fbpx

events

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.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Paul Devuono

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.

Craig Zimmer – TED-ED Innovative Educator and Teacher with the DCDSB

Craig Zimmer - TED-ED Innovative Educator and Teacher with the DCDSB
About Craig Zimmer

Craig Zimmer (@dropthedott) has been a history teacher for 24 years, 23 of those at St. Mary Catholic Secondary School in Pickering. He is a TED-Ed Innovated educator, TEDx Organizer and has mentored numerous student and adult speakers in their TED talks. His co-authored book, Canada: A People’s History Emerging Loyalties continues to be a resource for classrooms throughout Canada. In 2021, he was named the Durham Catholic District School Board’s Educator of the Year. He has presented at conferences and continues to finds new ways to bring history to life in his classroom.  

Craig is a firm believer in the power of collaboration to improve the educational system and create a better school environment. By working together, we can improve education and foster educator’s well-being. He also feels that the educator’s role is to recognize the importance of legacy in their teaching. Educators must live up to the legacy created by those teachers they had, to teach those lessons those in front of you and to leave a foundation for students to grow upon. He also promotes the idea that learning, and education should be fun and not bound by the confines of a textbook.  

In his free time Craig enjoys spending time with his wife Andrea, their 3 kids and Juno the Dog and Oliver “The History Cat.”   

Connect with Craig: Email | Twitter | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

TED-ED: Lessons Worth Sharing

TEDx St. Mary Catholic Secondary School

Canada: A People’s History Emerging Loyalties

St Mary Catholic Secondary School (DCDSB)

Write your story, change history – Brad Meltzer

Tim Urban: Inside the mind of a master procrastinator | TED

Raised By Dragons | Jim Zub | TEDxStMaryCSSchool

An Indigenous Journey to Leadership | Eddy Robinson | TEDxStMaryCSSchool

Chasing dreams and beginning again | Kate Drummond | TEDxStMaryCSSchool

The danger of silence | Clint Smith

Meaghan Ramsey: Porque pensar que eres feo es dañino. – TED – 2014

Being an Introvert is a Good Thing. | Crystal Robello | TEDxStMaryCSSchool

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 (01:01):
This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Craig Zimmer has been a history teacher for 24 years, 23 of those at St. Mary Catholic secondary school in Pickering. The exact high school that I went to as a student myself, I, I didn’t have the pleasure of being in Craig’s class, but heard so many amazing things about him from friends and students that were in his period two and three classes. He is a Ted ed, innovative educator TEDx organizer, and has mentored numerous students and adult speakers in their Ted talks. He coauthored book Canada, a people’s history. Emerging loyalties continues to be a resource for classrooms throughout Canada in 2021. He was Durham Catholic district school. Board’s educator of the year at the Durham Catholic virtual secondary school has presented at conferences and finds new ways to bring history to life. In his classroom. Craig is a firm believer in the power of collaboration as a way of improving the educational system and creating a better school environment.


Sam Demma (02:02):
It is by working together that we can improve education and foster educators wellbeing. He also feels that the role of the educator is to and recognize the importance of legacy in their teaching. Educators must live up to the legacy created by those teachers. They had to teach those lessons, those in tho to those in front of you and to leave at foundation for students to grow upon. He also promotes the, the idea that learning and education should be fun and not bound by the confines of a textbook in his free time. Craig enjoys spending time with his wife, Andrea, there are three kids and Juno, the dog and Oliver, the history cat. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Mr. Zimmer as I would’ve called him. When I was in high school, I will see you on the other side, Craig, welcome to the high performing educator. Huge pleasure to have you on the show this morning, please start by introducing yourself.


Craig Zimmer (02:57):
My name is Craig Zimmer. I teach at St. Mary Catholic secondary school in Pickering. I’ve been a teacher for 24 years and, and I love every minute of it. It’s, it’s an amazing adventure to be on.


Sam Demma (03:09):
I’m baffled that you and I have not crossed paths when I was going through high school and up until even right now, Monday morning, you know, of January 31st, 2022, but I’m glad that technology has made this possible.


Craig Zimmer (03:24):
Yeah, me too, for sure.


Sam Demma (03:26):
How did you figure out and discover that education was the thing you wanted to pursue throughout your own career journey?


Craig Zimmer (03:33):
You know, it, it, it really was because of a couple of factors. One, I was terrible at math and my whole life as a little kid, I had two passions. I had a passion for history and a passion for space. And I wanted to be an astronomer and I, I went down to my guidance counselor in grade 10 and she said to me, what do you want? I said, I wanna be an astronomer. She picked up my transcripts cuz I’m that old that they didn’t have computers. And she looked at it. She’s like, not with these marks, you gotta rethink what you’re doing. And I was pretty bummed. So I went back to my history class and my history teacher, great guy by the name of Joe Stafford was teaching. And he took me right out of that, took me out of that depression of, I don’t know what I want to do to this place where it’s like, I wanna do what he’s doing. He’s having fun. You know, and this guy had fun. He was passionate. He made the, the, the subject matter come alive. And from that moment, that day where I should have been like, I’m lost, you know, the, the path was opened up to me. It’s almost like that that obstacle needed to be clear. And from grade 10 on, I was working towards becoming an educator.


Sam Demma (04:50):
Wow. That is such an amazing story. Do you stay in touch with that teacher now? Is Joe still around?


Craig Zimmer (04:57):
Yeah, I I’ve seen him a few times. He, he moved out to king a couple years ago, so I haven’t really talked to him. I mean, he’s awesome. He won the governor, General’s awards for excellence in teaching history a few years back. Wow. you know, he’s, he’s a published author, but besides that, he’s just a passionate teacher. And he’s one of the two teachers that I really try to model myself after who inspired me to, to be where I am, because they showed me learning should be fun. You know, teaching should be fun. And that there’s so many possibilities with what you can do in a classroom and, and in how you can inspire students. So I, I haven’t spoken to ’em. I, I got really lucky though. A few years ago, my, my, my high school had a little 25th anniversary and he was there and, and, you know, we went out in the evening of a bunch of the teachers and some of the alumni went out and he didn’t have a ride home.


Craig Zimmer (05:53):
So I said, I’ll drive you home. Joan, I, I had a chance to kind of say to him, you know, thanks I’m, I’m here because of you. And it was really kind of a cool moment. Cause you know, he’s a really humble guy and he’s like, ah, come on. Don’t, you know, you’re there because of you. And I’m like, no man, you, you, you saved my life. You, you showed me the path, you know? And you, you got me to where I am, you gave me so something to love more than what I thought my dream was, you, you opened my eyes to where I needed to be. And so I I’m grateful to, to him for, for that. Yeah.


Sam Demma (06:27):
Sometimes educators do things, not even realizing the impact it’s gonna have on their students, but I think it takes a, an awareness and, and you know, an intentional action from your practice as an educator to create those experiences for students. Oh,


Craig Zimmer (06:46):
For


Sam Demma (06:46):
Sure. You mentioned, you know, he was one of the educators who really inspired you and that you, you kind of modeled yourself after who are some of the other educators as well. And what did you learn from each of those people that informed them way you teach today?


Craig Zimmer (06:58):
Well, I mean, in terms of high school there, Beth Hawkins, who was my, my drama teacher she was just a ball of energy, you know? And she gave me confidence. I was a really awkward kid. I had body issues, you know, growing up, I had low self-esteem, low confidence and I took drama and she showed me the, the possibilities of being who you want to be through, through being a character. Mm. And just opening up and letting it go and not worrying what others think about you. And, you know, again, it’s that, that idea of having fun. And I think a big part of what I’ve taken from that is, you know, as a teacher, I’ve always just gone for it, you know, really early on in my career. One of the things that I realized that as an educator, you’ve gotta create a character.


Craig Zimmer (07:47):
So I use that drama background to create the character of Mr. Zimmer he’s he’s me, but he’s me outside of my shell. Mm. He, he is, you know, the, this, this creation that I need to be for my kids, you know, who I am when I go home is a lot different than who I am. You know, when I’m standing in front of a classroom and I need to do that because the one thing I know from, from, from Beth and, and from Joe and, and I’ve been so lucky to, to call these people now, my friends was that no matter what’s going on outside your classroom and your life, you owe it to your students to come in and be everything. They need you to be that day. Even if you, you feel like you can’t do it, you gotta give ’em a hundred percent of everything you got that day because they’re worth it.


Craig Zimmer (08:36):
I mean, they, you, you have an off day and, you know, you don’t know what it could do for those kids learning and how, you know, it might turn them off from learning or how many of them just need you to be the energy that they are they’re lacking. So without a doubt those were two of my high school teachers when I got into education. One of the, the smartest things that I did was I realized, first of all, I didn’t know everything. Teachers, colleges often make this mistake of telling their teacher candidates, you know, forget what those old grizzled, cynical teachers are telling you. You know, they’re, they’re, they’re all old. They don’t know what’s going on, you’re on the cutting edge of education. And I never took that approach. I came into to St. Mary and right away, I recognized who I thought the master teachers were, the teachers that I looked at and said either a I’d want them to be my teacher or be, you know, when I have kids, that’s who I want to teach my kids, you know, without a doubt.


Craig Zimmer (09:41):
One of your former guests, Mike loud foot, you know, who, who I know inspired you and, and sent you on the path you’re on. He is one guy that I looked at who just put things into, to a perspective for me, you know, he he’s, he’s the kind of guy that he’s, he’s very calm and centered and very Zen, and you need that in education, you know? And, and he taught me, you know, so many valuable lessons. He taught me, you know, don’t get into a fight unless, you know, you can win. It’s not worth it. You know, you know, he, he said in this, this job do everything you can for, for kids, but recognize there’s only so far that you can go, they need to meet you. And he was just one of those guys that treated me like an equal, you know, I was a 24 year old kid walking in, not having any teaching experience and right away, I felt like I’d been on the team for years.


Craig Zimmer (10:36):
And I other teacher here for sure, Jack Lon, who you know, he’s a, he’s a history teacher here. He was actually a teacher at my high school. You know, my, my final year, my OAC year was his first year as a teacher and himself and Joe, you know, were really great with teenage me. I’d stay after school and talk history with those guys. Cool. And they, they treated me like a peer. You know, and I, I talked to Jack about that. I’m like, you guys must have got sick of an 18 year old kid wanting to sit around for like an hour after school. And he is like, no, we knew you were one of us. And we, we wanted to, to have that there for you and Jack, you know, Jack was the, the kind of teacher that I walked in and he opened up his filing cabinet and his binders and said, you take what you need.


Craig Zimmer (11:29):
He was, was great. So instead of me having to recreate the wheel, there was a lot of stuff there. And that’s, that started a 24 year collaboration between two of us, cuz he’s still here at St. Mary and we bounce ideas off each other and I create things and pass it on to him and he’ll come back and be like, Hey, let’s make it better this way. And I’m like, yeah, that sounds so much better. You know? And collaboration is such a huge part of, of teaching. You know, I, I ran into some teachers when I came in, who were like, I’m giving you nothing, learn, learn on your own. And they were, were not teachers in my opinion, cuz teachers helped teachers, not just students. You know, I collaborate really well with John stanza who teaches here. Yeah. You know, and although John and I have a comparable number of years that as a teacher, you know, he is, he’s really compassionate. You know, there, there are times where he reminds me just by watching him and how he interacts with students, you know, how important compassion is, cuz this is a job or you can get really frustrated.


Craig Zimmer (12:36):
And it’s hard to remind yourself, you know, these are kids who are dealing with things at home. These are kids who have things going on outside. These are kids who feel justified that they might not be getting their stuff in for whatever reason. And you’re like, you get frustrated because you’re like I and everything. And John’s the kind of guy that I watch him with them. And I remember, you know, you’ve gotta have an open heart and you know, I I’ve tried to take from, you know, those, those people you know, besides that my other favorite teacher at St Mary’s Mrs Zimmer, but I, I married her after meeting her here. So she’s my favorite to teacher at the school. I have to say that, but you know, she, she’s also really awesome in the sense that she, outside of the whole marriage thing, the educational side of things, she teaches history and art.


Craig Zimmer (13:26):
She opened me up to a whole other side of history that I kind of pushed aside. Cause I’m like art’s not interesting. And she’s like, what do you mean? Art’s not interesting. So she took me to museums and taught me and I’ve integrated that, you know, and, and I try to get what I can from everybody. I work with something valuable from each of them. So I can continue to build this character of Mr. Zimmer, who can be the best teacher for his students and, you know, by character. I mean, I’m also, I try to be really authentic with them, but have to save me for outside for my kids, for my wife. I couldn’t stand in front of the classroom and be just me. I have to be, you know, Mr Zimmer, does that make sense?


Sam Demma (14:08):
It’s like Spiderman. It’s like bat, you know, like a modern day superhero there’s an amazing book called the alter ego by Ted Herman. And he talks about this idea of building an alter ego for yourself for different situations in your life, even references a scenario or someone from the army, a general would come home and bring the same traits and actions and habits that he had as a general into his health. And it wasn’t working. And Todd coached him and helped him realize you need to have a different personality slightly, still your be your authentic self, but show up in a way that serves the people who live in your house versus the people that live in your army base.


Craig Zimmer (14:52):
Like I can’t be teacher Mr. Zimmer to my kids. Yeah, it does. It doesn’t work. You know, the stakes are different, you know, you got your students in front of you. There’s marks, you got your kids in front of you. And they’re not, they’re not there for marks. They’re there for life and you’ve gotta approach life differently as a parent, you know? So you’re, you, you have to be different.


Sam Demma (15:12):
You mentioned the importance of creation and collaboration. And as a student, that’s something that teachers always share with their students, you know, get involved, you know, do new things, create things, make friends, get, get yourself out there. Sure. What is inspire you to do that? You’ve done so many different projects. You’ve read, you’ve run TEDx events and you sit on the Ted ed council for innovation. Like tell me more about what inspired you to start getting involved in different activities.


Craig Zimmer (15:45):
You know, the, the one thing that I learned really on early on was working with others and, and to kind taking the strengths of others and balancing them out with the weaknesses of others creates better stuff. You know, there’s, I know what my strengths are. And I like to work with a team that basically says, okay, we know what you can bring to the table. Here’s what I can bring to the table. And that’s great. Like, I, you can’t do everything on your own. Mm I’m I’m only so, so good at one thing. And I’m, I’m a believer that we’re all lifelong learners. You know, I’m not one of those educators who stands up here and says, I know it all, you know, I, and I mean, I’ve got 24 years of experience in, and I’m fairly confident in my job, but you know, to quote Socrates, the one thing I know is that I know nothing I’m trying to continue to learn.


Craig Zimmer (16:39):
And I think that the best way to learn is by experience, by working with others and seeing what they bring to the table. It’s like, like I said, with Jack Selan, you know, he brought so much to me, he brought his experience to me, but the one thing he’s always said that I brought to him at that period of time was that, that energy to, you know, to see a young teacher who’s like fired up and ready to go, it reignited him. So, you know, I’ve always liked working with groups of people and knowing when to step up and take a leadership role, knowing when to sit back and to allow others to take that, that role, because I could learn something from them that that’s why working with Ted ed has been amazing for me. You know, I was really fortunate to be chosen, to be part of their first cohort for innovative educators.


Craig Zimmer (17:29):
So they worked with over 250,000 educators around the world and they chose their, of us that they work with to start this program about five years back. Wow. And you know, I got this email just out of the blue and I’d been working with Ted ed and I I’d gotten to know them because I ran the Ted ed club here at St. Mary. And you know, I was running the TEDx events and I went to Ted global in 2014. So I got to see the Ted people there. And I, you know, they, they, I was the only educator at this Ted conference, so, wow. You know, I’m sitting there at, at a table with all these, you know, CEOs of these companies and I’m like, I’m just a high school teacher. Like, that’s awesome. What is it like, you know, the, because it was so far removed from their experience.


Craig Zimmer (18:16):
So the Ted ed people picked my brains and I got to know them and, and they invited me to be part of this. And I was, it blew my mind because I’m like me, come on. I’m just, I’m just some guy who teaches. I Pickering I’m, I’m not, I’m not one of these super teachers who’s like published, but they didn’t want that. They recognized they wanted grassroots people like real authentic educators. And that was probably one of the best collaborations that I’ve had. I’m, you know, as a group of, of educators we got together, we talked, we created Ted lessons. We, you know, worked towards making the program at Ted ed stronger. You know, we, we sent them ideas. I mean, God bless them. They, they got get sick of me because I will just send emails. Like here’s like 20 ideas I came up with and, you know, there’s, there’s so wonderful there they’re, they’re like, yeah, I don’t know if this is something we can do, but Hey, keep the ideas coming.


Craig Zimmer (19:15):
And you know, the, the Ted ed club, you know, I, I helped go through the booklet there and they sent it off and said, do you think this works? And I tried it with my Ted ed clubs. And that collaboration has made me a better teacher. And if I have an issue in my classroom, they’re, they’re a peer group that I can go to and they’re all over the world. And I can say, this is what I’m dealing with. And, and I get that support. And, you know, the other day I had something I was working on. I’m not very good at Excel. So I’m like, does anyone know anything about L and right away, I got videos and links and like, oh, FaceTime me. We’ll, we’ll, I’ll walk you through it. And, and that makes us better. Educators need to educate each other.


Craig Zimmer (20:02):
Educators need to realize that we can’t do it on our own. And until I got into the, the, the process of being part of this Ted ed group, I was, I was at a place in my life where I was doing that. You know, I, I had had 10 years of teaching in when I started Ted ed and, or 12 years, something like that. And I was kind of at a place where I can do it all. I was very confident that I was already there. And I quickly realized that I needed that collaboration, cuz I was running out of ideas and I was running out of inspiration. So, you know, it, it definitely saved my, my career in many ways cuz it, they keep me fresh. They challenge me, you know? And it’s a safe place to, to share and collaborate. Whereas, you know, often when you’re, you’re in a school system, you know, very much so there’s, there’s a vision that comes forward from a ministry or a school board. And you have to conform to this vision where this is a think tank where the sky’s the limit, you know, let’s, let’s throw it all out there and see what people have, have to say.


Sam Demma (21:09):
It’s so cool that you are a part of this Ted ed group. And it sounds like an amazing network for another educator who loves the idea of like a think take and a mastermind who might not be able to just tap into the Ted ed community. What would you recommend? They do like hit, like call upon some of peers form almost like a little bit of a network or a mastermind or what other groups have you leveraged as well that may be accessible for, for all?


Craig Zimmer (21:37):
Well, you know, I think what’s really important is one, thanks to social media. You can start group pages. Yeah. You know, easily and start to, to use those, to, to build network for yourself. You know, I’m, I’m part of a lot of different educator pages on Facebook, for instance, where I may, I might not be active on them, but I’m seeing posts and I’m seeing things. And I know that I can access someone who might have something that I need. You know, I, I want to increase for example the amount of indigenous history it teach. It’s not an area that I’m an expert in and I’m trying to get there. So I can go on some of these networks and say, Hey, I want to teach my kids more about this indigenous experience, which is removed from my own, but I wanna make it something that is accessible to them.


Craig Zimmer (22:24):
What resources can I use? You know, is there a great YouTube video and somebody will get to you because you know, great teachers have these things at their fingertip. I, if somebody said, do you have a great Ted talk on body image, I’m like, boom, right away, I’ve got one. I can send you the link or, you know, the importance of history. You know, I, I’ve got one. And, and I think that’s one thing that, that you need to do. I think you start first at the school, you know, you collaborate with your coworkers, you education is something that you need to put ego aside and recognize that you are only better if, if you you’re working with others. So start that network, you know, first of all, in your school, grow it out to your school board because the, then you have the idea what their vision is that you’re working towards and you can conform to that and then go to the bigger level.


Craig Zimmer (23:18):
Then on the other side of it is get involved in things outside of education. You know, it’s, it’s amazing the people who you will come into contact with who aren’t part of this field, you know, who have different life experiences and have a different point of view than you. And, and you can bring that into your classroom. You know, experience is, is the best teacher. You know, it’s, it’s not about necessarily the content that you’re, you’re teaching it’s about the experiences that, that you can show students. This is what makes education valuable. Your, your experiences in life will be the things that you can use, you know, to grow. You know, as a history teacher, I always tell the kids, you know, remember every day you’re making history, your own history and that’s the most important one. So yeah, getting involved with different groups, just, you know, the planning, the, the TEDx conferences, and I know you’ve spoken at a few TEDxs so, you know, what they, the involvement of that is I have met hundreds of amazing people from outside of education who have given their time and, and I’ve just chatted with in helping them build their talks.


Craig Zimmer (24:30):
And it’s blown my mind, you know, the stuff that I realized I didn’t know about. And in putting those conferences together, you know, I didn’t bring history people in, you know, I tried to bring in diverse speakers. I’ve had everything from like parallel universes to sustainable cities of the future to you know, a former teacher who became an actress who left teaching to follow her dreams. Kate Drummond, her talk is amazing. Eddie Robinson, who’s an indigenous leader. You know, he, he and I had some amazing talks, Jim ZBB, who writes the Avengers from marble, you know, just to name a few every single one of those speakers, the conversations I had with them opened my mind in a new way. And that, that’s why I did the Ted conferences too, because I wanted students to experience something that they’re not gonna necessarily get in the classroom.


Craig Zimmer (25:23):
You know, we have prescribed curriculums and as teachers, you know, we also have timelines. And so often these ideas, which are on the fringes of what we’re teaching, don’t get a chance to get into the class. Mm. So that, that’s, that’s why I thought let’s expose students to something new, something that they’re gonna see when they get to post secondary. You know, let’s give ’em a little preview of what’s at, out there. And hopefully that, that opens their eyes to, you know, get involved in their community. I know you, you know, you got involved in your community and you started cleaning up you know, along the lake Ontario. And that made a difference cuz you, you inspired others to open their eyes, to see, you know, we have to be caretakers of this planet and you know, you can’t just sit back and say, someone else will do it cuz somebody won’t, you eventually have to say, you know, who’s gonna do this me, you know, and, and see, you know, you’re a perfect example of a person who through the teachers exposing you to new ideas and you know, and I’m, I’m assuming it’s Mr.


Craig Zimmer (26:26):
Loud foot. It is teaching you that, you know, it’s not just about learning from a book it’s about getting out there and learning from life and doing something to make a difference. You know, you became who you are now and you’re continuing to grow and go on that journey and it’s gonna take you somewhere. So yeah. Experience is the best thing. Cause I know my experience got me to where I am right now.


Sam Demma (26:46):
That’s awesome. There’s a, a, a book as well titled what got you here? Won’t get you there. And it’s a reminder to myself. I look at it as a reminder every day that be a student, you know, be a student, be a student. And that’s why I think these collaborate, the collaborations, these group chats, these think tanks with other educators and other people who have different perspectives is so important because a new perspective is like a new sun, a new pair of glasses that allows you to see the world in a different way. And for sure, that’s why I love Ted X and Ted events as well. I’ll have to ask you to send over some of your favorite. It talks and I’ll put them in the resource section of this article and the episode goes alive.


Craig Zimmer (27:27):
Yeah, no for sure. You know, and I try to watch, you know, new talks all the time, but nice. I go back to the old favorites cuz they they’re ones that, that constantly remind me what brought me to where I am. And sometimes that message changes as you get a older too. Mm you know, I know I’m a different teacher than I was five years ago, 10 years ago, 24 years ago. Yeah. And it’s, it’s okay to go back and revisit the old stuff. Because you can learn from it. It’s it’s I have fresh eyes now that 26 year old me didn’t have, but 48 year old me does. Hmm. You know, so it’s, it’s, it’s revisiting again, your own history that I think is important.


Sam Demma (28:11):
I, I love that idea of writing your own history every day. That’s a cool reminder. When, when you think about all the experience you’ve had, and maybe this will be echoing, some of the things you’ve already shared, when you think of about all the experience you’ve had, if you could bundle it up, walk back into the first classroom you ever taught 24 years ago, tap yourself on the shoulder and say, Mr. Zimmer, or back then maybe you didn’t have the alter ego. So you would’ve said Craig here’s what you needed to know. Or here’s what I wish you would’ve heard when you just started. What would you have shared


Craig Zimmer (28:45):
Breathe?


Sam Demma (28:47):
Mm


Craig Zimmer (28:47):
Breathe. You know, the, the first years as a teacher, you feel like you’ve got the weight of the world on your shoulders. You feel that, you know, somebody is going to come in at any moment and say, you know what? We made a mistake. You shouldn’t be here. Mm. You can’t change everybody. You can’t do it all. You, you can’t be that teacher. Who’s got 20 years of experience in, you know, so many young teachers and I was there too spend all day and all night just working and it takes the joy out of it, you know, enjoy those moments and breathe. Just take it in, you know, because everything comes once that class in front of you, they will never all be in front of you again. So enjoy that moment to have those kids. You know, some of them, you will get lucky and, and you might teach ’em two, three times, but some of them that’ll be your only chance to, to get to them.


Craig Zimmer (29:53):
So just take it in, enjoy each moment for what it is. Don’t take it all so seriously. It doesn’t all have to get done and, and don’t worry, don’t worry so much, you know new teachers spent a lot of time worry, am I hitting the curriculum? Am I contacting parents enough? Am I doing all the paperwork? Am I, you know, doting the eyes and crossing the Ts am and they end up missing these great moments. And I, I, I, I’ve missed so many great moments because I didn’t take the time to stop and enjoy them. And maybe that’s a little bit of retrospective now because you know, in eight years I get to retire. And you know, the other side of where I am now is I’m like, you know, I’m teaching these courses and it’s like, this might be the last time I teach about Vimy Ridge or this might, you know, I might only have get, get the course where I teach modern history.


Craig Zimmer (30:54):
I might only do the Renaissance lecture five more times and, and, you know, just be in that moment and enjoy it because despite the politics, despite, you know, the negativity that sometimes goes out there for educators in the public, this is the greatest job in the world. Mm. This is a job where I get to interact with so many different people every day. You know, over the years, I’ve taught thousands of kids. And it blows my mind to think about that. That I I’ve, I’ve had thousands of people in front of me and I get the privilege and the opportunity of meeting these people and hopefully inspiring them in some way to look at history differently. I’m so privileged that I, I get to come up here, tell the stories I love, and you know, what other job is gonna pay me to share the history that I love to share the stories that make our country, what it is to see the, the look on, on kids’ faces when they, they hear these stories and be like, that is, oh, cool.


Craig Zimmer (32:06):
Or I didn’t know that there’s no other job that gives me that opportunity, you know? And there’s no other job that allows you to, to kind of pass that passion on to so many. We, we ha other jobs. I know they have a reach where they can do it, but, you know, I, I, I get to say to them, have you ever heard of this, or, oh, let me tell you this story. And it’s, it’s just so cool. Like, I, I have try to have so much fun up here because it is a fun job. You know, Jack Selo told me right at the beginning, he’s like the one thing you gotta remember this with this job is there’s all that noise outside the negativity, the government, you know, the, the, the haters, it’s like, you close your door and that’s your world. And you, you get to play in your playground and he’s so right.


Craig Zimmer (33:11):
You know, and I’m so lucky that I’ve gotten to do this and, you know, and the people I’ve met, you know, I, I’m friends with a lot of former students on social media and you know, unsolicited, they, they send messages saying, you know, Hey, thanks to you. I’m in law school. I’m like, nah, it’s all you, you, you did it. I just, I’m just the guy up there at the front. Who’s telling his goofy stories. You know, but it’s nice to hear that. And it’s, it’s nice to, to see what’s become of them. And, you know, it was, it was talking to one of my former teachers, well, Beth Hawkins, who I mentioned, you know, I, she retired a couple years ago and I sent her a note and I’m like, thank you. And I, I like much like I did with Joe.


Craig Zimmer (33:57):
You know, I told her what she gave to me. And it really kind of dawned on me that, you know, another part of the responsibility I have as a teacher is I have to keep her legacy going and Joe’s legacy going. You know, I am part of their legacy and the job they did, I need to pass on. You know, we as educators, we’re part of have this bigger story of the educators who came before us, and we have a responsibility to shape and mold the educators who come after us, you know that responsibility is, is so important. So I have to try to get kids to love a subject that a lot of them in great, 10 they’re forced to take. So yeah, I’d, I’d go back and, and tell, ’em just breathe. Don’t take everything so seriously, just enjoy these moments more because they will be gone. You will only be a new teacher for so long. And, and that’s that, I think it’s a lesson for life, you know, just, we should all take a moment and just soak it in. You know, don’t, don’t just live, be alive in the which


Sam Demma (35:04):
Mm that’s such good advice. I appreciate you expanding on it and sharing why and how it’s affected, you know, your teaching and the way you approach your work. This has been such a awesome conversation. Time has flown by. It’s almost been 50 minutes.


Craig Zimmer (35:17):
Wow. Already,


Sam Demma (35:19):
If, if someone is wanting to reach out, ask you a question, a conversation, what would be the best way for them to get in touch?


Craig Zimmer (35:27):
I’m I’m on Twitter, that that’s probably the, the best way to be in touch. You can find me at @dropthedott. So it’s it’s cuz that that’s kind of a reference to my Ted stuff. Cause you always stand on that dot on Twitter. That’s, that’s really the quickest way to, to get me. That’s kind of the educational side of things that count there.


Sam Demma (35:48):
Awesome. All right, Craig or Mr. Zimmer depending on what mindset you in right now,


Craig Zimmer (35:54):
You know what I’ve wanted to call you Sam’s for so long too, because that’s when you were here, that’s what everyone calls you, you know? Yeah. But I’m like, no, he’s a grownup now you gotta call him Sam. You know,


Sam Demma (36:04):
That’s so funny. Well, thank you so much for coming on the show. Thanks for


Craig Zimmer (36:08):
Having, you know, and I just wanna say before I go you know, we here at St Mary’s so proud of who you’ve become, you know, I I’ve followed along when you, you kind of started off here getting active in the community and, and doing your cleanup and, and stuff. And you know, I, I, I was just amazed to see, see you doing that. And the fact that you were able to motivate so many other kids to join you and you know, you, you’re becoming a, a positive act of change in this world world, you know, you’re, you’re somebody who’s trying to make a difference. And, and you know, that’s the best gift you can give to guys like Mike, Mike, loud foot, you know, being that, that change being that message, the living message that he’s tried to instill in you. So keep it up, man. You’re, you know, you, you’re sending a positive message out there be be that and inspire others to be that message. So we’re all very proud of you here.


Sam Demma (37:02):
Ah, thank you, man. It means the world to me. And yeah, I, I reflect back on my experience at high school all the time. And I’m so grateful that I was able to go through St. Mary. I think it really shaped me into the person I am today. Not only Mike, but all my teachers and even the teachers I didn’t have because you would’ve told Mike things that informed the way he taught. So everyone has an impact on each other. Hey, it’s Sam again. I hope you enjoy 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. 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 Craig Zimmer

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.

Doug Primrose – Leadership Teacher & President of President of BC Association of Student Activity Advisors

Doug Primrose – Leadership Teacher & President of President of BC Association of Student Activity Advisors
About Doug Primrose

Doug Primrose (@djprimrose) is currently in his 23rd year of teaching. He has been at Yale Secondary for the last 15 years, and teaches Student Leadership and Law 12. He was Chair of the BC Student Leadership Conference in 2015, and Co-Chair of the Canadian Student Leadership Conference in 2019.

Currently, Doug serves as the President of the BC Association of Student Activity Advisors.  In his spare time, he coaches rugby at Yale Secondary and the Women’s team for Abbotsford Rugby Club.  In 2020 he was nominated for the Abbotsford Hall of Fame in Coaching Category. 

Connect with Doug: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Yale Secondary School Website

BC Association of Student Activity Advisors

Canadian Student Leadership Association (CSLA)

Canadian Student Leadership Conference (CSLC)

Abbotsford Rugby Club

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s guest is Doug Primrose. He is currently in his 23rd year of teaching. He’s been at Yale Secondary for the past 15 years and taught student leadership and law 12. He was previously the chair of the BC Student Leadership Conference in 2015, the co-chair of the Canadian Student Leadership conference in 2019, currently the President of the BC Association of Student activities and Advisors, and he also coaches rugby at Yale secondary and the women’s team for Abbotsford rugby club.


Sam Demma (01:15):
He’s actually selected in, in 2020 for the Abbotsford hall of fame in the coaching category. Doug has a wealth of knowledge to share when it comes to student leadership and coaching, and I’m so excited to give you some of that knowledge today in this episode. So enjoy, and I will see you on the other side. Doug, 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 of context behind how you ended up doing the work you do today in education?


Doug Primrose (01:47):
Yeah, so I went to high school here and grew up in in Abbotsford BC and I’m a teacher here at Yale secondary School, and I actually graduated from the same school here that I, that I teach at. So I was at a few other schools in between, but yeah, so growing up, I didn’t have any intentions of being a teacher at all. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I think like a lot of kids, they kind of graduate and not really quite sure and just try to get the feel of things. So, so I traveled for a few years and then kind of got back into it, worked a few different jobs and got back into it by helping one of my mentors; when I was a kid, a teacher who had a big influence on me and I started helping him coach rugby. So I really enjoyed it and he, he kind of said, you know, why don’t you go through and be a teacher since you seem to enjoy it and that’s kind of what I did. So I started a little bit later than in most, I guess, but glad I did.


Sam Demma (02:44):
That’s amazing. Take me back. You said, right when you finished high school, you traveled for a few years. What, tell me more about that. Where did you trave; like where did you go?


Doug Primrose (02:54):
Not all at once, but just yeah, different trips. So I’d work for, you know, a while. And then I take off and go backpack for like four months, like, you know, around Europe and nice and places like that. And, you know, went down to the states a little bit. And so just kind of did that where I work and then travel and work and then travel and, you know, with some friends and, and then, and things like that. So, and then probably right around 22 or so, I started working more full-time and then going to night school. Nice. Just to start chipping away at some classes. And before going back to school, full-time to be a teacher


Sam Demma (03:31):
And the teacher who you helped coach. Tell me more about that person, where, where you said they had a big impact on you. Like, what do you think they did specifically that, that made a big impression on you? Like why were you drawn to that one individual?


Doug Primrose (03:46):
Well, I think a couple things, one is he just always had time for us as, as students and you know, we, we saw how much work he put in and, and we saw how much he cared about us and, you know, we, we could see that as kids and you know, he was my rugby coach, but also my PE teacher. And and he had a lot of patience there’s times when we I’m sure let him down as kids. And but he, you know, got us to learn from it and and never, never really kind of gave up on us and, and, and kept, kept working with us. So, like I said, I wasn’t really too sure what I was gonna do after high school, because I was you know, I wasn’t the best student. So I really university to me wasn’t even something that was entering my mind, but he, he encouraged me and said, this is, you could definitely do it and just put your mind to it. And so, yeah, he was just one of those guys that, you know, all the students really liked a lot because of how involved he was in our kind of school culture.


Sam Demma (04:48):
Ah, that’s amazing. I I’m just, I wanna zero in on him a little more just for a second if that’s okay. Because I feel like, you know, the people in our lives that have a big impact on us, like we can learn from them as well, you know? Like so when you say, you know, he always made time for the students, what did that look like? Was it just setting aside time to have conversations? Like what did that look like back when you were in, in, in his school?


Doug Primrose (05:10):
Yeah, for sure. And time for conversations somebody could go, go to if you had any kind of issues and he would always have the time for you. Just the amount of work he put in as you extracurricular activities you know, through coaching and somebody who was just always involved. And and he didn’t, he was one of those teachers back in the day when you know, there’s all these different types of groups in the school, like social groups and, and every, everyone just really liked him. Like he really crossed all different groups there. It wasn’t just the sports guys who liked him or, or this it’s just every, every, he just had time for everybody. And you know, I think we just really, you know, were drawn to that and just just the amount that he cared for for students and, and always wanted to try and go an extra mile to, to help them out and understood also that sometimes students aren’t at their best during certain times, and there’s growth there’s growth moments, and he would take the time to help you through these things and not quickly just judge you and, and kind of write you off, you know?


Sam Demma (06:18):
Yeah. No, it’s so important to make sure that someone feels seen and heard. Right. And then listen to what they’re saying. Yeah. Take me back to when you were, you know, 22, 23 and you know, you come back from traveling and working full time and you get this opportunity to coach the rugby team. Like how did, how did that all come about? Did he approach you? You are, are,


Doug Primrose (06:38):
Yeah, so he, he did approach me. He you know, it’s always nice to have extra help when you’re coaching teams and you know, I would always come back and visit him after high school. Like when I was back in town or I had some time I’d come by school and, and then he, he’s just said, Hey, you know, I’m on my own this year. Coaching, coaching rugby, and could really use some help. So if you got some time it’d be great if you could just come by and, and gimme a hand. And, you know, I was a little bit more mature then at, at, you know, 22 or so. So there’s enough gap between me and the students as far as getting them to, to listen to me and stuff. So, so he had me come back and I just helped them out. And then I just carried on from there and help them out pretty much every year from there on out until I started teaching myself,


Sam Demma (07:23):
I know sports was also a big part of your own personal life, you know, playing rugby and yeah. And, and, and sport world. Do you find a correlation between coaching and teaching and do you think there’s some skills you’d learn from coaching teams that apply in the classroom? And I’m just curious if there’s, like you think there are some intersections between being a teacher and, you know, being a coach.


Doug Primrose (07:41):
Yeah. I think for sure you know, just preparation for one thing to to, to prepare students for a game or to prepare, prepare students for, for different things in your classroom. So making sure you’re prepared the relationship component you know, really get, and to know your students and getting to know your players. Mm. You know, the, the saying is, as a good coach has to make sure they understand how each player is motivated and treat them all kind of differently. Right. Yeah. And depending on their personality, well, it’s similar in the classroom. You gotta kind of get to really know your students and, and kind of what works for them and what doesn’t. And so I think there’s definitely some correlation there. And then I think also just that I think I came into teaching with a lot more confidence because of the experience in talking in front of big groups and, and you know, getting kids attention and things like that. So I think it definitely helped me with all the experience I had outside of the classroom, in the, a coaching world before I became a teacher. I think if I would’ve gone in straight outta high school, without that experience ahead of time for me, I don’t think I would’ve been as successful at it, at least not at the beginning.


Sam Demma (08:52):
Yeah. No, it makes a lot of sense. That’s yeah. That relates to my experiences with sport. And I can say that I, I think sports add so much and whether it’s playing in a physical sport or just engaging in any hobby, you know, playing music or doing something you know, besides the classroom work, I think it really adds to your, your character and your reputation, you know, building skills and move being on past high school. Yeah. Which is awesome. Your own educational journey. So, you know, you, you start coaching with this teacher you’re doing night school classes. Yep. At what point did you start teaching and bring me back to that first year, what did that experience feel like?


Doug Primrose (09:32):
Yeah, so I eventually did my, you come sorry, somebody’s just coming through that’s okay. I eventually did my practicum and then I I did it here at the school at Yale, and then went into my first year I was doing I actually worked in a severe behavior program. They called it, got it. So that was a program for students that weren’t available or weren’t allowed to go into any other school in the, in the city. So these were kids that had a lot of different needs. So you know, were, there was a lot of the kids had some real substance abuse issues and some real family problems and things like that. So I spent my first three years there and that was really great experience especially kind of being in my first, first job.


Doug Primrose (10:20):
I had a guy who I worked with was who had some experience that you know, also really helped me out a lot as a first year teacher and kind of showed me the ropes that way. And you know, going to see what some of these kids were going through. I think really kind of helped me throughout my rest of my career, putting things into perspective and understanding that you know, there’s, these kids come to school and some of them have a lot of things going on in their life that that we just don’t know about. Right. Yeah. So that was my first experience. And yeah, it was great. It was the school, I would’ve probably stayed in there, but the school ended up going, turning into a middle school. Mm. So it went down to grade six, so they, they moved the program somewhere else. So


Sam Demma (11:02):
Got it.


Doug Primrose (11:02):
Then I went into to another school Robert Bateman, secondary, and I was there for five years and, and taught some law and social studies and and it was great, great experience as well. And then I’ve been at Yale here now for, I don’t know, I think it’s like my 15th year or so. Now’s here student leadership that’s and student leadership in law 12.


Sam Demma (11:26):
Nice. Yeah. That’s amazing. And yeah, you know, thinking back to that first year, you intrigued me when you started talking about the different things that students ha can have going on in their lives that, you know, as educators, you might not even know about out of all the students you met over those three years, was there any transformational stories, you know, of a student, you know, really struggling and then getting to a, a more positive place? And the reason I ask is because I think at the core of, you know, an educator’s passion for teaching is the ability to positively impact a young person, right? It’s you have this ability not to, you know, change a student’s life, but to plant a little seed in them that they might water themselves, you know, three, four years from now, and you can have a huge impact. So were there any stories of transformation? It might remind another educator are listening, why this stuff is so important, why teaching is so important, and if it’s a very personal story or like very serious, you know, feel free to change their name or use a random name just to keep their identity in.


Doug Primrose (12:25):
Yeah, we had a, we had a few actually you know, just a quick one that comes to mind is does Derek, he I, the way we got him into our program was we have a, we had this thing called the Husky five back in the day, and it was a five kilometer run that the whole school would do. I think some students probably do like a Terry Fox run or milk run or things like that. So we had the Husky five, and then when you finish the finish line, they had a table there and they would hand you a freezy when you finish on. Well, all of a sudden this kid comes ripping through, on his bicycle and grabs a handful of freezes and just starts pedaling. So we kind of you know, chased the kid down a bit and, and, and said to him, Hey, you know, would you go to this school?


Doug Primrose (13:07):
And he’s like, no, I don’t go to school. I’m, I’m not allowed to go to school. And so then we started talking to him a little bit and found out that this kid had gone to school in like three years. And he was I think grade probably about grade eight age. And the reason why he wasn’t going to school at the time, was he the only way he could get there by taxi. And I guess he assaulted the taxi drivers multiple times. So they refused to drive him anymore. So we ended up figure things out with social workers and things like that. And we got him in there. And I think just with the right structure, the way the program was for him he did fantastic. And he, he ended up starting where he would only come and see us once a week.


Doug Primrose (13:49):
And then he went to half days, and then he went to full-time where he was also in some other classes like PE and our, and things like that. And anyways, we would have the kids up until they were about 15 or 16, and then they would carry on to the other school after us. And about two years later, he sent me well, he phoned me, phoned me in my classroom when I was working at Bateman. And and let me know that he was graduating tonight and just wanted thank us for, you know, getting him back in school. And yeah, so he, and he’s done quite well. He’s actually a, a DJ now. And I keep in touch, keep in touch with him through social media. And we’ve got a few of those now where I’m still in touch with him, thanks to social media and you know, the kid there’s some now are, have kids of their own and you know, have good jobs and, and are doing quite well. So I think that that grade eight to 10 period in their life was real tough for them. And they could kind of go one way or the other there. And some of them definitely chose the wrong path, but some others we were able to really help out and get them through that hard part when they just needed to mature a little bit more to get them through the next chapter of their life. So, yeah,


Sam Demma (15:06):
That’s an amazing story. I’m, I’m sure the, the emotions come bring true. And you feel ’em again, when you talk about it, probably it’s a, yeah, it’s a cool, it’s a cool example. And it’s, you know, it’s one of millions of, of stories that educators share with me every time I chat with them. And I think what’s really cool to think about is, you know, these are the stories that we know of, but there’s so many more that, you know, they never tell you the impact you made. And it’s there though, right? It’s still, it’s still real and it’s still there. You just might not hear about it.


Doug Primrose (15:36):
Yeah, we, and we had a very supportive school. It was atmosphere junior. It was called at the time. And, you know, it was it was very supportive you know, administration, which is important. And they really wanted to see these kids succeed as well. We had another student he started playing rugby and we ended up going on a tour to UK. So we went over to England and Wales and did a rugby tour. And there was absolutely no way that this one student who was in our program could ever afford to do anything like that. So the school was able to help him out and he was able to go on this rugby tour for two weeks and we were billed over there and he was bill with families. And you know, the, for a chance for this kid, who’s probably barely been outta Abbotsford to all of a sudden going on a trip overseas to, to London and Cardiff and all these great places. And the billet families had the nicest things to say about the way he, you know, his behavior and his politeness and, and everything. So it’s just nice to be able to see, you know, those kids get those opportunities that, and he probably has never been anywhere since. Right. Yeah. So that was just a big, cool experience. And the school was really able to help him out to be able to do that trip. And you know, it’s, it’s, I think that’s just so important for, for some life changing type things.


Sam Demma (17:00):
And, you know, when we’re thinking about students in the classroom as well how do we make them feel seen, heard, and appreciated? Like what can we do as educators to make sure that they feel like they’re a part of the classroom can community? Is it, yeah, I’m just curious. What are your thoughts?


Doug Primrose (17:17):
Well, I think the biggest thing is, is a relationship. And that’s what I always tell, like student teachers that work with me is the, they can teach you all the different tools in in your university classes about classroom management and seating plans and all these different things. But the number one that for classroom management and is just building your relationship with your students, cuz when the students respect you and like you and enjoy being there, then then there tend to be a lot better behaved and they seem to be more engaged. So I think the big thing is relationship and I, one of the thing I always try and one thing I always tell student teachers is try to make sure, you know, one thing about every student in your class. So whether or not I know that this student he plays baseball this student she does dance every night this student you know, they have sibling that I had two years ago and blah, blah, blah.


Doug Primrose (18:12):
So, so I just try to make sure I know something about them. So when they come in you know, I can say, you know, Hey, how how’s it going? Did you guys have a baseball game last night? And that’s all of a sudden you have that conversation. And I think that’s just really important to try and make sure to know them and then they, they appreciate that, I think as well, that relationship part. So, and then if they do have some issues, then they might be more inclined to open up a little bit more if they have that relationship with you.


Sam Demma (18:42):
Yeah. There’s, there’s a gentleman named Jeff Gerber. You probably know him. He’s like, you know, I know Jeff. Yep. He always says the biggest ship. I think the biggest ship in leadership is a relationship. Yeah. And I think it’s so true, you know, it’s, it’s so true. But on that topic of leadership, I know a couple years ago, you know, you guys hosted the Canadian student leadership conference billed, you know, close to a thousand students from different, you know, areas, what was that experience to like doing that and hosting it and you know, bring me back to that moment.


Doug Primrose (19:16):
Yeah. It was amazing. It, obviously it was a ton of work and some stressful times, but it was absolutely an amazing experience. So the planning starts about two years ahead of time. So we put the it in for, for us to be able to host it and we hosted it here at Yale secondary, but it was a school district hosting. So it was the Abbotsford school district that was the host committee. So we had students from all the different high schools in Abbotsford bepi leaders. And then we had teachers from all the different high schools help out as well. Administrators, teachers, EA everybody kind of chipped in. But yeah, it was a huge undertaking. But the week that we put it on, it went really smooth lots of good preparation. And the biggest thing was our team.


Doug Primrose (20:07):
We had an amazing team of, of staff that volunteered tiered their time to put this conference on and, and volunteered many, many hours. You know, if you think like we had, you know, one person, his job was in charge of building, finding bill at homes for 750 students. You know, we had another person, her job was to put a committee together to, to feed a thousand people every single day and a, a in a quickly manner. You know, we had a sponsorship committee who they went out and found sponsorships and it was mostly you know, it was retired teacher or retired principals some, also some people from the community and they just all jumped in and, and really took on and did a great job. So we had just an amazing team. And that’s what I really learned was, you know, there’s no way we could have done this without the support from everybody who who chip in and, and so much of their own time away from, from school.


Doug Primrose (21:07):
But I think one of the reasons everyone was so happy to volunteer was they just saw the value of it and what it, what it did for kids and the memories that these kids would have would be a lifetime a memory of this conference that they helped put on. So I think it was just a real, like I’ve had some of the teachers who’ve taught for over 20 years, to me, that that was the, the most, you know, enjoyable and the most satisfying thing they’ve ever done as a teacher was being part of that conference and the putting it together. So, yeah, it was it was great. Unfortunately, it was the last one because until, until they start up again. But it hasn’t been one since because of the co with stuff, but


Sam Demma (21:48):
Hopefully soon, hopefully I’ll see you at one of them.


Doug Primrose (21:51):
Yeah. They’re gonna, they’re gonna be doing an online one I believe in September. Okay. And then they’re hoping for 20, 22 to go back to, to live


Sam Demma (22:00):
Nice. Oh, that’s awesome. Very cool. And you know, the current situation you alluded to it with COVID is it’s been pretty challenging and, you know, you think are some of the challenges schools are facing and maybe some of the challenges that even your school has faced since the, the whole thing unfolded in March.


Doug Primrose (22:18):
Yeah, it has definitely been challenging. And I think us leadership teachers even have a bit of an extra challenge because you’re, you’re really trying to maintain school culture and maintain that positivity around the building. And it’s very difficult to do when a lot of your functions are getting canceled and grad is getting canceled and, you know, it’s tough to kind of keep these kids positive and motivated and still wanting to do things. It’s you know, I have my grade 12 class going on right now in my grade 12 lead class and, and you know, you’re here talking about, okay, what can we do to, to do some CU, some culture events to have some fun. And then they find out that day that their prom just got canceled. Right? Yeah. So it’s, it’s very difficult. But you know, the students, they persevere and they handle it quite well.


Doug Primrose (23:10):
They, they carry on and, and hats off to them. As far as challenge in our school, it’s just, you know, I know every province is different, but with us in BC right now, we’re not allowed to mix at all. So you have to stay in your own class, which is your cohort. We have a three hour class in the morning and then nothing in the afternoon, so we don’t have a lunch hour. So we can’t do any events during that time. So we’re like for an example, right now we’re planning a pep rally for Thursday. Obviously, you know, our school’s quite well known for its pep rallies and how crazy they are, but this one’s obviously gonna be a lot different. So we’re doing some, some virtual stuff, some games that we can do virtually in their cohorts and put some videos together, some fun videos and, and that, so we’re still trying, and we’re trying to make things go.


Doug Primrose (23:59):
We, we always have a big singing competition here every spring. It’s called all, and we’re still gonna try and do that. We’re just gonna have to do it different. And that’s kind of our saying this year is we’re still gonna do it and we’re just gonna do it different, love it. And but one thing that we have done, I think a good job of this year is we’ve, we’ve done some really good things in the community. And that’s one of the things that the students have done a little bit more of is, is just reaching out to the community. And one thing that we did, which was pretty cool is they, they applied for these grants that the city of Abbotsford and the community foundation put together for COVID. And how can you make people in the community?


Doug Primrose (24:44):
Basically how, how can you engage with them during COVID time and communicate with them? So my students applied for these different grants and they all got approved and they, they started doing pretty cool things like one group. They put together these little care packages for kindergarten students where they get a t-shirt and some decorating things, decorated shirt. And so they gave those to all those students. They took you know, some care baskets down to ambulance drivers, fire police, all the first responders and did that. So they did some things for our, we have a, a teen kind of outreach type program here in Abbotsford. And they put together like little toilet tree bags and stuff to give to the student the kids in the community that might need those. And, and we’ve got out and done a lot of different things at the parks and cleaning up and just outdoor activities and stuff like that.


Doug Primrose (25:42):
So we we’ve been finding some pretty meaningful things to do. And, and I think part of that too, is like with me, one of my things with teaching leadership is I, I really want the kids to come up with their stuff and I really want them to be the ones to do it, and they take ownership over it because when it, when it works out, which it, you know, usually does the the, the, they feel so much more gratifying to them because they’re the ones who really put this together. So when they applied for those grants and they all got approved you know, they were pretty excited cuz they’re the ones who did all the work to put that grant together. It wasn’t me. Yeah. you know, when they go and deliver stuff to the Abbotsford police and Abbotsford, police puts a thing on their Instagram, thanking the Yale leadership students for, for what they did, you know, you can just see that they feel so great about about that because they’re the ones that did it. It wasn’t just me doing it and telling them to do it. They came up with it all. And I think that’s one of the important things when you’re talking about you relationships and stuff is let you know, let the kids are pretty good at at coming up with some great ideas. They’re better than I am during COVID coming up with ideas. So we get them to, so,


Sam Demma (26:55):
Ah, that’s awesome. And I feel like when you give someone more responsibility, they, they feel more part of the group or community, right. Yeah. If they feel useless or like they’re not doing anything, they might not feel like contributing or, you know, using their creative ideas. So I think it’s a, I think it’s a great thing to do. If you could take


Doug Primrose (27:13):
And, and that’s sorry, that’s a, that’s a big part of our program is the community part. So we talk about like pep rallies and stuff like that, but even a non COVID year, we do a lot of community stuff and I think that’s really important. They, they enjoy that just as much as they enjoy the, or maybe even more the stuff that we do in school. Because they don’t think they, a lot of times kids want to do things and they want help and they wanted that, but they just don’t know how to go about doing it. Yeah. So you just kinda steer ’em in that direction and then they get into it. Now, the other great thing is, is when students graduate from here I still see them doing things in the community, volunteering, putting together nonprofits into their adulthood, which is pretty, pretty great because that’s something that they did here at the school that they’ve carried on. And


Sam Demma (27:58):
Yeah, it was like a launchpad here.


Doug Primrose (28:02):
Yeah. Yeah. It’s great.


Sam Demma (28:03):
And if you could take me back to year one year one, Doug, and speak to your younger self with all the wisdom and knowledge you have. Now, what advice would you give yourself? If you could have that conversation?


Doug Primrose (28:16):
Oh man. I, I think my, my problem was when I went through school and stuff, I, I don’t think I really had the confidence. And you know, it wasn’t, I think school was just so different back when I went there wasn’t as many opportunities and you know, like I think like if I had a class like my leadership class or other leadership classes that are out there in the, at all these different schools I think it would’ve been really good for me cuz it would’ve kind of got me to come outta my shell a little bit and have a little bit about more confidence. You know, a lot of the things I did when I was a kid I didn’t do things in class because I was just, you know, worried about maybe what people would think of me or maybe I just felt like I wasn’t gonna do a good enough, so I just didn’t do it at all. Right. so my advice to me would be like, get involved, get more involved in, in school activities and more involved in extracurricular activities other than just play a sport. And, and yeah, just have that confidence to kind of put yourself out there a little bit and move more.


Sam Demma (29:27):
That’s great advice. I, I feel like I’d give myself the same advice as a student. If I could go back cuz I, you know, like yourself, I only played soccer. You know, I was wanted to be a pro soccer player. I didn’t get involved in student leadership, student council, no extracurriculars. The only thing I did was play on the school soccer team and you know, play soccer outside of school and it, if it didn’t relate to soccer directly, I didn’t do it. And I feel like it limited me slightly. And so I think your advice ring shoe, not only for, you know, younger Doug as a teacher, but also, you know,


Doug Primrose (29:56):
Oh, sorry. I thought you meant me as a student.


Sam Demma (29:58):
No, that’s okay. I


Doug Primrose (30:00):
Was sorry. I was one back to my younger Doug as a student younger Doug as a teacher. Yeah, I, I, the thing is, is my first, my first job I was telling you about yeah. Was just so different, different, it was not really like a teaching type job. It was more like a management type job where you’re managing all these different kids and got it. You’re dealing with, you’re dealing with social workers and, and outside agencies and, you know, like the actual teaching part was was not you know, a whole lot. It was more just kind of you know, building those relationships with those kids and things like that. So I think that would be a big part of it. You know, get work on those relationships a, a bit more like right from the start. I think I learned that from the teacher I worked with he did a really good job of building relationships with those kids.


Doug Primrose (30:51):
Nice. I think also I think I, it took me quite a while to get involved in a lot of the extracurricular stuff. Like I did coach rugby. Yep. But I didn’t, I wasn’t involved in a whole a bunch of other different things that were going on in the school in my first few years. So I think get involved a bit more, but yeah, sorry. I thought you meant when I was in high school there, but because I definitely didn’t get involved in much when I was in school. And if I think I could do it again, I think I would try to be more involved in the activities that are going on in the building.


Sam Demma (31:21):
You and I both. I, I appreciate you sharing it. It doesn’t hurt to get advice from both perspectives so I appreciate you sharing both. Well, this has been a great conversation. If, if someone is interested in reaching out to you and chatting more, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?


Doug Primrose (31:37):
Yeah, they could just you know, send me an email or it’s on our school website; Yale Secondary School in Abbotsford. Awesome. but yeah, it’s it’d be great. It’s one of the great things about our leadership community that I’m in here is that we all just you know, from right across the country, we all kind of know each other and talk to each other, and get different ideas and, and bounce ideas off each other. And especially for those new leadership teachers or new teachers in general for them, don’t don’t hesitate to, to reach out to some of the people that have been doing it for a while, and we’re always willing to help out and do what we can. And, and I tell you, I, I learn so many, every time I go to these leadership conferences, I learn so many ideas from the from the new teachers. Because they got a whole different kind of perspective, and especially with COVID now I’ve learned a whole bunch of new technology things that that I, I, I couldn’t do before. So apparently you can teach old dogs new tricks.


Sam Demma (32:38):
Hey, don’t call yourself old yet. Awesome. Doug, thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it. Keep up the awesome work and we’ll stay in touch.


Doug Primrose (32:48):
All right. Thank you very much.


Sam Demma (32:49):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show; f you want meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Doug Primrose

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.

Jason Schilling – President of the Alberta Teachers Association

Jason Schilling – President of the Alberta Teachers Association
About Jason Schilling

Jason Schilling (@schill_dawg) was elected president in 2019 following two years of service as vice-president and more than eight years of service as district representative for South West. Prior to his election as President of the ATA, Schilling taught English and drama teacher at Kate Andrews High School, in Coaldale, where he worked for 17 years.

Schilling is a proud graduate of the University of Lethbridge. Schilling’s assignments as president include chairing the CTF (Canadian Teachers’ Federation) Committee, serving
as a member of the Strategic Planning Group and the Teacher Salary Qualifications Board, and acting as Provincial Executive Council liaison to the English Language Arts Council. He also represents the Association on the CTF Board of Directors.

Connect with Jason: Email | Instagram | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA)

English Language Arts Council at the ATA

Kate Andrews High School School Website

Drama at the University of Lethbridge

Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF)

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 for today’s interview with Jason Schilling. He was the elected President in 2019 for the Alberta Teachers Association, following two years of service as vice president, and more than eight years of service as district representative for Southwest. Prior to his election as president of the ATA, Schilling taught english and drama at Kate Andrews High School in Coaldale, where he worked for 17 years. Schilling is a proud graduate at the University of Lethbridge, and his assignments as president include chairing the Canadian Teachers Federation Committee, serving as a member of the strategic planning group and the teachers salary qualifications, board, and acting as provincial executive council liaison to the english language arts council.


Sam Demma (01:27):
Ah, that’s a lot of words. He also represents the association on the CDF board of directors. All that aside, Jason is an awesome human being with a lot of wisdom to share. I hope you enjoy today’s episode and take something valuable away from it. I’ll see you on the other side, enjoy. Jason, welcome to 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 why you’re so passionate about the work you do in education?


Jason Schilling (01:56):
Well, thanks Sam for having me in it. I really appreciate the opportunity to be here and have a conversation with you today about the things that I love, which is education and teaching, and I’ve always found teaching to be a joy. It’s one of the things that has been a great fit for me as a profession because I, I love working with children. I love working with students and helping them in the capacity of helping them grow and learn. I teach english and drama. Those are my two main areas. I am a drama major actually, but you can’t always find a drama job so you end up teaching other things as well. But I fell into English because there’s a, there’s the way those two really marry together quite nicely and, and things like that as well.


Jason Schilling (02:38):
From the Lethbridge area, I taught around Lethbridge my entire career and it’s started off in a small school in Vulcan teaching junior high and then worked my way up into high school. Then I switched to where I was teaching before I became President at Kate Andrews in Coaldale. And when I became president of the association, I had to go on leave from my teaching job and relocate to Edmonton in order to do this work and I knew that was a factor that I’d have to do in my life, but the day that I had to leave my school was one of the hardest days of my career because I, I built these relationships up with students and colleagues and the community over 17 years; and so then when I left, it was, it was pretty hard. And I miss teaching every day, but it’s also a really good reminder of why I do the work that I do now as association President.


Sam Demma (03:30):
I love that. And if you take me back to, you know, younger Jason, not that you’re old or anything, but like, you know, Jason right before St. Art in your career as a teacher how did you know that that was the path for you? Was there educators in your life that directed you down that path because they thought you had those associated characteristics and skills or from a young age, did you just know, you know, this is what I wanna do. Like, you know, gimme more context on how you landed in this profession.


Jason Schilling (03:59):
No, that’s a great question. When I was in junior high, you know, I was that typical kind of socially awkward little weird kind of kid in junior high, right? Yeah. And so I had this really great language arts drama teacher in grade seven. And I just always thought in my mind during that point, this would be all right. That would be a cool job, you know, and, you know, she was really great. And she, she worked with us really well and I felt it was one of the first times I remember in school feeling like somebody saw me. Right. Mm. And, and, you know, I had great teachers all through school, but this was a, you know, this, I was just something about this teacher that really kind of, kind of hit that mark. And that’s always in the back of my mind, but it was interesting when I went to university, I was a marketing major.


Jason Schilling (04:47):
I was going to get into advertising. That was my, my initial plan. And I remember, you know, university left bridges where I got my undergrad degree. It’s a liberal arts university. So you have to take all of these other subjects within the list requirements as they like to detail of them. So I ended up taking drama, which I never taken drama before. I was too shy. I was too chicken to do it as a junior high kid, no way would that ever happen. And I just remember my prop, I had there just said to me, he goes, this economics marketing thing that you’re doing, doesn’t sit you on you. Well, it doesn’t fit you, you well. And the drama class was just super easy. And then he, he tapped me on the shoulder to be in the main stage production at the university.


Jason Schilling (05:29):
And just from there, I, I changed my major. I got into drama education because it was a way to to take sort of the things that I, I really enjoyed working on. I think students really grow through the fine arts courses especially in drama. I’ve been able to, to work with students who are super shy and awkward. Like I was as a, you know, junior high kid and put them into a, a, a play where they just shine and they come out of their shell and they, and you see this growth and it’s phenomenal. And, and you kind of learn that through university when you’re working on that with students. And it just sort of came from there. And once I got into that sort of drama education part in university it changed the whole dynamics of going to university. It was suddenly became much easier. It was a joy to be there. The work was hard and the hours were long, but I didn’t mind doing it because it was, I was doing something that I love. And I, I’m very fortunate that I had on people who kind of pushed me in that direction to, to do that because you know, I, you know, some days are hard, but it’s what you love. And so you just keep doing it. So it’s great.


Sam Demma (06:32):
You, you mentioned that the day you left your school to move into the, you know, this president role of this association was one of the toughest days of your life. But that reminds you now why the work you’re doing is so important. What do you mean by that? Tell me more about the work you do now and how it relates to education and why you think it’s so important.


Jason Schilling (06:52):
Well, part of my role as, as association president is that the ATA you is you know, part of our mandate is to promote an advanced public education in Alberta. Nice. And I’ve just seen the benefits of public education for my students myself you know, I’ve gone to public school. All my university degrees are from pub arcade or from public universities in Alberta. I just know the benefits of public education and we need to fight for it because I always believe, and I’ve, I’ve said this a few times in other places as well. I think you, you fight for what you value and what you believe in. Hmm. And that’s why this role is important to me, it’s challenging. There’s some good, like everybody else, there’s some good days in there some bad days. But I carry with me, you know, that it experience of my, my teaching career. And I’ll end up probably going back to teaching once I’m done with this role as well with my colleagues and my students, and just knowing that education’s important to them as well, because they value it and they believe it as well. And I took a bunch of my mentors that I had in my classroom that I have collected over the years, and I have them in my office in Edmonton, because they’re just there as a visual reminder as well of the reason why we’re doing the work that we’re doing


Sam Demma (08:07):
Beautiful. And COVID 19 introduced some interesting challenges not only in, you know, every school, but I’m, I’m assuming also in the association and everywhere could the world, what are some of the challenges that have, that have come up and how have you and your team trying to tried to address them and overcome them?


Jason Schilling (08:28):
Well, definitely. And it’s been, it’s been a huge challenge and a difficult year for teachers and even staff working at the association because every way that we’ve normally have done things has changed and has been altered. And the things that we thought would be temporary have become sort of these permanent mainstays in our lives right now. And, you know, we still have lots of pandemic ahead of us. And so we’ll still be doing these things for, for months to come, even though vaccinations are coming, but we’re still seeing an increase in, you know, variance and other things around that as well for teachers, they literally had to change how they were interacting with their students overnight when classes were canceled last March. And they did a phenomenal job. Some days weren’t great. Some things worked, some things didn’t work. It was hard to connect with all of our students because one of the things I think the, the pandemic EC has done as well is highlighted the inequalities that we have within our system.


Jason Schilling (09:19):
Not every student has access to technology, not every student is able to you know, connect at home because they might be sharing a computer with their parents and their siblings, or, or just a multitude of things that came up, you know, poverty, income, security, all sorts of came up with this as well. And so that was a lot, a big challenge for us to manage at that time and still to do that at this point, as well as trying to deal with health protocols and now, you know, close it or schools that might have to close because they have a COVID case and moving everybody online, then coming back in for myself as a, you know, president, I usually tens of thousands of kilometers a year. Yeah. And so it’s it’s a little bit of isolating in that fact that a lot of my work has done sort of how we’re talking today through zoom. But you know, it’s, it, you just keep doing it, you just get up and you keep working to make sure that you’re connecting and engaging with members and being able to hear what they’re saying in terms of their experience, and then turning around and advocating for them down the road with you know, ministry staff and such.


Sam Demma (10:23):
And I also believe that every adversity challenge, you know, also plant there’s a seed somewhere planted of an opportunity within that adversity year challenge. And, you know, one of them is to create more, you know, equitable school. I’m curious to know what are some of the opportunities that you’re seeing as well, or the shifts that you’re seeing that you think are great and are good to be having in conversations that are happening within schools and within the association?


Jason Schilling (10:51):
Well, I know through the last little part in March and June, where teachers were working online, a lot of collabo between teachers in terms of making, you know, talking to one another and their school leaders or principals about connecting with kids and connecting with parents and making sure that lessons were being delivered. And it really started to spark a conversation towards the end of the school year about assessment and what are we assessing in school and what are the things that we need to be assessing in what’s a priority and what’s important. And those are really good conversations to have, because teaching it to me is always reflective, look back at what you’re doing, where you’re going with with things like that. And then to analyze that. So the, the conversation around assessment has been a really good one. Like, do we need to have diploma exams and provincial achievement tests?


Jason Schilling (11:37):
Like, are they capturing what students are truly learning? And we know that they don’t. And so to keep those things going forward is important. And it’s also really highlighted, I think the importance of relationships, we know that relationships are key when it comes to teaching with students, with each your colleagues in the building with their parents in the community that really highlighted that over this last year. You know, I talked to teachers who they don’t like having to go online because they want to be in the room with their students face to face, even though they’re wearing a mask and have to do, try to do social distancing as best as they can. They still want to be in that space with their students, working with them in that capacity, because trying to connect with people is really difficult through a screen.


Jason Schilling (12:20):
And for a variety of reasons you know, some kids might not turn on their cameras and and things like that. So that makes it even harder. And we also kind of learned, you know, the inequities that we have with some of our students and that we have a greater need in terms of society to address those things such as poverty even connected to the wifi is one of them. And of course, I think one of the biggest conversations that we’ve been having and still need to have in the future will be around mental health and supports around mental health as well.


Sam Demma (12:52):
I love that. And you, and we’re living in a time where students bedrooms have been transformed into the classroom, and some students are rolling outta bed and turning on their, you know, computer to join class. And it’s just as stressful and difficult for the teachers sometimes. And I would even assume yourself, like, I, I’m not sure if you’re, you’re doing this interview from an office or for, you know, from a place in your home, right. You have beautiful pictures behind you and it looks great which is awesome. You have a nice microphone, which is great. But how do you balance that work in life when they’re both? So, you know, closely intertwined personally? I just, just a very curious, personal question.


Jason Schilling (13:27):
No, it’s, it’s, it’s a really a great question because I’m actually, yeah, I am talking to you today, actually from my apartment in, in Edmonton. So I I’m working from home today because I’ve had that, that luxury being able to do that, but I do go to the office quite a bit as well, just to find that balance and that normality in life, I think COVID is really altered a lot of the normals that we, we normal. We, I’m gonna keep saying normal over and over again. Yeah. It’s gonna alter, it’s all altered the way that we’ve done our lives professionally and personally. And so I do go to the office just because some days it’s easier to, to do that, the work that I need to get done that day there, but also it allows me periodically to see other human beings.


Jason Schilling (14:10):
Right. So I might, you know, I try to time things sometimes with my assistant, because maybe there’s some, some documents I need to sign, or we need to talk about some things that are in the, the plans and works like that. So we try to, to focus that as well, or if we have a big media event such as the curriculum was just released here on Monday some of the com the communications people might come into the office as well. And, and then we’re able to do that work together because it’s easier that way. So finding that balance is it’s hard it’s because when you’re working from home and I’m not sure about your situation, Sam working from home, your work is just sitting on the kitchen table. Yep. Right. And it’s always there. And so you just end up working longer and, and, and things like that. And it’s, it’s important to find balance and to, to, you know, get outside and, and do the things that you can in a safe manner that are, are protecting yourself and others.


Sam Demma (14:59):
It brings, it brings the conversation back to that topic of mental health, right. Addressing student mental health, but also staff and human, mental health, the whole, the whole world should be addressing that. What do you, you think is important around, you know, addressing mental health in the next couple of years? Like, what do you envision or think should be happening more in schools to support that in relation to students and staff?


Jason Schilling (15:22):
Well, that’s a great question. And I think it’s a great question that a lot of us need to have conversations with our elected officials about because you know, I’ve, I’ve insane that I don’t think anybody is untouched by the effects of the pandemic. Some will feel it differently than others and that’s just human nature. That’s the way that we are. But I think one of the things, you know, coming from a small rural school is you, we would only have a counselor in our building maybe one day a week. Right. But the, the the effects of the pandemic make, or the mental health needs of our students, they come to school every day. And so we need more support that way in terms of having counselors in buildings working with students helping staff as well in terms of the support that they have.


Jason Schilling (16:05):
I mean, staff are able to access health benefits if they have them substitute teachers don’t necessarily have those support, but other staff do, and to make sure that they’re, they’re taking care of themselves and getting over the stigma of taking care of your mental health as part of your health, I’ve always been saying to teachers through this whole time, and I, I’m a victim of it myself, you know, it’s okay not to be okay. And it’s okay to have bad. I have them too, but just work and, and, and chat with people and try to support that and, and making sure that you’re taking care of yourself. That’s key. And we also need to make sure that you know, government is providing those means of support for that and making it a priority as we move forward.


Sam Demma (16:50):
I agree. And I’ve experimented with some like, different things like meditation, and, you know, there’s stigma along with that too. Right. Like, you know, just talking about mental health is, is it shouldn’t be, but it, you know, historically has been a touchy topic. But you tell someone, oh, I’m meditating. And you know, my friend’s like, what are you a monk? I’m like, no, what are you talking about? Like, this is something that I do to quiet my thoughts, quiet my mind, and start my day off on the right foot. And I think it’s so important to normalize those things in schools. Like I, I don’t know. Do you think in the next couple years, wellness will be like a, you know, something that’s very implemented in schools and social, emotional learning.


Jason Schilling (17:29):
Yeah. I think we need to make the idea of wellness as, as normalized as part possible that these are just the things that I do, whether you meditate, I run, right. And so you know, I get out there and I strap my shoes on and I, there’s not a, I say, there’s not a, there’s not a problem. I can’t solve on a good 10 mile run. Nice. And and things like that as well. And I’ve actually even said to students in the past, you know, I could have marked these assignments, but I went for run instead. Just because I’m going to be a much happier teacher for you today because I went for a run yesterday and I’ve actually had students in the past. Sometimes that we’ve, if I’m might be having a particularly cranky day, they’ll like, could you go for a run today when you’re done school?


Jason Schilling (18:12):
And, and then maybe when you come back tomorrow, you might be a little bit more pleasant and I’m like, duly note it. So, I mean, we all have those things in there that we, it just, we have to make this an ingrained part of our life and know that wellness is important for us in all aspects of our lives. And the pandemic is really showing that as well, because it’s really highlighted the things that we’re missing from our lives, maybe in terms of personal relationships and our professional relationships, and then trying to find a way to rectify that so that we can just be better or happier as we move down the road.


Sam Demma (18:45):
I agree. I totally agree. And, you know, we, we mentioned relationships earlier and how, you know, that’s one of the things that you noticed, you know, as a, something that’s super important that came up during COVID 19 and maintaining relationships how do you think we continue building relationships virtually? Is it by just, you know, phone calls and checking in with the teachers and, you know, having them check in with their students, like, yeah. How do you think we build those relationships?


Jason Schilling (19:11):
Well, ideally, I mean, in person is always gonna be better. Yeah. I mean, we, we do have these virtual things and there’s ways to, to stay connected with that. I don’t know you know, I talk to a lot of my colleagues and, you know, my friends and family I’ll do the zoom thing, but periodically I just like to pick up a phone yeah. And just call somebody. So instead of, you know, I always say if my email chain gets more than five, I’m phoning that person just to talk to them about it because after a point you just lose that. And so it’s hard and it’s not ideal, but you just do the things that you can do. And I know Christmas holidays was difficult for a lot of people and I didn’t have the chance to spend it with my family for the first time in a long time. And so we, we still managed to have Christmas dinner. We just did it by FaceTime. And we were kind of weird at first, but then at the end it was, it wasn’t bad. It was okay actually. And it wasn’t, it wasn’t too bad. And, you know, when it came dishes time, you could just, instead of having to do them, just click end then,


Sam Demma (20:09):
And then you put on your shoes and went for a,


Jason Schilling (20:12):
Yeah. I’m not sure it’s Christmas time. It was kind of cold, but I don’t know if I would,


Sam Demma (20:17):
So, yeah, that’s awesome. That’s amazing. And you know, if you could give advice, there’s educators listening to this right now who maybe burnt out right now, who may also, you know, couldn’t see their family for Christmas, who, who have been question whether or not the work they’re doing is making a difference. And, you know, they may even be thinking about, you know, leaving or quitting. You know, what advice could you share as someone who knows how important education is and educators are on the lives of our youth? What advice could you share that might be helpful? You know, imagine you were talking to a friend of yours, who’s a teacher.


Jason Schilling (20:50):
Well, and I have these conversations with teachers all the time over this last year about feeling overwhelmed or burned out by the requirements and, and things like that, of what they have to do, or working with the health protocols or carrying the stress of, you know, trying to keep a class of the 30 kids safe through the course of the year so that they don’t get ill. Is that time it’s okay to, to step back a little bit from the pressures and it’s okay to say no to some things, and I’m, I’m not, I’m not doing that. Or I’m not running book club this year. If I was at school, actually in the classroom right now, there would be no way I’d be doing a drama production this year. Just on top of everything else that needs to be done. It’s okay to take a break from that stuff.


Jason Schilling (21:33):
It’s also, I would just say, you know, talking to people we sometimes get stuck in our heads over things, or we, we, we see a lot of negativity maybe within social media, stuff like that. And, and it’s hard to put that down but to put it to, to try to find ways to support mental health and, and things like that as well. And also talking with your colleagues, because if you might be struggling with some aspect on something, they might be as well. And just finding ways teachers work very well collaboratively. And so finding that space in that time, I was really appreciative of this last year. We had a couple school boards in the fall, actually changed a couple of their PD days into just wellness days and just gave everybody the day off. And it was around the remembrance day weekend.


Jason Schilling (22:18):
And I thought that was a really good approach. Not saying, okay, well, kids, you have the day off teachers, you have to do all this extra work. And they just said, no, here’s the day off. And so I think that’s important for employers as well to, to look at what’s happening and saying, okay, we need breaks. Let’s not try to cram everything in cuz this year’s not normal. And I’ve always cautioned people from normalizing this year. Nothing about this year is normal. Nothing about the way that you’re teaching is normal. And it’s okay if you don’t get to everything because a resilient I’ve, you know, I’ve taught for English 20, 30 for 20 years. I know what I need to do in the curriculum as a professional to make sure that my students are reaching the outcomes that they need to have in order to move on to the next grade, teachers are professionals and they’ll do that. And so it just, you know, having that conversation with them and saying, you know, it’s all right, it’s, we’re all in the same boat together. And, and to just reach out that way. So


Sam Demma (23:13):
I love that I was talking to another educator the other day and, you know, we were, you know, talking about the situation, but trying to make it a little more lighthearted by like laughing about some things. And she said, you know, we’re all in the same boat and the boat’s the Titanic. I was like, relax. Like I, I know I totally get it. And you know, like yourself, I’ve had lots of conversations on this with this project on this podcast. And yeah, I think it’s important to have those people in your life that you can talk to and have conversations with and realize that it’s okay to take a day off. I’m curious to know personally what is, what is the first thing you’re looking forward to once this passes blows over the world opens up per like what is the first thing that you’ll be doing at that moment?


Jason Schilling (23:58):
Joe, what’s funny is I’m, I’m often known for not being a hugger. And so I, you know, when I keep saying to people, when this is all over, I’m still going to keep that six foot rule away from me at all times. And there people are like, we are gonna give you a hug. That’s great. I think it’s one of those things is I’m just looking forward to being able to spend time, you know, with my parents and my family. And, you know, I have a sister who lives in the states and that, and being able to see them in and for probably well over a year now. Right. And so just getting to, to be around people in that capacity, we’re, you’re just not afraid at the time and, and, and stuff like that as well. So that’ll be the biggest one. Yeah, yeah.


Sam Demma (24:40):
Yeah. You know, as long as everyone stays six feet apart, right.


Jason Schilling (24:42):
As long as there’s just not some big hug I’ll be working with.


Sam Demma (24:46):
That’s awesome. Jason, thank you so much for taking the time to chat today about education and you know, it’s important and why you’re so passionate about it, and some of the things that you’re observing and seeing. If someone wanted to reach out, you know, send you an email you probably already have a lot of those, but if someone did wanna reach out to you, what would be the best way for them to get in touch and maybe have a conversation?


Jason Schilling (25:06):
Actually the best way is just through email and it’s just jason.schilling@ata.ab.ca. And I always, I always say to teachers, I try to get back to everybody. Even the hate mail that I get, I always respond to those as well but not always as quickly as I would like to sometimes; just always depends on what’s going on.


Sam Demma (25:28):
Sounds great. Again, thank you so much. This was awesome and I look forward to staying in touch and watching the great work you do.


Jason Schilling (25:34):
You bet, Sam. Thanks very much. I appreciate it.


Sam Demma (25:36):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show; f you want meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Jason Schilling

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.

Brandi Rai – President of the Alberta School Councils’ Association

Brandi Rai – President of the Alberta School Councils’ Association
About Brandi Rai

Brandi Rai (@rai_brandi) has a passion for public education – to ensure it prepares children to be leaders in our world.

Married, with five children in grades 5 through 10, and many pets, Brandi lives in Edmonton. She has served as an executive on multiple school councils, is involved with fundraising societies, and is a frequent school volunteer, with a lifelong goal of serving others.

She is drawn to ASCA’s support of school councils in the province because it ensures that all parents have the opportunity for engagement and the ability to determine their definition of effectiveness within their local communities.

Parent voice in education is crucial to student success. Education is a foundational pillar in society and having equitable access to public education is vital for Albertans.

Brandi attended her first ASCA Annual General Meeting (AGM) in 2014 and was elected as a Board Director at the 2016 AGM. She was elected Vice President at the 2018 AGM, and elected President at the 2020 AGM.

Connect with Brandi: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Alberta School Councils’ Association (ASCA)

Alberta School Council’s Association Conference and AGM

Expanding Mental Health Supports in Schools

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator Podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. I’m super excited to bring you today’s interview. Our guest, our special guest is Brandi Rai. Brandi has a passion for public education to ensure it prepares children to be leaders in our world. She is married with five children in grade five through 10, and has many pets.


Sam Demma (00:58):
She is also from Edmonton and she has served as executive on multiple school councils, is involved with fundraising societies, and is a frequent school volunteer with a lifelong goal of serving others, and it’s very evident that that’s something that is very close to her heart as you will learn in today’s interview. She is drawn to ASCA; the Alberta School Council Association support of school councils in the province because it ensures that all parents have the opportunity for engagement and the ability, the ability to determine their definition of effectiveness within their local communities. Being that she is a parent of five kids, she definitely wants to make sure that her schools are being run as effective as possible. She believes that parent voice and education is crucial to student success and at the heart of everything she believes is that education is a foundational pillar in society, and having equitable access to public education is vital for Albertans, but for everyone in the world. I hope you enjoy today’s interview. Brandy Rai is a phenomenal human being doing such amazing work in education. I will see you on the others side, enjoy. Brandi, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show this morning. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit behind the reason why you’re so passionate about the work you do in education today.


Brandi Rai (02:22):
Thank you so much for having me. And so I am the mother of five children who are neurodiverse, they are biracial, and they are queer. And so having, having a family that is full of diversity and full of wonderful young souls who are trying to navigate a world that is not always made for them has really inspired me to lean in and to volunteer and to actively work, to create an education system that is equitable and meant for all children. And then additionally, I am married to a teacher, and so education is in every aspect of our life, whether we’re volunteering or we’re working or we’re trying to help our children through their, through their lessons. So I’m very involved because I need to be involved. These are my people and I want to do good for them.


Sam Demma (03:09):
I love that. And you know, you mentioned your kids, all five of them that you have. Are they a big motivator and driver behind the work that you do and, and why? Like if you had to give me some, some reasons?


Brandi Rai (03:23):
Well, I think that, I think that most parents are engaged and involved in their children’s education. And I know that it looks very different depending on what families, what their work schedule looks like or what their culture looks like. And also what experiences they’ve had in education a four, because they, they may not have always been positive for that family and the generations before them. And so for, for me, it has been, you know, my children are going away from me and they’re learning and they’re navigating their life and their relationships in, in, in school and class. And I think that what the, the light bulb moment that happened for me is my children are spending more time away from me during a school year than they are with me. Yeah. And so those people and those interactions are really shaping the young citizens that my babies are going to be.


Brandi Rai (04:10):
And so I am, of course I am their parent and I am an expert in my child, but schools are the resources that I am using to help them educate and navigate the world. And so it is very important that I remain connected to those schools that I volunteer in those schools and that I have a voice in the education system in terms of advising you know, my principal and my school board, even the education minister. So I show up because my kids matter to me and all children matter to me. And so, because I have the time and the, and the ability to do these things at this season of my life, that’s why I’m doing what I do.


Sam Demma (04:47):
Ah, that’s so cool. And when did you start getting involved? Like was your whole career in education or when you started having kids, you decided to get involved? Like what, tell me a little bit about how it actually manifested in your life.


Brandi Rai (05:01):
Yeah, so I actually, so I had children young, so my first child was born when I was 20. Yes. And so then whenever they went into kindergarten you know, just volunteering in the classroom, it just looks like, you know, going and helping cut things and do things with art and then it really morphed into yes, parents are important volunteers, but did you also know that they have a role in advising principal? Did you know that they have a role in understanding board policy and influencing board policy? And I didn’t know those things until I knew those things. And so once I got a taste of it’s really important that I’m, you know, reading with the, with the students or I’m you know, helping fundraise for, you know, more technology that, you know, because education is vastly underfunded in our province. So whether I’m doing those things or I’m sitting down with a principal and, and looking at time tables and saying, yeah, this would really work for junior high and this is how families feel about this. When those things came into focus for me and I realized I could have a piece of that voice I lit up and I leaned in. Mm.


Sam Demma (06:04):
Ah, so that’s so awesome. And what did your initial involvement look like? I know now, you know, you have a huge role with the all of Alberta, but when you first started, what was the, what, what did the initial role role look like?


Brandi Rai (06:17):
Well, I, so initially I started as a volunteering classrooms, you know, going on field trips in the classroom fundraising, and then for school council, I went and I was a, I was a school council member who attended and listened to the meeting, participated when needed. And then when we had our elections, I became secretary. And so you take the minutes for the school council and used, send out the agenda, you do the things that your chair would need you to do. And that’s how I started. And then it, it, you know, I became vice chair and, you know, at one point I had four children. I had five children in four different schools. And so I was on the executive of each school council and I might have been in different roles, but I was active in all those. And, and, and so there was a huge time commitment right.


Brandi Rai (07:02):
To doing that. And then eventually my school council, we, we went to the Alberta school council’s association conference and AGM. And so a trustee had talked to me about that. And a principal had talked to me about that and a fellow council member had talked to me about that. And, and I went, and I was amazed at the professional development opportunities that were available for parents to be engaged partners in education. And that was the next step that I took. I said, okay, this is how I’m impacting change locally. This is how I’m making my school community a more vibrant, inclusive space. And now I can lend my voice to a provincial landscape. And so that was the next step that I decided to take.


Sam Demma (07:40):
And as the parent of five kids yourself, who obviously you were super engaged in all of their, you know, student activities and within all of their schools, why do you believe that parent engagement is so essential and important in relation to student success? And how do we engage more parent during this interesting, crazy time?


Brandi Rai (08:03):
So that’s a, that’s a wonderful question. Thank you. And I think that so studies have shown that parents who are engaged and involved in their education, those students have higher success rates. And sometimes that can be defined as completion of high school or, you know, higher on standardized tests, those sorts of things. But what I really look for is that parent engagement that helps students become global citizens who are well regulated and can co-regulate their peers. And, and it’s that success that I believe that parents have a wonderful hand in because the school is helping with curricular outcomes. The school is helping with, you know, basic behavioral standards, but it’s the parents who re enforce that whenever those children come home, it’s the parents who, who say, oh, tell me more. They lean in and they nurture their children. And then they nurture their school communities whenever they volunteer and they help shape the culture at those schools.


Brandi Rai (08:52):
So I think that it’s, it’s the parents that solidify the learning that happens at school. And that’s why that relationship is so important. And then additionally, I think that it’s important that systems recognize that parents are partners in education. And so they do more than just inform inform the parents about decisions that are being made because and I think that we can all recognize this when you take the time to engage and consult with stakeholders and parents are a major stakeholder in education, they have more buy-in to whatever decisions are being made. So if you tell me that something is happening, but you don’t include me in any of the process, I may, I may not agree with it. I may revolt against it. I may not be an active participant in making sure that it becomes meaningful meaningfully implemented. But if you engage me the whole time, if you consult with me the whole time, then I have buy-in. I see my voice, I see the, I see the, the need for these changes to happen, and then I help with implementation. And so I think that from a system perspective, student success is impacted when parents are brought a lot on the journey rather than being told what the journey is.


Sam Demma (09:58):
Mm oh, I love that. That’s awesome. And how do we bring more parents into the journey right now? So like, I know I would assume, and I could be wrong yeah. That with COVID maybe parents feel a little more disconnected to their students and their school activities. Maybe it’s the reverse. Maybe, maybe you can tell me what you guys have been seeing in the province of Alberta and how can we still get parents involved and engaged during this crazy time?


Brandi Rai (10:24):
So I think that, yeah, so this, so the last year and a half has been, you know, obviously an anomaly. And so there is a huge disconnect that’s happening for many parents across Alberta, because we are not physically able to go volunteer in the schools. There is different communications that are happening because most of our communication is now based on emails. Or we hold our school council meetings virtually to, you know, in order to be able to respect health protocols. And so you don’t have the support of your parent community. You’re not talking to each other at pickup or after, you know, a dance performance or those sorts of things. You are extremely disconnected from your parent community. You’re additionally disconnected from your admin because all communication comes in either black and white or through a virtual platform. And so you, you’re not having the same opportunities, which means that you also don’t feel connected or, and you also don’t wanna step on toast.


Brandi Rai (11:15):
So you don’t wanna say, well, I don’t really sense some of the things that are happening, but you don’t wanna be a burden in asking for clarification or, or the ability to give your input, because you already know that the system is stressed, the adminis stress, right? So there has been, this has been a huge year of disconnect across our province in many ways. And then the flip side of that is when there’s disconnect, we are, we are wired for connection. Yeah. So when there is disconnect, we will actively seek solutions to fill in those gaps. And so we’re having council meetings virtually we’re, we’re increasing, you know, school councils and parents are increasing sharing things on social media. And that is why that, that is the, there has been an uptake in the things that are happening in education in a different way this year, partially because everybody’s getting a lot of information on social media, because that is the only connection point that they might have.


Brandi Rai (12:06):
And so, and we know how that, that can be good and bad, but we know how easy that is. So maybe I, you know, maybe I’m at the end of the day and I don’t have time to go through, you know, on my school zone or, or my power school and like read all the things. But if I connect to my school council Facebook page, or if I’m on Twitter and I see some things that are coming out around the new curriculum that might peak my interest, that’s an engagement point. That’s a touch point that lights a fire in me to do more in education. So there are some positive, even though we have been extremely disconnected this year.


Sam Demma (12:37):
I love that. And I think there’s always positives, even in every negative situation. It’s just up to us to go ahead and look for them. Right. without darkness, you can’t have a bonfire. Bonfires are beautiful. Right?


Brandi Rai (12:50):
I love that. Yes.


Sam Demma (12:51):
Right. Question for you, you, what exactly is a school council, I would consider you and your association like the experts of school councils what exactly is a school council and why are they so important and essential to schools?


Brandi Rai (13:08):
Well, no pressure to get that question. Right. Thank you for that. So, so yeah, so a school council and, and it might look different across the province, depending on that school community, but a school council. They have members parents or community members that would like to be part of the school council. The principal is also a member of the school council and a teacher designation, and then a, a teacher designated representative. And then additionally, if you’re in older grades, you might have a student representative attends. And so basically it’s, it’s parents and community members and possibly students who come and they, they work with admin on issues related to the school. And so a school council’s job is to advise the principal on any issue relating to the school. So maybe that’s the school’s plan. Maybe that’s the, like the, the school’s, you know, in, and some of the districts, they schools have three year plans.


Brandi Rai (13:57):
And so maybe you’re advising towards that. Maybe you’re maybe you’re advising towards the budget, you know, schools get budgets. And what are the priorities that parents also identify are really important places to spend that money knowing that the principal has final decision making in any decision related to a school then additionally school councils also in buys to their school boards. And so their school board might be engaging them on any changes that are happening within the district, you know, related to transportation or fees, or scheduling those sorts of things. And then higher, higher things such as right now, you know, the new curriculum draft, those are things that boards would be engaging with school councils around. And then additionally the Alberta school council’s association is the provincial voice for school councils in our province. And so school councils, can we, we have a variety of resources that help school councils understand their role.


Brandi Rai (14:49):
And so we believe that the empowerment and the respect and engagement of school councils is important for student success. And the way that we help that happen is we empower schools to learn how to be active in their own communities and to be local advocates, to, to affect change in their communities as needed or to support the culture as it is. And then we have we have an upcoming conference in AGM where we provide professional development for school council members. And then additionally, we have our AGM where members themselves have put. And so when we say members, we actually mean the school council as a whole, so not individual parents, but those school council members have put forward resolutions that then become advocacy policies that we advocate for. So for example, you know, years ago, there was a resolution that came forward related to class size and the importance of there being lower class size numbers for supporting student success.


Brandi Rai (15:41):
And so that then became an advocacy policy that we then advocate for. And it can be utilized in a variety of ways, not just in standard years, but specifically in a year where there has been COVID the importance of having smaller class sizes to mitigate the risk of spread. So that was a really long answer to say lots of things. But the, the main thing that I think that is important is that their, you know, school captures school councils are captured in legislation and regulations, and they have a role. They have a legitimate role in education. Parent voice is, is locally important. And then it goes all the way up to every table that we can carry that voice to through ASCA, as we talk with like trustees, superintendents, secretary treasurers the teachers association, any other major stakeholder group in education the Alberta school, council’s Associa this caring parent voice through school councils to that table.


Sam Demma (16:35):
And if you could speak to, you know, educators and principals outside of even Alberta and everywhere and be the bridge between, you know, a student and what they need to know about students right now, because you’re a, you’re a parent of five kids who are all in school. Like what could you share with a, you know, a principal or an educator who might not have kids that are in school right now and say, Hey, like, this is what kids or my kids are struggling with, which probably is the same struggles for most kids in certain ways and shapes like what could you relate to them to kind of say like, this is what you’re not seeing or not hearing right now.


Brandi Rai (17:10):
So I think that it’s, I think that right now what most parents and school counselors are talking about is mental health. And so they’re saying that, you know, my child’s mental health has been severely impacted and there is no support system readily available that my child can access in a timely or affordable manner to, to help with these, these issues that are happening. So that’s one thing that I know right now that parents on school councils are bringing up. The other thing is that through the years, we have really talked about the importance of, of school community. So teachers and admin, you know, relating to their students in ways that let the students give feedback and the students own the culture. And that’s really important because I can say, well, this is what my child is, is experiencing, and this is what they need.


Brandi Rai (17:54):
But as a parent, I believe that it is, it is actually more important that the teachers in the admin listen to my babies, they need to be talking to my babies about what the culture looks like in a school at their level, because we can have policies place. We can have wonderful conversations and metrics that we measure things by. But if the lived experience of those students does not reflect those policies and the intent of those policies, then it’s all for not. And so that is why it’s important that that educators be looping back to students and then be including parents in that dialogue as well.


Sam Demma (18:26):
And you started this interview by talking about the important of, you know, equity in equality in schools. What does an equitable school in your eyes look like? And, you know, how can we strive towards creating more equity within our schools?


Brandi Rai (18:41):
That is the, that is the universal question of, of how to how to solve all the problems in education. So just so, so no pressure, I guess, no pressure. So I think whenever I try to just collapse it down to the core of what it is that I’m asking for, I’m saying that equity and education and equitable access means that students in rural locations have the same opportunity and quality of education that students in metros would have. And I think that that is, and also the same inclusivity and the same opportunities. So, so I think that there is, there are definitely barriers when you travel across Alberta in terms of location and funding. And, and I think that equitable to me means that there is consistent quality and standards that are applied across education so that all, all students have access to the same opportunities within education that, that we know are meaningful for them.


Brandi Rai (19:37):
And for, for so long, I think that we’ve talked about you know, we’ve, we’ve boiled it down to, to funding and all of these different pieces. And one of the conversations I think that needs to be had as a collective with an education and is what do we identify as a basic quality education? So if we’re saying we’re providing a basic education to every student in Alberta, what does that basic education look like? How are we informing that? And then how are we measuring that to make sure that it is equitably applied and also inclusivity? So how are students with learning needs? How are they being in, into their school communities, all across the province? And, and what does that look like and what are the resources being given to make sure that it’s equitable inclusion? And then additionally, how are student, how are minorities, how are they, how is their lived experience being positively impacted across the province?


Brandi Rai (20:28):
And, and what about our queer kids? You know, how, how are they living this? And so when every student irrespective of their learning needs or their, or their racial composition or their you know, gender identity or sexual orientation, when I can say that every baby has a quality education where they felt loved and valued and seen in their community and in their curriculum, then that to me is actually equitable education. And I know it’s gonna take a long time, but I’m here for a long time. So I’m willing to keep doing this work


Sam Demma (21:03):
Awesome brand. This has been a, such a passionate conversation. Like it’s so clear that this is something so close to your heart, which is amazing because we need empathetic and heartfelt leaders. If you could give your younger self one piece of advice when it comes to fighting this good fight to end off this interview here today, like, what would you tell younger Brandy to know?


Brandi Rai (21:26):
Oh, that’s a really good question. I would just say to her oh it’s this metric that I now have that I wish I had learned a long time ago is will it matter in five minutes? Will it matter in five months? Will it matter in five years? Mm, because I think that lots of times we put our energy to putting out small fires right now. And I have learned to measure for myself if it’s going to matter five months from now, I need to give this a significant amount of energy. If I need this to look drastically different five years from now, I need to make a roadmap to make that happen. And, and that is a hard learn lesson that I have learned in my own life and in my own children’s life that if I could have given myself that 16 years ago, oh goodness, how much more could I have done with my time?


Sam Demma (22:18):
Hmm. Love that. And if an educator is listening right now and enjoying this conversation, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?


Brandi Rai (22:27):
So they can go to the Alberta School Council’s website and then go if they go there, we have our contact information there so they can get in contact with me directly through our executive director or our communications coordinator. And I am always willing to have a chat to help in any way that I can to get, to get the spark going, because I know that if I can help just make a tiny spark, everybody else in that community can continue to fan it into the flame that will, as you said, create a bonfire in the darkness and I’m willing to do that so thank you for that.


Sam Demma (23:01):
Oh, I love that. Awesome. This has been a great conversation, Brandi. I appreciate you taking the time to come on here and share some of your perspectives and philosophies around education. Keep, keep up the amazing work and I hope to meet you one day in person soon.


Brandi Rai (23:14):
Thank you so much.


Sam Demma (23:16):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show; f you want meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Brandi Rai

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.

Maren Abuzukar and Bryanna Rentz – Two Student Leaders from Buffalo Trail Public Schools

Maren Abuzukar and Bryanna Rentz – Two Student Leaders from Buffalo Trail Public Schools
About Maren Abuzukar

Maren is a high school senior at J.R. Robson Highschool, in rural Vermilion, Alberta. She is super passionate about helping others, and within the last few years, she has been taking initiative within her community through volunteering at long-term and representing youth in my local FCSS committee. Being a senior has been really stressful at times and it’s been really important to have activities to help her de-stress. After a long day, she loves reading a book, baking, knitting, or working out whether that’s on the school’s volleyball courts, the cross country trails, the soccer fields, or my bedroom. Contact maren by email: mabuzukar@gmail.com

About Bryanna Rentz

Bryanna Rentz is a grade 11 student attending Wainwright High School. She participates in volleyball and curling in school and Girl Guides and archery outside of school. She is passionate about archery, and helping others! Contact Bryanna on email by: Bryanna.Rentz@btps.ca

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens (book)

The Believe Leadership Program – Sarah Wells

Buffalo Trail Public Schools (BTPS)

The Duke of Edinburgh Award

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 (01:50):
Maren, welcome to the high performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Please start by introducing yourself.


Maren Abuzukar (01:59):
Well, hi, thank you for having me, Sam. That’s the first thing I wanna say. Like you said, my name’s Maren I’m currently in grade 12 and I’m from a small little town in Canada called Vermilion. Some things about myself, some things I enjoy. I love to volunteer giving back to my community. I love just taking walks or running outside. I also love reading books. I think that’s just, yeah, it’s tiny little excerpt about myself.


Sam Demma (02:26):
Before this interview, you mentioned tomorrow, you’ll be doing work with four H you’ve also done volunteer work with the believe initiative. Where in your journey did volunteerism start for you or become such a important part of your life?


Maren Abuzukar (02:43):
I think that was something when I was in the fifth grade, I believe so I played soccer in our town and one of the things they wanted you to do was they’d like ask you to go and volunteer during games or something. And it was just mandatory for every team. So my parents were really busy people. So I would take up their shifts for like my age and we’d go help out in the shack, like giving out treats, we’d pick up garbage, we’d help out wherever we could in games. And then what I specifically decided to do was I was the assistant coach for my sister’s team. And that was kind of where it all started because there’s like something to push me. So I started there and I took a little break because for the longest time I thought I couldn’t be a volunteer cause I was too young.


Maren Abuzukar (03:26):
And that was one of the things I regretted the most because it doesn’t come in an age so you can do it whenever. And from there as I got older, it just kind of naturally started failing I in my school, I did like a program or I wanted to teach people about vaping and the harms about it, which was a huge thing to me. So I was, again, I was like, I, I don’t care about my age at this point. I really wanna do it. And then from there just more opportunities came out. I joined the BLC, I volunteered in my hospital and it’s so rewarding. Like you, you feel like you’re giving back. And I just, like I said, one of the biggest are starting late.


Sam Demma (04:02):
In your journey throughout school. Did you have any teachers that encouraged you to volunteer or also made a big impact on you as a student? And if so, who were they and what did they do that made an impact on you?


Maren Abuzukar (04:16):
I think I’m very grateful and I’m like very happy to say that with my school, I’ve had such amazing teachers. They’re all very different and they all help encourage me in different ways. I think sometimes the easiest thing is when they just, they applaud you for what you’re doing or they recognize what you’re doing or, you know, they’re goofy. They’re fun. I think once, like one teacher I’m thinking of specifically this year too. So like, don’t think you have to learn when you’re younger, I’m still learning to, and he was my math teacher and I remember there was one test. I had like a volleyball game. Like I was busy. I wasn’t feeling the greatest and I didn’t do all too well in that exam. And I feel like it, it broke me at some point, I thought like I had such high expectations and it was a grade that I didn’t normally get.


Maren Abuzukar (05:02):
So I got it set. And I remember going up to him and talking to him and he told me, he was like, you have to understand that sometimes you don’t get the outcome you want, but it’s your job to keep going to persevere, to not let that hold you back. Because if I let you retake that test right now, I’m not teaching you that lesson. I’m not, I’m, I’m almost brushing it by and I’m, it was tough love. And I really, really appreciated that. Cause it’s true. You know, you don’t always get to redo things in life. And he taught it to me the hard way, but sometimes that’s just how things have to come. So that was one lesson I’ll never forget.


Sam Demma (05:37):
Will Smith recently released a book titled will. And it’s all about his journey through life. One of the chapters, he mentioned a quote that in school you get taught the lesson and then you take the test and in life you get taught, you get the test and then it’s your job to try and figure out the lesson. One of the amazing things about education is you have teachers who are helping you learn the lessons, which is really awesome. And it sounds like this teacher did that for you.


Maren Abuzukar (06:13):
I was, I was really grateful because I think up until this point, I’d never had test result like that. And it did break me, but like he said, if I had just retaken it, I wouldn’t have learned that lesson. So I can say I was a little mad initially. But after like afterwards I worked harder brought my grade up. I was super happy. He really saw that. I tried and it just, it helped me so much. So I’m really grateful.


Sam Demma (06:37):
Volunteerism was one aspect of your high school and elementary school experience. At what point did you start getting interested and involved in student leadership and why?


Maren Abuzukar (06:51):
I think like when I was just from a young age, I’ve always been very outspoken. I’ve always liked to just say what’s on my mind. I’ve always like to just, you know, know, represent the kids who didn’t really wanna talk. Like if somebody told me their concerns and I knew they just felt shy in class to say, oh, but like teacher, you haven’t taught us this. You haven’t said this. Like, when’s this gonna happen? I would be the first to put up my hand and be like, well, I’m just wondering, like, I’d say in, like I was wondering, but it was really dumb. So I’ve always been outspoken. And I think that almost it becomes contagious. People start realizing it. People start relying on you for certain things. And I remember one thing, grade seven, maybe grade seven or grade six, I came up with an idea up, but the worst ideas are the one that you don’t follow through with.


Maren Abuzukar (07:39):
So this one, I was like, we gotta follow through with it. It’s a new thing. And it was to have a Christmas party where it would be a potluck. Everybody bring something in, it’d be fun. And I remember how hard it was to convince everybody to bring something, to come in and to do something or to get involved, especially the guys in my class. For some reason, they just wouldn’t budge at the very beginning. And I just kept going, kept going. I had a lot of people helping me on my end, but I was really like the speaker of the group. And it was a success and it became like an annual thing. I remember two years ago when we could still kinda have these events in our school, I was like, everybody bring $2. We’re gonna get pizza. Plus everybody bring everything. And it was it so successful.


Maren Abuzukar (08:22):
And from there, it’s just, it’s been, I think here’s what I’m gonna say. With leadership, a lot of the traits that come with leadership are they’re like muscles. So the more you practice them, the bigger they get and the better they become or the more prevalent they are in you. So with that just first situation, it made me more confident. It made me break outta my, and from there it was like, like I said, I did that. Vaping presentation broke me outta my shell more. And then I had just people coming up to me instead of me going out to them and being like, can you do this for me? Do you wanna be part of this? And it’s just, yeah. It’s like a snowball effect here.


Sam Demma (08:58):
Sounds like small, consistent actions.


Maren Abuzukar (09:02):
Right.


Sam Demma (09:03):
So do you think there are specific characteristics that make a well rounded leader? Or how would you describe a strong leader?


Maren Abuzukar (09:14):
I think one misconception is a lot of people. Like, especially when you’re younger, you envision a leader, some big CEO sitting at an office, he’s got like hundreds of people. He’s got a lead, he’s taking action. He knows everything. He’s super smart and just, he’s got everything going for him. And I think that’s something that a lot of times scares people away. I think that is, that is an example of a leader. But just because that is a leader, doesn’t mean that somebody else can’t be a leader, there is no cookie cut leader, their cookie cut shape of a leader or anything. I think some well rounded leaders would be confident. They’d be resilient when something doesn’t go their way, they keep going. They they’re very outspoken. I’d like to think they’re also very, they like to take initiative. They see a problem. They wanna be the first one there.


Maren Abuzukar (10:02):
They wanna take that start. They wanna do something about it. And of course, when you’re a leader, you’re not singular. You’ve got a group. So you gotta know how to lead a group. Now, with that being said, I also wanna say that just because you don’t maybe possess a, all these characteristics, it doesn’t mean you can’t be a leader. I think like Sam said small, consistent actions. So one of the big things for me, I think with leadership is like I said, taking that initiative, maybe it’s in class, maybe you’re the first one to put your hands up. And all of a sudden there’s a wave of other kids who feel more confident. They’re like you broke the ice. I’m gonna join in, in a project. You wanna take that lead. You wanna tell people in a friendly way, like what to do, and maybe you’re not seeing anybody take that charge and you wanna be that person.


Maren Abuzukar (10:48):
And like I mentioned before, it’s a muscle over time. You’re gonna get better and better at it. You’re gonna get that. You’re gonna be able to speak well in front of crowds, you’re gonna be able to look for the crew group and want the best for the group. You’re gonna have that skill of confidence. You’re gonna be resilient. You’re gonna have that discipline. So I think those are definitely traits. But remember everybody has to start somewhere. And just because you don’t have an abundance of one of them right now, doesn’t mean you can’t in the future. So I wanna end that question by thing. You can be a leader too.


Sam Demma (11:20):
Resilience is a trait that’s being much needed right now with COVID 19 with the transition to virtual school. How has your experience been with online school? What are some of the challenges you’ve faced and how have you overcome them?


Maren Abuzukar (11:40):
I, yeah, so I was one of those special cases that completely got my high school taken away from me. Like my high school experience. I remember we had like, we’d go for volleyball. We’d go to out like a away tournaments. We’d sleep over. We’d do what? Not completely gone. I didn’t know what that felt like until this year. So that was weird there. Like it obviously came all at once. I know one of the big things, of course the school aspects that like electronic learning for a lot of people. It wasn’t interesting. I know sometimes I get up, it gives like, it just seemed so slow and you’d lose motivation and you wouldn’t know what to do and you just didn’t wanna go to class. And that was always hard. And of course there’s like a social aspect to it. Like you wouldn’t be seeing your friends like that.


Maren Abuzukar (12:24):
Got you lonely. Of course that’s never good for your mood. And for me, one of the best things to do was take it one day at a time. I would wake in the morning and have that mindset of being like, okay, I’ve got this class from this to this, I’m gonna pay attention. I’m gonna take an active role. Like I had to do Rome and Juliet online, fun time. And I was like, I put my hand, I put my hand up and I was like to my teacher, I was like, can I be Romeo? So I took that like, you know, first step to that made me that helped me accountable. I had to get up. I had to go to class. I had to take part in that class. Cause Romeo has a lot of lines and that made it better for me. But I think still, even with taking part, it was hard because once we came back to school, it just felt way more fast.


Maren Abuzukar (13:15):
And I remembered like now you had to put back all that sports that you hadn’t done for two years, like the classes or like the extracurriculars. And you’d go into a class that maybe you did in person before the lockdown. Cause we had a smaller school. So we didn’t lock down as frequently as the bigger school. But then a lot of some kids in your class, weren’t on the same page as you cuz they had done it online. And of course that was slower. A lot of things were taken away. So I think the best, the best thing to do in that case was just, don’t be scared to ask, go to your teacher, ask them what you’re gonna do. Cause there’s nothing better than sitting or nothing worse, sorry than sitting in a class, not knowing what to do, going home, still not knowing what to do. And you’re just gonna continue a cycle and you’re never gonna know what to do. So that was another thing that we had to follow through as the year went like as the year kinda opened up.


Sam Demma (14:10):
There will be many educators listening to this podcast who hopefully will share it with their classroom of students. You know, I’m hoping lots of them will listen to it and wanna share it with the kids in their class. Some of which will be in grade nine. If you could give advice to grade nines right now what advice would you share?


Maren Abuzukar (14:34):
I think the first thing I would say is believe in else. And with that kind of take those steps to break outta your shell. I know with me, I said before I found like I fell in love with volunteering. You just feel so good after you’re doing it. And you find something so rewarding. But I had placed limitation on myself saying that I was too young. What would it have hurt if I had went to somebody and asked, Hey, can I volunteer? The worst thing they could have said is no you’re too young, but by not even trying, I didn’t even have that outcome. I didn’t have that opportunity. So I’d say believe in yourself, break outta your shelf. Take those opportunities that you want. A lot of times there’s no matter where you go, no matter what you do, there’s always gonna be people that are gonna have something negative to say about you.


Maren Abuzukar (15:22):
And if you believe in yourself, if you don’t necessarily take what they have to say to heart, or maybe you take it in a critiquing way, maybe they say, say like, you’re you have bored some or something. Maybe you have to ask yourself, Hey, what did I do? What can I fix? What can I improve? But don’t ever have that negative mindset on yourself because that’s never gonna help you. I think something else I would say is you’re in grade nine, you’re young. Like I’m in grade 12, I’m still young, but you’re even younger. And I would say, don’t place limitations on yourself. Don’t tell yourself that you can’t do this or you don’t wanna do this or this doesn’t interest. You I’d say try things out. I know in grade nine, some kids knew exactly what they wanted to be, what universities they wanted to go to, what programs they wanted to be or come out of and like that.


Maren Abuzukar (16:13):
But they’d never experienced it or experienced other things that they might have liked even more. So they placed that limitation on themselves. And I think you’re too young for that. Try things out. See maybe you had a picture perfect with that idea in your head about what being a lawyer would be. But one day you go and shadow someone and you’re like, well, I don’t like this aspect of it. I love of it. Maybe take something out of it and see what other careers come out. I think the thing I’d wanna end off is discipline. It’s hard. I know you think you’re young. I say you’re just you, but it’s to discipline the, I take time outta your schedule, lock things out, organize things in your day so that you hold yourself accountable. Whether that’s for practice. If you have an extracurricular that you love, whether that’s for school, maybe it’s so you get better characteristics and work. I discipline is a huge, huge thing that I’m still working on. So yeah, those are some things that I’d probably say I wish I knew grade nine, definitely would wanna know and hopefully it benefits someone.


Sam Demma (17:19):
Awesome. Aaron, thank you so much for coming on the podcast, sharing some of your experiences. I know it’ll be helpful for educators to share this with their students and their classrooms. If someone wants to ask you a question or reach out what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?


Maren Abuzukar (17:36):
I’d probably say my email. That’s probably the easiest way I do check that occasionally. And my email, like just saying it out loud is M Abukar gmail.com. I think I do have to give you a file. So is it okay if I write that down in there? Just so it’s a little easier for them to see.


Sam Demma (17:52):
Absolutely. I’ll put it in the show notes of the episode where everyone can grab it. Thank you again so much for coming on the show. You were awesome. Keep up with the great work and I look forward to speaking to you soon.


Maren Abuzukar (18:04):
Thank you. I had a lot of fun. I am now officially a podcaster, I guess. So that’s something new.


Sam Demma (18:11):
And there was the full conversation with Maren. We will now start the conversation with Brianna Rentz. Brianna, welcome to the high performing student podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself who you are and tell us a little bit about your journey to where you are today as a student.


Bryanna Rentz (18:32):
So my name is Bryanna Rentz and I’m a grade 11 student from Wainright Alberta. I got involved in student leadership in the third grade. I had an incredible teacher. She taught us about the seven habits of happy kids. Oh cool. Since then, my grade has always been looked to as leaders within our schools, the seven habit. They encourage me to get the skills to become a strong leader. Yes. Since then I’ve been heavily involved in leadership in many different ways. I’ve been a part of the girl guides in my community, my leadership class mentors, grade seven kids. And I was able to volunteer with the four H club in my community and teach them what I’m passionate about.


Sam Demma (19:09):
That is so awesome. And seven habits. Those sound awesome. Do you still remember any of the seven or like any of them that stick out to you?


Bryanna Rentz (19:23):
One of them, I don’t remember which number it is, but one is first to understand and to be understood.


Sam Demma (19:29):
Hmm.


Bryanna Rentz (19:30):
That one really with me.


Sam Demma (19:32):
Yeah. That’s super important. That’s such, I, I think those those lessons come from Steven Covey. He has a, yeah. So when I was like your age, I read a book called the seven habits for highly effective teens. And I think this is like the very, I think it might be the same book or something very similar.


Bryanna Rentz (19:51):
Yeah. our teacher, we didn’t have very much of that in our school before, but she was really into it and she brought leadership to our entire elementary school.


Sam Demma (20:01):
Damn. What, what was her, sorry, what was her name again? And also tell me a little bit about what she did specifically for you that you think made a massive impact on you as a student.


Bryanna Rentz (20:11):
Her name was Marion and she had us teach other classrooms in the school about the seven habits. Oh wow. And how we’d do them every day. And we’d watch videos on leadership. And I remember in grade three, we, we were all obsessed with rainbow looms and making those bracelets.


Sam Demma (20:28):
Yep.


Bryanna Rentz (20:28):
And one day our class, just the entire day we made bracelet and then we had a sale at the school and we donated all of the money we made to charities. Wow.


Sam Demma (20:38):
And do you stay in touch with her to this day or not so much anymore?


Bryanna Rentz (20:42):
Not a whole lot. Now that I’m at a different school, but I remember her all the time.


Sam Demma (20:47):
That is so cool. And aside from her as your teacher, were there any other educators that made a significant impact on you? Like, it, it, it sounds very obvious that she made a massive impact. And it continues to this day. Are there other teachers that you’ve looked up to and have inspired you a lot?


Bryanna Rentz (21:07):
I actually really, really struggle to answer this question cuz so many of my teachers have really made an impact on my life. Yeah. So many different ways. They like, from my schooling to athletics, I’ve learned so many skills from them and they really just make school a better place. They always cheer me up and I can trust them with anything. Yeah. My teachers, Mr. Martin, Mrs. Guy and Han Mrs. Woodell, Mrs. Chesky. And even Mrs. Steele, they were just such a positive impact on our high school.


Sam Demma (21:36):
That’s awesome. That’s so cool.


Bryanna Rentz (21:39):
Sorry.


Sam Demma (21:40):
Continue. Yeah.


Bryanna Rentz (21:41):
When teacher, I just have to tell you about him. He wasn’t really a high school teacher. I only had him in junior high for Jim and art.


Sam Demma (21:49):
Okay.


Bryanna Rentz (21:50):
His name was Mr. Seretsky and every day he’d just greet everyone say good morning. Sometimes he’d forget after turn past 12 and three o’clock when we’re leaving. Hey, good morning everyone. And he just had a super big impact on my high school life. He’d get us all involved and having fun. I remember the day we were told that he was transferring to another school. My heart just sunk and I cried all day.


Sam Demma (22:18):
Wow. It sounds like he made a massive impact because he cared about you guys. Like, like how, what do you think that was? You think it’s him caring about the student? Like if you had to explain what he did. So I, I understand he, he sounds like he was very charismatic and like if you had to boil it down to like one characteristic, what do you think the characteristic was that he embodied that made such an impact on all of you?


Bryanna Rentz (22:45):
He really cared about the students. He gave everything to that school.


Sam Demma (22:51):
Very cool.


Bryanna Rentz (22:52):
Yeah.


Sam Demma (22:52):
Awesome. And when it comes to leadership, obviously you’ve had some great leaders in your life. Yeah. Shout out to your mom too. She’s pretty awesome. You’ve had some great leaders. What do you think the characteristics or the character traits of a great leader are?


Bryanna Rentz (23:11):
In, I think the most important ones are kindness, ambition, authenticity, fairness, and the ability to get people up off their feet, whether like participating in activity or anything else, a leader should really be able to get people involved.


Sam Demma (23:25):
Hmm. I love that. And you mentioned as well a little bit of involvement in the girl guides and four H can you tell me some stories in relation to those initiatives and how you were involved and what you kind of learned or gained from them?


Bryanna Rentz (23:41):
Well, when I turned, I think it was 14 or 15. I was able to apply for the duke of Edinburg award.


Sam Demma (23:48):
What is that? Tell me more, there’s.


Bryanna Rentz (23:49):
Bronze, silver and gold levels. You can unlock the next one as you go. But I have the app on my phone that tells me all about it, but you have to do a certain number of weeks of community service or volunteerism, recreation, an activity and learning a new skill. Yep. And for a volunteer, I chose to teach the four H kids and then another elementary kid in my community, how to do archery. I’m really passionate about that. And then within the girl guides, we meet up with the younger groups and we help them. We plan activities for them and just work with them.


Sam Demma (24:27):
Very cool. That’s awesome. And would you encourage other young people to get involved? Like what do you think the benefit of getting involved and volunteering?


Bryanna Rentz (24:39):
It’s lots of fun and you never know how much you can affect someone’s life with that, sharing your passions with others or help them learn new skills can really like maybe they wanna get involved with it too.


Sam Demma (24:51):
Yeah. So true. So true. And what do you think was your biggest and maybe will continue to be a big challenge when it comes to doing school online and how have you, as a student tried to overcome that and still make the most of the situation.


Bryanna Rentz (25:05):
It was done. Definitely the social part. It was so used to seeing my friends and my teachers every day that it really took a hit when it was all taken away.


Sam Demma (25:14):
Yeah.


Bryanna Rentz (25:16):
Me and my friends got past that issue. We we’d FaceTime every day before class and after class and any other time we could and we’d just play games on our phones and talk how doing, how it’s going at home. And sometimes we’d make zoom calls with some of our favorite teachers just to see how they were doing without us and how the school was.


Sam Demma (25:36):
Cool. That’s awesome. And if you could give other aspiring leaders some advice, like what, what would you share? And this could also be advice for your own younger self?


Bryanna Rentz (25:47):
Get involved in anything you can, leadership can take you amazing places. It can really just make you a better person.


Sam Demma (25:55):
Love that. That’s awesome. And don’t forget to be someone’s taco, right? Yeah. That’s so cool. Well, look, Brandon, thank you so much for taking some time to share some of your experiences. Some of the teachers had a major impact on you. Do you have any parting words or final things you’d like to say to anybody who’s tuning in or would you like to share a way someone could reach out to you, maybe a social platform or an email address? If a student had a question how should they get in touch with you and any, any parting words?


Bryanna Rentz (26:27):
I just wanna thank you for letting me come and talk with you. I wanted you to thank, or I wanted to thank you for letting me voice how I feel. And I do have Instagram. It’s just @Bryanna_Rentz if anybody needs to reach me.


Sam Demma (26:40):
Awesome. All right, Bryanna. Well, we’ll talk soon. Keep up with the great work and yeah. Enjoy the holiday season.


Bryanna Rentz (26:47):
Thank you. You as well.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Maren and Bryanna

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.