’re doing?

John Linhares (12:42):

Yeah, I think I honestly today’s rule teachers day, so I’m gonna say again big shout out to all the teachers out there. They I’m back in there. Yeah. You know, it’s, and I know that, you know, there’s a lot of a lot of stuff going on in education as always, but the impact and when any of us look back to our lives and how we raised and and our lives, there’s always the one or two teachers that really impact us. And they’re the ones that guide us along our path and, and help us along. And cuz we we’re parents, like for the most part of the day when we’re with these people more than we are with our families on home, right? So and sometimes you click really well with, with people with a teacher and sometimes it does work, right?

John Linhares (13:26):

But at the end of the day, there’s always that one or two that you’re going to make that connection with. And so that to me is honestly what keeps me going. It’s those connections with the students. and the beauty of it now, like now that I’ve been in it, is now my 22nd, 23rd year in education, you know, this, looking back, some of these kids that I had when I first started teaching we’re still in contact with each other. They’ve now got families, they’re now grown up. They pursued their dreams and, and their goals and I know they’ll come over for dinner, we’ll meet up somewhere for, for coffee. And it’s, it’s just neat to see these adults now, right? Like they’re not kids forever. They grow up and they, they become these amazing human beings who are doing good in our planet. That’s the most rewarding part. Like, that’s the thing. Like who am I gonna go out today and perhaps put a smile on their face that I’m gonna make their day go a little better today? Mm. That’s what motivat Yeah, for sure.

Sam Demma (14:18):

You mentioned because of World Teachers Day, how important the role of educators are and how most people have those one or two educators that make a really big difference on their development as a child, as a young person. When you think back to when you were in school, can you identify any of those teachers that had a big impact on you? and if so, like what did they do for you that you think made such a big impact?

John Linhares (14:46):

I was asked to reflect on this this morning cause I was watching a TV show in the morning, my morning TV show. I got night to get about five o’clock. Five o’clock is my time to get up, have my quiet time with a family at home. You know, it’s just nice to have that time to not be talking to anyone and not be stopping problem. Just sit there with my coffee and leave me alone with nothing <laugh>. Right. And so the TV show was watch this morning though, my morning TV show. They, they were talking about this, reflecting on that as well. And I couldn’t pitch for it. One or two people, to be honest with you. I had a series of tea of teachers that I, I think I can go back and I can name all of them and I can name probably one way that they did impact me, Right?

John Linhares (15:19):

Or they helped me along or somehow saw in me something that they felt they needed to be bring to bring out. So that I can’t say, but I can. So the one conversation that stood out to it was actually a teacher, a young teacher my first or second year. And I was chatting with an older teacher who was near retirement and she nailed it. And she said to me, and she’s like, Listen, the main thing about our profession or anything in life is that you just have to remember this. And I said, Okay, I’m listening all yours. She said, It doesn’t matter what you do for me, it’s how you make me feel. Mm.

John Linhares (15:55):

How you make me feel. I go with that statement and, and my, that statement is in the back of my mind, I have to say every hour of my day. Mm. And it was like a three second conversation that we had outside one day and it was after school. And that just stuck with me. And I’m like, you’re so ranked, it doesn’t matter. Like I can do whatever actions that I want to right. Or whatever. But at the end of the day, it’s that feeling like how when I meet someone, when I’m leaving someone, how am I letting them feel about themselves at that moment, right? Like, how leaving them, are they feeling better about themselves? Are they feeling like that they have a smile on their face? Do they feel better than they were five minutes ago? That’s what I’m going towards to be honest with you. And I mean, sometimes I fail and sometimes I, I do okay. But that statement just stuck in me, Sam. Like that’s just something that I totally hold near and near to my heart and, and as a human being, I feel it’s very important to totally describe to you.

Sam Demma (16:46):

Yeah, the educator who changed my life made me feel like there was hope when I felt like there was none, not, it wasn’t even about his curriculum <laugh>, although his, his teachings were great, but it was how I left his semester feeling about myself and what was possible for me that I really remember and sticks with me to this day. So I think that is so true and you’re absolutely right. Not only in education, but regarding whatever you choose to do. All of our interactions hopefully leave other people feeling better about themselves and feeling hopeful and all that, all that good fuzzy feelings in the chest, <laugh>

John Linhares (17:25):

People, right? Just that, that validating of people, like just with the pandemic there seemed like those walks, right? Like people were walking around street before that it’s rare that somebody would just sit and talk Right. Or even make contact with each other. Now when people walk by each other, they actually make icon and say hey, or a hi or how’s it going? Right? Like it’s something that I feel I think is interesting and it’s changed with the pandemic. I think people have gotten more that human side actually has come out a lot more, whereas before the people were getting a little too cold and just not validating each other. Right. So, and that teacher that you’re taught, speaking of, I’m pretty sure the same one that you referred to in your story. Yeah. married there. I, I unfortunately did not have the privilege of having that teacher struggle. He was around when I was there. but I remember my friends who did have him. Nice. Same thing. So yeah, definitely again, those teachers had that impact, right? Like how you making me feel? Yeah,

Sam Demma (18:17):

Yeah, yeah. So your first job in education, take me back, like give us a little bit of the snapshot of where you started to where you are now.

John Linhares (18:27):

Oh wow. So I started teaching, gosh, it was funny. My buddy and I had decided at that time back in 2019 99, 2000, there was a ton of teaching jobs like time. Okay. Like there wasn’t like the winter period here, there was not a lot of teaching jobs for the longest time. and now we’re back into, there are a few, there’s a lot of jobs out there, but at the time there was lots of jobs. So my buddy and I were like, listen, we’re listening to like, we wanna enjoy life. We wanna take the first couple years, let’s just supply teach cuz supply teaching, we’re gonna get some income but we’re gonna be able to travel. Yeah. So we travel more, right? Because then teach is a great gig going wrong, but if you’re a traveler, you’re kind of stuck cuz you can only go March break when they jack up the prices or summer when they jack up the prices not, but it’s a reality, right?

John Linhares (19:13):

Yeah. So my buddy traveling like know in February or whatever, Oh that’s a great deal. Like great have fun, right? <laugh> so we’re supply change so that we can rack and limit of money. Yeah. Pay the s right. And then we have no warnings like pay the Cardinals and then Jet just go right. And both of us got calls from principles that we respected a lot and just before the long weekend Ashley Ladale on weekend and they were like, yeah, offering us both jobs and unbeknowns to each other. We both accepting and then we were kind like, shoot, how are you supposed to tell me? You know, tell my buddy now I’m totally bail on him. And then like, yeah, I was like, like that man, I had to take this job. I was like, got me too. Like what <laugh> job?

John Linhares(19:55):

And I was great, well here we go. So took on these jobs. My first job was JK in the morning and grade five in the afternoon. Okay. Why accepted it? I still at this day was like, I don’t know who, who would take that. Like it’s just crazy. but it gave me a great perspective in the sense of like just, just kids in general. Like yeah. You know, these three and four year olds coming into the room screaming and crying first in the morning cuz they were new to school. And then I go upstairs and there was these grade fives to, I was told the year before had sent off several teachers <laugh> on leaves cuz they they were not the easiest class to deal with. So I had to go up there and be like, you know, a little more a little different than it was downstairs, the jks.

John Linhares (20:35):

Anyway, so that was a great four years that I did that actually. But I still look back to look back like, man, we should have done the supply teaching. We just should have traveled like crazy cuz we couldn’t have done it, but we didn’t. but I have to say I still have kids from that kindergarten class and that great flag class that I still talk to today. And again, they’re grown up and, and doing some great things in this world. So, so that was pretty cool. And yes, I was in Toronto Catholic and then taught that for a few years and then I moved on to getting closer to home and then I moved to Ger Ger Catholic in 2005. So that was a good job. Yeah.

Sam Demma (21:10):

When you think about student impact and stories of students who’ve been transformed or have built new skills as a result of education, maybe there’s a student you can think of who was really struggling and then had a breakthrough and made a very positive turn. Are there any stories that come to mind that you’d be willing to share? And I, I ask it because I think that’s one of the cornerstone reasons why people get into education for the impact you can have on young people. And sometimes when an educator’s feeling burnt out, they forget about those stories. They forget about that side of the job. so I’m hoping you can maybe share one if, if if you have one that comes to mind.

John Linhares (21:54):

Yeah, I got you’re saying this like, I’ve got a few that are running through my mind. Cause like I I’m for the underdog. Like I, I have to say that, you know, as a teacher looking out for that kid, there’s you know, we only sound like in the summer where about to start, it was last week of August. People are kind of in buzzing around getting their rooms ready for September and there’s an energy in the school. Everyone’s excited for the new year and oftentimes the teacher, you know, and and with the greatest of place days will come, Hey, I hear you got so and so, you know, just, you know, last year they were struggling with this and I stopped them and I’m like, listen, I appreciate it. we’re gonna just, this a new chapter, I’m gonna see how things vote and then if I need to like consult with you about maybe some strategies that worked for you last year, I know who to come talk to.

John Linhares (22:38):

But ultimately I don’t, I’m in my head like I don’t want to hear what happened last year. Yeah. Because it’s a new chapter, man, it’s a new year. We don’t know who this kid is right now. so I had several of those like I can think of off the top of my head you know, kids who were probably struggling with let’s say like maybe it’s ADHD and just could not fit into the mold of school, Right. Could not sit still at school because you know, that teacher wants them to be sitting in their desk. And I’m like, that you wanna stand, stand, go ahead <laugh> you. Yeah, I see your moving around a lot and you’re at the front of the class, let’s move here to the back. Yeah. You’re more comfortable back there if you need to get up, buddy, go, go nuts.

John Linhares (23:15):

Right? Yeah. Like your college not bothering other people around you. Just do what you gotta do. Right. And that I think again is that valuing where people are coming from and making them feel validated, right? So that, you know, I think some, for some people just they have a harder time just fitting into the mold of what school system is, right? So like why do we break those molds? And that’s what I try and do. so yeah, a couple of the kids who, those kids who yeah, every year was the same kind of thing where, oh, you know, they’re struggling, they’re having a hard time, they’re having a hard time, they’re having a hard time. And then you see them grow up and now yeah, they’re, they’ve got a great family. They actually owned three properties, they’re in real estate they’ve done quite well for themselves.

John Linhares (23:55):

And all these concerns, all of these, you know, little things that were happening back in grade three, you know, on a kid, you, they can’t sit still, they can’t sit still on that desk. I dunno what they can’t, they’re not gonna learn. We’re fine. You’re doing awesome actually. But again, it’s, it’s because this whole journey of education, I think everyone’s supporting and I mean, again, like in every stage of your life there are certain things that we all look out for and and, and are trying to to help out with. Right. But the beauty of this job too is that you see that it is, it’s making Jake k to like end of college, university, you’re in your twenties, that’s a big journey, right? And if we’re all doing our part to help out this kid, there you go. Right? I, and one kid I’ll never forget was I came in, it was actually when I came to Durham Durham Catholic, I started midyear.

John Linhares (24:42):

 I actually had a rough year the year before. and mother had passed away and instead of being there for my kids, I thought, you know what? I need to go half time so I can, you know, take care of myself in the mornings, basically. Like do what I gotta do, get in the right head space, go in for a couple hours the afternoon for those students, but be the best person. At least I can be. During that time, Yeah, that year I decided to switch boards and I decided, okay, I’m a supply teach for supply teaching. You have less, you know, there are, there’re less concerns that you have, right? You don’t have to work about planning and marketing and all other stuff. So it’s a pretty sweet gig. So I’m go, I’ll do it for a few months just to kinda get in the right head space again.

John Linhares (25:17):

So that’s split in. So it was February this job came along in, in at St. John, the evangelist at Wink. And so I took on this job and I remember taking that job on and the teacher was taking over for Matt. They loved her. She, they, she was their favorite teacher, you know, like she was the best. Like they just loved her and then she got this other job, so she was leaving and then here was this, who’s this coming into our room now, right? Like I had big shoes to fill it. So I tried my best to just continue on. She did things, but I’m me. Like I’m not somebody else. Right? Right. But yeah, they were not happy with me at all. And there’s one little character in particular was not happy with Mr. O at all. So anyway, so every day, let’s call it, he was just acting up a lot.

John Linhares (26:00):

Like he was getting into a lot of trouble going on. Yeah. And end of the year comes and then we get our class list for the following year and buddies in my class again. So I’m like, great. So end of the day, last day of school, he was about to take off and I’m like, Hold on, come back here, let’s have a chat before Eagle. And I remember pulling him aside, he was grade five <laugh>. And I’m like, Listen, just so you know, get back in my class next year. The waitings last few months have gone, you could have the worst year of your life next year or you can make the best of your life. And you started answering, No, no, I don’t want you to answer right now. I need you to go, go into, go the summer, have fun, you know, have a great summer, come back in September and think about what I told you. Cause Basical, this is in your court. So it went, it’s back in September, comes to find me, I’ll smiles will happen. It’s like, Mr, I’m ready for a new change. I’m like, Right. Cool, I’m glad you’re saying that, but let’s see what happens. Let’s

Sam Demma (27:05):

Do it. <laugh>.

John Linhares (27:06):

Exactly right. Yeah, fair enough. That’s exactly what it did. He, he became such a great leader that year at the school, helped out was just wanting to volunteer and help out with like, with other staff and other kids and, and with know afterschool activities and that kind stuff. And he just grew up through such a great leader for the, for the years that left here to the point where the lasting school grade eight graduation officer post all go. He kept coming back. I’m like, Buddy, you guys are done. Go <laugh>, you’re done school. Like, no, no, I’m hang out whenever. So he, yeah. So he is suck around helping me out. I was actually packing my class over the time whenever Nice. Again, continu on in contact ever since. And he was actually perusing the, the arts department here. Ah. So he still looking into it now, so

Sam Demma (27:50):

That’s awesome, man. You know what, I think it’s so important that we have big expectations for who our students can become. And it sounds like you had a vision for what this young man could be that maybe he didn’t have himself. And when you present that in a very kind way in front of a student someone that you care about you know, it forces them to actually think maybe I can be that student leader. Maybe I can change my behavior. Maybe there is a something that they see in me that I don’t see myself. So I think that’s a really cool little story. So thanks for thanks for sharing that one. if, if you could travel back in time and speak to John when he was in his first or second year teaching but with the experience you had now, what would you like tell your younger self when you were just getting into this profession? Maybe there’s a, a very fresh new educator listening to this right now and they’re looking for some words of wisdom as they journey down this education path.

John Linhares (28:51):

I think the main thing was to basically again, get to know your students. Like we get caught up in like these checklists of what have to get done, like wanting to get this, get that does this deadline. There’s that deadline I got report cards are coming soon. there’s just checklists coming out of the yin yang to be honest with you. The things that we have to do. Yeah. But we don’t, we cannot lose sight of why we’re there and that’s the most important thing. And so making those connections with those kids on a daily basis, I didn’t care what was going on. Trying to literally build in time, you know, like we talk about our families now, like, you know, talking about like traveling life, right? But it’s like, make time to meet your family, make make time to meet with your friends, make time to meet up with whatever, like work people, it was the same thing like in, in the classroom, you can easily get caught up in your checklist, make time to get to know those kids and talk to them, not about school stuff, right?

John Linhares (29:41):

Like getting to know them on that social level that human side. And that’s really key, right? And just build your success up for the whole year. Like no matter what, you know, issues are in the classroom or or behavior issues, they’re in the classroom. You put the time into really getting to know and acknowledge those kids and let them see that side of you as well. Like that you are human. You’re not this like, you know, robotic teacher creature that’s Yeah. human being, right, like with interest and whatever. And that, that really wins them over. Like, it makes a big deal. Like when you talk to a kid about just random stuff, other weekend wins, whatever for a minute or two each day. It makes a massive difference.

Sam Demma (30:23):

Small, consistent actions.

John Linhares (30:25):

<laugh> that again, back to that. Yep. If,

Sam Demma (30:28):

If someone wants to reach out to you and ask a question, bounce some ideas around, share some of their own art <laugh>, what would be the best way for another educator to get in touch with you?

John Linhares (30:39):

Yeah, so based on, on Twitter I’m @mrjlinhares, I think you’ve got that on the, on my bio. so that’s one way. And on LinkedIn as well. I’m kind of new to LinkedIn, so I’m not not on there as much as I am on Twitter. Twitter, I find a little bit easier to keep track of stuff and, and joke. But yeah, I am on those two platforms for sure and definitely would be more than happy to have conversations with you. I love conversations. I just love sitting down and chatting like we are now and, and sharing stories and all that.

Sam Demma (31:10):

Yeah man. Well I enjoyed this, a lot big time. So thank you so much for making the time to come on the podcast, share a little bit about your experiences and your journey, and I hope you have an amazing rest of your school year, and I’ll see you walking around the block sometime soon.

John Linhares (31:26):

<laugh> Sam, we’re looking forward to your, your book launch as well, so that’s coming up, so that’s amazing. Again, kids like yourself who we know are doing some great things out there, that’s what makes our jobs worthwhile. So thank you for all that you’ve done.

Sam Demma (31:39):

Thanks John, Appreciate it. Let’s talk soon.

John Linhares (31:41):

All right, take care.

Sam Demma (31:43):

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with John Linhares

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.

Small Consistent Actions Sam Demma – TEDxYouth@Toronto

Small Consistent Actions Sam Demma - TEDxYouth@Toronto
About Sam Demma

Sam Demma (@Sam_Demma) is the youngest board director of the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers. A highly requested keynote speaker in the education space, Demma has delivered over three hundred presentations for clients who want to create a culture of hope, service, and self-belief. He is routinely invited for interviews on national media outlets and has been featured on the TEDx platform twice.

As a high school student, he co-founded PickWaste, a grassroots initiative that mobilized youth to pick up garbage in their communities. Within five years, the organization filled more than three thousand trash bags and provided students with six thousand meaningful volunteer hours. The initiative’s success confirmed for Demma how small, consistent actions could have a significant impact, and he lives that message in all he does.

Following his keynote presentations, students and educators often commit to performing more acts of kindness, taking small, consistent actions toward their personal goals, and proactively looking for ways to serve others. In his spare time, Demma dances the bachata, eats handfuls of tacos, and works to convince people that pineapples do not belong on pizza. For more information and booking inquiries, please visit www.samdemma.com.

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

Canadian Association of Professional Speakers

TEDx

TEDx Talk, “Small, Consistent Actions”

PickWaste

Top 25 under 25 Environmentalists

www.samdemma.com

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 (00:13):

When I was in grade 12, my teacher told me three words that totally changed my life; small, consistent actions. It was April, 2017, and I was seated in his world issues class. Growing up, I have to admit, I wasn’t the brightest student and I didn’t like school all that much, but for some reason, every time I was in his class, I always felt engaged. And on this particular day, he was not talking about any ordinary topic. Instead, he was speaking about figures in history who have massively changed this world. People like Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Gloria Steinham, Gandhi. The list went on and on, and he took these figures and he wrote their names on the board. This was the only teacher I ever had who still used the blackboard.

Sam Demma (01:21):

But then he began breaking down their lives, trying to figure out what common characteristics they all shared that enabled them to make a massive change in the world. We found they had many distinct traits that made them each different and unique. But there was this one thing, this one thing that was common among them all, they all took small, consistent actions that led to their global massive changes. You see, that day in class, my teacher proved to me and all of my classmates that if we wanted to make a massive change in the world, we could, and all we had to do was commit to a small, consistent action. I left class that day with a burning desire within my chest to try and make a change within my community. But like many of you, at the age of 17 years old, I had absolutely no idea how I was gonna do this. I didn’t have a job. I didn’t even know where I wanted to go to university, let alone talk about something like changing the world, right? Well, like many students, every day after school, I would walk home and my walk was about 30 to 40 minutes. I would take my headphones out, pop in my ears, listen to some music and podcasts. But after that day in class, I decided to change my routine. I took my headphones out, I put them in my pockets, and I began asking myself the questions,

Sam Demma (03:03):

Sam, how are you going to change the world? What is your small consistent action going to look like? Now, before I continue with the rest of that story, I need you to understand where I was personally at that point in my life, or else the story won’t make that much sense. Because two years ago, if you told me that I would be standing on this stage here today talking about a lesson that changed my life, I would’ve told you that you’re insane. In fact, I probably would’ve told you that I will be in the United States on a full ride scholarship playing division one soccer. Like many of you, I had a dream for my life from a very young age, and my dream was to play professional soccer. At the age of 13, I had the opportunity to travel to Europe and live by myself for six months and experienced the professional culture. And when I came back to Canada, I came back with a new passion for the sport. And throughout my four years of high school, I sacrificed everything to pursue my dream of playing professional soccer. But in grade 12, at the age of 17, everything changed. It was mid-November, maybe one week before the biggest opportunity in my soccer career, and I was playing in a friendly match with my team. It was just before half time, maybe five minutes before the whistle when I went shoulder to shoulder with this 250 pound beast.

Sam Demma (04:48):

And after our initial contact, I caught myself, but very quickly I realized that something felt a little funny in my left knee. And for the next five minutes, I ran around with some pain in my calf before deciding to put my ego aside and get off the field. And as I crossed the line, I immediately burst in the tears because deep down I knew that something was terribly wrong. And the worst part about it is that my parents weren’t even there, and I had to hit your ride home with my teammate. And for the whole 40 minute drive home, I pted in the backseat like a little child. Fast forward one month, I ended up getting the results from my mri, and it turned out I had torn the meniscus in my left knee. I felt absolutely defeated mentally and physically because I just missed the opportunity I had been training for so emphatically.

Sam Demma (05:50):

But you see, I wanted this dream so badly, so I would not give up. I got the surgery done and I got back onto the field. And just as things began to improve, I ended up tearing the meniscus in my left knee a second time. And this time around, looking back, I realized I broke down uncontrollably crying in front of my family, my friends, and my teammates. I couldn’t understand why life seemed to be beating me to the ground for no reason. I then had a second surgery, and I even took a fifth year of high school or grade 13 for you old folks back here to try and keep that dream alive. And just when I thought things could not get any worse, it happened again a third time this time in my other knee, which forced me to quit and give up the sport that I loved. It was at that point in my life that I realized I had so deeply attached my personal identity and self-worth to the sport I played. I mean, raise your hand if you have an email address here. I’m pretty sure we all do. Just to put it in perspective, it was so bad that my email was soccer, Sam 99, soccer was all I knew, and I feared that I would be worth nothing without it.

Sam Demma (07:16):

So that’s where I was at this point in my life when my teacher taught me this lesson about small, consistent actions. The reason I shared with you my soccer story is because I want you to understand you do not need to go through extreme adversity to knee surgeries and give up a lifelong dream only to realize that doing good things that benefit others also fulfills yourself. And my teacher proved that to me through his personal passion for solving world issues. And so while walking home from school, after that day in class, when I was asking myself the questions, How are you going to change the world? What is your small consistent action going to look like? I didn’t realize it at the time, but looking back, I now see that I was taking the first small step towards building some serious momentum. And it took me 14 days to finally come up with an answer to those questions.

Sam Demma (08:21):

I was walking home when a coffee cup blew across the sidewalk, and I still can’t explain this portion of the story, but for some reason on an impulse decision, I decide to put my teacher’s theory to the ultimate test. I walked up to the cup, I bent down, and I picked it up. And for the next four months, I made my small consistent action picking up litter while walking home from school. I had no intentions of building something outta this, but to, to my surprise, my teacher was correct. And that small consistent action would soon thereafter grow into a citywide initiative. Because five days before summer break, my good friend Dylan saw me driving home and like any teenager, he pulled over, he rolled down his window, and he looked at me like this.

Sam Demma (09:17):

And then he said, Sam, what the heck are you doing? Why are you picking up garbage? And when I explained to him the theory that small actions lead to a massive change, he absolutely loved it. And then he made this statement that changed my future forever. He said, Sam, let’s do something with this. And that was the day that Pick Waste was born. Pick Waste is a community initiative that was started outta the necessity to play our small part in solving a global issue, while at the same time inspiring individuals like yourselves to realize the potential you have on this planet. It began on July 1st, 2017, and since that day, we have kickstarted four different cleanup crews in four different cities, completed over 80 cleanups, filled over 850 bags of garbage and picked up over 21,000 cigarette butts. It has also given me the opportunity to speak in front of over 8,000 individuals just like yourself, to spread this message and to raise awareness.

Sam Demma (10:29):

You see, our movement exemplifies the power of consistency. It was one small action, one small idea that led to this citywide initiative. But please do not get me wrong. The reason I told you about pick waste is not because I want you to go and start picking up litter, although if you do see it, please do pick it up <laugh>. But the reason I told you about pick waste is because I wanted to give you a real life example about how this theory of small, consistent actions played out in my personal life. But what is 10 times or even a thousand times more important is how this theory could play out in your life. Because there are thousands of social issues facing the world today that need courageous leaders like yourselves to step up and face these problems. The biggest lie we have ever been taught, told, or heard, is that one person is too insignificant, that one person is irrelevant in the bigger picture or on the global scale.

Sam Demma (11:36):

And I am here today to tell you that that is absolutely false, and I can even prove it to you in less than 10 seconds. Are you ready? Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Gloria Stein, and Lewis Tapp in Salman north of Will and Will before is Gandhi, Bill Dre and Forres, Nan, Gail, Fabio Rosa. The list goes on and on of people no different than you and I. You see, they’re just human beings who decide to commit to small, consistent actions, and it allowed them to change this world. What is stopping you from being the next person that I count on my fingertips? Tips Because my teacher told me that those figures in history are not anomalies. We can all change the world. Never underestimate the power of small actions executed consistently. Never underestimate the power of momentum because things in motion tend to stay in motion and never underestimate yourself because you are no different than any other change maker who has ever walked on this earth.

Sam Demma (12:47):

Now, before I wrap this up, I have one piece of homework that I wanna leave you with. As you leave this conference here today, I want you to think about one problem that you are passionate about, one problem that you wanna start solving. And over the next two weeks, the next 14 days, I want you to come up with some small, consistent actions that you can begin implementing in your personal life to start solving this problem. And I promise you, you’ll begin taking these actions, and it will start gaining momentum, and you will build a little initiative. And as you start to have an impact, people will begin asking you the question, “How do you plan on changing the world?” And when I was 17, in grade 12, I did not have ‘an answer to that question. But I hope that after hearing this presentation here today, if anyone ever asked you, how do you plan on changing the world,” you would take a little step back, put a big smile on your face, and respond with those three, simple but extremely powerful words; small, consistent actions. Thank you.

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.

Jesse Macdonald – Prince Edward Island’s Chef of the Year

Jesse Macdonald – Prince Edward Island’s Chef of the Year
About Jesse Macdonald

Growing up, Jesse MacDonald (@JesseMacdonald) had no aspirations of becoming a chef. Raised in Launching, PEI, he was born into a fourth-generation lobster fishing family where throughout his life he would hold every position in the family’s lobster boat from “cork to captain.” His childhood home was located on the corner of his grandfather’s large family farm, so he was able to spend ample time as a youngster gaining an appreciation for all things local. Growing up, farm to table wasn’t a movement or a fad for Jesse & his family; it was simply a way of life.

In middle school, he quite innocently got a summer job washing dishes at a local resort property, and these two wonderful worlds began to collide. By the time Jesse graduated high school, he was one of the lead cooks in the resort’s main dining room. Jesse then made the decision after high school to pursue cooking as a career, and that fall attended the Culinary Institute of Canada, graduating in 2010. Jesse spent time on the Island apprenticing under well-known chefs and establishments before, during and after graduation prior to leaving the province to broaden his culinary horizons with stops in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Ontario, France, Italy & Spain. After returning home to his native PEI in the spring of 2018, he accepted the position of Executive Chef of Rodd Crowbush Golf & Beach Resort and Corporate Culinary Ambassador for Rodd Hotels & Resorts.

Being home has served Jesse well since returning to his roots. In July 2018, he was awarded Chef of the Year for the PEI Tourism Department Best of Sea Restaurant Promotion which hosts the best chefs the Island has to offer to compete for the privilege of representing PEI at the International Shellfish Festival during the Garland Canada Chef Challenge Event and the chance to go head to head against some of the best chefs the country has to offer. Jesse also crowned Setting Day Festival Chef of the Year in May 2019 during the PEI Setting Day Festival Chefs Competition, where 8 of the Island’s Top Chefs were invited to compete in a fans choice competition celebrating the first catch of the spring Lobster Season. Since returning to red soil, Jesse has also become very involved in the Culinary Federations PEI chapter, as well as cultivating the next generation of food service professionals here on the Island, taking on a role as a support chef instructor during his resort off-season at his alma-matter, The Culinary Institute of Canada. Jesse is looking forward to his second full season back home in PEI, and is excited to continue to do his part to help build the already obvious momentum on “Canada’s Food Island.”

Connect with Jesse: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Culinary Institute of Canada

Rodd Crowbush Golf & Beach Resort

Rodd Hotels & Resorts

PEI Tourism Department Best of Sea Restaurant Promotion

International Shellfish Festival

Garland Canada Chef Challenge Event

PEI Setting Day Festival Chefs Competition

Culinary Federations

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.

Sam Demma (00:59):

This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today, we have a very special guest on the show. His name is Jesse McDonald. Jesse began his foray into the hospitality industry quite innocently; taking on a summer job, washing dishes for some extra cash while he was in middle school. And he has worked in the food and industry beverage ever since. That means 15 years, three different provinces and many fulfilling experiences later, he is currently the executive chef at the Wheelhouse in Georgetown, as well as a second year chef instructor at the Culinary Institute of Canada. I got very hungry, just having a conversation with Jesse. I hope you enjoy this interview with him about his journey through different careers, different opportunities, all with a through line for his love of food. I hope you enjoy it, and I will see you on the other side, Jesse, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about what you do with the audience?

Jesse Macdonald (02:04):

Yeah. Thanks Sam. So I’m a born and raised Islander from Prince Edward Island. Canada’s smallest province and yeah, I’m actually a chef by trade. So I’m an executive chef at a local restaurant called the Wheelhouse in Georgetown. I do that. We’re a seasonal restaurant so kind of in that role April till October, and then I also kind of on the off season of my industry job, am a chef instructor at the Culinary Institute of Canada here in the province as well.

Sam Demma (02:40):

Everyone eats food, it’s, it’s required for living <laugh>, but not everyone falls in love with making it. Where did your love and passion for food come from?

Jesse Macdonald (02:52):

You know, it’s funny, I, I I’ve told this story a bit, but you know, my love of food really happened kind of backwards compared to most chefs. I was kind of born and raised in rural P EI into a fourth generation lobster fishing family. Our house, essentially, even though it was a little bit down the road it was essentially on the corner of my grandfather’s large 50 acre farm kind of family style. And that farm had been in hidden, you know, his was his, my grandfather’s grandfather had been in our family for literally generations. So food was always a huge part of my life. You know, grandpa always had cattle and chickens and geese and pigs and, and things around the farm, which I spent a lot of time at. And then my parents fish lobster.

Jesse Macdonald (03:38):

So obviously naturally fell in love with the sea and still definitely identify kind of with that lifestyle mm-hmm <affirmative>. But it wasn’t until middle school. And I, you know, one of my good friends that’s now ironically the owner and boss of the kind of restaurant I work at <laugh> one of my close friends growing up you know, kind of call called me randomly on a afternoon in the summer when I was in middle school and said, Hey, I’m washing dishes at this local resort. And we need some people and you should come down and work with us. So I next day went down and got myself a job slinging dishes and kind of the rest is history. My two worlds collided a little bit really kind of fell in love with that hustle and bustle of the kitchen, but also had this like production background and understanding of food at like a grassroots level, which was something I didn’t necessarily realize was special for my upbringing.

Sam Demma (04:31):

What is your favorite dish to cook and eat and why <laugh>

Jesse Macdonald (04:37):

Oh, man, this change changes so much for those, for those that know me, well, they’re gonna be laughing at this question overall. I would say my favorite thing, and this is a generality, but I would say it’s cooking seafood in general. Obviously that’s what we have around specifically shellfish in our local fish and kind of local products, the reason being for so long and even still a little bit, you know, everyone thinks, oh, the only way you can eat muscles are steamed. The only way you can eat lobsters is boiled, you know, and the reality is there’s a whole, you know, myriad of ways and, and unique flavor profiles and manipulations you can do with this like beautiful product. So I would say that’s in general, kind of my favorite thing is, is, is taking our, you know, product and our shellfish that we’re so well known for, but kind of presenting it uniquely in a different way. People may not be used to, you know, some unique flavor, pairings and profiles, but like I said, in general, that would be kind of the area I, I like to hang out in for sure.

Sam Demma (05:39):

Yeah. That’s awesome. So take me from middle school to where you are now, once you started slinging dishes, working that first job falling in love with the hustle and bustle of the kitchen, what, what did the rest of the journey look like to today?

Jesse Macdonald (05:53):

You know, it’s funny because it, it feels very much like a whirlwind. It doesn’t feel, feel like that long ago. So that was roughly, you know, 15, 16 years ago. I’m 32 now. So kind of started in the kitchen. I believe I was 14 dish washed for that part of a summer. And then the next summer went back really enjoyed it, started again and kind of by happenstance. Just the way that you know, businesses work. Sometimes we had an influx of people that summer go out the door, ended up getting promoted from, you know, a dishwasher or, or steward as they called it. A little bit more politically correct than dishwasher, I guess to a prep cook and then to a line cook within like two weeks. So then all of a sudden I was in, you know, grade nine and learning how to cook professionally.

Jesse Macdonald (06:43):

And I had a big, like, you know, again, Royal PI upbringing. So I was big into like organized sports and stuff as a kid. And the thing that I, I really connected was I was like, this is exactly like a sport. It’s like, we’re a team and we all have a job to do, and we’re only successful. We all do it together. And it was just like something I was familiar with. And so I dove into it and I did that at the same local resort until I was in grade 12, by the end of the summer in grade 12, when I was there, I was actually running in one of the main dining minds. So I had no actual former tra formal training story, but I was, you know, by that point at four or five years kitchen experience and, and was actually the lead cook on one of our, our dining room minds, the resort is the large resort, you know, it had 150 rooms, so there was three different restaurants, a 40 seat, a hundred seat to 200 seat.

Jesse Macdonald (07:36):

So I had the mid-sized one. And yeah, like I said, I got a bunch of room to grow and it really worked to my advantage. And from there I went right outta high school after grade 12 and attended and enrolled locally in the culinary Institute of Canada here at Holland college on the island. So did that two year program between first and second year, you’re required to do a 600 hour internship. So I wanted to spread my wings a little bit. So instead of going back to the local resort I had been at for four or five years, I actually went to a well known island restaurant, but also Canadian restaurant at the time. It was 2009, was the in bay fortune. So made famous by chef Michael Smith. A lot of people know from the food network Canada. So my internship was under chef cuisine who was running day to day operations at the end chef Warren bar, who was actually still in the industry.

Jesse Macdonald (08:32):

Shout out to Warren, one of my big mentors. He has a restaurant in use slip BC called PVI. So only a couple years old, but this year actually it just copped onto the top 100 restaurants in Canada list. Wow. Very well deserved. He was my internship chef for my, like I said, my summer internship from school. And then chef Michael, who was kind of in the Mixel at the time would be there, you know, every once in a while intermittently. So kind of got to rub shoulders with both of those guys. They, they were the as I kind of say almost the finishing touch for me as a chef, because the whole background of the in is local products, you know, big farm, there’s three acres of produce. You go out every morning as a chef, decide what the menu’s going to be.

Jesse Macdonald (09:18):

It changes every day based on the products that you have in pick. And it was just like having that, like fishing and farming background with my parents and folks and pickling with Grammy and, you know, stumbling around behind Grampy when he was fencing or being at the Harbor dad. Like it was just my, like my two worlds colliding. It was like my background and my home life, but then also this like lifestyle in the kitchen that I was introduced to. So that was huge. I did that first summer, then I, you know, traveled around, I took a sous chef job, so got my first sous chef job, right outta school at a local golf course, then eventually moved to Guelph, Ontario as a sous chef as well was there for about a year and a half. Then I did kind of the typical young, Canadian thing.

Jesse Macdonald (10:03):

I feel like where I then took a couple months off and went to Europe, nice, kinda traveled through Europe and did that thing. I STO at a couple restaurants there, which means working for free. Nice. And just to kinda get the culture and stuff. So I did that at a hotel in France for a couple days and a little mom and pop restaurant in Italy where they made all their homemade pasta which was a hilarious, hilarious dynamic because it was all run by like a husband and wife and their only daughter. And the daughter was actually the boss, but the parents didn’t believe she was the boss. So like they would like boss her around <laugh>. But the reality was she was like ordering all the products everyone needed and like running the restaurant and doing the schedules. And she would like, look at me and like roll her eyes and I’d just shrug.

Jesse Macdonald (10:44):

Right. I, they were very Italian. I hardly understood a lot of what they said, but being kind of a, a little bit of a larger stature and they all being a little bit smaller. They were definitely excited whenever like the orders are coming and I’d be like, oh, I’ll take care of it. And they’d be like, oh yeah. Okay. Like <laugh>. So that was a, that was a cool experience for sure. So then I actually moved home from there and I got a sous chef job or second chef for essentially assistant manager. Okay. At the local resort, I started at washing dishes. Wow. So I kind of went back to where I started from there. I actually got an opportunity in the same company to become an executive chef, my first executive chef role. So I’d kind of be the lead of a kitchen.

Jesse Macdonald (11:28):

It was only 23 at the time. So that was a huge, huge opportunity restaurant and hotel was going through a big renovation, rebrand the restaurant. It was a different province. It was new Brunswick. So moved to new Brunswick in me mahi a little kind of seaside village. I was there for five years running that hotel. That’s where I met my partner currently Chantel we have a little girl together, Aaliyah. So we were there for five years and then I got an opportunity again, within that same company to come back home and kind of run their premier resort KBU well known golf course attached. So me and Chantel moved back to P I was there for five years before moving to my role this year at the wheelhouse in Georgetown. So this is my first summer there.

Jesse Macdonald (12:15):

And then kind of lining up when I was just kind of halfway through my stint at Crow Bush. I started working at my Alma mater at the con Institute Canada as a support chef instructor. I believe I’m going into my fourth season kind of in a lead instructor role now kind of been doing that intermittently and cover contracts and stuff. So yeah, that’s kind of a quick Kohl’s notes or long winded Kohl’s notes, depending, depending who you’re of yeah, kind of 16 of years in the you know, food and beverage industry for myself kind of on the cooking side of things.

Sam Demma (12:49):

That’s awesome. What a cool unique journey that’s brought you literally all over the globe. <Laugh>

Jesse Macdonald (12:54):

Yeah, it’s, it’s, it’s been crazy. Like I said, it’s a whirlwind, it doesn’t feel like that long ago, but it’s, it’s, it’s, you know, time is a funny thing.

Sam Demma (13:01):

One of the best ways to learn is to teach. It sounds like that’s probably been true for you with your experience teaching culinary students. How, how, how has that experience been for you? And tell me a little bit more about, about that.

Jesse Macdonald (13:19):

Yeah. the experience has been awesome, you know, like the biggest thing for me and I think a lot of chefs is that, like, I just like to talk about food, right? Mm it’s just it’s like it, it’s, it’s such a part of what you do day to day, and there’s such a wide array and vast like world out there. So you never stop learning. Right. You, you know, if you think, you know, everything, the reality is then you probably have an issue within yourself because it’s like there there’s, there’s endless amounts of knowledge out there. And the great thing about being a culinary school instructor is you’re, you know, day to day interacting with a hundred, 150, 200 culinary students that are extremely engaged, right? They’re like, they’re the people that have decided that I wanna do this as a career. This means something to me.

Jesse Macdonald (14:06):

So it’s, it’s almost for me a way to refill my tank, I find with the students and, and they do a lot for me as much as I do for them. And it’s, it’s making that genuine connection through kind of shared interests because the reality and the unique thing instructing at kind of the college level, in that vocational kind of area, is that all your students and yourself have a similar interest, or you wouldn’t be an instructor in this industry and they wouldn’t be a student. Yeah. So you have that, like you have that base to start on right away with everyone. Right. So it’s, it’s, it’s a very unique experience, but it’s one that I really, really do enjoy.

Sam Demma (14:47):

Is there stoves and oven tops in your classroom? <Laugh>

Jesse Macdonald (14:53):

Absolutely. So we have, like, obviously I’m a little biased, but we have kind of the premier facility in Canada. So we have 12 completely outfitted classroom kitchens, we call them. So the way that our program works is the first year students all through five different rotations run the in-school cafeteria services, about 300 students and clients from outside the building kind of cafeteria style. And then there’s about a hundred first year students that do that divided between five classes and five different chef instructors. They rotate through take every class through first year. Go do the internship that I had mentioned previously come back for second year, the second year students then move what we call upstairs, where there’s another kind of stable of classrooms. And they, then they begin to run our fine ironing facility in the building that has about 120 hundred and 30 seats depending how you lay it out. So it’s, it’s very much a working school. The students are working you know, two different restaurants, two different types of food service, and absolutely every single classroom has stove tops, deep friers grills, depending where you are, you know, the pastry labs have different mixers and giant ice cream machines and walk in freezers. And, and you know, the equipment in the, in the school is, is, is honestly world class.

Sam Demma (16:22):

Every time I talk about food, I start salivating and get really hungry. Is that an experience you have? <Laugh>,

Jesse Macdonald (16:30):

It’s funny because a lot of chefs have the and, and instructors are the same kind of have the same, like the, the ominous you know, existence around them where they don’t eat as much as people would expect them to. But part of that is because like, you’re almost constantly eating, so you don’t get hungry the same way a lot of times. But in saying that, especially when I’m in culinary, like when the students, depending what class you’re teaching and stuff, you know, some days if it’s black box day, you know, black box is black box exam, they would get a percentage of Americ for doing say a, they have to do a three course meal within a certain amount of time and use these three ingredients. There might be six students that go, so I have to, you know, taste and critique. So by the end, I’ve had two or three bites of, you know, six appetizers, six entrees and six desserts.

Jesse Macdonald (17:28):

I’m, I’m pretty full, you know, so a lot of times it’s almost like not directed eating, it’s like necessary eating, but at the same time, you’re in a professional kitchen. So you’re not necessarily eating anything bad ever. So it’s like cool because every once in a while, you know, a student will come up and have made something and you’ll taste and you’ll be like, oh my God, this is, this is really good. Yeah. Did you write, did you write this down? No, no, yeah. Go write this down. <Laugh> whatever you just did. Go write it down. Right. And that’s how you kind of get them to start their own adventure learning. Right. It it’s a unique thing at the college level. Cause you’re almost giving them that room to grow, but being there to kind of support them as they grow as well.

Sam Demma (18:11):

Ah, that’s so exciting. And I, it makes a lot of sense. I think one of the cool things about food is as well is that it’s attached to so many memories, like I think about traveling and if there’s a restaurant that just made phenomenal food, it sticks out in your mind, like a sore thumb. Absolutely. And it’s really cool that you do both teaching and the working in the kitchen. How do you build trust with your classroom of students every year? One on the first day they don’t really know anything about you.

Jesse Macdonald (18:43):

Yeah. That’s definitely something that I, I honestly try to focus on it. I, I basically talk about it the very first day when we sit down together. So we have, the way our class is set up is we have what we have or what we refer to as theory class. Hmm. So that always takes place for an hour, two, an hour and a half before kitchen. And then kitchen’s always four to six hours depending on your rotation. So on the very first day, when we sit down, I, I literally say to the students, you know, some of you have some kitchen experience, some of you have none. And that’s okay. However, the first thing that we have to establish, if we’re all gonna get the most out of this, you know, three or four weeks together is we have to tear down any barriers.

Jesse Macdonald (19:27):

And it’s a little bit of a unique way to present yourself to a classroom because the chef industry has very much been hierarchy based for so long and very, very regimented, but as kind of a newer chef and on the younger side and, and kind of hopefully bringing a little bit of change to the industry, they need to be comfortable to come to me for any reason. There’s no such thing as a silly question. A lot of times, you know, mistakes are actually learning moments. They’re not mistakes at all, especially in a kitchen. If you learn from the mistake you make and you either apply the understanding or don’t make the same mistake again, because of, you know, the troubleshooting that you do, then it wasn’t a mistake at all, right. There’s never gonna be a time when even myself, I make mistakes in the kitchen all the time.

Jesse Macdonald (20:18):

You’re never not going to, it’s just in reality. So the quicker that I can get them comfortable and pull down those barriers and be like, let’s actually talk about food. The more learning that actually naturally happens, and you can feel it in the classroom energy. So it’s like my conscious effort within the first week to feel that energy, when I walk into the classroom of them just being comfortable and there should be a buzz in the kitchen, meaning that they should be chatting about food. They shouldn’t be off task by any means, but oh, maybe we could do this as I’m cutting up the oranges to make a chili Vigar mm. Maybe like, you know, engage with what you’re doing. There’s nothing more terrifying to me than walking in a classroom of students at the culinary Institute. And you can hear crickets. Mm. Right. I’m like, whoa, we gotta get some, we gotta get some learning going on in here. <Laugh> being quiet. Chopping green onions is not learning right now. We eventually like, we, we start with all that stuff. Don’t get me wrong. And then you practice it continuously. But like, what are we doing? Right. Let’s engage with each other. That’s why we’re here, you know? Yeah,

Sam Demma (21:19):

Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Oh, that’s awesome. If there’s a teacher listening right now, who has a student in their class that is in a high school and is super passionate about food what could that teacher kind of share with that student or advise them to do, to explore that and maybe start their own journey towards becoming a chef or getting involved?

Jesse Macdonald (21:41):

The food industry remains one of the best entry level. And you won’t hear a lot of people say this, but I believe it, one of the best entry level positions that you can potentially inquire about because kitchens can be unique, you know? So a lot of them, you know, if a student was very interested and was like, Hey, could I come in for a day? I don’t know, in the next couple weeks that might work for you guys and just see what the operation is about nine out of 10 restaurants. If you would just look them up in, you know, a directory online or Google them in your city, I bet you, 90% of those restaurants, nine outta 10 would say, absolutely. And within two weeks would have like a time you could come in and just check it out. Mm-Hmm <affirmative>.

Jesse Macdonald (22:26):

So with that flexibility, you know what I kind of would say to someone like that is, is again, to my last point, if that’s something you might be potentially interested and engage, engage in someone in the industry engage with, maybe you have a friend of a friend that’s in the industry and they might be able to say, this is the place you should go check out. You know, like, like there’s a lot more openness, I think, to that type of thing in our industry than some of the others and people that have that interest should take advantage.

Sam Demma (22:57):

Yeah. That’s a really good point. And if you don’t ask, you’ll never know. Right.

Jesse Macdonald (23:01):

<Laugh> exactly right.

Sam Demma (23:03):

That’s awesome. Tell me about a story where you, maybe we’re a teaching a student, and I think the cool thing about your situation before I get to the question is that the students in your class are often in to be there, like you said, at the beginning. Whereas in some school situations, students have to take a course to get it on their transcript that maybe they don’t actually want to take. So I think you have the advantage of all your students being invested and really wanting to be there. But can you think of a story where maybe a student was having a difficult time? And the course kind of really helped them figure out who they are or where they wanted to go. And by the end of it, they were a slightly different person because of it.

Jesse Macdonald (23:43):

Yeah, absolutely. It actually happens so often in our school that we kind of have almost a term for it. But we, what we say is the student blossomed, meaning like a lot of times, and it’s funny and doesn’t almost relate to cooking in any sense, but we’re getting that college age person. So there’s a mix of, you know, 18, 19, 20 year olds. Maybe there’s a little bit of a Fu mature students, but what happens to a lot of kids I find is they start to gain confidence in theirselves as a person. And then when that happens, all of a sudden, the kitchen changes a little bit and they feel it and then they’re blossoming and then you can really work with that. And it happens quite often in our industry, because again, the kitchen is a funny place, but you know, good habits and discipline and things that you teach over archingly time management.

Jesse Macdonald (24:51):

A lot of times starts to bleed into the student’s personal lives. And then they’re like, Hey, I’m an adult. When did that happen? But it’s like, we talk about so much at school, right. Time management and this and that. And that’s day to day in the kitchen, like, and we are talking hyper time management, like referring to those black boxes. I talked to some courses in second year, you have to submit a timeline to the chef instructor. So, you know, I started off by 30 minutes in I’m going to be prepping my zucchini for my appetizer, cause I want them to marinate for 45 minutes. And my first plate is going up in two hours and 15 minutes. Mm. So like we’re hyper focusing on time management to like the five and 10 minutes. So then, like I said, naturally it bleeds into students’ personal lives and then they just become this like almost adapted person, right. A little bit. Right. They’re going through a personal growth and they’re going through career growth and it’s just like, the students grow up so much. <Laugh> from first year in September to graduation. And second year you almost feel like you don’t, you you’ve known them for way longer than you have, because they’ve had so many, so, so many moments of growth, right?

Sam Demma (26:05):

Yeah. Prepping the zucchini 45 minutes earlier. It turns into putting your clothes out the night before for the next day turns into exactly.

Jesse Macdonald (26:14):

Yeah,

Sam Demma (26:14):

Exactly. Starting to be early for school and work. Yeah.

Jesse Macdonald (26:18):

That’s

Sam Demma (26:19):

Yeah. That’s really cool. What, what keeps you personally motivated and excited every day to both cook and teach?

Jesse Macdonald (26:28):

Yeah, I would say just honestly, I mean, there’s always the initial thing, like wanna, you know, support my family and my wife and my daughter and make a really good life for them. And, and this is something that I think that I is, and, you know, have a little bit of a, a success in and kind of bring some things to the table and it is a big sacrifice for them because, you know, time consumption definitely is there and I’m trying to get better and, and, and that’ll, that’ll definitely happen as I get older as well. But for me, I was so lucky in the sense that I never once experienced that like screaming, yelling chef, that you always see the memes of and, and, and, and whatnots. And I really feel almost indebted to the industry. Like I have so many mentors and people that did so much for me in my early part of my career that I feel like I’m indebted to the same industry to do to the next sort of generation.

Jesse Macdonald (27:27):

What I feel the people before me did for me, because there was, you know, food pioneers here on the island that supported me since I was kind of a young cook because, you know, at that time in the mid two thousands, it was well before the food network was really famous and things like that. Like, it was rare for young people to come into the industry. So I felt like when I was kind of someone at 19 that was interested in, you know, traveling around and doing this stuff the older, the cooks that were, you know, in chefs that were my age now in their thirties were like, yeah, right on like someone else that’s interested. It was like that shared connection and interest again, that I talked about with the college students. So I just feel that, you know, that it’s important, you know, to pass along the support I received when I was their age and, and give something back to the community and, and to the industry.

Sam Demma (28:17):

That’s awesome. Amazing. D does your wife and daughter critique your food that you cook at home?

Jesse Macdonald (28:22):

So my wife always tell, like always makes fun of me because she’s like, you don’t cook like that at home. Like <laugh>. And, and, and I say, and not that my wife’s picky by any means, but I would call her particular in a certain sense. Yeah. For the, the type of food she likes. So we always kind of go back and forth in that, in that sense. So I’ll like barbecue and, and do some things, you know, pat club past and things at home like that. Yeah. But as far as like, you know, high-end restaurant food, she’s always saying, oh, you know, you have to do that for me sometime. And, and, and whatever. And I’m like, I’m worried that I’m gonna do all this stuff and, and you don’t like it. And then that’ll be sad because most, most times that doesn’t happen.

Jesse Macdonald (29:00):

And we have this funny stick in my house. One thing that I’m kind of a little known for and do a lot is, is pickling blueberries that I am willing to take to the grade that a lot of people like get great comments on my wife, Chantel absolutely despises them. So she just like every once in a while, we’ll be like talking with something, she’ll be like, yeah, like those pickle blueberries, and I’ll, you know, listen, those are good. So they’re, they’re super supportive for sure. So they don’t know so much critique, but there’s definitely a lot of fun poking being had for sure.

Sam Demma (29:34):

Awesome. Oh, very cool. Yeah. Well, if someone’s listening and wants to reach out to you, ask a question, get in touch, or maybe even inquire about sharing some recipes <laugh> yeah,

Jesse Macdonald (29:44):

For sure.

Sam Demma (29:44):

What would be the best way for them to reach out?

Jesse Macdonald (29:47):

So probably two avenues; feel free obviously to email me at jnmacdonald@hollandcollege.com, or fire me a message on Instagram @chefjessemac. I’m pretty active on, on Instagram, so those are probably the two easiest ways in avenues to get ahold of me and yeah, definitely love to engage with people, interested in food and kind of the tourism scene here on campus food island. And yeah, we’re just gearing up for fall flavors and our local festival here with some celebrity chefs on the way down. So we got a lot of cool events on the dockets, so, yeah, we’re just gearing up for kind of the last push through the 2022 tours season here on the island.

Sam Demma (30:36):

Awesome. Jesse, enjoy the last push and I look forward to staying in touch and hearing more about your journey. Keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon.

Jesse Macdonald (30:44):

Awesome. We’ll see you soon Sam. Thanks so much for having me.

Sam Demma (30:48):

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Jesse Macdonald

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.

Derek Hill – New York FFA State Director

Derek Hill - New York FFA State Director
About Derek Hill

Derek Hill is the Director of New York FFA and a staff member of the Agricultural Education and Outreach program at Cornell University.

Derek specializes in youth leadership development and is responsible for the oversight and management of the New York Association of FFA. Derek is an award-winning educator with over 15 years of experience working with students and educators at varying levels.

Connect with Derek: Email | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

New York FFA (Future Farmers of America)

NY FFA Events

SUNY Morrisville – Associates in Applied Science – Natural Resources Conservation

Cornell University – Bachelors of Science – Agricultural Sciences

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. I’m super excited to bring you today’s guest. His name is Derek hill and he is the director of New York FFA and a staff member of the agricultural education and outreach program at Cornell university. Derek specializes in youth leadership development, and is responsible for the oversight and management of the New York association of FFA.


Sam Demma (01:00):
Derek is an award-winning educator with over 15 years of experience, working with students and educators at varying levels. You will feel Derek’s passion in this interview, and it was a pleasure working with him and his state conference with all the students from his organization and association in New York city. I hope you enjoy this, and I will see you on the other side. Eric, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show today. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit behind the journey that brought you to where you are today working with young people?


Derek Hill (01:36):
Sure. Thanks a lot Sam for having me today. I’m Derek hill, I’m the New York FFA director and I’ve been in this position for about six years now. My background is I grew up on my grandparents’ dairy farm here in New York and always had a passion for agriculture and thought that I would, that’s what I would do someday is I would take over their farm and and be a dairy farmer. But that, that didn’t work out that way. So you know, and I, I, after that point I thought I was gonna be I wanted to be a natural resources conservation officer. So I went to SUNY Morrisville and got my natural resources degree and while I was there, professor, my advisor had told me that they were look that he thought I would be a good ag teacher and he suggested that I go to Cornell and get my teaching degree.


Derek Hill (02:27):
And at that point I thought he was crazy, cuz all growing up in high school, you know, school, wasn’t my, my favorite thing. I never could have picture pictured myself being a teacher and you know, here’s this guy telling me, he thought I would be you know, a good teacher. I thought about it for a while and I decided to apply and, and go into the teacher education program. And that’s what I did. And I ended up getting a te a teaching position at Tali which is just south of Syracuse. So I was an ag teacher and FFA advisor there for over eight years. And then my current role opened up and I decided to apply for this job thinking that you know, if I could have that much impact on students in the Tali community, you know, this would give me a chance to have an even bigger impact on, on more students. And so that’s why it was a very difficult decision at that time. And cuz I loved being at Telli. But I made that jump over. So here I am today


Sam Demma (03:44):
And for all our Canadian friends that are thinking what the heck is FFA . Can you tell me a little bit more about the acronym what the organization stands for, what it hopes to achieve and accomplish and what compelled you to get involved?


Derek Hill (03:58):
Yeah, so FFAs used to stand for future farmers of America in the 1980s. They voted to just make it the national FFA organization. And the reason for that is, is we do a lot more than talk about production agriculture there. You know, everybody knows the agriculture industry is much broader and wider than the, you know, the farmer that’s on, on the farm. It’s you know, it’s getting the food there, it’s getting the food processed, it’s getting it to the stores, it’s all the financing behind it, all those things. So FFA recognized that and we wanted to be more inclusive of everybody. So that’s where the name kind of changed. It’s the largest youth organization in the country. We have over 700,000 members in all 50 states and and Puerto Rico, Virgin islands as well.


Derek Hill (05:03):
And the, the idea behind it is to help those students that are interested in agriculture to develop leadership skills and get recognized for the skills that they’re developing in their programs. And you know, a comp in, in the United States, a comprehensive agriculture program at the middle and high school level includes the classroom laboratory piece of it, but it also includes work-based learning which is what we call an SAE supervised agricultural experience. And then that third circle third component is FFA and they get to develop their leadership skills and compete in competitions from anything from public speaking to demonstrating their mechanical skills that they’ve picked up in their ag mechanics class. So huge opportunity. And we’re trying to grow it further here in New York so that more schools offer this opportunity to students.


Sam Demma (06:08):
That’s it’s awesome. I wish I had something like that here in Toronto, Canada. Growing up, that’s so cool. And I know leadership skills and giving students experiential opportunities is a huge thing that the organization does, especially with the, you know, huge conferences and everything that happens outside of the agricultural education. What are some of those experiences that they go through and have you seen the impact that it can have on a young person? Like maybe you can think of, you probably have hundreds of stories, maybe think of one or two and you can change the student’s name if it’s a crazy story, just to keep them private, but I’d love to hear how the impact change a young person’s life or change a perspective or something. And also some of the events that you guys hold and host every year.


Derek Hill (06:55):
Yeah. So what’s really awesome about FFA and I’ve always admired is the fact that you can have students that are in sixth grade all the way until, you know, they can be freshman, sophomore in college, even, but those high school students and those middle school students, you know, if you, you were to ride the bus with them to school each day, some of ’em would be sitting in the front and some would be in the back and they wouldn’t interact with each other at all. And FFA for whatever reason, it doesn’t matter what, how old you are, where you come from your background. Cuz we have students that live in the inner city all the way to students that live in the rural as part of the state. And they just are able to connect because they have a commonality and that they wanna grow as leaders and they, they wanna learn more about agriculture and all that other stuff gets pushed aside.


Derek Hill (07:54):
And the older students wanna help the younger students. We have a lot of mentor programs with the high school and middle school. So you know, the, the best thing that I can tell you that students have told me is a lot of times we, we have students that are lost and they don’t fit into sports. And Sam, I know your, your background is in sports and you know what it’s like to feel like to be on a team, right. And build that family well for these kids, you know, sports really doesn’t do that for ’em. And not to say we don’t have any athletes, we have a lot of athletes too, but the stories that stick in my mind are those that can’t find a place that they feel like they fit. And because we’re, I feel that we’re very accepting of just about anybody.


Derek Hill (08:45):
They they find that family and that’s what sticks out to me. And I’ve had students that could not for whatever reason do well in their other classes. But because, you know, as their ag teacher and FFA advisor, we spend so much extra time together. We build that bond and, and they can you know, kind of see the, the forest through the trees. They, they start to do better academically. And that’s what, that’s why I keep doing this is when they come back and tell me, you know, thanks for, for everything you do. Because it didn’t make a difference. And that’s what I’m here to do.


Sam Demma (09:33):
It’s, it’s cool too, because you know, agriculture planting, you know, reaping sewing, you know, as a, as someone who works with young people, you’re planting seeds in them as well, you know, and absolutely, you know, you’re watering it over time by giving them experiences and mentoring in them. And sometimes plant shoots to the ground and grows super fast. Others take some time. Sometimes you don’t even see it, you know, you don’t even see it happen. And it might be five years down the road that someone comes back and tells you about the impact that you made. I was gonna ask you, you know, what keeps you motivated to get up every day and do this work? Is it the students like tell me more about personally, what keeps you going?


Derek Hill (10:12):
Yeah, it’s, it’s definitely the, the students you know, there’s a lot of aspects to my position cuz part of it is being that administrative piece. And I’m not saying that that piece isn’t important or I don’t enjoy certain aspects, but that’s certainly not what keeps me going every day. Got it. It’s working in my position. I get to work with our, our state officers and district presidents. And then I also plan a lot of the events that all of our or a lot of our members come to and to work with them and see the difference that they’re, that they’re having to go to an event and see the new friendships that are being made. The networking that’s happening. You know, I, I can’t stress that enough. These students now know people from all across the country because they attended national convention and met somebody from a state that they would’ve never met before.


Derek Hill (11:09):
And it, you know, working with the state officers and, and you know, this intensive year that we have with them and seeing the growth from the beginning to the end and it, it always, it always is difficult at the end because we’ve put so much time and effort and they’re, they’re at a point where they’re performing and I can just send them out to schools and chapters and they’re good to go. And then I gotta start that process all over again each year, which is a challenge, but it’s also exciting, you know kind of hard to let go sometimes too.


Sam Demma (11:42):
Yeah, no, I hear you. And you know, just to give people an idea of the intensive experience, what does that look like? Is it you guys meet on a weekly basis? I know you obviously plan events together, but what does that commitment look like from a state officer’s perspective? And those are what age students as well?


Derek Hill (12:00):
Yeah, so they’re typically either a senior or a freshman in college. This year we have all college students they’re freshman and sophomores. Nice. it just happened to work out that way. And this is the first year that we’ve had all female state officers and female district presidents in our 96 year history. So, wow. it’s pretty exciting. Nice. in terms of the intensity in a normal year we’re going there’s something every week whether it’s going to a conference for another organization that wants us to come and speak or you know, they go through hundreds of hours of training. So as soon as they’re elected about a week or two later, they go into their first multi-day training learning about themselves. We start by focusing on themselves and helping them figure out who they are and what their strengths and weaknesses are.


Derek Hill (13:02):
And and then we start to build that team once they know who they are and try to get them to gel. And sometimes that, that happens quickly and sometimes it doesn’t. And sometimes they learn to respect each other and they ne you know, they never necessarily become the best of friends, but that’s okay too. You know, that’s, that’s the way the world is. And then after that you know, we focus on their ability to facilitate workshops and give presentations. And throughout the year we offer all kinds of different leadership conferences. So one of our biggest ones is called 2 12, 3 16 in January. And we bring in some national trainers and we have about 800 students that’ll attend that. And they’re learning to grow themselves as leaders. Our state officers will do a tour in the fall around the state visiting different chapters and businesses.


Derek Hill (14:14):
So we’re on the road for about seven days, traveling, 15, 1600 miles meeting members and industry partners. We go to national convention, which is a week long process where our state officers become our delegates there. And you know, they work on committees and, and vote on different issues during the Del the business session. We have our own state convention that’s hopefully gonna be in person in 2022 . And that’s a three day event that our state officers we have six general sessions and, and they do all those sessions. They write the whole script, they write the retirement addresses. We help them work on presenting those. And so it’s, it’s a year round job, and, you know, I’m, I’m, I’m their advisor, but most of the time I end up being a coach and their, their life coach. And I’m available to them almost twenty four seven. When they call me at one o’clock in the morning, then my wife gets a little upset, but you know, so I try to keep it during working hours, but it, it, it’s it’s a lot of one on one time and helping them develop and not only their skills, cuz if they’re elected as a state officer, that’s a very competitive process. They already have those, some of those natural skills. But it’s, it’s about developing who they wanna become.


Sam Demma (15:57):
Mm. And what’s with the corduroy jackets, , you know, tell like where, where did this hype come from? And, and tell me more about that.


Derek Hill (16:08):
So that’s part of our official dress. And that’s been around pretty much the entirety of the organization. And what’s funny is throughout the years, the, the emblems changed even depending on when they could, what type of fabric they could get to make that quarter Ray sometime there was a point where it was almost like a purple color instead of blue, just because of the fabric that they could get at that time. But it, it’s, it’s a tradition for us. You know, it’s important to evolve as an organization and, and we certainly have tried to do that over time, but I think it’s also important to keep and maintain some of those traditions. And when you walk into national convention, downtown Indianapolis, and there’s 70,000 students, we’re in that blue corduroy and we’re all walking down the street together that makes an impression and everybody knows that they’re part of that organization. And the same thing at our own state convention, you know, it doesn’t matter where you’re coming from. We’re all wearing that. And, and the, the students feel unified. So it’s a, it’s a point of pride for us. And you know, sometimes it’s fashionable. Yeah. And sometimes it’s not, and right now it seems like it’s coming back around to being a little more fashionable.


Sam Demma (17:29):
, it’s funny. I tried getting one on eBay before the state convention and it wasn’t gonna ship in time, so I had to pass up on it. But I, I spoke to Ryan Porter, a guy who probably spoke for you guys, you know, a couple years ago or a long time ago. And he was like, yeah, man, the corridor jackets, you know, they, they love their jackets. And I was like, what is it? What is it about the jackets? But that’s awesome. Thanks for, thanks for sharing. And the emblem has changed lots. Like the logo now is pretty fascinating. Is there like meaning behind it or anything or


Derek Hill (17:59):
Yeah, yeah. Yeah. There’s it has changed a little bit over time. It used to say vocational education instead of agricultural education. And that really had to do with the change of terminology over the years. You know the symbols all mean something you know, the owl is there for wisdom and represents the, you know, the advisor piece the rising sun is kind of emblematic of looking towards the future. So each piece of that, you know, the cross section of the corn, you know, that’s kind of unity is behind that because corn’s grown in all 50 states. So yeah, we, we, we actually, as an ag teacher, a lot of, a lot of teachers will break that emblem down and, and get students to realize what that, what that all means and why it’s there.


Sam Demma (18:53):
Got it. Cool. That’s awesome. And when you talk about being an ag teacher how did that differ from the role you’re in today? Are you still doing that as well?


Derek Hill (19:04):
Yeah. I still consider myself a teacher. I’m just different role just doing it a little differently. I’m not in the classroom having to worry about six different preps each day. instead I’m worried about six different students, but yeah, it’s certainly as an ag teacher you know, you plan events and do things at the local level and you, you host competitions and things like that. But at this level I’m planning events for 2000 people where as an ag teacher, I might have been planning events for 150 people. So there’s a lot of similarities, but there’s some differences. You know, as, as, as the chapter leader, you’re thinking about your students, your chapter as the, the director for the state organization, I have to think about the entire state and, and what’s in the best interest for that. And you know, sometimes that’s, that’s easy to do and sometimes it’s not.


Sam Demma (20:10):
Yeah. And I have to ask, cause you mentioned it earlier that you thought you were gonna take over your parents’ dairy farm do you have a farm of your own? Do you grow vegetables?


Derek Hill (20:20):
yeah, we, we typically have a garden and we’ve raised pigs and cows in the past. We just moved. So you know, my two boys and, and I are working on building the fence and hoping to get them involved with some showing of animals and things here soon.


Sam Demma (20:42):
Nice. Oh, that’s awesome. And if you could go back in time and give yourself advice, knowing what you know now, and though all the experiences you had, if you went back to your first year, working with youth in any capacity, what advice would you give your younger self that to help equip you and prepare you for the journey


Derek Hill (21:01):
Yeah. I think I would give myself two pieces of advice. One would be to, to keep an open mind because I never would’ve imagined that I would be where I am today. This was not where I started out thinking I was gonna be. And here I am. And, and number two would be, you know, for all, all the teachers out there, you know, there are a lot of rough days but there’s also those good days too. And we have to, we have to remember those good days too, and not, not just the bad ones. You know, and I, I know that’s what kept me going is, you know, even through those bad days when a, a student or a teacher comes to me and you know, they’re, they’re happy and going in the right direction. That’s, that’s what keeps me going,


Sam Demma (21:58):
Love that. Awesome. Well, if someone is listening to this right now, Derek, and they wanna reach out, maybe just have a conversation, what would be the best way for them to, you know, find your info or even get in touch with you?


Derek Hill (22:10):
Yeah, probably the, the easiest way would be to send me an email and my emails pretty straightforward. It’s just dhill@cornell.edu. So feel free to reach out anytime.


Sam Demma (22:23):
Awesome. Derek, thank you so much for coming on the show. It’s been a pleasure chatting with you a little bit about your journey, the corduroy jacket, the logo, what the organization stands for and the part, the role that you play in, in the whole process. This has been awesome. Keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon.


Derek Hill (22:39):
Thanks a lot, Sam.


Sam Demma (22:41):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show; if you want meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Derek Hill

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.

Terresa Amidei – Activities Director for Desert Ridge Academy

Terresa Amidei - Activities Director for Desert Ridge Academy
About Terresa Amidei

Terresa Amidei (@DRAsb2) has been an educator for 23 years.  She grew up in North Pole, Alaska and is currently the Activities Director for Desert Ridge Academy, a public middle school in Southern California. 

She cares about student voice and advocacy and works to be sure every student on campus is seen, heard, loved, and valued.  She says teaching is exhausting, but so, so worth it.  The work all educators do is vital!

Connect with Terresa: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Desert Ridge Academy

California Activities Directors Association (CADA)

What is American Sign Language (ASL)

SAVE Promise Club

PickWaste

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 Terresa Amidei. She has been an educator for 23 years. She grew up in North Pole, Alaska, and is currently the activity director for Desert Ridge academy, a public middle school in Southern California. She deeply cares about student voice and advocacy and works to make sure every student on campus is seen, heard, loved, and valued.


Sam Demma (01:04):
She says teaching is exhausting, but so, so worth it. The work all educators do is vital. You can reach her at her email, which she’ll share at the end of this interview or through her Instagram @draleadership. I cannot wait to share this, this conversation with you because it was so inspiring, and so filled with amazing ideas that you can implement into your schools and with your students. I will see you on the other side, talk soon. Teresa, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about what brought you to where you are in education today?


Terresa Amidei (01:41):
Oh, sure thing. Thanks for having me, Sam. This is fantastic. So I am Mrs.Amidei. I am the activity director at Desert Ridge Academy. We are in the Coachella valley and it is hot, it is so hot. Fun fact, summer school last week; 122 degrees. Swear, the actual temperature. So, the next part of your question was for what brought me here? Well, a fantastic thing. Funny story. I went to CADA, which is the California Activities Directors Association, and I happened to hear Sam talk about his amazing PickWaste thing, which is recycling and how he was student voice, student advocacy, making a change for the better. And that’s how I met Sam and how I got into education was this, I thought like this, hmm, what really matters? Hmm, what, what matters? What will make a difference? Where, what should I spend all my energy and talent on? And it was education and then not only being an educator, but then I was middle school because middle school, there’s no one who gets to be an adult that says, you know what, if I could just go back to middle school, bless you. If I could go back to middle school, my life would be so amazing. Middle school is the best years. That’s only true for kids that come here because we really do try to make middle school, not so middle schooly. Do you know what I’m talking about?


Sam Demma (03:02):
yeah, I absolutely. I absolutely love that. And you know, before we even started the interview, I saw this little, what I thought was a tattoo on your wrist. And for those of you that are listening and don’t see the video, there’s this little butterfly on her wrist. And I thought it was a tattoo. And so I asked Theresa what it was. And can you explain a little bit about that, how it originated and how it’s being used within the school?


Terresa Amidei (03:20):
Okay. Well fun. Another fun fact, our school is situated. We’re in Southern California. So we’re in the migratory path of the Monarch butterfly between here and Mexico. So a few years ago we got a grant and we actually had some butterflies. And now I wish I would’ve put that picture up that were painted as a mural on our building. And so the kids were like, wait a minute. I thought we were Diamondbacks. Like, why are we getting butterflies? So my student leaders came up with this way to make our, our butterflies make sense for them. They use this initiative, it’s called the D butterfly project. And it’s like this, you know, there’s a lot of kids, especially post pandemic. And during the pandemic and this year and a half of lockdown, they were struggling, right? Their mental health was suffering. Their emotional health was bad.


Terresa Amidei (04:03):
Their physical health was maybe they, you know, they were stuck middle schoolers. It’s the hardest part because like they don’t have jobs and they can’t drive. So they can’t leave their house. Right. Unless someone’s picking them up or we have zooms like this, where I’m like, come on, we have this activity just come on down. We’ll have a quick dance party. Woo, woo. So my kids noticed the mental health was not so great. Right. But kids, it’s such a hard thing. Like, they’re not gonna say, Hey, hold a little sign. I’m suffering. Like I’m having, I’m struggling. I’m having a hard time. I’m thinking of hurting myself. But what they will do is take Sharpie and make a little butterfly, which is what I do every day. Now, when we see that as a trusted adult, what we do is I look and if, if you were holding it up, I would say, oh, Sam, I see that you have a butterfly.


Terresa Amidei (04:50):
I’m a trusted adult at desert Ridge. Can I help you? I, I can get you any kinda help and I can listen to anything that you need. Right. and I’m happy to say that I, I was in that situation and I was able to get a kid help so that, you know, it just takes one to make it worth the effort. Right. And even if you say, no this is just a support butterfly, cuz you can put one on to say you’re supporting other people. So it’s not so stigmatizing to be like, Hey, I need help. I’m you know, if everyone’s like, oh no, we’re all rocking this. Like we’re all here to support each other. Then I would say, oh thank you so much, Sam, for your support. That means a world to, to someone who’s really struggling. And then I’d also go like this check on Sam next week in case it was a legit butterfly.


Terresa Amidei (05:33):
And it’s just been a really great, great project. It’s so simple. It costs nothing. In fact, some of my students in leadership last year, we presented virtually of course at the national youth violence prevention summit. And we shared this idea and there was a kid in Georgia who was like, miss a, I love that butterfly project. I mean, that’s not exactly how I sounded, but to me that’s how I sounded. And he go and it’s, I mean, everyone has a pin. If there’s kids who are also on distance learning, we also had a thing where if your parents were like, don’t write on yourself, you know, that’s a thing. We just added the butterflies onto our name. So where I have mine with my pronouns, my she and her we would just add a little butterfly fun fact, if you go eight, I eight kinda makes a butterfly. So that was my butterfly when, when we were on distance.


Sam Demma (06:23):
Wow. That’s awesome. That’s so cool. Does that idea or project relate to the hashtag save promise? I saw that in your, your email and I was wondering what that was all about as well.


Terresa Amidei (06:32):
Yeah. Okay. So save promise is another organization that we are a part of and we have a club I’m the advisor for that club as well. Nice. So the safe promise is stands for students against violence everywhere. Mm. It actually came out of the Sandy hook promise group and save promise club was another one. And so they kind of merged and they had this fantastic organization where they’re just saying, Hey, we gotta minimize our gun violence. And to do that, to do that, it starts with eliminating isolation, social I isolation. Like if you, I mean, it makes sense. You’re like, yes, that makes sense. If you feel like you don’t have a place in the world, if you feel like you can’t get any help, if you feel like no one notices, if you’re there or not, then of course you might be, you know, drawn into violence because nothing matters.


Terresa Amidei (07:23):
So for us, we, we were really happy to be a part of that club. In fact we got oh, what was, I, I wanna say it was a relationship. And like like what do you call it when you get like a little award? And we were like, oh, you guys are doing such a great job of like, you know, being innovative and connecting students. And I was like, yes. Because we only just started it last year. We just saw this is a serious need. I mean, not to get all serious on a, on a upbeat podcast. But when we, when the whole nation was closed down, you know, due to COVID wow. The school shootings were dramatically dropped because there were, there were no kids to be engaged in violence. When we started opening up, it was, it was heartbreaking to hear like, oh, there was another case and then another case and then something else.


Terresa Amidei (08:09):
And it’s like, guys, we can’t go back to the same way of operating. We, we have to be there for each other. We have to rise up by lifting others. If you see somebody who’s sitting by themselves, don’t let the sit by themselves. You know, like you can say, like, if I saw you by yourself, Sam, I would say, Hey Sam, do you, do you need someone to stay with you? I mean, some people are introverts, you know? And they’re like, no, I’m really good by myself. That’s great. But I need to ask to be sure, because if you’re like, no, I really just really want, I just feel terrible. Like I’m, I’m by myself, you know, mm-hmm so part, part of that initiative is we, we participated in a start with hello campaign, which is simply like, hi, hello, Hey. Yeah. How you doing?


Terresa Amidei (08:55):
You know, like acknowledging you exist, that’s where it starts. So you don’t feel so isolated. And then later in the year we had a whole districtwide where say something campaign. So it’s like, when you see something, most people who are gonna be drawn into any kind of violence, whether it’s like, oh, I’m gonna, I got some beef. I’m gonna have to fight with that person at the bus stop. You know, they say something, someone hears it before it actually happens almost every time. So part of that campaign is like, Hey, let us know. Like our number one thing is keeping kids safe. Yeah. We wanna educate you. But we I’m, I’m also trying to make fully formed functioning, loving adults, you know? Yeah. So I don’t want you to get a black eye. Like, how are you gonna you’re you’re like all scared of the bus stop cuz you think someone’s gonna try to get you like that.


Terresa Amidei (09:43):
That’s no way to live. So that’s kind of the things we’re trying to be ahead of the game and be like, no, no, no, no, we, we don’t play that game. Like no, no, no, no, no. You don’t have to sit by yourself. Like no, no, no, no, no, no. You need a friend come on over. And the other cool thing we’ve done Sam, like I’m just on a roll I better, I better have some wine keep no, no, no. I’m good. I’m good. Another thing we started is we noticed you know, there was a lot of turmoil in the country. I don’t know if you noticed, have you noticed? Yeah. A lot of divide, a lot of people, like not talking to each other, a lot of people, like, I don’t believe you or you no, you’re this. So you must not be that.


Terresa Amidei (10:20):
Or if you’re this, then you’re all these other things. People are very complex. And I think we don’t, you know, take that time to get to know each other when we realize, oh my gosh, we’re really the same. We’re really the same. Like you care about the environment. I know that from the work that you did. Right. And so I care about the environment. Like I turn on my water, I get wet. I turn off my water. Yeah. I get some soap. I turn it on. I turn it off. Yeah. That’s that’s me. You might, you didn’t know that till now. But we had that love of, of the world and the environment in common. And if we don’t have a chance to ever talk about it, we will never know that we’re really the same. Mm. You know? And, and it’s like, when you know somebody and you care about someone, it’s like, you know, I’m not gonna hurt you or I, I’m not gonna want to hurt you or I’m gonna understand you better.


Terresa Amidei (11:07):
Or I’m gonna be more willing to listen to what you have to say, because we’re the same. Yeah. We have the same things in mind. So one of the clubs that we started when we were noticing all this, you know, national turmoil, people, adults being mean at each other, adults yelling at each other adults like, Ooh, I hate you because we, we just started a club called the rise above club. And it’s a spot where, I mean, I hope I can launch it with like, you know, and make it something great. But it’s the idea that we gotta be better than that. You know? And like kids, adults always think, oh, kids like, you know, kids, they’re little, I’m telling you kid, you’re a kid Sam. Well, okay. You’re probably really an adult, but I’m like, oh, you’re much younger than me. So to me, they’re kids. Right? Yeah. Kids have great ideas. Yep. Kids can change the world. They’re not the future leaders. They’re the leaders now. Yeah. They’re the leaders now. And they need a space to like, figure this all out. Like how are they gonna be able to talk about things if they don’t understand it? How are they gonna change something? If they can’t have a voice, how are they gonna be able to navigate the world when it’s all confusing and scary and make them have anxiety?


Sam Demma (12:18):
Yeah.


Terresa Amidei (12:19):
So for me, the club is it’s about student engagement, student advocacy, speaking up how to have a voice. Like there’s so many kids who don’t even know like, oh, that’s the process of speaking to the school board and getting policy change. Oh, I could write an email to every Senator which I did on my veteran’s day. Cuz I thought, well, this is an important day. I’m gonna use my day to make sure everyone knows what I’m thinking. Sam. It took all day. But you know what? I did it. Why? Because I thought it mattered. I thought it mattered. And, and even, even if no one reads it, I know I have spoke my truth to people who have are in a position to make a change, make some kind of change. So I’ve done what I can do from my little space.


Sam Demma (13:06):
Yeah. No it’s so true. Just so much, so much good stuff. So many cool ideas. Thank you so much for sharing. What led you in education towards the extra mile mentality? It sounds like you’re involved in so many things in the school. You know, you’re making an impact on so many levels as opposed to just being a teacher. No, there’s nothing wrong with just being the teacher and teaching the class and going home. quote unquote, but there’s so much more to it than that, but it’s like, you know, you, you get involved in so many different things. Where did that drive come from? And do you think that’s been a very self-fulfilling experience as well because you probably get more out of being a teacher and an educator as well by getting involved in so many different things.


Terresa Amidei (13:51):
Yeah. That’s excellent question. And here here’s the thing. First of all, I do have a, a wonderfully supportive family, my children and my my, my husband, you know, they, they know that this work is important. Because I always tell ’em this work is so important. Yeah. Like, like I I’m thinking about the work that I could do. I mean, I, I could do so many things. Right. Like I could have any kind of job, but I always say when it comes to education you know, I’m exhausted like on the daily, you know, like when they always do the COVID screening and they’re like, do you have a headache? Do you have muscle fatigue? And I’m like oh shoot. I do. because I’ve been here for like 15 hours. Yeah. And I’m like, wait, is it because I’ve been typing and is this why I have a headache?


Terresa Amidei (14:36):
Oh, is it because I was outside and I was 122. We were doing a tour of the campus. Yes. That is why I have a wait, can I wait? I’m like, okay. I can still taste. We’re good. We’re all good. We’re all good. It it’s I always say this, like, it’s just it’s not supposed to be an easy job. Mm-Hmm like some people think, oh, teachers it’s so easy. You’ve got the summers off fun fact. I worked three sessions of summer school this summer. I, I didn’t have any time off. That was self-imposed because I wanted to help the kids. I wanted to make a difference. Ooh. I wanted, I, I, I, I’m not, I always say this shouldn’t be an easy job. It should be a job. That’s worth it. Yeah. The job is really difficult if you’re doing it, if you’re doing it well, that’s how I see it.


Terresa Amidei (15:22):
If you’re doing it well, you should be tired because you’ve put everything into it. Yep. Like imagine whatever sport that you wanna play. You know, and it’s the, like, we just had the Olympics you know, you have an excellent, like the goat Simone. Right. And she’s doing it even. She’s like, wait, you know, like, wait you know, I gotta watch out for myself. Right. That’s one little side lesson, but, but she’s gonna be tired. She’s gonna be sweaty. Right. Because she’s giving it at all. She’s not coming in. And she’s like you know, she’s, she’s doing like amazing, innovative things that have never been done. Right. So I’m thinking, yeah, I’m in a classroom. But the work that we do, what most people don’t know, unless you’ve been an educator is how many decisions that you’re doing and how many things that you’re man, like my mind is always firing.


Terresa Amidei (16:12):
Like, like this is every, like the Sies right now. It looks like this in my brain. Right. because I’m like, okay, I gotta watch out for this kid. I know that kid’s dog just died. I know this mom is in COVID this one’s battling cancer. Like I’m managing all that stuff and trying to be like, you need to help others because you’re gonna feel better if you help others, if you serve other people. So for me, this job is like, it’s mission critical. It’s mission critical because whatever I do here, if I’m doing a good job, I’m gonna create happy, fully functioning, nonviolent, helpful humans. Mm. And that’s what I wanna see. You know, that thing, like be the change you wanna see. That’s the change I wanna see. I wanna see people who care, but also like have fun. Like I I’m, I work with children, you know, elementary kids, middle school kids, high school kids, even high school kids.


Terresa Amidei (17:06):
Right. Okay. Maybe they turn 18 when they’re in high school. Right. senior year. But are they really adults? Like, do they really understand all this stuff? And like have a driver’s license and know how to vote and pay a mortgage? Like, you know what I mean? How to get a rental application? Wait, the answer’s no, they don’t know any of those things. So it’s like, you still gotta remember they’re still children. Right. They’re still navigating what it’s gonna be to be like, oh, this is the life that I wanna have for myself. Mm-Hmm and this is the things that are important to me. I mean, there’s so many advocates out there, like thank goodness that are young people. Right. even like, I look at Amanda Gorman and I’m like, oh my gosh, that poem was just gives me the chills. Right.


Terresa Amidei (17:46):
But she’s in her twenties. Mm-Hmm , you know, this is a world that belongs to everyone who’s here. So for me, I, I just want, I just want kids to come in and be able to make mistakes, but like, you know, turn it into things that are gonna work for other people. Like, you know, we create the welcome messages and we don’t just make posters and we’re trying to lift people up. Like, we’ve got little secret, you know, like, oh, we’re gonna leave the, okay, I’ll tell you secretly okay. Like Friday, we’re having this welcome back dance. Of course, with the whole COVID like, you know, we’re very mindful of all those rules. And we’re like, okay, 10 of you here and 10 there. And we’re playing the games because they’re just so craving interaction. They they’re just craving this interaction. Right. So, you know, it wouldn’t be a time like, Hey, I’m gonna invite you to dance and we’re gonna do, we’re gonna learn times tables.


Terresa Amidei (18:35):
Cause I’m gonna get you caught up. Like that would not be an event that would go over while. Right. So safely giving them this interaction. But then here’s the secret. We already made these little love notes for every single person at the school and every single adult at the school. And while the dance is going on, we have a secret, you know, happiness ninja team where we’re gonna tape them on every single desk so that when they come in on Monday, they’re gonna go what now? I mean, I hope they do that. Some will be like, what, what is this? Like, you know, and whatever. Yeah. Because they’re kids, but some it’s gonna matter to some kid and some kid is gonna keep this little note and some kid is gonna tape it onto their little Chromebook or stick it in their backpack. And you know what and will probably, and this is the hardest part of leadership. We will probably never know that it made an impact on that. Yeah. We might never know, you know, like in a school, we we’ve got like a thousand kids and, and adults here. Right. And so in that, in that huge number, you know, you, you will not get any kind of feedback. That’s like, I love that. Keep that more of that, you know, they’re, they’re not gonna say anything. Yeah. But I just have to believe like it matters.


Sam Demma (19:50):
Yeah.


Terresa Amidei (19:50):
Being welcome social, you know what I mean?


Sam Demma (19:52):
Yeah. It’s like, you know, a tree falls into forest just cause you don’t hear it doesn’t mean it doesn’t fall. Right. It’s the same thing with student impact like it. Right. Right. You know, just cuz you don’t see the positive mental changes in physical changes that a kid might be undergoing due to something at school they’re still happening. Right. And that’s such a good reminder. You know, I like to think of educators, people like yourself as gardeners, you guys are planting seeds and watering them every day and sometimes you don’t see them grow. Sometimes you do, but they all grow, you know?


Terresa Amidei (20:21):
Well, and here’s the other thing, like what you put into it. So what if I’m, what if I’m like super critical, you know? And I’m like super short with you and I’m like, just sit down, Sam. That’s growing too. Yeah. You know what I mean? Yeah. That grows too. So I mean, and we’re all, we’re all human and it’s hot and there’s lots, lots of moving pieces. So, you know, I, I try to be mindful. I don’t always, you know, hit the mark, but I also try if I realize I’m like, Ooh, I was kind of harsh to Sam. I, I always try to be like, Sam, come on. I gotta make, I gotta make amends on that one. Cuz that I didn’t, I, I need you to understand, like even if you’re correcting a kid, like, I still love you. This is fine, but you can’t do these two things like stop doing this and then I still love you. You’re good. And now it’s over for me. If you stop doing that. right. Yeah. we just gotta have a way that we are like, oh, okay. Communicate, communicating what I need so that you can be successful. I’m just, I, I feel like I’m like the German guard, like help me help you. Yeah. That’s what I’m trying to do.


Sam Demma (21:23):
That’s awesome. Love it. Cool. And what are you most looking forward to this year? I know it’s gonna be maybe looking a little different than the past couple years. but, or maybe not, but what are you looking most forward to?


Terresa Amidei (21:36):
It’s okay. I mean, you know, not to sound so cliche, but it’s, it’s like that it is the little time when you catch a, well, you know what? I’m not gonna say miss a, I love that activity. I love getting my note. Oh miss a. I love that poster was so cute, but what they, what will they will do is they’ll come in and they’ll go like this, miss am. Hi. That tells me I’m doing the right thing. Or I’ll see a kid and they’ll be like, I’ll catch ’em and I’ll see ’em I’m like, I’m like, they’re getting their note and they’re like


Sam Demma (22:06):
Quick little smile.


Terresa Amidei (22:07):
yeah. And then I’m like, yes. When here’s something to happen on Monday. Okay. You ready for this one? Sam? It is. So this is so important because here’s the other thing with leadership. You don’t have to like, I mean, I’m trying to get all kids. I mean all like all of them, I’m trying to get all of them right. To where they need to go successfully, but you gotta do it. It’s like you gotta make those special moments. Like one kid at a time, one kid at a time, like this is, this is how here for me. Like the amount of reinforcement. If I can get one kid that’s enough to get me another week. You know what I’m saying? Mm. So this happened on Monday. My kids were, it was our last week of summer school, right. Of the last session.


Terresa Amidei (22:49):
And we were giving tours to the new kids who were coming in. So sixth graders who had never been here from seventh graders who had never been here because of COVID. Okay. And I was already like, you know, we had practiced in that super hot, hot heat. And I had like Otter pops for after, when it was done, then I’m not being paid by that. They’re just the cheapest Popsicle. I’m just saying Hey. So we were practicing, we’re doing all this stuff. And I had told my kids, look, I, some parents are gonna try to sneak in and I’m gonna be like, no, no, no parents, because I can’t have you lead a tour. I don’t know who those parents are. Right. I gotta keep you safe. That’s my number one job. Yeah. So there was this kid that came in, I’ll have to demonstrate the kid comes in and they’re with a parent and I’m like, wow, like getting ready.


Terresa Amidei (23:31):
Like I’m getting ready. I’m not in my pose, but I’m getting ready. Like, you gotta go, you can’t be here. Right. And the mom says, I’m an interpreter for my daughter. And I was like, whoa. And I’m like, what, what are you interpreting? And she says we’re doing, I need to do sign language for her. Okay. Now this is where it gets really good. Don’t make me cry, Sam don’t do it. I won’t okay. This is where it gets really good. Okay. So everybody’s messed up and you can’t really, you know, you can’t really see how anywhere they’re like this. Right. And so this mom says I’m doing a you know, ASL. And I said, oh my gosh. And so then we’re like my name. And we started doing, and then the girl, okay, you gotta imagine it. Okay. So with her mouth, she goes like this, she goes,


Sam Demma (24:13):
Mm.


Terresa Amidei (24:14):
Like this and it gets better because one of the clubs we have is ASL. So I, I bring over the little QR code where, you know, we have this for all the kids and I find the ASL club and I hold it up for her and her mom. Ooh. Yeah. I’m getting goosebumps. That’s how, you know, it’s the right thing. I pull up this card and I say, Hey, we have an ASL club. And she just went while she’s still like, and she just leans into her mom and her mom and her are like that. Okay. That, that alone will get me two more weeds of effort, because think about it. Are there a lot of kids who are gonna come to our school and need ASL interpretation? No, but this girl came now think about it. She came, it’s a new school. It’s already scary.


Terresa Amidei (25:00):
Anyway, she hasn’t been to campus forever and she now she’s here and, and she’s probably worried, oh my gosh, I’m not gonna be able to talk to anybody. Like no one will understand what I’m doing. Like everyone’s gonna think. I mean, well, plus I just watched Coda last night. It’s so good. Anyway. So I’m, I’m thinking about that. And then, and I didn’t know she was coming, no one told me like, oh, Hey, you’re gonna need to have a, you know, services for this kid. No one. I didn’t know. So the fact that we are like able to accommodate it and I’m like, I have a, we already have a spot for you. We have a spot for you already. You didn’t even have to say anything. We have a club that’s already everything that you like, it’s your field. Like, it’s like, if I was a kid and I was coming to school and I’m like, what?


Terresa Amidei (25:43):
You have a sticker and hot latte club. What, it’s exactly my people with exactly the things that I like and need that I identify with. You already have a space for me. Like, just think about how I mean, and it wasn’t, I mean, just think about how she was like that information to know there would be people and clubs hearing and, and not who could, she could already communicate. Like she wouldn’t already have to advocate for herself because it was already there. Mm we’re already ready for her. What, what do you think? What do you suppose a difference that would make for that family? And, and for that kid, now that she’s coming to our school


Sam Demma (26:26):
Safety, you know, they know there’s a family away from the family, right. It’s like, right. Every student might not need ASL, but every student needs a community where they feel welcomed and involved and loved and you know, included. And I think that’s exactly what that does.


Terresa Amidei (26:42):
right. And I mean, and to me, her face was like, you get me. Yeah. You get me and you have a space already ready for me. You saved me a, a space on the bus. Yeah. That’s what it says to me. So that like, I, it wasn’t, I, I keep a little sticking out. Like I keep all my little inspirational things. Mine is like, okay. It, it didn’t have to be a big thing. It just had to be the right thing. Like nothing heroic, just the right thing. That was, it was the right thing to have that club.


Sam Demma (27:09):
Yeah. I love that.


Terresa Amidei (27:10):
And, and you never know, you just never know when you’re gonna need it. You know? Like I said, I didn’t know she was coming and I’m like, boom, I got you. You know, some other kid came out like, boom, I got you too. Yeah. Oh, we don’t. Oh, we don’t have a club. You know what? Come sit down. We’ll find you advisor. We’ll make it right now.


Sam Demma (27:26):
That’s awesome. that’s so cool. Yeah. So how long have you been working in education?


Terresa Amidei (27:33):
Ooh this is my 23rd year.


Sam Demma (27:36):
Let’s go. Thank you for your service.


Terresa Amidei (27:42):
you’re welcome. That was easy. Yeah.


Sam Demma (27:45):
that was the first time anyone’s ever pushed that button. I love it.


Terresa Amidei (27:50):
It wasn’t, it wasn’t easy. It was hard, but, but worth it, like I said, it was hard but worth it.


Sam Demma (27:55):
Yeah. I hear you. So knowing what you know now and what the experiences you’ve had and the things you’ve learned, if you could go back and speak to Tonya year one, what advice would you give me to yourself?


Terresa Amidei (28:08):
Sam? Why’d you have to go there. Why’d you have to go there, Sam . Okay. Well, so many things have changed right, since that time, but there, if there’s anyone out there who’s listening, who’s an aspiring educator. I say, jump, jump all in and be all in from the very beginning. The, I mean, I see kids all the time, like in this community, cuz I, I live where I work and you know, my, my own children are like, oh mom, we don’t wanna go to the store with you. Cuz people are always like, miss, is that you? Or they’ll be like, oh, was Ms. Like what she got in her cart? I’m like, what? Nothing, nothing gonna see here. Just all vegetables and fruits but what I would, what I, I, when I have seen kids that are now like, oh my gosh it’s so my first job I was doing eighth grade. And so that was 23 years ago. So they were 14. So 14 to 23? Yeah. 37.


Sam Demma (29:01):
Oh


Terresa Amidei (29:02):
Yeah. I, I haven’t had the thing where those kids, kids are in my class yet. That hasn’t happened yet. I’m waiting for that. But, but I see him and like I saw one guy at Costco and like, he was, I’m like, you have a Costco card and I’m like, wait, you’re married, wait, you can drive like, wait, I’m like you. And he had like a toddler. And I was like, oh my gosh, why? And I say then like, I’m like, wow sorry about anything that I might have messed up you know? Cause I just was trying so hard, you know, trying so hard back then, but you don’t have, you really don’t have the skills for several years, like a, a full on, you know, repertoire of like everything, you know, plus I’ve taught like every subject before I got into leadership.


Terresa Amidei (29:46):
So math, science, English, social studies, intervention, computer Jo geography and, and now leadership. Right? So I’m like, oh no, I know. So I would say when I got to year 15, I was like, yeah, I think I’m pretty good. you know, like I’m like, I think I’m, you know what, I think I’m not being doing an right job. Yeah. I mean, yeah, yeah. I think I’m getting this right. And then I would say maybe like by year 18, 19, it was like, I know, I know what I know. You know, I know what I know. I know my value. I know that I understand this I’ve I’ve been around this block. Like, you know, kids are always like, oh, how’d you hear me? And I’m like, oh bro, I’m a mom. I’m a wife and I’ve taught middle school for 23 years. You really think I’m missing any of that. That’s going on in the corner. Cause I’m not, you know like I already know, I already know what you’re gonna do, you know? And so you can plan for it. So my, my only advice for my young self would be like, you’re gonna get there, you’re on the right path. Your, your ideas are golden. You just need to just firm it up a little bit. Right. And then, and then you’ll be here. Woo. With


Sam Demma (30:56):
Sam


Terresa Amidei (30:57):
I’ll be like, know, I’ll be like this one day. You’ll be with Sam, the recycling guy that you met at cat . You’ll never believe it


Sam Demma (31:05):
In 122 degree weather.


Terresa Amidei (31:07):
I know that. Awesome. Doesn’t global warming. Let’s seriously get on board.


Sam Demma (31:12):
Terresa, this has been so, so fun. Thank you so much for taking the time to chat about your experiences, what’s going on in your school. Everything that you’ve gone through and your journey into education, this has been so, so cool. If someone is listening and wants to reach out and just have a conversation, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?


Terresa Amidei (31:31):
Yeah. I would say email. I can, do you want me to drop that to you? And then you can,


Sam Demma (31:36):
I’ll put in the show notes, I’ll put it in the show notes as well, but if you want, you can even say it now or spell it out for


Terresa Amidei (31:42):
All right. Well, do you see my name right on the little thing? So put a . in between there. So terresa.amidei@desertsands.us.


Sam Demma (31:52):
Cool. Easy, simple. Thank you so much again. This is awesome, Keep up the great work.


Terresa Amidei (31:57):
Sam. You’re doing such great work yourself. I just wanna say thanks for reaching out. Like anytime, anytime you need some filler, just call me.


Sam Demma (32:04):
I will, appreciate it.


Terresa Amidei (32:05):
I love it. I love it.


Sam Demma (32:07):
All right. Well talk soon.


Terresa Amidei (32:09):
Okay. Bye Sam.


Sam Demma (32:10):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show; if you want meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Terresa Amidei

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

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

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

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

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

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

Connect with Kirl: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

EdD in Learning Sciences – University of Calgary

Canadian Association of Principals (CAP)

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

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

Canadian Association of Professional Speakers (CAPS)

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s guest was actually connected by one of my colleagues at CAPS; CAPS stands for the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers. At 21 years old, I’m actually the youngest member and youngest ever board member . I bring in all the programming for our membership and all the different speakers to our chapter.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Sam Demma (15:38):
That’s amazing.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Sam Demma (29:00):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show; if you want meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Kirk Linton

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

Joyce Sunada – Wellness Speaker, Coach and Facilitator

Joyce Sunada – Wellness Speaker, Coach and Facilitator
About Joyce Sunada

Joyce Sunada (@JoyceSunada) has over 30 years of experience as an educator. During that time she was a teacher, an administrator and provincial leader who helped create and support healthy school communities. 

During the pandemic, Joyce stepped away from presenting workshops for a few months to identify what was truly important to her. This allowed her to establish the Joyful Collective, a collaborative group of women who work together to positively impact the wellness of educators through virtual workshops. And this time away also provided an opportunity to create sustainable lifestyle practices so she can better walk her talk and support others.  

If Joyce could give educators only one piece of advice she’d say, “Take time for your wellness, so you won’t be forced to take time for your illness.”  

Connect with Joyce: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Joyful Endeavours

Joyful Collective

Joyful Reflections Blog

Canadian Association of Professional Speakers (CAPS)

Lethbridge College – Broadcast Programming and Production

Mount Royal University – Integrative Health Coach Extension Certificate

University of Lethbridge – Bachelors of Education

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. I’m super excited about today’s interview. I am having a conversation with my good friend, Joyce Sunada. Joyce has over 30 years of experience as an educator and during that time she was a teacher, an administrator, and provincial leader who helped create and support healthy school communities.


Sam Demma (01:00):
During the pandemic, Joyce stepped away from presenting workshops for a few months to identify what was truly important to her. This allowed her to establish the joyful collective; a collaborative group of women who work together to positively impact the wellness of educators through virtual workshops. And this time away has provided an opportunity to create sustainable lifestyle practices so she can better walk and she can better walk her talk and support others. If Joyce could give educators one piece of advice, she would say take time for your wellness so you won’t be forced to take time for your illness. Professional bio aside, Joyce is a wonderful human being. She happens to be a colleague of mine at the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers and that’s how we crossed paths. And I’m so grateful we had a chance to chat. So here’s the interview with Joyce, I will see you on the other side. Joyce, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show. We’ve crossed paths many times, although you know, just recently at CAPS Calgary’s event we made a more deeper connection and I’m so glad we did. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit behind why you’re so passionate about the work you do today?


Joyce Sunada (02:12):
Well, thank you so much for having me Sam and I just wanna back up and say, you know, us reconnecting at the Calgary CAPS session was really cool. Like just you sharing your story and you being you; that’s an inspiration for me and I believe in inspiration for young people as well as educators. So first of all, thank you. Alright, so a little bit about me, as a kid, I have five, there’s six kids in my family, and as we were growing up, I’m a middle child. And I remember we had the wooden desks and I would always play teacher. It’s like, okay, you know, the little, little ones line up, do the work. I think I really enjoyed doing check marks. You know, it’s like, okay, this is great. And so I actually out of high school, I went into broadcasting and did a couple, I have a diploma in radio arts and thought I wanted to be a radio announcer and after much consideration and some late night news work, I decided to go into education.


Joyce Sunada (03:12):
Mm. I always, I would watch movies that, you know, where the teacher would the underdogs and bring them to life and make everybody successful. And I just loved that. And so that was my dream is how could I reach out and touch students in a way that could empower them to be the best version of themselves or to reach higher than they anticipated? So my journey went from rural Alberta, one who split up to Calgary teaching health and physical education, which is really my passion some classroom teaching. And then at a point I decided to become an administrator and I just dived full in. And at the same time, our three daughters were growing up in, you know, junior high and high school and I burned myself out. Mm. And so it caused me to take a step back and go, you know, what, what, you know, what am I doing?


Joyce Sunada (04:10):
And I believe in hindsight, like hindsight is 2020. You can take that from us, elderly people, Sam is I really just feel that in the place, I wasn’t a hundred percent sure I wanted to be an administrator. Like I love the hands on with the students. And that’s where, you know, I, I got my juice from, but I think I just gave so much. And I tried to please, so many people almost altering myself. I had this vision of what an administrator I thought should be. And so it didn’t fit with who I was now. I know I could be who I am and be an administrator, whoever, whatever I wanna be after the burnout. I, I was sent on a medical leave, which lasted over a year. And during that time had a chance to, you know, ground regroup reassess. And so then I would it back teaching part-time elementary F ed again, my sweet spot.


Joyce Sunada (05:05):
And so was part-time. Mm. Upon getting better, I was approached or had an interview with a provincial organization here in Alberta ever active schools and got a full-time position as a, I guess it’s like a provincial consultant. And then I got an to teach teachers about how to teach. And that was really exciting because now it’s actually probably the first time I really understood the curriculum because now I had to teach the curriculum who are gonna teach it. So it’s interesting how we learn what we most need to, we teach what we most need to learn. And after being with that organization for about four or five years, I started to feel that same kind of trepidation or, you know, the anxiety came back. And, and so I consciously made a decision to leave. I gave a year’s notice, took some coaching courses and then really started to get into the, the professional speaking.


Joyce Sunada (06:04):
When I joined caps, the Canadian association of professional speakers and learned how to build a business and become a better speaker. And the impetus for that was to help educators realize that it’s no important for them to take care of their own wellness because, you know, healthy educators help to educate healthy students. Yes. And we know from research that healthy students are better learners. And if we can ensure that the teachers, the assistants, the administrators, the students, that everybody is healthy, then we have a better impact on our future generations. So that’s where I am right now. I’m about to be a grandma. And so it’s exciting to go, okay, what will that world look like for him? And, and how can I support people to again, create that better future for our little guys,


Sam Demma (06:53):
First of all round applause for the future grandma moment. I’m curious to know, like, what does healthy look like? Does this, is there, like, how can we define healthy? Is it a certain amount of exercise that they should be doing? Is it taking care of mental health? Like, what does that look like?


Joyce Sunada (07:16):
That’s an excellent question, Sam, and I’m just gonna kind of dig in and go, I believe being healthy is being able to really live the life that you desire so that you’re able to move the way that you want so that your, your mental focus and your mental capacity is healthy. That you have a bigger belief than yourself. Some sort of spirituality doesn’t matter what it is, but for me, if we can take a look at all aspects of our life and I’ve just narrowed it down to those three and go, okay, I’m feeling good about who I am and how I’m showing up in the world. So it’s, it’s not a prescription. And when we talk about how much exercise and how much this and that I’ve, I’ve experienced and experimented life is an experiment and different stages. Like I love how, you know, at a time you were that high level soccer player and, and that’s what you, you loved. And that’s, that’s what you, my girls were high level soccer players too, which is so cool. And so at that time, you know, you require more activity. Maybe you need to more work on your mental game in order to get to that higher level that you want. So for me being held, I think at the core is really loving yourself too. Mm. And I know that that has been a journey for me. Yeah. And I’m going to venture to say that it’s a journey for a lot of people.


Sam Demma (08:48):
Yeah. I agree. I agree. And in that journey, you also discovered cycling. Is that something that you enjoy?


Joyce Sunada (08:55):
Cycling?


Sam Demma (08:56):
Yeah. am I correcting that?


Joyce Sunada (08:59):
I do. I do cycle outside. I mean, I’m not passionate about it. Yeah. And I do cycle, but


Sam Demma (09:05):
Okay.


Joyce Sunada (09:05):
I like to experiment. I like to do different activities and I like to, I like to dance too. There’s not much opportunity to dance, dance, you know, at dances. Yeah. But just, I I’m finding joy in moving and just for the sake of moving one of my colleagues, Doug, glad out of Edmonton, he says, you know, kids, don’t go up to the playground and go, I’m gonna do the monkey bars to improve my upper body strengths. And I’m gonna race you to increase my you know, my lung capacity. They do it cuz they love it. Fun, fun. It’s joyful.


Sam Demma (09:37):
It’s like, it’s a reminder to get back to being a child a little bit. Right. Yeah. When we bury all those things under responsibilities and expectations. I’m curious though, so someone comes to you as an educator, completely burnt out. What is the first thing you, you kind of teach them or help them with or ask I’m, I’m assuming it’s a bunch of questions, but like what would, what would you do with them? At the beginning,


Joyce Sunada (10:02):
Listen, the first and foremost is, is to really listen cause that’s their reality. And I remember being in that burnt out stage and it didn’t matter what anybody said there was just dark. Yeah. And so first of all, to wholehearted, listen, and then just watch, you know, where listen, where do they want to go? And how can I walk beside them? And everybody’s journey is different. And some of it might be the burnout often is not necessarily a direct result of the teaching. I I’m kind of going out on a limb, but burnout in my experience is more that there’s a lot going on and I’m making a circle with my hand because I do have them fill out a wellness wheel to just go, what areas of your life are kind of crashing down. So it might be spiritual or physical or financial or relational.


Joyce Sunada (11:01):
Right. And so we have to take a look at what they feel is kind of the weak spot and then go, okay, how can we step into that? Mm. And really focusing on, at some point when they’re ready is how can they love themselves? You know, we have, we all have really good friends. You, you talk about your good friends in, in your golfing adventures, in your podcast. And there are things that you would not say to your good friends that we say to ourselves. Mm. You know, maybe we did 50 great lessons and one was, you know, a disaster. And it’s like how that it was so stupid or what, you know, we go off on ourselves when I taught at the university of Calgary, some of my students would be like, like they were so afraid to make a mistake. Mm. And so I reassured them, you know, whether the lesson is awesome or whether the lesson lesson is, you know, a disaster you’re successful because you’ve learned something. Yeah. You’ve learned, this is great. And it’s like, this is how can I improve? Mm. And so back to the original question is just, is really listening, tuning into what they need and walking with them to where they wanna go.


Sam Demma (12:14):
Hmm. And you just brought up a great point, you know, and I think that every human being defines success differently. Right. And you know, sometimes we define success based on end results. Some other people define success based on what their capabilities are, what they’re doing in any given moment. How do you define success now? And if you could think back to when you were an educator and maybe even burnt out, how did you define success then? And are there shifts in those definitions?


Joyce Sunada (12:43):
Absolutely. Shifts. So I’ll just tell you a funny story. So I, I knew I was kind of going down. I had left administration and I was teaching grade five. And so I took the 30 kids out. We were gonna draw clouds for art. Nice. Now the purpose of drawing, the clouds for me was so I could go and lay on mother earth and just chill out cause I needed some TLC. Yeah. And so I tell the story, as I got 30 kids out, they had squiggles on their paper and they got, I got 30 kids back in that was success. Yeah. And people were like, oh my gosh, I can’t believe you did that. I can’t believe I did that. So, you know, in those lowest points, maybe success looks drastically different. Mm. Yeah. And, and with regards to success, we don’t always know.


Joyce Sunada (13:29):
I taught a one, two split here in Calgary. Oh my goodness. Probably to 20, some years ago, over 20, some years ago. And the kids live in my neighborhood and I happened to meet up with a mom one day we crossed paths and she was so grateful that I had her son because that was the early stages of identifying ADHD. And so I learned, you know, what his challenge as were, and I applied some of the skills to the whole class and it seemed like a lot of the children thrived. And so I didn’t know that was successful until 20 years later, but I would consider that a mark of success.


Sam Demma (14:09):
Got it.


Joyce Sunada (14:10):
Now success is, it’s really about owning who I am and, and I guess loving who I am and when I do a presentation or I, I coach people, it’s just knowing that I’ve done the best that I can do. And other people will have the experience that they have. And I, I can’t control that. So if I can go away and go, okay, you know, I, I did my research. I’ve prepared as best I can and put forward who I really am and then walk away. Not easy, not easy all the time. Yeah. But that would be my, my new definition of success and just that ability to live, how I really want to live and do I every day, absolutely not. You know, there’s days where I drag myself outta bed. And then there’s other days like today, I’m gonna talk to Sam. I better get, you know, I workout in and everything ready. Okay. Here we go. So, yeah.


Sam Demma (15:06):
Yeah. I I’m with you. I, I think that every person has those days. And if you don’t say it verbally, you’re lying. So it’s it’s true. I’m curious your coaching and your work has obviously shifted due to COVID and it’s definitely different navigating a world virtually than it is in person. Like, do you have any wellness tips or tricks for, you know, balancing life and work? It all feels like it’s one and the same. Like you, you leave your kitchen and you go to your office and it’s in the same, you just switch seats. Like it’s it’s kinda, it’s kind of bizarre a little bit, you know,


Joyce Sunada (15:44):
It is, well, you’ll notice I put on my bright pink top. Yep. Just for you, cuz this is an important meeting, right? Yeah. So little pieces like that separating, you know, work from home is like, this is my designated office and I do, I’ve got, you know, I’ve got some makeup on and I’ve got, you know, work clothes on during the day. I make sure that I get outside at least for a short time, I do have a, a small dog. And so if it’s a slow walk with my dog or it is a longer walk with a neighbor to make sure that there is some outside time and then too I’ve started if I it’s uncomfortable sitting for me for a long time. And so sometimes I will just go take my novel lay on my bed. It’s a, it’s just like, okay, so my body can totally relax, read a novel, you know, set a timer, maybe 15, 20 minutes. And that’s like, okay, back at, if there’s something else that I, I need to accomplish that day.


Sam Demma (16:44):
Hmm. Yeah. I love that. And you know, there’s numerous studies that show that walking for just 20 minutes a day reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease. And I think those are pretty convincing odds to take a short walk. So yeah, I love that. I think that those are all so important and you’re, you know, thank you for, for dressing up and showing up professionally. I appreciate you’re making me feel flattered. It’s it’s cool. So what does work for you look like now, are you doing a lot of presentations virtually if they’re educators listening to this thinking, man, my teachers are extremely burnt out. My staff are beyond exhausted. What does your work look like? For those you know, clients who might be interested maybe listening to this right now?


Joyce Sunada (17:30):
My work has morphed Sam. I came off of, well, okay. My work has morphed. I actually, before COVID hit was considering kind of maybe retiring, you know? Mm. And so when March, you know, everything fell off the plate, probably like a lot of things did for you. Yeah. and I did have a couple sessions in the spring, April, and then in the fall, educators were really trying to figure out, okay, what’s next? So, Nope. We don’t wanna hear from anybody at this time. And then November started to pick up. And so I actually reached out to a group of other wellness. I’ll call them wellness educators. Yes. So we created what we call a joyful collective, the joyful collective, one of the, one of the gals, she named it, the joyful collective. And so what we do is we come together, put our expertise together and offer that to schools or school divisions or jurisdictions the, that want to know more about how to be well.


Joyce Sunada (18:31):
And the, the really fun thing is that there are, I think the four out of the six of us are practicing educators nice. And the other two women, they help to support of course, with, you know, research and you know, tried and true strategies. So it looks more like a collaboration so that we can better support and serve the clients. And because I’m about to be at grandma. And right now my mom’s having some health issues that I’m supporting her with is I’m trying to walk my talk and go, this is what’s important right now. There’s a fear that, oh my gosh, you know, everything will dry up and go away. And people will forget about me and I’m trusting. I’m gonna feed trust instead of fear here that it’s gonna unfold, how it needs to. And so maybe it’s a, maybe it’s a bit of a break. Maybe I come back stronger in this moment, Sam, I really am not too sure, but I’m open to the possibilities.


Sam Demma (19:33):
I love it. And I love that you said you’re feeding trust because it is an option. And yeah, that’s something that is sometimes hard to realize, especially when you’re going through a tough situation, that we still have a choice. Right. you know, people always say it’s hard to see the frame when you’re in the picture. And I think that’s true specifically now more than ever as we all face various challenges and problems. This has been a fun conversation. Joyce, I really appreciate you sharing your stories and coming on the show. If someone wants to get in touch with you and maybe even just have a conversation, what would be the best way for them to get in touch and do so.


Joyce Sunada (20:11):
It would be to email me jklmsunada@shaw.ca.


Sam Demma (20:29):
Awesome. Joyce, thank you so much. This has been fun. Keep up the great work and I’ll talk to you soon.


Joyce Sunada (20:34):
Thank you so much Sam for having me. All the best with your work too.


Sam Demma (20:38):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show; if you want meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Joyce Sunada

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.

Paul DeVuono – Vice Principal at St. Anthony’s Catholic School (BGCDSB)

Paul DeVuono - Vice Principal at St. Anthony's Catholic School (BGCDSB)
About Paul Devuono

Paul DeVuono (paul_devuono@bgcdsb.org) is the Vice-Principal at St. Anthony’s Separate School in Kincardine, ON. Paul continues to be a strong advocate and supporter of publicly funded Catholic education in Ontario.

In addition, Paul is involved and connected to the Catholic Principals Council of Ontario (CPCO), ensuring our provincial government continues to make necessary investments in publicly funded Catholic education for students, families and staff. Paul has been a Vice-Principal for three years now, serving the Bruce-Grey Catholic District School Board (BGCDSB).

Paul represents a deep passion for Catholic education while ensuring all students are provided with the fundamental opportunities to develop their God-given talents, gifts and skills.Paul holds the premise that when students feel safe, secure, included and connected in their learning, they will continue to progress and excel as learners and collaborative contributors in our society.

Paul believes moving forward, and we need to ensure our schools are seen and utilized as community hubs where our stakeholders and partners have access to board, municipal, provincial and federal programs that benefit all.

In closing, Paul believes that our youth is our most prized asset and that, as a society, we must make significant and purposeful investments in our youth and education. Paul is married to his spouse Erica, a Vice-Principal, and has two children, Leonardo, who is 8, and Isoline, 5.

Connect with Paul Devuono: Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Catholic Principals Council of Ontario (CPCO)

St. Anthony’s Separate School

Bruce-Grey Catholic District School Board (BGCDSB)

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


Paul Devuono (00:08):
Good afternoon. My name is Paul Devuono. I’m vice principal at St. Anthony’s elementary school inOntario working with the Bruce Grey Catholic district school board.


Sam Demma (00:19):
Why education? And when did you figure out that you wanted to work in education?


Paul Devuono (00:25):
So I think for myself kind of why education, why kind of starting a vocation in teaching was certainly from many past educators that I’ve had the privilege to cross paths with certainly from a young age, right from elementary. I always thought it’d be really cool to be a teacher. Great, great pathway, great vocation. And certainly when I first started off in school encountering you know, some learning difficulties and struggling, and I think had it not been for some of my early primary teachers, especially and certainly those educa theaters that really helped me propel through high school. I would not be standing here before you today. And I think I owe many of them a great deal of gratitude and thanks. And I, I always think that I probably wasn’t as grateful and thankful in some of those moments, certainly in my teen years definitely think of them often and really draw on the wealth of expertise that many of them had.


Sam Demma (01:30):
What do you think those educators did for you growing up as a student that made a significant impact? If you can remember?


Paul Devuono (01:37):
I think for many of them it was, it was their patience but also their, their sense of care and, and really trying to be good role models. But also certainly very much being very patient and not giving up and just kinda allowing students to be the people that they, that they are and kind of respect them you know, for who they are and, and do their best to work with them, not trying to force them to be something that they’re not, but certainly a great deal of empathy and trying to kind of best support is certainly what I felt made them extremely successful.


Sam Demma (02:17):
When you started your path towards education and decided this is what I’m gonna do. Tell me a little bit about what that path looked like. Where did you go to school and where did you start and what brought you to where you are now?


Paul Devuono (02:30):
So I, it was interesting. And it’s funny when we engage in this conversation you know, many of my friends were going off into business other types of professions and, and not many of my circle of friends were really looking at education. And at that time too, the trades were just something that was being started about. So there was things with the Ontario youth apprenticeship program. And I so wished I could have done a trade. And many of my family are, are extremely gifted in the skilled trades, but it just wasn’t my forte. And it certainly was one of my guidance counselors that said, you know, have you thought of teaching? And I said, yeah, you know, it is something that I continue to think about but was a little worried about some of the application process to it.


Paul Devuono (03:21):
And he probably gave me some of the best advice in grade 11 and 12, cuz he said, you know, it’s gonna get really competitive to get into teachers college. He’s like, if you’re really passionate about education, you can sit, you should consider going into concurrent education. And it was the best advice. Cuz certainly at that time it was becoming competitive to get into teaching. And I was fortunate to go to Lakehead university in thunder bay and did concurrent education there. I did a four year undergraduate there a double major in political science and history and did teachers college in my fifth year. And it was a, it was a great experience.


Sam Demma (04:04):
That’s amazing. And when you finished the postsecondary requirements in education, where did you first start working? And what did the progression look like to bring you to where you are now?


Paul Devuono (04:17):
So we had had a job fair kind of late winter of our graduating year. Nice. In 2004 and the GTA, the greater Toronto was kind of the last place that I wanted to go and work. I kind of wanted to be closer to home being from Northern Ontario, but many of those boards were not hiring. And so at the job fair, it was really clear place like York, York, district York, Catholic der peel P public, and certainly Toronto Catholic in Toronto district were boards that were really actively recruiting. They had full year LTOs, they had permanent positions for some teachers. And so I had made a, I was fortunate to make a contact with der peel Catholic was someone from their HR recruiting crew and managed to, to get a seven, eight position in Mississauga on the border of ACO. And it was a great, great experience.


Sam Demma (05:13):
That’s awesome. And now you’re back in the Bruce Gray county. What, what brought you, what brought you up here?


Paul Devuono (05:22):
So being from Northern Ontario was always kind of a goal to kind of move out of the city and kind of move into a more rural area. And certainly with with job markets and then getting married and starting a family, it became a lot more trickier and we kind of thought maybe it would just be a lofty retirement goal. But my wife’s family is from the Bruce Gray area and we managed we were grateful enough and blessed to be able to find work up here at both as as vice principals. And so it it all happened kind of through the pandemic. It was a little, a little tricky, but it certainly worked out.


Sam Demma (06:04):
That’s amazing. And what do you enjoy about the work you do today and for someone listening who might be a teacher and not, and doesn’t really know the experience of a vice principal what does that look like?


Paul Devuono (06:19):
So I would say you know, our youth are our most like prize commodity and I think especially going through this pandemic now into two and a half, getting closer to three years you know, it’s a little bit concerning to that I, I, I feel more and more often our youth are kind of being forgotten about. And I think if you look at any great society throughout history and even those today there’s societies that have really put their youth and education at the forefront of everything that they do. And I think you know, in terms of education, yes. It’s challenging. It’s trying any institution that works with the public and that works with youth definitely has as ups and downs, but I think again, you know, just, you know, listening to our stories and, and sharing to be a part of having an influence on someone’s life and having them have that opportunity to look back and knowing that you perhaps made a small difference not only maybe the career that they chose, but certainly the path and the people that they are today is huge.


Sam Demma (07:35):
Yeah. I couldn’t agree more. And what gives you hope to show up every single day and continue doing this work, even when things like a global pandemic start getting in the way.


Paul Devuono (07:46):
You know, what it’s, it’s certainly our, our kids and their families you know, to know when we opened up our doors to welcome students and families back and, and air support is huge. And I think RA I’m in an elementary school, so we’re K to eight. And if you ever need your bucket filled on those difficult days, I just take a stroll and a walkthrough into our full day learning kindergarten classrooms. And when you see three and a half and four year olds tugging at you and hugging you and kind of telling you the words that they’ve learned in their numbers, it’s so inspiring to see them soak up like sponges that learning. And then again with our seven and eights, they’re excited about the next phase of their academic careers. It’s just so amazing to be a part of, of those opportunities.


Sam Demma (08:38):
That’s awesome. I love on your journey. What do you think some of the resources that you’ve found that have been helpful whether it’s people you’ve met or potentially even some things you’ve been through that you thought were beneficial to yourself?


Paul Devuono (08:56):
I think when we’re talking about resources, definitely like human resources I think by far are like people you know, conversing with you know, that’s one of the unique things with education is that like, we have such a rich dichotomy of people that we and interact with, whether it’s social workers, childhood, youth workers our custodial teams, our educational assistants, our, our educational early childhood educators, administrators, like there’s so many people that I feel so fortunate that I can connect with and dialogue with and share experiences is huge when you’re coming to people. And certainly for us as a Catholic system, you know, drawing on some of the work of our, of our chaplaincy of our priests and their support as well is extremely influential into the work that we do. And certainly you know, really helps, especially when you’re kind of going through some of these challenges that we are now yeah. Society to help ground things is huge.


Sam Demma (09:59):
Yeah, I agree. And I know there’s been a lot of changes and challenges over the past two years, but what do you think some of the opportunities might be or, you know, areas for growth and improvement because of all these changes?


Paul Devuono (10:14):
I would say that certainly technology, we, we, we continue to talk about technology and I think like the whole virtual learning piece was something that especially at the elementary and secondary level was still kind of not quite at the forefront and I think for better or not, the pandemic really helped kind of thrust the up forward cuz maybe had no other choice. And I think those virtual connections for our students is definitely something that’s gonna carry them forward through their academic careers and, and through employment. I also think too, at the same time though, we, we recognize the importance of a experiential education in the outdoors. Knowing that our students were in front of screens and maybe perhaps not going outside, cuz they were kind of in a room or in a basement or in an office. Certainly kind of bringing that back to the forefront, how important it is for students to interact with their peers, but also with friends, but also outside. And those opportunities, whether they’re playing ice hockey, going to boing, going for a walk all those great things. I think sometimes we forget how, how important and how critical those are for kids.


Sam Demma (11:32):
I agreed. Agreed. can you think of a time where a program or an initiative has made an impact on a student and as a vice principal or as a teacher you got to see and witness the change or the impact that it had?


Paul Devuono (11:47):
I, I think for certainly one that comes to mind is certainly our, our transitional work with our, with our grade eights as they move to grade nine and working with our seven eights, getting them prepared and ready for high school. And, and just knowing that that is such a, a big step in a, in a huge leap for many of our students and families. And sometimes I don’t think we understand the gravity of that and just our board has done a lot of work building connections with our seven and eights before they step foot into high school. So if they have an opportunity to connect with teachers, student services, guidance counselors and other supports through the high school so that when they’re walking into those much larger buildings and seeing all those students, they can and already have a connection in rapport with people and that there’s already a go-to person for them.


Paul Devuono (12:38):
And again, you know, you know, for some students, it might not be, it’s a, it’s an easy shift that, that are very outgoing, that are very social, but certainly for those that may have some anxiety may have some stress or a little bit more introverted, it’s a huge, huge help and support for them. Once they have that opportunity to kind of have a connection at the high school. So I I’ve had an opportunity to see that first and foremost and have our students come back and say how, how great and amazing that was.


Sam Demma (13:07):
Amazing. And if you could take if you could take all the experiences you’ve had in education, kind of bundle them all together, travel back in time and speak to your younger self when you were just getting into teaching. What advice would you have wanted to hear? What advice would you have given yourself when you were just starting that you think might also be beneficial to someone else just getting into this work?


Paul Devuono (13:35):
I think that it’s and, and we hear this all the time that, that you have to take risks. Mm. And I think we, we hear that all the time, but it, it’s hard to put into practice. Yeah. And I think we need to take risks and we need to feel that we’re gonna make mistakes and then that’s gonna be okay. And I think to it’s being able to admit when you’ve made a mistake, but also when perhaps you’re feeling overwhelmed or maxed out or stress that you’re able to vocalize that to whoever you have faith in or that you trust or that there’s a circle of security for, because the work within education is very dynamic. It’s challenging. It certainly can be stressful. And I think also just kind of knowing that we’re never gonna have all the answers and that that’s okay. And that kind of humbleness again, when I think about pat ask teachers is so critical and that it’s okay to reach out to people around you.


Sam Demma (14:42):
Perfect. If someone has listened in on this conversation, found something intriguing or interesting and wants to ask you a question or reach out to connect and just have a conversation, what would be the best way for them to reach out and get in touch with you?


Paul Devuono (14:58):
I, I would say the best way to reach out and certainly get in touch with me is to connect with the Bruce Gray Catholic district school board. And certainly if you type in BGCDSB St Anthony’s my contact information will come up as vice principal here. Or even if you call the mean switch line at our board office, they’ll certainly put you in touch with me here. If you have any questions or I can do anything to help support perhaps a pathway into education.


Sam Demma (15:24):
Awesome. Paul, thank you so much for taking the time to come on the show. Really appreciate it. Keep up the great work and I will talk soon.


Paul Devuono (15:32):
All right. Thanks a lot. Really appreciate it. Thank you for having me.

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