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

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

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

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

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

Connect with Kirl: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

EdD in Learning Sciences – University of Calgary

Canadian Association of Principals (CAP)

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

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

Canadian Association of Professional Speakers (CAPS)

The Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sam Demma (15:38):
That’s amazing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Kirk Linton

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

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

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

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

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

Connect with Nicholas: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

M.M. Robinson High School

Dr. Frank J Hayden High School

Solution Tree – K12 Professional Development

Halton District School Board

The Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Nicholas Varricchio

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

Katherine Luellen – Executive Dean, Enrollment Management, Interlochen Center for the Arts

Katherine Luellen - Executive Dean, Enrollment Management, Interlochen Center for the Arts
About Katherine Luellen

A Chicago native, Katherine Drago Luellen (@kidrago329) has previously served as Director of Admissions at Boston University School of Music, Director of Recruitment & Enrollment for Carnegie Mellon University School of Music, Assistant Dean of Admission & Student Services for Longy School of Music of Bard College, and Assistant Director of Admission/Music Admission Coordinator for University of Puget Sound.

Ms. Drago has spent over 10 years performing professionally in opera, concert, and musical theater appearing with the Santa Fe Opera, Pittsburgh Opera, Chicago Opera Theater, Broadway National Tour of The Phantom of the Opera, and many more. She was most recently seen in the title role of Tobias Picker’s Therese Raquin with Microscopic Opera in Pittsburgh and Mercedes in Carmen with Bay Chamber Concerts.

Mrs. Luellen has been a guest speaker with the Pacific Northwest Association of College Admission Counselors, Decision Desk U, Music Admission Roundtable, Classical Singer, and Opera America.

Connect with Katherine: Email | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Interlochen Center for the Arts

Boston University School of Music

Carnegie Mellon University School of Music

Longy School of Music of Bard College

University of Puget Sound

Pacific Northwest Association of College Admission Counselors (PNACAC)

Music Admissions Roundtable

Classical Singer

Opera America

Santa Fe Opera

Pittsburgh Opera

Chicago Opera Theater

Broadway National Tour of The Phantom of the Opera

Tobias Picker’s Therese Raquin

Bay Chamber Concerts

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 Katherine Luellen. She is the executive Dean enrollment manager at the Interlochen Centre for the Arts. A Chicago native, Katherine has previously served as Director of Admissions at Boston University School of Music, Director of Recruitment & Enrollment for Carnegie Mellon University School of Music, Assistant Dean of Admission & Student Services for Longy School of Music.

Sam Demma (01:05):
Every position she’s been in over the past 10 years, she’s been involved in professionally, you know, setting up opera in concert, in musical theater, appearing on the Santa Fe Opera, Pittsburgh Opera, Chicago Opera, Broadway National Tour of the Phantom of the Opera, and so much more. She is a music fanatic and the heart of her passion is helping young talent reach extraordinary stages and heights. This is an amazing interview. She helps so many young people get into amazing positions for success. I hope you enjoy this as much as I enjoyed recording it. I will see you on the other side. Katie, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. It is a huge pleasure to have you on the show. Why don’t you start by telling our audience a little bit about yourself and how you got into your work with education?

Katherine Luellen (01:55):
Great. Well, thank you Sam, for having me. I’m delighted to be here. I am the executive Dean of Enrollment Management at the Interlochen Center for the Arts and Interlochen in Michigan. So we are known for a world class summer arts camp that was found in 1928 that serves 3000 students in seven arts areas every summer. We also have our Arts Boarding High School here. We have our College for Creative Arts serving lifelong education and some programming virtually in the Interlochen online space. So I manage recruitment and enrollment for all of the education units at Interlochen and I found myself here quite by accident. And I am an, a recovering opera singer is what I like to say. I was trained in opera and musical theater and had a, a nice run and a wonderful time performing and traveling and being on the stage and

Katherine Luellen (02:55):
At a certain point in time, I took a breath and really wanted to make an impact in a different way. Hmm. And I wasn’t sure what that way was. But I thought about what skills I had and what experiences I had and through my education, actually, one of the ways I supported my education was working in the admission office at the various colleges and institutions I attended. And that was a way I thought to connect with young people and their families to help talk about what a creative education can do for a young person. So I pivoted, I guess that might be the buzzword of 2020 to enrollment. And I worked at a small liberal arts college on the west coast. I’ve worked at a large research institution. I’ve worked at a small boutique conservatory, all usually within the arts realm. And so when Interlochen called me, I thought, well, this is interesting because this isn’t just college. This is, this is really little ones, right? Third grade, this is grownups. This is really fostering that lifelong support of the arts and creative energy. So it’s been a really cool ride and a really nice fit for me.

Sam Demma (04:11):
Tell me more about that moment, where you took a new breath and decided you wanted to make an impact, where exactly were you at that point in your career and what really prompted you to make that decision?

Katherine Luellen (04:22):
Oh my gosh, it was crazy. I was sitting in my apartment in New York. I had about a year’s worth of work scheduled ahead of me. I was in the finals of a major international opera competition and I didn’t feel like I was making any of my own artistic decisions. Mm. I was on stage watching a human with Dick monitoring the music I was dressed as, you know, indicated by the costume designer. I was, you know, told where to go by the director. And so that’s not always the case. Right. Mm-hmm , these, these artistic experiences are much more collaborative than what I just outlined. But for me, I felt like I just, you know, you can’t see the odd there’s that fourth wall. And I wanted to have a deeper connection with the arts and with young people to create a generation that would collaborate differently on stage, that would be, that would push the arts to new audiences.

Katherine Luellen (05:22):
And I think we’re seeing that. But it felt like my role wasn’t correct in that journey yet at that moment that it wasn’t maybe all facets of my brain, weren’t firing cause of what I was being given. And so I, I jumped off a moving train and onto another train that was cool and fun. And and I learned really like in the fire, you know, I actually remember my first admission job and calling my father who’s a finance person. And I literally said to him, dad, I, I have so many Excel questions. I just I’m, I’m just drowning Excel questions. Cause I’ve been an artist for 10 years. And so here is this just sort of skill I’m that I, I need to catch up on. I need to catch up on databases, I’m Excel. And but it was fun and your enrollment is inherently creative. It’s about communicating. It’s about being intuitive and the connections you’re making. And and I talk about the arts every day. And so I’m very, very lucky.

Sam Demma (06:35):
The process you outlined about jumping a, off a moving train and onto another one in the fire is what education is like right now. It feels like everyone was jumping off a moving train going in one direction and we’re going a totally opposite direction with the challenges we’re currently faced with. Can you speak a little bit to the challenges that you guys are facing? Some maybe that you’ve overcome and some that you’re still dealing with?

Katherine Luellen (06:59):
Now for sure. So just to, I guess, outline this pandemic season of education for interlock and in the springtime we transitioned our 93rd summer season to a fully virtual experience interlock and online. If we took 98 programs for grades three through 12 and distilled them into 13 programs that were three weeks long in a virtual platform and it was wildly successful, we had almost 1500 students. And we really leaned on our alumni across the world in industry seminars to offer students experiences, to talk and engage and feel inspired with professionals that they wouldn’t be able to access otherwise that only interlocking could give them. And so, you know, that paired with the foundational training in all of our arts areas was really something that was special about our program. We even sent everyone a camp in a box, everybody got a shirt and a lanyard and an ID card and camp fire like activity for and friendship bracelets.

Katherine Luellen (08:10):
And, you know, we wanted students to feel engaged in the community and our virtual cabins and that social connection was something that was really successful and has actually still continued even to now there’s a core group of hardcore virtual cabins from rock and online that are still going. So we learned a lot from that experience and we had our interlock and arts academy, high school students went home in March a little early for spring break, packed up and we had hoped, of course they’d come back, but they weren’t able to, but we were very lucky this fall to be able to welcome almost 500 students to our campus for live instruction. Nice. So we’ve created kind of a contained community as we are calling it, cuz faculty and staff are coming and going, but we’ve partnered with the broad Institute at MIT for testing and we have significant safety protocols in place and it’s not easy and it hasn’t been for these young people.

Katherine Luellen (09:05):
Mm-Hmm I think that, you know, we, when you think of the silver lining that these people are here, that they’ve persevered, that they’re showing that grit that gosh, we’ve been talking to met in college admission for year. Right. How do you, how do you show the grit show? The perseverance? Well, this proves it. Yeah. You know, I went to boarding school in Northern Michigan in a pandemic because I knew I wanted to create art and I knew I wanted to be amongst a, a community of likeminded people and it, you know, by golly the pandemic wasn’t gonna stop me. And so that’s the kind of students we have here. And they’re, they’re joyfully working and that’s what we like to say here and, and creating that art. But it’s not easy. Staying six feet apart wearing a mask is not easy for a grownup let alone a teenager.

Katherine Luellen (09:52):
So every day we like to say is day one in our fighting COVID 19. And we’ve learned, you know, just a ton about safety. basically in health and we’ve leaned on professionals in our community. Of course. We also have 50 students international who are learning virtually with us who are not able to get to our campus. So we’ve created, created a hybrid model. So, you know, when I talk to families, they’ll say, well, it’s like a virtual high school. It’s not, we haven’t created a virtual high school. We are really serving our students and accommodating the conditions that we’re in. That’s a whole different, you know, ball of wax. But yeah, it’s, it’s, it’s an adventure certainly. Not where we thought we would be probably right.

Sam Demma (10:40):
No. So true. I love the camp and a box idea. I thought that was very unique and no wonder it’s a huge success. I’m curious to know if you have any other things like that that have been widely successful so far maybe little insights or ideas that another educator listening might say, wow, this is a great idea. Let me try this. Any come to mind?

Katherine Luellen (11:00):
For sure. I mean, in the summertime our most popular elective course for any student was something called college bootcamp college prep bootcamp. And of course that’s on everyone’s mind. And these students who are looking for colleges right now in a virtual space, it it’s totally different. How higher ed is reacting in the United States and across the world to, you know, finding the right fit or students engaging with them and how that demonstrated interest plays into decision making. This is totally a new landscape. We see lots of institutions thriving and we see some floundering a little bit in it. And so I think students really were hungry to engage with professionals in the college counseling space and utilize some of the excellent pathway curriculum we have for our academy students. But so they could feel a sense of, I don’t wanna say control, but more just calm perhaps mm-hmm about the process. I have a plan, I have some things to think about. I know it’s going to be different, let’s acknowledge what’s different about it and make a plan. And so that was really successful and actually we’ve launched a bootcamp for college audition prep in November nice, which is gonna be really awesome for music and theater students. But I think that just creating that calm for students in a high stress decision making time was really helpful for them.

Sam Demma (12:30):
That’s awesome. That’s really cool. And, and, you know, you talked about moving from opera to education and I wanna touch upon one thing real quick. When you were a student, did you have any teachers in your life or educators in your life that made a profound impact on you? And the reason I’m asking is because there’s a couple that stick out in my mind for my whole experience in school, one being Mike loud foot, my world issue teacher who put me on a totally different path in life. But the reason I’m asking is because I wanna know what it was that your educators in your life did and what their character traits were or what the things they did for you that had a huge impact. So maybe during this time another educator listening might try to adopt those same character traits so they can, you know, impact their students the same way. Does any educator come to mind for you?

Katherine Luellen (13:19):
There? I mean, there are so, so many, I’ll be honest with you that it’s, I think education is, is the I don’t know, I hold it in the highest esteem in terms of what faculty do. And I come from a, a long line of educators. And so I’ve seen both sides of the desk and the classroom experience and really personally, and, and the work and intuition and gut and heart that go into it is really amazing. You know, what’s funny for me and it could just be a personality trait. Mm-Hmm, the, the educators that come to mind for me that were most influential are the ones that really told me the truth. Mm. And especially in the arts, I think that’s, those are hard conversations. Yeah. Sometimes you know but even, I think of like my freshman, sophomore year English teachers in high school, who I attribute to helping me learn to write, which I now do every day as a part of my job.

Katherine Luellen (14:19):
Yeah. And they were really, really honest with me, you know, and it wasn’t a good grade always. And that pushed me to learn and pushed me to try and pushed me to maybe it’s again, taking that breath to say, I didn’t, I didn’t do this well. And why, why didn’t I do this? Well, mm-hmm, like, what, what were the barriers that are keeping me from making that to the next level? And even with the arts, right. It’s having those conversations of taking potential and passion and how do you mold that into the right purpose? Mm. And that doesn’t always mean the Broadway stage or the metropolitan and opera, the schau pair it’s, there are so many ways that can make a difference. So I have one quick line, my voice teacher in grad school always used to say, Katie, you gotta do it again. And you gotta put it in the talent, put it in the talent. And I kind of think about that all the time. Like, come on Kate, put it in the talent. Like, where’s your talent, where’s your, your space that, that helps you make the best decisions succeed the most, you know, put it there. And I dunno, that probably was not very succinct answer.

Sam Demma (15:37):
No, that’s awesome. And I hope everyone can, cuz when you were saying that I was envisioning my soft spot and my sweet spots and where I can put it in the talent. So I hope everyone else takes that to heart and thinks about it personally, or maybe shares it with their class and their students. if you could give advice to your former self, when you just started working in education, what advice would you have given knowing what you know now?

Katherine Luellen (16:04):
Oh my gosh. In education. I think what I know now is that I never have all the information nice. And I think that I, I didn’t always think that way early on. I thought, well, here’s all the information. Here’s everything about this applicant. Here’s everything I know about the finances of this family. If I’m looking at financial aid or about this event or whatever it is, but you never have all information. And so every decision you’re making, you’re making in a, in a space where you’re trying to do the right thing based on the information you have. Mm. Understanding that there’s nimbleness to that there’s flex to that there’s gray area. And especially in the work that I do where talented young people are trying to make the right next choice for them. And financial aid is a part of that and family commitment and family circumstances and all of those things are wildly complicated. I used to joke in college that on April 1st, everyone loses their mind, like all families that were lovely students who, you know, just stay in the course and then the dollars and cents become involved and people lose their minds. Cause it’s personal, it’s complicated and we don’t have all the information. So you just have to kind of listen and give people a space to give you the information they can or are able or willing to in many decision making situations and go from there.

Sam Demma (17:39):
Yeah. That’s awesome. It’s an amazing piece of advice. And not only does it apply to, you know, getting people in through admission, but it also applies to, you know, everyday students. I don’t think we ever have all the information as, as good as we try to get to know somebody. So, you know, try and make as little assumptions as you can and listen twice as much as you speak. You know, one of my teachers told me you have two ears in one mouth, you know, it means you have to listen twice as much as you talk.

Katherine Luellen (18:03):
absolutely. I agree. And you know, it’s funny with these young artists too, they be so hard on themselves counting the number of mistakes they made and a performance or an audition. And I often will tell them you’re never a hundred percent. There’s my dog friends. That’s OK. Life at home. So you know, you’re never in any performance, a hundred percent, you’re, you’re always you’re always fighting something. And so maybe it’s a dog barking, you know? And so you just have to take it with a grain of salt.

Sam Demma (18:38):
Oh, that’s true. Awesome. Katie, if someone wants to reach out, bounce some ideas around, share some good vibes and energy, where can they reach out to you and have those conversations?

Katherine Luellen (18:48):
Oh my gosh, I would love to do the I’m so eager to just be a sounding board and have other sounding board friends out there in the universe who do good work or who seek to do good work. So I’m easy to reach. I’m just katie@interlochen.org. I’m super here for, for everybody who wants to talk our arts or education or opera or musical theater or dogs, you know.

Sam Demma (19:16):
awesome. Katie, thanks so much for coming on the show. It’s been a real pleasure having this conversation with you. And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episode, 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 Katherine Luellen

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.

Brian Dunn – Chaplain at St. Francis Xaiver C.S.S

Brian Dunn - Chaplain at St. Francis Xaiver C.S.S
About Brian Dunn

Brian Dunn has been a Chaplaincy Leader for the Halton Catholic District School Board for 16 years and currently serves at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Secondary School in Milton. As a proud graduate of St. Michael’s College (University of Toronto) Master of Catholic Leadership degree, he continues his passion and vision of Catholic Leadership within his school community by coordinating retreats and the student government, The Knights Council, that encourages all students and staff to get involved in leadership.

Brian provides opportunities for his staff and students to become leaders that reflect the call of Jesus in the Gospel to become Students of Service (S.O.S.) ‘to accept, include and serve with love’ by presenting a Catholic worldview that encourages them to see the world through the eyes of faith. “

“In our S.O.S. Knights Council it is imperative that all students and staff work as equal partners with our Best Buddies, Safe Schools, Media/Tech Crew, Grade Reps, Social Justice and HCDSB Student Senators making our priority to hear the voices of those who are the most vulnerable in our school and the local community.”

Brian also hosts a morning broadcast on Youtube to pray for the needs of our school community, the world and to share school initiatives.

Brian’s passion for music, both secular and religious can be heard as he entertains with his band Descendants of Dunn.

As well, Brian also enjoys his solo performances where he will even write a song – Singing Telegram – for any special occasion to celebrate! He is the proud father of two boys Jacob and Jamie and has been married to his wife Carey for 16 years. Brian lives by the family motto passed down from his father ‘keep the faith, and a sense of humour and God will look after the rest.’

Connect with Brian: Email | Instagram | Linkedin |

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Masters of Catholic Leadership degree

Brian’s morning broadcast

St. Francis Xavier Catholic Secondary School

Stream Yard Software

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 my good friend and Chaplin Brian Dunn. I had the pleasure of working with him in September at his school St. Francis of Xavier to do the opening keynote speech for his grade nines. It was phenomenal. And he is someone I look up to. He is someone who is always looking for new ways to engage and impact his students. You can even see it on this episode as he plays in music during the intro and outro, but I’m not gonna ruin it for you. Anyways, I hope you enjoy this episode. Make sure you take notes and reach out to Brian. He’s a wonderful human being. I’ll see you on the other side, Brian, welcome to the high performing educator podcast. It is an absolute pleasure to have you on here. Why don’t you start by sharing a little bit about yourself and how you got into the work you do with young people today?

Brian Dunn (00:50):
Well, Sam, I gotta tell you before we begin, I, I have to say one of the ways I got involved with young people was through what I’m about to do right now. And it goes like this. I got a smile on my face. Now I got four walls around me. I got the sun in the sky, all the waters around me. Oh, you know? Yeah. I went down. Sometimes I lose. I’ve been better, but I’ll never bruise. It’s not so bad. And I say, wait, Hey, Hey, it’s just an ordinary day. And it’s all your stay at the end of the day. You just have to say it’s alright. Cause I got a smile on my face and I got four walls around me.

Sam Demma (02:00):
Ooh, everyone. Please give Brian a huge round of applause from your cars all around wherever you’re sitting, wherever you’re listening. that’s awesome. Brian, how to say

Brian Dunn (02:12):
That Anthem for me. I started when I started in ministry I worked for the the CYO, the Catholic youth organization in Hamilton. And that song just come out by great big sea. And I was looking for sort of like an inspirational something to help me keep perspective. And a friend of mine said, you know what? This is like, this is a great song. And then we learned it and I’ve sort of used it as my Anthem. Since that day to get involved with young people the power of music with young is everything. It’s, it’s just, it’s incredible and not only for them, but for for me to be able to develop a relationship in terms of, you know, journeying with them through, through music and through motivation. And sometimes it gives us words that we cannot say.

Brian Dunn (03:01):
So in, in that song, you know, obviously it’s just these ordinary days and it it’s similar to what you’ve talked to our students about already Sam and the small actions small, consistent actions. It’s like in these every ordinary days. How do we, how do we go? And especially in COVID all these times every day, it’s like, oh my gosh, goodbye for these kids sitting there looking at they got the mass on and they’re, you know, just told just sort of scared to, to even move or answer a question or, or do whatever. But we have to say, all right, in this ordinariness in sort of things that it feels like everything’s happening, you know just mundane. How do we make these ordinary days extraordinary? And I think music is a key obviously moving forward with with all the different things that are happening in the world, we need to step out of our comfort zones to help others.

Brian Dunn (04:03):
And music is a, is a great way to do that. So yeah. So I’m really excited to be here you know, share a little bit of maybe some of the stuff that I’ve done at this school. This has been, this has been my this is the school St. Francis savior, Catholic secondary. We just renamed our school. We were Jean Banay for the first six years. So we’re in the process of reestablishing and redefining who we are as a school community. Mm-Hmm and it’s not changing what it was. It’s just reminding people, the foundation of who we are and the foundation that we are truly built on faith and the action, faith and action, basically in our motto. That’s awesome. So, yeah, so I don’t know. I don’t know how I’ll let you, do you want me to continue on with that topic or I don’t know. What are you feeling today?

Sam Demma (05:00):
Yeah, I mean, I wanna to know, I’m curious to know at what point in your journey as a teacher or as a, as a person, did you decide ministry is the thing for me and I wanna play music. And was there defining moments or, you know, another educator in your life who pushed you down that path? I’m, I’m curious to know more.

Brian Dunn (05:18):
Yeah, I mean, for me everything starts with family. You know, we growing up I grew up in Anne caster, Ontario, and my parents were very involved in St. Anne’s parish in Anne caster. And we were always our house was always sort of the hub of I, I I’m the youngest of seven. So being the baby, I had all these brothers and sisters that would bring home their girlfriends and boyfriend. And I sometimes didn’t know who my parents were all the time at . But it was a house that we really celebrated. So every weekend we would, you know, make sure that we had the priest over and celebrate. And faith to us was inter interlock with music and family mm-hmm . So faith, music, and family was like a big deal for us.

Brian Dunn (06:07):
So I, I kind of grew up that way. And so when, you know, starting to think about what I wanted to do for my life I always had positive role models in faith. That surrounded me always encouragement from my parish priests at my at my parish my parents many people would come to me like take time out and say, you know what? We started a youth group at our church and, and then people would say, you know what, you’re doing a, you’re doing a great job. This is, you know, you were always validated by others that when you stepped outta your comfort zone, people were like, yeah, man, like you’re doing a good job. Keep going. And people don’t realize the impact that, that has, especially on a young person that’s, you know, in a, in an age where, you know, probably having faith was not the coolest thing.

Brian Dunn (06:58):
You know, in terms of being popular, but it was important that the people you looked up to said, good job. You know, just those little words of encouragement helped. So after starting a youth group called a generation acts, you know what I invited all of my friends, I invited, I knew people that didn’t believe in God, people that were whatever they’re big smokers, whatever, like a, anybody, I was just like, guys, come out to this youth group. Like, you know, we don’t have to, you don’t have to talk about too much, but this is, you know, we would like to try to do some stuff for my church and do some volunteer, work in the community and make sure that we’re serving and helping others. And you know, what, we had ended up getting good 15 for 20 my friends together. And, and just starting, just starting to say, you know what, church begins with us.

Brian Dunn (07:44):
It begins with, it begins with who we are as leaders, and you can’t rely on other people to say, oh, come up with this idea or this idea, you know what, just come up with the idea and do it. I know you have done that too at the, you know, a lot of the things that you’ve done, Sam and you know, mean starting with the, the whole picking up trash thing. And, you know, it’s, it’s gotta be something that idea is started, but it’s also someone did someone tell you that you were doing a good job? That was a teacher? My parents. Exactly. Yeah. Like those supports that were, that were there. So from there again, like God opens doors, you Don know another person said, you know what? You would be good in chaplaincy. I didn’t even know didn’t I had one at my, at my school, but he was a brother.

Brian Dunn (08:28):
Like he was an ordained sort of ordained brother. And I’m like, you know, what am I, I, I’m just sort of like a, just like a regular guy. Well, how could I be a chaplain? And as I learned that the fact that we can to actually take courses and similar and get fully trained and educated as a chaplaincy leader and ended up getting my masters in Catholic leadership, which was something I’m that degree that master’s program was just sort of being developed as I was taking it. Nice. And, you know, it’s just, God opens doors, but you gotta take the steps. Right. Mm-hmm and the people encouraging you along the way. Just so, so important. I think also working when I worked at the sea, I O I was involved with world youth days. Okay. And world youth day, 2002 was in Toronto.

Brian Dunn (09:20):
And we played a major role in hosting people from different countries and seeing the church alive in so many ways. In Toronto, we had, we hosted pro a couple hundred people from around the world, in our diocese and the Hamilton diocese. And we were in charge of different locations and different things. So it was cool to see faith alive in those people and know that our church is universal. So other people, you know, other leaders from around the world really it’s that, that gathering. And then 2005 was Germany. We actually went to Germany, brought a delegation from Hamilton and again, an amazing when you’re being hosted across the world, you know and, and you still feel connected as a sort of that as a church, as young people who are, who are being motivated to serve our Lord.

Brian Dunn (10:12):
It’s, it’s amazing, amazing again, D people along the way, saying you’re doing a good job, you’re going the right way. Things, you know, and also your prayer life. It’s like, okay, God’s giving you those opening doors through people. And that led me to into chaplaincy where I was asked of a, fill a role for for Halton through my involvement with worldview. They saw a lot of the things that, you know, we were able to establish leadership that way, and they liked that vision. And 17 years later, I’m here at St. Francis Xavier secondary school. That’s awesome. So that’s a, yeah, it’s pretty, pretty amazing along the way.

Sam Demma (10:53):
But yeah, that’s awesome. Brian, during these times, and they’re challenging times for everyone in education, how do we continue to encourage kids and give them that tap on the shoulder? You, you mentioned earlier about, you know, trying to integrate creative ideas right now in the schools. Is there anything that’s worked out that’s been a great success or that you’ve realized maybe you we’ve shipped away the you fat and realize what’s most important about school and what’s most important about building relationships? What are some realizations or challenges you’ve you come across due to COVID?

Brian Dunn (11:28):
I think, you know, what, the challenges that we all face we have to make sure that our students know that we’re facing them as well. Don’t gloss over things and say, you know, oh, you know, well, this is, this is working so good. And, you know, it’s making me feel good. And the kids are like, what the, you know I mean, I have a son that’s in grade nine now. I’ve worked all my life, so that to build young Catholic leaders, to give opportunities for kids. And then my kid gets to grade nine and he can’t do anything. It’s like, Ugh. So it’s like, man, come on God. Like, this is, this was, I was so excited. You know, he was involved in elementary, but I’m saying, okay, so this is a challenge. This is something we are facing and we’re sort of facing together.

Brian Dunn (12:16):
But we’re going through it together. And we’re saying, listen, one day at a time, we’re gonna face this, but how can we use this as an opportunity? So I had my son come in and he was doing some filming. So we did some filming at the school for our mentees. We have a great mentorship program here at St. Francis Xavier, where the grade elevens are mentoring the grade nines. So I got ’em to come in and, and play a grade nine student asking questions, who to go to in the school. And we decided to come together to make a YouTube channel for our school, which is on our website. So we invite anybody to go to St. Xavier, Milton website and check out our YouTube channel. Right now it’s called the Knights council report where we’re reporting on all the school events.

Brian Dunn (13:05):
So it’s kind of cool, but again, what are ways, what are opportunities? What things can we do? And obviously you media, just like you’re doing Sam is the most important thing that we can do to get students involved. Whether they’re in cohort, a cohort B or cohort C everybody tunes in at 8:20 every morning for the night’s council report, where we do our morning prayer, we pray for people in our school community, especially those who are struggling or have just lost, loved ones, but we also celebrate the same of the day. And we pray as a school community. And then we move on to our Knight’s council report, where we talking about how we live out that faith through the different activities in our school. So, you know, using media is, is a big deal, but I think working together, like I know I have the opportunity to work with my son, but now we have a team of tons of students from each of those cohorts.

Brian Dunn (14:09):
So maybe not tons. So we have about, you know, 10:10 every morning that come in to run a report, they’re socially distanced. Everybody comes in, you know, do the things that they have to do, but sees the opportunity to put on a great show every morning. And so if, if there are leaders out there that want to know a little bit more about what it is to put on a show like that, I’d be happy to happy to, to help I’m learning as well. We, we fortunately have a great teacher here. Who’s running the I C T Chi. Who’s also involved with our Knight’s council. And he is helping sort of set up all this technical stuff as well. So again, you have that adult in your life that can help you through it, but the students you know, is providing opportunities for them to step out of their comfort zone, to to come up with something new.

Sam Demma (15:01):
That’s amazing. And because we’re listening audio and you’re listening audio, you obviously don’t see Brian, but he has a professional microphone set up in front of him and he was playing his guitar for, and I promise you, he taught me a couple things about tech and I’m 21 years old.

Brian Dunn (15:16):
There’s, I’m a little older than 21. We won’t mention. Yeah.

Sam Demma (15:22):
But maybe you can outline very, basically the pieces of software you used to run that live show because you live, stream it on YouTube and it’s, it’s a pretty cool production. Like, what are the pieces of software involved if someone else was curious? Yeah,

Brian Dunn (15:36):
Well, the technical initially when COVID hit I had to sort of go right from my downstairs and the darkness of my downstairs, because we were all at home, right. It so was like, how are we gonna reach, what the heck are we gonna do here? So I looked around around, and I use stream yard streamy yard as just a basic tool to it’s a free software for that they use. They obviously would want you to pay money if you want to go and keep using it for long periods of time, just like zoom and different things. But stream yard is actually a very good if you just have yourself and you need to get your message out there it’s fairly easy to set up and it is you can actually it has the sort of software loaded into the program already.

Brian Dunn (16:27):
So if you wanted to put your announcements, it will scroll across the bottom or cool. If you want to have your, a, a name tag at the bottom left, it’ll have those as well. So it’s, it’s good for if, you know if you need just a, if you don’t have a team, I’m fortunate. I have a, I have an I C T I have AHI students here and also an awesome nights council that everybody steps up to learn. But if you don’t have that, that would be your go-to. Now the show that we run in the morning, and I’ll have to guide you to to Mr. Kova, who is who’s running, the technical aspects of the show. Just like, you know, any other show, there’s a director, there’s the switcher, there’s the, we have about six screens that are going on and we can now go live on location.

Brian Dunn (17:10):
Like our remembrance day, we’re gonna go live on location and do like, you know maybe we’ll go to the Sanita in Milton and you know, it’s, it’s just, it’s, it’s really cool. It’s like, well, we’re outside, we’re following the rules and we’re doing everything that we can do. So yeah, if you wanted specifics to make up like a huge production then I I’ll, I’ll guide you just you can just email me and I can guide did a to co backs, but if you’re willing to be on camera and you’re willing to just do that, I would refer you to streamy yard just to to do basic streaming. And then the actual YouTube channel in itself is through your Gmail. If you have a Gmail account, just make one and then just go right through your YouTube, your own YouTube account.

Sam Demma (17:58):
That’s awesome. There’s a lot of educators listening as well, who, you know, are hesitant to do events this year. You know, it’s very confusing. You don’t, they don’t, we don’t know what’s going on. Here’s someone who’s put on an event. I was lucky enough and UN honored to speak at it. What would you say to other schools and other educators who think that, you know, we shouldn’t do any events this year, do you think it was a positive experience for your students? Should, should schools still strive to do some sort of events? What are your thoughts and opinions on that?

Brian Dunn (18:27):
Oh my goodness. Well, I think it starts, yeah, I, I think, oh my goodness. I can’t believe this. Oh my goodness. Yes, of course you should be putting on events. It’s, you know, we we’ve built and I know everyone else feels frustrated. I think in terms of you’ve built up all these events, especially schools that have been around forever traditions and, and you know, we’ve always focused on liturgical year for us chaplains and certain things that we’ve sort of built up. And there’s certain expectations to come to school and say, Nope, sorry, like we’re, you know, we, we, we can’t do anything, you know, everything shut down. That’s, that’s just wrong. It’s just, how do we adapt? Are we, how are we people that adapt? And as people of faith we, we have always been taught to adapt to the signs of the times.

Brian Dunn (19:19):
That’s our call. As Christians as Catholics. We, we look at the signs of the times and react. He’s like Jesus did when he was around. And the answers are not always with us. Actually, the answers are never really with us. They come through the holy spirit, working through our students, our staff, using the gifts and talents of our students and staff and our administration and, and coming together as a team to say, how are we going to face this together? As a school community if people are working in silos, it never works. But once we sort of extend it and say, okay, listen, we’re gonna do a show. It’s gonna concentrate on everything that the school is doing. It’s gonna focus on us coming together, but also there’s gonna be a virtual conference coming up and we’re going to, to have different speakers and Sam’s gonna be one of our speakers.

Brian Dunn (20:15):
And Mr. Dunn’s gonna be one of our speakers, and we’re gonna pull in a graduate student that’s sitting in you know, doing the same thing from home because they can’t go to to their university that they’re in. And we’re also gonna call in another Catholic leader in the community to see how they’re, you know, facing it. And we’ll, we’re just gonna have a, a short question answer, period. And you know, there, if, if you dare to dream, it, it can happen. It’s just getting those people in place that can help it move forward. So don’t stop, don’t stop believe don’t stop believing that it can happen. Right. I think people are too quick to say, ah, I can never, we are, are you really, are you serious? And, and that’s where we say Uhuh, like the holy spirit is bigger than anything that we can ever do. So that’s when we sit and whether whatever way we pray, whatever way we gotta figure out our vision and purpose, we say, God, if it is your will, it will happen. And please bring the people to me that we need. And if it’s not your will it, ain’t gonna, it’s not gonna happen. This isn’t gonna happen. That’s okay. And then you move to the next thing and, you know, we, listen, you see the spirit working and yeah, it’s, it’s, it’s amazing.

Sam Demma (21:31):
And what has been the student response to the events you guys have put on so far? Because I know like one big worries that the students aren’t gonna get as much out of it, have the students expressed interest that they like it. They want to keep doing stuff like that, or have they, have they said, you know, was good, but we don’t really wanna do again. well,

Brian Dunn (21:48):
The, from the mentorship the being mentors right now, it’s really important because they are connecting with the grade nines and any type of motivation that they can get. That’s targeting a specific group of people doing a specific purpose. Of course. I think for the mentors, you know, hearing your talk, hearing a little bit of leadership from the Knight’s council report having a mentorship minute where now that’s a part of the show right now our Knight’s council report where they they’re doing a mentorship minute, how can we help our grade nine? So they’re gonna do tips. They’re gonna do you know, just maybe some body mind and spirit things to help them, you know, just to know that we there’s someone that cares about you in our community. And, and that’s important as well. So yeah, I think they are wanting it.

Brian Dunn (22:44):
I’ve had many requests for the students to become hosts on the show. Everybody wants to be a . Everybody wants to be a stop yeah, no, but which is okay, which is good. I mean, it’s like, you wanna be, so we have so if you’re trying to organize, now, who’s gonna host the show and if you’re gonna have the joke of the day and you know, what do you bring? Like, you know, it’s like the church, what do you bring to the table? And you are called, we’re all called to the table table of the Lord. So it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s what gifts and talents do you bring as, as followers of Christ? So, yeah, it’s and even if you’re, and even in our school, it’s in particular, we’re very multicultural multi-faced school. So in whatever way that you follow that call from God that personal, all that you have, am I giving you that opportunity to do it? And I think within our school’s foundation to accept, to include and to serve, we, we do that. We, we provide an opportunity for every student to be a student of service with love, and that’s their talent. Yeah. If that’s their talent, then Hey, come on in. Yeah, come on in or sign up for one of our six different, you know, subgroups that we have that you have interest in. And they all have to do with serving either our community in school or outside community.

Sam Demma (24:02):
Amazing. No, I love that so much. That’s, that’s great. You know, it, it’s good to just spread awareness and let everyone know, you know, this stuff is still possible. You might have to just get really creative this year. You might fall on your face a few times, throw speed against the wall. And some of it not stick.

Brian Dunn (24:16):
But oh yeah. Oh, it it’s been, yeah. The, this morning it was chaotic, you know, things don’t work, you have to put up the, they have a technical difficult screen or whatever, you know, like it’s just like, we, we all wish we could throw that screen up when we’re making our three mistakes per day, I think isn’t it three mistakes per day. You’re supposed to make. I’m pretty sure something like that. I make way more than that. That’s for sure. Yeah. But no, it’s, it’s amazing to feel part of a team. Again, it’s a team aspect and people coming together for a common purpose that we’re missing in this, you know, it’s, you know, every day we sort of are hearing these down things about pandemic and how we’re not doing things and not doing things. It’s like, all right, stop. We’ll cut the things we’re not doing, but we will do all, all offense, I think all offense and no defense that, so that was what Mr. Mr. Kovas who’s running the Knights council report. He said, we’re doing all offense and no defense. So that’s pretty cool.

Sam Demma (25:14):
I love that. And if there’s other, you know, there are other educators listening who right now might be feeling a little bit burnt out. And I would say one, this has been a great interview. No one has actually sang live before. So they better be feeling better just because of your music . And in the case that they’re still a little burnt out. If you could, you know, take the wisdom you’ve accumulated over the past 18 or 17 years teaching in this, in this work, in this calling what pieces of advice, knowing what, you know now could you give to other educators who are, you know, willing right now? I just need some words of advice from her friend.

Brian Dunn (25:50):
I would say like exactly what my, my dad has always, and my family’s always taught me. Mm. Is truly to keep the faith and a sense of humor. And God will look after the rest and for all of the us his seven children and all, I have 27 nieces and nephews from all my brothers and sisters and stuff. Oh. We’ve always said that keeping the faith in a sense of humor, no matter what’s going on in the world is important. So to be able to laugh every day, find things that that make you laugh. And usually it comes from humility and being able to laugh at yourself. yeah, because honestly it is that it’s so freeing to be able to think you don’t have the answers. I don’t have the answers in my job as chaplain. I, I deal with a lot of sad things.

Brian Dunn (26:48):
A lot of the time in terms of bereavement or different things that we’re praying for in our community and counseling kids are not necessarily sort of pastoral counseling for kids that are going through stuff and working together. Sometimes in that we, you have to have a perspective of faith and a sense of humor and give those things over to God that we can’t handle. Hmm. We, this virus, we can’t handle it. You know, we, we, we have to just do what we’re told, but we can give our frustrations. We can give all of those things that are making us unhappy over to God. And that’s the, the victory of the cross is the fact that we don’t have to deal with it. God has conquered fear. God has conquered death. We are good. He’s already fought that fight. Our job is to let the holy spirit work through us now so that we can bring that hope to others.

Brian Dunn (27:40):
And unless we have the hope, we are not giving it to others. So we pray every day for that hope. I pray every day that the spirit can work through me and work through everyone that I touch. Every day in terms of Knight’s council report, what’s going out our, our, our, our Knight’s council and itself. And just coming up with ideas that will hopefully resonate with our students here at StFX and the staff as well in supporting them. So, yeah. Oh, look, someone’s calling right now. I love that. that’s OK. That’s awesome. Maybe it’s God calling maybe it’s God calling you.

Sam Demma (28:21):
If, if an educator listening wants to reach out, just have a conversation with you, bounce ideas around, share some hopeful energy, what would be the best way for them to do so?

Brian Dunn (28:31):
I would love to hear from anyone. Yeah. . I’d love to hear from anyone, especially the person that’s calling me on the phone right now. they really want to talk to me. It’s like the 12th ring. Yeah, if you could just, you could email me I work for the Halton catholic district school board, and I think it’s dunnb@hcdsb.org. It’s probably the best way. That’s my work email and it’s St. Francis Xavier school in Milton. So we also on our website just check that out. And you can also check out the Knight’s council report, which is on there as well. If you are looking for some ideas and I’d be happy to help anybody that was thinking of just doing something a little different and we can also brainstorm, I’m sure you could teach me a few things as well.

Sam Demma (29:16):
Cool. And I’m gonna put you on the spot here. Do you wanna close this off of the song? Yes, I do. All right, let’s go for it

Brian Dunn (29:25):
Now, this song I’m just gonna end with I picked ordinary day at the beginning, but I don’t know how much time we have or whatever, but this song is it’s brought me through a really cool journey. A journey of faith. I talked a little bit about, you know, what called me to serve others but also throughout my life when I was a lot younger, I was, I was sick with Crohn’s disease and went through many surgeries, many surgeries that sort of built up sort of my physical and spiritual life after that. So this was a song that we sang all the way through it that sort of helped keep perspective. So it goes like this, Laughing, all that easy. I can testify too. There it’s been up and down and round and round to get to where I’m at. You could see how I live in this old car ride drive. Well, you probably wonder and even wonder why even wanna stay alive, but gimme one more shot. I’ll give it all. I got, let me open my eyes to a new sunrise upbringing. Give me one more chance. I’ll learn the day dance hum is five to be alive. Gimme one more day.

Brian Dunn (31:08):
There’s a little verse of it. That’s by Alabama. And the whole song goes on to continue to say, Hey, we all get one more shot every day we wake up. And when we have the grace of God with us, we act with, for faith and love and sense of humor. Keep the faith in a sense of humor. What else can we do? That’s it. We gotta keep moving and hopefully, hopefully been a little bit of inspiration to your listeners and feel free to, yeah. Feel free to contact me at any time.

Sam Demma (31:38):
Brian, thanks so much for coming on the show, playing some music, sharing some stories. It’s been a great conversation. I really appreciate it. Okay. This is crazy. We’re coming back on for one quick second, because we figured out why Brian’s phone was ringing 12 times during the episode. And I wanted him to share real quick.

Brian Dunn (31:54):
Okay. So here, like here’s me thinking I’m really super important. Eh, it’s ah, you know, it’s like the backbones go on. I’m gonna have to go do something. And then I’m like, okay, we’ll just let it go. And then our amazing custodial staff come over because last week I had mentioned, I don’t even know what did I say? I think it was something like, oh, it’d be great if you know I don’t know, I got a coffee, whatever. I, I was hard being sarcastic. Of course they were listening to me and after, and they, they call me down and they had this, beautiful Starbucks coffee that’s right in front of me. That was just a, just a, just a little thing that totally just made my day after babbling on for, for Sam’s podcast. But you know what amazing. It’s just amazing. When people just are stepping out of their comfort zone, just helping, helping their, their, their chaplain here. But we have such a great community and I’m just so so blessed and you know what? The coffee doesn’t hurt either. Man, this is amazing. Amazing. Thank you guys. I love you. Love you guys.

Sam Demma (33:00):
Cool. And there you have it. The full interview with my good friend, Brian Dunn, if you didn’t take anything away from this episode, I hope you at least enjoyed the music during the intro and the outro. He’s a very talented person. If you wanna reach out, please do. He’d love to hear from you. And as always, if you’re learning something from the these episodes and you’re loving the content, please consider leaving a rating and review so that more high performing educators, just like you find this show and can benefit from it. And if you yourself have inspiring ideas or insightful stories that you’d like to share, shoot us an email at info@samdemma.com and we’ll get you on the show anyways. I’ll see you on the next episode talk soon. Okay.

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