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Kristina Willing – 38-year teaching veteran (Lessons Learned)

Kristina Willing - 38-year teaching veteran (Lessons Learned)
About Kristina Willing

Kristina (@wewilling7) is a retired teacher/administrator in the beautiful Bulkley Valley of Northern British Columbia. In her 38 joy-filled years as an educator, she has taught in BC, Alberta and Manitoba in almost all subject areas from Kindergarten to Grade 12; she loves helping kids reach for their goals and dreams.

In her “retirement”, Kristina is the team lead on Northern School District and Rotary District committees to bring excellent Leadership opportunities to BC students.

As well, she continues her 30 yr. passion for making the world a smaller place by organizing student and family tours to various worldwide destinations, including New York, Japan, Costa Rica, Scotland-Ireland, and multiple European countries.

Connect with Kristina: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Rotary International

What is a TTOC?

Bulkley Valley SD54 School District Website

Leadership Studies at University of Victoria

Bachelors of Education at University of British Columbia

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 so excited to bring you today’s interview. Our guest today is Kristina Willing. She is a retired educator and she’s done a ton of work related to service. She has a demonstrated history of working in education management, strong professional skills in word Excel, PowerPoint textiles.


Sam Demma (01:04):
She’s been heavily involved in student leadership, taught social studies and history, is passionate about teaching and, and lesson planning. The things that were very intriguing to me though, was her work that she did in Africa. And you’ll hear about a bunch of it, not only in Africa, but a ton of different countries and the work that she’s done in Kenya and the work that she’s done with rotary international and the work that she’s done in, in launching leadership events, around her province and internationally there’s, there’s just so much that Kristina and I get into here today that I, I know you will love, and I know you will learn from, so enjoy this conversation and I will see you on the other side. Kristina, 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 the reason behind why you got involved in education?


Kristina Willing (01:59):
Oh, in education okay. My name is Kristina Willing and I have been a teacher since 1982, so I don’t know, 38 years, something like that. And I actually started teaching the little kids around our neighborhood when I was about seven years old. So my mother said she knew I was gonna be a teacher. You then , but it’s, I’ve just always loved it. I, when I was seven, I was teaching the three and four year olds, their colors and numbers and, and yeah. And then as I got older, I would help out in the library and help out in the lower classes. And when I was in high school, I would tutor the younger kids. And so it’s always, it’s been part of me. I love working with youth.


Sam Demma (02:47):
Hmm. That’s so awesome. And when you look back, like, I mean, working with youth, you’ve done it in so many different capacities, whether it’s training teachers in rural Kenya or doing work with rotary or doing work in the classroom what made you decide to get into formal education and work as a teacher? Did you have a teacher in your life who really inspired you and, and motivated you and pushed you, or like what exactly led to the direction of the, the direction or the decision to being a teacher?


Kristina Willing (03:16):
That’s a really good question. Actually. One of the reasons was because of a, a teacher that trying to figure out how to word it, that wasn’t necessarily didn’t handle things the best way. And, and traumatized me when I was in this teach classroom when I was in primary school. Wow. And I thought if I’m ever gonna be a teacher, I’m never gonna be that kind of a teacher so, yeah. So it’s, it’s funny that, you know, you say, what was the motivation, but and I don’t know, maybe that’s, that’s one of the reasons why I became the kind of teacher that I was. Mm. I had some for ally dynamic teachers over the years, and I, every time that I would be in a classroom or be working with a teacher that had qualities that I admired, and I tried to exemplify that later in my own teaching.


Sam Demma (04:16):
Hmm. No, that’s awesome. And the, throughout your journey as a teacher you did so many different projects and you’ve done so many different things even outside of the classroom. What inspired you to take your, your passion for teaching outside of the walls of a, of a school?


Kristina Willing (04:35):
Well, within the walls of the school, you’re, you’re restricted to the parameters of the subject. UT teach. You can teach it in many different ways so that you can open opportunities up for kids, but I wanted to give kids more opportunities than what is available in the classroom. And I wanted to show them that there’s things out there that if they have a passion for, there was ways to go forward with that passion. And if I could help them in any way, then was it, I did a rotary exchange when I was 15. Wow. And that really, really opened my eyes up to the opportunities that were there for youth. Yeah. I turned 16 in Australia and lived with 10 different families and just, it was just one of the most exquisite experience is that I’ve ever had in my life. Hmm. It really helped me to not only just to grow up, but to see the world differently. And so I just wanted that opportunity for my students. And I figured that one of the ways of doing it was to expand outside the classroom. I actually take students on still to this day, take students on excursions around the world and will continue doing that. And as long as I feel able to , mm-hmm.


Sam Demma (05:50):
That’s so awesome. Can you tell me more about how that experience of living with the exchange families really impacted you as the young person? Cause I wanna understand where your passion comes from for giving students those similar opportunities. Okay.


Kristina Willing (06:06):
well, when I first got to Australia and I was with the rotary club I went to the first meeting and I was put into the family of the home. That would, was my kind of guardian for the, for the year. And then they sat down with me and they said, well, we have quite a few families who would like to host you. So really you can choose between three and no more than 10 of those families. And I said, okay, how about 10 ? And they said 10. And I said, yeah, I said, that’ll give me more opportunity to get to know people and, and, you know, have have a bigger, bigger cultural experience for me. Hmm. So I, I lived with 10 different families in 12 years and every single one of those families were different from each other. So I lived with, I lived with families that had quite a few kids and I lived with families, a couple families that had no children.


Kristina Willing (07:03):
I lived with a pastor and his wife and his aging mother. And and that was, that was just amazing. I got, he, he was one of those pastors that traveled to different churches every single Sunday. And I think he had three or four different churches. So, wow. I went on a, on a few of those as well with him. I live with with a family that owned a tobacco plantation and, and had a they had a, a tragedy where a couple of their silos where intentionally arsoned and I was living with them at the time and they kept me through that. Like they said, you know what, we’re going through a family, you know, sort of a financial crisis. And that’s okay. Like, if you’re, if you would like to stay with us, then you can also learn how to go through a financial crisis in your future in a different way. So like all of the, those different experiences. Oh, sorry. My children, I have that’s have people living with me, so no worries. I’m just going to I’m just gonna let them know that I’m on a conference on my room with my door shut. Oh, sorry, sorry, sorry. Sorry.


Sam Demma (08:15):
it’s okay. It’s okay.


Kristina Willing (08:17):
So yeah, there, no, I love having my family lived with me into this that’s okay. So yeah. So living with the different families I, I loved every different aspect of it and they were all very different and I mean, truthfully, some were easier than others and, and you learn all sorts of different experiences by going through stuff where you, you get along really super well instantly with other people and other with others, you need to learn adaptations and you need to learn empathy and you need to learn another person’s perspective and you need to not give up.


Sam Demma (08:59):
Yeah. So true. And I was fascinated that you said you went on a rotary trip when you were in the middle of your teens. I think that service, education and service learning is so important. And it sounds like you’re someone who wholeheartedly believes in the power of exp learning and being of service to others. Why do you think those types of experiences are important even today?


Kristina Willing (09:23):
You mean the service?


Sam Demma (09:25):
Ones? Yeah, the service aspect of them.


Kristina Willing (09:28):
Oh, because I think that to become a whole person, you, it’s good for you to understand another person’s perspective and, or even another culture’s perspective or it’s easy. It, it’s better for you if you learn how to see both sides and you do that by giving. I think that’s my, my feeling anyways. Also that’s awesome. Giving has also always been something that completes me. Like it’s, it’s a part of my nature. I’ve actually had to learn how to not give so much that I don’t have anything , But that that’s another story in itself, right.


Sam Demma (10:13):
Yeah, no, that’s awesome. And you did do a trip to Kenya to teach teachers. Can you tell me more about that and what sparked the interest in doing it?


Kristina Willing (10:23):
Oh my gosh. That, that is just, it’s an amazing, and, and we still are, actually are in contact with, with the teachers to this day. So it’s only a year and a bit, but well, when we got the notification from our school district that teachers could apply for this the vocational training with rotary, I took a look at it and thought, oh my gosh, like it’s got everything I love, I love the rotary aspect. I love the working with with other teachers who are working with children. I love the helping aspect, I, the travel aspect. So everything sort of fit together. And then I put my application in and was just ecstatic when I was chosen. And it just, it, again, it opened up another door to, to helping others, but also to growing myself, like I’m, when you work with people from a completely different culture you have to come at it from where they are.


Kristina Willing (11:28):
So that was one of the things that our team, when we were first trying to figure out what is the best way that we can help these teachers help the students they work with. And we all stepped back and said, where are they now? And what could we do to help them get further? Not necessarily help them get where we are because we, you know our education system is, is quite a bit different. Mm. And then we also realized that once we got down there, we might be altering on the spot, which is exactly what happened. We would walk into a school and there’s, there’s no running water and there’s pit toilets and there’s there’s classrooms that have playing brick walls with absolutely nothing on it and dirt floors. And the kids were carrying their chairs from their room to the, to the meeting area where we would have a big group thing going on with, with the whole school.


Kristina Willing (12:28):
Like it’s just a totally different experience. So being able to help the teachers come from where they are and have them, and, and a lot of the learning in Kenya, not so long ago was really wrote mm-hmm, , they don’t have a lot of textbooks, so wrote, worked really well. But for, for all of the new stuff for the kids to be kind of part of where the rest of the world is, they needed to have, they need to have some of those other skills. And it’s those teachers that need those skills to give it to the kids. And they’re just leaps and bounds ahead of where they were. Even, and like a year or two ago, they’ve been working with other people as well as the vocational training team. But the rotary international grant brought technology with us as well that we left with the schools and then taught them how to use that technology and continued to use it. Wow.

Sam Demma (13:34):
That’s so cool. And, and, and you strive to bring students on experiences similar, I guess when we’re not in a global pandemic


Kristina Willing (13:44):
Yep. I love, I love taking kids all over the world.


Sam Demma (13:47):
And where have some of those trips taken you with students?


Kristina Willing (13:51):
Oh my gosh. Okay. So with students, I’ve gone to Japan a couple of times,


Sam Demma (13:59):
New York, New York. Tell me about why, like, what was the, tell me about it.


Kristina Willing (14:03):
Well, well, the Japan one actually started when I was younger because my family took in exchange students through rotary as well as through other areas. And we Siri is, which is where I grew up and went to school. Siri had a teacher who had taught in Japan and had created the, sort of like a sister city with Goma. So, so Siri and Goma, which they’re both, both, almost the same size actually, they, they formed this bond with this teacher who used to work over there, who taught for, so he started an exchange program. I went over the year I graduated for a few weeks on the exchange with students from all over Siri. And I can’t remember how many high schools, but all of us were from different high schools. And we lived with host families over there.


Kristina Willing (14:52):
And I ended up living with with an English teacher for a while. I, I lived with the girl that stayed with me, but she was in the middle of exams. So I moved in with the English teacher. Hmm. And we were totally immersed in school. And and I ended up actually working in the English teachers class classroom all the time, instead of going to all the classes and helping him with his classes. And then I got the opportunity when I started teaching for Siri to to join the students who were going on exactly the same exchange that I went on over to Japan, but now I’m going as a teacher mm-hmm and that was in 2001. So two of my own children actually came on that particular exchange, but I went as a teacher with another teacher and I was able to have the kids again, they hosted with students there and I was able to meet up with Mr.


Kristina Willing (15:49):
Waa, who was the teacher that I stayed with when I went there in 1977 and met up with him who he was now a principal, and that was exciting. And then went back again a few years later, again, met up with him. But but this time I went over with other teachers and it just, Japan has always been such a nice place, but that 1977 was the one where I realized this is really cool. And the next opportunity I had to take students overseas was in 2001. And it was basically kids from all over Siri. Exactly the same exchange that many years later. And that just opened the door from then on. I started trying to figure out places I could take students.


Sam Demma (16:35):
Wow. So cool. So Japan, where else you don’t have to dive into the rest of the stories, but I’m curious to know where else have you gone.


Kristina Willing (16:43):
so I’ve gone to, I’ve taken students to, or like on, on places to Japan, New York France, Denmark Belgium, Italy, Costa Rica. I know there’s more, I love Costa Rica. Yeah. I love Costa Rica.


Sam Demma (17:09):
That was the, the culture. The people are so kind, pura vida, right?


Kristina Willing (17:13):
Pura vida. Yeah. Yeah. And the really cool thing about the Costa Rica one was we worked in some service stuff, so we did two things. Okay. One of the things my students did was help plant trees. Cool. Cause that’s a big thing we’re doing in Costa Rica is replanting. So we went to a, a place where we got a bunch of different native trees for that area. We went into the side of a hill that didn’t have many trees and my students planted trees. And the other thing was I requested that we get to go to an orphanage or, or some kind of a school site with my students. And both times we went, one time we went to a school and one time we went to an orphanage and we brought things for them like that we had put together. So my students had collected books and papers and, and art supplies and all sorts of different things that we left behind with the school and with the orphanage. And I just think it gives the students that opportunity to help. Yeah. So yeah, that’s pretty cool. It’s to the Vimy 100th anniversary of the of the, of the, the Vimy battle. Yeah. Who went to that, that was eye opening for everybody that went and that on that one, that was that actually, when I, when my tours transitioned a little bit, because I had quite a few parents on that one and the kids loved traveling with their parents. So now all of my tours involve family members as well.


Sam Demma (18:39):
Wow. That’s so cool. You know, speaking about opportunities, I think travel is a huge opportunity to learn, although right now it’s, it’s, it’s more to difficult unless you have VR headsets yeah. And virtual reality technology, but speaking of opportunities, what do you think are some of the opportunities that exist in education today that right. Like right now it might not be travel, but what do you think are some of the, the opportunities that exist right now?


Kristina Willing (19:07):
In a way it is travel because now you can do the virtual thing. Right. Mm-hmm and that we didn’t, we didn’t know how to utilize the virtual to the best. And I think when the COVID hit, everyone went, oh my gosh, where are we going with this? Right. And I think we’ve actually turned it into something fairly wonderfully positive. And having it done, having students be able to meet other students virtually is, is a good thing. Like for an example, this opportunities conference it we’re having students be able to meet each other from all over the north. And like we’ve got, we’re gonna have kids up in DS and Atlan meeting up with kids in prince Rupert and, and Kimma and Smithers. And like that might not have been able to happen any other way. Yeah. Because of cost or travel or whatever. Right. Yeah. And so I think that’s really opened the door up for that. Hmm. Like, you know, making a good out of a bad thing.


Sam Demma (20:17):
Yeah. It’s so true. Sometimes it’s, it’s a lot about perspective O of the challenge, right? Sometimes if you look at it from a different angle, you see something very different, something that might even be positive, like you’re saying which is so awesome. Now what comes with education hand in hand is seeing young people grow, change, evolve, and transform. And I think one of the reasons, and I’m, I’m not a teacher myself, although I do work with a lot of young people in schools, but I think one of the main reasons why people are so drawn to education is the, the ability to impact and the possibility that you can, you know, not be solely responsible for someone’s success, but be someone who waters the seed or plants the seed, or nudges the student in a specific direction. And I’m curious to know over all your years of education and, and just working with young people in general, do you have any stories that stick out where students have transformed or, you know per se, if they were a plant started to grow because of an educator who was watering them and if it’s a very serious story, you can change the student’s name for privacy reasons.


Sam Demma (21:26):
But the reason I’m asking is because someone listening might be burnt out and forgetting why they got into education and working with young people. And one of your stories might remind them why it’s so important to keep doing what they’re doing. The world needs it now more than ever.


Kristina Willing (21:40):
Well, the one that jumps out at me is fairly serious. And I had, I don’t know if you, if some of my background came up, but I’m I also have taught and, and have been involved in theater for decades. I, I started in theater 50 years ago and I just, I love that aspect of it as well. And so in one of the schools that I was at, we, we would put on these huge shows. And one of the shows that we put on was sometimes I would do a musical and sometimes it wasn’t, and, and in this one show, and I’m not gonna say the show or anything because it’ll kind of pinpoint it more. Yeah. But I had, I had cast the play and we were doing the rehearsals. And the night before opening night, I had a student come up to me and say I just need to know how much you impacted me.


Kristina Willing (22:36):
And I’m like, well, thank you very much. And this student said, I was, when we were auditioning for this show, I was at my absolute lowest, and I didn’t even wanna live anymore. Mm. And then you cast me and and the student said that I believed in this student, it says, you believed in me to the point where, like I got, I got a, a lead role, one of the lead roles. And one of the things you’ve been telling us is that, you know, we are an ensemble and everybody’s challenges. We can help each other out, but we all make the show happen. And this student said that that’s what kept me going, because you had said, the show must go on and you trusted me. Mm-Hmm . And I did not go home and do what I was going to do the next night or the night after that.


Kristina Willing (23:29):
And I’m, I’m looking at this student and I went pardoned me. And they said that they actually had considered committing suicide. Wow. And changed their mind. And yeah. So that’s the biggest one. There’s been many, but that’s the one that you realize you don’t know when you’re impacting students negatively, you’re positively. So really you should try and make it positive. And I’ll tell you, sometimes you feel so burnt out. In my 38 years of teaching, I have had moments where I’ve thought, why am I doing it would be so much easier to do something else easier for me to do something else. And, and I know one time I was kind of, I felt like I was stagnating. I’d been teaching the same thing. And I actually went to the principal and I said, can you change up my assignment next year? Cuz I just need, I need something new.


Kristina Willing (24:24):
I need to I need to look differently at things. And so vice or the principal changed my assignment. And that was actually before I got back into to teaching theater. But yeah. So anyways, that’s the most impactful and every day AF before that and after that, but more so after that, I thought, I wonder if what I’ve said has in impacted a kid in a way that is a good way. And I’ve had students years later that have run into me on the street and said, oh my gosh, Mrs. Willie, like, look at, I have three kids now. And they’re just so excited to share their life with me. That says a lot. Cause I know that or I feel that if I wasn’t a teacher that had made some kind of a positive impact, they would probably cross the street. Yeah.


Sam Demma (25:16):
Wow. It’s such a powerful story. I, I was talking to Sarah Dre, who’s a phenomenal teacher, a huge service education advocate. And she said, the reason I was so passionate about teaching and, and mentoring young people is because when I grow up, I don’t wanna be worried if they’re my neighbor. And I thought, what a, what a cool like perspective she’s like, I wanna make sure that they know that they should always be helping others and being kind to others and being a good neighbor. Even if it means helping your, you know, your neighbors shoveled their driveway or carry their lawn, their, their groceries or like yourself, if you see them on the street, you can have a beautiful conversation. Such a good story.


Kristina Willing (26:00):
Yeah. One of things that we have to remember as instructors that like, I know we say we need to take care of ourselves and I, I haven’t all always done that well. Mm. But it, when you start taking care of yourself, then you have the strength to continue helping some of those really tough, tough ones. Like yeah. Not tough kids, tough cases. Like when I look at a kid that’s struggling, I don’t see the, the negative. I don’t, well, it’s hard to say. I, I see I see pain and trauma and and a desire to maybe change, but not know how, or maybe not. I mean, even when, even when students have looked at me in the face and sworn at me cuz I, I did teach in like alternate programs and stuff. Mm-Hmm stuff like that. I’ve had kids throw things.


Kristina Willing (26:54):
I’ve had kids like, you know, be violent and stuff outside of my room. And you have to be able to see what’s under, underneath all that. Yeah. And that’s tough. And that’s where you need to look after yourself so that you can be able to look after other people. I love that. So taking the time, you know, taking the time to have a quiet space I started reading again. I stopped reading for a long time. Once I started just that’s one of my passions is reading. So I’ll it’s it gives you whatever it is that gives you that solace and that way to rejuvenate yourself, take the time to do that for yourself.


Sam Demma (27:35):
Hmm. I love that.


Kristina Willing (27:36):
And then there’s and then there’s more of you, right. Then there’s then you are able to help others.


Sam Demma (27:42):
It’s the whole idea. Not get better. Yeah. The whole idea that you can’t pour from an empty cup, right?


Kristina Willing (27:48):
Yeah. Even though you think you can.


Sam Demma (27:52):
Hmm.


Kristina Willing (27:52):
I love that. I had a, I had a principal who once said to me I was having when I was having one of my children and I was having some challenges during the pregnancy and I, I went into the, into the office and I said, I don’t know what I’m gonna do here. And I explained some of the things and the, and the principal said, you need to go home. And I said, what and she said, you need to go home and put your feet up. And she said, you know, I can get another teacher to look after your classroom. I can’t get another person to look after that baby. Mm. And I thought, oh my gosh, like that really open my eyes to, you have to take care of yourself or you can’t take care of others.


Sam Demma (28:29):
That’s such an empowering and powerful feedback. And it leads me to my next question. I was gonna ask you, if you could go back in time and give your younger self advice, knowing what you know now, what would you say? Like what, what wisdom would I part on, on younger on your younger self?


Kristina Willing (28:50):
Hmm. Wow. That’s a really good one. I’m not a back that I, I, would’ve learned to take like care of yourself. Yeah. Take care of myself and learn some of those things earlier. But I don’t know if I still would’ve done it. I’m thinking, listen to my mother said, if somebody says something about you and they don’t know you, but they’re calling you down or whatever, that’s not your problem. That’s theirs. Mm. But if someone says something about you and they know you well, and they think that they could help you, that’s your problem. If you don’t take their mm. And, and I think my best thing is to find people you trust that can give you that advice and mentor you through it. And then allow that. So maybe that’s taking care of yourself.


Sam Demma (29:46):
Yeah, no, that’s awesome.


Kristina Willing (29:47):
Be, be open to the people in your life and the, and the lessons in your life that you like, the people that you respect and the lessons that might help and not all of them are gonna be kind and fun lessons. Yeah. But every lesson is a lesson. And I use the example of, you know, one particular teacher in my early, early primary years that that really made it tough. For me to it, it just was not a good situation. And years later, I was, I realized I was able to take that situation and say, that’s the kind of teacher I’m not gonna be. Mm. Right. Rather than have that, this stuff that was happening. Devastate me.


Sam Demma (30:33):
I love that. Yeah. I think everyone around us is an example or a warning. Right. and your story makes it just ring so true to that. And you know, I think about, I was talking to a gentleman named Allen Stein the other day. And he, he was fortunate to work with some of the best basketball players in the world, Kobe Bryant, Steph Curry, like these big names in basketball. And he said, you know, Steph Curry, wouldn’t just take basketball, shooting advice from a random stranger. But if it was someone that he knew that could really help him and, and give him advice, he’d be the first person to tell that person, Hey, please give me advice. Please hold me accountable. So I think what you said about not, you know, not taking advice from people who don’t know you and who, who are just saying maybe negative things about you, but when it’s someone who does know you, who can help you, who, who is maybe even close with you, then yeah. You, you should probably give that person an opportunity to share.


Kristina Willing (31:33):
Yeah. And sometimes it might not be things you wanna hear. Mm. Like, you know, sometimes for an example, if it was my mom and my mom said something to me that my, my name with my family is Chrisy. So she said, Chrisy, you know, if you kind of looked at this a little bit differently, your life might go a little easier. I would listen because my mom loved me. And you know, that the only person like she wanted me to be was my best. Hm. So, but if it was somebody, you know, somebody else has said, you know what? You suck, you did this, or you did that. Then I might look at that and say, this is, this is coming from a different perspective. Yeah. And that, that person’s opinion doesn’t really matter to me because what they’re saying is more from their perspective then from what would make me better.


Sam Demma (32:26):
Hmm. Love that. So good. That’s so awesome. And if someone’s listening to this and has been inspired by any part of the conversation and just wants to get in touch and have a conversation with you, what would be the best way for them to reach out?


Kristina Willing (32:39):
Well, probably through through the email. I mean II work at the school district 54 Bulkley valley. So people could like email me through that.


Sam Demma (32:56):
Email yeah. Email, email works the best. I’ll make sure to include it in the show notes of the episode. And yeah. If anyone wants to reach out, they can definitely do so, thank you so much again, for taking the time to chat and share some of your traveling stories and immense amounts of wisdom from so many years of teaching. I know that educators will listen to this and be inspired and learn a ton. So I just wanted to say, thank you again for taking the time to, to come on here and chat today.


Kristina Willing (33:22):
Yeah, you’re welcome. And if there is any other educators, especially the young ones that you know, would like to bounce some things around, I’m more than willing to maybe that’s the next area. I’m retired now from full-time teaching. So maybe that’s the next area I’m going to, although I’m now working with youth in conferences and stuff outside of the school, and still doing the traveling. Nice. But I would love to mentor other teachers if they’re, if they’re needing that.


Sam Demma (33:45):
Cool. All right, Kristina, thank you so much. And I will stay in touch with you and keep up the awesome work. Talk soon.


Kristina Willing (33:51):
Sam, it was good to talk to you.


Sam Demma (33:53):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest and amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. And as always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating in 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 Kristina Willing

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.

Jennifer Lemieux – Teacher, Guidance Counselor and Student Leadership Advisor

Jennifer Lemieux - Teacher, Guidance Counselor and Student Leadership Advisor
About Jennifer Lemieux

Jenn Lemieux (@misslemieux) feels blessed to serve the staff and students at St. Peter’s Catholic Secondary School in Barrie, Ontario (SMCDSB). She has been a teacher, guidance counselor, and a student leadership advisor. As an educator for the past 22 years she continues to be inspired by the students and staff she works with.  

Her favourite quote is by John Quincy Adams, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.”  The actions of educators have a large impact on the lives of students, families, colleagues, and the community.  As educators, we are gifted with many opportunities to be able to inspire others to dream, learn, and become more. It is one of the most amazing jobs in the world!

Connect with Jennifer: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

St. Peter’s Catholic Secondary School

Ontario Student Leadership Conference (OSLC)

Youth Leadership Camps Canada (YLCC)

Canadian Student Leadership Association (CSLA)

Canadian Student Leadership Conference (CSLC)

Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative-Thinking Techniques

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 Jennifer Lemieux . I met her a couple years ago, presenting at a conference in Ontario, known as the Ontario student leadership conference. She was one of the teachers that were in my breakout room and we stayed connected and I thought it’d be really awesome to have her on the show.


Sam Demma (01:00):
She has such a diverse experience in teaching. She’s a teacher, a guidance counselor, and a student leadership advisor, and also an Ontario director of the Canadian student leadership association. Her teaching roles occur at St. Peter’s Catholic secondary. She lives out in Barrie and she’s a part of the Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board. I have an awesome conversation with Jennifer on today’s episode about so many different topics and her philosophies about teaching and education. And I hope you truly get a lot out of this interview and reach out to her towards the end when I, when I give you her email address. So without further ado, enjoy this interview with Jen and I will see you on the other side. Jenn, 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 on why you got into education?


Jennifer Lemieux (01:56):
Well, thanks for having me. It’s an honour to be here. You’re doing amazing things, so that’s pretty awesome. I just got noticed that my internet actually is unstable so that’s how this goes. Why I got into education? Well, when I was young, my mom was a teacher, so that’s sort of where some of it, I guess would’ve begun. She taught elementary school. So we’ve had our share of being in classrooms; helping mom out. In high school of my history teacher, Mr. Adia, he was one of my inspirations in becoming a teacher. He was just an amazing individual who could inspire us to do awesome things with history and I actually majored in history and then ended up, it was either law school or education. Those were my two sort of goals. And after three years of school I was liked, I really wanted more and education was calling my name and so that’s where I begun. And I’ve been at the same school, this is going on 22 years. I haven’t had to leave and so it’s been a pretty awesome experience.


Sam Demma (03:06):
That’s awesome. And at what point in your own career journey, did you know that you were gonna be a teacher? Like, was there like people who pushed you in this direction? Did you know it since you were a little kid or how, how did you make the decision that it was gonna be education?


Jennifer Lemieux (03:25):
I don’t think, I mean, I just loved always. I mean, coaching when I was young doing thing with youth and, you know, it was just part of a natural habit to, to want, to help people. And though I think, you know, having the inspiration of, of course my mom and Mr. OIA was, was lovely to have and just wanting to be able to make a difference in the lives of people. So that was that I think was my go to.


Sam Demma (03:53):
I love that. And if you could pinpoint what the things were that Mr. O did that had a huge insignificant impact on you? Like, what would you say was it that he tried to get to know his students and build relationships? Or what was the main thing he did that made you feel? So, you know, stern, a scene heard and appreciated and inspired you so much so that you wanted to get into education yourself.


Jennifer Lemieux (04:20):
He was definitely human first teacher second. Right. So, so you could see those connections. He tried to make, I’m also from a fairly small town in Northwestern, Ontario, and he was also my driving instructor. nice. And he taught me how to drive . So he just, you know, sometimes people, he didn’t coach me he did coach golf where we were from. But he was just, just authentic and human and he cared and he challenged our thinking. And so it just was a great relationship we had.


Sam Demma (04:54):
Hmm. That’s amazing. And funny enough. He was also your, your driver’s teacher, you were saying, it sounds like he was a teacher in all aspects of life.


Jennifer Lemieux (05:03):
You betcha.


Sam Demma (05:04):
That’s awesome. Very cool. And so then you grew up do you still stay in touch with him today? Do you still talk to him?


Jennifer Lemieux (05:13):
I’ve seen him because I still have family in the small town we were from actually just saw him. Last time I was home in the grocery store and just had a little convers and with him, you know, in the aisles of the grocery store, I mean, that’s not a, a constant communication, but he knows he was pivotal.


Sam Demma (05:30):
Yeah, no, that’s cool. I was gonna say sometimes teachers see the impact that they, that they’ve created. Sometimes they, they don’t see it. Sometimes it takes 25 years for a student to turn around and, and let the teacher know. And I’m sure you of that, I’m sure you’ve, you know, had stories of transformation and maybe some that are, you know, 10, 15 years out of school and then they come back and they, they speak to you and tell you about the impact you had. I’m curious though out of all the students that you’ve seen transform due to education, maybe not directly in your class, maybe in your class or on your sporting teams do you have any stories that really stick out that were really inspiring? And the reason I ask is because another educator might be listening, being a little burnt out for getting why they got into education in the first place. And I think at the heart of most educators it’s students, right. They really care about young people and the youth. And so do you have any of those stories of transformation that you’ve seen that really inspired you? And if it’s a, if it’s a very personal story or serious story, you can, you know, give the student a fake name. just to keep it private.


Jennifer Lemieux (06:35):
Well, I mean, there’s, there’s many in instances. I mean, I wear two hats right now. I still teach classes, but I’m also a guidance counselor. Nice. so you have, you have two sort of different things to look at. I mean, as a teacher, you work with your students and, and I just love to see them gain their confidence and grow. I mean, I taught history. Then I went in and taught psychology G and so I say, I teach the life courses. My husband says I don’t teach the real courses of math and science. So I like to think leadership is life and psychology is life. Yeah. And just watching some of the students, especially in the leadership classes that they come in and they’re not really there. Some are make it, and they don’t know why they’re there and just a watch their confidence grow throughout the time you have with them.


Jennifer Lemieux (07:22):
I mean, we’re in the business of human connections. Yeah. I struggle sometimes to really think about, you know, I’m a, a task person and I like to do my tasks. And, and so I really have to consciously think sometimes people first tasks later same with, I think all teachers, we need to think students first curriculum later, mm-hmm . And I know a lot of my colleagues probably agree with that as well. But it’s really hard to do that sometimes. And so, I mean, I’ve watched students who have passions in their high school career go in, I mean, I’ve got one student working at Google in Cal now. Wow. So he’s working, he’s working there in high school. He was that kid who created websites, created videos for the school. Nice. So, you know, you have these kids who have their passions and to foster them and provide those opportunities and let them grow.


Jennifer Lemieux (08:14):
Those are some big transformations you see in kids. And then you also have the kids that, you know, have no family support and no, you know, they rely on the caring adults in the school to be their family to speak and to help push them to grow. Right. And you have those kids too, that have a lack of confidence or are the introverts who join your classes and you give them opportunity to try to shine, even though they don’t wanna do those presentations, you know, you provide some safe parameters and boom, off they go. So, you know, to say that there’s one specific, there’s a lot in the very many categories, if that makes sense. Yeah. That we can, you know, providing, I like to think we provide opportunities for students to grow. Yeah. In the very different capacities that we have. Right. And I, you know, kids come back and say, thank you so much, like you did this. And I’m like, all I did was provide the opportunity. You took it. Yeah. And you lost them. Right. So that’s sort of where I like to think we have the huge responsibility and opportunity for, to provide opportunities for our students to, to flourish and blossom.


Sam Demma (09:28):
What does and support them. Yeah. No, I agree. What, what does providing the opportunities look like? Is it a, to cap on the shoulder? Is it an encouraging, you know, word? Like what does that actually look like from a teacher’s perspective?


Jennifer Lemieux (09:42):
Well, it varies from giving them opportunities to attend conferences, right. To actually plan and execute and deliver a full event from start to finish, to provide them your full trust that you believe in them that they’re going to be able to do. Right. I mean, I had one student, we have a massive event in our school called clash of the colors and it’s a big, loud, crazy event. That’s four extroverts. And this one student had entered my grade 11 class and was like, but I’ve her bin. And I’m like, that’s okay. Right. Mm-hmm so how do we make you go? And so she was like, well, I don’t know, like maybe a board game room. And so we were like, okay, let’s create a board game room. And so we created this board game room and, you know, we ended up having kids that we never had and she then felt included.


Jennifer Lemieux (10:37):
Right. So she, she spoke up, had the courage to say, yeah, well, you know, I’m in this class and here we’re planning this thing I’ve never attended. Right. And I also had the flip where I had a brand new student come in last year or two years ago cuz COVID he came in and has no idea what our school culture is about and he’s lumped into a leadership class. Right. And he’s just like, yeah. Okay. And he ends up leading an entire assembly when he really knew nothing that was going on. Wow. You know, and I’ve had an ESL kid come in who couldn’t speak English. So basically they were put in my class for socialization and just to watch the, the student engagement and the support and students helping each other. I mean, those are the opportunities we get to provide for them to build confidence.


Sam Demma (11:28):
If that makes sense. Yeah. No, a hundred percent. You’re you are the person that provides the opportunity for growth, whether it’s the planning of an event, whether it creating inclusive opportunities where everyone, whether introvert or extrovert feels included and can use their specific gifts to make a difference in the school. That makes a lot of sense. And I, I appreciate hearing a little bit more about your philosophies. I, if we wanna call them that, you know, I think that everyone builds their own personal philosophies based off their experiences. And it sounds like one of the philosophies you have around education is that, you know, humans first curriculum, second, like you were saying, and I’m curious to know, what other philosophies do you have around education? Or what other things do you believe, you know, over the last 22 years of, of teaching that you think might be beneficial to reflect on personally, but also to impart upon another educator listening right now?


Jennifer Lemieux (12:23):
Well, one of my biggest flus, I have a few that are speakers. So Mark Sharon Brock, he used a quote that I order forget to leave things better than you found them. Mm. Right. So he uses it cuz that’s apparently how we use leave camp sites is better than how you found them. Nice. Right. So I heard him say that in a speech one time and I was so excited to actually see him at an Ontario student leadership. One like conference one year I was as like a kid, like meeting their idol anyway, nice. I use that now even with, with the kids at school and and just as a philosophy in general, to always try to get them to leave our school better than they fit as well as people. Right. So to just try to leave the people and places better than you found them. And that is something we, I do try to impart when I meet people is to try to do that. Right. So that’s, I mean, not a huge philosophy per se, but it, it was a line from him that I won’t ever forget that has stuck with me and is now in my day to day living.


Sam Demma (13:38):
Yeah. I love that. I it’s so funny. You mentioned Mark Sharon Brock a few months ago. I just picked up my phone and called him and his wife. Wow. Yeah. His wife answered the phone and she’s like, hi, and I can’t her name now, but it was on his website on the contact page. She was holding up a Phish on the contact page and we had a beautiful conversation. And I, I said, you know, you know, would it be crazy to think that mark might talk to a young guy who’s 21 years old who just has some questions? And she’s like, let me check. And she put me on hold and she called his office and he answered the phone and, and gave me his time. He gave me 30 minutes of his time, answered a bunch of questions. And I just remember thinking to myself like, wow, this is someone who owes me, nothing who doesn’t know who I am, who just took 30 minutes out of their very busy day to just share some wisdom. And I, I, I sent them a handwritten thank you note for, for, for giving me some time. But I think that that relates also to education that when we give students time to, to make them feel seen, heard, and appreciated when we go out of our way to show them that we care. Despite the fact that we all have our own busy lives, it, it makes a huge difference and a huge impact. I’m curious though, it’s


Jennifer Lemieux (14:55):
A nice bike story right there.


Sam Demma (14:57):
So for everyone who doesn’t know what that is, you wanna summarize it?


Jennifer Lemieux (15:03):
Oh, mark. always talks about nice bike. How he was at a big bike, I guess, convention, I guess. Yeah. And all you have to do is, you know, come up to big Burley guys who drive bikes and say nice bike and they kind of don’t seem so intimidating anymore. Yeah. it was a nice bike story.


Sam Demma (15:23):
That’s awesome. I like it. it’s so true. Right? A little, a little compliment, a little, a little appreciation, I think goes a, a really long way for an educator who’s listening right now and might be in their first year of teaching. right. During this crazy time, knowing what you know about education and about teaching and the wisdom you’ve gained over the past 22 years, like, what would you tell, like, imagine it was your yourself. Imagine if you just started teaching now, but you knew everything, you know, what would you tell your younger self as some advice?


Jennifer Lemieux (16:01):
Well, it’s interesting. Cause I remember being in teachers college and they like to tell you, you know, to set that stage when you enter that room and don’t smile until Christmas and all of those sort of things. And I would yes. Agree that there needs to be structure and parameter in a classroom and boundaries. But I also think it’s okay to be you and be your authentic self. I remember teaching an ancient history course and I never studied ancient history. I mean, I had, you know, American history, Canadian history and they plunked me into one of those and I was struggling in this grade 11 course knowing nothing. And I had to not lie to them. Right. Like it was like, okay, we’re gonna learn this together. We’re going to be okay. You know, because they’re going to see through you. So if you, you can be your authentic self.


Jennifer Lemieux (16:57):
I think sometimes we’re scared to let students see we’re human. And one of the first things I always try to remind them on the first day of school is yes, I’m your teacher, but I’m a human being. Right. And I have two rules in my classroom about respect and honesty and just, just be you because we just need to be us and be our authentic selves as scary as that is. Right. Yes. Again, we have boundaries. Like we don’t talk about what we do outside of school and you know, our lives to an extent, but for your, your personality and what you’re comfortable with. I think it’s fair to, to share some of those things with students and be okay doing that. It’s not about don’t smile until Christmas, at least in my world now. Right. When it, you know, when I first started, I think I was a bit scared and to lean on lean on your peers, like lean on people that have been there a while that are willing to help. Because it’s a pretty, pretty powerful thing. If, if you can be mentored, had huge mentorship in my career. I look at like St. Saunders, Phil Boyt one of my old athletic director partners I mean, they’ve all mentored me, right? Dave troupe was a huge mentor of mine, Dave Conlan. So they’re, they’ve all gotten me to be a better person and a better educator. And you want to be able to rely on those things and not be afraid to be you.


Sam Demma (18:30):
Hmm. That’s awesome advice. That’s such, such great advice. You mentioned that you created two rules in your classroom. Can you share exactly what they are and when you, when did you create those? Was that something that you started right when you first started teaching or did that, was that created some years in?


Jennifer Lemieux (18:46):
Oh, when I first started teaching, I of course had every rule they tell you to do. Right? Yeah. And like, and sign this contract. And then later as I developed, it was, I mean, honesty that was rule number one, be honest to yourself, me and everybody else. And if you know, your homework’s not done because you were too tired to do it, or you just didn’t get it done. Or it was a bad night. Don’t lie to me. I don’t wanna be lied to. Mm. Just tell me life is happening or something’s going on, you know, don’t have your parents write me a note. That’s not telling the truth, you know, try to just be, be real. And of course, to me, respect encompasses everything being prepared as a student. So again, I’ve remind them to respect themselves, to respect others. And of course it’s a mutual respect between all of us and, and we’ll get along.


Jennifer Lemieux (19:40):
Right. And sometimes you have to have those tough conversations with kids. I remember where a uniform school and I remember one student didn’t really love wearing her uniform. And so we butted heads a lot. Mm. Right. Because I was following the rules and that was not, that happens sometimes. And so often when that happens, students think you’re targeting them or you’re after them. And I always try to remind them, it’s the behavior. I’m not impressed with. It’s not their personality. It’s not them. Right. It’s their behavior. That’s not driving with me. And so I ended up having a tough conversation with that kid and we ended up figuring out a way to, to exist and coexist and be okay. Right. Because it’s not the behavior. It’s, I mean, it’s not the person, it’s always the behavior. I usually, you know, don’t, don’t like, so if you can separate that with students too, I find that’s helpful.


Sam Demma (20:33):
Right now there’s a ton of challenges. But in the spirit of leadership, we always try and focus on the opportunities. And I’m curious to know, from your opinion and perspective, what do you think some of the biggest opportunities are right now in education?


Jennifer Lemieux (20:51):
Well, in trying to stay positive, I think some of the biggest opportunities we have right now is challenging our creativity. We are being forced to, to change the, the things that we know to be right. So our course is how we deliver them. When I speak to many staff, they’re, they’re a bit challenged and discouraged that they’re having to destroy their big, awesome courses because they just can’t do the same in person activities and things just aren’t the same. And so we have an opportunity as educators to use different tools jam boards Google interactive, Google slides with para deck. So we’re using a lot more technology and having to force ourselves to be a bit more creative than we’ve ever been when it comes to teaching the things we love to teach. And of course, we’re, you know, challenged to keep our, our person surveillance up and just to keep plugging away. But I think we have to look at, you know, while we’re facing all of these challenges, now we are still growing. And we have the opportunity to become better differently. Yeah. If that makes sense?


Sam Demma (22:04):
It does. It makes a lot of sense. And I love that. And the piece about creativity D is so true. I actually, right now I’m reading a book, it’s a handbook that helps you become more creative. It’s called thinker toys. And the whole book is about different strategies and techniques to bring creativity out of you. The author believes that creativity isn’t something that you, you are born with, but it’s something you can create within yourself. So it’s an interesting book and I think it’s so true. Everything’s changing. The world is changing, which is bringing out so many different ideas and so many different innovations and I think education is at the forefront of a lot of it. Awesome. This has been a phenomenal conversation. If someone wants to read out to you, ask you a question, have a phone call, bounce, some ideas around what would be the best way for somebody to get in touch with you?


Jennifer Lemieux (22:59):
Well, I’m not really active on Twitter, but I have a Twitter @misslemieux but my school email is probably the most frequently thing I access. So that’s jlemieux@smcdsb.on.ca, it’s for the SIM Muskoka Catholic district school board. That’s what the SMCDSB stands for. Yeah, I don’t know if it’s been helpful, but that’s, that’s who I am and how I roll.


Sam Demma (23:32):
Thanks, Jen. Really appreciate it, you did a phenomenal job.


Jennifer Lemieux (23:35):
Thank you for the opportunity.


Sam Demma (23:37):
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 Jennifer Lemieux

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.

Natasha Daniel – Program Coordinator at MCG Careers Inc and Certified Career Development Practitioner

Natasha Daniel - Program Coordinator at MCG Careers Inc and Certified Career Development Practitioner
About Natasha Daniel

Natasha Daniel is a bilingual (French and English) project manager in the Youth Skills and Employment Program at MCG Careers.  A Certified Career Development Practitioner, Certified Work-Life Balance Coach, Certified Strengthening Families Coach and a Trained Trauma-Informed Community Facilitator with a strong passion for community and working with people.

Her passion for empowering others began while working as a Trainer and Restaurant Manager for Burger King Canada, working as an Educator in an Adult High School and working in Human Services managing programs. 

In 2013, after several years of gaining expertise in Program Management, Career Development, Family and Youth advocacy in Montreal, her family relocated to Edmonton. Joining MCG Careers in 2013 with a wealth of knowledge she believes her career has further evolved in program management and process managing while empowering youth to increase their strengths, become more resilient and accomplish goals through the REBRAND PROGRAM.

She is motivated and driven to excel by incorporating a hands-on approach. This allows her to focus on the needs of others and their potential which results in stronger engagement, trust and stronger relations with stakeholders and the community. She loves bringing awareness and educating individuals in areas related to career and employment, mental health and any aspect to enhance one’s wellbeing.

Passionate about human relations and volunteering, she is instrumental in bringing strategies and resources to Non for Profits by serving on different boards and volunteering on Youth projects.  Natasha enjoys learning and is constantly broadening her knowledge through training and certifications. Natasha spends time honing her creative skills by writing poems and loves working around fun people.

Connect with Natasha:  Email  |  LinkedinTwitter

Listen Now

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Natasha Daniel
Resources Mentioned

MCG Careers Website

The REBRAND Youth Development Program

Small Consistent Actions TEDx Talk

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):
Natasha welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Please start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about the journey that brought you to where you are today.


Natasha Daniel (00:13):
Thank you Sam, for having me. So my name is Natasha Daniel and I work at a wonderful company called MCG Carrer as an employment center. And I am the youth program coordinator for our program called rebrand. And by the name rebrand, it gives youth an opportunity to rebrand themselves to really change their lives. And it’s a great journey to be on working with youth, supporting them and encouraging them to really be the best that they can be, and really be empowered to realize that, you know, the world is out there, that they can conquer. So that’s called REBRAND. So what led me to the journey of wanting to work with youth and when we say youth, the, the category of the clients that I’m working with there are between the ages of 17 to 30. So that’s the federal go? My definition of youth.


Natasha Daniel (01:03):
And you know, I started working with you very early in my career as a trainer and manager for burger king several years ago. And I had the opportunity to really hire and, and train youth to just maybe in their part-time jobs as they were accomplishing their ed educational goals. And I moved further from there into working in an adult high school, again with youth who are trying to accomplish a high school certification and stuff like that. And, and really seeing that youths need support and that youths are smart. They are innovative, they’re creative and they’re open to challenges and experiences. So that really empowered me to wanna continue working with youth then fostering an opportunity to support them into their career and employment journey.


Sam Demma (01:52):
That’s awesome. So bridge the gap between burger king and MCG careers for us, what was the journey in between that brought you to MCG?


Natasha Daniel (02:01):
So burger, I was my first career, my first employment opportunity in Canada. So I started off with cashier, but I have the passion for learning and I always wanted to be a teacher when I was younger from since elementary school, because I had a wonderful male elementary school teacher, nice. And my passion for learning and reading and all of that. So when I was burger king, I took time to learn everything on the job. So which within two years with working in a company, I was a shift supervisor because I really learned everything that they had to do like managers did and on the operation of the business. And then I just worked my way up into becoming a restaurant manager. So having an opportunity to hire youth more, also youth to wanna work in a fast food you know, in a fast food restaurant, I want, want to get that opportunity to have extra money while they’re studying so high school youth or post secondary youths.


Natasha Daniel (02:55):
And then from hiring, then I started training as a corporate trainer for burger king. So Alberta was one of my places I came to for a couple months to train people. So that’s kind of my part in terms of with youth and then going into when, when I, whilst I was studying for my post-secondary, I went into adult. So working again in the, in the education facility where you are helping people to learn and helping people to get their educational goals and stuff like that. And then I transitioned into community. I used to be a big brother, big sister at, for boys and girls club for many years. Nice. And being a big sister all also really empowered me and, and, and helped me to really understand that younger people need some additional support. And I taught about what can I bring from my experience?


Natasha Daniel (03:49):
What can I bring from my background? What are the values that they have that also Correl to my values and how could I empower them? So always working the community and working families. I had the opportunity to work with families and interventions in the school and child and family services and stuff like that. So again, I saw that, you know, sometimes as a child you mightn’t get the foundation that you need, but when you get into your youthful age, you’ll still require some of those foundational skills to help youth get into a stronger adulthood and life management. And that’s how I’m here at rebrand right now.


Sam Demma (04:29):
I know it makes you upset when people don’t treat youth with the same respect and I guess, general treatment as they might another adult. and I think what’s really awesome is you explained earlier that you, weren’t only focused on people getting jobs and working shifts at burger king, but you were also making sure they focused on their education. Can you tell me a little bit more about that?


Natasha Daniel (04:55):
Yes. And I, I think sometimes in society older, you know, adults, so people in general, sometimes we underestimate the power that a youth have. And we also, there are a lot of biases against young people also, you know in society. And I believe that how could you just be open to learning about a youth and learning that a charity that they come from and how they can contribute to society and how you can support them? So, one of the things I know that was imperative for me was I work at burger king, as education is very fundamental or at least acquire high school education on the first level is important to, you know, looking at a career path possibility or helping you with your learning goals. But I, when I worked at burger king, I wanted to make sure a part-time job wasn’t, you know, the main focus for everyone, you will have to have that life balance.


Natasha Daniel (05:50):
So I believed in life balance from really early. So I supported the students who were to get that life balance by, you can make your money part-time or full-time work, but you can also go to school. So in the, at burger king, we had a lot of post-secondary college students, and I would have them, we kind of opened a little tutor session within our diet, within our our work employee room. And they were free to bring their assignments. And I kind of them with another worker who in college could help so that they can get support and help with their assignments as they were going through high school. And that’s just because also some of the youth, they didn’t have that support at home. It’s very difficult when your parents are just trying to make money to put food on the table. And especially if it’s an immigrant parent also, they really sometimes don’t understand the whole structure of the Canadian system. So their goal is just that I need to feed you. I need to keep the house going, but what about all of the other needs and needs? And looking at the challenges that your, your child might have. And a lot of them didn’t have that knowledge and didn’t have that skillset. So that’s where I kinda stepped in from that early, early times, being in burger king and moved on into community and stuff like that.


Sam Demma (07:03):
Your experiences in burger king, in different community organizations and clubs has all led to the perspective that you have in working with students in rebrand. Can you talk a little bit more about the rebrand program, why it’s so close to your heart and what’s compelled you to continue working on it for the past eight years?


Natasha Daniel (07:25):
So rebrand again, you know, be why is it so close to my head when I came from Montreal to Edmonton and got a job at MCG, they had this beautiful program and it’s so really one of the foundational programs and I, that MTG offers. And I think it’s about 15 years in ENCE in the, in our current employment center. So there’s a great knowledge about the program in Edmonton is a program that a lot of agencies and support workers and stuff they know about because of the strength of the program and how the program helps you. So with looking at rebrand and going through many cohorts and many you know, participants with different challenges and experiences and background, you understand that really youth, they need the support and they need to really be allowed to have the resiliency. And they need that part where they see that there’s more to life in the world, or there’s more to what I could accomplish.


Natasha Daniel (08:24):
And I always say to my youth, like, how do you define accomplishment? Not don’t define accomplishment by society’s, you know, definition of accomplishment, because what did, what have you done? It doesn’t have to be that you’ve gotten a trophy, or you was, you, you were in the, you know, the football team or you had a scholarship and many of them do, you know, they had those, but what other accomplishment, how, what, how do you see accomplishment from your, your perspective and how can you think out of the box and bring those skillset to your life? So with rebrand because rebrand, we allow them to have many experiences in the program by having a mixture of, of training that they don’t get in school. So we focus on the life management and with the life when it comes with the basic things about budgeting, the basic things about, you know, those communication skills, the basic things about being more self aware.


Natasha Daniel (09:22):
So, you know, who are you and what can you bring to the table and how, you know, what part, what are your goals that you wanna accomplish? So we focus on those great ma life management skills now at COVID and a lot of youth, they go through mental health challenges, and sometimes they’ve gone through those challenges from early childhood and, you know, not having the right supports, the challenges, the mental health challenges increase and increase and increase. Yeah. So really getting them to understand that, yes, you can have a mental health challenge, but what is the best strategy that you are going to incorporate? And what supports do you need to really cope with your mental health challenge? Because not everybody who, you know, you do have coping skills when you have mental health and sometimes society label, you, you have mental health, you depressed, but with that, the, you can still achieve something as long as you have the, the right strategies.


Natasha Daniel (10:21):
And as long as you have the support, so rebrand provides all of that to the participants. And then we fo we help them to focus on employment. What skills can you bring to an employer what’s out there that you would like to learn on the job? You know, what are some of, of the values that you have that another employer might, you know, wanna bring into take you on because that value kind of meshes with their work value. And then what are your long term goals? So what are your current goals? So what are your employment goals, or, you know, so what do you wanna go back to school? What would you like to do? So helping them to really have a broad rate of experiences through training, through you know, sessions like having a good motivat speaker, like you, you know, through financial literacy programs first aid, computer programs, computer training, and volunteer experiences, and just basic, you know, everything their experiences an adult might have, or have had to bring them to a successful journey. That’s what we brand helps them. And then we support them in all aspect, as they’re, you know, being trained and gaining more of self and becoming, you know, looking at the path that, oh, I needed this to help rebrand my life to start a new journey.


Sam Demma (11:39):
The name is so appropriate for the purpose of the program, which is so cool. And I’m honored to have been a part of a few of them. And another one this week, I’m always super excited. One thing that I love about the program is the diversity. It seems like the students all come from very different cultures, different walks of life. How do you get through to students, you know, from the get go and make sure that they understand it’s a safe place where they can be themselves and share the truth. Even if it’s one that’s a uncomfortable to talk about.


Natasha Daniel (12:14):
I, I, I believe for myself, it’s just, I’m open. And, and I, I say, you know what being open is the first time. So I’m no longer youth, but I was a youth at one point in time. And I know some of the experiences that they might have might have be maybe a similar experience that I had, or also by my dive first experience in working community, working, you know, with intervention services and all of that, all of the prior work that I’ve done, you know, I let them know that it’s okay. That as a youth, that everything wouldn’t be smooth it’s okay. That you are gonna make challenges. It’s okay. That because you didn’t critically think about the consequences that, you know, like hitting someone in the head, you didn’t critically think about it, and then you gotta arrest for that.


Natasha Daniel (12:58):
And then you got a criminal record is okay. You know, and because of the challenges that you have, it doesn’t mean that your life stops right there. What it is is that, how can you cha take those challenges and make them into opportunities? So when they, when I connect with a youth, you know, it’s just to see I’m here to support you. And let’s have that open dialogue. Let’s talk about, just be upfront, put it on the table, lay on the table. I’ve heard it all. Like I tell him, I’ve heard it all. There’s nothing. I think that you would come and tell me that like might be a shocker with working with youth you know, from the different backgrounds and different challenges. I had a youth who came to Canada from from a, from the con African continent. And this kid was so resilient.


Natasha Daniel (13:46):
And when he had a story of this kid, he was a war soldier at 13 years old. And they him to kill someone and he didn’t want to. And he ran away. He ran from two weeks, no shoes on his feet, in the jungle for two weeks. Wow. To get to the border of another country for safe Haven. Wow. And this kid came into the program, was really resilient, you know, new immigrants. So he had to learn a lot, but he took to the supports and that, that, you know, everything that the program was offering, he got employment. He got a hand of learning how to understand money because his things that I need to work as I had to money for my mom, I need to take care of my family. And then, you know, two, three weeks into the program, he had one of those days where, you know, he was himself and I’m like, what’s up, he’s always a child.


Natasha Daniel (14:46):
He’s like, you know, I just got worried. One of my best friend got killed, trying to escape and trying to leave, you know, the, the world off that they grew up in with all of the hardship and he felt really guilty. And I says, you know what? It’s okay. It’s okay. Because he felt that I got freedom, my friend didn’t. Mm. And I says, you know what? Take a mental health day. It’s okay. You can go home. You can probably go, just call your mom or talk to the people that you need to support from culturally. And when you feel better, come back tomorrow. And so some of these are just some of the small things that allows, because when you give them those kind of supports, then they’re able to start planning the next step forward. And he moved on into employment. And a couple weeks ago I was outside and he is like, Natasha, Natasha.


Natasha Daniel (15:34):
I’m like, who is that is me? Like, what are you doing? He was doing skip the dish, but he’s a university student. Oh, wow. he is a university student. And he was just doing, skip the dish to make extra cash. So that’s just kind of some of the, the, the people that we experience in rebrand. And one of the things that I can say that learning working with youth is youth are so open. There’s never judgment in my classroom. They never judge. There’s so much support from one youth to the other, even though life experiences are different. They are one of the most open, hated group, I should say, within our society that a lot of people don’t know. A lot of people think that they’re lazy. A lot of people think that you’re paying for your games all day long.


Natasha Daniel (16:22):
And a lot of people think that, you know what, they, they just don’t wanna do anything. They just wanna BU around and all of that stuff. I don’t think they use the word bumming anymore. you’re showing your age, be careful. yeah. I don’t think I don’t that they would like, you know, and the thing about working with you, sometimes I say a word and like, like the other lady they said in my classroom, I’m like, what social media? Do you guys, you know apps and stuff, do you guys think that I have, and like, yeah, Natasha, we know you only have Facebook and one of them she’s like, and because you’re from the Caribbean, I know Caribbean, people love to talk to their family members and they only do WhatsApp and like, like yeah, know that, you know, on Instagram, you and I was, and I was like, whatever guys, whatever, , that’s so funny.


Natasha Daniel (17:22):
Yeah. And, and that’s to take, and, and even the fact that sometimes I said, sometimes in rebrand, I said, okay, tell me some of the I’m like, okay, well, let’s just, just, just, just, just write it down a little bit. You guys write some of the words that you say that we probably, that I probably wouldn’t know of, you know? And then they make me a whole list of kind of the, the, the, the pop culture words, and some of the regular words that they use now, so that I can be on the same lingo with them. yeah. , you know, and I think, so these are some of the things that, so for me, it’s just being open with them and making them, letting them know that you know, I’m not here to judge you. I want you, so I never forget that I was a huge, and I know we gonna all, sometimes we messed up.


Natasha Daniel (18:06):
Sometimes we make mistakes. And sometimes we, I says, you know what? I know. I know the days where, when I was in university, cuz I lived in Montreal and New York was right there, leave Montreal on a Friday, go club in Friday, Saturday sat up until Sunday night, you drive back into Montreal, you go to Tim Horton’s bathroom, wash up, you run to class. And then when school is finish on a Monday evening, you crash I’m like, and they were like, what? I’m like, those are some of the experiences, but how do you do things positively? You know, you can still experience live, but how do you do it in a positive way that it can help you increase your life management and become more aware of the part that you wanna go? You know? And every journey is a different journey. There’s so many, you know, youth and rebrand mental health, as I say you know, one of my rebrand pats was actually just from 2019 and this came, he came through the foster care system.


Natasha Daniel (19:09):
And when he came into rebrand, a smart kid, oh my gosh, like, cuz he has all, one of my, one of my coworkers say he reminds of Scooby duke because he was like, you know, bigger than my parents. But he was so he is such a smart kid and he would be there in the classroom. You teach him and is part of his ADHD and all of this FST and everything. But he’s there, he’s probably building a website, but he can tell you everything that you just said. And he wanted to go when we were part of the coach is looking at where do you wanna go? He says, you know, I really wanna do physio, arts. I wanna become a pilot, but I can’t afford it. And I says, but do know that there’s a program here in Alberta because you were in care, they can pay, you know, they can help you with your supports for education. I got him connected. We get to, we apply, we did the forms, we did everything. And he went forward into doing his assessments and everything to go to school as a pilot. So this is 2019 two weeks ago, cuz I’m not on Instagram again. he sent my other coworker, a video on Instagram to give to me, he was crossly he was flying cross Canada. Wow. yeah. And she came and she’s like, look at this. I’m like, what is that? And she’s like your student gauge. I’m like what? She’s like. Yeah.


Natasha Daniel (20:40):
He’s I on Instagram. And he was, he got yeah. And is accomplishing his goal of becoming a pilot. Wow. And this was 2019. Wow.


Sam Demma (20:54):
It, it sounds like the program really helps students lay the foundation for future success.


Natasha Daniel (21:01):
It does. And, and, and, and there, and no there’s by no means I wouldn’t say some of them drop out, but with me I am a high achiever. So from the get go, I, you know, they know that they have all of the supports that I said to them. Like, you know, I’m not working for you. We are working together. Yeah. And that’s my mantra when they come in, like I’m not working for you, we are working together. So with that, we, we have I used to have 12 for, for every four and a half months now I have 10. And for the most part I have eight, eight successful achievers all the time. Nice that they would go through the program, they would go into employment and figure their life part. And the thing about rebrand, because some of them who’s not completed high school cuz there’s a percentage of non high school completers.


Natasha Daniel (21:48):
They probably in school had negative experiences. Yeah. But coming into rebrand, it gives a different shift. Hmm. And then they, so, so for many of them, and I remember one of my UT said, you know what? After being in rebrand, I realized that I can go back to school now. Ah, because they have a lot of assignments that they’re given. There’s still some of the written work and the teamwork where you have to collaborate to the team and come up with ideas and, and you know, and also your critical thinking, what do you bring to this case study? So they do have work. That’s not structured like school, but they do have some work together increasing their knowledge and to get them to really articulate on pair with, you know, on the computers or whatever, what they’ve learned or how they would approach something.


Natasha Daniel (22:36):
And that helps someone who probably had a lot of challenges in school, realize that, you know, what, if I really am motivated and I can recommit myself, I can go back and complete my high school. So that’s one of the things that I know of, of a couple people who struggled in school and coming through rebrand and they realized that, oh, okay. And one of the things they always said, why did we learn this at school? Why did we learn this at school? And I says, you know what, sometimes school doesn’t, but you have the opportunity where you are here to, to, to get supports. And when we talk about what we are looking at now, we have mental health counseling that they can, you know, that we have a counseling session services that that we, the program pays for. They have also supports when they get employment.


Natasha Daniel (23:26):
So everything to remove the barriers from, you know, to keep them out of work. So they have so support for clothing to get them into employment. They have supports, they get bus tickets and stuff like that to help with the transportation. So every little thing that might become a barrier for a youth to not get in a job or not faking a job, the program tried to decrease those barriers. And then another, the other bigger support for them is that in comparison to a youth who has a job search on their own, we help with some of the employment connection. So if you are in the pro, if you are my participant in the program and I’ve seen your computer skills, I get a test, your time management. I know that you ha you have great communication skills. I know that you have a lot of leadership skills.


Natasha Daniel (24:10):
I, when we are looking for employment for them, I would market you to an employer and say, you know, this is such and such. I remember one of my UAN, she had some trauma was going to post secondary. And she stopped because of you know, being a domestic father and relationship. But then after she bounces back with con and all of that, and she she got with one of the employer connections I made. And he left her after three weeks to manage his driving school and insurance business. Wow. Because she had the skills. Yep. But its just that she didn’t know how to really formulate those skills into the language and then demonstrate them in the workplace by having that opportunity. And she excelled at her at her job and she’s still there today, you know? So that’s one of the things that we do with Reba when we have employers who we know, and especially when it’s an employer who have a hat for community, it makes it so much better and so much easier to really support a you to say you could accomplish all of this.


Natasha Daniel (25:15):
You know, I’ve had youth who came into the program and they got promoted from just being a regular employee to manager, warehousing manager. And so getting them to really become more self aware is one of the goals of the program. Because when they’re more self aware, we focus a lot on their strength. And that’s my thing. I wanna focus on your strength. I know you messed up a lot, Sam, but that’s not, that’s not who you are. You know? And my thing I also say to them fail means your first attempt in learning. Mm. So what did you learn from that? What did you learn from the jobs when you wouldn’t get up on time? What did you learn from, you know, and again, and I say to you, Dr. I know that when you don’t have anything to look forward to, you can go to bed at 2:00 AM in the morning, 3:00 AM in the morning.


Natasha Daniel (26:06):
When I try position from Montreal to Edmonton, that was my life. Cuz what, I didn’t have a job. I didn’t have to get up early to go anywhere. So I would stay up and I would be job searching at 2:00 AM, go to bed at three sleep all the way through, get up at 2:00 PM cuz I know my husband’s about to finish. And that’s how I, so it’s natural. And I think people have to admit to all of these things because it’s be, you know, adults do. I did it like I, them, I did it because I didn’t have any set schedule. I didn’t have any programs. I didn’t have anything to look forward to. Hmm. So I know that a you as a youth might do stuff like that, but how do you not stay in the moment? How do you not stay and dwelling it and look forward to something else?


Natasha Daniel (26:57):
And that’s what weand helps them to do. Look forward. I remember I had a tute rebrand. He was gonna have an assessment to join the program and he had finished full secondary doing graphic design. So website design and he forgot his appointment at 6:00 AM. He left me a message and he said, Hey Natasha this is Nicholas. I can’t remember what time is my appointment. But I’m now about to go to bed. Don’t call me during the day, cuz I’m going to bed at 6:00 AM, but you can text me and let me know what time is my appointment. Mm. So then I did call him later on in the day and I says to him, you got the oddity to tell me, don’t call you cuz you’re just going to bed. And, and that’s again, 6:00 AM. He’s going to bed because he’s still of all night playing for your game.


Natasha Daniel (27:49):
And I said to him, you know what, if you want to be in rebrand, you have to change the sleeping habits. Mm. The program is about to sat in two weeks. You’re gonna be in the program. I need you to start going to bed at a regular time. Yeah. So you can be in class by eight 30. Yeah. And you know what? He did it. Then he got his job as a first, as a, as a graphic designer. We got him this job, the kid was so happy and he called me a couple. I think it was last year. And he’s like, I missed you. I’m like, no, no, no, no, no. Don’t miss me. Stay on the job. and him, he, he was so happy to get because after he graduated from post secondary, for two years, he had, was doing nothing, playing for games.


Natasha Daniel (28:32):
He was so happy and was driving well in the job that he moved closer. So he to the employment. So he would have a for time. And I would say, I says, no, don’t call me. Don’t miss me at all. Don’t miss me, me stay on the job. And that’s just some of the small changes that’s required for you. So me saying to him, we adjust your sleep in habit. Because again, if you’re going into employment, I don’t think you’re gonna start. You know, you have to be depending on what way you wanna work, you have to be grounded to really be successful by just doing small, consistent action, which is one of your words. Yeah. Thank you. Consistent actions. Yeah. also a word that I like to tell him now and that small, consistent action is that adjusting my sleep in time. That’s all he needed. Yep.


Sam Demma (29:22):
Be successful. That’s awesome. I, we could talk for like two hours. Thank you so much for taking the time to share some of your stories. One last question. If you could speak to younger Natasha, not that you’re old, but if you could speak to, you know, first year working in the rebrand program, but with the knowledge and experience, you know, now what advice would you give your younger self?


Natasha Daniel (29:49):
What advice I would give my younger self and the advice I would give my younger self is from learning from the rebrand participants. I would tell myself right now, you know, take on more, get out of my comfort zone. Mm. Because I remember like I’m a personal even, you know, I, I get comfortable in my zone and then you know, that’s my zone. Oh. I would tell myself also shine myself, more shine, more like, you know, I write poems, I love writing and stuff like that. And everybody’s like, why don’t you? We didn’t know you. Right. We didn’t know you. Right. why don’t you publish a book and, and that’s just me just staying within my zone. Yeah. You know? And, and so I, soon as I write my poems and I share them more often, so that’s what I would tell myself, just be, get out of the comfort zone.


Natasha Daniel (30:37):
And, and, and this is what this generation of youths are teaching me how open they are and how open they are to new experiences. And not even just owning new experiences, how open they are to each other, like, you know, working with youths who are diverse cultural background, youth who are L G B T youths who have, you know you know, being maybe a criminal record history, two in a gang and they just embrace everybody and they just open to the experiences mm-hmm . So I would, that’s what I would tell myself as a younger, you know, back a youth back, you know, just younger again, like just be open, be more open. Now I became I’m open right now, but you know, if I, if it started back then, like, you know, the younger Natasha, I think I would’ve been like I would, I flourish. Well, I think I would just be like, Hmm That’s awesome. That’s what, and that is just all from, from the experience of working with youth and also you know, I, I, I tell them this now. And it’s just because from my experience was said, don’t let others define who you are. Don’t let others define who you are. You define who you are, because at the end of today, you would want, that has to live with you and not others.


Sam Demma (32:09):
Natasha, this has been a great conversation. Thank you again for taking the time to come on here. I really appreciate it. I look forward to future programs and working with you and the students keep up the great work, happy holidays. And we’ll talk soon.


Natasha Daniel (32:22):
Thank you, Sam. I do appreciate you. You know, I appreciate just, just the work that you’re doing to empower others and, and, and sharing your story. Like I was, you know, the other day when you sent me sent me the, the invite my son who’s nine. He was like, who’s the guy, like I’m gonna do a podcast. And so then he, I, I said, listen to his video, my son listened to one of your TED talks. Oh, wow. He’s into the he’s nine years old. He’s into stuff like this. And then he says to me, mommy on Saturday, he’s like, did you do the podcast?


Sam Demma (32:54):
That’s awesome.


Natasha Daniel (32:55):
And you know, and I, and then I, I was to him. Yeah. So Sam, you know, I think he used to, he used to play football and then my son, he corrects me, like he says, mommy, you know, he played soccer. was not football.


Sam Demma (33:11):
He’s attentive. That’s good.


Natasha Daniel (33:13):
yeah. Oh no, no. I, I was like, so I said to him, you know, like, so that’s just to show you, I don’t a nine year old kid is also empowered by what you do. Ah, thanks for sharing that. So I would just say, you know, keep up the good work and the fact that, I mean, coming from Reeb, right. Again, when you come and speak to our youths, a lot of you, they don’t see youths who can bring and shed light to a lot of what they go through. Mm. And this is what, from having you into rebrand from having a young computer instructor, we as MCG, make sure that we have, we get them to get that balance. Yeah. So that they’re not just learning from our experiences, but they also, so learning from people who are dear generation and people who can really identify to what their struggles and what their challenges are, you know, within living in the 21st century as a young person. Yeah. So thank you again for the good work that you’re doing. You too.


Sam Demma (34:19):
You too. And thanks for sharing those stories! We’ll talk soon.


Natasha Daniel (34:22):
No problem. Thank you.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Natasha Daniel

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.

Pamela Pereyra – CEO & Founder of Media Savvy Citizens and Media Education Expert

Pamela Pereyra - CEO & Founder of Media Savvy Citizens and Media Education Expert
About Pamela Pereyra

Pamela (@aducateme) is passionate about helping youth and adults in their drive for transformative experiences through critical thought, creative expression and hands-on play. Pamela is a leading voice in media education with over 20 years of experience as a designer, trainer, consultant, educator and advocate. 

She is an authority in comprehensive media and digital literacy working with schools, nonprofits and companies to transform learning with media and technology. She has received the 2021 Media Literacy Community Award by the National Association for Media Literacy Education and the 2019 Media Literacy Champion Award by Media Literacy Now. As the chapter chair of New Mexico Media Literacy Now, she advocates for media literacy education for all students. 

Pamela is the founder and CEO of Media Savvy Citizens, which facilitates understanding, positive participation and meaningful media interaction for learners. Their work is centred on building the capacity and resiliency of youth and adults in a changing technological world through media education and technology training, facilitation and consulting through hands-on experience. Media Savvy Citizens worked with 30 New Mexico school districts transitioning them into digital learning into 2020 and 2021. 

She is also an adjunct instructor at the University of New Mexico and holds an MA in Media Studies. 

Connect with Pamela:  Email  |  LinkedinWebsite  |  Twitter

Listen Now

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Pamela Pereyra
Resources Mentioned

The National Association for Media Literacy Education

New Mexico Media Literacy Now

The Journal For Media Literacy Education

Media Savvy Citizens Youtube Channel

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:01):
Welcome back to another episode of the high performing educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Pamela. And I’m so excited to have her on the show here today. Pamela, why don’t you introduce yourself and share a little bit about who you are?


Pamela Pereyra (00:19):
Okay. So my name is Pamela Perrera and it’s Pamela. That is just pronounced in Spanish, just for the people out there who are wondering what’s going on. Yeah. I am the founder and CEO of Media Savvy citizens, which works on media education initiatives and the understanding positive participant and meaningful media interaction for all learners. I’m also I live in the states and I’m the chair of New Mexico chapter chair of New Mexico media literacy. Now, which advocates for media literacy education in the state of New Mexico.


Sam Demma (01:02):
You’re like the media ninja, the media expert. What is media, how do you define and explain media to somebody else?


Pamela Pereyra (01:12):
That is a great question. And I think everybody has their own conceptual ideas depending on like when they were born so when they came into this world and what their experiences are, there’s like media legacy, right? Which is like broadcasting and television and radio and the, but there’s also new media, right? Which is digital technology media. And so media in this broader scope is any form communication that is not face to face. So, if you think about it, any, if it goes through a medium, any communication that goes through a medium is a form of media. Mm. So a podcast is media, a, brand on a t-shirt is a form of media that has a communication, right? Mm-hmm so it’s like a billboard is media, a poster is media and ucell phone is media. And also like all the apps in the cell phone are different forms of me. So like most of what we do in our lives, especially now,uin 2022 and 2022 are, mediated communications. Right? Most of the work that we do, even our schooling is through mediums. Right. We go on the internet, we search things. We, participate in social media. We take pictures, we share, means all of those things are media and mm-hmm.


Sam Demma (03:01):
Yeah. It’s, it’s a big concept.


Pamela Pereyra (03:05):
It is a big concept. Right. So literacy like media literacy, right. Is being literate, being able to read and really read in like a conceptual way. Right. So being able to like, understand how these, all these different technologies work how we participate with them, how we act with them and also like you know, how we create with all of these technologies, right. So we can be passive or we can be active depending on our mood.


Sam Demma (03:39):
And I think whether you’re passive or active with the media, it’s important that you understand how it works and you understand, and are aware and media literate, like you’re saying, why do you think it’s important that someone is media literate or, and understands media?


Pamela Pereyra (03:58):
Well, we’re bombarded we with media, right? We live in a mediated world. We have people who are creating messages for us with different intentions. Right. And are they, and being aware and just taking the time to reflect and understand, is this a fact, is it an opinion, am I being persuaded who think a certain way or behave in a certain way? And so part of that, like media literacy is just taking a moment, you know, and taking a, a, you know, breathing space to understand what is happening. And also like, am I gonna participate? Am I gonna share this information? And if I share, how does that impact people? So yeah. And so like, is it not, you know, important to understand the world in which we live and the world in which we live is, is impacted by all different forms of communication, whether it’s entertainment or whether it’s work related and doing any kind of internet search, you know, or working like a two or three year old who have, you know, who are given tablets, right. These are tools that we use. And so being media literate just makes us a stronger, more engaged citizen, conscious of what’s happening and possibly even a more engaged in civics and possibly society and our democracies.


Sam Demma (05:27):
What got you inspired to work in this vocation to spread media literacy as much as you can, because it’s important work and you’re obviously extremely passionate about it. So what prompted you to start and get into it?


Pamela Pereyra (05:44):
Well, it’s been a process. I started out back in the nineties as a journalist, I studied communications. I understand, I understood and had studied public relations and like how messages are put together from the ideas of like layout to colors and the psychology of color to influence people, to make them feel certain things, to give, you know, provide certain headline, to engage people to, you know, and so everybody has different motivations, right. For putting messages together. And I realized that I didn’t really wanna do that. I wanted to work with youth and talk about a lot of these things and talk about how media function. And so it kind of started with a, well, it started with me like working in film and journalism and moving in publicity and then realizing I didn’t really wanna be a producer so much as I wanted to discuss a lot of these things with, with youth and, you know, how have a different kind of impact I am a producer, we’re all producers, you know, if we press like that’s producing something, it’s producing a message.


Pamela Pereyra (07:05):
Right. And, and so for me, like really working with students and like getting into a classroom, I did that through a film festival. I worked for this film festival and expanded their education programs. And so I worked with a lot of teens and we made all kinds of media and films and audio pieces, but we also discussed the impact of, you know, FM messages and the impact of media. And I felt like it was a good, well rounded form of like working with youth and seeing how positive, what a positive impact it had on teen’s lives and how they were thankful, you know, for being, going through the process and, you know, discussing things that for them felt really real and like authentic and things that were relevant to them. And so that has been, my driving force is really working with teens and seeing like the impact, you know, that that being media literate can have on people. And so I have not stopped because I feel like it helps, there is like a balance there, right? Like if we are just sitting back and only consuming, what does that do for us, you know, as a society. Right. So it’s great to consume. It’s also great to produce, and it’s great to do both and to consume with a consciousness and an awareness around like what’s happening.


Sam Demma (08:42):
It’s important, regardless of what subjects students are learning in school that they’re taught and explained, I think in some sort of context with global awareness with what’s going on in the world with media literacy. And I’m wondering what you think some of the key concepts are that you can pull from media literacy and, and apply to classroom learning that maybe an educator listening to might explore, look into or think about how they could tie into their own classrooms.


Pamela Pereyra (09:13):
Yeah. Well, media education fits into any subject, right? Yeah. Whether you’re working with math and like graphs and data and statistics, or whether you’re working in a social studies classroom or a English language arts classroom, or a health classroom, there are different concepts that educators can different concepts that educators can implement in their classroom. So there are different ways. So one of ’em is like, before I get into some of these concepts, one of ’em is like using media as a, as a way to like spur discussion, right? Like using a video or, you know, using media in the classroom and, you know, discussing things, making media, like making a video for instruction. So the educator can make a video for instruction or an educator can ring in media and like work on different projects and have students participate with that media as a learning tool and then even make, there are little podcasts in the classroom about like what the reflection was.


Pamela Pereyra (10:29):
Right. So when looking at different media we have like to discover meaning and it is, we go through a series of like questions. So there are like five major, key media literacy questions to look at. And this is like when you’re studying different ideas. So let’s just say somebody brings in, in a math class, a statistic and an infographic, right. On something, whether it be math class or science, I mean, it could be COVID right. So it could be like a COVID related science message and, and statistics. Right. So you, you could look at it from different way, but one of the things that you would look at the first one would be author and authorship who created the message, like who is the author who paid for that message. That’s also part of the authorship, right? Like where is this message coming from?


Pamela Pereyra (11:34):
So that’s one, the other the other thing would be purpose. Like why did somebody create this message? Were they trying to inform, were they trying to entertain? Were they trying to persuade have you think a certain way or act a certain way. Right. So discovering purpose, symbols and techniques is another, like, what symbols are they using? What techniques are they using to, to hook you, to hold your attention? So this may be you know, it could be D different words that are being used, different length, which like is their language loaded, is are the symbols like, are they using certain colors, like lots of red? Are they, you know, like, you know, what, what symbols and techniques are they using? If it’s a YouTube video are people you know, using sources and do, you know, does the information is the, you know, you’re looking at context as well, right?


Pamela Pereyra (12:43):
So like what are those techniques, even within like a, a YouTube video or something like that. Right. So then you’re looking at representation, point of view, whose point of view is this coming from? Right. So is this point of view whose point of view is being presented and who’s this not like who’s being represented and who’s not, you know, if you’re looking at a historical piece of writing to look at point of view is like fascinating. And, you know, when you bring in the concept of global right. A global world in which we live, and especially since we’re living in a network world, we are, we are, you know, global, right. So we are way more connected to anybody anywhere in the world and at the touch of a fingertip or cell phone. Right. so we are looking at like, what it, you know, what, what historical perspective would they be presenting this information from, if you’re so that’s representation, right.


Pamela Pereyra (13:49):
If you’re looking at different messages, right? Like, or a text and a history book, where is this text coming from? Mm-Hmm so you are really kind of decoding in order to code, right. It like looking at all this stuff, the, the last part would be interpretation. And like, what did I learn from this message? Like, how did that change me? How did, how might different people interpret a message? You know, being a woman and being a brown woman in my interpretation of certain messages are sometimes just the frame in which I look at my world, come from that place. Also being media literate, I continually continually ask questions of any, you know, infographic or piece of data, where did this, where’s this coming from? Is this credible? Is it not like who’s the author, you know, all of those things, but also you can have, like, teachers would have students make a certain infographic, right.


Pamela Pereyra (14:46):
For a, a science class or a, and so understanding the process of what goes into media making and also deconstructing the, to then construct, right? Like, why am I making this infographic? Who I, who am I whose point of view am I representing? Even with numbers and data, people represent a point of view. And so it’s like, seems a little bit kind of hard to conceptualize, but going through a process of like practice and practicing these, these questions like where you ask the questions and you decode, but then you also encode, right? You also code these things. You also can make an infographic. You can make a meme, you know, know and make it funny and make, you know, and bring that into learning and talk about point of view, you know, in a, in a meme, or you can pull a meme and kind of deconstruct it as a form of text.


Pamela Pereyra (15:43):
So a lot of what we do is like bring in these PE pedagogy, right? The pedagogy in the classroom and have teachers go through this process of like becoming and embodying the concepts of media literacy so that you know, where they’re consuming and decoding, but they’re also constructing so that then they can like help their students construct for the classroom for learning. There are more concepts, you know, and some of ’em are like media construct, our culture, you know, they shape culture, right? Mm-Hmm and media messages, do they affect our thoughts or attitudes or actions? They are, are most powerful when they operate on an emotional level and have emotional power. They Def always reflect the point of view, right. They always reflect the values, the viewpoint and intentions of media makers. Right. So anybody who’s making a message has a point of view that they’re shared and they have values and viewpoints.


Pamela Pereyra (16:56):
And so understanding that is important. So media messages contain texts, but they also contain subtexts. So what that means is there’s like what is said, but is also what is not sad was like implied. Yep. Right. So these are like, this is part of that framework for media literacy and like kind of going through a process of using media, but also like when I have students in, in the classroom, when I have students make something like, let’s just say, we’re gonna all make memes today and we’re gonna make memes on, you know, any subject matter that would be relevant. That is being studied. Like we’re making memes on the American revolution. So you study the American revolution you make, possibly will make a mean, but then you deconstruct a memes and understand like, what is a mean, you know, and what, you know, and, and how do they function to be able to make a meme, but then it’s related to whatever is being studied.


Pamela Pereyra (18:02):
Right? Mm-hmm so it might be related to the American revolution. And you know, what, if you, okay, everybody make a meme from this point of view, or from that point of view, make a meme from the point of view of a revolutionary or make a meme from a different point of view. And so it really helps bring, drive home the concept of like, what is being studied, but also that, like the understanding that there are different points of view and that there are different authors and there are every author has a purpose. Yeah. And every per, you know, and every message can be interpreted in a certain way. And so those are some of like the conceptual pieces that we put into practice, right? These are just like theory, right? These are concepts, but then to put them in a practice and to really bring that have teachers, like when we work with teachers, we have teachers use a lot of these concepts. They go through a process of a hands on decoding and then a hands on like making stuff. And it’s really fun. And they, they get to plan, you know, a lesson, they take a lesson and maybe like revamp it and be, make it media literacy focused. Uand that’s always really fun for teachers because they get to like sit down and like plan and figure out like, how can I make this more of a media literate lesson when I I’m already it’s some that already exists. Right.


Sam Demma (19:33):
Tell me more about the importance of the author. I think that’s a really cool concept. And I’m curious if any examples come to mind where you think it would’ve been very helpful for society to know who the author was of a certain message. I think about nutrition. And, and I watched a couple of documentaries on, and this is two years ago, and this is also, again, if I asked myself these questions, I would’ve had a better perspective on the documentary itself, but it was a documentary about not being vegan, but it was a document tree on reducing our intake of meat. And they started showing that behind most of the dairy and meat industry is like one sole company or like one massive company that has like 50 brands under it. And it’s like really one author. But then if I ask myself who made the documentary, there’s a whole other author who made, who made that with a whole different purpose. I’m curious why you think it’s so important that we ask ourselves who the author is when consuming a piece of media.


Pamela Pereyra (20:44):
I mean, this is like, authorship is like, it’s huge, right? Yeah. So, and a piece of media could be a lot of different things, right? Yeah. You were watching a documentary. And so to have that understanding of point of view, right? Like it’s all kind of related. Yeah. Because the author has a point of view. Right. And it’s made for a purpose and the purpose of that documentary for you, it was possibly made. So people could stop eating meat and become vegan because they were influence and it was meant to influence people to feel certain things. So they showed you certain images, those are symbols and techniques. Right. And they were presenting a certain point of view that was who have you be against eating meat. Right. Yeah. And so understanding the author really helps you understand the message right. And where it’s coming from and why it’s being put together.


Pamela Pereyra (21:40):
So when we’re looking at like a post truth world, right. We’re looking at like, what is, you know, when we’re discerning, whether it’s a piece of news, whether it is a presidential speech, whether it’s you know, a meme, a silly meme. Yeah. You know, if you are looking on know a lot of young people get their news from Instagram, right. So it’s like a caption and actually it doesn’t give you the whole story. So you don’t actually get the whole story. You only get a tiny component of it. So that also is like, has almost a different kind of authorship than the actual story. So when you’re looking at author, if you’re looking at you’re also thinking for me, you know, when we dig deeper and you go deeper into this kind of work, we’re looking at bias, right. So we’re looking at like, where is the bias and what is the bias?


Pamela Pereyra (22:44):
And like, even like, if I look at a media or article, right. A news article, the bias, like first I might be looking at like, okay, the author is Sam Demma. Right. That’s the byline, but, and Sam Demma may have written the article, but also Sam Demma works for a certain company. Right. That has certain point of view that they’re, you know, trying to relay. So if you’re looking at, you know, is I always look at, when I look at news, I think about, is this left leaning? Is it right? Leaning? Is it more central? Do these people stick to the facts? Do they not? Like there are a lot of a few different, and for news literacy, there are like media bias fact check. Right. Mm-hmm like, so there’s you can go and look at media bias and figure out like, where’s the bias in this company.


Pamela Pereyra (23:45):
Right. But also like, so you might realize like, oh, this is extreme, right. Or this is right leaning, or this is extreme, left or left leaning. Or this is, you know, they’re presenting news. Especially if you look at news, cuz it’s supposed to be centered, right. It’s supposed to be objective and presenting both sides of the story, but is it trying to influence you still to look at a, in a certain influence you to, to, to lean in a certain way? And so when you’re looking at author, I look at the byline who the person is. I look at the company and who the company is. I look at the bias and what the biases of that company also, like it might be the funders like of different like organizations or companies, like how is this project being funded? Who’s funding it.


Pamela Pereyra (24:38):
And like, where’s the money coming to back up, you know, to back the, that project. And so it’s, you know, it’s, it’s really quite complex because there are many authors to one piece of news or one documentary, like you said, right. So it might be like the person, the director of that documentary and the writer of a documentary, but also like the, you know, like, is it whoever put out that memory, right. Is it like 21st century Fox or is it, you know, Warner brothers or is it Disney? And you know, like who’s putting that out and you know, and so there are, there are many authors yeah. To, to a piece of media, you know? Uso that, and also when you’re looking at stuff that could be,unot credible, I guess, would be the, the right word when you’re looking at information that could be not credible.


Pamela Pereyra (25:37):
That lacks credibility, the lacks validity then is, is important to understand when you’re looking at authorship to know like, how do you find something, whether something is credible or not, how do you know if something is reliable? How do we know if something is valid? And there’s a whole process that we go through, which is gonna take me to train you Sam you’re probably, and you know, like that, because it’s, it’s a process, you know, and it’s practicing the, these skills. Like it’s not a one time shot. It’s not even like a one semester shot. It’s ongoing from kindergarten through college and onward on through your life, you know, to continually practice these skill sets, you know, to ask questions and be curious about media and message and like, you know, and what that is a, a book, a textbook is a piece of media that has a point of view and has, you know, authors and, you know, if, and so who are those authors?


Pamela Pereyra (26:46):
What is their point of view and how is it being presented whose point of view is being presented. So all of that can be decoded from a textbook and also what’s inside that textbook. Right. And so to understand that just means that we begin to understand, like by and begin to understand point of view and representation and begin to understand our world in a different way. When we ask questions, when we go through the process of inquiry, you know, of of communications, right? And like question our world and question our, you know, question the Instagram posts that we see and we, you know, and we question it in a curious way, it doesn’t need to be negative. Yeah. It doesn’t need to be like bad. It’s just like, I, media literacy, doesn’t tell people what to think. It just helps people to go it through a process of how do you go through the process of critical thinking, right?


Pamela Pereyra (27:48):
Yeah. Like, how do you do that? How do you, you know, ask questions of authorship to understand if something is credible or not credible. Right. Got it. And if something is like a conspiracy or not like, how do you figure that out? You know? And there are, and so we have to continually go through the processes. And I do a lot of research. I of like, when I look at an author, I don’t just look at like, who is Sam Demma? You know? I mean, I actually, don’t just look at the author and like read the article I go through and figure out who is the, you know, the author’s name, right? Who is Sam? What is he? You know, what do other people say about Sam? Like, and like, I, what is called what used to be called, like triangle reading. And, but now it’s called lateral reading.


Pamela Pereyra (28:36):
When you do the research and you read across and you open up a bunch of tabs to figure out who is the telling the story about this documentary, like, yeah. Not just like who is the director, but is like, who is this company? And who is, you know, and who are these brands that are trying to influence me to, you know, to drop eating meat and to be vegan and, you know, and what’s, you know, all of that. So I think in the end know, authorship, I know this is a long, you know, I know this is a really long answer, but I think authorship is like so important because understanding who is putting messages together and why really helps us understand what’s credible. What’s not especially right now, you know, and we’re, we’re living and I’m just gonna repeat myself where we’re living in this in a, in a world that is complex.


Pamela Pereyra (29:31):
And it’s hard to understand, like there are a lot of authors there, EV anybody’s a producer, anybody could put, you know, could produce information. And is there information credible? Like when sometimes within a piece, somebody might quote a doctor. I go and figure out, is this doctor who is this doctor? You know, is it a doctor, a philosophy that’s actually being quoted for a, you know, for a scientific, you know, opinion, you know, piece, is this like, so then a doctor of philosophy would then make that person that credible, right. If they’re being quoted in something that just because they’re a doctor, doesn’t make him an expert in COVID, doesn’t make him an expert in like, you know, whatever is that they’re talking about. So even within a piece, I go, I might search different people different because they’re also, you know, part of the whole story.


Sam Demma (30:24):
It, I got it. And media literate, like citizens in society is so important. If educators are listening and want to integrate media literacy more into their classroom, one way they could do it is by going on your website, media savvy citizens, and getting in touch with you but how else can they learn? How, what, what can they read? What other pieces of media have you found very insightful in your own journey of learning about media literacy? any books, courses, videos that you think educators should check out as a, or to start their own journey.


Pamela Pereyra (31:04):
Yeah. And I’m glad you asked that there there’s a lot of information out there. Media literacy has become more and more popular. And just to clarify, there are media literacy is this big umbrella, which looks over news literacy, which is a subset information literacy C, which is also a subset digital literacy, digital citizenship. So depending on what they’re looking at, they’re looking for, they can find different information. Some people call digital media production, media literacy. Well, it’s just like a small component of it, but it’s not all of it. And then, you know, and so, you know, it’s, it’s, I just wanna make that distinction. Sure. Because if you just look up the word media literacy, like you’re gonna find only news literacy or only certain, you know points of view that it’s not the whole scope. So the national association for media literacy education is a great resource.


Pamela Pereyra (32:01):
That is a resource for educators. That really breaks down a lot of these concepts that I talked about, the key media literacy questions and like resources there. They have they put together a journal, which is a journal for media literacy education. I think it’s called. And so they, you know, you can go through them. There are also the I’m the, like I said, I was, I’m the chapter chair for New Mexico media literacy now, but media literacy now is an advocacy organization and they also have a ton of resources on their website. So it’s media literacy now.org. And they have a lot of resources on their website to access different information and courses and different things. And not courses necessarily, but just entities, you know, that are media receive media education entities. So yes, media savvy citizens, which is my project.


Pamela Pereyra (33:06):
We have a lot of resources, our YouTube channel, lots of webinars and different resources on our highlights page that people can access for, you know, for free and different like information specific to media. Like I, the scope of media education. Hmm. Yeah. So those are some places to go to. And, you know, and now if somebody wants to just specifically deal with news, then you know, they’d be looking at news literacy. You know the center for news literacy is a great place, you know, for just news literacy resources, but media literacy overall in general and resources for media literacy, I think is net national association for media literacy education is a great place to start. Sounds


Sam Demma (33:57):
Good. And where can someone send you a message by email online? What would be the best way for them to get in touch?


Pamela Pereyra (34:07):
Yes. Thank you for asking. So Media Savvy Citizens is the name of my entity. And so my name is spelled like Pamela. So they could just email me pamela@mediasavvycitizens.com. You can, most people can just go on my website, https://www.mediasavvycitizens.com/ and go to the contact page. You can, people can subscribe there and they can just peruse the website, my, my events page and my past events page. I have tons of resources there as well. So any talk that I have done this specific piece of in this interview, I will put a link together there once, you know, I get the link. So any interview that like media savvy citizens has been involved in, and there was a lot of information there as well. So as far as resources, and then as far as contacting me, go to the website to the contact page.


Sam Demma (35:12):
Pamela, thank you so much for taking your time to come on the show. It’s been a pleasure. Keep up the great work and all the best in 2022.


Pamela Pereyra (35:20):
Thank you so much. Thanks for having me. I really appreciate your time.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Pamela Pereyra

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

Dr. Leslie D. Sukup – Associate Professor of Management at Ferris State University College of Business

Dr. Leslie D. Sukup - Associate Professor of Management at Ferris State University College of Business
About Dr. Leslie D. Sukup

Dr. Leslie Sukup is currently an Associate Professor of Management at Ferris State University where she is currently teaching Team Dynamics-Organizational Behavior, Quality-Operations Management, Business Integrated Experience CAPSTONE, Business Ethics and Social Responsibility, Managerial Leadership, Leadership and Organizational Change, and International Logistics courses.

Additionally, she is also the Business Administration Program Coordinator, the academic advisor for the Business Professionals of America Registered Student Organization, and the chair of the College of Business Committee on Diversity and Inclusion.

Previously to her current position, Dr. Leslie Sukup has been an adjunct professor and was also on active duty in the U.S. Air Force for 25 years. During this time, she held numerous leadership roles such as the Superintendent of the Air Force Agency for Modeling and Simulation, and a variety of instructional roles including Air Force One Advance Agent training.

Dr. Sukup has also received many awards and commendations during her service including the Meritorious Service Award, Joint Service Commendation Medal, Information Manager of the Year, Quality Inspection Professional Performer, and numerous others. Dr. Sukup is also a certified Master Resilience Trainer and has instructed more than 5,000 military members and students in resilience skills.

Connect with Dr. Leslie D. Sukup: Email | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Ferris State University College of Business

GIMKIT Live Learning Game Show Software

Business Professionals of America

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:01):
Welcome back to another episode of the high performing educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker Sam Demma. Today’s guest is Dr. Leslie Sukup. Dr. Sukup is currently an associate professor of management at Ferris State University, where she is currently teaching team dynamics, organizational behavior, quality operations management business, integrated experience, the cap stone version, business ethics, and social responsibility, managerial leadership, leadership, and organizational change and international logistics courses. Additionally, she’s also the business administration program coordinator, the academic advisor for the business professionals of America registered student organization and the chair of the college of business committee on diversity and inclusion previous to her current positions. Dr. Sukup has been an adjunct professor and was also active duty in the US Air Force for 25 years. During this year, she held numerous leadership roles such as the superintendent of the air force agency for modeling and simulation and a variety of instructional roles, including air force. One advanced agent training, Dr. Sukup has also received many awards and commendations during her service, including the meritorious service award joint service commend medal information manager of the year quality inspection, professional performer and numerous others. Leslie is also a certified master resilience trainer and has instructed more than 5,000 military members and students and resilient skills. I hope you enjoy this conversation as much as I did, and I will see you on the other side. Leslie, welcome to the high performing educator podcast. Big pleasure to have you on the show here this morning. Please start by introducing yourself.


Dr. Leslie Sukup (02:52):
Thanks. Thanks for having me, Sam. My name is Leslie Sukup. I happen to be a, a faculty member here at Ferris State University, where I teach in the management department in the college of business. I teach a wide variety of management classes. I’m also the business administration program coordinator, the business professionals of America our registered student organization advisor. I am also the chair of the college of business committee and inclusion. So I think I’ve covered all of my different committees and responsibilities, but it, again, it’s a pleasure to be here.


Sam Demma (03:35):
Tell us a little more about the journey that brought you to where you are now.


Dr. Leslie Sukup (03:41):
Oh, great question. So the journey started when I actually, it started when I was 16 years old. So this is the time when I tracked down the air force recruiter and I was told I could not enlist in the air force. I had to wait a year. So I waited a year and tracked them down again, enlisted in the air force. And I thought when I graduated high school, I would just do four years in the air force and get out and go along my, my Merry way into whatever I had at that time, which at that time was PO potentially going into the secret service. However, I made it to my first duty station and I met my husband. That changed things. He was, he had been in the air force longer than I had and, and it was, it was easier to stay in so we could go to different places.


Dr. Leslie Sukup (04:47):
And I was enjoying my job at the time and I said, okay, not a, not a, not a problem, but I also had a lot of teaching opportunities and instructor opportunities in the year of force. And I found that I really loved the experience. I loved making a positive impact on different people that I instructed. It was very heartwarming to see people grow and develop. And I especially loved the aha moment, you know, or they get that, that big light bulb on top of their head. And you can see that they really grasp what you are teaching or instructing. So this led me to think, okay, I, I’m probably a lifer for staying in the military, but on top of that, I need to think about the second chap. So I thought, well, I really enjoy teaching and why not marry those two together?


Dr. Leslie Sukup (05:50):
So while I was active duty, I finished my bachelor’s degree, my master’s and I finished my doctorate one year before I was to retire from the air force. Wow, great, great timing. so when I retired from the air force, I started to apply to different institutions, higher education institutions, and one of them happened to be fair state university. And I was very lucky that I got selected or was hired into, into the job that I’m in. Now. I, I love this university. I love the, the culture, the small town feel it’s, it’s really, really what I is meant to do. And I can say that coming into work is never a chore. I never dread it. In fact, every day is kind of like opening a box of chocolates. Mm-Hmm you never know what you’re gonna get, but it’s always a positive feel. And I love being that change agent, the positive change agent to all of my students, it’s it really is a very rewarding job. And I’m very thankful to have chosen this as a second chapter for me.


Sam Demma (07:07):
I think every educator that’s listening to this right now is thinking the exact same thing about their work, which is absolutely awesome. You brushed over a and almost didn’t even mention the fact that while you were working with the military, you started doing sessions on resiliency. Can you talk a little bit more about your role as a master trainer and resiliency and also where that passion stem from and how you define resilience?


Dr. Leslie Sukup (07:36):
Oh, absolutely. So I’ll start off with the definition of resilience or my definition. And my definition of resilience is that you are able, when you encounter adversity, you are able to bounce back stronger than you were before. Mm. And that means that you may have learned new skills. You have learned just a, a different way of approaching a problem, but either way you’ve come back stronger than you were initially based upon that experience. And my love for resilient grew probably before I actually started to teaching resilience, but the two married up very well together. When I was 20, I had just turned 22. My dad passed away unexpectedly three days before Christmas, actually two days before Christmas and 1996. And he was 44 years old and totally unexpected that shook my world. Plus at the time I was about to PCs from my permanent changes station. So I was moving from my first duty station all the way up the east coast. So from Florida all the way up to Massachusetts, and when you’re going through that much change during the holidays, it’s a lot.


Dr. Leslie Sukup (09:14):
And that experience taught me a lot about resilience. So when I started teaching resilience in the air force, it was taking my life experiences, but also providing them with stories in the classroom, but really seeing the impact of teaching resilience to others can have on their lives. I’ve had, I’ve heard so many heartwarming stories where individuals have taken the skills that they’ve learned in the classroom and have improved their lives for the better it’s. I have so many stories. There’s no, there’s not enough time in, in a podcast to cover ’em all , but to see the improvement in their relationships, to see the improvement in their personal lives, their professional lives, and to see them become better people overall that’s where my research passion for resilience came about. It’s also the reason why I add resilience into my, all of my classes, because it has such a powerful impact, not just on myself, because it’s a way of boosting my own resilience, but it’s a, it’s also lending my students to become positive change agents in the world because they’re learning a little bit more about resilience and, and maybe not all of the tools and techniques resonate with them, but they’re gonna be able to take one away with them that does, and that can potentially help them later on in life.


Sam Demma (10:59):
Yeah, it’s so true. Resiliency is a tool that you need to pack in your toolkit or in your backpack, because it’s not a matter of if something will happen that challenges you, it’s a matter of when, at some point in all of our lives. Can you tell us a little bit more about your transition from working with the army to getting into the classroom? What was that transition like and how did you adjust and adopt this new role?


Dr. Leslie Sukup (11:31):
Great, wonderful question. So that anytime that you’re moving from one culture to another, it, it can be a little unsettling. And because I had spent 25 years in the air force, you know, this is something where you’re wearing a uniform every day. You, for females, you have to have your hair up and you are expected to act a certain way, which is called your military bearing. And once that goes away, it, for some, it could be a form of a loss of identity, but I found per personally the transition to be fairly easy. And I think that’s because there was a lot of change occurring those last few years while I was in the military. And because at that time I had finished my doctorate degree. I also had my so second baby. She was, she was born two weeks after I defended my dissertation.


Dr. Leslie Sukup (12:40):
So it was, that was part of my motivation to get it done because I knew that having another baby after, and I already had a small, small child at the time. And my oldest daughter, I knew adding another one into the mix would make it a little bit more difficult to reach that finish line. So my motivation was high to make sure I got everything done before, before she was born. But she was also born with CDH, which is Congenital diaphragmatic hernia. And that mean, that meant that when she was born, she had 18 people in the in the operating room just for her. Cause I had to have a, a C-section and, you know, she was Whis away to the, to the NICU and she survived she’s she’s my warrior. But when you have all of these moving pieces happening, it’s, it’s a lot. But I also leaned upon my resilience and what I had learned myself, but also what I had taught to others. And I think that made the transitioned really, really fluid for me. It was almost like just taking off the uniform and putting on a different uniform, you know, more, a little bit more business professional, but you know, it was still putting on clothes and going to work. And I, I, I think it, I, I think I, it, well,


Sam Demma (14:18):
That’s awesome. And speaking of transitions, everyone that works in education went through a couple of massive transitions over the past 24 months, relating to COVID and going to online learning and back to in person learning back to online learning. How did you deal with those transitions and what do you think were some of the challenges and how did you overcome them?


Dr. Leslie Sukup (14:41):
Oh, the, yes, the last couple of years have been a little bit of a rollercoaster, but I found that the way to make it through, it was one, be honest with the students, they’re going through the same journey as you. They’re not expecting you to know it all. They’re just expecting you to be real and to be clear with the communication and transparent. Yeah. You know, don’t pull any punches, don’t try to, to change things to where it may be more difficult or, you know, adding additional hurdles. But I found that that open communication really lended itself to keeping that cohesive this with my class and, you know, telling them, okay, we’re gonna try something new. And if it doesn’t work, we’ll throw it to the side. But if it does all right, you know, no, no harm, no foul, but that communication piece was, was huge.


Dr. Leslie Sukup (15:49):
But I also took the time to reflect after all of my classes to figure out, okay, what didn’t go so well, mm-hmm, what did it, what do I wish I would’ve done differently? And that helped me to prepare for the next semester. And then also leaning upon others who may have been doing this a little bit further or more with more time under their belt and getting their advice and seeing, okay, how did you approach? I mean, COVID is new, but not online teaching or high flex teaching the different modalities. Those have been in place for a while. So leaning upon the best practices that, that are out there seeking. I did a lot of webinars or zoom sessions with industry leaders and, and others who had that experience just seeing, okay, what other nuggets of knowledge can, can I add to my own toolbox to help create the best experience for my students? Cause really it’s all, I want them to have the best experience to get the most out of the class. So that way, when they graduate, they can be the best of themselves. They can go out and be those positive change. Agents,


Sam Demma (17:07):
Educators are always hunting and on the lookout for other educators, best practices to tools and tips. And I’m curious to know what some of those things have been for you not only during COVID, but potentially through your entire journey and career and education. Are there any tools, ideas, or resources that you have consistently leaned on and learned from and brought into your classrooms?


Dr. Leslie Sukup (17:33):
I think for, for me, it’s always having that open mind is probably one of the, the toolkits per se. But as far as technology, I find that games are very appealing to kids. Whether Kahoot is a big one. I found a new one during my during COVID that I added to my toolbox. And I think the students really like it cuz it adds a different appeal in the classroom. It’s still that quiz based game, but there’s no time associated with it. Mm. And I think that takes away a little bit of that anxiety that some students may have when you have a countdown timer at the top of the screen where it’s going 20, 19 18. And you’re thinking, oh, I don’t know this answer. I guess I gotta pick the best one. So it takes a little bit of that anxiety away, but you can also have the students and teams in the classroom where they’re competing against each other. But it’s, I find that when you add a little bit of fun into the mix that students take more away from the material, cause you’re, you’re tying it into a positive emotion. Do you remember? So games I think are, are really good.


Sam Demma (18:57):
Do you remember what that second quiz-based game is called? Just outta curiosity. Oh sure.


Dr. Leslie Sukup (19:03):
It’s called GIMKIT.


Sam Demma (19:05):
GI kit, like G I M


Dr. Leslie Sukup (19:07):
GIMKIT. And so surprisingly it was created by a high school student who found that it was boring learning information. And so he took the initiative and created a game that I I think is awesome. And it has a really good function too with reports. So you can see what questions they answered wrong, which ones they got. Right. so that I can take away, even though they’re playing a game, I can still use these reports to tailor the lessons or reinforce material that they might have missed along the way.


Sam Demma (19:47):
Give us an idea of how you leverage that tool. Would it be something you use at the end of a lecture to quiz the class on what you just taught them? Or how do you leverage it?


Dr. Leslie Sukup (20:00):
Oh, absolutely. So one of the ways that I, I leverage it is by having it right before a test or right before a quiz. So they have read the lessons. Maybe they have watched some videos, they have, we’ve done some lectures, some activities in class. Well now before they jump in to the test or the quiz, they can use this and they can play it as many times as they wish and build boost their confidence.


Sam Demma (20:35):
That’s awesome. Thank you so much for sharing that. I appreciate it. Sure. Along with challenges and pivoting, there’s also opportunities. And I’m wondering what you believe are some of the opportunities that the challenges in education that are facing us today are also providing…


Dr. Leslie Sukup (20:55):
Great question. The, I think that one of the opportunities that has arisen from these challenging times is flexibility. I think that the traditional classrooms are probably not going to be the new normal. I think the new normal is going to be that flexibility where students, if they want to attend face to face, they can, or if they want to, you know, they, they overslept. And instead of getting a feeding ticket on the way to class, they can, or they’re just not feeling well. Maybe they got the sniffles well, they can choose to attend via virtual means as well. So I think there’s a lot of, a lot of flexibility, at least in higher education but I also see it happening in K through 12. One of the things my daughter was in first, well, she start, she was at the end of kindergarten when COVID hit.


Dr. Leslie Sukup (21:58):
Mm. First grade was really where she had more virtual days. She had sometime in the seat part of the week, part of the week virtual, but I saw a growth in her that I probably would not have seen if it wasn’t for COVID. She is more tech savvy. Now she, she really blossomed with being virtual and as a parent, I was able to see more of what her world is like. So I think there there’s that opportunity too, on the parent side to be a little bit more involved in the education to see what their student or their child is learning. And maybe for that into a, a stronger bond between the two, cuz we would do homework together. And so she had the teacher teaching part of the lesson, but then when it came time to do the homework by herself, you know, she would, she would ask questions and I would be there to, to kind of help her along. But it was bonding moment as well.


Sam Demma (23:11):
That’s amazing. And that sounds like it was a result of you also being proactive because an opportunity is only as good as what you make of it. And it sounds like you had a growth mindset about the situation, because it’s also true that there could have been people who look at the challenge and said, I’m not changing. I don’t wanna change. There’s nothing good about this and missed out on all those areas of growth that you’re mentioning now. So I think like you said earlier, the flexibility, even in your own perspective is super important to take any adversity and turn it into a, an opportunity. Would you agree?


Dr. Leslie Sukup (23:50):
I do Agree. I think it’s that definitely the growth mindset it’s taking that perspective of, instead of looking at the glass half empty, looking at it as half full and what can you take out of that, that challenging time and turn it around into an opportunity.


Sam Demma (24:08):
I love it. And if you could go back in time and speak to Leslie year one in education, but with all the wisdom and experience that you have now, what advice would you impart on your younger self?


Dr. Leslie Sukup (24:24):
I would say more confidence in yourself, but also be more authentic and not, you’re not just the rule of the professor or the teacher in front of the room, but be more of yourself. And I have noticed that as I’ve brought more of my personality, the true me into the classroom, the students really resonate with that. They, they love seeing you as a human, as opposed to a teacher or professor that figurehead in front of the classroom. But the more authentic you are with students, that’s what I would, that’s what I would give is advice to my earlier self, be more authentic, you know, you’ll be able to enrich those students lives even more so. Yeah.


Sam Demma (25:18):
I love that. I, I think that’s such a good reminder, not only to impact the people you’re affecting, but also just to enjoy life more. If you’re being yourself and you never have to adjust yourself to fit a role or a situation, you’re gonna have more fun too. So that’s a phenomenal piece of advice. Leslie, thank you so much for taking some time to come on the podcast. I really appreciate it. I hope the rest of the year goes well. If someone is wondering how they could reach out to you, ask a question or even talk about resiliency, what would be the best way for them to get in touch?


Dr. Leslie Sukup (25:56):
Yes, absolutely. They can get in touch with me. Either through LinkedIn, I’m on LinkedIn or you can send me an email it’s LeslieSukup@ferris.edu.


Sam Demma (26:22):
Right. Awesome. Leslie, thank you so much. Enjoy the rest of your Friday. Have a great weekend. And we’ll tell to you soon.


Dr. Leslie Sukup (26:29):
Thank you, Sam. It’s been a pleasure.


Sam Demma (26:32):
Hey, it’s Sam again. I hope you enjoyed that amazing conversation on the high performing educator podcast. If you or someone, you know, deserves some extra recognition and appreciation for the work they do in education, please consider applying or nominating them for the high performing educator awards, go to www.highperformingeducator.com/award. You can also find the link in the show notes. I’m super excited to spotlight and feature 20 people in 2022. And I’m hoping you or someone, you know, can be one of those educators. I’ll talk to you on the next episode, all the best.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Dr. Leslie D. Sukup

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

John Lucas Guimaraes – Post-secondary National President of Business Professionals of America

John Lucas Guimaraes - Post-secondary National President of Business Professionals of America
About John Lucas

John Lucas Guimaraes (@JohnlucasMA) serves as the Executive President of the Post-secondary Division of Business Professionals of America, an international Career and Technical Student Organization. 

John Lucas lives in Massachusetts and is studying Civil Engineering at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth. He loves running, nature, and trading state pins with members at the BPA National Leadership Conference. After college, John Lucas hopes to go into the environmental or transit areas of engineering and government. 

Connect with John Lucas: Twitter | Email | Linkedin

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

Past and Future National Leadership Conferences (BPA)

Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford Commencement Address

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:01):
Welcome back to another episode of the high performing educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is John Lucas Guimaraes. John Lucas serves as the executive president of the post-secondary division of Business Professionals of America, an international career and technical student organization. John Lucas lives in Massachusetts and is studying civil engineering at the university of Massachusetts Dartmouth. He loves running nature and trading state pins with members at the BPA national leadership conference. After college John Lucas hopes to go into the environmental or transit areas of engineering and government. As I’m sure you’ll will be able to notice after, and while listening to this interview, John Lucas is someone who is filled with passion and doing incredible work in his community and the organizations and associations that he’s a part of. I hope you enjoy this conversation and I will see you on the other side. John Lucas, welcome to the high performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here this morning. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself?


John Lucas Guimaraes (02:09):
Awesome. Well thank you for having me. My name is John Lucas Guimaraes. I am a junior at the university of Massachusetts. And I am currently the post-secondary president of the national CTSO career technical student organization in called business professionals of America, where we sort of prepare students outside of the classroom for the, their futures for the, their careers and their professional lives, because there’s only so much you can learn in the classroom. So having that outside exposure I think is really bad, valuable, and that’s something that we aim to do here at BPA.


Sam Demma (02:49):
Tell me more about your journey to where you are now. What got you interested and involved with BPA and how do you think that’s shaped you as a student leader yourself?


John Lucas Guimaraes (03:01):
It started off like a progression. It wasn’t like I joined BPA and then I, the next year I became the national president I sort of was jealous of my peers of why, like they, they just talked about going to the state leadership conference here in Massachusetts and they had a wonderful time. Not none of them made it to the national competition, which is like the big, the big event of the year, but they just talked about how the state leadership conference was so meaningful to them. They got so many experiences and I was like, oh, geez, I wanna try that. And I didn’t even know what BP was. I just wanted that experience. So I didn’t know what I had to go through. I just wanted that end goal. So I thought that BPA was like, you sit around in a, in a round table and just come up with a great idea for a project and then you all do it together, but it’s so much more than that.


John Lucas Guimaraes (03:55):
You work as individuals, you work as teams. You can knock compete, you can do other service projects. So definitely getting into that and getting overwhelmed. That was what kept me here a lot of the times I do get asked that question of why I joined BPA, but I think an even more valuable question is after eight years, why the heck am I still here? What what’s kept to me here. So I think the people definitely the people and the experiences and with every passing year, I, I, I feel like I’ve want, I’ve wanted to get more involved, more more behind the scenes because you know, a national CTSO that’s not easy sheet to accomplish. So there’s a lot of behind the scenes. There’s a lot of governance that has to happen. So I I’m, I’m really appreciative of like, I think my, my ambition, but also my desire to help to always keep and grow my involvement as much as I can so that, you know, I’m doing what my teachers and my fellow leaders did to me. And that’s to prepare me for the role so that I can return the favor and pass the torch to those next leaders coming up the ladder.


Sam Demma (05:20):
That’s amazing. Eight years. I gotta give you a round of applause for that. , that’s a, that’s, that’s a lot of service, fun time. Yeah. Congratulations.


John Lucas Guimaraes (05:31):
I’m a BPA grandpa.


Sam Demma (05:33):
Literally. You mentioned other leaders kind of helping you in shaping you, were there some advisors and teachers, your life that have played a massive role in your development as a young person and also as a leader?


John Lucas Guimaraes (05:49):
Definitely. I think it was my my junior year. Oh no, no, it was my junior. Yeah, it was my junior year. We had this, I was in the video production event where we prepared a video and that year it was how to counter Driving under the influence against with like alcohol or other substances. And we finalized the project. I was so passionate about it. I had the idea my, the entire year, so we’re probably like two weeks out before the state leadership conference. So our advisor had each, each member of BPA of our chapter come to her and present our projects. So we did and I was, my heart was skipping. I got chills. And then I turned to her and she has this like, disappointed look, well, not a disappointed look, I don’t wanna say that.


John Lucas Guimaraes (06:45):
But but a like, like a concern, very confused. Yeah. Yeah, because we included a very popular song as the background song, and then she, like, that’s not a copyrighted song and the entire video was constructed on like the beat dropping the, the drum hits everything, like all the shifts. And we had to change the entire song. Looking back at it, it wasn’t this like, crucial like dire moment, but I, at that time, I was like, how did I not see this? So I just, there’s been a lot of experiences with my advisors where they’ve pointed out things that I didn’t see or told me what I needed to hear, but didn’t want to hear. So looking back at it, I value all those disappointing this encouraging moments that I felt, because that’s sort of like built me to, like now when I’m tackling a project or event, I sort of come up with I play like the devil’s advocate and come up with like, what will people bring up to me that I need to fix right now before, you know? So I can like prepare myself for those tough questions.


Sam Demma (08:01):
Love that. It sounds like those were all teachable moments for you. And what’s interesting is those all could have been breaking moments that stopped you from pursuing this path at all, but you took it as feedback and used it to iterate your own processes, which have enabled you to grow, which I think is amazing. yeah. What is, what is that advisor’s name? And were they the same individual that kind of tapped you on the shoulder and initially said, Hey, maybe you should get involved in BPA or did you discover BPA just on your own?


John Lucas Guimaraes (08:33):
Yeah, so I went to a vocational technical school. So we did ha every week we did on academics and then the following week, we did like a technical program. So I was in the carpentry program. But going into the school, you sort of took like a month and you went through each, each technical program. So they were the advisors of the business department Mrs. Powers and Mrs. Sylvia, and they sort of, they, they just marketed BPA. They spent that entire hour that we had with them, just marketing BPA and why it was so important. Nice. And that sort of, that’s what got me hooked initially. But yeah, just, and then when I, I did return because I didn’t speak to them until after that at, at all, because I chose the carpentry program. It wasn’t until the following year that the that’s when they were like, oh, we’re glad you finally joined us. And, you know, they definitely inspired me to keep growing. They’re still, one of them is still the advisor of the, of my high school’s BPA chapter. And it’s just amazing to see like little versions, not of me, but like little versions of leaders coming from the same teachers that inspired me to be where I am now.


Sam Demma (10:02):
Yeah, absolutely. And do you think providing constructive criticism and feedback as an educator is something that ex is extremely important and helpful for developing leaders? And if so, how do you think more leaders and educators can do that without discouraging, you know, their students or discouraging the young person they’re trying to provide feedback for?


John Lucas Guimaraes (10:26):
Yeah. I definitely think that’s very important because if you didn’t, what would be the alternative, you know, it would be sort of your sugar coating someone’s experience and sort of setting the ’em up to fail versus you having more of a control of what that what that criticism is gonna be, because it, you know, an educator’s never going to like purposely want to sort of, you give negativity to a student, they don’t wanna do that. They wanna just prepare them and give that soft criticism if you know what I mean. So definitely that criticism early on is very important because if you don’t, they they’ll get that same criticism, but even rougher from projects the people reviewing their projects or, you know, future employers. So I, I, I definitely think that it’s something worth doing in high school. And while you have these experiences with these students and even peers, like my, my classmates were actually watching me on that, in that video, you yep. When I was presenting that video and they, you know, said the same thing they gave me like, oh, you, you like had a product placement there and it, I don’t think that should be there. So definitely getting the perspective of your peers, I think, is really valuable and gives you sort of an outlook on, or a perspective that you don’t see yourself.


Sam Demma (12:01):
That’s amazing. And you are someone who have developed yourself into a leader based off of the feedback given to you by others. But also, as you mentioned earlier, you’re based off some of your own ambition. What do you think are some of the key characteristics or traits that you’ve developed and have seen other leaders kind of exhibit and live out themselves that you think makes for a really strong leader?


John Lucas Guimaraes (12:30):
I think it’s sort of different for everyone. You know, for me, I’m someone who loves the behind the scenes work, the gathering people, the raising scholarships, the the running crunching, the numbers looking at financial statements and sort of the adult boring work behind the scenes. So I’m as a, as the president of my division of BPM also on the board of trustees and, you know, we do a lot of the oversight work which my peers could see that is very boring. Yeah. But to me, it’s just something that excites me. It’s just something that you know, sometimes I find myself at like 1:00 AM working on a BPA policy and procedures amendment, or just reading the meeting minutes, which is just a black and white document with no, really with not a lot of fun substance.


John Lucas Guimaraes (13:29):
But that, it’s, it sort of gives me a little taste of what I want to keep going on, keep growing and doing with my life. You know, I’m, I’m in college right now studying civil engineering, but I also love governance. I love giving time to those in need and sort of doing what, what I can do to help others around me. And I think one way I Excel at that is looking at those boring documents and looking to plan strategic events and making sure that, you know, we have the budget for that and we can, we can ethically provide a good event for our stakeholders. So I think that that ambition comes from your passions and your sure you can run for an office just for the power of it. But I think a true leader, a true servant leader is someone who uses their passions to their passions are what drives their ambition. And as long as you can keep doing that, you know, what your end goal is, you know, what you like to do and how you can utilize your passions to help people. I think that’s what makes people’s ambitions really selfless and not so much an ambition for oneself, but an ambition to better, not only the world, maybe that’s two grand of a scale, but your country, your, your municipality, your state, or even just your local community.


Sam Demma (15:07):
Yeah. I love that. And you said something earlier in the interview, you, that really stuck with me, you mentioned you had no idea how you were gonna get there and you weren’t sure about, you know, you weren’t sure about how you were gonna get to, you know, the working as a president at BPA, but you were so obsessed with the goal that you just stuck with it, like you were so obsessed with the goal. Do you think goal setting has also played a big part in your own personal journey and like, how do you go about, you know, setting goals for yourself or outlining those things that you wanna work towards and accomplish?


John Lucas Guimaraes (15:47):
I definitely think that you know, nothing is out of your reach at the 2018 national leadership conference in Dallas, Texas, which I’m so excited about cuz we’re returning this year. So it’s my like sort of returning to my origin. But at the 2018, NLC I jokingly said with my with one of my peers that, you know, I’m gonna be secondary president. And at the time, like that was so far out of my reach, that was like a million years ahead. So I think that, you know, Jo having those humor moments and making sure like I’m gonna be president of the United States saying that, but also like, you know, joking around and things like that, but also, you know, pre-planning and making sure that, okay, am I qualified for that? Am I, am I headed in that right direction?


John Lucas Guimaraes (16:45):
And will I be a good whatever role you’re gonna be? Am I gonna be that, am I gonna serve that role to its and most efficient potential? And I think, and I think that my experiences sort of shaped me to reach that end goal. So it was sort of, it was like a not overnight thing. It was an like over time and steadily growing sort of experiences that led me to here. So I, I do think goal setting is important as well, but also make sure that making sure that it’s something you truly want, like you, you reach that end goal. Just think about it right now, close your eyes and think about like, I, that end goal, am I happy? Am I like changing my environment for the better? And I am I like, sort of, is this what I plan to do because sure, sure.


John Lucas Guimaraes (17:49):
You’ve reached your goal, but if that’s not anything you want, if that’s just like a, a gold medal in your mind, like high above a ladder, if that’s not really what you want, you achieved your goal, but you’re not really happy. So making sure that, you know, setting up these ambition is bold goals for yourself, but making sure that you often reflect on them and you know, all right. I, I, I don’t wanna be a city counselor. I want to be a mayor. Cuz I’m, I work better alone and I work better delegating tasks. So just going back to your like when you’re going to sleep or in English shower going back and amending your goals and saying, I can actually tackle it this way and I can achieve it better by also feeding that inner hunger, inner hunger that I have inside me. So I, I definitely think that setting goals is important, but also, you know, you can change your goals. They’re not really set in stone. You’re the one who drives that, that sort of steadily inclined to that goal. You’re the one who drives that steam book.


Sam Demma (19:01):
I love the idea of making sure it’s authentic to your core, making sure it’s something that you’re actually excited about pushing and working towards and above all else, making sure that it will also positively impact all the people around you or change something in a positive way in your environment, which leads me to my next question. How have you dealt with the opinions, thoughts, and expectations of others? I think something that sometimes holds people back is the expectations of others. You know, maybe a student’s parents wants them to get into a specific field or career, but deep down in their heart, they know that they wanna do something different. How have you personally dealt with the opinions and thoughts of others along your own journey? Because I’m sure there’s a lot of people telling you to do lots of different things with your path.


John Lucas Guimaraes (19:56):
Yeah. And, and to add to that, it’s very, it becomes very stressful and like having this cons constant pressure I’m gonna be a first generation. If I graduate of course with so ho hoping for that degree, but I’ll be a first generat graduate of an American college. Cuz my family came from Brazil. So there is a lot of pressure and expectations that come from my family. But, but making sure, I think it’s so important to make sure that your ambitions and your goals and your expecting for yourself or a more or a bigger priority to you than those expectations of your families and your peers and your, your, your friends and your teachers. But also knowing that it’s also important to get those expectations, to get those, that, that feedback, because some people might believe in you more than you believe in yourself and like hearing that like from an educator, from a peer, like, wow, you’re gonna do so, so great in life.


John Lucas Guimaraes (21:10):
I think that can be miscontrued as a, that can be miscontrued as like a, a very sets, a lot of pressure, but also knowing that that is beneficial to yourself because you have someone in your, in your court that believes in you and that is passionate about what you’re doing and believes that you can achieve anything you want to do. So I definitely think that looking at all the expectations around you, but also valuing your expectations for yourself more is it’s sort of that, that energy drink that gets you to overcome the expectations of others, because there are gonna be a lot of people, you know, especially like I think our, the younger generation is getting more vocal and is getting more decisive about what they wanna see different in the world and in their envi environments. And I think there is a, a misconception that we’re too young where we’re not experienced enough to know about these problems, but I think that’s something and that, that I even experienced myself, you know, I’m a board member, but I’m 23 years old. So it’s not so much just like I can go around telling people what to do, but it’s a team environment where all voices are equal. So I, I definitely think that it’s something that people have to evaluate for themselves because if you don’t, if you just keep listening to people around you, it’s not gonna get you anywhere. You have to tell yourself no I’m going to achieve that. No.


Sam Demma (22:58):
Yeah. I couldn’t agree more. I think especially when you’re young, there’s a lot of pressures as you grow up, it, it shifts and adjusts a little bit. And I appreciate your commitment to making this interview happen despite the fact that you’re tuning in from school as a dedicated student should. So don’t worry too much about the background noise. We can hear you super clearly, but I think when you’re young, those expectations are even louder because you’re not as sure of yourself or your own abilities, or maybe you don’t have as much confidence as you have maybe at later stages in your life. Whereas you continue to have experiences and build that skill of self confidence by achieving things and checking things off that you once said you were gonna do. I like to think of it like a giant bag on our backpack or a giant bag strapped to our shoulders, like a backpack.


Sam Demma (23:50):
And in that bag, as we experience life, it fills up with the thoughts and opinions of others, but also our personal experiences. And if we never stop to remove those opinions from others that maybe actually holding us back from being authentic to ourselves, then those start to become and grow into bricks that we carry around and weigh us down. Stop us from moving in a direction that maybe we actually wanted to go down. So thank you so much for, for sharing that. I really appreciate it. And something I always like to also mention is that like sometimes your decision will disappoint others and that’s also okay. I think it’s a part of the process. What’s more important is that you’re authentic and true to yourself because if you do end up deciding to live your life or take action, just to please somebody else’s expectations and you know, it’s going against your own authentic court desires at some point, the regret that you feel will far outweigh the disappointment that someone else will experience that may only last a couple minutes, a couple weeks or sometimes a few years, like you’ll have to deal with the regret for the rest of your life.


Sam Demma (24:58):
And you’re someone who has boldly and fearlessly pursued your authentic ambitions. And I can’t wait to see your name as the mayor or even the president of the country. where do, where do you see John Lucas in a couple years from now? What are the things you’re working on right now that you’re excited about and wanna share?


John Lucas Guimaraes (25:21):
I, yeah, I definitely don’t think I’m gonna be president. Just because I don’t qualify, but I think if, if I was born in the United States, I feel like that would’ve be, that would definitely be something I would think about a lot. I nice. But no, I, I imagine myself as governor of Massachusetts or at least the secretary of the United States department of transportation, but but that’s like far out, you know, something that I, you know, evaluate at first I was saying, I love foreign relations and I’m going to be secretary of state, but I think over time, and this is like recent, like with the last two years, maybe the last six months, I’ve sort of shifted and gone back to more my engineering passion. Right now I’m studying civil engineering and I’m really loving the transportation and the road work side of engineering because engineering is already so huge, but civil engineering is, you know, a branch in engineering, but it’s still as equally huge.


John Lucas Guimaraes (26:29):
There’s so many areas and sort of coming to school, I get overwhelmed with all the opportunities I have. You know, cuz you can fail. You know, like if I go to soil evaluating soil, you know, if I don’t know everything, you know, I could feel, but knowing that I have the choice to choose which path, which area I wanna focus on, I think that’s so that’s such a positive to feel, to know that you, you are aware you know, some of your family members might not have been in the same position that you are in. Some of them had to be like Jan janitors for a school, which there’s nothing wrong with that. But knowing that you have all these availabilities and all these possibilities in, in, in front of you and going back to your previous our previous couple statements, you know, at, to be blunt, you are going to work an eight to five full-time job probably until you retire.


John Lucas Guimaraes (27:38):
If you’re lucky enough to retire, do you really want to spend that much time of your life doing something that someone else imagined or expected you to do? I feel like that’s so much time that could be utilized to do something that you, that truly feels truly makes you feel happy and makes those around you happy because if you’re doing a job that you dislike, just because of someone’s expectations, the people around you are not gonna be happy as well because you are that, that not resentment, but that lack of happiness, that lack of enthusiasm, motivation, that’s gonna, you know, you can’t hold that in. That’s gonna come out and reflect on you and gonna to link back to the people around you. But for me personally, I think that my family respects that now as I’ve grown older and just know that if you have hard, strict expectations from your family, they’ll, they’ll change as long as you’re do being successful, being authentic to yourself and doing what you want to do, but also making sure that it’s something that will bring you success, your family’s expectations, your friends’ expectations, those will change as long as you stay true to yourself.


John Lucas Guimaraes (29:03):
So for me, I definitely want to works. There’s nothing better than working for the government in my opinion. So I definitely want to get work with the Massachusetts department of transportation or even in the private sector. I think there’s so much opportunity or success, but also happiness. All of the opportunities that I have available to me. So , I’m sort of just working on my classes and then I will evaluate what careers I have for me when I get there. I don’t wanna limit my,


Sam Demma (29:44):
Yeah, I love it. I totally agree. And can relate. That’s so many empowering perspectives are being shared and I couldn’t agree more, you know, you spend so much of your life working. It makes sense to do work that you love and you enjoy Steve jobs said in one of his commencement speeches, you know, the only way to do great work is to love what you do. You know, if you don’t love what you do, you’re not gonna give it your all or use your skills and talents and be obsessed enough with it to work on it. Like you said, at 1:00 AM in the morning, doing policy changes and that not only applies to students, but it also applies to educators. And not that you have to hustle and stay up til 1:00 AM every single night, but you have to love the work you’re doing.


Sam Demma (30:26):
You know, I think back to education as an educator, you know, your love for your work of impacting youth can literally change lives. Like you’re, you’re not only teaching content in a classroom, but you’re changing the neurons in a kid’s brain. You’re shifting their perspectives on a daily basis. And if you’re truly passionate about what you’re doing and teaching, you could have an impact on that student that, you know, changes their path for the rest of their life. And I know that because I had a teacher who changed my life and my perspective, and I’m sure you’ve had educators in your life who made a big impact, but John John Lucas, this has been an amazing conversation. And I want to thank you so much for taking your time out of your school day, to hop on this interview and have a conversation, a genuine conversation about, you know, your path and what you think it takes to be a great leader and how other leaders have poured into you. If someone is listening right now and has enjoyed this convers and what would be the best way for them to reach out to you?


John Lucas Guimaraes (31:27):
You can definitely find me on social media. I’m sort of a very marketed BPA member. So you can just find me on social media, John Lucas, Guimaraes or you can just you email me jguimaraes@bpa.org. And if you have any questions for me or, or anything that I can sort of help you feel free to reach out. I feel like I tell that to a lot of people and I feel like everyone tells that to people. But I can’t emphasize that enough if you can’t reach out to me, reach out to those around you and your peers, your teachers, these people wanna see you succeed. So just make sure that you are utilizing your resources.


Sam Demma (32:20):
Awesome. John Lucas, thank you so much. Good luck going beyond your limits at the, the next Texas national leadership conference. I wish you all the best in all your future endeavors and let’s definitely stay in touch.


John Lucas Guimaraes (32:33):
Awesome. Thank you so much, Sam, for having me.


Sam Demma (32:37):
Hey, it’s Sam again. I hope you enjoyed that amazing conversation on the high performing educator podcast. If you or someone, you know, deserves some extra recognition and appreciation for the work they do in education, please consider applying or nominating them for the high performing educator awards go to www.highperformingeducator.com/award. You can also find the link in the show notes. I’m super excited to spotlight and feature 20 people in 2022. And I’m hoping you or someone, you know, can be one of those educators. I’ll talk to you on the next episode, all the best.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with John Lucas

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

Dr. Bridget Weiss – TIME featured Educator and Superintendent of the Juneau School District

Bridget Weiss - TIME featured Educator and Superintendent of the Juneau School District
About Dr. Bridget Weiss

Dr. Bridget Weiss is the Superintendent of the Juneau School District. After graduating high school in Juneau, Bridget graduated from Whitworth University in 1984, with a Bachelors’s in Mathematics, a Minor in Physical Education and a secondary teaching certificate. Following graduation, she spent the next 26 years in Spokane as a high school math teacher, coach, high school assistant principal, elementary principal, Executive Director of Instructional Programs and Superintendent. 

Once back in Alaska, Bridget spent four years as principal of North Pole High School and four years as Director of Student Services at the Juneau School District.  She started this year as the Interim Superintendent and was hired for the position permanently in January.  Bridget attained her Masters in Mathematics from Eastern Washington University and her Doctorate in Educational Leadership from Washington State University.  Her work has been in districts as small as 1,800 and as large as 29,000 students.

Bridget is completing her 38th year in education at the start of 2022 was named Alaska’s Superintedent of the Year!

Connect with Bridget: Email | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources And Related Media

From Teachers to Custodians, Meet the Educators Who Saved A Pandemic School Year

Juneau’s Bridget Weiss named Alaska’s Superintendent of the Year

Juneau School District

Superintendent of the Year

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:01):
Welcome back to another episode of the high performing educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s guest is Dr. Bridget Weiss. She is the superintendent of the Juneau school district. After graduating high school in Juneau, Bridget graduated from Whitworth university in 1984 with a bachelor’s in mathematics, a minor in physical education and a secondary teaching. Following graduation, she spent the next 26 years in Spokane as a high school math teacher coach high school assistant principal elementary principal, executive director of instructional programs and superintendent. Once back in Alaska, Bridget spent four years as principal of north pole high school and four years as director of student services at the Juneau school district. She started this year as the interim superintendent and was hired for the position permanently in January. Bridget attained her masters in mathematics from Eastern Washington university and her doctorate in educational leadership from Washington state university. Her work has been in districts as small as 1800 and as large as 29,000 students. And Bridget is currently completing her 38th year in education. This conversation was phenomenal. You are gonna take away some amazing ideas. I hope you enjoy it. And I will see you on the other side, Bridget, welcome to thehigh performing educator podcast. It’s a huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Please start by introducing yourself.


Bridget Weiss (02:35):
Thank you, Sam. I am Bridget Weiss. I am the superintendent in Juneau school district in Juneau, Alaska.


Sam Demma (02:43):
That is amazing. Tell me more about your journey into education. What got you started and then, brought you to where you are today?


Bridget Weiss (02:53):
Yeah, well, I’m super lucky. I actually am born and raised in Juneau, so I’m a third Juneau white and I went left Juneau to go to school college in Spokane and I Wentworth university. And just really knew from a pretty young age that education was what I wanted to do and spend my life committed to. I had a couple of really cool experiences with teachers that really inspired me. And so I started out as a teacher. I spent 16 years as a teacher teaching junior high and high school math and coaching and all of that. And I’ve spent the balance of 38 years being in a administrator since then.


Sam Demma (03:41):
I’m just gonna give you a round of applause for your service. you mentioned you’re welcome. You mentioned having some really cool experiences with educators and teachers. Can you expand on that and tell me a little bit more how those experiences shape a decision to get into education?


Bridget Weiss (04:02):
You know, I was in junior high and seventh grade and I met a teacher who the best way I can really explain it is he saw me, like, I just, he knew me, got to know me. He was a math teacher my basketball all coach. And he was always checking in to see how I was doing. He had a great, has a great sense of humor and he was one that just really inspired me to be my best self, you know, which was what we would say now as a seventh grader, I would never, ever have been able to articulate that. But he really did. And he used his sense of humor and his ability to build relationships, really genuine relationships with kids. And so it inspired me and it certainly also impacted the type of educator that I wanted to be. And so I, I just feel really fortunate to have had some of those experiences that steered me in this direction,


Sam Demma (05:09):
Being seen and heard is such an important thing for every educator to do with their own students in their classrooms. How do you think in terms of tangible actions, he did that for you when you were in grade seven, was it by asking questions by being interested in your hobbies? Like what did that look like as a student?


Bridget Weiss (05:33):
I think for me through the eyes of a seventh grader again, it’s one thing looking back it’s another, but he, he did get to know me, you know, personally he knew who I was. I still remember. I, I can, I can look out my office window right now and see the building, my elementary school and the building that I went to junior high end. And I can still go to the corner of the hallway where his classroom was, and I can picture myself walking by not even going to his class, but he was always standing outside interacting his hallway or his classroom interacting with kids saying, hello, you know, making sure that we were on our way to class on time. And and, and he, his humor again, was really a key player for him. And and it was always very supportive humor and it was humor that was specific to who we were, if that makes sense. It, it, it really made you feel again, heard and seen. And, and I think it’s really hard to do that sometimes in education, the more kids that a teacher is serving the, you know, the larger, the class sizes. And I have really tried to emulate that sense that a student could get in whether they were in trouble or doing something fantastic that I saw them, that, that I knew them and that I was there to help them either through something that was negative or encouraged them because they were doing amazing things.


Sam Demma (07:07):
That’s an amazing teaching philosophy. And it’s so cool that you not even realizing it learnt it when you were a student in grade seven. so awesome. And speaking of difficulty in doing that even to this day, I’m sure with COVID, it took that challenge to a whole new level. And you’re someone who was very crafty and resourceful during COVID to try and keep things functional and not only functional, but for the students in your school board. You’re one of the only educators. In fact, the only educator who has been featured in time magazine for your effectiveness during COVID, that’s been on this podcast I’d love for you to share a little bit about what happened during COVID and how you and your team at the board transitioned and adapted.


Bridget Weiss (07:59):
Yeah. You know, we, I, one blessing that I’ve had is, I don’t know if it’s my mathematical background or just how my brain works, but I am definitely a problem solver, a solution finder and that’s how I’ve always focused. Here’s a challenge. What is the best next step? How do I get this only the resources they need? What does this kid need if this isn’t working? What options do we have for this kid? You know, so I, that’s just, my frame of thought always is finding solution and being prepared for situations that we might not know about yet. So here comes along the pandemic. And really one of the things that happened to us is that we ended up with a potential COVID case in one of our elementary schools really early in March. And we had to act quickly to know to, because we, again, in March, 2020, we knew so little about COVID.


Bridget Weiss (08:57):
We didn’t even, we couldn’t even spell the word mask yet. Right. We, we, we were just, it was, we just did not know anything. What I had done about three weeks before that we were hearing the talk about this virus and, you know, what, what it might mean in other countries. And wow. I was sitting up and paying attention. So I pulled all our department leaders together. This was in early February and said, Hmm, let’s start thinking about this. What might we need to do? This is something we just couldn’t even have imagined a even February, 2020. And so each department, it, food services teaching and learning health services counselors. I had, ’em all the leads there. And we trouble shot through each department, what this could look like and what we, what should we be doing now to think about that?


Bridget Weiss (09:56):
And so when we were shut down on a Friday, March 13th, on Monday morning, we were delivering food to kids. We had, we had meals available. We had Chromebooks ready to be delivered to kids or picked up to try to build distant and delivery learning on the spot. It was quite something so literally from a Friday shutdown to a Monday we were able to deliver services to kids. And, and that was really meaningful to our families. Many of whom rely on the free, hot breakfast that we serve every morning to our elementary kids and so forth. So it, it was very quick turnaround operation.


Sam Demma (10:39):
That’s amazing. If you were to take the experience and make it a blueprint for another superintendent or educator, who’s interested in the creativity that went into solving this problem, what would the through line be? Would it be that you have to in advance or, you know, the moment something changes, give it attention in time? Like, how would you distill this down to a principal that another board or educator could use?


Bridget Weiss (11:07):
I think a couple of things, one is definitely being as prepared as possible for the unknown, which we had an emergency response plan and it had at four levels and we busted through those four levels. In the first day we were responding and normally those four levels are extended over a period of time a month, you know, months we blew through those four levels in one day. And so then you have to rely on your instincts your courage your team. So I’m a huge team advocate. So I partnered with my chief of staff who we, we do crisis response together and have for a number of years. And we sat at this desk in my office for hours and started designing what we thought next steps were making lists of who needed, what information how were we gonna support our custodial team?


Bridget Weiss (12:03):
So when I pulled those leaders together, again, because it was such an inclusive group, everybody had a heads up, everybody understood at least that we didn’t know everything and that we were going to be working really hard. And we didn’t know for sure the, so what of all that yet? But everybody was on point. Everybody was thinking through our custodial lead was thinking about what supplies we did have on hand. So we knew right away where to start looking for, for the next round of supplies. And, and, and again, food service, they were already contacting for the state for what waivers we might need. You know, so again, having the right people, you can’t do it alone. So making sure that you’re really including your full team is, and that just takes some intention and building that team in advance so that everybody feels confident in themselves, equipped and UN and knows that you do believe in them in doing some hard creative work, when the time comes,


Sam Demma (13:06):
It’s such a Testament to the power of a team and unified messaging. If everyone was to get different messaging, it would’ve caused a mass amount of chaos. amongst everyone, because everyone would’ve been unclear on what their roles and responsibilities were. And I see that there’s a whiteboard for everyone who’s listening. They can’t see it, but there’s a whiteboard behind you. I’m, I’m sure you erase that a couple hundred times. Would that be true?


Bridget Weiss (13:30):
but that is so true. I had lists on, I have two whiteboards, a in my office, I had lists of so many different action steps. I had lists of groups of people. So I had the board of education. What did they need? Teachers, staff, what did they need? Parents, families, what did they need to know? Because some of it was different. Some of it was the same information, but some of it was different. So we would do that. And then we would commute out. Then we’d erase it and we’d start over. As soon as something happened that we thought we need to alert them, we would write it on the list. And then we would use that to craft our, our messages. So, and, and all of a sudden, all of our normal tools that we use didn’t work anymore, right. We, we couldn’t call staff meetings together.


Bridget Weiss (14:14):
Our, our app wasn’t allowed to come into the building for a while. You know it just, so we had to rely on video. I had never made a video as a, as an administrator. I don’t have a, a communication department but, but we did that. We started just right away because I knew people needed to hear my voice and see my face versus email that was void of emotion, void, you know, void of the voice inflection that you can give gratitude with and so forth. So we immediately started in this office right here, my one person, chief of staff videoed on her phone a message that I could give staff right before they went away for their their week. So you know, just relying on, on your, on your skills and your team, and we just, nobody can do it alone. And, and really that’s true in a pandemic, extraordinarily true in a pandemic, but it’s really true on a day to day basis as well. We’re only as good as the people around us and, and those that we commit to lifting up and supporting along the journey with us.


Sam Demma (15:25):
You mentioned the importance of filming a video, so the educators could feel your grad to, and hear your voice inflections. Can we talk about that for a second? What is the purpose or what went through your mind to come to that conclusion that you needed to send a video?


Bridget Weiss (15:43):
To me community has always been really important. So whatever role I’ve had, I, as when I was a teacher, I was a coach. I, my classrooms were communities. My teams were communities as an administrator. My building became my community and really nurturing and developing that community ended up in good results for kids. And so what I found was all of a sudden, I felt so responsible for 700 people that I couldn’t talk with. I couldn’t run to a, a building and go to a staff meeting and share, which is what we normally do in crisis, because crises usually are very point based. They’re they’re involved in geographical school. Yeah. One school or another school. I go to the staff meeting. I tell them it’s gonna be okay. This is what we’re doing well, now it was everywhere. . And, and so I thought, I just need to do this, and it needs to be really lighthearted.


Bridget Weiss (16:37):
So I put, I’m a big diet Coke and peanut M and M fans and every fan, and everybody knows it. So I made sure somebody had delivered some to me. I had that in the backdrop and I they were going away for spring break. This was like one week after we closed down. And I also had a video that two elementary teachers had done that one in one week. They had gotten words from their kindergarten classroom about a song. They, they worked together to build lyrics and these two teachers sang this song. It’s gonna be okay, was the main lyric. So I tacked that on to the end of the video and had my message and then that video, and it really was. I needed to tell them it’s gonna be okay. I, I don’t know the future. I’m not sure what we’re gonna do next week when you get back from break, but we’re gonna be ready for you. And, you know, we can do this because we can do it together. And so that, that was in my mind what I just needed to express to them. And I knew that the written word wouldn’t quite get at it.


Sam Demma (17:42):
I love that. And filming that video sounds like it was an action on one of your personal to-do lists. You mentioned having all these lists of teachers needs and student needs and parent needs and communicating to them accordingly. What are some tools that you use to organize yourself? Whether that’s to do lists or software or anything that might be helpful for organizing your day and your tasks?


Bridget Weiss (18:08):
Yeah, I, I am, I’m a list maker. I, as you would imagine, I have a very logical sequential brain. And so I do a lot of lists. And really my calendar is a huge organizer for me. And it sounds funny, but that really is a tool. I use it in planning. I use it in tracking what this week is gonna look like, what I need to have done, what I need to prepare for. There are some other programs out there. I have just found that I, with the pace at which I work, the fewer layers of programs that I have on top of me, the more effective I am. So the, the scheduling nature of a account calendar really becomes almost a project board. You know, when I’m looking out a couple weeks ahead and, and so forth. So, so I really am driven by lists by calendar and you know, and again, having a strong cabinet team that, that reminds us all, when something’s coming up, that we need to be, we’re working on


Sam Demma (19:11):
Amazing. And on the topic of resources to do lists sound really important to you. what are resources that have helped you as an administrator and an educator, whether it be trainings you’ve been a part of or books you’ve read, or programs you’ve taken, or even simple advice that you think might be helpful for other


Bridget Weiss (19:32):
Well, I know that I am similar to so many and maybe all educators we have all this drive to improve, you know, there’s never a moment rest of wanting to do more or wanting to do differ. And, and sometimes it’s, it is exhausting because it, it is just literally a constant layer. You never quite get there. There’s always something more that you want to do, or a problem you haven’t figured out a gap, you haven’t figured out how to resolve. And so I think that’s a good thing, you know, I, I, I absolutely think it is what makes us better as we go. And so I think the skill of dissatisfaction that the, the characteristic of dissatisfaction is really critical to an effective leader. You, you must really be hungry and there’s so much work to do. There was work to do before the pandemic.


Bridget Weiss (20:35):
So right now, what I feel is a huge sense of urgency. And I’m, I’m in my 38th year in education. And so I’m getting anxious because I know I don’t have a lot of time left and there’s so much work to do. Our country has demonstrated that in the last year through the pandemic and the losses related to that, but our social justice issues, you know, are the, the needs of, so many of our kids have grown in the social and emotional area. And so I just, I feel like we, the drive is really important because what the drive does is it helps you continue to ask questions. Why aren’t we getting the results we want? What is it that we’re not doing that should be doing? You know, what is it that we’re doing that is not effective that we need to, or harmful in some cases, right?


Bridget Weiss (21:34):
Where, where are those places in our institution that are simply not working for some of our kids and some of our families, what do we need to stop doing? And, and right now, everyone is a also operating with such fatigue. Our teachers, our staff, our I just met this morning with our bus drivers. And it’s just everywhere. You know, our principles, everyone is, is so exhausted. So how we go about our business is really important, trying to focused on our priorities what, what do we stand for and how do we manage growth in those areas with limited resources, limited time, and a greater set of needs. And I think inspiring people to stay the fight, you know, to stay the course is really an important skill that a leader needs to have right now. And nobody needs to hear that we’re exhausted. Nobody needs to hear that we don’t have enough time. It, it, it simply, it is a way of life as a leader. And it certainly is before the pandemic. It is more now, it’s not that we shouldn’t take care of ourselves, but as a leader we really need to project optimism and hope for us to get through this next year, two, three years that we’ve got coming ahead of us in recovery,


Sam Demma (23:05):
How do you fill up your own cup? What are the things that you do outside of the walls of your boardroom or office to make sure you can show up optimistically and hopefully for not only your staff, but also all the students and families in the board?


Bridget Weiss (23:20):
Well, a lot of diet Coke and a lot of peanut M and MSS, the first step. After that I live in the most gorgeous area of the country in Southeast Alaska. And so I thrive in the out of doors. And so for me, personally, fresh air running, being on trails that fills my bucket. It’s really important for me. And I know when I haven’t gotten enough of it. So I think it is super important for everyone to find what fills their bucket. And we have an obligation to do that because we cannot fill others buckets if we don’t fill our own. And it is really a conscious decision and finding ways to fit it in. So I run early in the morning because if I don’t, it won’t happen. So it’s pitch dark this morning, probably 29 degrees . And but I was out there and and it was a great way to start the day. So everybody really has to fill their own bucket in, in whatever way does that for them. Awesome.


Sam Demma (24:24):
And, and if you want to share one or two final parting words or resources you think might be helpful for an educator listening, now’s a perfect time to do so.


Bridget Weiss (24:38):
I, I would say that one I’m, I’m not a big program person because I find that the heart of the work is so often in strategies and a mindset that and skill sets. However, I will say that one, as we move through this pandemic, and we have students with such increasing needs, our work around equity and social, emotional learning we use restorative practices here and it has made a huge difference in our, in our children and our families as we approach this work through the restorative practice lens. And and that is a, I think ill changer for many, many school institutions. But we have to keep looking at our, through our equity lens that there is no question that school is not still, it’s so frustrating to me, but it is still not the same experience for all kids.


Bridget Weiss (25:44):
And we have to keep fighting to change. When I hear that a child feels unseen, it breaks my heart. It is it is completely a travesty that we would have children show up and feel unseen. And so the work that we’re doing around equity and really partnering with our tribal agencies and, and other groups here to design systems that are very welcoming and socially just is, is really just important work. So I just encourage everybody to, to keep their priorities. You know, there’s a lot of noise. There’s a lot of tractors and a, a lot of anxiety in our country right now is and pointed towards schools. And we need to, as educators hold tight, stay the course with our priorities that we know our students and our families need and stand up for that and continue to, to take charge of what we do best for kids.


Sam Demma (26:53):
Bridget, thank you so much for taking some time out of your day to come on the high performing educator podcast. It’s been a phenomenal conversation. If an educator listening wants to reach out to you or mail you some diet Coke and M and Ms and peanuts, what would be the best email address or point of contact that they could send you a note or a question or a comment?


Bridget Weiss (27:17):
Sure. Email would probably be best. Send it to: bridget.weiss@juneauschools.org


Sam Demma (27:33):
Bridget, thank you so much. Keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon.


Bridget Weiss (27:38):
Sounds great. Thank you, Sam.


Sam Demma (27:41):
Hey, it’s Sam again. I hope you enjoyed that in amazing conversation on the high performing educator podcast. If you or someone, you know, deserves some extra recognition and appreciation for the work they do in education, please consider applying or nominating them for the high performing educator awards, go to www.highperformingeducator.com/award. You can also find the link in the show notes. I’m super excited to spotlight and feature 20 people in 2022. And I’m hoping you or someone, you know, can be one of those educators. I’ll talk to you on the next episode, all the best.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Bridget

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.

Tina Edwards – President of the Saskatchewan Association of Student Council Advisors

Tina Edwards - President of the Saskatchewan Association of Student Council Advisors
About Tina Edwards

Tina Edwards has been an educator in Saskatchewan for the past 27 years, but still considers herself a rookie in the education game. Student leadership has been a passion of hers since she entered the teaching profession in 1994.

Two highlights of her career are hosting the Saskatchewan Student Leadership Conference in 2012 and again in 2019. Projects like these prove that students can accomplish anything if they are willing to work hard and work together as a team.

Tina believes that every person has the ability to be a leader, as long as they are willing to work on being a good human first. After that, anything is possible!

Connect with Tina: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Saskatchewan Association of Student Council Advisors

Winton High School

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the high performing educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker Sam Demma. Today’s special guest was referred by a past guest and her name is Tina Edwards. Tina has been an educator in Saskatchewan for the past 27 years, but still considers herself a rookie in the education game. Student leadership has been a passion of hers since she entered the teaching profession in 1994. Two highlights of her career are hosting the Saskatchewan student leadership conference in 2012 and again, in 2019. Projects like these prove that students can accomplish anything if they’re willing to work hard and work together as a team. Tina believes that every person has the ability to be a leader as long as they’re to work on being a good human first after that, anything is possible. I hope you enjoy this amazing conversation with Tina Edwards and we’ll see you on the other side.


Sam Demma (01:32):
Tina, welcome to the high performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. You are highly recommended by not one but two past guests. Why don’t you start by yourself?


Tina Edwards (01:44):
Oh my goodness. The pressure you’re putting on me. So earlier, my name is Tina Edwards and I’m a teacher at Winston high school in Saskatchewan. I’m also the president of SASCA, which is our student leadership in Saskatchewan and yeah, that’s kind of me!


Sam Demma (02:05):
When in your journey, did you get involved in student leadership and what prompted you to move in that direction and get more, more engaged?


Tina Edwards (02:14):
Well, I, I was a student leader when I was in high school myself, so that’s kind of where my journey started. And I just, as I got into the teaching, that opportunity opened itself to me and I began taking students to leadership conferences and 20, some years later the opportunity came up that I decided let’s try and host the conference, which is a huge undertaking. Did that in 2012. And when you are hosting, you automatically go onto the SASA executive and then they just couldn’t get rid of me. And I stayed and eventually became president and hosted the conference a second time.


Sam Demma (02:55):
Ah, that’s amazing. And let’s go back for a second to you as the student leader in high school. Yeah. So if you could think back what as a student prompted you to get involved as a student leader, did you have a teacher who tap you on the shoulder or how did that journey look like?


Tina Edwards (03:12):
Well, I grew up in a small town and, and when I say small town, I’m saying under 200 people, oh wow. I, and it really just became that every project we did in that town, it needed everybody to, to make it happen. And so I grew up just watching and participating and knowing that you needed to be an active member in whatever the project ahead of you was. So that’s kind of where it started. And then I think I just had some really strong leadership skills and I wasn’t really afraid to take action. So it just kind of flowed naturally for me. And it, nobody really told me, I just thought, Hey, why can’t I, so why can’t I be a student leader? And I couldn’t come up with a good reason. So there we go.


Sam Demma (03:59):
That’s awesome. And do you still remember the teachers that were overlooking student leadership and student council back when you were in high school?


Tina Edwards (04:06):
Yeah, definitely. I do. And, and I guess I always kind of looked up to them and, and allowed them to show me what it was like to be a leader, but not necessarily being in charge and working with other people. And I really kind of admired that.


Sam Demma (04:24):
Oh, that’s awesome. And let’s continue down the journey. So you finished high school and did you know at that age that you wanted to get into teaching or how did you navigate the career search for yourself?


Tina Edwards (04:34):
Yeah, I didn’t really have a choice. It teaching career found me and I, I always coached, I taught swimming lessons. I babysat, it just was a calling and, and it, there was just no question about it. I was going to be a teacher and I had to work really hard to get into university for my first year. Cuz at that time the marks were really high to get in and I just worked hard and kept going. And that was a really easy decision for me.


Sam Demma (05:04):
Well, tell me more. Did you have like teachers tapping you on your shoulder saying, you know, Tina you’d be a great educator. Did your parents work in teaching or Nope. How did it, how did it exactly find you?


Tina Edwards (05:15):
You know, it just, I grew up wanting to be a teacher and I loved kids and I always found ways to engage in, in working with kids, whether it was volunteering or summer jobs working in a living in a small town of 200 people. You just, everybody was family and that’s, that’s what I knew I wanted.


Sam Demma (05:39):
That’s amazing. And you mentioned coaching a little as well, was four, it’s a big part of your own childhood.


Tina Edwards (05:45):
Yeah, definitely. In a small town there isn’t much to do other than the sports that happened to be in that season at that time. And, and you know what, I was never a great athlete. I, I just really enjoyed the team aspect and being part of a team and I was just happy to be there and do my part. Hmm that’s awesome. And the coach, the coaching just kind of evolved and it’s coaching and leading was never something I had to work really hard at. It just, it just felt natural for me.


Sam Demma (06:17):
And do you think coaching and leading a group are two very similar things like whether or not you’re teaching a sport, you know, working as the, you know, president of SASCA is probably similar to coaching a team in some way, shape or form. Is there a lot of similarities between the two?


Tina Edwards (06:32):
Well, I always say I’m lucky because when I think when you coach a sports team, you’re given some, some opportunities or some, some times where you have to make some really hard decisions where you’re not gonna make everybody happy. And I feel in the, in the job I have and all the, the positions I’ve had, I, I’ve never had to make somebody unhappy. Mm I’m. Just there to be a cheerleader and, and get us working towards a common goal. And, and I selfishly really appreciate that. I get to live in my happy land. Mm . I don’t have to make any game day decisions.


Sam Demma (07:09):
Yeah, I okay. Yeah. So there is one stark difference. Everyone’s happy. yeah. Yeah. That’s awesome. That’s so cool. And so start teaching or you go to teachers college, it’s a tough first year. You work through that. What did your first job in education look like? Let’s go back there for a second.


Tina Edwards (07:27):
Well, my first job was actually in another small town of Combs where actually I do live right now. Nice. I, I just took a, a maternity leave for just a few months there and I knew it was coming to an end. And so then I took a job. I was in Carlisle for two years, which was about a four hour drive away. So that was really great. It got me definitely out of my comfort zone, met some new people, really had time to figure out what I wanted my teaching career to look like. And I dove right into the community there right away. And of course, such great positive connections were made. And, and then it was just straight on from there. And then I knew I was wanting, I was going to be getting married and eventually took me a few years, but I made my way back closer to where I was getting married and where I actually live now. And now I’m in Watchers high school, Winston high school in Watchers. And this has been my 22nd year in this school.


Sam Demma (08:32):
That’s awesome. And education has had many, you know, turns and twists. And I would say most of them happened over the two and a half years. what, what are some of the challenges that the school has been faced with over the past two years? And you know, how have you strive to kind of overcome those things as a community?


Tina Edwards (08:52):
Well, our, our school really prides ourself in being a family. First, we talk about the Wildcat family and, and usually when, when people say we’re a Wildcat family, they might think we’re talking about sports. And really it is sports is a piece of it, but it is just a piece of it. We work really hard in our school to make sure everybody feels connected. We started something called wild cap pride, where all the students are divided into color groups, mixed within different grades. And we do projects every couple, couple times a month and where we get the whole group family together, a whole school together and just work together on as a team at, and we do projects like we’ll play outdoor games. We might volunteer in the community. And so when COVID hit our family, we talk about isolation and that’s what our family had to do. We, we had to break apart. We, we could no longer get together as a whole, a whole family. And, and that was really hard on us. Mm.


Sam Demma (09:59):
Yeah. And I, I couldn’t imagine, it seems like every school I talked to has had a similar, but sometimes different experiences based on location. Was your school closed down? How long did you have to isolate or did the school ever close?


Tina Edwards (10:13):
Yeah, we, we closed from may until, or sorry, March until June of 2020. Yep. And then we, where we were online a little bit in there, but that it definitely was optional for students. Mm. So it was really hard. We were trying to engage people. We were trying to get connected with our students and some didn’t wanna be you connected with, and some, maybe couldn’t be connected with cuz where they were living rural. They didn’t, their families maybe didn’t have internet connections. So it was just, it, it was a tough time cuz we were trying to make it seem normal and it, it just wasn’t.


Sam Demma (10:52):
And you were also juggling SASA at the same time. So how did that yeah. Adjust or pivot or change, you know, based on the situation, you know.


Tina Edwards (11:01):
Really ironically our school hosted the last leadership conference in, in 2019 in September, 2019. And had we known what was to come? I, I don’t know, like we were able to host it. We were so very lucky. We had to province with us. We had a thousand leaders in our town of about 2000 people. Wow. they’re


Sam Demma (11:25):
All bill it out into like different, oh,


Tina Edwards (11:27):
Bill it out. Yeah. It, it was a great experience, but we did had no idea what was coming down a few months later. So then juggling Saska was really hard because what do we do? What do we do with this poor host community Goll lake that is supposed to be hosting in, in 2021 and, or I guess it’d be 2020. Do we, do we try to make it go? Do we cancel it? What do we do with the money that they’re out? It, it was, there was just no answers. We had to really struggle hard.


Sam Demma (12:00):
Yeah. That’s a tough situation. Did did, did the conference go on in 2020? Was it postponed or yeah,


Tina Edwards (12:08):
We actually gave them the option. They could postpone it, they could cancel it. They chose to cancel it just given the group of students that they were kind of framing the conference around would then have been graduated. So and they were, they were fairly far in their planning, but money wise, they weren’t too terribly invested. Mm. So we, we supported them in counseling it and trying to just make things balance out at the end and, and call it a year. And then Melfort was, had the next host bid host and they ended up canceling theirs as well. They were just really hadn’t even really started their, their planning. So it, it, it was okay. The problem we have now though, is how do we pick this up again? Yeah. How, when, who, how, where, and that’s what we’re struggling with right now. Mm.


Sam Demma (13:06):
So future planning is currently happening. Some, some in some way, shape or form


Tina Edwards (13:11):
well and, or no planning. We, yeah, we just don’t. I mean, how does a school take upon this venture when you don’t know what tomorrow’s gonna look like? Right. And, and it takes a good solid two to three years to plan a conference like this. Yeah. So I, I have some fear that I’m not sure when the next one is going to happen.


Sam Demma (13:31):
What does the planning look like? Like give some insight into people, people listening to what a thousand person conference building and the homes in your community, the what kind of planning looks like for something like that oh,


Tina Edwards (13:43):
The planning itself. Oh my goodness. I don’t wanna scare anybody off, but it is, it is, it is so much work, but it is so rewarding at the same time. Yeah, it , I don’t even know where to begin, but yeah, it, it is, it is a lot of work, but it is, it is great to see those kids coming together and planning and, and, you know, if I always tell the students, you can’t write a marathon tomorrow, you can’t think about up that marathon. You gotta break it down into little pieces. And, and that’s what we really did. And, you know, we got our group, our planning group together. We got our community behind us, started thinking about what we wanted our conference to look like. What, what things did we wanna give to our attendees? What what are the date? What are the activities? And just broke it down into little chunks. And before you knew it, the three years of planning was over and it was go time.


Sam Demma (14:45):
I was telling you before the interview started, that, you know, I felt that when COVID initially hit, it seemed like all the emphasis and support was being placed on the students and PE you know, educators getting supported as well. But maybe it was a little more behind the scenes. And I’m curious to know, what do you think the struggles and challenges were for educators during that time, and even now coming out of it? Maybe some of the things you experienced personally, but saw your peers going through as well.


Tina Edwards (15:11):
Yeah, our, I don’t think the average teacher goes into teaching for the academic part of it only. Yep. We, we are here cuz we like, we like kids, we like, we like their energy. We like seeing what they’re capable of. And that was really difficult to see everything come to a halt and, and not being E even able to interact with the kids. Like we used to be able to last year we were in cohorts, we were all in different times and schedules and breaks and noon hours. And we literally did not see each other. And, and that was lonely. And, and you just, you’re on a little bit of an island.


Sam Demma (15:53):
Mm. And did, does SASCA also support staff or is it solely towards the student?


Tina Edwards (15:59):
It, it is advisors. Yeah. It, it is geared towards advisors. Our, our main, our main purpose though, is supporting advisors in leading and leadership in, within their schools. So we did do an online conference for students and advisors last year. I, I think we’re, we’re getting to the point though, where everybody’s had enough of online, everything like, we it’s, it’s hard to stay engaged and, and have students just stare at a computer all the time. And so we’re actually in the middle of planning, what this year’s gonna look like for SASCO we’re, we’re hanging on, we’re trying to keep our membership strong. We’re trying to offer different activities, but it’s, it’s hard.


Sam Demma (16:44):
Yeah, no, I hear you. If you, if you do something virtual, just make sure there’s some, there’s some music and dancing. Yeah.


Tina Edwards (16:53):
Our conference last year was really good. Nice. And I think the people who attended it were, were really appreciative of having that opportunity. I just don’t know if we can do it two years in a row and, and still engage the people that we’re trying to engage. So we’re really struggling on where we go from here and what it looks like, and, and it’s important. And we don’t wanna say, all right, we’re not gonna do anything for the next three years. That would be terrible if all these years of leadership conference and the memories kind of go on, go forgotten. And, and that’s what I’m trying to work hard at right now is making sure SASA and student leader stays at the front, even though we can’t do a lot of, of those typical activities.


Sam Demma (17:40):
Yeah. I think it’s an important conversation to have and start having. And it’s cool to hear that you are having it. I think that extracurriculars student leadership clubs, all of those things just add such a huge student experience to yeah. Everyone in your school, you know? Yeah.


Tina Edwards (17:55):
And students, they don’t come to school for the academics. Yeah. There’s a small majority that, that do, but I would say the most people come here for the other things, the other activities and, and , you know, the kids have been doing so well that last year they had everything canceled. Mm. And we were able to focus more on academics and they just, they did what we needed them to do. And there, there was no pity parties. We were just moving on. And so appreciative of what kids are able to do and how resilient they can be.


Sam Demma (18:31):
If, if, I guess if education was like a three course meal, academics would be like the appetizer or the dessert and oh, a


Tina Edwards (18:37):
Hundred percent. Absolutely. Yeah. And yeah, it’s just, it’s just hard cuz we know that a lot of students are struggling either in their home life or in their peer circle and or their academics. And we try to help students as a whole, not just as one part. So we’re really trying hard to connect all of those pieces and COVID is not helping us.


Sam Demma (19:02):
And why do you think student leadership and you know, everything else aside from academics is a school in a school is so important because there might be someone out there who’s not fully bought into the idea that, you know, student leadership can change a kid’s life or extracurriculars can help them build skills. They would never build elsewhere. Like why do you think student leadership and extracurriculars are important?


Tina Edwards (19:23):
Well, you know, when you look at academics, not everybody’s an academic student, they could work. So, so very hard and still never improve their academics. That can be said as well with athletics. Mm-Hmm , some students are not athletic. They could work every day and still not improve. Their athleticism student leader is about being a good human. And I really believe that everybody can be a good human. And so it’s so something that everybody can achieve and it makes a, it’s a, a fair playing ground and everybody can feel like they have an important part. And, and like I said, at the beginning, it’s like, I’m coaching a team, but I never have to make any hard decisions. Yeah. Or it’s happy


Sam Demma (20:11):
Land. Yeah. No disappointing decisions.


Tina Edwards (20:14):
Yeah, absolutely. We’re just here to make everybody’s day. Just a little bit better.


Sam Demma (20:18):
Love that. I love that. And I wanna ask you, so if, if like, if you could try and pinpoint things that teachers did for you growing up that made you happy as a student, that if you can remember, like, what do you think some of those things are that teachers can do to make their students feel good about themselves to help students realize their own potential? Because another educator might be listening and wanting to have a similar impact on their own kids.


Tina Edwards (20:45):
I just think I remember teachers who would know my name and I, they didn’t actually teach me or I, I was in a larger school and, and I just thought, you know, there’s taking a moment to say hello to me, I’m the only person with this name. They are, they’re connecting with me. And I just always thought that was really special. and I, I remember too going on sports trips and thinking this teacher is spending the whole weekend with me instead of at home with their own family. And I knew, and I knew that was something that I wanted to be able to do for other students.


Sam Demma (21:24):
I love that. So the investment of time, and also, so the personal relationship to a point where, you know, teachers go out of their way to remember your name or even like know personal things about you.


Tina Edwards (21:35):
Yeah. Yeah. And, and that’s, that can go such a long way in, in a student’s life. And, and that’s what I really miss the most about COVID is when students are in my, in my classroom, in our school, I kind of have my eyes on them. I know I can see when they’re struggling. I can see when somebody hasn’t eaten a very good breakfast. I can see when somebody’s had a fight at home. I can see when somebody’s struggling academically. But when I had to stay at home, I had no idea what, how my students were doing like really doing, I could, would tell maybe academically how they were doing, but all of those things that I worry about, and I wanna connect with students, I was completely removed from that. And I, I struggled with that.


Sam Demma (22:19):
And I would argue, you know, back to the name example as well, remembering people that remembered your name. I think it just applies to being, like you said, a good human people appreciate when you can address them by their name. I’ve been at the grocery store and I’ll say, hi, and address the person behind the cash by their name. And they’ll look up and be confused and say, do I know you, are you


Tina Edwards (22:42):
Shock me? yeah.


Sam Demma (22:44):
I’m like, no, I just, I just used your name. It’s on your name tag there. And you know, then they end up, you know, bursting out the biggest smile and you end up having a good two minute conversation before you put your groceries in your box and leave. Yeah. And I think when you take interest in other people, it just builds good relationships. Right?


Tina Edwards (23:01):
Absolutely. And, and what, what, just imagine what you can do once you’ve connected with somebody, once you’ve, you’ve been able to have a, a one on one conversation with them, the rest of their day, you just, you don’t know what’s gonna come after that.


Sam Demma (23:16):
Yeah. And you also never know what someone’s carrying, which is why I think kindness is so important, you know, just because you can’t see, it doesn’t mean they aren’t carrying it. And that’s something I always try and remind myself because yeah, we, we, you know, you only see them in the school building and now with COVID, you know, like you’re saying you don’t even see them in the school building, so it’s even, you know, even more important to be you.


Tina Edwards (23:35):
Luckily for us, the COVID like COVID is still here obviously, but we, we have been able to have our extracurricular activities within our school and our clubs. We can have, we, we are cohorted, but not quite as much as we were last year or as strictly, we’ve been able to do some outside whole group activities while mask. So this year’s already better than all of last year put together.


Sam Demma (24:04):
Yeah. Ah, you’re right. That’s and it’s good to see the positives too. even if they’re in a smaller.


Tina Edwards (24:10):
And that’s what, like I said to the, the students last year, we’re not having a pity party here this year. It’s, it’s, it’s different, but we’re gonna make the best of it. And, and through leadership, we, we did bingo virtually we, we did some trivia contests virtually. We did, we did our pep rallies virtually. We, we still wanted to make it, you know, those activities part of our, our school year. Although, you know, they’re not the same this year. We’re already noticing that people have a little bit more of a pep in their step. Mm. They can still have their football games. They can still go to their volleyball tournaments. There’s been a little, so some hiccups along the way, maybe a, a tournament has had to be canceled or a football game, but we’re just moving on. We don’t have time to sit and dwell in the, the negatives, no


Sam Demma (24:56):
Pity party focusing on the positives. Those are two great, no pity partying, no two great phrases and pieces of advice. I’m gonna ask you to put your thinking hat on for a second. And if you could like travel back in time you know, back to the future, but back to the past, actually. Yeah. Yeah. And you could speak to first year, Tina, when you just started teaching, but with all the wisdom and experience that you have now, like if you could walk into your own classroom, you know, that first city that you taught in that was really small, and you could walk into your own C and speak to yourself and give yourself some advice. What are a couple things that you would share?


Tina Edwards (25:32):
Well, I know for sure, I would not focus so much on the academics. Mm. Of course, when you’re coming out of university and you have your teaching degree and you’ve done your student teaching, that’s what it was about. It was about academics and I I’m a teacher and this is what I’m going to teach. Yep. And it really didn’t take me long to realize that there’s so much more to teaching than just the academics. And so I think if I could give myself a little bit of advice, I would just say, let’s not worry about that. Let’s, let’s focus on just the students themselves, the P the academic piece. We’ll talk about that a little bit later. I love, but of course, as a new teacher, you thought it was all about academics.


Sam Demma (26:15):
Yeah. And, and what does focusing on the student look like in the classroom? Is it making time for them to share their stories or like, what do you, what do you think that other time looks like?


Tina Edwards (26:24):
Yeah, just, just connecting and really appreciating where some of these students are coming from. I didn’t know what their home lives were like, and I didn’t even stop to even think about it. I just thought, okay, everybody’s coming into my classroom at the same level. And it, it really didn’t take me too long to realize that yeah, you know what, this is not quite the case. Mm. They’re not coming with the same skillset as the person may be sitting next to them.


Sam Demma (26:52):
Yeah. It’s a really smart reminder. That’s a good piece of advice to share with you, younger self. Awesome. Tina, thank you so much for coming on the show. If an educator listening and feels inspired or just wants to reach out and chat, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?


Tina Edwards (27:09):
My email is probably the best way at work. It’s tina.edwards@horizonsd.ca. And it’s funny cuz when, when you said that if somebody would wanna reach out, I often think, you know, I’m in my 27th year of teaching, but what do I really know? I wonder like what would somebody ask me? I don’t really know, but yeah. I I’m here. I’ll do my best.


Sam Demma (27:35):
That’s called the curse of knowledge. yeah,


Tina Edwards (27:38):
Yeah. Maybe.


Sam Demma (27:39):
But again, Tina, thank you so much for coming on the show. It’s been awesome conversation. Keep up with the great work with school and SASA and I look forward to seeing whatever happens with the conferences and events.


Tina Edwards (27:51):
yeah. I think our, our paths are good across again, Sam.


Sam Demma (27:54):
Awesome. I’ll talk to you soon, Tina.


Tina Edwards (27:56):
Okay. Take care.


Sam Demma (27:58):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the high performing educator podcast asked 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.highperforming.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 Tina

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.

Leslie Loewen – Campus Culture Manager at Fresno Unified School District

Leslie Loewen, Campus Culture Director
About Leslie Loewen

Leslie Loewen (@MommaLoew) has been an educator for more than 23 years, serving the students of California’s Central Valley as a teacher, coach, club sponsor, and administrator. She has always been focused on active learning, positive relationship-building, and planting the seeds of knowledge and leadership through student engagement.

As Fresno Unified’s current Campus Culture Manager she strives to engage ALL students in Arts, Activities, and Athletics, through a wide array of opportunities, so that they may connect with an adult champion and learn how to be the best version of themselves. “Every student has an essential purpose, and it is our job to open their eyes to their greatest potential and path to success.”

Connect with Leslie: Email | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

California Association Directors of Activities (CADA)

Fresno Unified School District

Icebreakers & Team Builders to Build Community (August Webinar)

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 on the show is Leslie Loewen, or as her 75,000 students would call her MommaLowe. Leslie is the campus culture manager at the Fresno unified school district. She’s also a wife and a Momma. She loves her job and family is one of the values that is high on her list, which is why it’s no surprise that even her students refer to her as Momma Lowe. She prides herself in building relationships with kids and providing them with opportunities and experiences that can have a significant impact on their life now, and also a future development. I hope you enjoy this amazing conversation with Leslie and I will see you on the other side.


Sam Demma (01:31):
Leslie, welcome to the high-performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show. Please start by just introducing yourself.


Leslie Loewen (01:38):
Good morning, Sam. It’s awesome to be with you. My name is Leslie Loewen and I am the campus culture manager for Fresno unified school district. This means I’ve been a teacher for 20 plus years and then went into campus culture, which is what we call maybe activities directors at other school sites. She call them campus culture directors because we were more than Reaper chugs and pies in the face. And Julie, from the love belt, you’re too young, but other people know what that means, but we just, we wanna make sure that kids feel a sense of belonging and place and connection to our schools. And we know that that starts with the culture of your campus. And so been doing that now for 15ish of the 20 plus year.


Sam Demma (02:30):
Oh, that’s awesome. I heard someone told me, I think it was a little bird that students sometimes call you momma loew. Is that is a true story?


Leslie Loewen (02:38):
That is my street name. It’s it’s behind me. I don’t know which way to write it. Right. Because some, sometimes the camera’s flip or not. So yeah, you can find me on Instagram and Twitter there. It’s mostly just stuff I retweet about all of our awesome kids in Fresno unified. I’ve got 75,000 kids. That’s it.


Sam Demma (02:56):
That’s it?!


Leslie Loewen (02:57):
I mean, you know, I didn’t birth them all, which was good.


Sam Demma (03:02):
Yeah. Where did the nickname come from?


Leslie Loewen (03:06):
I had a student one time. So every time I would leave the room, which you should never do with children, right? Like that’s the golden rule with never leave the room as a teacher. But I would leave the room cause we, my leadership kids in there and they would sticky bomb my walls and they would put notes and things on there. And one day, one of my students said 2000 kids and counting mama loew the next reality show. And so I giggled cause that’s what I always used to say. They’re my kids. Like you didn’t pick me just like you didn’t pick your biological mother. You’re welcome. And now we’re going to move forward as if your mind, because you are mine. And and so when I got this job, the student was super cute. He crossed it off and put 75,000 kids in counties. So it’s my reality show and I love it. So


Sam Demma (03:57):
Amazing. And so tell me more about your journey and education. Did you know from a young age that you wanted to work with kids specifically in a school setting? Or how did you stumble upon this calling?


Leslie Loewen (04:09):
Well, my parents were both teachers, so the answer was heck now I am not going to be a teacher. My mom taught elementary school and she worked really, really hard and she, she I come from a long line of hand-raisers. So, you know, when there’s something that needs to be done, we’re like, okay, I’ll do it. Okay. I’ll do it. And so she did everything in elementary school. She was the cheer coach when they lost their music teacher, she knew how to play piano. So she, she was a music director. She, you know, my dad was a science teacher in high school. He was a coach. And so I was always on the field with him, with them. January would roll around, he coached baseball. So January would roll around and it was like, okay, dad, we’ll see in a couple of months and you know, we’d have coffee and donuts for all the coaches, all his kids, you know, we have these big camps and that’s just kind of what you did.


Leslie Loewen (05:09):
And I have a degree in dirt now. I know all the dirt was the grand soils and chemistry from Cal poly. I thought I was going to redo baseball fields to make the water drains. So you could play on it faster or, you know, beyond a golf course and make sure that the greens were awesome. And then my sister had her first child and she said, Hey, get your masters and come and take care of drew. And I did. And I hated my masters. So I was like, now what my mom said, why don’t you stop? Just make some extra cash watch drew. And then on the days that you’re not watching drew, just so you know, I taught dance for more than 10 years. And I thought that was, that was different. Turns out it’s, it’s pretty close. You know, you got kids that just want to be the best they can be and find their spark.


Leslie Loewen (06:13):
And I mean, when they do that magical things happen. And so I started sobbing and I thought I could bring my bag of tricks. That’s great. But I’d like to be with these kids more than just today. Like I, I built a relationship today and they’re saying, are you going to be here tomorrow or where, you know, and I did, I didn’t know where I was going to be every day. So my, my mom and dad both said that they saw it. They just didn’t want to push me. I had to see it for myself and turns out I really liked kids. So and I just love connecting with them and showing them their potential and really just kind of teasing that out. Have a little fun.


Sam Demma (07:10):
How do you help us students see that in themselves? What does that look like in the classroom? Cause I think a lot of students, especially at a young age, like high school and middle school, even elementary school they don’t fully have the self-confidence maybe yet at that stage in their life. And I’m sure you’ve had students who started in your classrooms, not that confident and maybe left a whole different person sometimes. And other times you don’t even know until 15 years in the future when they come back and tell you, but how do you think you help students see the potential within themselves and find their spark and chase the things that they love?


Leslie Loewen (07:49):
That’s like, I mean, that’s a great question. I think it comes from listening with everything you have. So you’ve got to be an active listener with your eyes, with your ears, with your body, with, with everything you have. Right. And I didn’t realize that really until you said that. And and I I’m one that kind of tries to connect the dots, right. So I got to be a fifth grade teacher on Friday. Right. So during this whole, you know, COVID stuff, we’re, we’re down teachers and subs and administrators and everything. So even though I worked at the district office, I got to work, I got to be a fifth grade teacher on Friday. You never know what yet. So I go in and I’m talking and I’m laughing and I’m introducing myself and we’re, we’re getting things done. Well, of course we’re behind, already, we’re behind on the list of tasks.


Leslie Loewen (08:44):
Right. And as a sub, I was wanting to get everything done on my list. And so we’re behind. And so I looked at the kids and I said, I need everyone to work diligently right now. And I don’t know if that’s a fifth grade where I don’t know what lexicon that is please. I mean, so I was, and they kind of looked at me and I said, do we know what diligently means? Okay. Let’s think about this. I need you to do what we’re supposed to do in an hour and 30 minutes. And one kid goes, I want, I need to work fast. I said, yes, I need to focus. Yes. I need to not talk. Yes. Okay. All of those things work diligently and I’m talking, just talking to my, my biological kids at home. My, my youngest said the other day, mom, you never talked to us like we were babies.


Leslie Loewen (09:32):
So I think number one, listening with everything active listener, but number two, like treating kids as you want them to be, or as you see them to be like, as they’re grown. I, I spent majority of my teaching time in high school. So when I had my biological children, my two boys I, I wanted to, even as young children, I wanted them to be great high schoolers. I wanted them to be, you know, to talk with adults in a way that was engaging and confident. And so I think so listening and then, you know, talking to kids where you want them to be. And so I, again, I don’t know if diligently as a fifth grade, we’re about that whole class knows the word diligently. I use it several different times. She’s had a lot of fun and they did, they got it done.


Leslie Loewen (10:31):
And they celebrate that life. I would, I would say the third thing is see something, say something applies to things that are dangerous, but also when things are good, I was walking around the classroom and I noticed the two boys in the back that sat in the back and were pretty quiet, always had their tasks done, always had it. I mean, their papers looked really nice. And then they were just quietly working in the back. Right. Maybe they don’t get a lot of attention because they weren’t acting naughty and they weren’t, you know, raising their hand and given all the answers. Well, I just walked back and I said, you know what? I have noticed that every time I walked back here, you’ll have everything done. You’re rock stars. You’re like ninja rock star. So they’re like, you know, and it’s kinda got a little puffed up, you know go see something and say it, you know, tell them when they’re, when you’re in their presence. So I don’t have all the answers. And I think that’s kind of how, how I’ve tried to do my best.


Sam Demma (11:38):
Yeah. I love that. Those are all things that I think can apply even outside classrooms with every day, human beings, friends, family members, right. Treat people the way, you know, they can be hold them to a higher standards. Right. That’s kind what that comes down to. And you know, if they’re doing something well, tell them people sometimes just need a little reassurance. And I think even, especially right now, teachers need some reassurance that the impact they’re having is being felt and being realized. I, I would guess that not only are you responsible for the 75,000 students, but some kids, but you’re probably also responsible for some teachers.


Leslie Loewen (12:16):
We’ve got 10,000 adults that we have fun with. So that is good. You know, I wrote down, I wrote down my phone phone number, you know, for the teachers to call me even, you know, back in the day, my home phone number before we had cell phones, but wrote my phone number down and I said, just call me. And so the teacher actually did call me and say, Hey, did you get to that paper? I said, I am so sorry. I didn’t get to that paper. Like I came in and I said, I did my bucket. Like my, my little bucket that I got to have. And I said, but first let me just tell you, you have great kids. They were amazing. They welcomed me into the room and I could tell over the phone I’m listening. It was the whole south that her countenance changed at first.


Leslie Loewen (13:02):
She was worried that, that she didn’t get everything on her list maybe. Right. I don’t know why she was out. I don’t, you know, I don’t know any of the details, but I know that there was some anxiety. She kind of came in hard, you know, where’s this paper. And I said, you know, Hey, I’m was doing the best we could, but you know, who helped me? I said, these two help me in these two, got their work done. And this one was really awesome. And so I got to share with, with her who made my time, they’re really fun. And and then we have a team back here at my office that just looks to do and looks to stand in the gap. So our office manager, for lack of a better term she, she bosses us all, which is awesome.


Leslie Loewen (13:58):
We need it. She said, Hey, you’re there. Look and see who needs a backpack look and see who needs a backpack and school supplies look and see who needs anything. And so I kinda walked, you know, as I walked around, I looked, you didn’t have one hanging or maybe the one that was hanging was a little scroungy. And so I suddenly up two or three backpacks that we need, but they didn’t have headsets, all of them. And again, I don’t know why, and they’re supposed to, but I’m not whatever. And so today I’m excited. She was put on my calendar, we’re going over and we’re bringing in headsets and backpacks and, and she said, you know, and I’m going to wait for you. I thought you might want to go. Yeah. I want to go see our kids, you know, and take care of them and just say, thanks for my fun day on Friday.


Leslie Loewen (14:57):
And here’s this, we’re going to give it to your teacher. And they’re not, I mean, they’re good backpacks, right? They’re like chance for backpacks, they’re turtle headsets. So, you know, like they’re the gamer headset, but I mean, I made sure now they are turquoise, but those are the only ones that he got, but, you know, they’re good stuff for kids. And, and I think seeing where you can plug in and just do whatever you can, it doesn’t, they keep me grounded here on like, you’re always just looking. You’re always looking for ways that we can take care of our kids and maybe providing them an opportunity for something new.


Sam Demma (15:38):
I love that. It sounds like you also intentionally focus on the positive side of things, always because, you know, when you were explaining to me about your time in the classroom with the fifth graders, every example you gave me was a positive one. You know, you said there was two kids in the back who did really well. It was kids who helped me, kids who yelled out, you have to work fast, you have to work diligently well in every classroom. There might also be someone who’s a little more difficult to work with, or a student who interrupts or a, and none of those things are inherently bad, but you made a point of not mentioning any of them. And I’m curious to know if you have a belief as an educator in person to try and focus on the positive things in life and how you pass that along to other teachers and kids.


Leslie Loewen (16:21):
Well I did have one that was trying to act out and be naughty. She was flinging her hair bands and a little colored hair bands. So the first one, you know, flung and the kids are giggling and everything. I just picked it up and I just put on my wrist, like girls do that put on my wrist. Right. That’s why your hair tie goes. And I didn’t say anything. And I just said, Hey, let’s, you know, we’re back to work. Are you almost done five minutes left? You know? Cause if I focus on that, not focusing on the other 20 plus kids, I don’t even know. I didn’t, I didn’t count them. There were a lot on the point, right on the other kids that are doing the right thing. If I get upset about that, I mean, I don’t know why I, this is my first day it’s in the first point. If I focus on that, then I don’t know what happens. So I just grabbed it, put on my wrist a couple minutes later, I flicked another one at stuck on the ceiling. I grabbed a yard stick, I flung it off and I grabbed it like snagged it, you know, they’re not my wrists. Look back now. I got to, so I walked by a little later and, and she just happens to fling another one. I snag it out of the air. Like I, you know,


Leslie Loewen (17:45):
I put it on my wrist and you know, there’s, there’s this there’s that, but I’m still focused on, Hey, we got two minutes left or a member here’s the change and recess is coming. And you know, I’m just it’s. And one of the, one of the students sitting in the middle looks to me and says, how tall are you? 5, 6, 5, 7. I don’t know, depends on if I’m wearing Chacha heels, I get goals and goes, you look like a basketball player. And I’m like, thanks, dude. I’m going to take that as a compliment. I’m like, all right. So, I mean, I think that was his way of reaffirming in me that I didn’t have that that was going to happen. Right. I could have written a detention slip, you know? But I do choose because again, there’s one and if I go back or when I go back you know, could I have a conversation with that student probably, but it’s going to be more if I bring back, right. I ended up walking out with those all on my wrist because I pay attention because it wasn’t important that wasn’t important. And so, you know, when I take those back and I put him in and talk him in, in her desk for her and, you know, I don’t know. I think that says more then any words could.


Sam Demma (19:24):
Yeah, I totally agree. I love it. I just wanted to ask you about that because it’s a, I think it’s an important thing, not only for educators, but for everyday people, you know, you can focus on negative things and it’ll bleed into the rest of your life, or you can try and see the good in other people in another situations and it’ll bleed into your life as well. And you’ll have a great one. And I think that goes back to how you bring the most out of kids, right? You know, maybe the next conversation you have is one where you have a heart to heart where it’s explained to this young person, I see you up here. Like, I see you doing this. I see you doing that. You know yes, you have good flicking skills, but, you know, save that energy for other tasks. It could be something that changes that young person’s life or perspective forever as opposed to a detention slip, like you were saying when you were first starting in teaching knowing what you know now, if you could like transport back in time to that first year, Leslie, and give yourself some advice, like, what would you say, or what would you share with your younger self?


Leslie Loewen (20:39):
I don’t know that I would do anything different. So not that I was perfect, but the things that were around me, the people that were around me and maybe, I guess what I would say to new administrators who were helping their new teachers, surround your new teachers with people who I can show them the way can be their mentor. They’re they’re not going to be perfect either, but you know, my, my first year I did everything I just wanted to be and do. And so I just said yes to everything I, I taught I have to even count them up five different classes. I was on a cart for two classes. I took on learning the AP chem curriculum. I coached the dance team. I coached the stomp team. I had ski and snowboard club. I was assistant activities.


Leslie Loewen (21:47):
I had an orange chair in my room that I took naps in because I, I was 30 minutes from home, newly married. And my husband did say like, I want you at home when you’re home. So you can’t bring homework home. My parents were both teachers. I mentioned that, right? Like they brought homework home. They brought grading home. They brought this home and my husband had grew up that way. And he said, when you’re home, I need you home. So you gotta figure out your work life to, to not bring that homework home. So, you know, when you’re coaching, you, you realize like you can’t have, I was teaching science. I can’t, you have to grade in the class, you have to grade in the moment. You can’t just save it all for later. Cause there isn’t a later, because after school there’s coaching and after coaching there’s clubs and after clubs, there’s go home, make dinner, be a wife and figure that whole thing out.


Leslie Loewen (22:46):
Right? Like, so there’s not time later. So I, I started paring down the assignments. Like I never wanted to give busy work. I always wanted to teach to mastery. And if the students could demonstrate that they understood, like I’m doing my job, I’m teaching teach, learn, you know, learn, get excited. So how do you grade that? Well, I mean, it’s, it’s a challenge, but I did a lot of checking for understanding before that was even a pool term. Right. Like I, I just checked in with my kids a lot. I had them present to me. I’d have them teach to me, teach to me this or reteach this. Like I would, that was the worst unit. Like, or that was the worst lecture I’ve ever given. You, you come up here and teach that like, you can do a better than me and then I’d go and I’d sit in their desk.


Leslie Loewen (23:39):
And I take a guy to take notes on this, like, and it would empower the kids that they were a part of the, and then they got to demonstrate to me that they understood. And when they did then yeah, we do quizzes and we do things. And if it goes, can I take that again? Right? Sure. I mean, it’s not, I get two overs. I put out a bad email with, you know, a grammar mistake will not usually cause I am the grammar police. I did. I did that. I, some kids when we worked on our grammar assignments. So but like if I have some mistakes in there, if I do a wrong date or I mean, who, who fails me and sends it back and says, Nope, I’m not coming to your meeting. That was the worst, you know, I’ve ever seen in my life.


Leslie Loewen (24:27):
Like, it doesn’t happen like that. So why are we doing that to kids? So sure. You can take that again. What parts are you struggling with? Let me help you figure this out. Let’s figure it out together. You know, did your neighbor have, you know, get it right. Maybe they can teach you if you didn’t learn it. For me, I’m still giving grades. Like I still like, and doing homework is important. Like building that muscle, like I still, but I tell the kids why that’s important because building that muscle is important and right. You, you, I can’t coach you in the game. You’re not listening. That’s what I got from my dad, the coach, right? I can’t teach you something in the game. You’re not learning in the game. You’re executing. So I can’t teach you on the test. You have to practice. I know it before you go in.


Leslie Loewen (25:17):
And that’s where those pre tests, those, that homework, if you don’t ever do your homework, I don’t know where you are. I can’t help you. And so I think taking that tactic for me as a newer teacher and trying to figure out ways to make meaningful lessons that I, that I only, I only give you what I really want you to do. There’s not busy work in my classes. And even in leadership, right? Like I reminded students that we gotta do the standards in the stuff like we have stuff to do. I know we got stuff to do. We got rallies to put on and we’ve got this, but you’re learning communication when we’re, when we’re working on the rally, you’re, you’re learning interpersonal skills. When we’re, we’re hashing these ideas out, you’re learning how to present and, and do governance when we’re asking our school for their opinions. And when you go on the bulletin, I want you to know that you’re, you’re doing all those, you’re learning leadership skills in the stuff. One of the things that, that I started saying to the students is like teamwork happens when real work happens. A lot of people want to do teamwork or team building. I’m doing a whole thing today, Kat on team building. But I’m going to tell them to teamwork happens when real work happens, do something real. And you’ll see how your team executes.


Leslie Loewen (26:45):
You can work on yourself and you can work all your tools and DQ, wind up all your resources. But the team work happens when you’re actually doing work as a team. And you figure out if you’re an effective team or if you’re a hot mess pretty quickly. And then you go back and regroup. Again, I think that comes back from my, from of the coaching, right? Like after the game you sit down and you talk, can you, okay, let’s talk about this. It’s like, yeah, clearly we weren’t doing a good job, you know, with pitching or with our fielding or we, you know, like what can we do? How can we get better? You know, where was the, and so even after like those big events in leadership, let’s okay, we’re coming back to work. We’re going to have an exhausting feedback session where we just got to celebrate the wins because we’re always hard, hardest on ourselves. Go celebrate the wins, but then we’ve got to go, okay. Like what would be the small things that we could do that would make a big impact later? Yeah.


Sam Demma (27:51):
All right. I love that. That’s so awesome. I hope the name of your talk is the teamwork happens when you do real work. That’s like a, some leg drop line right there. This is awesome. You’ve raised so many good points. Thank you so much, Leslie, for coming on the show and spending half, half an hour of your day sharing some of your experiences, your own principles and values as a educator. If someone is listening to this right now and has been inspired by the conversation, what would be the most efficient way for them to get a hold of you? If they want to ask a question or send you some love?


Leslie Loewen (28:27):
Well, you can, you can tag me on Instagram at Twitter @MommaLoew it’s spelled weird cause I’m a littleweird. But also they can send me an email to my work account. This is, this is work and it’s first name dot last name, Leslie.lowen@fresnounified.org. Just shoot me an email and say, Hey, you know, HELP, and I’ll help where I can.


Sam Demma (29:03):
Cool. Awesome, Leslie again, thank you so much. This has been a pleasure. Enjoy the rest of your day and we’ll talk soon and there you have it. Another amazing guest and amazing interview on the high performing educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review. So other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show. If you want to meet the guest on today’s episode, if you want to meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www dot high-performing educator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network. You have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not feel your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Leslie

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.

Lesleigh Dye – Proud Director of the District School Board Ontario North East

Lesleigh Dye - Director of School Board Ontario North East
About Lesleigh Dye

Lesleigh Dye (@LesleighDye) was the Superintendent of Schools for Rainbow District School Board since 2006. She has been responsible for many portfolios from kindergarten program, to Indigenous education, Equity and Inclusive Education, adult education and leadership.

Prior to her work with the Rainbow School Board, Dye served as Principal and Vice-Principal of schools in Toronto and Ottawa.

With the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board, she oversaw the implementation of the Student Success Initiative in literacy, numeracy and pathways. She also was involved with implementing expert panel reports aimed at improving student success.

With the Toronto District School Board, Dye served as the Central Coordinating Principal for literacy from kindergarten to grade 12.

She has a Master of Education from the Ontario Institute of Studies in Education, a Bachelor of Education from Memorial University and a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) from Carleton University. She also has a Certificat de français from Université de Grenoble.

Today, Lesleigh is the Proud Director of the District School Board Ontario North East. She is passionate about learning and teaching and the success of all students, in particular, those who identify as Indigenous.

Connect with Lesleigh: Email | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

JACK chapters (mental health clubs)

District School Board Ontario North East

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the high-performing educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today we have a very special guest on the podcast. Her name is Leslie Dye. Leslie is the proud director of the district school board Ontario Northeast. She has worked as a teacher principal system, principal and SO in various boards, such as the Toronto district school board, the Ottawa Carlton district school board, and the rainbow district school board.


Sam Demma (01:04):
Leslie is passionate about learning and teaching and ensuring success of all students. In particular, those who identify as indigenous. She enrolled as a PhD candidate at Trenton university. She has her master’s of education from the Ontario Institute of studies in education. She has a bachelor’s of education from Memorial university and a bachelor’s of arts honors from Carleton university. She has done so many different roles in different school boards and I think you’ll take away a lot from her experience that she shares on the podcast here this morning. I’ll see you on the other side. Enjoy.


Sam Demma (01:45):
Leslie. Welcome to the high-performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show. Please start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about your story.


Lesleigh Dye (01:54):
Good morning, Sam. I am the proud director in district school, board, Ontario, Northeast. We have almost 7,000 students and we span from Temagami to Hurston everywhere in between 25,000 square kilometers.


Sam Demma (02:09):
That’s amazing. And what brought you to where you are now share a little bit of your own story and journey through, you know, elementary school, high school university, and then getting into teaching?


Lesleigh Dye (02:22):
I would say my story probably really started in my elementary years of learning. And so as a student in west Vancouver, they were very focused at that time on experiential learning. I am the type of learner who needs direct instruction. And so I, with about half of my classmates in grade four, the teacher Mr. Dean found that half of us could not decode. And so that really influenced me as, as a learner thinking that, that I wasn’t, I couldn’t greed, I wasn’t a good learner. Fast forward in high school, started high school in British Columbia, moved to Ottawa in grade 10, found that move pretty hard. Fortunately, I met my best friend in kind of mid-September, but those first couple of weeks no one talked to me, which I found fascinating that staff wouldn’t say hello in the hallways to me, students wouldn’t say hello in the hallway to me.


Lesleigh Dye (03:19):
And then I grew up in a home where it was an expectation that I would go to university. I’m very privileged that way. Went back to Vancouver, finished my first degree in Ottawa had the incredible honor of living in France for a year to learn French came back to Canada and went to Newfoundland and incredible province and didn’t teachers’ college. And then started my very first teaching job in Toronto. Moved from Toronto to Ottawa. As a principal system, principal came back to Toronto. I became a superintendent in the rainbow board, which is Sudbury did that for about 12 years and then moved up to the new, learn new Liskeard Timmins area. And I had just started my PhD.


Sam Demma (04:07):
And what is your PhD in congratulations by the way.


Lesleigh Dye (04:11):
Thank you. I’m I’m engaged in interdisciplinary studies. I really wanted to branch out beyond education. And on my research question that hasn’t been honed yet is the relationship between collective efficacy. So that notion that by working together, we can make a difference for students and student achievement, particularly students who identify as indigenous.


Sam Demma (04:37):
That’s awesome. That’s so cool. And when you reflect back on your own journey to where you are now, did you have educators and teachers in your life that, you know, nudged you towards getting a job in this vocation? Or did you just know from a young age that you wanted to do this your whole life?


Lesleigh Dye (04:55):
So from a young age, I knew that I loved working with children. So I babysat at a very young age. I lifeguarded, I taught swimming. I was always involved with students. I think it’s probably my aunt, my auntie Pam, who in my primary grades. She, I would say she taught me to read and just knowing that she changed my life. I, that really was a motivator for me.


Sam Demma (05:22):
Hmm. That’s amazing. And you mentioned grade 10 when you first moved to Ottawa, I believe you said it was a little bit difficult. Take me back there for a moment. Like, what was it like being the new student in a new school? What was that experience like for you and how are you trying to avoid that for other students and you know, your school board now?


Lesleigh Dye (05:45):
Yeah, I have to say Sam, I found it brutal. And, and I, I mean, you can see me because we’re on video. I come with a lot of privilege. I’m white, I’m female, I’m, I’m fairly social. And so I’d never been in a, in a situation where for an entire day walking into a building. So my home, my father was the only one that wanted to move to Ottawa. So it was not a happy home in terms of, okay, here we are. No one talking to me for an entire day, except a teacher, perhaps to say, Leslie, sit down or Leslie, put your hand up and actually walking home from school, crying, thinking what, like, I, this, this can’t possibly be what high school is going to be for me. And so if I fast forward, many years later, as a teacher, as a vice principal, principal superintendent now as a director, what I’m in our schools, I say hi to everyone, every single person, I, I say, good morning. If I know the student has Korean heritage, I say, watch if it’s French immersion, I say bowl shool, and really try to just acknowledge everyone. And so that really comes from my, my grade 10 experience.


Sam Demma (07:03):
Oh, that’s awesome. That sometimes fascinates me how our own past issues turn into our inspirations so that someone else doesn’t have to go through the same experience. And it sounds like that was very similar to your own experiences and stories. What are some of the challenges that you’re currently faced with now in education? I know, you know, in front of all of us as the global pandemic, which has been a huge one, but what are some of the challenges you’ve been currently faced with and striving to overcome as a school board?


Lesleigh Dye (07:33):
I would say there are probably two, one, which has really been emphasized during the pandemic and the other one, I would say, not as much. So first of all, the mental health and wellness of our students and our staff that has always been something that we as a senior team have been aware of and are putting supports in place. Some of our students found themselves and some staff to some of our students found themselves in really challenging situations when our schools were closed physically. And we are trying to make sure that we have the supports in place for them, as well as for our staff. One of the things we put in place last year was our employee and family assistance program. So that staff have access not only for themselves but for their child or for their partner or their spouse. The other big struggle for us in DSP. One is that we have a very low graduation rate and we know, and we are working really hard, our staff, our teachers, they’re incredible. We just need to make sure that we are using all the current research in what supports students the best to move forward because we can’t be working harder. We have to figure out a way to work smarter.


Sam Demma (08:55):
That’s a really good point. I think especially because of virtual learning, it was probably challenging for a lot more students and then getting the motivation to come back in class and be social. Again, must be a little bit challenging. What are some, you mentioned one program that, you know, you ran for your staff and students, which is awesome. What are some of the other programs that you heard of schools bringing in that may have been successful in the past couple of years?


Lesleigh Dye (09:22):
So there’s a couple of things that our schools have done particularly around supporting mental health and wellbeing for students. And in many of our high schools, we have Jack chapters and that their focus is to support as you probably know, to support mental health and wellbeing. And then our students Senate with our student trustees last year for the first time ever, we’ve only, this is just your four for us, for our Senate. They in the spring put together a virtual conference, totally student-led for their classmates. And it was all about mental health and wellbeing. And the feedback from that conference from students and from staff has been incredible. I’m so proud of our student trustees for putting that all together during virtual.


Sam Demma (10:11):
That’s amazing. And so would that have been a board-wide event or was that something you did for every single school?


Lesleigh Dye (10:19):
It was for all our students grade seven to 12, and students have a choice whether or not they participated and staff had a choice. So we had a, we have a boat about 3000 secondary students. And I would say at the end of the day, we had about a thousand participate in at least one session. Oh, wow.


Sam Demma (10:37):
That’s so cool. And it run over a couple of days or was that a day long event?


Lesleigh Dye (10:42):
It was a day-long because it was the very first conference and very first virtual conference. They bred four different sessions just for one day. They felt that was enough.


Sam Demma (10:53):
That’s awesome. Oh, that’s so cool to hear, especially that it was student-led. That’s let’s give those students a round of applause. That’s awesome. Leslie, when you think back to yourself in your first year of education what are some of the pieces of advice and wisdom that you might know now that you wish you could have transferred back?


Lesleigh Dye (11:18):
That’s a great question, Sam. I often think of my first year of teaching and think, oh boy, I wish I knew. Then what I know. I think that, so I had the privilege of working with the city of York. It was king middle school, grade seven, eight, and I had a grade seven class and there was a student Jay. And every time I said, kill and Eglington, if you know the Toronto area, every time I gave the students a choice in what they would create, he always tied it back to his, where he had come from Korea. And at the time I thought, oh, that’s interesting. I didn’t appreciate in my very first year, how important cultural identity and, and country of origin. And so fast forward, about 10 years, I had the enormous privilege of being a principal at CHOC foreign public school. So we had 400 students, all the students were black except for one student.


Lesleigh Dye (12:25):
But in that group of students who are black, 50% were Somalian in terms of heritage, 25% were Trinidadi and 25% were Jamaican. And what I really learned and I, I already kind of knew, but I really learned the difference between the history and the experiences of those groups of students. So on the surface, they look like they might be similar and yet making sure as an educator that I understand and appreciate background heritage, and I would use that same example now, living in Northern Ontario in the last board where I served, we had 11 nations all over [inaudible] identity. And they were always very careful to say to me, Leslie, yes, we are on Anishinaabe land, but we are different than that nation down the road. And I really, I really understood, I know I have so much more learning to do, but that is front and center for me.


Sam Demma (13:26):
As do we all right. I think the learning is never-ending. That’s so cool that you take the time to learn those things about the different cultural heritages of the students in the school. Because even when I think back to my experiences in high school, the teachers that made the biggest impact were the ones that got to know us personally, like on a deep, deep level, and could understand our motivations and our inspirations and where we came from and where we aspire to go. So that’s a really interesting and, and, you know, cool piece of advice. You’re also someone who has done so many different roles in education. What inspires you and motivates you every day to keep going and reach higher. Right. see what you, you know, went from the principal, the superintendent to director of education. Now you’re working on a PhD. What, what keeps you going Leslie? Is it like five coffees a day?


Lesleigh Dye (14:17):
It is students. It is hearing their stories. I can remember, oh gosh, this is about 10 years ago. A student had the equity portfolio and a student had made LGBT bracelets. They’re very colourful. And he was, I think he was in grade eight at one of our schools. And I had said to the teacher, could you please let them know? I’d like to buy some. And so I bought some and I, I put it on my wrist and I sent the photo back to the teacher and she said to me, that was probably in may. And that student said, I can’t believe that Ms. DI’s wearing my bracelet. Like, I, I can’t believe that I’m going to keep coming to school till the end of the school year or even Jamal last year, our student trustee, who at the very beginning and our first board meeting, he said, miss, I, I’m not speaking. I’m terrified. I said, that’s fine. We, we want you here. And you know, you and I can have conversations later, too. He graduated from high school, he’s off to university. He’s now in his own nation. He has one of the elected position to represent youth. And he said to me, you know, I wouldn’t have never would have had the confidence to put my name forward for that position in my nation, if it hadn’t been for being a student trustee. So it is totally our students that keep making.


Sam Demma (15:39):
That’s amazing. And how do you encourage a kid to break out of that shell and get involved? Is it just as simple as tapping them on the shoulder and telling them you believe in them, or what does that process look like of helping them realize their own potential?


Lesleigh Dye (15:52):
I think it goes back to exactly what you said earlier. It’s getting to know the students. And so with Jamal knowing I know before his first student Senate meeting, he had said, you know, I’m, I’m really, I’m not feeling very comfortable about this. I think, you know, we could practice that. I have that portfolio. We, we could practice what you’re going to say ahead of time. He sent me the most beautiful, beautiful Christmas card with his family. And so I’m like, who’s, who’s in the photo. I said, I didn’t know you had so many brothers and sisters. And so he described them to me. I, I think it, and of course I’m not having that relationship with all 7,000 students because we have a thousand staff. And so when all our staff have those relationships with a few students that every single student knows that we care about,


Sam Demma (16:42):
That’s amazing. That’s such a good ratio of student to teacher, by the way, I guess that’s one of the benefits of not a small school board, but maybe slightly smaller.


Lesleigh Dye (16:54):
We would be smaller on the Ontario context. We’re on the smaller side and that thousand staff, those are our custodians, our educational, our indigenous student advisors, who all play such a key role in serving our students.


Sam Demma (17:07):
Amazing. That’s awesome. This has been a very great conversation, Leslie, thank you so much for taking the time to share a little bit about your own experiences in education. What are some of the challenges you’re faced with and how you’re overcoming them as well as some of the programs that your school has run that have worked out in the past where do you hope education will be five or 10 years from now? And this is a difficult question and, and one that I’m putting you on the spot, but I’m curious to know what your future, what you’re hoping it to look like.


Lesleigh Dye (17:39):
If I look at the one, my hope, my absolute dream is that we have every single student graduating or getting an Ontario certificate and following their positive feature story. And I know we can do it. We will definitely be in a much better place five years from now, 10 years from now honouring the important traits that some of our students are thinking, oh, that’s not for me. And yet it’s such an incredible pathway. And so I really, I know that each student through the hard work of our staff we’ll get there. We’re not there yet, but we will get there.


Sam Demma (18:19):
I love it. Awesome. Leslie, thank you again so much for coming on the show. If another educator is listening and has been inspired and maybe wants to reach out and ask a question or have a conversation, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?


Lesleigh Dye (18:33):
I would say the best way is through Twitter, through a private message. And so that’s @LesleighDye. I’m on Twitter probably once a day. I love to learn from colleagues and so would really be excited to meet new people.


Sam Demma (18:50):
Awesome. Again, Leslie, thank you so much. Keep up the great work and we’ll talk to you soon.


Lesleigh Dye (18:56):
Have a great day


Sam Demma (18:57):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest and amazing interview on the high-performing educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review. So other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show. If you want to meet the guest on today’s episode, if you want to 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 feel your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Lesleigh

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.