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Nicholas Varricchio – Principal at M.M. Robinson High School (HDSB)

Nicholas Varricchio - Principal at M.M. Robinson High School (HDSB)
About Nicholas Varricchio

Nicholas Varricchio (@MMrPrincipal)  is the current Principal of M.M. Robinson High School of the Halton District School Board located in Burlington Ontario. Nick’s career in education has spanned 24 years – 12 of which as a Principal. Nick has taught in 3 different school boards across Ontario both in the Catholic and Public systems, with experience in both the elementary and secondary panels.

Nick has earned a Master’s of Education from York University, a BEd. from the University of Windsor and his Honors BA. from the University of Waterloo.

Connect with Nicholas: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

M.M. Robinson High School

Dr. Frank J Hayden High School

Solution Tree – K12 Professional Development

Halton District School Board

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 (00:02):
Nick welcome to the high performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here, please start by introducing yourself.


Nicholas Varricchio (00:11):
Well, my name isNicholas Varricchio. I am a secondary school principal with the Halton district school board, and my current work location or school is M.M. Robinson high school. And thank you Sam, for allowing me to participate in my very, very first podcast. So if I stumble and hum and hall a little bit, please excuse that, but I’m excited about this opportunity and thank you for hearing my story.


Sam Demma (00:38):
Thank you for saying yes to this opportunity. I appreciate you may the time to come on the show. Why don’t you start by sharing a little bit about what brought you into education and maybe even explain how you came to realize that education was the career that you wanted to get into?


Nicholas Varricchio (00:58):
Well to be quite honest, I stumbled into education. It wasn’t something that I had planned as a, as a, as a kid or as a teenager, I, I stumbled into it. And you know, the reason why I, I like doing what I do is not because I’m crazy because a lot of people do think being a teacher or a principal today is to, especially during the pandemic, we ought to be crazy. Yeah, but I’m not, I can assure you. I feel that there’s no better place to stay young, energetic, and in tune with the world and the direction of the world, other than being in a school, you learn a lot from kids. They are, are the future. And if you enjoy working in a very fast paced environment with complex situations and you enjoy inspiring others to help evolve the world to be a better place, then absolutely.


Nicholas Varricchio (02:02):
There’s no better place to work than being in a school. What, whether it’s a teacher or a principal secretary, or even custodian, the kids of today will definitely keep you hoping and young and who doesn’t wanna stay young nowadays. Right. But I stumbled into this particular job, you know, as a, as a kid, I, wanted to be a rock star. I’m a musician and a drummer and still have music as part of my life. And although on the surface people might think that, you know, being a principal and a drummer and a, and a rock band are totally different you know, practices or careers, but, you know, I’ve thought about this for many years. You and I come to realize that, you know, I, came into schooling or education because of music, really, even though I’m not a mu I wasn’t a music teacher you know, musicians have a story to tell they like making connections through their music, which is a language and, and teachers and educators have a story to tell both musicians, both educators feel that their stories can inspire and make the world a better place.


Nicholas Varricchio (03:18):
So I think it, it, for me, it’s a, a very good metaphor to help explain how I stumbled into education.


Sam Demma (03:26):
I appreciate you sharing and think it’s so awesome that you still pursue your passion of music. Do you actively continue to play in bands today?


Nicholas Varricchio (03:38):
I do not as my much as I used to when, you know I, I was a young teacher or even a vice principal, but as a principal, I still do. Of course, the, the music industry is somewhat shut down today and has been for the last 18 months or so. So obviously no currently, but it’s definitely a something I continue to to do in my own house on my downtime gives me a definite a definite outlet. My wife is also a singer professionally, although she, she works for a, a big bank as well. She tends to be more active in music today, despite the pandemic challenges than, than myself. But you, yes, to answer your question, I, I still have music on, on, on the radar and hoping to sort of get back into that a little bit more formally once we’re behind once the pandemic is behind us,


Sam Demma (04:32):
You mentioned stumbling into education. You know, your first dream was to get into music, but you stumbled into education. Can you explain a little bit behind that stumbling journey or at what point you realized education is something I would like to do? And then what did the path look like from that moment?


Nicholas Varricchio (04:51):
So you know, I, believe that kids fall into two camps when they’re you know, pursuing their education or the school system one camp is that kids know exactly what they wanna do, or, or at least they think they know what they want to do post secondary, you know and they pursue it. And then there’s the other camp where, you know, kids have no idea what they wanna do post Canary and both camps are okay. I was in the latter camp. I did not know that I wanted to be a teacher. I did like music and wanted to dabble into that a little bit knowing full well that, you know, to make a real good go as a, as a career to let live off that most certainly would be a challenge for many people. And so I decided to, you know, continue with schooling after high school while I still played music.


Nicholas Varricchio (05:58):
And while, you know, I had my part-time job in the retail sector. And you know, when I entered university, I dabbled into all subject areas because I didn’t really know you know, what I wanted to do. And I wanted to see if I could keep as many doors open as possible, should the music not play out the way I thought and hoped it would. So that was in around the time where it was very difficult to get a teaching job. There was a surplus of teachers. And so I decided to take some time off after my four year degree, just to kind of play music, supplement my income with the retail sector and go from there and see what happens. And then after about a year and a half doing that, I kind of got tired of being around a bunch of Grammy guys, playing music in some bars.


Nicholas Varricchio (06:53):
And so I thought, okay, I’m, I’m gonna, I’m gonna, you know, apply to teachers college. And just the, to see where that goes. And it was very competitive to get into teachers college, but I made a commitment to myself that should I get, go get into a, a, a program, I’ll give it a shot. I got nothing to lose. And so I did you know after I completed my four year degree at the university of Waterloo you know, I, I eventually got into the university of Windsor for teachers college and during my first practice teaching assignment at WD low in Windsor, Ontario, I loved it. It was, it was the kids. The kids kept me hopping. I shared with them, you know, some of my, my, some of my journey with music and made a connection through them. And, and and that helped me, you know you know, get through the curriculum with the kids and keep them engaged, you know, developing those personal relationships.


Nicholas Varricchio (07:44):
So being able to, you know, share some personal stories with kids to, to engage them and using those stories to you know, work through the curriculum, I think was is key and was key for me. And so that’s how I kind of stumbled into it. Once, once I finished teachers college, again, there was still that shortage of of teaching opportunities. So again, went back into music into retail and did that for a few months. And then I thought, okay, I, I think I’m ready to at least apply. I think I have the maturity now to apply and let’s see where it goes. And so I applied to, you know, pretty much all the GTA boards and the Halton Catholic board was the first board to give me a chance. And you know, I supply taught and then quickly got out, got, got an LTO that evolved into, and to an, a, a, a position in an elementary school.


Nicholas Varricchio (08:45):
And I, I took it, you know, even though my passion was more of secondary and my experience in teachers college was secondary. I took the opportunity and, and it was a great opportunity that is for sure, but strange enough you know, a few months later I got a call from the principal at St. Francis Xavier, which is in Mississauga for a full-time geography position at their high school. And I never applied to that school. I applied to the Catholic board for a supply teaching gig, you know, several months before, but you know, the principal called me and I thought, man, that was pretty strange. And it was an odd time of year. It was like, you know, the third week of February and, you know, the teachers across the province were just coming off the major strike during the Harris days.


Nicholas Varricchio (09:37):
And so I went for the interview and, you know got the job. And I was in din field for quite a few years. And it was strange because that opportunity presented itself because the the permanent teacher, I guess, decided to marry some guy overseas and didn’t return to the teaching job. So, you know, the, the, I got that opportunity and I, because of somebody else’s best luck in a marriage. And it was a strange time. And I was with din peel for six, seven years. And you know, I was I taught at C I was just gonna zag another big, big high school in Mississauga. And then from there, I came to the Halton ditches school board, which which is actually home for me, I’m a product of the Halton district school board. My K through 12 experience was through the Halton ditches school board. And ironically very ironically the high school at, I graduated from 25 years later. I became the principal of that school at a time when many of my teachers were still there. And I, I wasn’t the best student. And most certainly, if you had asked those teachers if they thought that I would become a teacher or a principal at the school where they worked at, they would look at you like you’re crazy, but the world is a crazy place and a funny place. And that’s my stumbling into education journey.


Sam Demma (11:10):
You mentioned your belief about this idea that students fall into two categories, those that are so certain and, and know what they wanna do with their future and those that are not so certain and like yourself, I feel like I fell into the latter category of not a hundred percent being sure. How do you think we help those students that are unsure, you know, as a principal and as a teacher, how do we also support those students who are unsure, think about maybe what you would’ve needed when you were a student.


Nicholas Varricchio (11:45):
So, you know, and I know there’s gonna be some people who hear this podcast, who, who will adamantly disagree with me, but I, believe that it’s perfectly fine not to know exactly what you want to do as a young person. Mm. And I also believe that to help those young people who are not certain, what they wanna do is to highlight for them that it’s perfectly okay, because that will help take the edge off in some of the anxiety that they might be experience experiencing on not knowing exactly what they want to do. I always say to the kids, Hey, look at it this way. If you’re not sure what you want to do, and you spend an extra year at school, that means one less year that you’re, you’re having to work for a living. So, you know, I, say to kids, don’t worry about it.


Nicholas Varricchio (12:38):
Just, you know, if you’re not sure, just try a little bit of everything, something will, something will spark your interest and, you know, and once that spark happens, continue to spend more time and energy in that area. And it, it, something will emerge for you most certainly. So I, I think, you know, to help kids understand that it’s perfectly fine, you know, say that to them, be transparent with them. And again, you know, some people will disagree with that. Because you know, there’s so much pressure on kids nowadays in selecting the right courses is early on in their career to leave the doors open, which, you know, you wanna leave doors open for sure. But I think it’s perfectly fine and normal not to have a concrete plan for your next step in university, but I think if you, if you prepare kids and, you know, take that layer of pressure off of them I think they will appreciate that and understand that that’s just a normal process of growing and learning and moving on in life.


Sam Demma (13:45):
I personally agree with you and relate, because again, I was the student who wasn’t sure who maybe got three years of no work because I, I took a great third a gap year and a year off before deciding what I wanted to pursue professionally. So it’s really refreshing to hear that perspective coming from a principal as well. What do you find most rewarding about your work in education?


Nicholas Varricchio (14:18):
I, think, and often the reward is not an immediate reward. It could come days, weeks, months, and maybe even years after it’s, it’s seeing hearing or understanding that some of the work that you’ve done, whether it was directly with a student or a specific class or some of the work that you’ve done with the staff in your building or some of the work that you’ve done collaborating with central board staff, the reward for me is that I see that some of the energy input and voice has been acted upon and, and influenced others, processes, products or paths for kids or for staff that evolves schools systems and helps kids grow to be better people. Hmm. So I, that is, to me, the most rewarding bit is seeing that, yes, my work, my voice had a positive change for the better in education for kids.


Sam Demma (15:41):
And along your journey as an educator, I’m sure there’s been teachers, mentors, people that have poured into you and, and helped you, who are some of those people that come to mind and what did they teach you or share with you that you think was impactful in your journey of, you know, becoming the best educator and role model or, or principal that you possibly can be.


Nicholas Varricchio (16:07):
So, you know, I two things I’ve always had connections with teachers who am evolve themselves outside the classroom like through extracurricular, for sure. But also those teachers who had incredible stories and a gift to tell a story, to engage kids, to keep them captivated and listening and learning and class. I also, I also think that you know, my parents and I think this is probably, this will probably echo for a lot of people too. My parents were probably my best teachers throughout my life, and my mom Conti continues to be my best teacher in my life and together between, you know, my parents and my parents and my teachers throughout my school journey have always encouraged and, and foster this sense of, to ask some real crew critical questions. And don’t be shy from asking real critical questions.


Nicholas Varricchio (17:24):
That’s what I’ve learned. And, you know the power of partnerships are very important. And I I’ll give you two, two examples of, of partnerships with team parents and teachers that as, as a, as a kid, you know, if something happened in the school and I was directly involved in this incident, I tell ya I would go home. And of course, I’m not gonna say anything to, to my parents. And my mom would say, well, anything happened at school today? And I’d be like, Nope, Nope, no. And then she would throw it in my face. Right. And I would always wonder, how did she know? You know? And you know, she all always used to say, and I remember never lie to your mother. Your mother will know everything. The fact is my mother used to work for Loblaws and she was a cashier and the teachers would deliberately go through her line to share some of the things that were occurring in the class.


Nicholas Varricchio (18:25):
Now, whether they op, whether they deliberately shared to throw me under the, a bus or my mom would ask them, you know, keep the pulse of of of what was happening in schools, either way the partnership was there. And you know, funny enough, you know, again, when I came back to be a principal at the school we had a good chuckle with some, some, some of that, you know, cuz you know, here’s me being the principal and of the school and knowing that office space quite well from 25 years earlier. So very interesting. That is for sure. So the power of partnerships is definitely important. And in fact, my mom also volunteered in, when I was a, a high school kid, volunteered with the auto shop teacher. Now she claims she just volunteered because my dad was useless and didn’t know how to change a tire. But I have a feeling that I have a, I have a feeling, she did that to kind of keep an eye on what was happening in the school. So, you know you know, those teachers who had good connection or I felt I had a good connection with were those who actively got involved with my life, both inside and outside the classroom and through building partnerships with my parents.


Sam Demma (19:37):
That’s awesome. I totally relate to having parents as mentors, I’m even inspired deeply by my grandparents as well. Both who I think like yourself, are, are you a Italian? Is that your background?


Nicholas Varricchio (19:53):
Yes, I am. Yeah. Yeah. My mom and dad were both born in Italy. My, my grand, my grandparents of course were born in Italy. My, my grandfather was a world war II vet. Oh. They immigrated in the, in the fifties and you know, my grandpa other worked in the mines in Northern Ontario and the subways in in in Toronto and then actually later on in life, he, he worked for the the Toronto school board and he was a, he was a custodian for the for the for the Toronto school board. And for any Toronto district board central staff, one of his grievances was, you know, staff members leaving half coffee cups in the garbage cans. And at the time they weren’t using garbage bags and all that used to bother him. So if there’s any central staff listening, they won’t leave your half, your cup, half full in the garbage can for the custodians.


Sam Demma (20:49):
I love it. Leave it there. That’s a, that’s a very good point, but yeah. You know,


Nicholas Varricchio (20:53):
Yeah, don’t do that. Don’t do that. So, but anyway, that little, little funny story, but a true story.


Sam Demma (20:59):
Yeah. And my grandparents are both from Italy as well. My parents are born a year, but my grandparents are born there and grandfather’s name Salvato. And he, yeah, he passed when I was 12, but yeah, he was a big, you know, mentor, not even through his words because I was so young and you know, didn’t really, you know, understand a lot of the meaning of mentorship back then, but through his actions and his hard work really taught me a lot. So I think partnership is really important. And having people in your life who you can bounce ideas off of, or who you can share, the honest, authentic truth, no matter how bad it sounds and, and know that the person you’re sharing it with is gonna be giving you advice from their heart with your best interest in mind. So, yeah, I think what you’re mentioning with your mom and just with, with partnership in general is so important throughout your career in education have you come across any resources, any programs anything you’ve attended or things you’ve brought into your school that you think were really valuable for the community that another educator listening could also benefit from?


Nicholas Varricchio (22:10):
So, you know, some, some of the, some of the PD that I’ve participated in both through my board, the Hal and ditch school board, and, you know, other PD that I participated in outside our board through solution tree, I, I have the opportunity to, to hear a fellow, his, his name is Anthony Mohamed and he’s, he’s well known in education circles and a lot of his work centers on the importance of culture and really understanding culture of a school to, to, to navigate the culture and how to evolve culture in a way that best serves every single kid. And, you know, some of the messages and the, and the thoughts through his research and, and and work really resonates with me because, you know, understanding culture is understanding people and you know, and, and trying to inspire them to get them side and doing that takes time doing that, you know requires you to build trust lead with empathy. But also, and as my dad would say is, you know, approach relationships by being fair firm and friendly. Mm. So, you know, very simple. But I think it, it, you know, if you keep that in mind being fair firm and friendly you know, I think it, you’re in the right, you’re taking the right steps to, to, to build trust to get people to buy in, to feel supported and see the bigger picture on, on what you’re trying to do.


Sam Demma (23:56):
Got it. That’s awesome. Do you know, what’s a solution tree, like a organization that has some speakers or what, what is solution tree?


Nicholas Varricchio (24:07):
Yeah, so it, it, it’s a network of professional speakers that that, you know, they have, they put on conferences throughout the world really. And and I’ve attended a few conferences in the United States that one here too, as well in the past. And, you know, school will, boards will often tap into solution three to bring speakers to the, to their boards of education. And, and, and quite a few colleagues. I’m not the only one who will, you know you know, participate in these conferences with solution three. And of course, you know, they, they promote the, the the speakers and their books. You know, so it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s well known in the education world for sure. And the speakers that are engaged in solution tree are, are well known as well and experienced in school systems. They’re not just, you know they have experiences in schools. Let’s put it that way before they, before they became on the speaking circuit. So, yep.


Sam Demma (25:13):
Yeah, absolutely. That sounds awesome. Thank you for sharing that. I’ll definitely make sure to include a link to their stuff in the show notes of the episode. If you could take your knowledge and experience, and maybe this will be reiterating something you’ve already shared, but if you could take your knowledge and experience, wrap it all up and travel back in time, walk into the first couple of years of teaching that you did as a young educator. Not that you’re old now, but when you were fresh into your career if you had all the advice and wisdom now could give it to your younger self, what would you have told young Nick?


Nicholas Varricchio (26:00):
I would say that do recognize that everyone has a different starting point. Mm don’t don’t don’t assume that, so I don’t that as a, as a teacher that just because a student had graduated or moved on to the next level, they will, they, they do most, certainly have the same skill, knowledge experience, even though they formally have moved on, on to the next grade or the next course. So rec recognizing that, despite what it says on a transcript, know that when you are in the classroom with the kids, that despite what is said on their previous report card, for the course, they are coming with a diff or they both are starting your class with a different starting point. And I think also as well is you know, when they, when a student starts, starts a course with you as a teacher you know, you you’ll hear, you’ll hear things.


Nicholas Varricchio (27:16):
And if you review the OSR, which, you know, teachers are teachers, do, you know, just have that as a background, but, you know understand that it is a, it is a, a blank canvas and you have an opportunity to to work with that student from the beginning. Mm. So, you know, and we are approaching a new beginning, you know, February 4th is the start of semester two. And so every student and every teacher has a fresh start here in the next week or so. So I think, I think as a young Nick remembering and highlighting that, that every student that’s sitting in your class, despite what it said on a report card is starting from a different point in, in, in their, in their learning.


Sam Demma (28:11):
Hmm. That is a very good piece of advice. Thank you so much for, for sharing that if someone is listening to this, wants to reach out, ask you a question about anything we talked about during the podcast, maybe even inquire about hearing some of your music so they could find it online. What would be the best way for somebody to reach out and get in contact with you?


Nicholas Varricchio (28:34):
So I am on Twitter, (@MMrPrincipal). So that’s a good way to kind of remember, MMR principal. I am on Twitter and actually some of the, some you’ll see some music video clips on, on Twitter too where you’ll see me playing with some of the kids at my previous school and some good classic hard rock, a little bit of Metallica, Black Sabbath Motley Crew, which is not usual picks for your principles nowadays, but nonetheless, you’ll see it on my Twitter and those videos. Actually they, they came about in a very interesting way at my previous school before, before before, mm Robinson, I was a school, I was at a school called Dr. Frank J. Hayden. And it had a a common lunch and often kids would go into the music room at Hayden and just jam.


Nicholas Varricchio (29:27):
And so, you know, when I first got there, I, I kind of made a point just to kind of go in there, listen to what the kids were jamming with. And of course they’re jamming some hard rock songs and, you know, I just tap the drummer on the shoulder and say, Hey, do you mind if I kind of try a little bit? And they’re like, sure. And I’m like, what’s on, you know and, you know, just, you know, they started playing some stuff and I just played along. And all of a sudden, you know, kids started coming in and taking some videos and, you know, thought, Hey, look at this. This is really neat. And so I had them share the videos with me and, you know, just at the time I thought, you know, a good little memory of my experience at this school when I eventually move on.


Nicholas Varricchio (30:03):
But then when the pandemic hit you know, one, the first lockdown, you know, there was a lot of concern around about kids and staff becoming disconnected with the school. And so, you know, as an admin team, we would think about ways of somehow keeping the staff and students engaged with us or engaged together. And so, you know, at the time I thought, you know what, I, I, I’m gonna try, you know, some learning, some editing software that were free on the Google play store, downloaded them video editing software. And I decided to, you know, upload those videos that some of the kids took and shared with me. And, and and I started editing them a little bit and I thought, you know, how can I use this to engage the community? And so, and then I started tweeting them out and created a music trivia challenge and saying, okay, if anyone can guess what song I’m playing here with these students, you know, hit me back first, first, correct.


Nicholas Varricchio (31:00):
Answer. You pick up your hard prize when the school reopens, and I would do this on a weekly basis and sure enough, you know, kids were keeping engaged. And the whole point of that was ensuring that our school community remained connected. So another kind of innovative way to weave in music, to, you know, to share a story and, and work in partnership with kids. So, yeah, I share all that because some of my music’s on my Twitter handle and you can see how music can be weaved in as an educator and not just a music teacher.


Sam Demma (31:31):
Absolutely. that sounds awesome. I’ll, I’ll be following you after this as well, and digging for some of those videos. So I appreciate you sharing. Yeah.


Nicholas Varricchio (31:39):
Yeah, no problem. They’re buried in the Twitter. Yeah. Yeah.


Sam Demma (31:42):
Awesome. Well, Nick, thank you so much for taking the time to come on the show here. I look forward to staying in touch with all the amazing things you do. Keep up with the great work and, and we’ll talk soon.


Nicholas Varricchio (31:53):
Sam, nice meeting you. Nice talking with you and best of luck and stay safe. My friend.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Nicholas Varricchio

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.

Ryan Fahey – CEO of Fahey Consulting & Amazon Best-Selling Author

Ryan Fahey - CEO of Fahey Consulting & Amazon Best-Selling Author
About Ryan Fahey

Ryan Fahey (@wellnessrf) is a 3-time author, speaker, and edupreneur who is passionate about personal growth and well-being. He is the Owner of FaheyConsulting which aims to help people and organizations move from good to great.

His latest book, “How To Thrive In Remote Working Environments”, which supports the well-being of remote workers globally recently hit #1 on Amazon in Canada and cracked the top 40 books on entrepreneurship. Originally from Eastern Canada, Ryan has dedicated his life to pursuing wellness and is widely considered a thought leader in the wellness & education sectors. 

Three fun facts about Ryan:

  1. Early in his career, Ryan ran a mobile personal training business out of his Hyundai hatchback.
  1. Ryan has worked in various education delivery roles in a provincial capital, state capital, and national capital.

Ryan owns a small digital publication called, The Canadian Way”.

Connect with Ryan: Email | Website | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Ryan’s Website – Fahey Consulting

How To Thrive In Remote Working Environments (book)

Physical and Health Education Canada (PHE)

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


Ryan Fahey (00:08):
Hi Sam. Thanks for having me and for everybody tuning in. I hope you’re having a good day. Yeah. My name is Ryan Fahey. I’m a bit of an entrepreneur educator by trade and also a lead for special projects and resources for an organization called physical and health education Canada. So I’m excited to, to get rolling here, Sam, and to share some stuff with your audience today.


Sam Demma (00:32):
Tell me a little bit about why you’re passionate about the work you do with educators and also with schools.


Ryan Fahey (00:39):
Yeah. You know, one of the things that I’ve noticed. So I, when I, when I was in university, I went, I was training to become a physical and health education teacher. And movement has always been a big part of my life growing up, and I’ve always enjoyed the subject area of physical education, health education. And when I got into this field both as an educator now working nationally supporting physical education across the country. You know, when I look back at this, there’s just been so many people that have invested in me. You know, I’ve had some incredible mentors along the way that have supported my journey. And so one of the, one of the pieces, I guess, that drives the work I do is just willing to give back to the community and wanting to give back to this C because they’ve just given me so much, like every step of the way, and I’ll share a little bit more later, but every step of the way, you know, I’ve had people investing in me, people encouraging me, calling me lifting me up when I needed it. And and really, you know, passionate individuals when they get, when they get out there and they get into their gymnasium. So, you know, working at the national office is credible being able to support schools and, and educators, cuz it’s, it is an opportunity to give back that community that really has put me here. So so yeah, that’s a little bit about, I guess, why I do what I do and why I get up in the mornings to support the, the folks that have invested in me.


Sam Demma (02:04):
And how did you get into this work? What did the journey look like for Ryan as a young career aspiring man to Ryan now?


Ryan Fahey (02:16):
Well, so it’s funny. I was actually talking to a guy earlier today about this. We were having a conversation, so it was my last practicum. My teaching practicum at St. Xavier university. I I got approval to go on this trip down to shape America conference, which is the national kind of PhysEd conference in the us. And I was gonna get a job. I was determined, you know, I’m gonna get a job down there. So I went down, I printed off all these resumes, brought my binder. I went to this huge convention center and just started literally handing out, resonates to people. I knew that when I was graduating that I really wanted to travel and I wanted to, you know, I wanted to see the world. I was curious and growing up in small town, Nova Scotia, spending most of my life in Nova Scotia, I wanted to kind of, you know, branch out and, and explore a little bit more.


Ryan Fahey (03:07):
And really from there I got a bite. I ended up getting a job with with an organization called be active kids out of North Carolina and, and, and started there, you know, started my work was supporting early childhood physical literacy through a, a train, the trainer model. And I got to drive. I literally drove across the state in a, in this van, this B active van and would just like hand curriculums and do trainings. And so it’s kind of funny, you know, like, there’d be days I’d have to pinch myself off and be like, I can’t believe I went to school for this and I get to do this work cuz it was just, it was really cool. You know, I guess to kind of fast track from there, I came back to Canada still really was curious about traveling and seeing different parts of Canada at that point.


Ryan Fahey (03:55):
And I was very fortunate to have, get a position with an organization called ever active schools as a school health facilitator, basically going into schools and supporting them through a mentorship model and through a comprehensive school health approach. So whether you’re looking at DPA in schools, daily physical activity, whether you’re looking at being more intentional with comprehensive school health or potentially school, little sport, those were kind of the areas that I would go in across Alberta and support schools in. And you know, when I left, when I left there, I, I was really getting the itch to go international. I was really like, okay, I worked in north America, I worked in Western Canada, Eastern Canada. I grew up there, but you know, what about maybe going abroad? And so this incredible opportunity came forward to teach physical education abroad at a school in Abu Dhabi.


Ryan Fahey (04:51):
And and I jumped on it and it was a, it was pretty much a master’s in education. You know, I don’t have a master’s, but I say I have a real life. Yeah. Experience masters. But the amount I grew, the amount I was challenged and, and, and how I really had to overcome a lot of personal adversity professional adversity at, at that point was, was tremendous. And that’s really where you know, those experiences then combined have kind of led me back to Canada and let me back to, to work here nationally now, to support schools. And again, you know, just having so many unique experiences along the way, it’s, it’s kind of nice to, to be at the national office to be able to share those experiences with others.


Sam Demma (05:37):
You hopped in a van that said be active on it and drove across the country. True. Can you elaborate on that a little bit where that came from and what that initiative was and some of the stories along the way.


Ryan Fahey (05:51):
Yeah. I’ll tell you one, I’ll tell you one day this, you know, I was, I was very passionate. I mean, I’m still very passionate, but I would say I was very passionate at that point, but a little more careless. So there was one day north Carolina’s a very large state, so there’s 101 counties from west tip to, you know, the odor banks. And my role was get, get this curriculum in all 101 counties with this van. And so there was, was one day there was a tornado warning in the central part of the state. And I had a workshop planned in person in Greensboro, which is kind of in the heart of the state. And I remember driving and like my phone going off at the time, like tornado warning, you know, seek shelter and I’m driving. And I remember just like in this van by myself, just like, yeah, but not like in an aggressive way, just in like a prove it prove you wrong way.


Ryan Fahey (06:42):
I was like, you know, physical literacy, doesn’t take a day off education, doesn’t take a day off. Like people need to learn this this curriculum needs to get out there. I’m going like all in, like if this tornado takes me off. So be it. And I just went ever thinking about that. I’m like, I’m a little crazy, like, this is, this is probably not the safest thing, but yeah, I just literally drove around the state in a van and everywhere I went just kind of had some amazing people that would either build me or put me up or show me where to go within the community. And it was a fascinating experience right. At university, for sure.


Sam Demma (07:18):
That’s amazing. And you mentioned a lot of people poured into you along this journey. Talk a little bit about the mentors you’ve had and the impact they’ve made in your own life.


Ryan Fahey (07:29):
Yeah. I’d say, you know, there’s so many, I, unfortunately I lost one a few when I was actually in North Carolina. Oh, wow. And that was really tough. He a, he was a longstanding mentor of mine. But of the mentors that I currently have in my life or have had, you know, I’d say my dad is my biggest for sure. He’s, he’s the, he’s kind of that like he’s got that Sage wisdom to him, you know, it’s like, he’s got this sixth sense about everything that I just can’t seem to figure out how he does it. Yeah. He’s not on social media. You have to like go into the woods to find him. But when he is in there and when you see him, it’s like this Miyagi karate kid experience. And so he’s definitely my, my number one. And then I have a really good friend who is kind of been this pseudo friend mentor for years named Matt McDonald.


Ryan Fahey (08:19):
And we were actually just chatting the other day and he’s, you know, he is so different than me. And when we were younger, we would sometimes have our differences. And, and now like at the older I get and the older he gets, even though our lives kind of have went in multiple directions. I just appreciate that so much more. I appreciate questioning thought. I appreciate diversity of thinking. I just appreciate these multiple perspectives. And he always will be the one to ask the questions that no one else will ask. And, and I think that’s, that’s been huge for me in my life and, and it’s allowed me to sometimes walk away frustrated, but also walk away being like, okay, like I really need to think this through because Matt really asked me some great questions. So those would definitely be my top two.


Sam Demma (09:04):
That’s awesome. And for an educator who doesn’t know much about PhD Canada, and what they have to offer schools, go ahead and give a little breakdown of what pH does and how school could get involved in a partnership, a collaboration with pH or what you guys have to offer.


Ryan Fahey (09:25):
Yeah. So the organization, physical health education Canada has been around for almost a hundred years actually. Which is which crazy when you think about it. But yeah, it, you know, the organization basically seeks to support healthy, healthy, active kids through physical and health education and quality physical and health education experiences. Over the years, the work obviously has changed a lot. You know, I think, you know, a few years ago was there, there was a lot of support specifically around curriculum many years ago. And obviously there’s a big need there to support advocacy and, and, and curriculum development, curriculum improvement, things like that. And we still do a bit of that, but I would say the, the biggest piece that I carry and and for the listeners listening in that, that might be of value is the amount of projects, programs, and resources that we have.


Ryan Fahey (10:21):
So we, we, we’re very grateful in that we have a lot of great funders, including, you know, the CFL is one MBA obviously the government and, and other corporate funders as well. And, and one of the pieces I just actually developed was a K to three physical literacy resource that is focused on football. So it’s in partnership with the CFO, it’s an earlier introduction to football and it’s kind of this two pronged approach and that kids are gonna learn about football, but they’re also gonna develop the, their fundamental movement skills, like hop in and, and jumping and kicking and throwing, which are all the skills that we see in the super bowl. Right? So it’s kind of this fun project that, that we were able to work on together with them and, and to support and to get the next generation of Canadians excited about the sport of football I think is huge. And so any of the listeners tuning in there’s, there’s tons of free resources across the website, go check it out. And whatever you’re teaching, we, we probably have something to support your needs. For sure.


Sam Demma (11:28):
That’s amazing. That sounds like a great program. What’s happened during COVID with the pivot, if I’m a, had to use that word with physical education, have you guys worked on some virtual resources as well for gym teachers wondering like, what the heck do I even do with my students right now?


Ryan Fahey (11:50):
Yeah, absolutely. So when, when COVID first hit, we, we kind of went into startup mode where we’re like, okay, we need to be equally as disruptive in terms of how we operate, what we do and, and how we deliver, right? Because everything just changed so quick for everyone. And, and, you know, again, peach, Canada being so old, we’re, we’re often looked to as that, that, that lead voice. And so it was important for us to do that and to meet the needs of the teachers. So when COVID first hit, we were doing a lot of advocacy for the at-home learning mandates writing letters to many of the provinces territories in partnership with partners there to say, Hey, look, you know, in your at-home learning mandates, you need to have some form of physical education. Because that’s, that’s, you can’t just drop that.


Ryan Fahey (12:39):
Like you can’t just go away. Yeah. So that was some of the initial work. And, and then as folks began to return back to school, we created these return to school guidelines just to really help physical health education teachers on navigating policy, navigating some of decisions that they need to make navigating gym gym sizes, or how many students can be in a gym, those types of things that we’re really looking for clarity. And so we, we try to just support and guide them you know, with, with compiling resources like that. I would say we we’ve completely moved a digitally right with conferences. We’re, we’re fully digital. We have a conference coming up here in February, that’s fully virtual.


Sam Demma (13:17):
Nice.


Ryan Fahey (13:18):
And, you know, I, a big credit to the team, you know, there there’s a mix of educators on the team. There’s business folks, there’s kind of multiple backgrounds, but everybody’s just come together and said, we need to support this community. And we need to continue to listen. Because there’s, there’s a lot being thrown at teachers right now. And we need to sift through that and find clarity and develop high quality resources and supports for them.


Sam Demma (13:42):
Physical education changed my life, growing up as an athlete. I, I don’t know if I would be the same person I am today without it. So the work is extremely important and something that can’t be dismissed no matter what the world it is going through, we don’t move our bodies. We lose our mental health. And I think they’re very interconnected. There’s probably dozens of studies that link the, the mind to physical movement. Yeah, it’s just such important work. Tell me about a, a situation or a story where you heard positive feedback from a program making an impact in a, or an educator reaching out and letting you guys know.


Ryan Fahey (14:19):
Yeah. So we ran this grant campaign for a couple years, my first few years at PhD Canada. And it was incredible. It was called share to care, and it was a mental health campaign to support schools with their mental health needs. And so what we would do is we would grant funding to those schools. I think we had like maybe five or 10 schools across the country each year. And then we would highlight those school profiles as promising practices as well, and publish them on our, on our website. So that was incredible because teachers would come in and they’d be like, I didn’t know, other schools were doing this. This is amazing. So we were able to surface some of that knowledge that was happening locally so that other schools across the country could take it and run with it.


Ryan Fahey (15:05):
But it was really neat being a part of that, that campaign as the, as kind of the lead person on it. Because like, I remember one school, I went to a school in Brampton. They were a recipient and they were just so overjoyed to have us in there. Like we would come in with this jumbo check and the kids were so excited. There’s a guest in there and he’s got a big check and, you know, and I’m like excited to be in a school cause I love schools. And, and so that was a lot of fun, like to get up in the gym, they would have an assembly. We present the check and have the funder there, do a few words and whatnot. I mean, this is all stuff, I’m sure you, you know, you you’ve been in some schools, you, you know what I’m talking about, but just to see the look on these kids’ faces and the teachers as well being like, there’s hope you there, there’s, there’s groups out, out there that are gonna support us in our, you know, cause a lot of them are just doing this from the deep Wells of their heart and they’re not getting paid for these extra things and these extra initiatives and you know, all of these, these things that they’re assets that they’re bringing to their, to their work.


Ryan Fahey (16:08):
And when you get these beautiful initiatives that pop up, it’s so awesome to be able to celebrate them. So that was one just being at that school in Branford was, was one one really neat way to see the impact of the work that we do and how important it is. And I mean, sometimes it’s like a school just needs to know that that there’s hope right. And it’s so challenging right now. But but how having grant programs like that, I think that I think provides that hope.


Sam Demma (16:36):
A hundred percent on the topic of hope. What do you think are some of the opportunities that exist in education right now? I think whenever there’s a challenge, you don’t have to find the silver lining in that specific individual challenge, but somewhere within the industry as a whole, that become some opportunities. Do you think any of these opportunities are starting to pop up because of the shift in education that has happened over the past two years?


Ryan Fahey (17:03):
Yeah. I’ll give you a great example. So when I was with ever active schools out in Alberta, we were piloting this new resource at the time called don’t walk in the hallways and essentially they were different colored sticky tiles that you would put through the hallways and it would create this kind of makeshift hop scotch. So as opposed to the kids, you know, hand on the hip finger on the lip or something like that, you know, like be quiet walking down the hallway, this was a culture shift for many schools to say, maybe the kids can hop or Gallop or skip. They go, you know, from point a to point B and have a little bit more play within their day and the amount of pushback that we got at the time, not from every school. I mean, we had early adopters for sure.


Ryan Fahey (17:46):
But, you know, there were some schools that were like, oh, it’s not gonna work. You know, the, the floors it’s too, they’re too sticky. They leave a residue and it’s not clean. And now think about this, Sam. Now you go anywhere and there’s like stickers on the floor. Like stand here, don’t stand here. Here’s another arrow. So I’m like, I think we were just too early with that. But you know, now it’s like this, this would be so much easier because schools are already used to having to have things marked on the floor right now. Now the, the leap is less large because they they’ve already been doing this with, with COVID. So I think in that sense, like the disruption has allowed space for a quicker conversation, right. To say, you know what? Yeah, we don’t need to worry about all these things anymore because they’re really not that important.


Ryan Fahey (18:37):
Like we know that these things are important, so let’s just go and make this decision. So I think that’s one thing. I think it, second thing that that’s really important and this kind of goes with that is I think teacher voices have never been louder. And I think it’s amazing. I mean, you’re, you’re, you’re on social media as well as, as, as myself and seeing educators being able to stand up and say, you know, what they feel, what they want, what they need. I think we need more of that. We need more teachers coming forward saying, look, this is just like this policy to doesn’t make sense. Or this policy doesn’t make sense or this look at this best practice and like, you know, call me and you know, we’ll talk about how to, you know, replicate this. Yeah. I think that that collective voices are huge right now. And I, I, you know, go going through the remainder of this pandemic. I hope that teachers don’t remain silent. I hope that they continue to provide a ground for all wise practices and what’s working. What’s not working and really advocate for what they need, because I think that’s really important.


Sam Demma (19:40):
I tell educators all the time that I think if they choose to share their experiences, it helps everyone else in the field because it may be a situation that someone else is experiencing right now that they’ve already figured out or solved and their sharing will open a door for somebody else who’s tuning in, whether it’s listening or reading. At the beginning of this interview, you introduce yourself as an ed entrepreneur, someone who works in education and is also an entrepreneur. One of the ways that a lot of educators, at some point in their life consider using their voice is by writing a book. And I know you’ve published. Self-Published a few of them. Can you tell me a little bit about your impetus or an inspiration to writing books and what it’s like being both an educator and an author?


Ryan Fahey (20:34):
Yeah, this is it’s very interesting. So I started out with a blog. I, I was in university and I wrote this blog. It was terrible. So if anybody Googles it, it was called wellness network blog. It was terrible. The visuals were awful. But the content was okay. So, you know, I remember I fast forward a few years from that I shut down the blog. I was kind of, you know, starting my career, doing things in education, but I was driving to a school in Northern Alberta and, you know, inspiration just hit. And I being like, I need to write these, I need to write this down. This is gonna be my book. And so I pulled over the side of the highway and I literally wrote down every chapter of the book that I was gonna write. And and that’s, that’s really where it started.


Ryan Fahey (21:21):
You know, I ended up actually finishing the book and really doing the, the groundwork of the book when I was in a Abu Dhabi. So I would come home from school. And literally just, I was in a hotel and I would just put my feet up and just write for hours and hours. Sometimes I wouldn’t even know what time it was. And just put myself in this space, cuz I knew that that was the time in my life to do that. I, you know, we had, didn’t have kids at that point. Weren’t married at that point or I wasn’t married at that point. So I just knew that this is the time to do it. And so that was, that was where my, my first and second book were, were created. The third one was very interesting because I knew I always was going to write a third one Sam, but it was March of 20, 20, everything had happened and I was looking around and I, I wasn’t seeing much for or many, many kind of resources and books out there to support the wellbeing of remote workers.


Ryan Fahey (22:16):
Mm. There was a few and remote workers already in, in our, our way of life. I think, you know, there were a lot of businesses that were offering that, but not to this extent that COVID put us in. And so it was actually last the last Christmas season where I wrote it, I, I sat down, I said, I need to write a book to support the wellbeing of remote workers and I need to get another resource out there. And so I literally locked myself in quarantine for 14 days. And I was staying at my sister’s place in, this is kind of funny cuz she has a couple of cats and I felt like mark Twain, you know, like he was out in a cabin and Maine the cat and the wood stove. Like that was literally me like except no wood stove, but two cats.


Ryan Fahey (23:00):
And yeah. So anyway, I ended up cranking this thing out, but you know, to your, to your second point on what’s it like being an author it’s it’s and an educator? It’s kind of interesting when I published a second one, I had a lot of people think I was, or, you know, kind of mentioned that I was too young to be an author. Mm. And, and that really played with me, you know, play with my psyche play with the imposter syndrome. And I remember, you know, really having to, to struggle with and work through that. And then I just got to a point where it’s like anything when you’re changing an identity and you’re deconstructing one and reconstructing another, that you’ve just, there’s a shift at some point that happens. And that shift for me, I would say happened probably last year where where I said, okay, I’m gonna fully step into this identity, no matter what age I am, no matter how you know, how gray my hair is or how many letters are behind my name, I, you know, I’ve written multiple books. So that one was definitely a learning learning moment for me. And, and you really, you really open yourself up. I mean, it’s a vulnerable experience and you know, any, any day now somebody could just rip, rip my books apart on Amazon and, and I just have to be okay with that. So it’s it’s definitely an interesting journey for sure.


Sam Demma (24:16):
Putting out your own stuff is always an interesting journey. You can work for somebody else and sell their products and have someone turn you down a thousand times and wake up the next day. Totally excited to try again, but you push your own stuff out. And one day someone rips it apart. It’s like what? And it has this totally different effect on your brain. What’s interesting to me is a thousand people could tell you it’s amazing and one person rip it part. And sometimes we focus on that one negative comment rather than the thousand people that loved it and that it helped regardless of the feedback at all, putting out things that you truly believe will be valuable to others is such an interesting experience. And I’m sure writing a book helped you clarify your thought and sharpen your ideas and keeps that fire lit within you to continually learn and be curious, which is invaluable as well. What is your best advice for an author who, or an educator who wants to write a book and journey into becoming an author as well?


Ryan Fahey (25:26):
Yeah, when I was back, you know, if we go back to the van, North Carolina days I, this family that I was living with at the time the, the father was an author and that book was called taking on Goliath. And it’s actually very fascinating read for anyone who’s interested, but we were running together one day and he said to, I asked him similar question, like what, like what kind of led you to writing a book? Like how did this happen? And he said, you know, Ryan, I got to a point where I realized I’m not an author, but I have a story to tell. And I think that’s so important for an educator out there. You have a unique story. You have your unique individual, you have unique value that you can add to the world and you need to add it.


Ryan Fahey (26:08):
You know, we live in this time that it’s so easy, like to write a book or to get, you know, get your resources on teachers, pay teachers or whatever, you know, platform is out there to share your talent, share your insight and value with the world. And I find it, it’s so interesting because as educators, we time inspiring the next generation and telling kids to live their dreams. But sometimes we, we, you know, through life and challenges and whatnot, they get snuffed out in their own lives. Yeah. And I think it’s important that we, you know, we just start something small, start something simple. And, and like you said about adding the value to adding value through your gifts and talents to the world, like putting yourself out there. I think it’s a super rewarding experience and, and it just makes the world a better place.


Sam Demma (26:56):
I couldn’t agree more. And if someone wants to ask you a question about anything we discussed or during this interview wants to pick up some of your books purchase, some of them wants to learn more about the process of becoming an author. What would be the best way for them to reach out or get in touch with you? Or send you an email?


Ryan Fahey (27:16):
Yeah. Great question. So they can come to my website just https://www.faheyconsulting.org/. I’m also on LinkedIn (ryanbfahey/) with Twitter as well at (@wellnessrf). I love Twitter. I think we’re now following each other Sam. So you might get some tweets from me about how exciting this conversation was. But yeah, I’m always open to chat, you know, I even put it in both of my books, I think like, or one of my, of books I put in temperature check, you know, you halfway through the book, you send me an email and I put my email in there, like, let’s talk, like what, how are you feeling? What have you taken away? What, you know, what more could I have done cuz I think, you know, keeping those conversations and lines open is huge.


Sam Demma (28:00):
I couldn’t agree more. Thank you so much again, Ryan, for doing this. Keep up the great work. I look forward to your next book and I, yeah, I look forward to staying connected and seeing all the great work you’re up to keep it up and we’ll talk soon.


Ryan Fahey (28:13):
Thank you, Sam.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Ryan Fahey

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.

Patrick Schultz – Director of Education, Director of Technology Integration at Business Professionals of America

Patrick Schultz - Director of Education, Director of Technology Integration at Business Professionals of America
About Patrick Schultz

Prior to joining the National BPA staff, Patrick Schultz had a very successful teaching career in Career and Technical Education with a focus on Computer Science and Cybersecurity.  Under his current role as Director of Technology Integration, Patrick is responsible for technology infrastructure development, multiple education initiatives, and establishing/growing partnerships around technology.  

With over 15 years of combined teaching, industry, non-profit, and student organizational knowledge, he brings a unique perspective to building opportunities for those looking to enter the fields of finance, business, and/or informational technology.

Connect with Patrick: Email | Website

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Business Professionals of America

Career and Technical Student Organizations

Nicholas Sparks (author)

MICE – Michigan initiative for cybersecurity 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 (00:01):
Patrick welcome to the high performing educator. Huge pleasure to have you on the show. Please start by introducing yourself.


Patrick Shultz (00:09):
Hi, my name is Patrick Schultz and thank you Sam, for having me here today. Currently I am the director of technology integration and director of education for Business professionals of America, a premier career tech student organiz located primarily in the United States, but also reaching into Guam, Haiti, Puerto Rico China, and a few other countries on the side of being those two director roles which we’re gonna dive into. I’m sure here talking about what we do on a day to day basis. I am also the CEO of a 501 nonprofit that focuses on cyber security and it education training for both students and teachers throughout the us.


Sam Demma (00:55):
How did you get involved in BPA and what are your responsibilities today?


Patrick Shultz (01:02):
Yeah, great question. So I got involved with BPA originally as a classroom educator, I taught in bay city, Michigan computer science, software engineering, website design, and pretty much anything else in the it media arts platform. As part of that, one of our responsibilities was to become a local chapter advisor that involves getting students prepared for competitions. It involves getting students built in and learning their own leadership potential and tracking a lot of community service work not just in local community, but also in ways that they could engage both nationally and internationally through virtual opportunities as well. My journey through BPA has been a very interesting one over the course of almost 17 years now after being in the classroom or while I was in the classroom, I did teach in that program for approximately 14 years.


Patrick Shultz (02:03):
While I was in that program, I had an to travel to regional competitions, state competitions in Michigan, and then also through multiple large scale cities throughout the United States. And essentially what we have in those cities at the national level is called the national leadership conference. As students work in impeding through nationals and working through that, I got the opportunity to meet some of the national staff the current director of education at the time. This goes all the way back to 2009. We were talking about competitions and I didn’t realize who they were, but we were talking about some of the challenges and ways that we could improve some of the competitive event in little to be known. She was the actual national director. So we were able to work through some, some different things via email.


Patrick Shultz (02:56):
And then I was invited out to do some work alongside some key educators throughout the nation. And, and each state gets to send one to three individuals to a group that’s called C a C or the classroom educator advisory council. So in the work there that I was able to do, I helped take a look at for multiple years in an unofficial role into the it events that we looked at in our platform. And then an opportunity opened up where I could become the official Michigan representative on the group. I was there for six years doing that and then turned from that opportunity after those years of, of working on so many different events and being a competition author, I was able to work my way through and I applied for the board of trustees at the national level my first year I was just a general member at large.


Patrick Shultz (03:51):
I was able to look at our strategic long range plan that hadn’t been updated in multiple years. So we put together a 1, 3, 5 year model for where we wanted to take the organization. And then my second year of the board, I was the vice chair elected by my peers. And then my third year I was elected as the chair of the board. Really opened my eyes to multiple different positions. What the national staff really endures throughout a year. It always seemed like they put on this big conference, but what else happened throughout the years? So I was able to really gain, you know, crucial insight to that perspective from staff, taking a look at governments and everything that went into all of the decisions that a board would make it an national nonprofit. And then combining with my teacher experience as a local advisor, it was sort of, I hadn’t really not experienced every angle.


Patrick Shultz (04:51):
So with all of that experience, there was an opportunity to work on the national staff after I was the board chair and there was a job opening into a job posting. So I applied for that, and that was for the director of technology integration. And then after a year of doing that, then I’ve moved into now the director of education. So that’s a long story for sure and my journey to get where I’m at. But right now my current roles of director of ed and director of technology, the integration, I oversee all of our technology solutions, our platforms also oversee all of our education partner competitions, our competitive event platform across six different assessment areas and career pathways, as well as taking a look at building out standards, certification and really just trying to grow and make sure that we’re staying at the forefront with new competitions and staying on par, if not ahead, of where the industry’s headed,


Sam Demma (05:55):
It’s such a fascinating organization that’s doing such important work. What would you say is the most rewarding aspect of working with BPA?


Patrick Shultz (06:06):
Definitely it’s, it’s getting to know and working with students and, and educators around the world. So it’s this past couple of years, you know, has been very tough for many people. Definitely through the coronavirus, the pandemic a lot of education was really flipped on its head in terms of delivery models. So utilizing my tech background as well as my education knowledge, we were able to go forward and still provide the same opportunities for students. We were still. And in many cases, we actually opened the door to new opportunities that rural students or others who may not have been able to attend all of a sudden have this platform that they could connect with. In the past two years, I was able to connect with more advisors and students than I think I ever did as a classroom educator, just because I had open platform to 45,000 members within our organization.


Patrick Shultz (07:06):
We successfully assisted at the national level over 85 regional and state leadership conferences across 30 different states. So that was just something really, you know, unique. It was really rewarding to get to know everybody. And, and ultimately there there’s a ton of work that goes into what we do, but it’s always about hearing the stories about how we’ve impacted individuals lives, how BPA as a whole has been able to show a students that they can have a career pathway in business or it marketing communications, health admin and in the end, it, it really shows them what they’re capable of. It builds that self confidence platform through our leadership development and, and in some cases too, something that is just as rewarding as showing someone their path of where they want to be is also showing them where they don’t want to be. You know, and, and it’s really cool to see students say, you know what, I did this competition. I don’t ever want to do this again. And that’s awesome because we help them find their path. And then they take in and move down a totally or plan that we know they’ll be successful in with the, the life skills and the basic core knowledge that they get from the organization.


Sam Demma (08:28):
And at what point through your own educational journey and career, did you found mice? And maybe you can explain the acronym and why you’re passionate about that work as well.


Patrick Shultz (08:41):
Yeah, absolutely. So mice is the Michigan initiative for cybersecurity education. About six years ago, I had the opportunity to work at the federal government level in a, a project called nice, the national initiative for cybersecurity education. I was their K12 co-chair of a, a federal working group identifying resources and, and best practice trends in cybersecurity and it education for a three year term. And when that term was over we brought everything by back into Michigan that we have found, but what we noticed was that there was a lot of ideas, but there wasn’t a one stop solution to try to bring everything together. It’s, it’s always easy to say, yes, let’s start this program and then you have to think, well, okay, who’s gonna teach it. Who’s gonna implement it. Are they trained? Plus in Michigan at the time, we did not have a certified career tech ed program for cybersecurity.


Patrick Shultz (09:43):
So there was a group of individuals who are my co-founders in mice. What we took a look at doing was writing a state standard program. So we modified it or, or implemented it as a carbon clone of what was done at the national standards, but then we threw in the auto automotive industry. And some of the other areas that are highly unique in, in Michigan is our core of manufacturing. And we built out the statewide program. And then we pitched it to the state department of education. And what’s always interesting when he’s start talking to higher education or department of ed, is that it typically takes a year to get the process rolling. And then another year for planning and then a third year for implementation. They were all on board with this within three months from start to finish.


Patrick Shultz (10:32):
We had a full program integrated. We had the standard there and then we also immediately had the thought process of, okay, now it’s there. What do we do? So we had already predesigned out quarterly trainings for teachers that were interested in cybersecurity and it we’ve specialized so far now in converting educators who may not have anything to do with it. So we we’ve got a lot of English teachers or business teachers that we converted into it teachers. So far we’ve worked with over 70 different school districts in Michigan. Wow. And that was just within the first year. Mice has been officially an organization for five years. And over the past two, we’ve also expanded into Oklahoma, Texas, Ohio Illinois, Indiana California, and a couple other states throughout the us. But ultimately there there’s three main pillars of mice.


Patrick Shultz (11:33):
One is to develop teacher training models that can be replicated across other states. The second one is to build a learning management system that has customized courseware that is open for all career pathways in it, whether it’s cyber, computer PRI computer programming networking hardware. And then our third pillar is taking a look at consulting and designing programs. Michigan is what’s known as a local control state, meaning that every local district gets to make the choice, as long as they meet the statewide standards, how they’ll implement what text they use, what curriculum materials to implement with that comes a challenge that everybody is absolutely unique and there is nothing that is done the same way between two different districts. So we take a look at our consulting side as identifying what they currently have, where we can fit in additional and information, how we can modify it with the ultimate goal of building a pipeline from preschool, kindergarten, primary grade, all the way through the 12th grade system. Hmm. So it’s, it’s interesting to see how each one works but ultimately we’ve impacted on average about 6,000 students, a across those districts that are specializing just in it throughout Michigan, over the PA or on average per year,


Sam Demma (13:01):
That’s amazing. You, it seems like you hold different roles of governance in different organizations your journey as a leader, along the path, what resources have you found helpful? Who have you looked up to and learned from, and what do you think makes a, a strong leader?


Patrick Shultz (13:22):
Well, I I’ll start that and come back to the strong leader aspect in a minute. For me individually my parents were definitely a huge influence on me. My, my dad was in, in computer science, he worked for general motors and recently retired working for autonomous vehicles. So that’s where I get my tech background from nice my educator side. My mom was a preschool teacher for many, many years. And then when I got into high school, she backed off from just to be able to, you know, work through all of the schedules between my sister and I from the multiple sports that we played and working through, you know, getting us to where, and luckily we were, she was able to do that to be with us at all times, but it really instilled in me to always take the risk, jump to the next step and just keep pushing as much as possible.


Patrick Shultz (14:16):
My journey is, is really an interesting one. I, teaching and education was never my first choice. Mm. I, I really wanted to be a brain surgeon or an astrophysicist. And that’s where I started school. I that’s where I was headed towards. And I can expand on that later in terms of, you know, how I ended up in education. But when it comes full circle, you know, there was a lot of individuals who were very influential in my life. I had an English teacher Carol Young, who always just taught you to think outside of the box. She, she believed in you, no matter what, I mean, even if you were being the absolute troublemaker I mean, I remember seeing friends and, and even myself sometimes, you know, we didn’t behave well. We were young and, and working through the process, but she always just saw this vision in us that we never saw in ourselves.


Patrick Shultz (15:13):
So people like that really make the difference. And when you really take a look and think back at it, and for me, reflecting on your question about what does it take to be a leader is, is it’s a few things, one it’s initial drive. It’s just the want to make a difference. I think that’s so huge in it because I don’t know if there’s one cookie cutter shell to, to define a leader because you can, obviously you can have leaders that are global. You can have leaders that are in a community, and they’re just happy with where they are. They don’t need to have that, you know, worldly acknow of where they’re going. The second thing with leadership in me is that you just have to be authentic as long as you are doing it for the right reason, whatever that reason you might believe in, and you don’t lose sight of that, then I think you end up leading down that path and you’re going to make a difference in people’s lives.


Patrick Shultz (16:12):
And, and the third one is just listening to your environment. You know, there’s so many times where you can get caught up in everything. That’s just going on, you know, whether it’s politics or you listen to, you know, if you’re leading a group of 10 people, there might be, well, there is 10 different voices there. You might have many different opinions. You might have many agreements, but ultimately you have to listen and you have to keep your ear to the ground. And, and you have to make decisions eventually where you may not know all the facts, but you know, what is right based on your own feeling, your gut, your vision, and that that’s where you want to take things you know, to move in it. And that sort of goes back to me and how I ended up in education is it just felt right. You know, it, I always wanted to make a difference in, you know, helping others and looking external. And I try to start every single decision that I do was with, with how will this impact someone else if it costs me 50 hours, but it saves someone else one hour of time, I’ll do that all day long. That’s, that’s just the way that I’ve always believed it.


Sam Demma (17:27):
I love that. I I’m intrigued by your explanation of gut feelings, because a lot of the big decisions that I made in my life, I believe came from my gut and the way that I felt about it. And sometimes those decisions don’t make the most logical sense to others, but it, you know, it feels right for you when you’re Teeter tottering on making one of those decisions or in front of a big decision, what do you find helpful to help you pull the trigger?


Patrick Shultz (17:58):
Well, I live by the motto in the, the quote where mantra of sir Richard Branson, someone offers you an opportunity, take it. You can figure out how to do it lay. And even if they don’t offer you the opportunity, you can offer yourself the opportunity at any time. And, and if you live by that, then you won’t ever look backwards and say, I should have coulda would’ve, you know, and if you’re, if you fail, you didn’t fail. You went forward. And, and in very, you know, I, I know there’s circumstances, obviously you can take a huge financial risk. You can lose a lot of money. You can go through that part, but in the end you might get set back, but you’re also gonna have a knowledge base to expand that even further and to grow faster through that entire process. So I think, you know, for me, it’s taking a risk.


Patrick Shultz (18:52):
It it’s risk is how you look at it. If you look at risk as being negative or, Ooh, I shouldn’t do that because of this situation, it’s hard for you to move forward. But if you look at risk as an opportunity, and you say, Hey, I might do this, but I not making. And that’s okay. You know, it’s traditional marketing, you make 10 phone calls, you probably get one lead that one lead could be the difference maker. And it also goes to, you know, a perspective of never being afraid to, to just fail. It, it, there’s so many different aspects of failure in, in weakness as what is perceived as weakness. So it’s, you know, if you look at a traditional SWAT analysis, you’ve got strength, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats which, what SWAT stands for, you know, anytime that you realize that your weakness and your threat are really your opportunity to and move forward, then you’ve, you’ve, you’ve really changed your mindset in, in part of it, cuz otherwise any company or any individual entrepreneur, if they looked at a market analysis and it’s oversaturated, we’d never come up with a new, the new product or we’d never come up with that new you know, transition to where we’re gonna head next.


Sam Demma (20:16):
What a good way to position that whole idea of failure and looking at risk as a positive thing. One of my inspirations as an American rapper named Russ who at the age of 15, decided he wanted to be one of the biggest artists in the world spent 10 years in the basement, a clothing store on a couch, making music made 94 songs, 11 studio albums build no fan base. And in the 11th year became one of the biggest independent artists on the face of the planet. And when asked in an interview, the best piece of advice he’d ever received, he said, what if it could turn out better than you ever imagined? And that sentence really reminded me of what you were saying about risk and it being an opportunity. It really just depends on the frame of mind that you’re in. When you look at the situation, I’m really curious to know where you see yourself within BPA within mice in the next five or 10 years. And this is obviously a big question, but what are some of your big goals that you hope to see come to life?


Patrick Shultz (21:27):
Yeah, well, I, I can start it by saying that it doesn’t matter what the title or what you know, what the position I’m in is as long as it’s making the difference. That’s where I want to be, you know, eight to 10 years for, from the mice perspective, I want mice in all 50 states. I wanna be in Canada, Mexico, Japan, China. I want it to just explode because I want the message and the opportunity to explode for students. It it’s not necessarily, but I, I mean, I’m not gonna lie. I’d love to be making millions and own a small island. And that’s where I wanna be in 10 years. But ultimately it it’s really the difference. For BPA within three years, I want to be in five new countries, I want to have BPA have double or triple the membership. And I wanna be able to have a system that has self support to be able to help identify and build out new instructors, because one of the biggest challenges that we’re gonna face globally, isn’t economical.


Patrick Shultz (22:34):
It it’s going to be an education or educator shortage that’s going to happen and occur. Cuz we have a number of individuals who have done their time. They have put in multiple years, multiple decades and they’re frankly burn out and it’s time and, and there’s going to be a very large shortage in terms of educators coming in. So that’s a big part of it. You know, it’s interesting too, when you bring up Russ and in, you know, the presence in, in how everything is cuz opportunity present itself, when you least expect it, if you go through life constantly waiting for that next moment, instead of making that moment or letting it happen you’re gonna live a little bit of, of doubt in yourself sometime, you know, or fear or anxiety because you’re always gonna be waiting and looking at it from a of, well, it’s not happening for me yet.


Patrick Shultz (23:33):
Well, that doesn’t mean that it’s not happening. It just hasn’t come to fruition. So it’s, it’s in work, it’s in progress. So you know, when I look at BPA in my career at BPA, did I ever think that I would move from a classroom educator all the way up to working for the national staff? I can’t say that I did. I’ve, I’ve loved the journey. I’ve loved the adventure. I’ve been able to work with so many dedicated educators and, and business professionals. I I’ve met CEOs, I’ve met custodians, I’ve met everybody throughout the process and they all have equal and important roles as you look at the full journey. I, myself, I would, I would love to be in a position that’s able to continue to make this decisions and move the organization to be really a model for global development and student success.


Patrick Shultz (24:36):
And, and honestly, I don’t, I don’t know that I need a title or that you need the title to be able to do that. Cuz you can make often you can make such a difference from the side and it doesn’t have to be from the top. Or even behind the scenes in certain things. There’s often many projects that I work on that I get called in for a quick solution or that, and, and it’s just that you do the solution, you give it back to ’em and then they’re able to move on and nobody ever knows where it came from and it’s perfect. It’s, it’s okay to happen in that way. It happens all the time. But yeah, you know, I’d love to be a philanthropic leader, you know, and build a a massive wealth that, that combines itself with other communities in, in really targets at risk youth in, in some really underprivileged areas, areas that we currently work with too.


Sam Demma (25:32):
So awesome to just hear some of the ideas, I appreciate you sharing, you have a quote on your Seren for everyone listening, who doesn’t actually see us and it reads, if it comes, let it come, if it stays, let it stay. If it goes, let it go. What does is the significance of that quote and what does it mean to you by Nicholas Sparks?


Patrick Shultz (25:51):
Yeah. You know, the quote really means that change happens. You know, when it comes, allow it to come, it, it could teach you some, some really positive life lessons, you know, change brings with it challenges, but it does bring solutions. If, if what you’re going through the, the second line, if it stays, let it stay is it’s okay to not force change. You know? So if you’re looking at something and it works, you don’t always have to reinvent the wheel just to make it a different way or fit. It might just work. So the platform may be in my mind a solution that could, could be better, but there’s bigger fish to fry or bigger things to take a look at. And if it goes, let it go, you know, it’s one of those things. It, you can take that in a lot of ways.


Patrick Shultz (26:41):
When nobody likes loss nobody likes seeing people walk away or rolls be reduced. But when I look at that in my, what it really means is, is go with the flow. You know, there’s many times where the change that comes is going to come no matter what, and you can’t control it, you have to just let it sort of go and let it play its course out in certain times you have to be there to support everybody on your team so that they’re able to do their jobs and be able to, you know, help others and work through it. And everybody does take it a little bit differently too. So you have to let it roll off your shoulders. Sometimes you, you know, someone might be upset. That’s okay. They might walk away. That’s okay. You will get through it no matter what that’s, that’s the big part, but it may look different and that’s okay. You know, for it to take a look at that way, but that’s really, you know, it’s deep, but there’s really those, those three different parts of it. And Nicholas Sparks is one of my wife’s favorite authors. So he he’s written some excellent books over the years. But just go with the flow.


Sam Demma (27:54):
I like it. A good friend of mine used to say Kura, if it’ll be, it will be. And I think that really sums up that, that quote, which is why it’s stuck out to me. If you could take the experience, you’ve had the knowledge and the wisdom over the past, however many years you’ve been working in education, travel back in time, tap young, younger, pat, not that you’re old, but tap younger pat on your shoulder and say, this is the advice I wish you heard when you were just getting started in this field in vocation. What would you have told you young yourself?


Patrick Shultz (28:29):
I definitely would’ve. It, it would’ve been my third, you know, option of leadership is listen more. I think that when I was younger, I would, I was definitely a go-getter I’m still a go-getter. But I didn’t, I impactfully listen to those or my environment all the time. I think that that would be something to definitely go back and tell myself to just sort of live in the moment and again, ears to the ground experience, what you’re experiencing. You don’t have to rush through it to get to the next phase or the next step in your career. And the other thing that I would definitely go back and do and tell myself, and I wish everybody could always tell themselves this. When they look back is you have to trust in your own ability. You know, there are many, many times where you are correct or your ability is good enough, but the human psyche takes over so often and tries to cast doubt in yourself or in the project you’re working on or even in a team.


Patrick Shultz (29:35):
You know, there’s, there was times too where, you know, you may be the strongest link on the team and there’s times where you may realize you’re not the strongest, but what you have to realize is how to share the responsibility or to pick up the others who are on your team you know, and help them along in the process. But at the same time, you do have to have discussions that are tough. And you have to have you know, a lot of faith in those around you to be able to move forward with a lot of the projects in, in the way that, you know, they need to be done. And it might not be your way, you know, that’s the other thing too, is I, if I could go back 20 years, I would tell myself that your way is not the only way, you know, it, it takes everybody, I think, quite a bit or a lot of time in life to realize that other solutions are, are awesome and that you know, they open your eyes to a different perspective to help you improve and grow to it.


Patrick Shultz (30:38):
I’ve always been a lifelong learner. I mean, I can’t get enough. I’m a knowledge hound where I sit on Wikipedia, I’ll sit and read you know, books, not it, it’s more like sitting and reading a dictionary almost. So just work, looking up word of the day and going through all those things. Yeah. I can’t get enough of, of that education piece, but I would tell myself to slow down and just enjoy the right two.


Sam Demma (31:03):
I love it. Thank you so much for taking some time here to share your experiences a little bit about yourself, some of your philosophies, if someone wants to reach out, ask a question or help you expand to Japan, China, or any of the other countries you mentioned, if they’re in the position to do so, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?


Patrick Shultz (31:23):
Yeah, the best way to get in touch would be to reach out, to support@bpa.org. That’ll come right to me and we can work through any challenges, structure, ideas even people, if they don’t want to talk BPA, they can talk mice, they can talk general knowledge, you know, just pick the brain. That’s, that’s where I think the collaboration amongst everybody always comes in. And you know, I’d like to just leave this with my favorite quote of all time. When my when I started teaching there was a track coach that I coached girls track with. And he always used to say this, and I never really believed it until four or five years into teaching, but the quote is still unknown to this day. I don’t know who created it other than him. But the quote is good. Better, best, never let it rest until your good is better and your better is best. And if you live by that motto in every single situation that you look at, no matter what the project, no matter what the assignment even if it’s just getting up out of bed out a day, when you’re having a bad day, take the good, make it better. And eventually the better will become the best that you could be. So that’s where I’d like to leave it with you for today.


Sam Demma (32:36):
Thank you so much, pat. Thank you so much, Patrick. Keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon.


Patrick Shultz (32:42):
All right. Thanks a lot, sir.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Patrick Shultz

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.

Karen Dancy – Parent Council Chair & Parent Engagement Advocate

Karen Dancy – Parent Council Chair & Parent Engagement Advocate
About Karen Dancy

Karen Dancy (@karendancy) is an advocate for quality public education.  She has been involved in the parent council for the last 8 years.  In addition to serving as Chair at both her sons’ grade school and high school, Karen sits on two additional school committees at the Board level.  She believes the school and home partnership is vital in supporting student learning and growth. 

When Karen isn’t volunteering with the local school board, she can be found diving into family genealogy, rescuing hound dogs and working her day job, working in the History department at York University where she has been for the last 26 years. 

Connect with Karen: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board

Bachelors of English at York University

Department of History at York University

Ontario Association of Parents in Catholic Education (OAPCE)

OAPCE Dufferin-Peel

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. We have another amazing guest on the podcast today. Her name is Karen Dancy. She is an advocate for quality public school education. She has been involved in parent council for the last eight years. In addition to serving as chair at both of her son’s grade schools and high schools,


Sam Demma (00:59):
Karen sits on two additional school committees at the board level, and she believes the school and home partnership is vital in supporting student learning and growth. When Karen isn’t volunteering with the local school board, she can be found digging into family genealogy, rescuing hound dogs, and working her day job; working in the history department at York university, where she has been for the last 26 years. Also, she is very involved with the OAPCE they host awesome events. You should check her her workout on Twitter as well. She posts a lot of amazing content. Anyways, I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I enjoy chatting with Karen, and I will see you on the other side. Karen, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show. I gotta say, I was really impressed with your technology, your background, the different things we were putting on; the zoom filters, but why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about the reason why you’re so passionate about helping young people.


Karen Dancy (02:00):
Thank you. My name is Karen Dancy, and I am currently the chair at my son’s elementary school and I got involved that way. And I don’t know, it’s funny. I’m not a teacher, but when I was a kid, I thought I was gonna be a teacher. And I think I didn’t go that route at the time, because they were saying, oh, there’s gonna be too many teachers at the time. Right. So I thought, well, you know, so I ended up you know, I got an English degree and I ended up, I still work in education. I, I work at York university. Nice. So at least it kind of keeps me, but you know, sometimes I wonder if I should have been a teacher, but it’s too late now, but now what I’m doing is fun. Like I enjoy being with the students like, you know, I help out as much as I can. I’m flexible with my time. Like if I need to, if, if there’s something going on at the school at the elementary school, I will take a day off. Like I’m not shy about it. People know that if I’m taking a day, it’s usually because I’m helping at the school, you know, doing, doing pancakes or whatever.


Sam Demma (03:02):
And from reading like your Twitter, it’s very obvious that you’re very passionate about education in the best of ways. Yeah, I think it’s important that we, we share our opinions and our voices, especially during crazy times. Yeah, you know, it’s funny that you’re not directly a teacher, but you still work in a school at York university. What led you down that path? What, what prompted you down that path?


Karen Dancy (03:25):
Well, I went to school there. Got it. Sorry. I went to university, I got my I got my degree there and I, I like to joke about how I couldn’t buy the company back in, back in the back in the eighties, or so there used to be a commercial for a running tonight. I, the, the shaver. And he was like, yeah, you know, I like the company so much. I decided to, to buy it. I’m like, well, I can’t buy the university, but I ended up, it just kind of fell into my lap. Like, you know, I was working there part-time during my schooling nice and an opportunity. And it, what happened was it was supposed to be two weeks and it turned to six months into, and then it turned into a contract and now I’ve been there, you know, 25 plus years. Wow. And it’s, it’s not that, I mean, it’s a, it’s a, it’s a job. Right. And I enjoy it. Like, it keeps me in academia at the time. And it it’s, it’s fun. I like it.


Sam Demma (04:16):
And at what point did you make the decision to get involved with, with the student council and parent council? Like, I think you’ve been doing that for eight, eight or so years. Yeah. So


Karen Dancy (04:25):
Yeah, since my son was in grade one, my oldest was in grade one. It was I guess, you know, you as a parent at the time, like this is all, it was all new to me, but I decided to go to, to my first meeting, I was curious and you know, I was quiet. I walked and I see all the camaraderie between the other, you know, chair, like people that have been going for years. Right. Cause I didn’t know anybody. And an opportunity came up for the first, for the first role, which is just a, basically a community person. So you tell them what’s going on in the community. And so, you know, I got involved that way. And then I, you know, as I went, as I more things, it was like, oh, okay, well, this is kind of fun. And so the following year we had somebody leave, the chair was leaving or, or whatever. So I did a, I did a co-chair so, cause I wasn’t, you know, I still wasn’t comfortable enough on my own, but so I, I did a co-chair ship for a couple of years.


Sam Demma (05:19):
Nice. That’s awesome. And you’ve experienced parent council, both, you know, pre COVID and now in COVID I’m sure it’s been very different on both ends. Yeah. What are some of the challenges you think are, or are students are facing right now? I think what’s very unique about your position is that you have a child of your own, who is going through school when I talk to direct caters. Yeah. You know, they give me what their students are going through, but they don’t see the students after the school day ends. Yeah. You know, you have this unique position where you’re both hearing from the educators and seeing your own student and your own, your own child. Yep. What are the challenges our students are facing right now?


Karen Dancy (05:58):
It’s hard. It it’s hard. And I see it from two ways. Cause I have a, so I have a son in elementary school he’s in grade seven and then I have a grade Niner. Right. Who’s just started. Yeah. And I feel bad for both. So, you know, a year ago when we got, when we went into lockdown you know, remote learning, it was not even remote learning at the time I called it pandemic learning because nobody was ready for this. Right. Like you were lucky. My grade, my grade nine, who was in grade eight at the time, he was lucky he had a, an Edwin, like a, a Chromebook that he was from the school so he could bring it home. But my other son had to use his computer. So, you know, setting that up and some classes, you know, were set up and weren’t so fast forward to now.


Karen Dancy (06:41):
My, my grade seven son hates online learning. Like he would rather, he goes, he goes in for, he goes in, he’d rather go in person. And I feel bad for my grade nine or because he’s not experiencing grade nine. I had great memories of grade nine. You know, like you meet new people, you do these retreats. And, and he’s not, I mean, you know, I drop him off in the morning and he goes to school for two and a half hours. I pick him up, he comes home. He doesn’t, you know, there’s four people in his class. He doesn’t get that. He’s not getting to know anybody’s


Sam Demma (07:14):
Action friendships.


Karen Dancy (07:14):
And it’s just, it’s just, you know, it’s almost like he it’s, you know, he’s a robot go in coming out, you know, there’s just no interaction. And if you’re painfully shy, you know, there’s no, there’s no way to meet other people. It’s just, I feel so bad. You know? And he, again, you know, there was no graduation last year and it, you know, for the great aids this year, there’s not gonna be a graduation. I mean, it was just it’s pandemic learning is still kind of there in some cases. I mean, now, yes, it’s better. Like it’s more organized, right? Like if you’re feeling sick, you can like my grade seven, if he wants to stay home and he did one day, he just didn’t wanna go in. So I kept him home and he was able to follow because it’s, you know, they’re doing the hybrid learning. Got it. So he’s at home learning the teachers on the computer at school and they’re teaching. So, you know, it’s, I like that, but I do miss the, like, I feel bad for them because they’re not getting the interaction


Sam Demma (08:09):
I have to tell. Yeah. I have to tell you, I feel the same way I have, I have friends who are still in school in fact last year, but a couple of my buddies are graduating college and university, and that’s a big celebration. Right. You know, graduating high school and then graduating college with all your buddies when you’re a little older and you know, they have few celebrations. And I remember thinking like, wow, this, this sucks. I actually put together a video called dear graduating class of 2020 to try and like celebrate students. And it was well received last year. Oh, good. But I’m curious know, like, despite the challenges, how do we still make the students feel seen, heard, valued and appreciated, you know, from the par from the perspective of a parent, but also the perspective of an educator.


Karen Dancy (08:53):
Yeah. I don’t know. I mean, I think this year they have more time to plan. Right. Got it. So I think, I think the big issue that schools faced last year was the inequity. Yeah. When school was having a drive by and gave out lawn signs where the other school didn’t do that, you know, they maybe gave out a t-shirt, which, you know, like that’s okay. But there’s like, there has to be equity across the board, especially in the same school board. Right? Yeah. Like, that’s the problem. You can’t have one school doing


Sam Demma (09:21):
This, this a huge show,


Karen Dancy (09:22):
Doing a huge show. And I mean, I mean, you know, also you’re bound, like, you know, it’s hard, the admins, they don’t wanna bend the, like, they don’t wanna get in trouble. Right. Like at the time, you know, we were in lockdowns, you couldn’t have large gatherings. Right. So it’s, I can see it was just so difficult. I feel so bad for the teachers. And they admit, because they’re only trying to follow the rules as best. I mean, yes. They would love to put on a big celebration. Like I know I had suggested various ideas, like do have graduation. Everybody stays in their cars and


Sam Demma (09:55):
A drive cars,


Karen Dancy (09:56):
You know, a, exactly like a driving movie. And then they drive up and, you know, there was just so much and it, and honestly it took me I broke down several times. I was at different board meetings cuz I’m also involved, involved at the board level in meet in meetings. And there were times where I just, I broke down crime because I was just so sad, my son and his friends. Mm. Because I know what it’s like, like I remember grade age, you know, and it’s just, you know, he doesn’t, he, they missed it, but they don’t really know what they’re missing. I mean, they, they know it’s a big deal, but yeah. You know, it’s like, what, whatever, but I felt bad. And, and so this year I know that my particular school board is trying to make sure that there’s equity


Sam Demma (10:36):
Got


Karen Dancy (10:36):
It across the board. We’ll see what it looks like. I mean, it’s still so hard, you know, I know people are gonna be disappointed. Yes. You can never, you can never please everybody. Right.


Sam Demma (10:46):
It’s it’s such a complex issue. Right. Because when you think you have the solution, it presents a new challenge. Well,


Karen Dancy (10:53):
That’s it exactly. I mean, you know, you can set something up and then, you know, we go by into lockdown where you can only have five people outside or what happens if you have this big elaborate presentation outside and it rains. Yeah. Right. Like, I mean, we’re not, it’s not like we live in California where the sun is always shining, you know? So it’s just, I mean, there’s like different stages. Like it’s almost like you have a different playbook, a play for every different kind of scenario. And it’s like, at some point you have to just, well, you, you know, if it can work out, it works out


Sam Demma (11:23):
And from the role of a parent, because again, you play that two. Yeah. That two role person, how do, how have you been striving to support your, your kids through this time? Is it just reassurance? Is it giving them other experiences or


Karen Dancy (11:38):
It’s I just, I’m asking. I just ask them, you know, are you good? Like I tell, I tell ’em, you know, I know this is, this is, this is hard right now, but this is your history. Like in 20 years time, you’ll be able to tell, you know, your kids. Well, what I, you know, I did this when, during the COVID right? Like this is there. Yeah. I walked in a, in a snowstorm uphill, barefoot


Sam Demma (11:56):
Story,


Karen Dancy (11:59):
You know, this is their story right’s so there it’s their history, but you know, I try my best. I mean, you know, once this is all over, I’m sure everybody will be having major parties and, and celebrating everything for all the things I’m have missed. Right.


Sam Demma (12:14):
Yeah. Very true. Very true. And in light of challenges we spent a, a couple minutes talking about them. There is also opportunities, and I’m curious to know what you believe are opportunities that exist right now in education because of the disruption that’s that’s happening.


Karen Dancy (12:31):
Well, I mean, perfect example is, so our meetings have obviously like student, parent council meetings have shifted to zoom meetings and parent engagements. And we are finding that we’re getting more people coming out to our events because they’re not racing home, you know, rushing home to have dinner and then to go out again. Right. So I, like I said, I was involved involved, so at the parent council level, but then just above the parent council level because we’re in a Catholic school, we have OAP C so we have parent engagements for that. So we’re finding that the parent engagement is actually higher because people can come home, stay in their pajamas, you know, put on the pajamas and then listen or watch, right. Like they don’t have to rush out to meeting up upon meeting. So we’re finding a better engagement that way. And so, you know, maybe moving forward once the pandemic is over, maybe schools will have more parent engagements because we used to have parent engagements in person. Right. Like, got it. Paul Davis is an internet C guy. Right. He came to our school and sometimes the turnout for these things are so poor. Yeah. Like you’re lucky if you get four people and that, you know that. So


Sam Demma (13:47):
When you say parent engagement, can you clarify, do you mean like a parent event, like a parent driven event? Yeah.


Karen Dancy (13:51):
A parent. Yeah. So, so the government used to give funding for, to host parent engagement. Got it. So I know in my role as chair, I’ve organized you know, internet safety or wellness, you know mental brain gym, just to help parents kind of cope with different, you know, with parenting stuff. Like it’s, it’s, it was a fund that was only spec. It was specifically for an engagement. So we have to have a we’d bring in a speaker. And so we were lucky if we got four people. And so I used to open it up to all the schools in the neighborhood. If they wanted to come, they could come you know, still people are shy and they wouldn’t come. But having it on zoom, it, it, you know, it makes it like, oh, I don’t have to, like, I can go up, but not have to talk to people.


Karen Dancy (14:38):
Cuz a lot of times people they’re tired when they get home and they don’t wanna go out. But if they can just flip on their, you know, their computer and watch it that way. So but in the past two, I, you know, that, that money that we used to get, I used to do it for the kids. Mm. So I remember there was one, it was a math, it was it was maths. It was some kind of a math thing where they, they brought in all these manipulatives for kids to play. Like they put out a floor mat and everything. And I remember the organizer he’s like, he thought it was in the evening and I’m like, no, no, during the day. And he is like, well, you’re not gonna get parent engagement and your money is supposed to be for parent engagement. And I’m like, no, no, the parents will come during the day because at our school, they, the parents were really engaged and sure enough, I had 15 parents throughout the day come to watch their kids have fun that it was mostly that it was a thousand dollars, but that a thousand dollars was spent for the kids because any money that the school raises always goes back back to the kids. Right. We always think what’s what something for the kids is for the kids.


Sam Demma (15:40):
So you not to suit your horn, but you’re like the, the best parent, you know, you got involved in your kid’s education from grade one and stayed in all the way up to grade and you’re still here. So


Karen Dancy (15:52):
I know, I know. I’m sure my I’m sure. My grade nine kid isn’t exactly happy. Actually. The funny thing was is I didn’t, you know, so I joined, like I joined the high school council and high school is different and I’m obviously learning and this is still you to me. And I, you know, I haven’t set foot in the school yet, but the first time they report cards came out, I looked and like my friend texted me. She’s like, Hey, did you know your names on, on all the report cards? And I had no idea. I’m like, oh my God, he like kid is gonna be so embarrassed to see my name. You know,


Sam Demma (16:25):
Every single, every single student in the school is gonna be like, oh, your mom’s caring. Yeah,


Karen Dancy (16:31):
Exactly. As long as, so maybe that’s why he doesn’t wanna make friends or anything because that’s really that’s at one. He doesn’t want people knowing who I am, but that’s awesome. That’s awesome. But they just, but they say that, you know, kids get are proud like obviously in elementary. True. And they see their parents helping out. Right. It gives them a sense of pride. I remember my younger son, he was like in grade two and I, there was an issue with pizza. Like he went up to the pizza, the pizza mom and was complaining and he’s like, my mom is the chair. Well, he actually called me president or something. My mom is the president and I want another slice. And she, you know, and she joked her and she turned around. She’s like, you tell your mom that I quit because I’m tired of this. Right. So, you know, he took it a she’s too far.


Sam Demma (17:13):
That’s funny. Yeah. I love that story. How do we get parents more involved in their child’s education? Is it through parent engagement events? Like what do you think is like, like envision an educator listening to this from another school board who doesn’t have a, a, an awesome parent support. Like what do we tell that educator that might help them get their parent community more involved?


Karen Dancy (17:36):
I think that you tell that they, they need to take whatever the parent can give. If the parent can only give five minutes, the, the parent that’s five minutes of their time. I mean, time is valuable. Yeah. Right. And yes, I’ll admit that I spend a lot of time and I’ve, but if I have a parent who says to me, you know, I can only give you five minutes at this event. I’ll take it. I would never turn anybody down. It is hard it’s, you know, I guess the only thing is you keep offering things, right? Like different things. Just, it it’s, especially now we can take advantage of zoom. Right. Like I said, I mean, before Christmas we had a story time. It just, you know, it was off the cuff. I just, I messaged my principal and I said, Hey, Santa Claus, he’s gonna do a story time over zoom. And he’ll read a story. And it was just, and you know, parents can come in and watch with their kids. That’s awesome. And we had, we had like 88 families join us that night.


Sam Demma (18:35):
Wow.


Karen Dancy (18:36):
Yeah. And Mike was, my husband was Santa Claus.


Sam Demma (18:43):
That’s awesome. And the think that I know Mike, you know’s on the podcast. He fits the role perfectly.


Karen Dancy (18:48):
Oh, for sure. Yeah. That’s so, you know, it was, so it is, it’s very hard, but you have to, I think right now, especially because we’re doing zooms a lot, we just have to try different things. I mean, it’s not gonna, it’s hard. I mean, people can always come into the, like a lot of our events are in the evening. There are some things during the school, like parents can volunteer for school trips. Mm. And, you know, I mean, that’s, that’s something small. I mean, some people never come to our meetings and that’s fine because they don’t have the time or they, they’re not interested, but as long as they show up when their child’s class needs a parent to go on a school trip. Yeah. Or when it’s when we’re making pancakes for show Tuesday. Right. That’s great. That’s still in, that’s still engagement. Right. I mean, it’s, it’s a small step. It is very hard. But I mean, I don’t, I don’t know if there’s never, if there’s a school that has never had a parent help out in some way. Yeah. Right. Like, it’s, it just, you take whatever they can give you and you never complain and you thank them. And you say, you know, thank you.


Sam Demma (19:49):
You shared a great idea with the Santa Claus reading. And it made me curious to pick your brain a little more on different events that you’ve hosted virtually, and also in person that may have really engaged the parent community that you think might be valuable for another educator or parent to hear.


Karen Dancy (20:07):
Well. Yeah. I mean, a couple years ago at the elementary school, we did a Christmas market. Nice. It was our first and only one. This was a lot of work. Yeah. But it was a lot of fun cuz it brought out the community. Not only like the parents, but the teachers came and they shopped, I mean, it was a lot of work. But there was different stations we had, like we had Santa with photos, photos with Santa, we had story time we had yeah, just a marketplace and a lot of schools do do that. So that’s not, that’s not something new. We’ve done. What else have we done? Yeah. Well the Stan, the story time was, was something new that we tried because you know, especially at the time we were, we were closed. Right. It was we’d been shut down in the fall for two weeks for COVID cuz we, our numbers were high.


Karen Dancy (20:56):
So, you know, and, and there’s right now it’s a, there’s such a disconnect between the kids that are at home and who have not set foot in a school and in person since last March. Yeah. Right. So it was a way to kind of bring the kids together. And then a few days later, Santa made an appearance at the school. He walked around the school nice and waited to the kids. So I mean, that was, so that was what we did. But we’ve had hot dog day where some, you know, parents come out and do hot dogs, like just cook the hot on the barbecue. Cause kids like hot dogs and it brings parents out. In September we, you know, we have a welcome to the school. We used to have a barbecue, but the barbecue, again, people they’re so busy. I mean, that’s the thing people’s lives are so busy. Yeah. So we have to reimagine and I don’t know, it was funny because this would in the first year that we weren’t gonna do the barbecue, but I don’t know what we would’ve done, but it doesn’t worry. Doesn’t matter because nothing happens. Right. It didn’t happen. So I don’t know, but it it’s hard, but yeah. I follow what I see what other schools do.


Sam Demma (22:03):
Yeah. You don’t have to reinvent, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. You just iterate or, or grab ideas elsewhere. Exactly.


Sam Demma (22:10):
Oh, that’s awesome. It’s funny when you were talking about going around the school and waving and having Santa Claus on, I, I immediately thought about this, this piece of news, I read a couple weeks ago and it was about this farmer who would bring his goat with him onto zoom calls. Yes. And people could, people could pay 80 to dollars to have a pure. And I was like, wow, there could literally be a person at the Toronto zoo that has a camera and walks around and like showcase animals to students. Like, you know, the more you think about it, the more ideas you see, the more you’re able to build off of them and come up with new interviews. That’s


Karen Dancy (22:44):
A good idea. Yeah, exactly. No, that’s a


Sam Demma (22:46):
Really good idea. I thought that was really like funny. And, and me and my buddy laughing because the goat, technically the goat made like 80 something thousand dollars that year. And we were like


Sam Demma (22:56):
80 grand.


Karen Dancy (22:57):
I know to get a buy for that, that money man. Yeah. It just, no that’s, that was funny. That is true. Yeah. Well it’s, it’s funny watching people’s meetings. Right. You know, like cats will walk by and dogs will bark in the background. You know, one day it was funny. I was on a work meeting and my dog, she was I was watching her from under my computer. So I thought I had turned my camera off. Mm. I turned my dog. I had already turned my camera off, but I thought I muted myself. And so I was calling her and all of a sudden hear the meeting going is that your dog? And it’s like, oh, sorry. I need, that’s how I turned my microphone off.


Sam Demma (23:32):
Yep. So, no, that’s funny. I’m, I’m curious in your experiences cameras on cameras off. I know some teachers are having a really difficult time with that. Teaching to black screens is difficult. I’ve been in classrooms with teachers where every kid has a camera on and I’ve been in classrooms with teachers where every kid has a camera off. Yeah. And I’m curious to know what your perspective is or if you have any ideas related to, you know, encouraging students to turn it on or if you think it’s okay to have them off.


Karen Dancy (23:57):
Yeah. It’s, it’s hard. It’s funny. Cuz I told my older one in grade nine when he, cuz he started the new quad master a couple of weeks ago when we were home. Yeah. And so he had never met this teacher and I said to him, you, you know, turn your camera on because think about this poor teacher who is starting a new quad with a new class and he doesn’t know what you look like.


Sam Demma (24:16):
Yeah.


Karen Dancy (24:17):
And he’s like, well I turn it on for five minutes. And I’m like, it’s just so hard. I find, even in my council meetings, it’s harder when I’m having my counsel meetings. Cause I don’t know the parents, I know a few parents who have joined the council, but I hate talking to that little, you know, black screen, black screen or the initials. And it’s like, you know, say hi to me, you know, like, you know, I’m, I’m vulnerable. I have my camera on, turn it on. I know it’s really hard. I really do feel bad for the teachers because you can’t force them. I yeah. You can’t force the kids to turn on their cameras, but you know, people are such a, you get so many visual cues by having your camera on. Like if we had turned our cameras off,


Sam Demma (24:57):
It’s different,


Karen Dancy (24:58):
You know, I’d be talking to you, you know, to a black screen. Yeah. It’s hard. I don’t, I don’t have any, I don’t have any suggestions except the, you know, it really, you need to have your camera on. Yeah. At least in the beginning, you know, and turn it off if you later on.


Sam Demma (25:13):
Yeah. I, I, I, I agree. And I, I found that, I think like social proof plays into that as well. There are certain students who really wanna turn on their cameras, but they see everyone else having their cameras off and then feel like that’s the correct thing to do. So they leave theirs off as well. Yeah. And it’s like this idea that there’s probably a handful of them who wanna turn it on, but they just, they just don’t shock. Exactly. Yeah. Right. Exactly. And, and you know, I, there’s this phrase about the first follower that the leader isn’t actually the person like leading the movement. It’s, it’s the first follower. Who’s the true leader because they took the, the, the hard decision and courageous decision to follow the, that one person, which then usually leads to a bunch of other people turning it on. That’s true. That’s true. Yeah. It’s an interesting, it’s an interesting dynamic. I strive in all the programs that I’ve delivered to get students, to turn their cameras on in different engaging ways. Yeah. Engaging ways. I know. I’m curious though, to wrap up today’s interview, if you could go back to you year one, Karen, when you just got involved in parent council, knowing what you know about education now, knowing what you know about parent engagement about educators about school, what advice would you give your younger self?


Karen Dancy (26:19):
Not to be shy?


Sam Demma (26:21):
Hmm.


Karen Dancy (26:21):
Not to be shy. Cuz I think I, you know, I sat there and was like, oh, can I speak now? You know, I have a, I have an idea once I got more comfortable. So I would think, but it took me a while to get comfortable. Got it. So I think, you know, just be comfortable right away. You, you know, you’re there for a reason you’re there for the kids. Yeah. Right. at least I, you know, I, yeah. I don’t know. I, it’s funny because PTAs get such a bad rap. They think it’s people are there for their egos. Yeah. And I’m sure there are some, but I certainly


Sam Demma (26:50):
Like every field there’s good. There’s, you know, people that are there for all different types of reasons


Karen Dancy (26:54):
I think. And I think that stops a lot of people. Like I really wish people could see what we do. It’s not the clear it is not clicky. It’s not, you know, we just we’re there for the kids and we know, and, and that’s all we do. Like we’re not there for anything else.


Sam Demma (27:10):
I love it. No, it’s so cool. And if someone wants to reach out to you and have a conversation after listening to this interview, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?


Karen Dancy (27:17):
Probably on my, on Twitter. So I’m @karendancy on Twitter.


Sam Demma (27:23):
Awesome. Karen, thank you so much for coming on the show. I really appreciate it.


Karen Dancy (27:27):
All right. Thank you for having me.


Sam Demma (27:28):
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 Karen Dancy

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.

Abbey Gingerich – Teacher and Student Leadership Advisor (KCI)

Abbey Gingerich – Teacher and Student Leadership Advisor (KCI)
About Abbey Gingerich

Abbey (@MsAGingerich) is the leadership teacher and Student Activities Director at Kitchener-Waterloo Collegiate Institute (KCI) in Ontario, Canada. Her leadership program includes over 100 students who are involved in planning school fundraisers, assemblies, special events, and daily activities to make the school a more spirited and engaging place to be.

Last year, Abbey and her student leaders were honoured to receive the award for having the most school spirit in Ontario! Abbey believes that small, consistent acts of positivity can change the world. Her enthusiastic and creative approach to leadership has drawn students to her hands-on, spirited, and community-building leadership program that is quickly becoming the leading program of its kind in Ontario.

Aside from teaching leadership at KCI, Abbey has coached basketball and rugby and also teaches English and Art. Wherever Abbey goes, she leaves a trail of glitter; her enthusiasm and passion for student leadership are infectious.

Connect with Abbey: Email | Instagram | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Kitchener-Waterloo Collegiate Institute School Website

English at University of Waterloo

Ontario Student Leadership Conference

Police Foundations at Confederation College

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, Abby Gingerich. She is a leadership teacher and student activity director at Kitchener Waterloo Collegiate Institute in Ontario, Canada. Wow, lots of words. Her leadership program includes over a hundred students who are involved in planning school fundraisers, assemblies, special events, and daily activities to make the school a more spirited and engaging place to be. Last year, Abby and her student leaders were honored to receive the award for having the most school spirit in Ontario. And I can highly guarantee, and I can highly back that statement because I saw them at OSLC, the Ontario student leadership conference, and they are freaking loud. Abby believes that small, consistent actions of positivity can change the world. I totally agree. Her enthusiasm and creative approach to leadership has drawn students to her hands on spirited and community building program that is quickly becoming the lead leading program of its kind in Ontario. Aside from teaching leadership at KCI, she has coached basketball, rugby, teaches english and art. Wherever Abby goes, she leaves a trail of glitter. Her enthusiasm and passion for student leadership is infectious. Without further ado, please help me in well welcoming Abby to the show. Abby, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. It’s an absolute pleasure to have you, can you start by introducing yourself to the audience and maybe sharing why you got into this work that you’re doing with young people today?


Abbey Gingerich (01:36):
Sure, so my name is Abby Gingrich and I’m in my third year in this role of student activities advisor at Kitchener Collegiate Institute and that’s in the KW area. Ooh, how did I get into this? I, I mean, it would go back to when I was in high school, I, I was obviously involved in, in student leadership. I actually went to another local school down the street; WCI, and I had great teachers and mentors there. And I, I mean, looking back, I should have just gone right into teaching. All of my teachers told me to go into teaching. I think it’s a bit of a personality thing for me that I hate doing what everyone tells me to do so I delayed for a little bit and I thought I would, I don’t know.


Abbey Gingerich (02:29):
I still went for English at UW and things like that which helped me then when I decided to switch over to teaching. But I was working at a bank for a little bit. I worked at a hotel which were all a great, great experiences, but just wasn’t so that like, it just wasn’t lighting my life on fire. Mm. And so I was living with one of my best friends at the time, and I remember, and she was a teacher here at KCI, and I remember seeing her talk about her students and talk about the experiences she was having. And she just loved it. And I had like this moment sitting on the couch and I was like, oh, I should be doing that. And so here I am, and it was I don’t know, I guess I remember looking at the leadership teacher role and think, I probably wouldn’t be able to have a chance at that role until I’ve been teaching for maybe five or 10 years. And then it just sort of worked out I don’t know if you wanna call it fate or destiny at KCI, but like an English teacher, an art teacher and the leadership teacher, we’re all leaving at the same time to other opportunities. And so they were able to package this role for me and it just felt like the perfect fit. And here I am.


Sam Demma (03:50):
That’s awesome. That’s so cool. And you could just feel the energy when you talk about your passion for teaching. So I absolutely love this. This is so cool. Yeah. You know, right now is a little bit different than maybe your first couple years in education. I know there’s a bunch of challenges, maybe share a couple of the challenges you’ve been facing and how you’ve come up with solutions or what types of virtual things are you doing to make up for it?


Abbey Gingerich (04:16):
Yeah. oh, it’s, it’s tough. Yeah. Especially keeping momentum going with school spirit, especially online. It’s, it’s just challenging to come up with fresh new creative ideas online. Luckily I’ve, I’ve always had really great students that I can draw inspiration from. And so one of the first things we did was just start small. Cuz obviously change is hard and it it’s scary to adapt sometimes. And so we figured that starting small with maybe one or two virtual activities a week or something and then building on those and just building up the height and the excitement and, and still saying to our community and to our staff and our students, we’re still here. We still care about our school spirit and our school community. And here is some of the smaller things that we’re doing. So it was just little things like wear some Raider wear and send in a photo online and, and tag us in it or wear your comfy clothes and send a picture of that.


Abbey Gingerich (05:25):
So, yes. We started out with just sort of these small, consistent little events and we’ve sort of grown them into, into bigger things as well. I also had staff send in photos or send in videos of like little tutorials that they at home. So some of our science teachers did experiments at home and we shared those online. Some of our one of our staff members is an expert juggler. So we put a juggling challenge out. And we just took like these every day at home things that students could still be doing and just hype them up and made them into the most exciting thing that we possibly could. I I’m so hands on with my course and with my teaching, I, I like students up out of their seats. I like them interacting. And so that’s been, the biggest challenge for me is to, is to have to stay in my seat.


Abbey Gingerich (06:27):
And so, you know, there are some great programs online that I’ve been able to use. We do a lot of shared documents with the students that are in class and at home home. So they’re still collaborating together even if it is in a, in a smaller virtual capacity. Yeah, it’s, it’s, it’s something new every day and I’ve just had to challenge myself to say, you know, for the students and, and for the staff as well, I’m gonna do whatever I can to still make it exciting and, and do some good KCI spirit stuff.


Sam Demma (07:05):
That’s awesome. Out of all the, I guess, virtual events or, you know, different events that you’ve done so far, what’s one stuck the most, like was there any one particular event that all the kids just loved it and kept wanting to do it again and again, and maybe something comes to mind, maybe not, but I’m curious.


Abbey Gingerich (07:25):
So we’re actually repeating this event on a larger scale coming up, but one of our staff members and his son actually built a Marvel track at home, like a Marvel obstacle course. And he sent me the video footage of it and I just turned it into like this. We were calling it the race, you didn’t know you needed. And, and like we had little videos of each marble and introducing them and then the race. And I think the host had like over a hundred comments on it of kids just engaging and upset that their marble didn’t win or, you know, saying the race was rigged and everything like that. So it, it was just something that you know, was supposed to be fun and bring some, some energy online and had real, no other real purpose beyond just that school spirit which I’m okay with.


Abbey Gingerich (08:26):
And and so we’re doing it again in place of one of our larger sporting events that we would normally have happening right now. We’re doing it again and we’re introducing new racers and we have our football coaches commentating the race. The students who are planning the event have created like over 15 feet of track in their, at home time. And so I think it’s, I think it’s gonna be pretty fun. I hope it’s gonna be pretty fun, but for some, I have no idea why, but for some reason it blew up on our social media which was just a nice experience too.


Sam Demma (09:04):
It’s the whole idea of just taking an idea offline and then showcasing it online and making it kind of funny. Right. It sounds like you’re introducing marbles, right? Like it’s pretty good. Yeah.


Abbey Gingerich (09:16):
I like that. I, I mean, and, and I say to the kids all the time, like if there’s, if there’s a way that we can just add some sparkle to something like, that’s just what I’m known for, like throwing glitter at everything. That’s sort of one of the best examples I’ve had I have is that it’s yeah. Just something that we didn’t even plan it. Right. It was footage. I borrowed from another our staff member and said, I think, I think the kids would be into this. And again, it’s just those moments that say, Hey, here we are. We’re still thinking of you. Hope this brings a smile to your face and let’s have some fun.


Sam Demma (09:49):
I love that. My, my next question was gonna be, how do we make students feel appreciated and heard during these times? Is it just the nudge on the shoulder, the unexpected message? Like how do you make your students feel appreciated?


Abbey Gingerich (10:04):
Yeah, I think, I think acknowledging them as individuals and still showing them that they’re valued especially right now in the, in these COVID times when we’re not connecting the way we usually do. Like I’m I miss a lot of my students. I only really interact with the, the 10 that are in front of me each day. You don’t have those same moments of like walking through the hallways and, and seeing a student you taught last year or seeing the girls from the basketball team that you coach. Right. I, I am, I’m really missing those moments. So we’ve been putting out some smaller challenges to some like to our athletes and saying here, send us a transition video of you. I don’t know, it’s a TikTok trend. I’m not quite up on that, but they’re doing these transitions from their everyday close to their school spirit wear or their athletic gear. And so you’re able to connect still one on one that way. And I can say, thank you so much for the video. And then sometimes it opens a conversation of how are you doing, or I really miss rugby right now. And so I think getting in touch with those students or, or when a student reaches out, really making sure that we take the time to acknowledge that and, and to take it that step further and just ask how people are doing those small moments can make a big difference as well.


Sam Demma (11:32):
Cool. And we talked a little bit about some great ideas and great successes, but it seems like the education state right now is almost like throwing spaghetti on the wall and seeing what sticks. And of course, sometimes things fall. I’m curious to know if you’ve learned from any of your own personal mistakes, and I don’t even wanna call it mistakes, but I want to call it an experiment because that’s really what it is during this time. And is there anything worth sharing with the audience that you think might be valuable to hear?


Abbey Gingerich (11:59):
Yeah, I I think personally the biggest issue I ran into was just trying to do everything exactly the same way, or just trying to if think, thinking I could just convert it to online and it would be totally fine. And, and there are just some activities that don’t convert well. And so a lot of work went into revamping, a couple of my courses and revamping even just projects as well. My leadership course looks to totally different from when it, from how it usually would look. And, and like the stress got to me pretty early on it, it was, it’s very overwhelming. And I, and I know I share this with a lot of other student activity teachers, but you feel like there’s sort of this extra weight to keep all the fun and, and the excitement and the school spirit going.


Abbey Gingerich (12:57):
And, and that’s hard. And, and also respecting that there’s a global pandemic going on, right. Like we shouldn’t be doing everything that we normally do because we need to put student safety and staff safety first. And so, yeah, the wake up call for me, I think, was just recognizing that I was heading into that burnout territory. And, you know, we’re, we’re told to give a lot of compassion to our students and just that reminder that we need to give a little bit of that compassion to us as well. And so doing again, doing those small, all consistent things every day or every other day, I think can have a bigger impact than doing big, exciting things all the time. Cuz it’s, it’s not sustainable right now. I don’t think anyways,


Sam Demma (13:49):
I love that it’s funny, small, consistent things. My grade tall voters should teacher Mike loud foot. The principle he taught me was small, consistent actions and we applied that to picking up trash and let, to pick waste. And now it’s like a guiding principle we follow. So I love that if, if you can just think about what’s the one small thing I can do right now instead of bake the whole pie at once, you know, a week later, it’ll have a pie instead of stressing the whole week. I think that’s an amazing piece of advice on the same top of, of advice. You know, an educator listening might be in their first year of teaching and maybe you can think back for a second to when you first taught your first year. You’re probably super excited. Now imagine if that first year had the global pandemic as well, and you were thinking to yourself, what the heck did I sign up for here? What advice would you give that teacher? I mean, you already gave some brilliant advice around, you know, not doing everything, just taking a small action. What other advice would you have to a fellow teacher?


Abbey Gingerich (14:46):
Yeah, there’s, I think there’s two that I, and I still really carry these close to me now asking for help makes a huge difference. Like you’re kind of just thrown into this role and then, and you’re given all of the social media power and you know, you wanna do all these fundraising activities as well, and you wanna make sure you’re meeting all all the needs in terms of diversity and inclusion for your students and, and that a lot. And so I think the more that you can involve other groups and clubs in the school and talk to your admin team and get other staff on board who are, who are gonna be hopefully just as enthusiastic but as supportive. And I am very lucky at KCI to have an incredibly supportive admin team and a very supportive staff.


Abbey Gingerich (15:38):
And so staff checks in with me constantly on, can I help with something? Are you doing okay? Can my group or my club, or you know, my group of students help with something and those moments of collaboration create really valuable learning opportunities for the students. But also then just help share the burden or the weight. Anyways. I don’t see it as a burden. I, I obviously I love it, but but just help spread that out a little bit. So it’s not as overwhelming and sometimes I forget, right. I forget to ask for help. Yeah. So I think the more you can, you can reach out and ask for help the better the other thing is get your students involved or ask your kids for advice. Anytime we’re doing something that I like, I guess would be on trend.


Abbey Gingerich (16:31):
I only know it’s on because the kids told me. And so I, I, you know, we like to, we like to spoof some of the, the trendy things that are happening. We like putting out really funny videos or, or copying a video that’s really popular. And again, those, those, I wouldn’t know about those without the kids. So ask your kids because it’s, it’s also there your audience, right. Do you wanna know what they wanna see and what they care about seeing, and, and some of that funny, again, popular stuff or the stuff that’s gonna create hype. The, the kids know that far better than I ever will.


Sam Demma (17:10):
That’s so true. That’s awesome. And I think it’s a great, a piece of advice because even myself, you mentioned TikTok, I decided about a month and a half ago to take a year off social media. So I could just imagine I’m gonna come back in a year and I’m gonna be like, what dance are you doing? Where is that from? What is that? Yeah, so that’s a brilliant, that’s a brilliant piece of advice. I’m curious to know as well during your career. You’ve probably had students reach out and thank you for the work you’ve done in leadership. And it’s, it’s, it’s changed their life. It’s helped them find new parts of themselves. They didn’t know existed out of all those students. Do you have a story of one that the leadership work that you guys are doing at the school has transformed someone that’s that’s worth sharing? And the reason I’m asking is because there might be a teacher or educator or principal listening who’s burnt out and is losing faith and maybe considering doing some different type of work. And if they can remind themselves why they started by hearing the story of a serious impact, I think it could really reinspire them and motivate them. And if it’s a very serious story, feel free to change the name for privacy reasons. Of course. But does any story come to mind for you?


Abbey Gingerich (18:23):
Yeah, I mean, it’s, it’s funny being sort of I guess I, I would still say I’m pretty young or new you into the world of teaching. So yeah, the ones that have reached out to me and thanked me are still sort of at that transition point and where they’ve thanked me is that I help them find a path or I’ve helped them. I’ve helped give them the tools to on some of their goals or to decide on a career path. So I did have a student reach out to me last year and he was in leadership. Well, it feels like forever ago, but just last year. And so I, I don’t think he knew when he signed up for leadership. I don’t think he knew what he was getting himself into. Like I I always say that I will give my most, I will give my attention to the students that are gonna put in the most work and not cuz I wanna ignore anybody, but the students that are gonna put the hustle in or have that drive whether they have the skills or the tools or not, I’m gonna, I’m gonna help provide that, but it’s, it’s, it’s that the heart, right?


Abbey Gingerich (19:32):
Those students that come in with that and are just ready to go and, you know, wanna make stuff happen. That’s where my attention is gonna go. And so I had a student who sort of started off pretty quiet coming into the course and then found himself in sort of a lead role in his event that he was planning. And he did a phenomenal job. And so I think where that translated for him though, is that then he went on he’s doing police foundations at Conogo right now and he actually emailed me. It, I, it must have been during during quarantine in March or April time. But he, he emailed me and told me that he was just elected student leader for police foundations at conno SOGA. And it’s, he never thought that that would be a role that he would ever be interested in.


Abbey Gingerich (20:26):
And after experiencing that level of leadership at high school, he just knew that that’s where he wanted to take his life. And you know, and I think the best part was that he felt very accomplished and he was so proud of what he achieved and that’s something I just like, I just want the kids to know how much of an impact they can actually make even as a youth or as a teenager. I mean, I, I don’t think that really matters. I think, yeah, they can just do incredible things right now. And so when a student can come to that realization that’s, what’s most rewarding for me. And I have to remind myself too, cuz we take a lot of criticism sometimes or we have setbacks. And so to get those positive moments from, from past students it was, was special and, and really meaningful.


Sam Demma (21:21):
Yeah. And a lot of educators say that as teachers you’re seed planters and you might not see the plant grow for many years to come. So it’s cool that you’ve already had some students reach out and I’m sure they’ll continue to blossom over the years. If any other educator listening wants to reach out, bounce ideas around with you, maybe hear about some of the cool things you’re working on, what’s the best way for them to do so.


Abbey Gingerich (21:45):
Probably email; I’m just at abbey_gingerich@wrdsb.ca and email is probably the most convenient way to get ahold of me, or I do run the KCI Instagram account. So if they ever, I’ve had other schools message us through Instagram and just say, tell us about this idea or how did you make this happen? And I’m, I’m always more than happy to share resources or ideas as well. Yeah, I think again, those, that collaboration opportunity when we go to, you know, leadership conferences and stuff, I’m, I’m missing that, of course. And I think there’s still definitely some ways that we can do that and achieve that across different schools as well so I’m excited for that.


Sam Demma (22:31):
Well, if you’re listening right now, you better email Abby. She wants to talk. Awesome. Well Abby, thank you so much for taking some time to come on the show. I really appreciate it.


Abbey Gingerich (22:42):
Thank you, thank you for having me.


Sam Demma (22:44):
Typically at this point in the episode, I would be ending it and telling you to leave a review and tune in to the next one. But after our conversation ended, Abby and I went back and forth a little more and there was one more thing she wanted to add to this episode. So here it is. So what other unique ideas are going on right now? Maybe student led projects or staff led projects throughout the school?


Abbey Gingerich (23:07):
Yeah, so it might leadership class because of COVID, we’ve actually half of them are working at home and then I have half in class and they switch. So the at home crew, I wanted to still give them something that was valuable for them for the course. So I’ve actually created I’m calling them community outreach, passion projects, and they have an opportunity to identify a passion that they have which was very challenging for some but then also do research and further their education on that passion. And it didn’t have to be school related at all. Just something that again, you know, brings some fire to their life. And then I wanted them to, I challenged them anyway to find a way that they can convert that passion into something that can positively impact their community.


Abbey Gingerich (24:04):
And so their community might just be home their family. It might be their school community. It might be the KW community at whatever level they were comfortable creating something. That was sort of the added challenge. And then of course you add in all of the health and safety measures of COVID there. So I’m, I am in, I’m just blown away by what they’ve been able to achieve. I have student, I have a student who she sews and she’s been making masks and she’s actually been selling the masks to raise funds for indigenous rights in KW. And she has raised almost $800 on her own just at home. Oh wow. During COVID times. And now she’s even realizing that the fundraising is not enough. She’s ready to turn sort of her awareness into action. And she’s getting in touch with council members and members of, of leadership in the KW community and, and getting in touch with them on how to, again, further this cause.


Abbey Gingerich (25:14):
And that’s just been amazing. And I have another student that is is also a sewer, but is interested in climate change and she’s been collecting thrifted or used fabrics and repurposing them into SCRs and little pouches. And she’s been selling those and working on creating then also information on the fashion industry’s impact on the environment and how to be more sustainable. And so it, it’s so interesting to see the different levels that they’ve been able to take their projects and and these passions and translate them into something that’s gonna make an impact on their community. And then other students haven’t, they, they didn’t have to do a fundraiser component. Other students are creating I have one student creating resources for new youth to Canada either through immigration or just moving to Ontario as well.


Abbey Gingerich (26:15):
And she’s put together full resources community resources that youth should know about when they’re new to Canada or new to KW. And so sort of the, I guess the accomplishment that’s come out of them and to realize that they could still make an incredible impact on their world at whatever level that is. They’ve been able to do that even during COVID and in, in a very short period of time too, it’s only been about six weeks. So that has been one of the most rewarding things that has come out of this time. And I had no idea going into it that it was gonna go that this way. But it’s been incredible.


Sam Demma (26:56):
That is so cool. Thanks for sharing.


Abbey Gingerich (26:59):
Thank you.


Sam Demma (27:01):
And with that final thought, thank you so much for tuning into another episode. I hope you enjoyed this interview with Abby and got something from it. There was so many pieces of wisdom and nuggets and unique ideas that you could take, make your own, and also use for your school. If you did enjoy this, consider leaving a rating and review so more teachers like yourself can find this content and also live out the high performing educator philosophy. And as always, if you have ideas that you think should be shared with your colleagues around the country, around the globe, please reach out at info@samdemma.com so we can share your story with our audience. I’ll talk to you soon.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Abbey Gingerich

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.

Daniel Steckley – Physical Education and Leadership Teacher (SJAM)

Daniel Steckley - Physical Education and Leadership Teacher (SJAM)
About the Daniel Steckley

Dan is a Physical Education and Leadership teacher at Sir John A. Macdonald S.S. in Waterloo, Ontario.  He is in his 11th year of teaching, minus the year he took off to work on the largest cruise ship in the world as a sports staff for Royal Caribbean International.  

Dan and his wife recently got married this fall in the middle of the pandemic.  He is passionate about fitness, food and a good cup of coffee.  Dan has been a Student Leadership Advisor at his school for the last 5 years.  

His motivation is to develop a school culture that connects all students and provides them with a platform and a space to do great things. 

He has helped to coordinate and host large school and community events such as CSLC, OFSAA, Relay for Life, Horizons, Change Cafe, and various leadership conferences. 

Connect with Daniel: Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Sir John A. Macdonald Secondary School Website (SJAM)

Canadian Student Leadership Conference (CSLC)

Canadian Student Leadership Association (CSLA)

Horizon Leadership Conferences

Change Cafe

Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations (OFSAA)

Relay for Life – Canadian Cancer Society

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 really excited again as always to bring you another interview with another high performing educator. Daniel Steckley is a physical education and leadership teacher at Sir John A. Mcdonald’s Seconadary School in Waterloo, Ontario. He is in his 11th year of teaching; minus the year he took off to work on the largest cruise ship in the world as a sports staff for the Royal Caribbean international. That’s a pretty cool job. Dan and his wife recently got married this fall in the middle of the pandemic. He’s passionate about fitness, food, and having good cups of coffee. Dan has been a student leadership advisor at his school for the last five years and his motivation is to develop a school culture that connects all students and provides them with a platform and a space to do great things. He has helped to coordinate and host large school and community events, such as CSLC, OFSAA, relay for life, horizons, change cafe, and various leadership conferences. Please help me in welcoming from your house, your car, your classroom, giving a round of applause to the invisible audience; Dan Steckley.


Sam Demma (01:20):
Dan, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. It’s a pleasure to have you here.


Daniel Steckley (01:26):
Thanks Sam. I’m excited to be here. Thanks for setting us up.


Sam Demma (01:30):
Of course. Can you take a moment to just tell the audience, you know, who you are and why? Share why you got into the work you do with young people that you’re doing today?


Daniel Steckley (01:39):
Yeah, for sure. I’m a secondary school team with the Waterloo region district school board and teaching at Sir John A. McDonald Secondary School. And right now I currently am teaching student leadership, or I guess otherwise known as interdisciplinary studies. In terms of how I got into this, or why I, I guess why I do this. I think if I narrowed it down, the biggest thing would be, I enjoy doing this because I like helping others, or helping students to do great things and seeing them succeed. I think that’s kind of my why or what motivates me every day, makes me happy is kind of watching, watching others, others succeed and, and go and do amazing things in our, in our world.


Sam Demma (02:28):
Did you have someone in your life push you in the same direction, which led you to becoming an educator or did you know from a young age when I grew up, I want to teach.


Daniel Steckley (02:38):
Yeah. I don’t think I had a, a big life changing event. I think I had lots of, lots of those people in my life. That helped guide me in that direction. Probably not knowingly. I think, yeah, starting out my, my grandpa was actually a, a teacher and a principal. And he started out in a one room back in the day in a one room schoolhouse. So I always enjoyed like, hearing stories about it’s, it’s crazy to think that like how long ago that was, but what it was like to, you know, be a teacher, how many years been what, 70 years ago? Yeah, 60 years ago, teaching in a one room school host and what that was like. I think I had some awesome, I was big into sports. I had some awesome coaches pH ed teachers that I think really played an impact into, in my, in my development and kind of guiding me in this direction in terms encouraging you, telling you, you know, Hey, you’re good at this. Have you considered this, but appreciating the impact they made in my life as well, too.


Sam Demma (03:44):
That’s awesome. And when you think about the current scenario, you know, way different than what school was like 70 years ago in a barn house. Yeah. It, some, some challenges have been placed on the education world in the form of COVID 19 and a global pandemic. I’m curious to know because everyone’s throwing spaghetti against the wall right now and seeing what sticks have you had any challenges with your leadership class and have you tried anything outta the ordinary that has either failed miserably and you’ve learned from it and someone else can, or had a great success with something you’ve tried and wanna share it with the audience?


Daniel Steckley (04:22):
Yeah, I think obviously tons of challenges right now. I think the biggest is the missing the face to face interaction with, with the students. The ability to collaborate work together learn from each other. I think the in person, especially with the way technology is great, but I think in our world we can’t lose lose sight of how important those face to face relationships are. That’s how you build, that’s how you develop trust. That’s how you build relationships. And I think that’s what allows people to achieve great things. So I think having to shift virtual online there are some challenges, challenges with with that. I think the other important thing that I’ve kind of helped remind myself is that our kind of why our end goal as educators has not changed, right? We’re still working with students to, you know, help them do great things, help them, help, help them realize their full potential, help them be be DRS of change in our worlds and, and to be, and grow into these awesome human beings who who, yeah, who make a difference in our world. And that has not changed. So the platform which we are are doing that maybe has changed and we’re delivering our content and our instruction has maybe changed slightly, but really what we do is not changing at all and hasn’t changed. So I think that’s one important thing reminding myself, and has helped helped out a lot too.


Sam Demma (05:46):
Okay. That’s cool. And speaking that the purpose of education hasn’t changed, I’m sure over the years, you’ve had dozens of students reach out to you and tell you how big of an impact you’ve had on them. And you have to see that firsthand. Some other educators tell me they keep a, a bad day file on their desk, where they keep all the notes they’ve received. And if they’re having a bad day, they pull out a note and they read it to remind themselves, you know, this is really important work. Do you have a story in mind of a student who maybe has been impacted by you do with leadership and you, if it’s a serious story, you can change their name for the purpose of privacy reasons, but it would be cool if you could share it. So other educators can also be reminded why this work is, is so important and needed now more than ever.


Daniel Steckley (06:30):
Yeah. I think kind of going along with that is, is as educators, we never really know that you’re impacted. We have sure. I think that’s one cool thing about our cool thing about our job, right? We might not realize that till 20 years down the road we might never hear about the, the difference or maybe impact you had in a kid’s life. I guess thing for me that knows when you’re making difference, is those proud moments when you see your students kind of achieve and do do great things like the, the notes, the written reminders, thank yous that like, I love those. Those are always great, but I think the real thing that makes me happy is seeing kids do great things. Mm. So I know that yeah, one example to share is a student of mine. We’ve been joining in, I think you’ve been a part of it too.


Daniel Steckley (07:17):
Some of these on online leadership conferences and one conference we had had the opportunity for students to be actually present as a keynote speaker, do like a mini presentation, four or five minutes. Yeah. And one of my students did a keynote presentation there did the last four or five minutes. And like absolutely blew it away. Like his message, his story was, was awesome. So impactful. The number of like the amount of feedback he received and we received on like kind of, I received saying how amazing like that student is and how great or impactful the story was. There was a story about, he shared about his grandma passing away and living life with regrets and stuff like this, and to take and take advantage of opportunities and seize the moment and seize those seize those opportunities. But just seeing that student grow through that experience.


Daniel Steckley (08:12):
Right. And having the platform, the opportunity to to share like a keynote message in front of whether it’s virtual online in front of tons of people. Yeah. That’s, what’s really cool as an educator to see, see students grow kind of grow and, and see them realize their potential in that way. One example another like recent more simple example is I got my kids through an activity. We’ve kind of talked about how how everyone wants to get back to a new normal right now. Right. We wanna get back to life as normal and, and live life, how we used to, we wanna be able to, you know, hang out with people. If school is normal, play basketball after school sports, drama, activities, all that kind of stuff. So we didn’t exercise with our students where I got them to to look at the idea that we don’t wanna get back to normal as we, as we left it.


Daniel Steckley (09:04):
But this is a good opportunity to press pause and create like a new normal, right. So what can we leave behind from our old normal that maybe wasn’t healthy or or great, right. And how can we create a better new normal where we kind of reevaluate what’s important in life. As we move forward and the student just sent a message saying like, thank you, this op, like this assignment was like, was amazing. I learned so much. And it really got me to think about what I value in life. Kind of like moving forward. So that was one of those messages where you get where it’s like, just seems like a simple little assignment, but the kids reaching out and, you know, saying, I actually enjoy doing work in your course is kind of cool to cool to see.


Sam Demma (09:49):
That’s really awesome. And the topic of activities. Do you have any other things that might be worth sharing with others that you’ve tried ride with your class that have just been a home run? Maybe, maybe it’s a simple question or reflection or something virtually, if anything comes to mind, it would be cool to, to hear about it.


Daniel Steckley (10:06):
Yeah. I guess I, I don’t have one one amazing thing, but I guess I’m just trying to bring it back and think about when I’m doing activities, lessons with my kids, what are, what are simple skills or activities we can do that set them up for success in the future? Sure. We talk about our world is changing so quickly in the, in terms of like content, what they’re learning now, by the time they get a job seven or eight years from now content might be completely irrelevant. So what are these kind of soft skills that are important in developing in students? So I guess a few things that I’ve been doing with my kids in the virtual online world that have been really cool to see the results of one is I’ve been getting them to do interviews. So similar to the podcast style we’re doing, but it’s amazing seeing them reach out and practice the skill or art of asking questions and listening to people’s stories.


Daniel Steckley (10:59):
So yeah, hearing kids like interview their grandparents, their parents, their people, they look up to and being able to learn from other people I found it was really cool. That’s been a cool one. So interviews what else have we done? Storytelling learning how to kind of like do a keynote presentation. Like we talked about earlier, nice has been a really successful one where kids can use stories to share their message. And then we’ve also been working on projects where students have a bit of freedom, but they can, they have to pick something they’re good at and something they wanna see changed in the world and then put those two together into a plan of action somehow. So so some of the results of those projects have been really cool to, to see what they’ve come up with.


Sam Demma (11:47):
That’s awesome. These are great exercises and activities, and there might be some educators listening, who this is their first year in education. And they’re thinking, what the heck did I sign up for? And, you know, they’re, they’re taking notes on this episode and I’m curious to know if you could speak to your younger self and your first year of teaching, what would, what advice would you share with a, with your, with yourself or a fellow educator who might also be in their first year of teaching?


Daniel Steckley (12:15):
Yeah, that’s a great question. I think I have two pieces of advice the first would be to not compare yourself to anyone else. Mm. We like share that message with kids a lot. When we look at like social media and Instagram, it’s easy to, you know, look at other people’s posts and stories and likes and all that kind of stuff. Yeah. But I think as educators, it’s a really important thing that we remember too. As teachers, it’s easy to be, you know, look at man, I can’t believe what that school’s doing or that teacher’s doing, or like, I’m not doing enough. I should be, you know, I should be doing more I’m or like to keep up with what everyone else doing. But just remember that what you’re doing is like, it’s great, right. As long as you’re doing something that’s meaningful and impactful. Yeah. That is good enough. And you don’t need to feel like you’re doing what other schools or other teachers are doing, or other programs are doing that. Just do what you’re good at and do what you find has meaning and, and value. So I think that’s a, that’s an important one that I still need to remind myself of today because yeah. It’s easy to look at other teachers and say, feel that you’re not doing a good job. Me too.


Sam Demma (13:25):
That’s true.


Daniel Steckley (13:26):
Yeah. And you probably, I think we can all yeah. Experience that. Yeah. And then the next thing would be, is to like just take care of yourself. I think that it’s so easy to get there’s so, so much going on. Right. There’s million resources, million things you could be doing. Yeah. But you gotta take care of yourself. Yeah. And make sure you protect your own personal time as well, too. Right. That you don’t take your job with you 24 7, that you’re not staying up till midnight planning lessons. Like it’s good. You care about your job, but in order for you to be an impactful educator teacher, for me to do a good job in my role, I gotta make sure I take care of myself too, which is going to the gym, getting exercise like eating healthy, spending time with my, you know, wife and family. And doing those things are, are really important. Cuz if you don’t take care of yourself, it’s hard to, you’re gonna burn out and it’s hard to be effective in, in your, in your job as an educator.


Sam Demma (14:26):
So, so, so, so true. And I love how you mentioned the piece about comparison and social media. I recently took a decision or made a decision to take a year off social media and you know, for an educator it might not be possible, but you know, if you’re listening, maybe try a detox or of a week or a month and see how your life differs from when you were using it often. And there’s many reasons why it might be good to give it a shot. And you know, one of them is comparison. Another one might be just time spent on the app that could be spent elsewhere. But you bring up an amazing point. And if anyone wants to reach out, if there’s other educators that are listening and have a conversation with you, Dan, what would be the best way for them to do so?


Daniel Steckley (15:08):
The best is to send me an email probably. I’m happy to share that. It’s daniel_steckley@wrdsb.ca. WRDSB stands for the Waterloo region district school board.


Sam Demma (15:29):
Cool.


Daniel Steckley (15:29):
Well, yeah. Love, love hearing from people and collaborating too. So yeah, happy to share.


Sam Demma (15:34):
Cool. Thank you so much for coming on the show; short but impactful. And hey, I look forward to keeping in touch with you and seeing all the cool stuff that you continue to do.


Daniel Steckley (15:44):
Thanks Sam. Appreciate you having me.


Sam Demma (15:46):
Another high performing educator coming to you on the podcast. I hope you enjoyed this interview with Daniel. If you did, consider reaching out to him to bounce some ideas around. I know he would love to chat and love to be a soundboard for anything related to student culture, school culture, student leadership, student advisors. Please, please do reach out. And as always, if you got something from this and you think it was of value, please consider leaving a rating on the show so other educators just like you can find this content and benefit from it. If you have an idea you wanna share, also shoot me an email @infosamma.com and we’ll get your story and your insights on the show very soon. All the best, I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Daniel Steckley

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.

Chad Ostrowski, Jeff Gargas and Rae Hughart – The Teach Better Team

Chad Ostrowski, Jeff Gargas and Rae Hughart – The Teach Better Team
About the Teach Better Team

The TEACH BETTER team (@teachbetterteam) imagines a world where every educator is connected, supported, and inspired to be BETTER every day; so that all learners can discover and develop their passions to positively impact our communities. BUT – how do we get there?

Not every educator is in the right mental space to learn. While we continue to juggle new elements of the profession, daily tasks, managing student needs & navigating a work-life balance, being a lifelong learner can find itself on the backburner.

The Teach Better Team has been built on best practice instructional pillars, but without a growth mindset, Professional Development is like throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks.

It is our belief that the first step toward being better, every day, begins with carrying a mindset focused on being open-minded to small steps. 

Connect with the Teach Better Team: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Teach Better Website

Teach Better Conference

Administrator Mastermind

Teach Better Store

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

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 beyond excited to bring you today’s interview. It’s a conversation that happened about a month and a half ago, and the topics we discussed still are fresh in my mind, due to the power at which they were explained by today’s three guests. This is one of the first times I’ve had three people on with me, having a four person conversation on the podcast, and it’s an amazing, amazing conversation.


Sam Demma (01:08):
Today we’re talking with the Teach Better team. You can find out more about them on teach, better.com. All of their work aligns very deeply with my philosophy of small consistent actions; that small incremental changes make huge differences and improvements. Yeah, right. he whole idea is not to be perfect, but to be better. And that’s really the DNA throughout their entire company who, which was founded the CEO by Chad. Chad and Jeff; those are the two gentlemen that co-founded the initiative. And we also are joined by Ray, their CMO, and they all have very diverse experiences, and share a ton of phenomenal information that I know will help you as an educator. So buckle up and enjoy this interview. I will see you on the other side. Chad Ray, Jeff, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show. I know we are in different places, geographically in the world. It’s so cool that zoom can connect us and I know all three of you are huge champions for technology and education. I wanna give each of you though, a opportunity to introduce yourself, however you’d wanna be introduced, and share a little bit behind the reason why you’re so passionate about the work you do in education and Chad you can kick it off, followed by Ray, and then Jeff.


The Teach Better Team (02:24):
Absolutely. I’m Chad Ostrowski, I’m the CEO and the co-founder of the teach better team. And I have the pleasure of working with schools, districts, and teachers across the country to not only spread mastery learning and student-centered best practices, but working with these two amazing colleagues to just grow the awareness of what best practices in, education can do. I think what gets me the most exciting is seeing the impact of our work. Whether that’s a teacher overcoming a stressful year or situation, or having the best success they’ve ever had, or a student who’s never been successful in a classroom, finding that success and being able to thrive when they’ve never done so before. And I think that’s at the core of a lot of what we do; its just finding that spark and inspiring, not only the learners in the classrooms, but the teachers and the administrators in the schools, in the districts we get to work with here on the Teach Better team.


Sam Demma (03:23):
Love that.


The Teach Better Team (03:24):
Yeah. Gosh, how do you follow that? This is bad. You win. No, Hey everyone. My name’s Ray. I am the CMO of the teach better team, and I’m also full-time sixth grade math teacher. So I love having kind of the role of working with students by day and teachers by night and on the weekends and all, some are long cuz that’s what we do here in the teach, better family. I, I, I think this answer like changes depending on the day and the week, because the teach better team continues to be such a safe space for educators that has this family mentality, but also allows educators to kinda walk in and gain value however they need at that point in time. So I think my favorite element that’s really fueling my excitement, not only to work with students and to work with educators and leaders really stems from the desire of building a community and a family, which I’m gonna get into today. So I, I love that you had us all on, we don’t normally get to do podcasts altogether, so this is gonna be a fun conversation. Awesome.


The Teach Better Team (04:28):
Yeah. This is kind of fun. You know, we, we don’t always get to do podcasts together, but Ray doesn’t even mention, like we do podcasts together literally all the time, but she doesn’t even list that into things that she does. So I’ll, I’ll list it for us. Right. I’m so I’m Jeff Garas, I’m the COO and co-founder of the teach better team. And I’m Ray’s co-host on is how she prefers me to say that on the teach, better talk podcast as well. I get to do that.


The Teach Better Team (04:51):
Glad I’m glad, you know, your place, Beth, my post,


The Teach Better Team (04:55):
I am your co-host. And I, I think I’m just the guy who tricked these two in a whole bunch of other amazing and educators somehow let me continue to work with them. So I, I second everything they say, I think for me, it’s the word family has become such a big thing, big piece of what we do. And that’s probably my favorite part. You know, Chad mentioned about our impact in classrooms and in school districts, but for me too, it’s this impact of the people we get to work with that work with our team that are okay at the door team and all, everything like that. It’s just, it’s awesome.


Sam Demma (05:25):
I love that. It’s amazing. And I’m so happy to have all of you here on the show right now. When I think about mastery, my mind immediately jumps to Malcolm Gladwell and the book he wrote outliers that talks about the 10,000 hour rule, you know, you know, put 10,000 hours in. And I see that all three of you are super passionate about this idea of, as you said, Chad, at the, at the beginning of this podcast, mastery based learning, like what is that like, take, take me, take us through what that is. And maybe all three of you can chime in. And why are you so passionate about making sure that schools adopt this concept in their teaching strategies and styles?


The Teach Better Team (06:01):
I’m gonna, I’m just gonna put the quarter in Chad real quick, as we say, let him know for a


The Teach Better Team (06:05):
Minute, feel free to take the quarter out if needed too. So just for, as this goes forward,


The Teach Better Team (06:11):
Contr pop with believe there is no like emergency stop button. It’s just


The Teach Better Team (06:15):
So in its simplest form, I like to equate the term mastery with student readiness to move forward. Got it. I think one of the biggest crimes in education is a teacher-centered idea of what instruction needs to be, where the teacher is driving the pace, the content, the choice in how everything is occurring in the classroom and just sort of dragging students along. And I think this is what traditional education basically was for a really long time. And in some cases still is I think mastery learning is a Keystone and a core component in moving classrooms to being more student-centric. So at its core mastery learning focuses on students moving at their own pace when they are ready to move on from one topic or one a activity to the next, as opposed to, you know, if I’m in a classroom and student a didn’t understand the lesson from Monday yet, I, I asked them to understand the, a lesson on Tuesday when they have no prior knowledge or understanding yet I am now putting that student in an inequitable disadvantage in that classroom.


The Teach Better Team (07:28):
So I think mastery learning creates a level playing field for every single student in the classroom to not only grow and learn at their own pace, whether that’s quicker than their peers, but also get the, the help that they need and deserve in their learning environment. Mm and I also think mastery learning at its core fully supports these other best practices that we know work in education, things like differentiation, backwards, design, universal design for learning, even embedding things like PB and inquiry based learning and community connections in the classroom can be supported via mastery learning. So I don’t like to say that mastery learning’s the only thing we do because I think it’s the start of the conversation that we have to have in education that then branches into in completely kind of including all of those student centered best practices that focus on what the student needs, where they’re at and how do we move them to the next step.


The Teach Better Team (08:28):
I do have to add, I, when I originally connected with Chad, I mean, Chad, your passion for mastery learning has like been there from the beginning. And when we originally connected and you told me about this concept over a Google meet, I believe I was like, yeah, that sounds good. But I hadn’t seen it actually done in a classroom. And at the time I was working in, you know, a classroom that we were 94% low income, and I had all these other hurdles I was working with. And to be honest, Sam, my passion was so much more focused on student engagement. How am I gonna get students in the building? How am I going to use neon colors and fun activities to ensure that they’re enjoying learning? And what I found right or wrong is that master learning from me was this missing piece that I needed as an educator to actually then do all the other things I wanted to do better.


The Teach Better Team (09:23):
And so it’s so comical now looking at mastery learning and, and actually getting the luxury of working with educators, right with the teach better team, because as you articulated wonderfully, Chad, it really is kind of that fundamental concrete base that then we can build everything off of educators right now are struggling to keep students engaged. We feel like we’re trying to outshine YouTube and you know, do everything better. And, and I think the reality is is that we can do all these elements better in education. If we start with that core value of truly meeting this where they’re at. So honestly the concept of master learning changed my life for the better and definitely my trajectory of, you know, success as an educator.


Sam Demma (10:05):
That’s awesome. Love that. Jeff, anything to chime in here?


The Teach Better Team (10:11):
No, I mean, they summed it up really, really well. I think for, for me, you know, I’m, I’m not pretty much the only, I think the only one there’s maybe like one or two of us on the team that aren’t classroom teachers got it. So it’s been, you know, different journey for me, but one of the biggest things that’s hit me when early on when Chad and I were traveling all over visiting schools and stuff like that. And I was just learning so much about what was going on and why I was having impact. Just thinking back to like when I was in school, when I did pretty well in school, like I, you know, in, from a good home, I’m in a good area. Like I was, I was gonna be all right, like kind of a thing. But I look back at that if had I been challenged properly because they were actually assessing where I was actually at and where I was actually, what I was actually learning or not learning and gaining or not gaining what I, what my experience would’ve been like and had I would, I been able to, I don’t, I don’t saying like, oh, I could go back and hopefully I would’ve achieved more or anything like that, but would I been ha in a better spot, better position to, to learn and grow as a person than versus what it actually did was took me a long time to kind of like figure out my life afterwards.


The Teach Better Team (11:11):
And a lot of that, I just look back at how that is and think through all the kids that have gone through that system that didn’t have the extra setup that I had in a sense of coming from a good family and a good, a good home and a good, you know, I had a, I had a good starting point better than most. And I, if, if, if I would’ve had that, if other kids don’t have that they’re even further behind. And so that’s where my passion behind is going. Like, what could that have done for me? And even more than that, the kids that didn’t even have the things that I had, how can we change that for future kids? But


Sam Demma (11:41):
You gave me a perfect segue into the question I was writing down while all three of you were speaking, which is what does this mean for assessment in the classroom? Is there, is there a way that mastery learning approaches assessments differently? Because I can tell you personally that growing up, I, I wholeheartedly attached my entire self worth as a human being, to my ability to have an a plus or a 95% average on my tests and report cards and coming from a European family, I’ll be honest. It felt like it, it felt like if I didn’t bring that home, there was issues and problems. When in reality, I could have a 95% average not understand the concepts, just be memorizing things and not really engaged with the learning. Right. And Jeff, as you point yourself, there, it’s a common thing that happens with all of us. Yep. And I know all three of you have your mics, your mics on muted, ready to jump in. So please tell me how mastery learning and the grid method approaches assessment differently.


The Teach Better Team (12:37):
I just wanna jump in and see if Chad’s having dejavu, cuz him and I had like an hour and a half long conversation about assessment yesterday. So Chad, I’m gonna let you take this one, but I have to remind you like this is not actually dejavu. This is a new conversation we can just,


The Teach Better Team (12:54):
Yeah. So I actually, I love this question because assessment is such a core aspect of where a student is at so we can grow them. But I think in a traditional sense, we usually look at assessments and we say, it’s a quiz, it’s a test. And, and it’s just like this autopsy, right? This is what you know, and we’re gonna move on regardless of how well you did. I think mastery learning changes the assessment culture. And we start to look at assessment as snapshots of where a student is on their larger aspect and their growth as a learner. One of my favorite ways to think about assessment is that that’s where the student is today. It’s not where they have to stay forever. And I think mastery learning really articulates that well, and it embodies things like retakes standards, aligned assessment, formative assessment practices.


The Teach Better Team (13:51):
So it makes assessment a natural part of, of learning as opposed to these high stakes really stressful environments. So instead of assessment becoming this super stressful high stakes, oh my gosh, I hope I do really well situation it’s Hey, Sam prove what you know right now. So I know how to help you further. And I think that’s a huge cultural or shift that mastery learning helps occur in classrooms. I think it also helps align instruction and assessment. With a lot of the schools in classrooms, we work with a district will come and say, we need to do we need to reestablish our assessments. And I go, well, have we talked about instruction at, because if those two things don’t talk to one another, that’s a really big problem. So a lot of mastery learning comes in the planning process in the backwards design process, which ensures that the learning that’s occurring, the growth that’s supposed to happen.


The Teach Better Team (14:51):
And the measurement tool that you’re using to establish that growth are all connected and all work together. And then the most important thing is the idea that the assessment is not the last step. It’s the first step in identifying where the students at with grid method classrooms. We have a saying F a I L fail stands for first attempt in learning failure should be the first step in the learning process where you’re identifying gaps in needs so that you, as the educator can take next steps to fill those gaps and move the student forward.


The Teach Better Team (15:26):
Wow. I know rays gonna jump in. I just wanna touch on like, Chad, you already kind of wrapped this up, but you said the word like autopsy, right? So your assessment, it’s not, it shouldn’t be the looking back at what happened before. It’s utilizing that to see what do, what happens next? What do we do next? What do we take them from there? And Ray’s gonna say it a whole lot better than I did.


The Teach Better Team (15:45):
No. You know, I actually, I don’t wanna take us down like a rabbit hole here, but it’s interesting Sam, when you ask your question and Chad, as you in, into your explanation, I’m separating the concept of mastery learning is a phenomenal instructional practice we should have in our classrooms. Me personally, though, when I was trying to figure out how to achieve it, it came into the, I mean, Chad, you brought it up like the grid method, which is that mastery framework that we get to do. We’re fortunate enough to do a lot of work in, and for me, that’s what I needed because when I think of formative summative assessment or any sort of evaluation of student understanding, it comes down to the fact that never in my career never have. I seen educators having more conversations with students than I do right now. And how valuable is it that when I was in school, back in the day assessment was this high stakes test.


The Teach Better Team (16:34):
And that was the only time that you were really, even if it was a one way communication, you were communicating what you know, whereas now not only in my own classroom, but in classrooms that we get to work with, educators are having one-on-one or small group conversations with their students every single day. And to me, that that is so much more of an example of authentic assessment. Because if I have an administrator walk in on a random Tuesday, I can tell them exactly where their student is at, you know, and, and they might all be in 24 different spots for 24 different students. But because we’re giving teachers the gift of time able to actually have those authentic conversations. So that assessment becomes a valuable use of their classroom time. Does that make sense?


Sam Demma (17:21):
Yeah. A hundred percent Chad go for


The Teach Better Team (17:23):
It. I also think Ray’s hitting on a really core benefit of mastery learning that it expands the definition of what assessment can be. Yeah, right. So instead of it having to be blanks on a worksheet or bubbles on a, on a, on an, an a Scantron test or something like that, it can now be any form of demonstration of mastery. And so I think that’s a, a, a core component that mastery learning helps support is the, the broadening of the idea that we can assess mastery authentically and in more ways than we traditionally thought were possible. And that a student can demonstrate that mastery, however, is comfortable and close enough to their ability, their current ability level. And it means the same, whether it’s a Scantron test or a, a five second conversation like Ray Ray’s talking about. And I think that’s a really powerful thing for a teacher to embody in the classroom.


Sam Demma (18:19):
My mind immediately jumps to that picture of a bunch of different animals, an elephant a monkey. And there’s a goldfish and, oh, judge the goldfish by its ability to, you know, to climb a tree, it will limit its whole life believing it to failure. And I think, you know, what you’re getting at here is the idea that yeah, assessment isn’t binary and using this mastery learning approach, you know, allows the different animals to be tested in their unique capacities, to see if within their skillsets, are they learning as much as they can and maximizing their ability?


The Teach Better Team (18:53):
Well, and for the teacher to be able to evaluate the type of animal they’re, they’re working with, like how many times have we all sat stood in front of a classroom of 34 and said, Ooh, I can’t wait to figure out the inner workings of every single student that are all gonna be different. Oh yeah. And then in an hour, they’re all gonna rotate and I get a whole other group of group of kids. So that time is really valuable.


Sam Demma (19:16):
Love that. Awesome. It it’s, and it’s not about being perfect. Right. it’s not about being perfect. It’s about being better, right? It’s about 1% improvement. It’s about being a little bit better today. A little bit better tomorrow. It’s about complaining better, right there. There’s so many things that you guys talk about in your books in past podcasts. And I love this idea that we don’t have to arrive tomorrow because that’s unrealistic and mastery does take time. But if we do improve, you know, small, consistent actions as I would say my teacher would inspired me when I was in grade 12, it leads to a massive change. So at the heart of what you, you, why do you believe, you know, being 1% better than you are right now is really what we’re going for and working towards with all the work that each of you are doing.


The Teach Better Team (20:03):
That’s a good, that’s a good, solid que I think, I think you really just said it cuz to be perfect or where we want to be, or hit a goal tomorrow as a unrealistic, unless we set really, really low goals. Right? Mm. But to be 1% better, tomorrow is something we can accomplish. And if we’re trying to be 1%, that doesn’t mean we can’t be 10% doesn’t mean we won’t be 20%. Right. But, but to understand that it, it doesn’t need to be, and it’s the scale like across all the animals, right? It’s going to be a whole bunch of different percentages based on that individual animal, that student, that person, whatever they need at the time and what they’re working on and the level of the, the number of, of, of hours, it’s going to take them specifically to hit that master or whatever it is. So to understand that, like, it doesn’t have to be this, it can be more, but it doesn’t have to be it just as long as we’re moving forward, we’re moving forward and we’re getting towards what a mastery is for each individual person and student. Nice. That’s how I view it.


The Teach Better Team (21:01):
I also think sort of like that teach better mindset that we talk about better today and better tomorrow. And that constant search for that 1% better, that constant search for better also broadens the scope of what is possible on an, on a given day, because you can be better at something on the worst day you you’re having in a week. You can be, you can be better at something on the worst year you’re having as a teacher. So by not going, you need to be a perfect educator tomorrow. Cause you’re probably, that’s never going to happen. There’s no such thing as a perfect educator. Yeah. I’m not a perfect educator. I’ve never worked with a perfect educator cuz it’s not something that can actually exist. She’s


The Teach Better Team (21:43):
Right there, Chad.


The Teach Better Team (21:44):
But if we, except for Ray possibly but definitely


The Teach Better Team (21:49):
Not perfect friends. I hate to tell you, but


The Teach Better Team (21:51):
I, I, I think the better mindset gives access to improvement and it gives the freedom of an individual regardless of how their day, year, month or career is going to be better to what can I do better? And it might not be better at instruction. It might be better at forming relationships. It might be smiling at a student instead of giving them a mean look, and that might be how you’re better. Cause in, you know, at the Genesis of the teach better team, I was at the lowest point in my entire career. And it was those little moments of finding something I could be better at that eventually built up to massive instructional changes, massive personal changes, massive relational changes. And it’s not about that. It’s about the 1% every day because we can all at least commit to that. But it’s about the, the culminating event change in progress that occurs when it’s 1% every day, cuz you’re also gonna have 5% days when you’re, you’re also gonna have 20% days and 3% days. But as long as you can have 1% every day, you’re always gonna be moving forward. And the culmination of that is something that’s truly been amazing to watch educators and schools and districts we work with go through and that, and that’s such a driving force behind the family and the work that we do every single day.


The Teach Better Team (23:21):
I think theres a piece of this like that, you know, so you can have, we can have 5% days, you can also have negative 5% days. Right. But I think if you’re focused on being better versus trying to be perfect or trying be exactly here all the time, you can have a bad day and come back the next day and go, wow, it’s a lot easier to be better today because yesterday I wasn’t so great, but I’m still moving forward. Right? I’m still growing versus now I’m further and further and further away from this probably unrealistic goal that I set for myself in the first place.


Sam Demma (23:48):
Love that. And Ray alluded to this earlier for you, the listener, if you, if you didn’t catch it, she was talk. She said, you know, we have to strive to be better than YouTube. That’s actually the title of her latest TEDx talk. So make sure you check it out on YouTube. It’s awesome. Ray, what does that mean? What does it mean to be better in YouTube? And, and why did you title your talk that,


The Teach Better Team (24:07):
You know, it’s so funny guys. We, you know, if you guys go to teach bear.com, you’re gonna see oodles and oodles and oodles of content and there’s more and more and more being published every single day. And when you apply to a part of a Ted experience, it has to be original content. And there’s so many things that I believe and that I would love to continue to share with the world. But one of the things that really hit home during COVID, as, as every educator, as I said in my, in my Ted talk was kind of thrown to the wolves and we had to figure it out on the fly and we saw incredible problem solving and, and, and incredible characteristics, you know, shine in the people that we were working with. I really struggled working with educators that were trying to compete with resources that were already good and in existence for us already.


The Teach Better Team (24:58):
Hmm. So when I was trying to craft up my message and I definitely wanted mastery learning to be a focus. I wanted my own personal learning journey to be, to be shared. One of the key takeaways I wanted educators to recognize is that, you know, teachers are masters at inspiring their students. They’re incredible facilitators of discussion and they’re more than simply being a content delivery system, right. They can do so much more in the classroom. So this title of better than YouTube was really this, this blunt statement of teachers have to acknowledge and celebrate that they are better than a stagnant video. Mm. And so rather than compete and make 1500 YouTube clips this year or compete and say, how am I going to add enough to my mini, to my mini lesson? You know, as a YouTube edited clip might do instead let’s partner with these incredible tools that we have access to and give ourselves the time to do what we do best, which is interact with students and foster discussions. So it was a really, really incredible project to work on. I’m so thrilled. It’s out


Sam Demma (26:07):
Love that. It’s awesome. And it’s, it’s so plainly obvious that all three of you have this burning passion for the work that you do. And I’m really curious to know how the heck do you balance teaching Chad and Ray and you know, Jeff, you can touch on this too. I know you’re not a classroom teacher, but I’m sure you’re balancing a ton of different things right now. How do you balance that with the work you’re doing and not get burnt out because I’m sure we can all agree that reaching out to teachers and educators right now and saying, Hey, we’d love to chat with you or, Hey, we have some ideas. The response you’re getting is that their hair is on fire. You know, like you just, you can’t can’t talk right now. How do you personally balance your own time to make it all work?


The Teach Better Team (26:46):
Yeah. Sam, I have to tell you that, you know, we have an incredible amount of educators that, that work with us to share the teach better mindset, right? Yes. I mean, if you look at the teach better team, there’s not only 22 plus people that are on the team, but then we have a huge collection of educators on our speakers network. We have guest bloggers, we have podcasters. We have people who help us design courses in the teach better academy. I mean, we really have built a network that we label our family and almost all of them, 99% of them are classroom teachers. And the reason that is, is because we, that classroom teachers are, are incredible, you know, or they’re working in schools as administrative leaders. But we’re better when we surround ourselves with good people. And so it’s not about, you know, that it’s not hard working two jobs, right?


The Teach Better Team (27:38):
Like, you know, right. For example, right now I’m physically in the classroom as a classroom teacher and also in with the teach better team. But it really is about trying to support educators holistically. And one of the elements that we all need is to be around positive solutions, seeking people who challenge us to be our best selves. And so whether it’s the, the struggle of keeping a calendar so that we can be hustling or all the time as effectively as possible or anything in between, you know I, I’m gonna let Jeff touch on this next, but one of the best things that Jeff Garas said to me very early on as I probably was feeling like my hair was on fire, you know, working multiple jobs is this phrase that he doesn’t like of when you get a job you love, you never work a day in your life. And he was like, it’s not true, Ray. It’s not true. When you get a job, you love, you work harder than you’ve ever worked before, but you love it. And I cannot emphasize that enough. We are constantly working probably in an unhealthy manner. We may not be the best people to go to for self care, but, but God, I love it. Jeff, don’t you love it.


The Teach Better Team (28:49):
I, I do. I agree with everything she just said. And, and I just, I just want to add, like, you know, you talked about the Sam, you mentioned teachers with, well, Ray kind of mentioned too with, you know, my hair’s on fire. I’m crazy. Right. Especially this year, it’s always like that, but even more so this past year, and Ray mentioned all the content, everything we’re creating, all the support pieces and all the resources we create. I think for us, a big piece is one, this kind of two pieces is one. We want teachers just to know that like, that we’re creating these things and we’re building these things even when your hair’s on fire. So when you’re ready for it, it’s here, right. It’s here for you to come. And it’s for us. Consistency has always been really, really important so that they know that we’re here.


The Teach Better Team (29:26):
Like, you know that your family’s there. The other piece is when a teacher says my hair is on fire. We like to say, okay, great. What’s causing the fire and what can we do to help you put it out? And then maybe try to put some pieces in place to make sure that it doesn’t catch fire again. Right? So we like, we wanna help teachers understand that we, you know, really mentioned the good people that we’re part of that we like to be part of that and be that family of, okay, if your hair’s on fire, we can help you put it out. We can help you prevent that. But, or if not, we can just be here when you’re ready. Right. When you’re ready to come up from, from, for air, from being underwater all year, we, we’re still creating these resources. We’re still building these things for you. We’re still creating this community for you. We’re still here for you. And I think that is, is a key piece to what we do and what we believe.


Sam Demma (30:10):
I’m gonna jump in just for one second and then pass it back over to rate, because I just thought of this. And it was kind of funny. I was gonna say, you know, if someone’s hair’s on fire and they don’t want help now you can tell them that they can come back in five months when they’re bald and you can give ’em a wig, right?


The Teach Better Team (30:24):
Exactly. If that’s what they need, then that’s that’s. And that’s what it is, right. That we we’ve. I say it all the time that like we’ve built everything with our, our, our company, by listening to the, our company, telling us what it needs to grow and our community about what they need us to do within our capacity of being able to do stuff for them. And that’s why, what we create and how we build and what we build is based around that.


Sam Demma (30:48):
Awesome. Love it.


The Teach Better Team (30:50):
No, I think Jeff said it wonderfully. I, the only thing I was gonna add in, you know, it’s so funny in terms of being around whenever someone needs something we launched in 2020 and administrative master remind, which is truly just a zoom call that happens twice on Tuesdays, every single week to create a safe space for administrative leaders, right. Educational leaders to talk shop, and kind of share their grievances and problem solve and hopefully take away resources. And it’s so funny because every single time someone joins, they’re like, Ugh, I of that. If I’m busy, I don’t have to be in this meeting, but the moment I need something, I know the meeting exists for me to like connect with my people. And I find that while that might be a good example of that, I, I really enjoy seeing that kind of holistically across multiple different capacities of things that the team tries to do to be accessible.


Sam Demma (31:43):
Brilliant.


The Teach Better Team (31:44):
And I, and I think they’re both hitting on something that we’ve built this company on, which is authentically and holistically help first. Mm. Right. Like if, if we’re helping educators, we win and they win and everyone can feel good about that. Yeah. and there are other aspects of our business of course, but one of the things I think has helped us over the last hair on fire craziness of 2020 has been, we made a purposeful shift to try to provide as much help as humanly possible when all of this started, you know, I think it was March of 2020 when everything shut it down. And we said, you have two options here, right? Like you can help, or you can do other things that aren’t necessarily helping. And, and we made the purposeful to authentically reach out to every single teacher. We knew every single school we work with in our entire network and family and in, in audience and just offer authentic help.


The Teach Better Team (32:48):
Mm. But that has been something as both of them have articulated very well. Jeff and Ray that I think has driven a lot of the work that we do on a daily basis and teach better team, whether it’s helping a school or a, a partner district we wanna help them before we do anything else and make sure that whatever we’re providing them is making, helping them meet their goals in their mission. And I think that’s like the, the lifeblood of everything we do. And I think that drives a lot of the work and decisions we make on a day to day basis.


Sam Demma (33:23):
I love that. I believe that as humans, we’re also shaped by significant emotional experiences and one that I know rings true to you, Chad is get the hell outta my classroom. And I’m really curious to know what does that mean to you? Can you share, you know, that story as if we’re on an elevator and, and you have 30 seconds to pitch it.


The Teach Better Team (33:46):
Yeah. I think every teacher can relate to that moment. I, I visually remember that moment where, how much, how long was the time? Just, I


The Teach Better Team (33:56):
Was just, I, Ray and I were connecting there cause I was laughing at the eye. Any of that, Sam thought you were gonna do this in 30 seconds.


The Teach Better Team (34:02):
No, listen. That was a, that was a visceral moment for me as a teacher where my students had become the enemy of myself as an educator. And I had become every single aspect of the teacher. I never wanted to be got it. I don’t think any, any teacher ever enters the class and their first year or their fifth year or their 20th year seeing students as the enemy. But that was a moment where it was me versus them. And I was in hundred percent survival mode. Yeah. And that was the moment I realized something had to change and I couldn’t change everything overnight, but I could do something better the next day. And I could do a lot of these changes and start thinking about my instruction differently. So that moment you know, and I do articulate that moment quite a bit when I’m talking about some of the changes that, that, that we embody, I’m gonna teach better team for classrooms, but that was a catalyst that allowed all of the other changes that eventually become the creation of the grid method, which we now get to share with schools and districts, the creation of the teach better team, which now has an expansive availability of resources that are helping students and educators across the country and beyond.


The Teach Better Team (35:17):
So that’s that moment, I think, resonates with every teacher in a, a room when I’m speaking and sharing that story. Every teacher has that moment where they feel like they’ve lost that spark. They’ve lost that passion and they never wanted to be here. So you have two choices, you just lay down and give up or you get better the next day. Mm I’m glad that I was able to get better the next day, which has now brought myself and, and to teach better team into fruition and in the ability to help others and increase our impact on a daily basis. That was way longer than 15 seconds. So


Sam Demma (35:56):
That’s totally okay. On the idea of challenges, because sometimes dealing with students can feel like a challenge. What do you think are some of the biggest challenges that exist in education right now? And what do you think the opportunities are on the other side of those challenges? Because solving them leads to some sort of opportunity. And I’m curious to know anyone can jump in here first.


The Teach Better Team (36:20):
I, I, I think the last year has demonstrated the amount of inequity that already existed in the educational world. I think the inequities that showed up due to lack of internet service due to home life of S students due to living situations due to you know, demographic stability or financial instability of, of families and students and, and everything that goes along with all of that. I think we’ve known for a really long time that those are problems in education, but because that we were, because we were bringing students into our classrooms and we could say sometimes falsely that because we were providing a space that we knew was safe and, and, and, and supportive that it was okay. It didn’t matter about these outside things because we could create this safe space, this sheltered space it was known that those things were problems and that in all the research, if you ever look at it fully supports that there’s a distinct difference between socioeconomic status and success for of a student and, and other aspects that are cultural in nature and things like that.


The Teach Better Team (37:34):
So I think what this did is it put all of that under a microscope. Mm. And it allow, and it forced us as educators, regardless of your role teacher, classroom aid, principal, superintendent. It forced us to address those needs and confront those needs in a way that was somewhat uncomfortable, probably, but that, it just really forced us to just realize that this is real. This is something our students are dealing with, and this is something that we cannot wait to address it needs to be addressed now. So I think from an instructional standpoint, I know we’ve helped a lot of schools address some of these things, utilizing mastery learning and giving them tools and ways to make the instructional prep is in the classroom, more equitable from a pedagogical standpoint and an instructional standpoint. But I also think it, it was a really great conversation starter of just because the kids are back in the classroom doesn’t mean all these other things are now gone. Cause we know they exist now. Like the elephant is in the room and we can see it. Now, the sheet has been lifted and it’s right there in the corner and we have to address it. And I think the biggest crime and the biggest worry I have is that we want to go back to what was, as opposed to going back to back, going back to an improved instructional setting so that every student can thrive and succeed in their classrooms.


Sam Demma (39:02):
Awesome. Yeah. That was a phenomenal answer. Anything to add Ray or Jeff?


The Teach Better Team (39:09):
You know, I think Chad like hit the nail on the head in terms of a huge fear that we all have, that we are all driving to be on the solution seeking side of, right. I mean, this is a, a necessary conversation. I think a, a smaller element, but one that is really in my face as we continue to host live videos, you know, taking questions from educators and, you know, like doing professional development opportunities. And, you know, I hear this in my own school that I working with my colleagues is this concept of the fact that educators have been filling their toolbox with, with, with resources over the past year and a half because of COVID right. We’ve all learned 15 new tech tools. We’ve all tried a hundred new strategies. And I think an, an additional layer here that I’d love to continue to challenge educators to seek support on is now becoming educated and better understanding when we go into a more familiar school system, when, you know, we’re all back in the classroom and masks may or may not be worn.


The Teach Better Team (40:08):
And we, you know, we all kind of transition, how are you gonna strategically best understand what’s in your toolbox and when, and how to implement them as effectively as possible goal. So, you know, obviously there’s a thousand problems with education. We’re all just doing our best to find the solution. But as you, as an educator are listening to this, I’d love to challenge each and every one of you, whether you are most passionate about a huge, huge problem in education that you wanna find a solution towards, or you just have something really small that you wanna take on to find solution for. There’s plenty of problems. So pick one and let’s all work together to try and find the right answer right away.


Sam Demma (40:43):
Love it. Awesome.


The Teach Better Team (40:46):
Jeff, I don’t know. I, I, I’m gonna, I’ll add just a little bit, it’s a separate problem and it might open up another can of worms. I’m not sure, but for, for me, one of the ones, and this has been a thing that we’ve noticed. I know Chad and Ray new being in this system, but that I learned very quickly after we got started in this is that I think a huge challenge that educators face and have to work within and are trying to change. And we’re seeing a lot of it is that we are trying to educate kids within a system that moves a half inch every 50 years and prepare them for a world that moves six miles every 30 seconds. And I don’t know if that actually adds up to what it is, but this very slow moving machine of the world of education and holding on to how it was and what it was and what worked for us.


The Teach Better Team (41:33):
And we’re trying to prepare kids for a future that is moving so fast right now. If you think about like technology growth over the last, just three years, and then you look at 10 years and you think about the fact that like, when I, you know, I’m not that old, but like when I was in elementary school, like the internet, wasn’t a thing yet. And now it’s literally the real world. Like it’s just this. And, and I think that’s a huge, that’s a much bigger problem, more of a systemic problem and everything like that, that we, that we have to address. But I think that’s a huge challenge that we continue to face. And I think that goes into, you know, we, we learned all these new tools and resources that we had to because we had to live in like this new world for the last year. And if we forget about that new world that we lived in, that is the world that our kids are growing up and whether we like it or not, that’s gonna cause us to just continue to be in this slow moving machine, trying to prepare kids for a machine that they can’t even catch. That’s one of my biggest worries.


The Teach Better Team (42:29):
Can we clarify Sam for all the educators listening, who can’t see us as we’re, you know, on, on having this conversation, Jeff is ancient in case any of you are wondering So old. So


The Teach Better Team (42:41):
I won’t, I won’t lie to you today. I, I went to the eye doctor and he said this like three times, he said, well, you know, yeah, with this, that blah, blah, blah. And you, you know, you’re getting really close to that, that age. And I’m like, what age doc? Whoa, that age. I’m like, what age? He’s talking about 40. I’m almost, I’m not, I’m close. That’s funny. That’s still not that old compared to Ray it’s old, Chad, it’s not as


The Teach Better Team (43:04):
Old. It’s like really far away from me. Thank God.


The Teach Better Team (43:08):
There was something earlier you were talking about like bubble sheets or whatever Scantrons. And I’m looking at Sam going, I don’t know Sam ever had to do Scantron


The Teach Better Team (43:15):
Sam. We know Scantrons.


Sam Demma (43:16):
I know Scantrons. I know Scantrons. When, when you, when you accidentally think question one is question two, when you write the whole


Speaker 5 (43:23):
Thing, every


Sam Demma (43:24):
Single question comes back wrong. And your teacher’s like, you got a F and I’m like, what?


The Teach Better Team (43:29):
Oh, wait, teach. If you just shift those up one. It’s actually all right. Yeah. Yeah. It’s,


Sam Demma (43:33):
That’s funny. No, that’s awesome. This has been a phenomenal conversation and you know, Jeff, your, your last question there about the system could take us on another whole hour long journey. I want to wrap this up on a final note and then we’ll give you an opportunity to share where everyone can connect with you. I want you to imagine you could go back in time and Jeff, you’re gonna have to travel the farthest because you’re the most ancient. But if you could, if you could go back in time and speak to your younger self having the knowledge that you have about education today, understanding that there’s still more to learn, of course. And you’re trying to learn more every single day, but if you could go back, you know, 20 years or to the first day you started teaching, if that applies to you, what would you tell your younger self? What advice would you give your younger self before getting into this work?


The Teach Better Team (44:29):
I think that’s a really, really challenging question. I do to say the first thing that came to mind for me, if I was to go back to my first year of teaching and give a piece of advice, it would really come down to something along the lines of you’re gonna grow faster than you thought. So just keep on tracking like every educator, whether they’re learning to be an educator at a university level, they’re in the classroom right now in the trenches, or they’re 30 years in is constantly finding hurdles and, and things that are stopping them. And we’re constantly brainstorming the next solution to the next problem. And I find that that can be extremely defeating. It can rock your confide. And so many times, I, I mean, I still have these moments so many times I sit back at the end of the day and I’m like, did I, did I do good work today?


The Teach Better Team (45:19):
Did, did I accomplish anything that I actually was trying to do? And I think the reality is is that when you surround yourself with people who are striving to be better, right, striving to grow, then you are, are able to look back. Whether it be look back at the day, look back at the week, look back at the year or an entire career and say, holy cow, we we’ve accomplished a ton and it’s not because I figured it out myself, but it’s because I surrounded myself with people who helped me figure it out. And so I think that would’ve been the biggest piece of advice I needed, cuz I was so nervous every day that I was gonna mess up a kid. And I think the reality is is that if you’re constantly carrying that mindset of growth, you’re always gonna be doing good work regardless of, you know, to what extent that actually is for that day.


Speaker 6 (46:09):
Love it.


The Teach Better Team (46:11):
I think I could piggyback on what race said actually. Cause I’m glad she went first actually for this question. I, I, I think something I used to see, I used to see instruction as a very transactional thing. I used to say a lesson or an experience either went perfect or I messed it up and it was very just like, I, I had to be perfect. Everything had to go perfect or it didn’t go good. It didn’t go well. And then I messed it up. Hmm. And I think as I evolved as an educator, when I look back on that, as I stopped shifting towards my performance in my sort of delivery of like a lesson and more the experience in the learning that was happening in my classroom, moving from more teacher-centered thoughts to more student-centered thoughts. I think that is something I wish I would’ve known earlier and focused on earlier.


The Teach Better Team (47:09):
And I also think, you know, as we kind of approach going back to this normal, I think a lot of teachers need to, to be reminded that it’s not about a kid being broken or behind it’s about focusing on growth, not gaps, right? So it’s about meeting kids where they are. And as long as we are growing them, we’re doing our job and we’re winning because if we look at education, as we made it, we, we failed or we passed based on some arbitrary thing that the system created or the grade level the kids supposed to be at. We’re gonna fail a lot more than we succeed. If we look at ourselves and at the educational system and go, listen, if we meet every kid where they’re at and grow them from there, we’re gonna be okay, regardless of if they’re five grade levels behind or one grade level behind, because a grade level’s an arbitrary understanding of where a kid’s supposed to be anywhere. If in education at its foundation, we just meet kids where they’re at and grow them in an engaging environment that’s safe and supportive and lets them thrive as themselves, as individuals, we will win. And that’s, I think the long term game in realiz, it I’ve had now that I wish I had when I was younger.


Sam Demma (48:33):
That is so powerful. And, and you mentioned the idea of focusing on the growth instead of the gaps and that hits home with me from an athletic background. There’s a awesome book. Titled I, I believe it’s catch them while they’re good. And it’s this idea that instead of giving feedback on someone’s you know, negative result, look for someone who did a great job and highlight what made that example. Great. So you let the other students save face or the other athletes save face and they still can say, oh, that’s what I’m aspiring towards. You know? Jeff ancient, Jeff, what, what, what advice would you give yourself


The Teach Better Team (49:11):
The time I had to go further back? No, I think I, I, this kind of touch, I kind of connects with both of those. I think the thing that I would tell my younger self is that you’re probably going to lose more than you win, but you’re gonna learn either way. Mm. And I had put similar to how Chad had put so much on, did the, his lesson go well or not? I put so much on what I was trying to be in that moment. And when that thing or that person that I thought I was supposed to be, or that was the only thing I was supposed to do, didn’t work. It just, it crushed me and destroyed me. And when it was after why I figured out that, that wasn’t what was important. It was the reasons behind why you were trying to do things and what you were trying to build and what you were trying to accomplish and trying to chase happiness that became more important. And we do it all the time where we learn from all my failures in the right when Chad and I started as a whole lot was let’s look back and see all the businesses that Jeff messed up and see if we can avoid those things. And so I think it’s, it’s similar. Like what Ray said is like, you’re gonna, you’re gonna learn and grow so much from all these times that you think it might have been a failure, but it’s really just an opportunity to learn.


The Teach Better Team (50:17):
Yep. I do just wanna put on record. We do pick on Jeff a lot, but I’m really proud since usually we pick on Chad and


The Teach Better Team (50:24):
I think it’s, I was gonna say, like, I


The Teach Better Team (50:26):
Think it’s crazy. Speak on Jeff today.


The Teach Better Team (50:28):
Can I pick on Chad one last time? No, I was gonna say that I thought what he was telling his younger self was brilliant, but I’m pretty sure his younger self would’ve walked away about halfway through. Cause it took so long. Like there’s this old guy talking about I’m out of here. That’s I know if I’m talking younger me, I gotta be like a couple words and done because I would’ve just been so


Sam Demma (50:46):
Awesome, amazing. This has been such a phenomenal conversation. Thank you. All three of you for, for taking the time to chat about this. I think what’s so inspiring for me as an interviewer and someone who’s listening and I’m sure is as inspiring for you, the person listening as well, is that everything we talked about, it’s like, it all comes back to that idea. That it’s about being student centric, which, and this is how we started this podcast, right? Everything we talked about is about being student centric. You know, filling more tools in your toolbox is so you can help your students, right? Figuring out what tools you need to use so you can help your students; making more equitable school systems is about helping the students. Like I love that through our entire conversation, the values of your, your work and your company came through in every answer you gave. And it just shows to go. It goes to show how much focus you have for the work you’re doing, how much passion and love you have for it. So keep doing amazing work. Where maybe one of you can share very quickly, where can the person listening, find you, where can they check out your program, buy your books, watch your videos, get in touch, or even make fun of Jeff.


The Teach Better Team (51:53):
Yeah, absolutely. Guys. There’s a lot of places that you can go and make fun of Jeff Gargas. So here, let me give you them all. No, to be honest, like we all are on social media. We’re all active. You can find us on Twitter, Instagram, boxer, Facebook, everywhere between, but it’s not about connecting with us. Right. We love when we connect with new people. I mean, geez, last night we were all on Twitter, connecting with new friends for an hour during a, you know, a Twitter chat, but it’s really about connecting with everyone else, all these other educators doing incredible work around the globe. So definitely go check out @teachbetterteam that is over on Twitter, Instagram, like I said everywhere. And you can also see all those details at teachbetter.com. But you know, we hope you connect with us and everyone that is a part of the teach better team, but there are so many incredible educators connected to us in small and large ways, doing really, really good work that we hope


The Teach Better Team (52:47):
it’s just the beginning of all the dots that you, you are collecting to continue to foster the type of life you wanna live. You know, as Sam, I think you said it perfectly, that we really believe in having that student centered mindset, but we also believe that it should exist without the expense of a teacher. We want you as a teacher to be supported and then hopefully have incredible experiences with students, but it really does begin with making sure that you are your best self as well. So let us help if we can. And if not, then we hope to connect with you in the future as we celebrate all the stuff that you guys are doing.


Sam Demma (53:22):
Amazing. Awesome. Chad, Jeff, thank you so much. Chad, Jeff and Ray, and the whole team who is not on the call. Thank you again for the work you’re doing. Thank you for showing up today and, and sharing some of your wisdom and some of the work that you’re doing in education that’s changing lives. I look forward to staying in touch and, and watching all the great work you guys do.


The Teach Better Team (53:42):
Thank you, Sam. Thanks for the work that you are doing. We appreciate you, man. Yeah. Appreciate it.


Sam Demma (53:46):
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 the Teach Better Team

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.

Jackie Groat – Student Leadership Advisor, Teacher & Basketball Coach

Jackie Groat – Student Leadership Advisor, Teacher & Basketball Coach
About Jackie Groat

Jackie (@JackieGroat) is a Teacher, Coach, Sports Fan, and Outdoor Enthusiast who loves inspiring Leadership through action.  Jackie is also involved in the Alberta Association of Students’ Councils and Advisors as the Social Media Director. 

Connect with Jackie: Email | Instagram | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Henry Wise Wood High School

Calgary Board of Education

Alberta Association of Student Councils and Advisors (AASCA)

Alberta Student Leadership Summit (ASLS)

Canadian Student Leadership Association (CSLA)

Canadian Student Leadership Conference (CSLC)

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 am super excited about today’s guest. We have on the special Jackie Groat. She’s a good friend of mine. I met her over a year ago now. Back when COVID initially started, I spoke to one of her classrooms and we became friends.


Sam Demma (00:58):
We stayed in touch. Now I have the pleasure of interviewing on the podcast. Jackie is a teacher, a coach, a sports fan. She loves basketball and she’s an outdoor enthusiast. More formally, he works at Henry Wisewood high school with the Calgary Board of Education. She’s a basketball coach when we’re not in C technology teacher and student leadership advisor. Fun fact. She is also the social media director of the Alberta association of student councils and advisors. And she is one of the reasons why myself and two other young powerhouses are a part of their student leadership conference this year. It is my honor and pleasure to interview Jackie today. We touch on so many awesome ideas and topics, and I hope you enjoy this as much as I do. And I will see you on the other side. Jackie, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing the reason behind why you got into education?


Jackie Groat (02:00):
Hi Sam, thanks for inviting me. This is a great opportunity to come join you. So yeah, my name’s Jackie Groat. I’m a teacher in Calgary, Alberta, and I have been teaching for, let me think here, I guess it’s been eight years now. I, I started out in Kelowna, BC, and then I was in a private system there for a couple years and had a lot of opportunities to explore different things. I didn’t have to teach any one subject and so I, I built quite the, quite the laundry list of experience and was invited to come to Calgary. And so when I came here, I started out as a math teacher and that’s kind of where I am by trade. My degree is in mathematics and biology. And from there, kind of some, some knowledge that kind of hit the ground saying, oh, you did robotics.


Jackie Groat (02:54):
Oh, you did this. Oh, you did that. And so I’ve kind of bounced around a little bit; whether it’s been mathematics, science, like I said, robotics and engineering to teaching architecture and 3D design and computer science. So all over the map. But my heart and soul lands with leadership. It really, really is my heart and soul. It’s it’s the thing that I’m the most passionate about and that kind of stems from even being a teenager. And I was on student council in high school. And at that time I was aware of the Canadian student leadership conferences. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to, to make it in my grade 12 year, but I, since then had an opportunity when I started my education career to get involved with the Canadian Student Leadership Conference that was held in Kelowna so that was my first experience. And yeah, and I just, those experiences have really shaped where I am and who I am and so my passion is about teaching others. Not just a content subject area, but just to be better humans; to be empowered and driven. That’s kind of where I’m at.


Sam Demma (04:06):
Where does the, where does the passion come from, did when you were growing up and when you were in student council, did you have a teacher that pushed you in this direction? Your, your passion for mathematics and science could have led you down so many different, why education? Like, did you just want to be a teacher? Did you, did you know it from a young age or like what led you down that path?


Jackie Groat (04:30):
I’m gonna say life led me down that path being resilient. So when I was starting grade 10, I was in a car accident that put me in a coma for a short, a period of time. Oh, wow. Coming into my grade tenure, it was a huge challenge. It was if it wasn’t for my teachers that I had in, in my grade 10 year I don’t know where I, you know, how I would’ve gone through my education, but yeah, I, I had to learn how to study. I had like a five minute memory for a short period of time. I was going to school half days alternating days for the first few months. And it was just teachers that really, really took a care and an interest that I, people I had made connections with in high school that, that checked in on me that made sure I had what I needed.


Jackie Groat (05:20):
And so of course through my grade 11 and 12 years there were friends of course, but you know, just that, that passion to like, keep, keep going. And of course some of that comes intrinsically, right? Yeah. but I was a basketball player and that was a hard thing for me because in that year I couldn’t play basketball. Hmm. And my coach was really, really great when I was alone out to physically get back on the court. He, he basically said to me, he’s like, look, you’ve lost a whole year of skills. He’s like, you’re gonna come. You’re gonna manage all my team. You’re gonna get back into the swing of things. He’s like, you’re not even gonna worry about tryouts. He’s like, you just, you have a spot on the team. And so from there getting to build those leadership skills there, having them mimicked working with coaches in grade 12 and getting connected, like I said, on, on student council and being able to help others kind of just started that journey.


Jackie Groat (06:16):
And ironically, when I went to university was not an intention to be an educator. Mm. I went in thinking I’m gonna go into engineering. That was my plan engineering. And clearly that’s not where I am. Just kind of didn’t play out in, in my cards for what I wanted, but I learned a lot. And you know, just thinking about the people that how were most impactful for me and the, the experiences that I had. And then of course, the people that were telling me, man, you’re really good at like sharing information. You’re really good at teaching this skill. You’d be great at this. And I started helping coach little kids, and again, same thing was said to me. So I started on the education path later in my life and here I am and loving it and I wouldn’t trade it for anything else.


Sam Demma (07:06):
Ah, that’s amazing. And when you think back to those teachers you had, when you were in grade 10 that really supported you and helped you along the way, like, what was it exactly that they did if you had to pinpoint some things that had a huge impact on you that you think other teachers or educators listening could learn from? Is there anything that kind of comes to mind when you think about that year?


Jackie Groat (07:31):
Probably just conversation, just the willingness and the openness to just say, Hey, how are you doing today? You know, where, you know, what is it that you need today? What is gonna make your day just a little bit brighter? And it didn’t necessarily have to be about that partic particular subject. But just, just genuinely seeing me for, for where I was at and wanting to connect and, and how, of course I’m sure that these are not teachers for me in high school, started in grade nine in Saskatchewan. So I did know these teachers a little bit beforehand. Wasn’t like I was a brand new face to the school. Yeah. And so that, that was good, right. Because I, you know, they knew me as a student in classes or on the basketball or on the track and, you know, on the track and field team. So knowing that I had what potential I did in interests, they met me, you know, where I was at. Nice. So conversation just opened the conversation.


Sam Demma (08:35):
Ah, I like that. It’s a good, it’s a good piece of feedback. And fast forward, you know, it’s a to right now as you’re a teacher, I’m sure those are things that you strive to do. How do you think during this crazy time that we can still make students feel, you know, heard and appreciated? Is it about conversation? Is it about maybe if it’s not face to face, like sending them an email, like how do you ensure that your kids still feel seen, heard and appreciated during a tough time? Like, like COVID,


Jackie Groat (09:03):
Yeah, that’s a big one right now, Sam, for sure. And we know that mental health is a challenge. I think it’s about recognizing that there are a lot of pressures and we’re used to do dealing with the academic pressure that, you know, I have so many assignments to get done. I have these due dates. I’m expected to meet certain grades and while the pressure is coming at them from their teacher, they’re also getting those pressures at home different home dynamics, different expectations. And then those students also have their own personal pressures that they put on themselves. And then we blanket all of this right now with the pandemic that we’re in and you know, that adds anxiety and, and all so much unknown. And so I think it’s about again, same thing checking in and having that conversation and you see that kid walking down the hall or they walk into your classroom and just genuinely saying, hi, you know, tell me, tell me a story.


Jackie Groat (10:01):
What, what happened in your day yesterday? What was your win yesterday? You know, what are you looking forward to in this week? And sometimes you might get that response back. That’s like, I have nothing to look forward to or, you know, it’s kind of, it’s kind of jury. And, and so then you open that conversation to, okay. Why do you feel that way, you know, is, is there something that we could pick out that maybe do you have a goal that you wanna work on? Or, you know, how, how can I help, help you turn that around knowing that, you know, we can’t take on our students all of their problems for those educators that are out out there. We, you know, that’s a, that’s a fine line. We have to be careful that we’re not taking that to too much to heart and home with us because it can, can happen. But what can you do when you’re in those walls together and how can you give them that motivating message to go? Okay, all we have to do is find one thing that you can look forward to one thing that you’re gonna work on, or it’s celebrating those, those wins and going, you know what, we’re, we’re just gonna take one day at a time.


Sam Demma (11:08):
Hmm. No, I love that. And at what point in your journey did you decide to get involved in the Canadian student leadership association with and with the student leadership association association?


Jackie Groat (11:21):
Yeah, you’re right on both of them. I’m not gonna lie. I’m a little ambitious and people who know me will laugh. They feel like, oh, yeah. But when I, when I started on my journey into the education world, when I was at university and doing my practical I had an, an opportunity to connect with norm Bradley, who many people across Canada will recognize that name in leadership. And I got the opportunity to sit on the committee and, and help out where I could. And so I started out with the social media side of things when we were putting together that conference and going, okay, how are we gonna connect? And of course it, it, I just remember leadership being such a huge part of my life in school. And like I said, on the student council helping bring spirit week to our school motivating my graduating class to put together not just a, a regular yearbook, but to put, put together a video yearbook on a compact disc.


Sam Demma (12:27):
Oh my goodness. What is that?


Jackie Groat (12:28):
Yeah, that’s okay. I’m giving away my age. Am I no seriously though, but just those things. And I thought, you know, this is an opportunity where I can get involved and do those things for our future generations. And so I, I got on there with the social media side instead of compact discs and helped out there. And so that was that, that opportunity. And I’ve continued with social media in the high schools that I’m at or have been at both past and present. And I guess I’m gonna say how long ago, maybe a couple years ago it was, I was approached by a member of the Alberta student leadership association or council said, yeah, Hey, you know, we need to have a director for our social media side for our province. And I heard you’d be great at it. And so I said, sure, pick me, pick me and hopped on board there and, and I’m enjoying it. So we’re getting that up and running and it’s, it’s going okay. It’s going. Alright.


Sam Demma (13:31):
That’s awesome. If you were forced to convince another teacher, why leadership is so important, what would you tell them like for maybe there’s someone listening, who knows that leadership is great and impactful, but hasn’t fully bought into the idea that it’s very important for students growth and their learning. Like, what would you say to convince them?


Jackie Groat (13:52):
Oh, wow. You know, the irony of this conversation is I, I actually just had a conversation with a dear friend and colleague on the weekend saying to me exactly that Hey, I’m considering, you know, taking on the leadership program at my school, tell me more. And of course, I’m, I like lit up and I was super excited because I’m like, yes, more people in leadership, more people to run this program. Yeah, it’s important because it’s what drives the culture at your school. It’s what makes your students want to be there. So you can have those students and maybe they’re not the strongest academically or maybe they’re your top straight a students, but they’re, they’re those kids that you wanna, you, you wanna grab and pull into the school and say, Hey, you know, we can make this, this place, our own, we can make this place somewhere where we almost don’t wanna go home from, because we love our school that much. And so leadership is wanting that they’re the home of the warriors or they’re the home of the Trojans or whatever, whatever their, their home motto is. Awesome. And so to be a part of that is huge.


Sam Demma (15:05):
Sorry. I’m so sorry. I think my wifi cut out right after you said the leadership is, is,


Jackie Groat (15:11):
Oh,


Sam Demma (15:11):
It’s okay. I’m gonna edit this part. But if you wanna, just about today, continue.


Jackie Groat (15:16):
Yeah. Oh, just being a part of leadership is huge. Like just that connection and helping, helping those students to learn those skills where they can motivate others and take those skills off into you life in, whether it be their, their job their family life, their friendships and just, yeah. Growing as citizens. It’s awesome.


Sam Demma (15:43):
I love that. That’s so good. And when you think about the years that you’ve been teaching teaching, I’m sure there’s been student transfer, whether you’ve seen it first, like firsthand firsthand, or you’ve seen it 20 years later, maybe you haven’t yet, but students maybe come back and share notes and tell their teachers how big of an impact they’ve had in those stories of those stories, which ones of them stick out to you. And if there’s any personal ones you can change the name just to keep the kids private.


Jackie Groat (16:19):
Yeah. I had one student who she was really, really a strong leader and you know, being in leadership in school really empowered her to learn, to stretch outside. And she got involved. She was always involved in different clubs or different activities throughout her, throughout the city, but she you know, she decided that she could take on more. And so in those groups and, and committees, she kind of took on a lead, were role in a community practice and they, they put together a thing, a proposal on food securities, and she’s managed to go from, you know, just kind of being the participant to helping lead other students her age, maybe slightly older, maybe slightly younger, but develop a charter, a food at securities charter within the city. She worked together with a number of students to, to write a book promoting, you know, what it is to, to, to do with food security.


Jackie Groat (17:26):
And it was really cool because then I got a email and then invite to her book launch. So that was kind of a really warm, inviting experience. And it’s, you know, it’s not something that we get a lot of as educators, those, those thank yous. And sometimes we’ll get that student that comes back to us years later and says, Hey, you know, I, you know, I really learned a lot in your class and I really appreciate, you know, what you did for me. And when those happen, we have to cherish those moments. And I had another student this year reach out to me who graduated, Hmm. About three years ago, I guess it would be. And they’re pursuing their, they’re finally choosing to pursue their post-secondary education and kind of reached out and said, Hey, you know my time in your class meant a lot.


Jackie Groat (18:18):
I got a lot of experiences out of it. I actually took this particular student on a field trip and it was a small group. There’s only four students that were able to go on this field trip. And that student reached out and said, can you write a letter of reference for me, I’m applying for this scholarship. And it had to do with humanitarian work and what they had done. And so, yeah, it’s kind of an honor for, for when that happens, students reach out and they remember who you are and, you know, especially it’s two and three years later. Right.


Sam Demma (18:52):
So true. And if you could, could speak to first year educator, Jackie, and give your younger self advice, what would you, what would you tell yourself?


Jackie Groat (19:04):
Oh, what would I tell myself? There’s lots of time. You don’t have to do everything the first year. You don’t have to take on everything in the first year. Yeah. it comes one step at a time and the idea is sometimes you can be overflowing with ideas and you see so much of what you wanna do, and it feels daunting and overwhelming. But I’ve learned to make lists and write them down. And, and not, I guess I shouldn’t even say it as so much as to do lists, but goal lists. And like, as those ideas come or there’s things that you wanna work on it can feel overwhelming to try and tackle everything at once, but it’s, it’s, it’s gratifying to look back at that list that you’ve made and go, Hey, look at all the things I have done over this time. And just go, you know what? I’m gonna work on it. You know, one thing at a time


Sam Demma (20:01):
You made it


Jackie Groat (20:02):
I’ll get to the end.


Sam Demma (20:03):
No, it makes sense. You made it sound like there’s a distinction between a goal list and a to-do list. I’m curious to know in your mind, what is that? What is the difference?


Jackie Groat (20:14):
I think with the goal list, it’s more about, it’s something that’s, you know, going to, it takes some layers of work.


Sam Demma (20:21):
Got it


Jackie Groat (20:21):
Got, right. There’s some revisions that are gonna go in there. A to-do list is, I think of more as like, you know, your


Sam Demma (20:28):
Quick laundry. Oh


Jackie Groat (20:30):
Yeah. The laundry list, like, oh, got, do laundry tomorrow or yeah. Better get those Simon’s marked by tomorrow or whatever. Right. Whereas like, you know, that goal is things it’s like for example, right now I’m working on wanting to put together a social media calendar so that I have this calendar each year that I can take a look at and I know, okay, in October, these are the things that I wanna hit. This is, these are the major events. These are the, the things that we celebrate in October what happens in November. So putting those things together, because not only is that helpful from me, right. But it’s something that I can leave as a a legacy or a pass on and share to other educators, which is a huge thing in our world. We do a lot of sharing of resources don’t ever reinvent the wheel.


Sam Demma (21:21):
It’s already there. Just ask it’s


Jackie Groat (21:23):
Already there. Just make it better, just make it better and share.


Sam Demma (21:26):
Okay. And if someone does wanna share with you or take from you, what would be the best way for them to reach out?


Jackie Groat (21:32):
Best way would be through email, you can find me through the Calgary board of education at jrgroat@cbe.ab.ca. You can also find me through the Alberta association of Student Councils and Advisors or AASCA, and we’re on the web as well at www.aasca.org and you can find me there as well.


Sam Demma (21:59):
Awesome. Awesome. Jackie, thank you so much for coming on the show. I really appreciate it. And I look forward to looking at all the different things you complete on your goal list.


Jackie Groat (22:08):
Thanks Sam. Oh, my goal is it’s. It’s constantly, constantly going right. You tick one off and you add two more. Yeah.


Sam Demma (22:15):
Sounds good. Sounds good. All right. See you, Jackie.


Jackie Groat (22:18):
Take care Sam.


Sam Demma (22:19):
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 wanna 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 Jackie Groat

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.

Nadia Irshad – Co-founder of Glarea Elevated Learning and the future of education

Nadia Irshad - Co-founder of Glarea Elevated Learning and the future of education
About Nadia Irshad

Nadia Hasan’s (@nadia__irshad) educational background is in Environmental Studies focusing on Sustainable Development and Urban Planning. She pursued a career in Art & Design working in Magazine Print Design and web design for a decade before opening her first early learning school. She is the Founder and CEO of Academics Educational Systems; The Academics Edge System that incorporates proprietary curriculum, programming and innovation in centres called Academics preKindergarten.

She is a founding partner of Glarea Elevated Learning; A NEW KIND OF SCHOOL. Glarea is a K-6 School in Surrey BC growing with the students yearly up to Grade 12.

As a resident of the South Surrey area, Nadia has had the privilege of being a board member of the Peninsula Community Foundation. She was a member of The Women’s Presidents Organization for years, before focusing on her current role as a Board Member for Arts Umbrella, Canada’s non-profit leader in arts education for young people, providing access to the highest quality arts education to communities as a basic human right. She is specifically dedicated to expanding the non-profit’s reach in the City of Surrey.

Nadia is passionate about her industry as a change agent for women, children and families. She is drawn to education and childcare through her own personal story. She finds passion in human connection, civic activism and more specifically causes that relate to women. Nadia’s interests include mobilizing women and girls by confronting cultural barriers that limit and harm women in closed communities.

Words, poetry and screenwriting is her passion. Maxwell’s Muse is where she spends some of her free time, on projects that give voice to untold stories, creating safe spaces and giving a platform to marginalized people through the production of art and film. 

Connect with Nadia: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Glarea School Website

Academics PreKindergarten

Peninsula Community Foundation

The Women’s Presidents Organization

Arts Umbrella

Maxwell’s Muse Website

Systems Thinking Leadership Certificate Program at Cornell University

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker Sam Demma. Today I had the honor and pleasure to interview and chat with Nadia Irshad or Nadia Hassan. She has an educational background in environmental studies, focused on sustainable development and urban planning. She pursued a career in art and design working in magazine print and web design for a decade before opening her own early learning school.


Sam Demma (01:05):
She is the founder and CEO of academics educational systems, the academics edge system that incorporates proprietary curriculum programming and innovation in centers called academics pre kindergarten. She is one of the founding partners of Gloria elevated learning, which is a, a new kind of school focused on the K/six to K to six grades in Surrey, BC growing with the student yearly up until grade 12. She has kids of her own that are part of this school system and we talk all about why they created this innovative school, why she was a founding partner, and what their school looked like and how it differs from typical schools. And I think we can learn something from everyone we talk to. And I definitely learned a lot talking to Nadia, so enjoy this conversation and I will see you on the other side, Nadia, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about how you got into the work you’re doing today with young people in education?


Nadia Irshad (02:09):
Oh, that’s a big loaded question. well, pleasure to be here. How did I end up in the world of education? So I took a really interesting path of my passion for education lies within two sort of spheres. One is I’m a parent, so I never actually envisioned being a parent. It was a complete surprise to me. I never touched a child until I had one, never changed a diaper until I had one. But it, everyone, I think as it’s a transformative moment, it is a transformative moment. I’ll, , I’ll say it’s a moment where, you know, suddenly everything that you never thought was relevant to your adult life is and it also takes you back to your childhood in a really strange way. Children are your own child or other children to me are they’re kind of an opportunity to look in the mirror.


Nadia Irshad (03:12):
I think it’s an interesting, I always kind of reflect on my own parenting and my own kind of the things that I’m drawn to in relation to education and children, all I think really do are things that my child’s self are, is drawn to. Yeah. There are things that the gaps that I felt as a child, I feel suddenly responsible for ensuring that my children and children in my community don’t feel that gap. So that’s kind of how I landed here. I went. So I, so I started my career in environmental studies. It’s not even a career, my educational journey in our environmental study urban room planning and things like that related to sustainable development was more interested in the developing world. But I was, I I’m really interested in urban environments as well. And then I landed in a graphic arts and print design because my parents weren’t really happy with me traveling for work or leaving home or going too far.


Nadia Irshad (04:16):
And at that time there were no options available to me. So my other passion has always been art. I followed that I did print design for, I’d say close to even 10 years. I absolutely love the feel of paper. I love glossy magazines. I have none in my house. They’re not something that I, that I, that I keep, but I love, you know, I just, there’s something tactile about it. I love color. I love, you know, so many things I could talk about art all day, but then I had a child and it changed everything and I wanted to work. So I think I’m really in really, really fascinated it by how family structures are, how people pursue purpose and, you know, it’s really difficult being a woman and pursuing a purpose outside the family home. Mm-Hmm, , it is it’s a challenge in a world where you there’s expectations.


Nadia Irshad (05:21):
I know all the expectations that people around me had was that I was going to stay home and I was going to focus on being a good mom and cooking, cleaning, and ensuring that they’re brilliant, amazing, loved children. I, I don’t think that that humans need to box themselves into like specific little frames of reference that way. I think we can be lots of things. I, I, I’m quite proud of the type of parent I am, but I’m not the type of person that could sit at home all day. It’s just not in me. So after about a year, a half, two years of staying at home I started looking for childcare and preschools so that I could go back to work. I was feeling really antsy and stir crazy. And I ended up coming upon at that time, I lived in the was Washington DC area, and I came upon this really amazing little preschool that I ado and that allowed me to fulfill, you know, my other needs, intellectual creative, and leave the family home.


Nadia Irshad (06:25):
And so through that, I fell into preschools and childcare. So I started academics pre kindergarten when we moved to Vancouver, BC in, around, I started the company in around 2009. So that, that flourished from that personal experience. And I really do in that, in that sphere. So I, I, I touch education in multiple ways. I’m met a teacher, I’m an outsider to all the industries. I’m currently a part of, I absolutely door being an outsider. And the reason why is I can, I can ask questions. I don’t feel shame or guilt for not understanding things. I question things all the time. You know, it’s easy to when you’re in an industry for a long time to see things as this is the way they’re supposed to be. So I never under, I don’t understand that in this industry and I, I love it.


Nadia Irshad (07:20):
I think it I think children are deserve the utmost respect. I think children are capable. I think that what, what really fires me up inside is, you know, I’d say most adult, as I know, carry, you know, stories and sometimes trauma from their childhood homes and their families, and are the educational spaces that we provided academics, or, you know, I’ll talk about Gloria as well. You know, for me, the essence of it is to provide a safe space. And if you think about the fact that a lot of children, schools and preschool educational environments are where they spend most of their time you know, we, you know, we can be, we can be that, I don’t know what, what the right word is. We can be.


Nadia Irshad (08:20):
Yeah, so that’s kind of where that came from. So from there, I have an interesting story of how I landed in the K to 12 space. So one of my first students in preschool that, that enrolled in my first preschool that opened in 2010 I became really good friends with their parents. This was boys parents, and he is that couple, their developers in, in the province of BC. They mostly work in the health tech and health sphere. So with hospitals and care homes and you know, they, they kind of carry their purpose with their development projects. They’re always about community and empowering people, boldly elevating people. And it links well with healthcare. So randomly a dinner table conversation, I think at this point, it’s probably six years ago saying, you know, I have this D dream of a school and like, you know, just, just fun, philosophical, random chatter about what would your dream school look like?


Nadia Irshad (09:22):
What would it be? And this friend of mine told me, okay, well, I’m gonna do this. What do you think? And at the time, you know, I noded, I said that sounds great. Sounds so interesting. I’m so happy for you. Like, I I’m here if you guys need anything. So he went on his little journey and we had a hilarious chat years later where he called me and he said, okay, so my team, they do construction and they develop big buildings and they’re telling me we don’t operate schools. So , so I, I, they, they basically sat me down and said, you need to find somebody who, who knows schools and knows children. So he called me up and he asked me if I’d be interested at the time I was married. So it was something I was looking into for, for about a year, kind of doing a discovery, just looking into where it would be, what it would look like.


Nadia Irshad (10:13):
And then I ended up going through quite a high I conflict divorce. And he asked me if I wanted to do the project and, and if we want to you know, move forward in a concrete way and it was my anchor. And so the project became my anchor through a really tumultuous time in my life. Nice. and the amazing part about it is I don’t know how to best, describe how we formed Gloria except to describe a table of well, who I believe are the smartest, most innovative almost revolutionary type thinkers from different industries who sat around a table and said, well, what would be the most amazing school you could ever imagine? What would be the educational space you’d wanna be in? And yeah, we put together, you know, our purpose is at Gloria to empower indomitable spirit. And you know, that, that kind of, I think, sums it up really well. That’s, that’s what we envision for all of our students.


Sam Demma (11:20):
I love that. Can we go back all the way for a second, when you were telling me about when you were a child, you said there was gaps in your childhood that led you down this path. If you’re comfortable to share, I’m curious to know what those are, because I’m guessing those gaps are what inspire you to make sure that those gaps aren’t present and I other students or other young people’s lives.


Nadia Irshad (11:40):
Yeah, I think huh, I’m not, I’m comfortable talking about it. I think I was always the shy kid. I was always the kid that picked last for every sports activity known. And it’s interesting. I reflect on upon it now. I’m the child of a, of a, of an athlete. So my dad was a major athlete and I know looking at my brother and my father, I have the gene. I know that now as an adult, I know I could do all those things, but I nobody noticed me and my extreme shyness. And so I would pretend to be sick. I would have a tummy ache and not one teacher ever thought and stopped to reflect. Maybe she actually needs somebody to pay a little bit more attention to her and help include her. I was ne and, and so those are some of the, you know, I remember this will sound, I think crazy now.


Nadia Irshad (12:36):
I don’t think people, hopefully people don’t go through this now, but being told I’m stupid or, you know, I’ll never get it. Or, you know, you’re never gonna do more than be a secretary. I used to hear things like that as a child. Yeah. So those, and, and, and I, I’m an introvert and I’m a, I’m, I’m a bookworm. So I would just kind of spiral into my books and in my room and nobody paid much attention to me. So I kind of, I have a soft spot for introverted children, for sure. Mm-Hmm, I think it’s easy to, or, or the good kids. I always point out to people that, you know, it’s the kid that never or breaks the rules that never does anything, you know, that sometimes is negative attention worthy that we sometimes forget most. So the kids who are struggling and screaming and, and, and, and for attention, we give it to them. But sometimes it’s those kids that are so quietly kind of lost in the corner, but do you know, get the, as do everything right? That we never pay much attention to, but deserve it for sure to be seen is a big thing. And I think that’s through my, my educational entire journey, I’ll say all the way through university, nobody ever really saw me. I felt quite invisible. So that’s really important to me to see. I love that.


Sam Demma (13:55):
No, I love that. And, and at Gloria, you talk about challenge based learning. I was reading your website, and I know that’s a huge component that you’re very passionate about at the school. Can you tell me, or define what you think challenge based learning is and why it’s so exciting and important?


Nadia Irshad (14:13):
So the way I like to do describe challenge based learning is people are familiar with inquiry based learning or international BA programs. So those programs and that type of learning pushes questions. So it’s like the Socratic method it’s pushing, you know, asking questions, questions, questions, which is amazing, which I think we should all do all the time. Challenge based learning is problem-based learning. So everything we do in life, you know, every day we tackle problems all day. And I think that’s what we that’s, that’s what we pick challenge based. Learning challenge based learning is gritty. It means it, it’s not, it’s an environment where there isn’t a no. So if there’s an idea, it’s, it’s about failing reiteration learning. It’s about a it’s it’s challenge based learning for me is creating a space where failing you’re safe to fail. You’re safe to try again. You’re safe learn. Cause I do think in general, generally I’d say is true. And for most traditional educational models, it isn’t safe to fail. It, it isn’t encouraged. Kids need to get that a and there’s a lot of shame and attached to not doing it. Right.


Sam Demma (15:26):
I, I wholeheartedly agree. I even think back to my European parents, like you don’t come home in less, you have over 80 average, you know, like it was


Nadia Irshad (15:34):
The most, most scary day is the report card day. I remember that.


Sam Demma (15:37):
Yeah. Right. And, you know, knowing what I know now and looking back, I realize how backwards that thinking is. Right? Cause there’s a difference between learning and memorization. And I mean, throughout all of high school, I can memorize everything and finish a semester and look back at buddy and say, I’m not gonna remember anything I did. I’m not gonna use anything I learned, but I’m glad I got the nineties on my test. Like it’s so it’s so backwards at your school, what else do you provide the students with to create an unbreakable spirit, as you mentioned? Like, what does that mean and how do you young person? Yeah. Indomitable spirit. So


Nadia Irshad (16:16):
Gloria came from the word grit in Latin. So grit is something that’s important to all the founding members of Gloria elevated learning. Nice. And so indomitable spirit for was when we, when we sat around this table to talk about what model would we create? We talked about what made, what made the most successful. And when I say successful, I don’t mean in monetary terms or, you know, in successful, in happy, joyous living their best life terms. What made those people? And a majority of us, all that those were people who were comfortable with being uncomfortable, were comfortable with taking risks, were gritty, people, people who, who fell got back up, tried again, didn’t take no for an answer. And so in this world of helicopter parenting and lawnmower parenting, it’s a really hard children have a lot of anxiety and social media and all those things don’t help.


Nadia Irshad (17:19):
But so we created an environment. So challenge based learning, you know, is something that, that supports that type of environment. But we have academics, we have sports and we have art. So in our academic model, all those three things are equal. There isn’t a imbalance of, you know, your math mark means way more than, you know, athletics or arts. We really do feel that all those things come together to create whole gritty humans. And you know, what I love about the program is, you know, my, so my daughter’s in the program. She said, always, I hate skating. I’m never gonna get on skates. It’s cold. I don’t like it. And what I loved about it is I kept telling her, you know, but that’s the point, the point is you’re not gonna like everything. And that life, life is gonna throw so many different things at you. And it’s about your attitude. And it’s about pulling on those skates and making it happen. And what I love is she, so we’re now in almost in March and she loves skating and she’s talking about being a hockey player and I keep, you know, I’m being the annoying mom and I keep reminding her well, interesting.


Nadia Irshad (18:29):
But but I think, you know, I think we create an environment where, so parents like to push the things they love. Mm-Hmm of course, you know, soccer parents probably played soccer when they were young or wanted to be a soccer star or hockey parents wanted to be a hockey star. You know? So you kind of, because those are the things, you know, so what I love about gala Gloria is it’s a place where it’s a multi-sport multi art place. Children get to learn for themselves what they actually love, what actually fires them up, what they’re passionate about. And they’re able to kind of carve their own path, be their own spirit, right. Instead of feeling the shadow of all of the people around them who love them, who adore them. I know, but to me, that’s you know, as an adult, that’s the most, that’s the most exciting opportunity. I love that opportunity today, but


Sam Demma (19:18):
That’s awesome. It’s funny when you’re mentioning your parents always push your passions on you. I’m thinking about my own family and my own situation, right? My dad was hockey player growing up, always wanted me to play hockey. He tried for a whole year, a whole, whole year putting skates on my feet and I cried every time and he finally just gave up, put a soccer ball in front of me and I couldn’t stop kicking it. And I pursued a pro soccer career since I was six years old. I, I lived in Italy for six months when I was 13. I ended up having three major knee injuries, two surgeries, and totally lost my full ride scholarship, lost the ability to play. And I was just connecting with you on so many levels. You were talking about Latin phrases. I have a Latin phrase on my bicep right here.


Sam Demma (19:58):
It says, VIN key pat tour. It’s a phrase that means he who endures our, the person who endures conquers. And I had it after my second knee surgery, not because I was gonna go to the end of the earth to play pro of soccer, but because I made a decision in that moment that no matter what I chose to do with my life arts, academic sports, whatever it might be, I’m gonna give a hundred percent of my effort all the time. But I do have a question for you. How do you ensure that your students don’t attach their self worth to their cha their, their talents or their achievements or their accomplishments? Because at the end of the day, I think it’s still important that a student doesn’t come home and say I’m worth nothing because I didn’t play well or I’m worth nothing because I didn’t get a good grade. So I’m curious to know, how does the teachers and you at Gloria ensure that students don’t attach their self worth wholly to those things.


Nadia Irshad (20:48):
So I think, and that’s really interesting that you brought that up for me, the fact that we teach through challenge based learning, meaning we push trying, failing, reiterating failure is a success. Failure is something we completely celebrate. Risk taking is something we celebrate that, you know, walking through something you’re afraid of. And so for me, those are the things that we celebrate as an organization. We do not celebrate, you know, I love that’s great. You got a 99, but that’s, that’s not where we celebr. We celebrate your, we celebrate the spirit and we do have, you know, we a a health and wellbeing program. We have Dr. Doan, who is the president of BC doc doctor’s of BC right now who’s on our board. And she supports us with trauma informed practice. And she supports us on, in lots of, kind of mental health initiatives.


Nadia Irshad (21:44):
But I will say that, you know, child learning makes it really hard to do that. It really doesn’t even our sports, you know, for sports it’s, we, we focus on how you got better or what you did or what, you know, you tried that and you fell and you figured it out and you know what, that’s awesome. You, you know, you took the risk cuz sometimes the kids won’t even take that first step to fall. They don’t want to. Fall’s so scary. Mm-Hmm so while talking through those scary things, those are the celebrations for sure.


Sam Demma (22:11):
I love that. And you’re so right. I guess when you’re focused on learning from the failure, there’s nothing you really to attach yourself worth too. Like you’re not, you’re not celebrating an achievement, you’re celebrating the learning and the growth which is so unique and so cool. Cuz when I look back to my own experience in school, like that was one of my biggest hurdles. I remember the day that I had my second knee surgery and the voices just went through my head of all my parents, aunts, uncles, coaches, Sam, one day, you’re gonna be the player that we hopefully watch on TV. You’re gonna be the first person from our family who gets a scholarship. And then all these voices started becoming like weights on my back. Because I thought by myself that if I didn’t fulfill those things, that I’d be worth nothing as a human being. And it sounds like you guys are doing the exact opposite of Gloria, which is, which is so cool. Tell me more about what the average day looks like for a student at the school.


Nadia Irshad (23:06):
So an average day, so I’ll say for example, what’s today, today’s Thursday. So school starts at 7 45. The kids hit the rink first thing in the morning, so cool. and so we always, we always start the day with athletic athletics. We all, you know, I think there’s a lot of research to prove that that’s a good thing for you. So we, we try really hard to yeah, to follow kind. We break all the norms and we do it the way we think is the right way to do it. I like that. So yeah, so the kids hit the rink, they do that for an hour, power skating sometimes hockey and they get off the rink, then they hit their classrooms. We do have, so the difference between Glar in a lot of schools is we don’t have, you know, some schools have rules where you can’t eat until it’s snack time and you can’t eat until it’s lunchtime.


Nadia Irshad (23:58):
So that’s normal humans. That’s not how, yeah, it doesn’t work. so kids, you know, we’ll break out their snacks and they’ll eat and they’ll go to class. And so it’s challenge based learning, meaning math, science, English all the subjects that they’re learning. We, and we do Mandarin as well are integrated. So sometimes they have an engineering project. Maybe there’s a challenge. How would you create a Rover on the moon? So they have to use math. They have to use science. They have to use, you know, English to write up the report communicate. So, so it’s learning, but it always, so whenever I go into the school, it all, it looks too fun. It looks like campus can school, nobody everybody’s on their feet. We also have transitional learning spaces. So it doesn’t feel like we’re stuck in classroom and this is your classroom and now you don’t move all day.


Nadia Irshad (24:49):
No, all the entire school is, is a student school for learning. So you’ll see them in the hallway. They’ll use, they’ll use spaces in the cafeteria. Yeah, it’s, it’s a really cool actually environment. And what I love most actually about going to the school is because of the way it’s, it’s transitional and open and project based students interact. So the kinds love chatting with the grade five kids and they, and the grade five kids love mentoring the little kids. And it’s a really I can’t wait to see these kids in like 20 years to see how, you know, they interact. I imagine they’ll be really close for for a lifetime. That’s how I see the relationships that build as a family. It’s really, you know, we’re all learners. So part of the mindsets that, that, that we try to instill in everyone is we’re all learners. So the teachers are learners, the students, our learners, the grade fives learn from the kinds the teachers learn from the kindergarten, kindergarten kids. It’s not there. Isn’t a hierarchical kind of, you know, setup where there there’s a teacher up there and we’re down here, we’re all here and we’re all learning together.


Sam Demma (26:03):
That’s so cool. I love that. And I think in traditional education, sometimes students work in silos, especially when you get into university and people start th saying things like, oh, I’m not gonna share my work with you because it’s, it’s a challenge and I need to have better work than you so that I can get the position. And you don’t. And it sounds like what you’re fostering is a collective group to build team, to work towards solving a bigger problem. And I think, you know, there’s a proverb that says, you wanna go, you wanna go fast, go alone. You wanna go far go together. And I think it’s so wise and you know, from a young age teaching students that they need to, you know, be able to function in a team is so important because they’ll use that skill for the rest of their life, which is so, so cool. I’m I have so many questions. This is fricking awesome. It sounds like


Nadia Irshad (26:56):
It sounds like what you just said. You brought up about knowledge and university students. I have similar experience in university, but what’s interesting. What I always think of is people like that. See the world as a pie. I, you, you know, there’s only eight slices, so I get a slice and now there’s only seven left, so you can’t have, you know, so to me, knowledge, isn’t an asset. It isn’t property it’s for everyone. And so I think it’s interesting being an outsider in the world of education. I know I confront it confronts a lot of people to have non-education people in the world of education, but for me, learnings for everybody there’s no, there shouldn’t be any kind of boundary set. It is in a pie it’s endless. It’s, it’s abundant.


Sam Demma (27:42):
I love that. The way I look at it, just, you just gave me an idea of like a future analogy with the pie. So the way I look at it is like, there’s a pie on the table, right. And we’re all. And like people traditionally go and they take a piece, but in reality, every person has specific gifts and talents which could be a kid to an ingredient. So you come and take a piece from the pie, but you’re the flower and someone else comes and they’re the milk. And if you didn’t just realize that you all got together, you could make more pie, you know, like using everyone’s unique gifts and talents. So that just came into my mind while you were speaking. And I think it’s so true. Like, I, I don’t really talk about this much on this podcast because a lot of teachers listen, but I actually dropped out of university.


Sam Demma (28:23):
I did I did two months of formal school before I broke down in front of my laptop, crying, telling my parents, look, I have this passion for speaking to young people and I need to follow it. And there was this initiative I was building at the time catered around service learning and serving leadership. And at first my parents were like, what the heck are you doing with your life? And very, very quickly as things started to progress, their whole mindset shifted and changed. And so sometimes I think it just takes one example one success story to shift the narrative. And I think there will be hundreds coming outta your school supporting that idea. What is some of the things you’re most proud of so far that have come outta the school?


Nadia Irshad (29:04):
Hmm, interesting. That’s a interesting question. Be careful cuz it’s a small school environment. I, you know, can’t have confidentiality too. We’ve of course I’ve had I think one of the, one of the proud moments for, you know, it’s a small thing, but watching a ma you know, 85% of our students, couldn’t skate, couldn’t even, you know, they need a chair and now watching them months later, we open in September, we’re in February, they’re in power skating and they’re starting hockey. And these are like little like month, like little guys, five year old guys. And it’s so amazing because I think it underlines the fact that kids are underestimated. They have endless capabilities. They have endless energy, their brains are so from either this brilliant, you know, organisms that are constantly making connections and growing and how I, how sad I think it is when people limit that growth.


Nadia Irshad (30:08):
Mm-Hmm yeah, so there’s yeah, it’s, it’s it’s the little things, it’s the little things for sure. It’s and it’s watching the kids, you know, they put together performances, they, we have martial arts and watching the kids who never once, you know, did a punched something or did anything or now suddenly, you know, yellow and orange belts. those are it’s it’s, it’s amazing. And it’s, they take so much pride in it and I just love watching them. And I think I love that they never walk in and I never hear them say I got 99 on test. I never hear that. I hear today. I drop, I, I, I jumped up and I did this kick and, and, and, you know, I’ve watched them go through this journey where they couldn’t do any of those things and how much pride they are. And I think it builds so much self confidence to think, you know, to know, even for five year old, two months ago, I couldn’t even do that. And to so how endless are my capabilities? Right. So it’s yeah. I, I absolutely adore being around them that that type of energy is just, it’s like, I wanna see.


Sam Demma (31:14):
Moment. Yeah. It’s infectious. Right. you mentioned redefining purpose, right? I know this idea of finding your purpose, embracing your purpose. It sounds like you guys do it a little bit differently at your school. Do you have any opinions on the word purpose or, or what that means and how to encourage students to pursue it?


Nadia Irshad (31:34):
I think so is a trendy word too. Sometimes you, I always feel like I have to tip toe around it and be careful. Yeah. You know, if it puts fire in your gut, that’s the way I look at it. Put, puts fire in your gut and you can’t sleep until you do it, probably your purpose. And it’s probably not, you know, going fast on the ice and it’s probably not. It’s probably you, you know, you have to stretch to think what exactly is that mm-hmm and I do you think all of us and maybe I I’m an ideal idealist, I I’ll admit it. I think we’re all here to leave the world a little bit better. And so if you can find that little gift, you have that thing that puts fire in your belly to leave it a better, a better place.


Nadia Irshad (32:21):
And that’s why, you know, that comes back to challenge me, is learning. So what makes challenge based learning so special to us is it forces kids to think community and global mm-hmm . So it’s not the problem about you today. It’s how, you know, a problem that affects the people around you, your school community, the people down the block in your, in your world, and ask them to problem solve. And, and, and because the reality is, is it’s easy to be apathetic and it’s easy to think we can’t do anything. This is the way it is, but we, you know, people did it to get us here so we can, we can change and flip it around, make it go a different direction. Yeah, I dunno if that makes any sense.


Sam Demma (33:03):
No, it does a hundred percent. I, I had a world issues teacher who changed my life when I was in grade 12, who started the first day of class by walking in front of us and saying, don’t believe anything I tell you. But if it makes you curious, I want you to go do your Reese search and verify facts to yourself. And it was the first teacher I ever had, who said anything like that. And instantly like snap of a fingers. I was hooked. I was like, this is gonna be the best class ever. He made his own curriculum. He taught us his own curriculum. He retired the year after he taught me, but there was one lesson he taught us in, in April of 2017 where he was breaking down the lives of figures in history, trying to prove to us that they all had this common trait.


Sam Demma (33:47):
Grit was definitely a part of it. And the, the way he said it was, they all took thousands of small, consistent actions. And he said, if you wanna make a difference, you wanna challenge status quo, just, just choose a problem and take thousands of small actions towards solving it. And that challenge changed my life. I talk about him to this day, me and Mike Loudfoot, he’s retired now. We still stay in contact. So I wholeheartedly agree. It’s definitely, it’s definitely possible to make a difference. Especially when you just start with a small step, if an educator has been listening to this conversation and is just amazed by what’s going on at your school, loves your energy, wants to connect, have a conversation. What would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?


Nadia Irshad (34:29):
The best way would, they should go to our website. So they should go to Glareaschool.com and they can always shoot me an email. So my email is nadia@glareaschool.com. That would probably be the easiest way to reach me. But we are currently recruiting teachers. We’re in the midst of growing our little teaching community and it’s, it’s exciting to see the types of people that are drawn to our program. They’re really unique, unique individuals, which, which is exciting.


Sam Demma (34:55):
Can you just spell the URL of your school? Just so people don’t mess it up?


Nadia Irshad (34:59):
Yes. So Glarea is Glareaschool.com.


Sam Demma (35:04):
Awesome. Nadia, thank you so much for taking the time to come on the show, share some of your wisdom, energy and stories. I really appreciate it. And I look forward to the day that I can come skate with the five year olds oh, totally.


Nadia Irshad (35:16):
You need to come out to BC and visit us here.


Sam Demma (35:19):
I will. I will. I’ll talk to you soon.


Nadia Irshad (35:21):
My pleasure. Thank you.


Sam Demma (35:23):
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 wanna 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 Nadia Irshad

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.

Chris McCullough – Teacher and Vice-Principal in Red Deer, Alberta

Chris McCullough - Teacher and Vice-Principal in Red Deer, Alberta
About Chris McCullough

Chris McCullough (@mccullough9) is a Teacher / Vice-Principal in beautiful Red Deer, Alberta.  Chris has a broad range of educational experiences, having taught in elementary, middle school, and high school in mainstream programming, as well as in inclusive education and behaviour management programs. 

Chris is actively involved in the community by volunteering his time to coach hockey, ringette and baseball. Additionally, Chris works alongside teachers from across Alberta to organize the annual Alberta Teachers’ Association (MYC) Middle Years Conference.  

Chris’ wife Kristie is also a teacher and they have 3 teenage children to keep them busy.  

Connect with Chris: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Alberta Teacher’s Association (ATA)

Alberta Teachers’ Association (MYC) Middle Years Conference

Chris’s Personal Blog: thepocketeer.blogspot.com

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s guest is Chris McCullough. Chris is a teacher and vice principal in beautiful Red Deer, Alberta. He has a broad range of educational experiences having taught in elementary, middle school and high school in mainstream programming, as well as in inclusive education behaviour management programs.


Sam Demma (01:03):
He has a very interesting start in education as well, which I think you’ll really enjoy hearing about on the podcast. Chris is actively involved in the community by volunteering his time to coach hockey, ringette, and baseball. He also refs and he’s been a ref for a long time, which is something that I learned about on the podcast. And he also works alongside teachers from across Alberta to organize the ATA. The Alberta teachers associations middle years conference. Chris’s wife Christie is also a teacher and they have three teenage children to keep them extremely busy. I hope you enjoy today’s podcast interview with Chris and I will see you on the other side. Chris, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. You know, one of the NHLs free agents as I’ve heard, why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about why you got into the work you’re doing in education today.


Chris McCullough (02:00):
Wow. That’s a long podcast you’re in for . As you said, I’m Chris McCullough. I’m in Red Deer, Alberta, Canada, and I grew up in central Alberta, just south of red deer in a town called Olds. And I’m hearing the question as, why am I a teacher? And I guess as a, a child myself, I always enjoyed running around and playing with my young cousins and stuff like that so it seemed like a good fit. I got, I got along well with people and you know, I’ve got to I’m not saying I love every aspect of my job, but , I do enjoy coming to school every day and working with kids and how many people get to say they get paid to do that every day. So


Sam Demma (02:42):
I love that. And being that you were someone and who enjoyed, you know, spending time with your younger cousins, that passion could have taken you in various directions, social work could have taken you to camp counseling, could have became, you know a youth speaker, like there’s when, when it comes to working with young people, there’s so many different ways that you can impact them. What drew you towards, like teaching specifically? Was there teachers in your life that inspired you? Or did you just say, let me try this and see how it goes?


Chris McCullough (03:12):
I think it was a couple things for me. One was I think just naturally as a relational person, I wanted to work with people. Yeah. If you were to read my high school yearbook, it would say that I was gonna be a golf course, superintendent, interesting position, a job that runs in my family. Okay. My dad actually taught that at a small college at old college turf grass management. And that was the plan, but I think him being a teacher I himself kind of pushed me in that direction. And, and actually I had a teacher I mean, I wasn’t as well put together as you are Sam at 21, I was still making bad decisions. and I remember my grade 12 teacher asking me what I was doing in his math class, because I really was kind of being your response and I didn’t need that class to be a golf course. Superintendent was what he said to me and he was absolutely right. And after that moment, I kind of decided that I was gonna pursue education and being a teacher. And along the way, I had a few bumps and bruises, but I ended up meeting my wife and she helped me a lot get through university. And the next thing, you know, go through the interview process and you get a job and here I am, 19 years later,


Sam Demma (04:31):
Happy international woman’s day, right. yes,


Chris McCullough (04:33):
Yes.


Sam Demma (04:35):
For sure. That’s awesome. Very cool. And when you first started, what were you teaching and how did the journey kind of evolve? I know somewhere along the way, you decided to get involved in the Alberta teachers association and really spearheaded some cool events and initiatives with the organization.


Chris McCullough (04:51):
Yeah. Along the way, I, my first job was a maternity leave. I taught grade six. Nice. And that led to which was at the time middle school age. And then in my, my school division, they, they opted to build some middle schools and moved to the middle school philosophy more formally. So there was a big middle school conference and a lot of teachers at that level were going to it and, and my wife ended up going and just, I think, I think my principal did allow me to go to the conference, even though I, I wasn’t necessarily guaranteed a job the next year, but I, I did go. And from that point on, I was really involved in middle school philosophy cause I ended up getting a position later in June that year. And then of course my involvement with the middle years council has been pretty consistent for, I could say 17 in my 19 years just in different roles and wow, largely it just comes from our core group of friends that worked on the conference and a desire to, to create a, you know, an event for teachers every year in a local context, I also got involved with my ATA, the ATA provincial and local and a variety of things at the time in our school division, I believe there was no vice president of the ATA local, and I just was off for that position and like a dummy, someone who didn’t know his AST from his elbow, he took it.


Chris McCullough (06:23):
And and I think it was a second year teacher at the time. And then of course the president had me at that point. So he retired and moved on to other things. And then I became the president of the, the red Catholic local. And I just learned a ton of great things. I, from some really great superintendents, I were, I worked with some great teachers on ATA stuff, union stuff, association stuff. And that was in red deer and Edmonton and Calgary. And that’s just been a nice bit with the middle years council as well. So I’ve always kept busy with that.


Sam Demma (06:55):
That’s awesome. And when you, initially we decided to take on one of the roles with the middle years council, was it because someone tapped you on the shoulder and said, you’d be great for this? Or you just saw the opportunity and decided I’m gonna try this out.


Chris McCullough (07:09):
I remember a colleague yeah. Tapped me on the shoulder and you should try it. Sure. And then I, one of the principals in my school division, I asked him if this was a good, I did because it was getting pretty real. And his answer at the time was, yeah, you’re gonna learn, you’re gonna learn a lot. So I’m probably guilty of getting too involved and, and having too many irons in the fire, if you will, cuz I have three kids on my own and I like to coach their sports and I’ve always been involved in that stuff. So again, it’s international. I couldn’t have done any of these things without support of my life, but overall I’ve learned a ton and yeah, I, I wouldn’t change anything that’s for sure.


Sam Demma (07:50):
Ah, that’s awesome. That’s, that’s such a good way to look at it over the years. I’m sure there’s been changes in teaching and education, especially when you introduce a global pandemic over the past year and a half. How has education shifted in your school area or in your school over the past year and a half? And what are some of maybe some of the challenges you’ve faced or have started to overcome?


Chris McCullough (08:17):
Yeah, so many challenges, honestly, I think as I look back over the, the course of the year, cuz I guess just almost a year to the day that we left school in Albert anyway and had that pause and shift to online education, I’m pretty proud of the work that teachers have done. And in my seat here as a vice principal, yeah. I, again, I work with some really great teachers that pivoted and really made that experie for the students. So that would’ve been March to June of last year. And then again, this year we’ve had our challenges with classes and situations where whole classes have to go home. But you know, at the end of the day, just the ability of these teachers to, to pivot and, and make it work for their students. Now I’m amazed every day by ’em to be honest. And it’s good to see. And I think moving away from that question, I guess broader in my 19 years, I, I think teachers in education improved a lot in terms of assessment practices, relationship with kids and understanding trauma and how that impacts student learning. I, I think we’re just getting in as a whole, whole lot better at meeting kids where they’re at and helping them with their needs. So


Sam Demma (09:33):
I love that and I, I would agree too. I think this, especially this year, the forced innovation through the pandemic has forced all of educators in education to focus on what matters most. And I think what’s been highlighted is the fact that the relationships are so important and sometimes building those virtually is a little more difficult. But how do you think schools or even educators can, you know, make their students feel heard, valued and appreciated. Now in, in this situation, is it a matter of checking in with the students on a daily basis or a weekly basis just tapping them outside of class saying, Hey, how are you? Is there anything we can help you with? Or from your perspective, what do you believe is the most important thing for educators to continue doing?


Chris McCullough (10:19):
I think from my perspective, you know, relationships matter, I, I once had a principal and she told me the number one thing she looks for in a teacher is their her or their ability rather to build relationships with students. Mm. The rest of it, you can kinda teach. And I, and I’ve seen that in a of tweet here and there, how important relationships are, whether it’s Sam or Robinson or, you know, it just matters a lot how you treat people. And I’m not saying you have to be nice to everyone because I think that’s a very broad term. And some teachers are very strict at the same time. They’re very effective and they, they don’t disrespect anyone. Yep. And other people, you know, are very good with people and maybe they can improve that they’re teaching. So I’ve kind of seen a lot of that too. So yeah, I think overall people care about kids and they, they work to make their school successful.


Sam Demma (11:16):
Ah, I love it. Very cool. And if you could, if you could travel back in time and speak to first year, Chris, when you just started teaching, knowing what you know now and with the wisdom you’ve gained and garnered, what would you tell your younger self?


Chris McCullough (11:32):
I would tell my younger self to listen, listen, slow down and listen. Nice. There’s a ton of knowledge. And I think, yeah, I guess as I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten more mature, but you know, my school’s really focused on mindfulness this year from a school improvement plan perspective. Nice. We’ve done a lot of work on trauma training too, but you know, I think just learning to breathe and learning to pause, really look at situations in a whole context is an important skill for anyone, for me, for kids, for anyone. So we’ve done a lot of work on that. And I, I think if I was talking to my former self, I would’ve been more mindful of really not so much kids because I was always good with kids. And I feel like I connected with them well, but just being this is the wrong word, but sympathetic to maybe me being a little more understanding of what my former principals were trying to achieve and more or superintendents and current superintendents and politicians even I think at the end of the day, everyone wants schools and kids to be successful people. So yeah, just focus on listening and, and trying to make it work for everybody.


Sam Demma (12:48):
Love that. So cool. And I’m sure over the years teaching you’ve seen student transformation. I think that one of the coolest things about education is that it can change a student’s life. Now, sometimes you water that seed and it doesn’t flourish for 20 years. You might not ever know the impact you had. Or 20 years down the road, a kid writes you a note, letting you know that this one thing you said in class totally changed his life. Sometimes you hear about them, sometimes you don’t. I’m curious to know though, have you seen any student transformations within your school? Within the 20 so years you’ve been in education. And the reason I’m asking is because another teacher might be listening to this, burnt out, forgetting why they got into education and sharing a transformative story. Might remind them why they’re doing the work they’re. And if it’s a serious story, by all means you can rename the person to Chris or Sarah or change their name for privacy reasons.


Chris McCullough (13:44):
Yeah. I, to be honest story, I’m thinking of, I can’t even think of the kid’s name right now, thats. Okay. It was a high school situation and he was very struggling with school in general. He hated a, he hated school. He hated being there. And this is a great 11 boy who was in tears. I, I wasn’t even his teacher, I don’t think. Yeah. Other than one course like an option course. Anyway, he was balling his eyes out to me and we long story short, we, we changed his timetable so that he could do work experience cause he wanted to be a welder . So we got him outta school in the afternoons and set him up with a company. I don’t know if it was his dad’s company or a company his dad was kind of familiar with and you know, he loved it.


Chris McCullough (14:26):
He could come to school in the morning to leave at lunch. He started, started working on getting his ticket for, for welding. I think it was. And you know, I think that situations like that, making school work for someone, so he had a kid crying and in tears, that’s super frustrated to a situation where he is just happy, happy he can leave at lunch, go make some money. And I assume he is still working in the trades, which I think is a great avenue for a lot of students. And I think schools worry a little too much about academics sometimes where there’s lots of different possibilities where people can you know, think about their future.


Sam Demma (15:06):
Yeah, totally agree. I love it. And my dad’s a plumber and he loves his job and he builds homes. So there’s yeah, there’s so many, there’s no one pathway for all students. And I think it’s important to remember. So I love that you shared that story. If an educator listening or someone listening is, is enjoying this conversation is inspired by, it wants to have a conversation with you. Maybe Talk about your, your fandom for Calgary flames or star wars. what would be the best way for them to reach out to you and connect?


Chris McCullough (15:37):
Probably, I hesitate to say it a little bit because I find it to be a very angry place these days but Twitter is probably the best place to reach out. My handle’s @McCullough9 and I like Twitter. I find, I’ve learned a lot from it. There’s lots of good articles and inspirational messages and stuff like that. Sometimes I get caught up in the politics of the day or whatever and, and I’ve had to really reflect on what that looks like. But overall I think social media is a powerful force. It is a two-way sword and I enjoy it, but sometimes I have to take a, take a break from it and stuff like that. That’s kind of the best place, I guess, to find me.


Sam Demma (16:20):
All right. Got it. And what’s the first thing you’re looking to looking forward to once COVID ends.


Chris McCullough (16:26):
I think just general social situations, you know, being with family and friends and not having to worry about masks and social distancing and all that kind of stuff so sign me up for a vaccine as soon as you can get it, Sam, you know.


Sam Demma (16:43):
I’ll send it your way if I do. All right, Chris, thank you so much for taking the time to chat. I appreciate it. And look forward to talking to you soon and hopefully meeting you in Banff one day.


Chris McCullough (16:53):
Cool Sam. Take care of yourself and thanks for doing this.


Sam Demma (16:58):
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 wanna 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 Chris McCullough

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.