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Student Leadership

Mac Fred Mbonimpa — Event and activities coordinator at the Student Association of College La Cité

Mac Fred Mbonimpa — event and activities coordinator at the Student Association of College La Cité
About Mac Fred Mbonimpa

Mac Fred Mbonimpa (@MbonimpaMac), is the event and activities coordinator at the Student Association of College La Cité. After his graduation 2 years ago at college La Cité, Mac started his professional career at La Cité in events as the event coordinator.

Mac Fred Mbonimpa has been a dedicated and accomplished event coordinator at College La Cité, bringing a wealth of expertise and creativity to the realm of event planning. With a passion for creating memorable experiences for students, Mac has played a pivotal role in organizing and executing a variety of successful events for the college community.

Throughout his tenure, Mac has demonstrated a keen eye for detail, ensuring that every event is meticulously planned and flawlessly executed. He has collaborated with various stakeholders, including faculty, staff, and students, to bring innovative and engaging events to life.

One of Mac’s notable strengths lies in his ability to adapt to diverse event requirements. From academic conferences to cultural celebrations, as he was an international student himself, he has consistently delivered events that resonate with attendees and leave a lasting impression.

Mac is not only known for his organizational prowess but also for his exceptional communication skills. He has fostered positive relationships with vendors, sponsors, and participants, contributing to the overall success of each event.

As Mac reflects on his career as an event coordinator at College La Cité, he takes pride in the collective achievements and the positive impact created through memorable and well-executed events.

Connect with Mac: Email | Instagram | LinkedIn | Twitter | Facebook

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

College La Cité

Student Association at College La Cité

Canadian Organization of Campus Activities (COCA)

COCA Conferences

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
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator. This is your host, Sam Demma. And today I have a very special guest, a young guest, someone that I met this past summer at a conference called COCA, the Canadian Association of Campus Activities. And we connected, we stayed in touch. This young man is doing amazing work in the university space, in the college space at La Cite, as an event programmer. Today’s special guest is Mac Fred Mbonimpa. Mack, please start by introducing yourself.

Mac Fred Mbonimpa
Thank you, Sam. Yeah, as you said, my name is Mac Fred Mbonimpa. I’m an event coordinator at La Cite College. It’s my second year as the occupying that post, and it’s been a great experience. As you said, we met in COCA. It’s a conference that happens every summer where universities and colleges, event coordinators and artists and everyone with talent get together to meet and to experience a good, the magic of events, I’ll say like that. Magical events and marketing, programming. Yeah, and I think it was a good experience there at COCA. I went there as an event coordinator and Sam was there as a, I’d say, a keynote speaker going to meet others, right? So I don’t know if I said it right, but this is where we met and we connected. And I’m glad that he invited me today. It’s a pleasure. So tell me a little bit about the work that you do with La Cite and what got you interested in events? Because I know you not only do work with the college,

Sam Demma
So tell me a little bit about the work that you do with La Cite and what got you interested in events? Because I know you not only do work with the college, but you also just love the magic of events in general. So where did that passion start? And tell me about the work that you do.

Mac Fred Mbonimpa
To be honest, when I started, I just finished college and I didn’t know what to do because I wasn’t planning to stay here in Canada. I was thinking of getting my PR and go back to Burundi, but I got a chance, I was working in Quebec City in a car dealership, and I had a friend who worked at the Students’ Association of Les Clay Collegiales. And he called me, he was like, oh, Mark, I know you just graduated and we’re looking for someone in events. And I know you, he’s a friend of mine, I know you, we go out sometime together, and I know your vibe and I know it’s something you would do. And I was like, okay, well, what is the job exactly? It was like, you know, you’ll be coordinating events. I was like, okay, never done that. Instead of, it’s not my birthday or my sister’s birthday. So, I was like, okay, I graduated in business administration. And so I thought I would be doing, going to work in an administration somewhere in a hospital or something like that before I get my PR. And I wasn’t happy where I was in Quebec City. I wasn’t feeling good because I was so far from the family, so far from the friends. I was alone there. And the sales were not going good. I wasn’t selling that much. So I was like, okay, I’ll give it a try. What is the interview? He’s like, okay, you can just submit your CV. I submitted it and then I had the interview. It was a Friday and I came back from work so pissed because I was trying to negotiate with my boss to raise my pay because I wasn’t selling and I wasn’t getting that much money. So he said, he wasn’t agreeing with me. So I was like, oh, I have an interview for a job. And that was, in Quebec City, I went there for my internship when I finished. So I just finished and I heard it’s a job at La Cité and I lived like three minutes from La Cité. I was like, that’s good. So I didn’t know what I’m going into. I go to the interview, Al was there, Allen was there, and they were interviewing me, asking me questions about the student association. I didn’t know anything. I was like, what do we do at the student association? It’s like, I went three years at Slashy Tether. I don’t know anything about the student association. It was so bad. But when it came to my character, when it came to talking, animating, you know, cause I was young too. So he said, it’s a really, it’s a job. It’s a good job when you’re young cause you’re more motivated, more ready to move, more ready to organize and be more creative. So Al liked me like that. He was like, okay, thank you. After the interview was good. And he was like, okay, we’ll call you back. And I call my friend, the friend, I was like, man, I just did the interview. And I think, I don’t know how he went, but I missed some questions. And my friend was like, okay, we’re gonna see. And I get another call back like two minutes after, and I didn’t know it was Alain. So he’s like, hey, I get the call. I’m like, I thought he’s one of my friends, that was the same friend who just called me. I picked up the phone, I was like, yo. And I was like, hi, I’m Al, we were in the interview together. I was like, oh, I’m sorry, I thought it was my friend, Colin, so I felt so down, like, wow, I just, this is my potential boss, and I’m paying you. But he said, you know, you start on Tuesday. I was like, what? You start on Tuesday. So five minutes after the interview, I got the job. Wow. I was so impressed. And he told me the pay and I was so glad and so happy. And he told me that I’ll be working like from home when I want. So it’s like a really easy job to do. Like you can be home, you can work from school. If I don’t have any event, I can be working from home. I was like, that’s so good. And I’m still in Quebec city, which is five hours from Ottawa and I’m starting on Tuesday. So I was like, wow. So Saturday I go, I see my boss. I’m like, man, according to the discussion we had yesterday, I thought about it. I can’t stay here. And going back to Ottawa, I was like, okay. But we had a good relationship with my boss. He’s young. But I wasn’t agreeing to what he was proposing. So I went back, I came back to Ottawa and then I started on Tuesday and Alan told me the first day he was like, the reason why I chose you is because I saw you’re a guy who’s motivated, energetic and everything. So I want you to use that to learn, to learn because for real I had zero experience in it, zero. So and Al is a good teacher, I would say that Al’s been my mentor in events. He knows, I always tell him that most of everything I know I learned it from you. So it was in May I think, yeah it was in May. So the school was starting in September so I had a lot of months to learn. So we started, we started, he taught me everything from cables, how to keep cables, how to keep them, how to roll everything, how to use mics, how to sign contracts. He taught me, we used that summer to prepare the September and I was learning. And two weeks after it was COCA. Two weeks after that I got the job was COCA. So it was a good thing for me. I went to Koka and then I met the schools. I met many people who do my job and I didn’t know anything about my job. And that’s what I’ll tell people. Once you have an experience, everything, you don’t know anything. So it was a good time, was a good time. You know, Koka, we were partying every day. And some, after that, I was like, wow, everyone is organized. Everyone has their shit together. Everyone has their things lined up, you know, almost asking, can you show me your schedule? Can you show me your September calendar? I was like, I don’t have any of that. But the good thing, we had a group chat and we were like, we would be sharing ideas, asking questions, you know. So this is what helped me too. COCA helped me a lot. So because in September, at some point, I had like weeks when I didn’t have anything planned. I was like, okay, I don’t have any more ideas. And I would ask friends from COCA. So it really helped me. This is where I started. So by the time it was in September, I was ready to start. It was a good time and a good experience.

Sam Demma
So two years ago, Al asked you the question, what does the Student Association do? The Student Union. And you didn’t have an answer. Let me ask you that now again, so you can redeem yourself. What does the Student Association do, Mac?

Mac Fred Mbonimpa
The Student Association is, I’ll call it, it’s like the parent, your parent, when you are in school, by the time you’re in school, it’s your parent because it gives you everything you need, they’re capable of giving you, except from academic wise. So they deal with the student life. So what we do in the Student Association, we give you insurance, we give you, we have the bank food, we have, say, any question you have, any questions students have, they can come to our offices and we’ll figure out a way to answer them. Yeah, so we make sure we’re diverse, we include everyone. So I’ll say something I missed as a student was a student association, because I didn’t know it existed. If I knew, I feel like my college life would have been better, because I could have enjoyed the privileges, I could have used it, I could have used the insurance, I could have used the many things that we give. I could have participated to the events, to the activities organized every time. So I was that kind of student who used to go from school after my class or go back home. But now I’m always advocating to say, stay, stay, check, check our IG, check. You know, we have things planned for you. We have gifts. We give a lot of gifts to students. We have students who can’t afford groceries. We have a food bank. So I’ll say we manage the student’s life. So this is how I can explain it in easy words.

Sam Demma
One of the things I know you’re passionate about being an international student yourself is ensuring that every student on campus feels like they have a community, feels like they’re a part of the community, that they belong, that they’re taken care of. Tell me a little bit about your passion for ensuring international students also feel welcomed and supported through their university and college experience.

Mac Fred Mbonimpa
So I feel like the way I can explain it, I’ll say international students, they arrive in Canada and they arrive as, it’s their first year, first winter, first everything, right, mostly. And the person that they go to look for help is gonna be other people from the same country. You know, I’ll go look for another Burundian to ask him questions. But the other Burundian asked another Burundian. And we stay in Canada, but we stay in Burundi. Gotcha. So we keep the mentality from Burundi. And you never get to experience the Canada’s, what Canada gives, at the gifts, you know, or you don’t, you know, they don’t learn how to, how to use their credit cards. They don’t learn how to get a good job, how to have a, you know, so I feel like this is where they get stuck. Because they come here, they don’t have a family. So they go find families in their friends and their friends, which is good, though, but their friends are bringing them like them. So they’ll go to school and go back home. So go back home to their friends. So what I always trying to do is always do activities that are Canadian, like more of that shows you the Canadian culture. Like, let me say like last this month, we did a buffet and the buffet was really like, was a Canadian, the Canadian culture. The Canadian culture one, we were giving turkeys, things like that.

Mac Fred Mbonimpa
So, and I wanted the international student to know what is the Christmas of Canadians? What is, what do they do during this time? You know, I know sometimes that it doesn’t align with their cultures and religion, which is good, which we respect. But if it aligns, you should try it. In gen, I’m planning to take students to ski, to do some hikes, to things like that. So yeah, so I always, when I’m organizing events, I always go to look for the international department. And I’m like, yo, I’m not asking any of your budgets, but I’m asking that you promote these activities because I want international students to participate. Because we’re two different departments, international department and our department is two different. They have their own it’s, it goes back to, they try to align to their culture, right? But, so what I always fight for is them to know, them to learn, and be, have friends, Canadian friends, to be open, to be open to have, at some point, I’d say, when I was in college, I didn’t have, I had friends but mostly was friends from Ivory Coast because I’m trying to find people like me, I’m trying to find people who think like me but once you participate in those activities you will meet other people. They will explain to you, you go to watch a hockey game, you don’t know anything about it, you have another friend sitting, another colleague, classmate sitting next to you. He’s a Canadian. He will explain everything to you and you’ll like the sport. I didn’t watch, I watched the first game of hockey. I was so confused. I was like, why, why everybody’s going out, who’s left with two people? Why is there many things, many? But if you have a friend, you should go there with a team, with a group. You, you, you, you learn and you make friends and maybe you like the sports, you know. So this is something I always advocate for. I’m so, so close to the international department because of that, because they understood it and now we’re really working together. it’s been a good thing to the students because last month we had the hockey tournament or organized by our team, our hockey team. And we had many schools coming and I was asked to find volunteers to work on that tournament. I was like, why not look for international students to volunteer?

Mac Fred Mbonimpa
So I went to the international department and they sent like a big team of international students to work there. They arrived early in the morning, they taught them how to use the timer, how to see foes, things like that. And at the end of the day, they liked the game. They’re like, you see, you came, you didn’t know anything about hockey, but you were controlling the game. You were putting the points out, you know, things like that. So, and it’s a good experience. They liked it, and this is something that gives me joy, because I’m like, didn’t get that chance, but let me try to give it to international students, yeah.

Sam Demma
I think that’s what most educators aspire to do when they get a similar job in education. It’s to make a life of a human being better, to provide them with a unique experience that they know will enhance their lives or that they didn’t have in the past, so they want to give it to others. It sounds like collaboration is a big part of your strategy, not competing with other departments, but collaborating, ensuring that everyone works together to provide the best possible experience to students. In your experience, how do you effectively build relationships with students on campus so that they trust you and they come to you and they have questions and they want to ask you things? How do you build that relationship?

Mac Fred Mbonimpa
First of all, I’ll say it’s easy for them because they think I’m a student. I had friends, student friends, realizing one month after, two months after that, I’m a staff, I’m a full-time staff. I’m like, oh, for real, you graduated?

Sam Demma
That’s awesome.

Mac Fred Mbonimpa
And I’m like, you didn’t know? You think the whole time that I spent at school is because I’m a good student? So, yeah, so first of all, that’s the first thing is they relate. They relate. They feel like we’re in the same group of age. And the second thing, I feel like I don’t… What would I say? Yeah, I make them my friends. I make them my friends. I try to listen when I can, because sometimes it’s hard to deal with students. Sometimes they don’t wanna listen. But, and I feel like I have this way of approaching people with, I don’t know, I had a student who came to our office was so, so, so pissed off. This is an example I’m gonna give you. So pissed off, he was from another campus and he came and he was loud telling everyone in our department how we’re not helping the other campus, things like that. And then I arrived, I saw him, he was a guy like around my age. I was like, so because I saw the other staff, because they’re more older, they were trying to calm him down and I took him outside and I’m like, oh bro, let’s go and talk. So I talked to him like another friend, like I was like, don’t think I’m one of them, like I’m, you know, okay, what’s your problem? You know, you don’t have to say it like that because, you know, people listen when you come, you know, people, this is how people gonna like you because if they want to help you, they have to like you first, you know, they have to like the way you approach them. So yeah, and he came and we talked, like we talked and after it’s where he realized, oh, oh, you’re one of them too. You know, like you work with them, but I gave him his answers, but he didn’t realize that because I didn’t come with the approach of being, I’m not gonna say, I’m not gonna use this word, I was gonna say being too polite, you know how teachers talk to students, like, oh, calm down. I came like a friend, I came like, yo, bro, let’s go and talk outside, you know. And it really helped him, it really, we answered his questions and it really helped me too to engage with him. So I feel like, I don’t know how to name it, but I’m more, I’m easy to talk to because you would feel like I’m approachable.

Sam Demma
I was going to say the word that comes to mind for me is authentic. You are the same, whether you’re talking to your friends or you’re talking to a student, it’s just Mac. People probably resonate with that because there’s no different version of you. This is what you get. And I’m sure students appreciate that because maybe in certain scenarios, they feel like they’re being talked down to, or they feel like the person talking to them is exercising their superiority or the fact that they’re in a position of power, whereas you approach it just like a human. Hey man, let’s go talk. So it sounds like collaboration, authenticity are two of the big things you’ve kind of shared and talked about so far. I’m curious, in the 2024 school year with event programming, what are some of the experiences that you and the team are working on that you’re really excited about providing to students on campus? And if there isn’t one in the future that you’re excited about, maybe you can reflect on one that happened in 2023 that you’re really proud of? 

Mac Fred Mbonimpa
Yeah, I’ll say I’m part of one event we did last year. It was during the Black History Month. It was called a multicultural show. Nice. Where we had many artists from all over different cultures. Like we had even Burundian drummers, of course, I have to represent.

Sam Demma
Nice.

Mac Fred Mbonimpa
But we had, like, we had a, it was a good show. It was a really beautiful and gave us, gave us good points. Like I would say, students liked it. Like, it helped us recruiting other students because they were like, oh, this is what they do at La Cite. So it was a good event. And I’m planning to redo it this year. And this year we’re trying to do it in two separate forms. We’re trying to have a panel inviting businessmen, black businessmen, politicians to come and have a panel discussion with students. They’ll be asking questions. That will be the first event. The second event will be the multicultural show again. So, which is good, which I’m excited to see again. But the second one that I’m really, really working on and I’m trying to put all my efforts in it because I feel like I’m ready for next year. But when it comes, I always like new challenges. I always like new events that I’ve never done. But the event that I’m planning, but I’ve done it last year, but in a small way. I did it, it wasn’t a big event. It’s called Cité Talon, it’s a talent show. It’s a, yeah, a big talent show. I’m planning to organize a big talent show this year. I want, my goal organizing this is for students, for the winner, who wins Cité Talon, I want him to feel like he’s a talented person. He can use that, he can put it in his CV and say, I won at La Cité among us many students. So, always work on how big is the event, how did you organize this? Because last year we did it, but it wasn’t that big. The prize the student would win last year he would win $300 and go to and have a trip to Peterborough to participate in other talent shows between schools. So this year I want I want hours to be big, hours to be… I want many students to participate. I want to be ready in advance. And yeah, I’m still figuring you out, thinking what kind of prices would we give, you know, what kind of things we would give the student to feel like it’s another value to his talent. He would, you know, I’m gonna use you as an example, right?

Sam Demma
Okay.

Mac Fred Mbonimpa
For example, like when we’re presenting Sam Demma, we can say Sam Demma has been on TV, Sam Demma has been on TED Talk. So these are things that adds value to your name. So things like that. So I want students to mention, oh, I’ve won La Cité talent show. So this is what I’m working on. And I hope it’s gonna be good. I hope the budget is going to match. I hope everything is going to be good. But yeah, I’m so excited for the event. Yeah.

Sam Demma
It sounds awesome. I think it would give so many students an opportunity to shine their light. There’s probably so many young people on campus who have passions, who have interests that nobody else knows about because they don’t have an opportunity to share it. And this talent show is going to give them an opportunity to showcase that talent in front of everybody and be recognized for it, which is really cool, especially for international students that may have a barrier to connect with people. But an activity, a talent is universal. You don’t have to speak the language to share, share your light or showcase a talent. So I’m excited to see it come together. La Cité’s got talent, you know, it’s kind of like Canada’s got talent.

Sam Demma
Well, it’s really great to hear about some of the things you have planned for the new year and the event that went well last year. If you need some connections to some business people to sit on your panel, I happen to know a few that I think would match what you’re looking for and that could do a really great job for you. So reach out to me after this conversation is done. But tell me to wrap this up, if you could go back in time to when you were just starting your position at La Cité, when you didn’t know anything about the role, you’re overwhelmed, stressed out, maybe even a little bit anxious, if you could go back in time and speak to that version of yourself, but knowing what you know now, what would you tell yourself? What advice would you give?

Mac Fred Mbonimpa
I’ll give him first, a word of encouragement. I’ll be like, the Reds, it’s a good experience. It’s something you don’t wanna miss, you know, because I feel like, 100% events are so hard to do. So complicated that demands a lot of details, small, small details. You forget one, you’re done. You forget one, you lose a lot of money. But yeah, I’ll say, I’d say to Mark, to be more organized, to be more organized, plan these things ahead. To know that as the more you’re organized, the more you have space to plan for others, the more you see what’s missing. And then I feel like this is the thing I didn’t know, I didn’t have in me, is the organization, organize my documents, keep my things together, write everything down, give myself tasks and due dates, you know, things like that. That would have helped me a lot when I started, but, you know, I had to learn it through experience and I feel like I’m still learning, but it’s a good thing. So, but one is be ready, you enjoy. To this day I’ve never went to work not happy. I’m a believer so I always thank God for having gave me this job because I like it and then I’m willing to continue doing it. So yeah, so I would say I would out there.

Sam Demma
Mac, thank you so much for sharing. I appreciate hearing your reflections. I appreciate your time, your energy, your passion for the work that you do. Keep up the amazing work. Merry Christmas, happy holidays, all the best in 2024. And I hope that our paths cross again sometime soon.

Mac Fred Mbonimpa
Thank you very much, Sam. Yeah, happy holidays to you and your family. Wish you, I already texted you what I wish you for 2024, but I said it again, I wish you more success, man, and I’m so proud to be your friend, because I’m, you know, it’s a flex. It’s a flex.

Sam Demma
Appreciate you, brother, thank you. Thank you so much. Thanks.

Mac Fred Mbonimpa
Thank you.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Mac Fred Mbonimpa

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.

Michael Saretzky — Recipient of the Prime Ministers Award for Teaching Excellence in STEM

Michael Saretzky — Recipient of the Prime Ministers Award for Teaching Excellence in STEM
About Michael Saretzky

After graduating from the University of Victoria’s Education program in Cranbrook, BC, Michael Saretzky started teaching in Fox Creek, AB. Michael spent three years there teaching a variety of grades from grade 5 to grade 11. After his time there, Michael moved with his wife, Shauna, to Hinton, where they both taught for 9 years, even teaching PE 8 together. While in Hinton, Michael taught mainly grade 8, and social studies. It was also in Hinton where Michael started his Master’s in Educational Technology through UBC. Also in Hinton, Michael and Shauna had their two children, Peyton and Macy.

In 2017, Michael and Shauna made the move to Red Deer, AB, to be closer to family. In Red Deer, they both teach at St. Patrick’s Community School, the only year-round school in the city, and where both of their children now attend. Michael completed his Master’s in 2021, while implementing a variety of technology programs within his own classroom, as well as his colleagues. Michael has taken many of his classroom practices and presented on them at different teacher conventions. He has spoken about video games in the classroom, using cooperative games to teach, setting up an esports team and using a classroom government to link the federal government system. This spring, Michael will also be presenting on running a media program at a middle school, something Michael has been doing at his current school with students from grade 6 to 9. Since first implementing this program, which started as an idea during online learning, it has morphed into a student led twice a week announcement program. Furthermore, Michael was recently recognized for his use of technology in the school by being awarded The Prime Ministers Award for Teaching Excellence in STEM – Certificate of Acheivment.

Connect with Michael: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

University of Victoria’s Education Program

Master’s in Educational Technology at UBC

St. Patrick’s Community School

The Prime Ministers Award for Teaching Excellence in STEM – Certificate of Acheivment

I Love it Here – Clint Pulver

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
Welcome back to another episode of The High Performing Educator. This is your host, keynote speaker and author, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is a new friend of mine, Michael Saretzky. After graduating from the University of Victoria’s education program in Cranbrook, B.C., Michael Saretzky started teaching in Fox Creek, Alberta. Michael spent three years there teaching a variety of grades from grade five to grade eleven. After his time there, he moved with his wife Shauna, to Hinton, where they both taught for nine years, even teaching physical education grade eight together. While in Hinton, Michael taught mainly grade eight and social studies. It was also in Hinton where Michael started his master’s in education technology through UBC. Also, in Hinton, Michael and Shauna had their two children, Peyton and Macy. In 2017, they both moved to Red Deer, Alberta to be closer to family and today, they both teach at Saint Patrick’s Community School, the only year-round school in the city and where both of their children now attend.

Sam Demma
Michael completed his master’s in 2021 while implementing a variety of technology programs within his own classroom and as well with his colleagues. Michael has taken many of his classroom practices and presented on them at different teacher conventions. He has spoken about video games in the classroom, using cooperative games to teach, setting up an eSports team, and using a classroom government to link the federal government system. This spring, Michael will also be presenting on running a media program at a middle school, something he has been doing at his current school with students from grades 6 to 9.

Sam Demma
Since first implementing this program, which started as an idea during online learning, it has morphed into a student-led twice-a-week announcement program. Furthermore, Michael was recently recognized for his use of technology in the school by being awarded the Prime Minister’s Award for Teaching Excellence in STEM, Certificate of Achievement. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Michael, and I will see you on the other side. Today we have a very special guest that I had the pleasure of meeting more recently toward the end of the school year here.

Sam Demma
And our guest today is Michael Saretzky, from, born and raised, Vancouver Island. Michael, how are you doing?

Michael Saretzky
Good, thanks. How are you?

Sam Demma
I’m doing well. Thank you so much for coming on the podcast. I know that you were born and raised in Vancouver Island, but where is home for you now?

Michael Saretzky
Right now, my wife and family were in Red Deer, Alberta.

Sam Demma
What brought you from the beautiful Vancouver Island to the beautiful Red Deer in Alberta? 

Michael Saretzky
A lot of different paths along the way brought me out to Alberta initially and then we eventually settled down in Red Deer. So, story’s kind of long, but my wife was finishing up for practicum on Vancouver Island and I got a phone call on, I think it was a Wednesday that I had a job offer up in Fox Creek, just between Edmonton and Granbury. And they asked me if I could be out there for the Monday. So we, I said yes. And so we drove from on Friday after she was done her last day of school, drove from my hometown of Gold River down to Victoria about four hours to say goodbye to my grandma.

Michael Saretzky
And then from there, we drove up to Cranbrook to her family because she had to get ready for her wedding that was happening in a couple weeks. And on the Sunday I drove from Cranbrook to Fox Creek, which was probably about 14 hours, and I got the last hotel room in Fox Creek. It was during the break-up in the oil field. And the room was only available because the guy couldn’t come in that day. He actually canceled his room. So it was literally the last hotel room in town.

Michael Saretzky
And so the next day, he was supposed to be coming in. So I had to pack up all my stuff and moved everything to the hotel room, went up to start teaching my first class of high school English. And that was my introduction to professional teaching. And did that for three days and had teacher convention on that weekend. And I was still living in and out of hotel rooms. And went to teacher convention up in Grand then was able to actually go live at a vice principal’s house for a couple days there. And then on Tuesday, I think it was after school, I drove from Fox Creek down to Red Deer, where my dad and stepmom live, and stayed here. And then went and met my wife down in Calgary and her family, and then we flew to the Dominican Republic to get married. So yeah. And then, yeah, we were down there for a couple of weeks, got married, a bunch of family down there, came back up, went to my wife’s convocation in Cranbrook, and then I introduced her to Fox Creek.

Sam Demma
What a story. So you redefined what it means to couch surf. It’s not just about bouncing around. You literally, you bounced around working, like finding a job, finding a permanent place to work. And so tell me a little bit about why you wanted to work in education. Did you know growing up that you wanted to be a teacher or how did you, how did you find this vocation?

Michael Saretzky
Another long convoluted story. Now I had a lot of great teachers in my schooling. My grade three teacher, Mrs. Erb. My grade six teacher, I remember she was brand new to the profession, Ms. Fisher. We were her first class. And a bunch of other ones in high school, my stepdad included. And my mom was an EA, so I had that introduction to school, but I always wanted to be a pilot. And unfortunately, well, I guess fortunately now, I’m colorblind and I was told I could not be a pilot. So, I decided to go into school for business and I want to work in the airline business, but obviously just not as a pilot.

Michael Saretzky
And I was walking down from Camosun College in Victoria down to the mall with this guy. I can’t remember his name. He was in school with me. I think his first name was Chris. And we’re walking down and I was deciding if I wanted to get into education or if I wanted to continue with business. And he said, well, which one’s going to make you happier? And I remember crossing the road and by the time I crossed the road, I said, you know what? I think teaching. And that kind of got me into the path of education. Just a random conversation with a friend from university.

Sam Demma
There is an individual who is a speaker and author by the name of Clint Pulver. And he has a very inspiring story about wanting to be a pilot since he was a little kid, but having a decline in his vision and not being able to actually fly. And he pursued it for something like 10 years before he had to give it up and he was so upset. And he ended up pivoting, taking a different pathway. And today he speaks all over the globe and he’s a professional drummer. And just recently he launched and announced that he was releasing a YouTube special about his journey back to flying.

Sam Demma
Apparently he’s had some special operation on his eyes and it was a very inspiring story. So I don’t know, when you mentioned the pilot situation and things not working out, like yourself, this Pathways probably brought you so much fulfillment in the same way that Clint’s Pathway has and it just made me immediately think of his story. So I appreciate you sharing that.

Sam Demma
It sounds like business was also a passion of yours. How do you integrate your passion for business into the work that you do in education? Is there any way that you do that? Or are you involved in extra curricular stuff with students? Like tell me more about what you love about school. 

Michael Saretzky
Well, one of the things like during COVID, I remember we were doing our online teaching, the grade eight team, and during the first half an hour of the classes, we were getting the students ready and the teachers, we’d just talk online. And I remember the students saying, no, you guys should have like a TV show. And so we started talking, oh yeah, we could call it Wake Up St. Pat’s. And that’s just when we came back in the classroom, we had to do options and the option classes had to be in your cohort, you could like the students can leave. I was like, you guys came up with this idea of having a talk show. How about you guys have the talk show as your option class? In doing that, I structured as a business. That’s probably where that idea of structure came from, just from my experience in business courses. We actually have a COO, we have a crew director, and we have a whole hierarchy in the class where if you’re in charge of the class, you actually need to be able to do everyone’s job, and you need to be able to step in if someone else is absent. You actually were able to meet our two CEOs of our class. They were the ones that interviewed you when you were in here.

Sam Demma
Yeah, that’s awesome. I didn’t know there was an entire structure to the two students that I met who conducted a phenomenal interview. For everyone listening, I met Michael at a presentation in Red Deer and two of his students interviewed me following the presentation and it was a phenomenal conversation. They had amazing tech equipment. How long have you been operating that show and this hierarchy of students in the classroom?

Michael Saretzky
So that would be, sorry, I just got to think. Those students are now in grade 11 that were in grade 8 at the time. So, about three, four years, and now it goes all the way down to grade six, and we have – it’s running three, four days a week now with different classes doing it. Some of the grade sixes are doing an awesome job with interviews, with their part. And what’s interesting is I’ve kind of let the students kind of morph it into what they want. My idea when I brought it to them was sitting behind a news desk, just a very traditional news program.

Michael Saretzky
But they’re each in charge of a segment if they’re part of a production crew. So in the production crew, you have your production crew director who’s in charge, and then you have your camera person, and you have your anchors. And sometimes the anchors are in front of the camera, sometimes they’re behind the camera, kind of prompting questions. And they kind of just come up with their own segment ideas. Last year we had, I think it was grade 6 and then grade 7, say, let’s do finish the lyrics. So now they have a, they’ll play a song and then students as young as grade 1s, maybe even kindergarten, all the way up to our staff have to finish the lyrics. So it might be Taylor Swift or it might be something from Disney, but it’s pretty entertaining.

Sam Demma
How have you witnessed student change throughout being a part of this class in terms of their leadership abilities and personal development? 

Michael Saretzky
Just, yeah, some who kind of might sit in the, I’ve had the opportunity to teach a lot of these guys in a variety of different subject areas. Those grade 8s that started this program actually taught them in grade 6, some in grade 7, all of grade 8, and even some in grade 9. And teaching them in grade 6, I know some were much more quieter in the traditional classroom setting, but they’ve just taken on a leadership role and taking on different responsibilities on their own with editing. Our editors are some of the strongest students, but they’re also some of the quietest ones. And it’s just been amazing to see how strong they are in these classes. And it’s been interesting, too. Some of them have actually come back and offered to edit.

Michael Saretzky
When tvhey’re in high school, they’ve come back and done volunteer hours so they can do a grade nine farewell video and stuff.

Sam Demma
Oh, wow.

Sam Demma
That’s awesome.

Sam Demma
If someone was listening to this and wanted to replicate something similar with their classroom, what are a sequence of steps you would share with them to encourage them to get started doing something similar? Listen to the students and be willing to let control go.

Michael Saretzky
This generation is so powerful with technology and they have amazing ideas. I know sometimes, I know for myself, from my experience as a teacher, you don’t want to sometimes let go of the control of the classroom, but it’s amazing what sometimes, what can develop when the students are in charge.

Sam Demma
Oh, I love that. Thanks for sharing. When you think back to your own, you mentioned grade three teacher who had an impact on you, what do you think they did that made a big impact on you that educators listening can strive to provide to the students in their classrooms? 

Michael Saretzky
I don’t like my grade three teacher. She was a very traditional teacher, but she just had expectations that you’d need to reach. My grade six teacher being new to the, um, education, she was just, it was a very unique setting where she was willing to try different things. She brought different ideas into the classroom. I remember we were in a split class and she actually had like a different area for the grade sevens where they’re learning about Egyptian tombs and stuff. And so they had like their own little sitting area around the library that was kind of more, there’s hieroglyphics that the students were creating and stuff.

Michael Saretzky
So I don’t know, it’s always interesting what new teachers bring into the classroom. I’ve had a lot of student teachers come in and they’re just a wealth of, like a breath of fresh air, I guess, and a wealth of knowledge. And it’s always neat to bring in ideas off of them and keep them. I had a student teacher last year, she’s actually a teacher here now, and she set up a Sudoku board in my classroom just this year. And it’s a big board on the bulletin board and the students just spend time making their own Sudoku’s. It’s pretty cool.

Sam Demma
Oh, no way.

Sam Demma
Yeah.

Sam Demma
That’s awesome. Is it like a trivia you start with the beginning of classes sometimes or they fill it in at lunch or how does it work?

Michael Saretzky
A lot of times it’s free time they have in the class that they can work on on their own. Because I know some of them get a little frustrated. They’re working on it, someone else comes in and they make a mistake. But it’s an interesting process just having them realize that people are at different levels of learning

Sam Demma
and not everyone’s familiar with the Sudoku. Yeah. It sounds like you’ve done a great job of building relationships with the students in your classroom by providing different learning opportunities, whether it’s with technology or creating puzzles on the wall. How do you think you build a relationship with a young person, with a student in your classroom? I think the biggest thing is listening to them.

Michael Saretzky
I know I came into the profession and I was very traditional in my teachings where I’d stand at the front, maybe rows of students, and it was, you know, I’m teaching and then here’s your work to do. But getting to know the students as an individual, they have so many different stories that we can learn, we can use that in the classroom, we can just get to know who they are and maybe maybe what they have to bring or what needs you can also help them with.

Sam Demma
I love that. I think when I think back to my experiences in school, I think it was the teachers who listened the most to me, that I felt understood me the most, and therefore I paid more attention to their class and the material they were sharing with us, which led to a greater experience and a better relationship with those individuals. So I think based on my experiences, that what you’re sharing had a big impact on me and I hope other educators listening take that into account.

Sam Demma
What are some of the things that you try and do in your classroom to foster that space where students wanna listen and you wanna listen to them, just to make students feel like they’re safe and understood and appreciated?

Michael Saretzky
it’s kind of different this year because I’m in a new field. For several years I’ve been teaching language arts. Yep. And building that trust with them, with their writing, it has been a big value. So students, I always used to have a, like when I was teaching language arts, I would have a journal and we’d do a topic every Thursday. And their journal was between, like, they would write in the journal and they knew I would read it. And they were quite honest, especially once they knew that it was, like, not for everyone else to read. being in math, it’s been a little bit different because it’s not the same sharing, I guess. But it’s also, I mean, math is different from when I went to school because we were always taught like this is the right way to do things. And I was quite, I always enjoyed math, but there’s so many different ways to learn math. And so just giving students the different ways and allowing them to explore that way that they learn best.

Sam Demma
I guess math can be an analogy for building relationships. Like there’s many different ways to build relationships with students. That’s just one. Tell me a little bit about, oh, sorry, go ahead.

Michael Saretzky
Well, it’s just not always being in the classroom. Like I mentioned, like we have this field trip tomorrow and allowing students to see you outside of the classroom. I also coach a bunch of different activities such as eSports and volleyball. And I mean, eSports has been so huge because now you have the students who might not typically want to join a sports team coming out for a sports team. And there’s so much that you can build with eSports. And like last year was our first year having an eSports team.

Michael Saretzky
And now it’s moved into option class from grade six all the way to grade nine. And you have a lot of interaction between students from grade six and seven, from eight to nine. And it’s just, yeah, there’s so much value in those extracurricular activities and stuff that like, that’s where you build a lot of connections with students.

Sam Demma
Did you get involved in extracurricular activities as an educator first thing out the gate when you were just getting settled? Did it take you a while to say, let me try this? I think there might be some newer educators listening wondering when’s the right time to put your hand up and get involved.

Michael Saretzky
Yeah, I was probably I started coaching volleyball at my first school, but probably it wasn’t until my second or third year. And then at my second school in Hinton, I took on one of my first jobs there was as a phys ed teacher. So that just naturally came. If a coach was needed in a specific sport, then I would take that on. But as you get more and more comfortable in the profession, then I think it comes more naturally to take on that extra responsibility.

Sam Demma
Have you had any teachers or educators that mentored you, or any books you’ve read or conventions you’ve attended that have been instrumental in your own development as an educator?

Michael Saretzky
Oh, there’s countless teachers who have helped me along the way or administrators. I could start listing them, but it would be… I’d feel badly about leaving some out, but definitely my stepdad, as I said, he was a teacher.

Michael Saretzky
He taught me… He was a teacher librarian, and so I was in his class for that. But he’s just been a wealth of knowledge for, getting into the profession. And then my wife is a teacher. We actually teach in the same school. And so, I mean, she’s always being such a strong supporter. And then a lot of admin have helped me along the way, but also all my colleagues. Curious.

Sam Demma
Curious, when you think about the things that they’ve helped you with or shared, are there a few key cornerstone lessons that you go back to or things that you think really make all the difference?

Michael Saretzky
The biggest thing I think like with my wife, we’re both very different teachers. And we were both actually teaching the same subject and just seeing it from a different perspective. And we’re able to communicate like I’ll do things quite differently in my class than she would, but then I also make sure I come back to some of the more like some of the things that she might be teaching. Actually, this tomorrow we’re going on a field trip to a Christmas carol. And although I’m not teaching LA anymore, she’s the one that got me doing that in my class. But she kind of got me going a different avenue.

Michael Saretzky
She always used to take her students to the play in Edmonton.

Sam Demma
Ah.

Michael Saretzky
And so she kind of suggested, like, maybe look at it as a play. So rather than being the traditional text, we would do kind of a reader’s theater in the class. And it’s just, the kids love it. You got your performers who can take on the bigger roles and then you got other students who might take on a smaller role but might do the first time reading in class. So it’s kind of better I think than maybe reading the traditional text because if a student has to read a whole paragraph but they don’t want to read it in front of the whole classroom, it’s kind of a safer environment.

Sam Demma
Sounds like the big lesson is to be open to teaching differently. Have that perspective that you could be teaching the same subject but doing it totally different than somebody else. So even if you have the opportunity to sit in the back of someone else’s classroom and see how they teach it, to have conversations about what you’re teaching, is that a common practice? Like sharing what you’re teaching in your classroom with your other colleagues that are teaching the same things and then sharing ideas?

Michael Saretzky
Yeah, and actually our admin team, they’re big advocates of collaboration.

Sam Demma
Cool.

Michael Saretzky
Actually, once a week we are meeting with our grade team or PDs. If there’s time available, we will meet with our subject team. So, you’ll be able to connect with different people. And actually, they just had us going in and observing our, our grade team. So I would go into like another grade eight teachers class. And it was an excellent experience and just being able to see how people do it differently with the same students.

Sam Demma
If someone is listening to this in the spirit of collaboration, if they want to reach out to you and me too, or have a conversation, ask you some questions about your journey through education, or some of your philosophies and beliefs around teaching, what would be the best way for them to get in touch or reach out to you?

Michael Saretzky
Well, my social media is put up pretty tightly. I use Twitter a bit, but probably email. Just, yeah. Yeah. Which would be michael.saretzky@rdcrs.ca. Awesome. Yeah. Perfect. 

Sam Demma
I’ll make sure to put it in the show notes of the episode just so people can reach out to you if they have a question.

Sam Demma
It’s been an absolute honor having you on the show, Michael. Thank you for taking the time. So close to the holiday season. I hope you enjoy the field trip. By the time this is released, the field trip will have been long gone, but I know it went really well. It was a pleasure chatting with you. Thank you for making the time to come on the show. Thank you for making the time to come on the show.

Michael Saretzky
Thank you for having me.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Michael Saretzky

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.

Ireland Black — Success Coach in Bowden and Spruce View

Ireland Black — Success Coach in Bowden and Spruce View
About Ireland Black

Ireland Black, is the Success Coach in Bowden and Spruce View. She facilitates the Youth Empowerment & Support (YES) program for both schools which uses a positive mental health focus to provide universal programming to students in Grades K-8.

After receiving her degree in Psychology, Ireland chose to step away from her job as an Advanced Leader 1 Lifeguard in order to find a position that was better aligned with her future goals. The YES program is a perfect fit for her as she has not only been able to utilize her knowledge from obtaining her degree & to use the skills she developed volunteering with the RCMP but it allows her to continue to foster healthy and positive relationships with the students, staff and communities.

Ireland believes that each child should have a good understanding of what it means to have positive mental health and continues to encourage students with her motto “You can do hard things.”

Connect with Ireland: Email | Instagram

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Youth Empowerment & Support (YES) program

Muriel Summers – Leader in ME

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

Red Deer Polytechnic

The Bubble Gum Brain by Julia Cook

Royal Canadian Mounted Police

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
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator Podcast. This is your host, keynote speaker, and best-selling author, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is my friend, Ireland Black. She is the success coach in Bowden and Spruce View, Alberta, and facilitates the Youth Empowerment and Support Program for both schools, which uses a positive mental health focus to provide universal programming to students in grades K through 8. After receiving her degree in psychology, Ireland chose to step away from her job as an Advanced Leader I lifeguard in order to find a position that was better aligned with her future goals. The YES program was a perfect fit for her as she has not only been able to utilize her knowledge from obtaining her degree and to use the skills she developed volunteering with the RCMP, but it allows her to continue to foster healthy and positive relationships with the students, staffs, and communities she serves. Ireland believes that each child should have a good understanding of what it means to have positive mental health, and continues to encourage students with her motto, you can do hard things. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Ireland, and I will see you on the other side. Ireland, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. Please, let’s get started by having you just quickly introduce yourself to the listeners.

Ireland Black
Awesome. So thanks for having me. I’m Ireland Black. I’m a success coach out of Bowden in Spruce View, Alberta. So what that means is I’m a facilitator with the Youth Empowerment and Support Program, which is the YES program. So that’s about my role. It is formulated to support resiliency skills in kids from K-12. So we support students with their mental health awareness and to enhance their social and emotional skills.

Sam Demma
I’m kind of jealous I never had my own success coach when I was going through school to be honest. Is this a newer position within the school board? Like, tell me a little bit more about how you came to becoming the success coach. I believe the program’s been around for quite some time now, at least within Chinook’s Edge?

Ireland Black
I can’t speak for other divisions. I started in May, so I’m still pretty new to the position, but I have a degree in psychology, so I was really looking for a role where I could use my degree and I love working with kids. So this was just kind of the perfect fit.

Sam Demma
Awesome. Tell me some of the things that you would be talking about with a student and how the role actually operates. Do you walk into a certain amount of classrooms each day? Is it more like a guidance counselor role where they walk into your classroom and you help them through things? Like, tell me a little bit more about what it looks like day to day.

Ireland Black
Yeah, so it’s a little bit of both. I’m responsible for universal programming. So that means every student K to eight in the division is receiving the same like programming within their classrooms. So I think that’s really cool. That kind of looks like me. I come in with a PowerPoint, I have games, activities. Um, just yesterday I taught one about flexible learning. So we read a book called The Bubble Gum Brain, and I had them all like try and squish a piece of gum between their like two peace sign fingers. So that’s a lot of fun, but I also have my own classroom in each building. So students are always welcome to come in, have a chat. I’m in the, I call it the first line of defense. I find that kids, because of the role I’m in, are very open to having chats with me. They’ll come in and ask for hot chocolate, they’ll sit on the couch, but they can’t take on that counselor role. So if it’s just like they’re having a bad day, I absolutely am there for them, but if it’s anything bigger than that, then I refer them to the family school wellness worker. Outside of that, I put on lunchtime programs, so that’s anywhere between small targeted groups for maybe anger management, friendship skills, or at something fun like Lego, coloring, and crafts. And then after school is the same. So we try and pick kids. We call them our yes kids. The kids who might need that extra support, um, need a safe place to land after school before they head home. So we range from a variety of topics between sports. We’ll do mini sticks in the hallway, we’ll do bake clubs, we do craft clubs, basically whatever the kids want, I will provide.

Sam Demma
It sounds like, although you’re not the counselor role, you create so many safe spaces for students to explore their skills and to feel like they belong or are a part of something. Can you think about an experience you’ve put on that has had a big impact on students, maybe one that you consistently like doing over and over again with different groups because it just works so well?

Ireland Black
I found recently that the baking club has been a huge hit. I’ve ran three of them now. I have one coming up in December for Christmas. And I thought it was simple enough. I used to love baking cookies, but those kids come in and I vary the age groups when I run them, but it takes patience

Ireland Black
when they come in because they’re so excited and they don’t always understand like with cooking and baking comes the cleaning and comes measuring and so When I walked into it, I was just expecting you know, like here’s your recipe. Here’s your ingredients Go ahead have fun. But then it was like sitting them each of them down and being like, okay, like this is a measuring cup and this is what the numbers mean. And, um, this is why we do it this way. And this is how we have to preheat our ovens. And so I found that it was super impactful for them because they got to not only learn that skill, but it’s also like I saw them work through and problem solve. And there was some frustration when things didn’t turn out. But it’s the one that they keep coming back and being like, can you do this again? Like it was so fun. And so I think they get the most from it. And being in the position I am and with the knowledge I have, I get to see like the skills that they’re practicing and that they’re learning. So that’s beneficial for me to see as well.

Sam Demma
And you get to eat some of their creations probably?

Ireland Black
Absolutely.

Sam Demma
Which is so great. For someone listening who is thinking right now, oh my goodness, baking club? That sounds amazing. I’m stealing that idea. What does it look like in terms of preparation, facilitating that, and how often would you do it? Like, paint a little bit of a picture so if there’s a teacher listening, they could take some of these ideas and implement them in their own school.

Ireland Black
Absolutely. So I have implemented this year, I try and run each program for a month length. So I pick one day of the week after school, usually two and a half hours for the big club I find to be enough, especially for those kiddos learning how to clean and wash dishes. But yeah, so I’ll pick like a Monday after school, I have them sign up two weeks in advance. And then I, once I get those forms back, I usually ask them what kind of recipes they want. I start with something very minimal, simple. I don’t even jump to cookies right away. It’s like box cake, just so we can practice measuring and following instructions. And so I think no matter what age group you pick, you have to be really mindful that you might be getting the kids who don’t know how to measure and don’t know how to clean. And so setting yourself up for success and setting them up for success is taking those smaller steps by starting with the box cake, which might seem a little ridiculous. But then by the end of it, when they’re baking their brownies and their cookies, and you’re getting to the point where they’re feeling confident, it’s so worth it. I’m lucky enough to have a very decent budget for my position to be able to provide all of this. I know when certain staff or support staff they hear bake club, the first thing that comes to mind is price tag because it can be huge. It’s not cheap for all those ingredients, especially when you’re putting it on for eight to ten kiddos. So my advice, research what you need beforehand, buy in bulk, and just know that at the end of the day, you’ll need a little bit extra because stuff is always, always going to end up on the floor.

Sam Demma
Nice.

Sam Demma
It sounds like the Bait Club has been one of the highlights. Is there maybe one other program that you’ve experimented since you started that isn’t like a typical club that you’d find in a school? Like, Bait Club is very unique. Is there anything else that you do that you think is a little bit unique that others may have never tried before? 

Ireland Black
I actually just this month kind of ran a club of my own that I came up with. So it’s called noodle noggins. And the purpose is to take kids from, I want to say, grade three to six and target the kiddos who aren’t doing very well academically, who might be struggling with writing skills or research skills. And but they still have that drive, like they want to succeed. And not every kid is going to be an honor roll student, but sometimes with that comes lack of self confidence or they keep getting the grades back and they’re not happy with them, but they’re trying their best. So I invented this lunch program where the kids come in and they pick a topic, any topic that they’d like to research and to find three fun facts. They have to, I make up three research questions for them and they go and they put it on a poster or a PowerPoint and every week when they come in, I give them a couple of noodles for lunch. And so, I haven’t seen anything like it. It was something that I know watching my sisters, like my sisters are very smart people but they have people in their friendships, even I had people in my friendship growing up that just were like defeated because no matter how hard they tried, they weren’t doing as well academically as they wanted. And so I’ve really seen these kiddos regain some confidence and trust in their own abilities. And I always tell them like, it’s not the grade, we’re not grading this. I just want to remind you that like, when you work hard, you are successful based on the outcome that you get. So, if you give it 110% and you get a 65 and that’s good for you, then you’re golden. That’s successful. So, I haven’t seen anything like it. It might be popping up in other schools because I’ve shared it with all of my team. So, yeah, that’s probably one that I haven’t really heard of before.

Sam Demma
Free noodles and extra help and resources sounds like a great club to me. What does empowerment mean to you? I know empowering young people is a big part of your your role and from your passion as you explain these different clubs, I can tell that you care about it. What is it like, what does empowerment mean to you?

Ireland Black
That’s a great question. I think being in this role, empowerment means making an impact. I think when if we put too much pressure on the mental health or the emotional side of things, of course, empowerment is uplifting and it’s encouraging and it’s positive. And of course, I believe in those things. But at the end of the day, if I can make the impact on any student, I’ve empowered them. I think empowerment comes in so many different forms. I have a student in eighth grade who I’m running a program, hood up, won’t look at me. Sorry. That’s okay. Hood up, won’t look at me. And by week three, she took her hood off. And so I like went up, we have a water bottle, it’s called the Heroes Program. And I gave her a water bottle and she looked at me, she’s like, pay attention. And I was like, right. But I could tell that you’re, you’re getting there. You took your hood off for me today. That’s huge. So yeah, I think empowerment to me is really focusing on putting those kids first and extending my reach as far as I can to collect all those kiddos in between. Whether they’re super successful, academic, athletic, or they’re on the end where they’re maybe quieter or isolated even, I just want to get my impact and my reach on as many kids as I can. What is the HERO Program? The HERO Program is one of the programs we run for grades seven and eight. I believe it’s the Impact Society. It’s awesome. It’s fantastic. It’s working with real life stories and giving them meaning and showing the kids like if you take down your walls and just let people in, you’ll be more successful and you’ll feel connection and you’ll be able to express more empathy for others because others will finally be able to give empathy to you. be able to express more empathy for others because others will finally be able to give empathy to you. And they have this water bottle and it’s my favorite thing. Every time I hold up the water bottle the whole class says I have gifts and abilities and the desire to succeed. And I just think it’s phenomenal because the water bottle represents, it doesn’t matter the package you come in, if you run a 10k rates, at the end of the day like if you grab your $50 water bottle or the water bottle you bought in bulk from Costco, the water is what’s important. So it’s what’s on the inside that counts. So I love the Heroes Program. I can’t speak highly enough about it. The kids love it. They come up to me all the time, chasing me on the hallways, Miss I, Miss I, I have the gifts and abilities and the desire to succeed. And I don’t always have a water bottle with me, but I recognize that and I know that they’re trying and whether they’re saying it for the water bottle or saying it because it’s important to them, I know eventually it will click and they’ll start to believe it. And that’s really what matters, so.

Sam Demma
The moment where that student of yours took the hood off must have just gave you goosebumps and been such a empowering moment for yourself to remind yourself that the work you’re doing is also making a difference and an impact. Have you had any more moments like that one? It didn’t have to be a student, you know, removing a piece of clothing or something, but like, is there any other moments you’ve had since you started in this position that just reminds you how important this work is? 

Ireland Black
I wanna say that this past week has been such a huge reminder The kiddos I work with they have faced a lot of change through this position, I think there’s been Three of us now which is unfortunate But life happens and so they really struggled when I started being like how much do we want to invest in this lady? Like she might not be around and I think they’re getting to the point now where there’s that trust and that relationship. And I really saw an impact when I had a student in the third grade. And she came up to me one day after school, she’s like, Miss I, you told me that I can do hard things. And when I went home, like I finished my math homework and she hadn’t done her math homework since September. And so I was like, oh my goodness, that’s amazing, good job. And she was so excited, she was jumping up and down, she ran over and gave it to her teacher and he just kind of looked at me, he’s like, she did her math homework? And I was like, yeah, she did her math homework. I was like, he looks at me, he goes, it doesn’t look like any of it’s right, but it doesn’t matter. And I was like, no, it’s handed in and it’s done. And so it was kind of a kind of chuckle because it’s just math homework. But she was so excited. And she, we can do hard things is kind of like a personal model of mine. And so just hearing some little kid just full of excitement, and that they took that to heart was like, mind blowing to me. It was so impactful and I just think it meant so much to me to just see how excited she was even though she got nothing right. And to do that and to hand it in.

Sam Demma
The idea is that you can do hard things. I would argue it’s not just math homework. Like that is a foundational belief that this young person may carry with them for the rest of their life. And remember when they’re in the middle of a hard project at a future job or a hard time in their personal life and running up to you and saying, Miss, I did my math homework. It could be like a foundational moment in developing that principle they carry forward with them. And so I think what you’re doing is just so important and I hope more school divisions create a position like yours to empower young people and remind them of these very important lessons. I’m curious, you are having a positive impact on these young students. I’m wondering if you had a teacher when you were a kiddo who had a very positive impact on you and if so, what did that teacher do for you?

Ireland Black
My most impactful teacher was Jeff Madsen. He was my English teacher from grade 11 to 12. And I was going through a really rough time in my life. I had lost three immediate family members within two years. So I was struggling with a lot of grief. And I was recently diagnosed with Graves’ disease. So I was going through a lot. And I just remember always being so welcomed in his class. And I was very shy in grade 11. And very meek. And I remember I was having a bad day and I was in Radius, which was the writing club in our school that he ran. And there was a little office upstairs and he came in after lunch to his English class, I was just having the worst day. And I came and I sat down and grabbed my book or whatever and he was like, I didn’t know how much that meant, but looking back, like, that was such a critical moment for me. Being able to have someone care and not relinquish expectations, like, I still had to go read the book, but to be put into a safe space and an environment where I was comfortable was huge. And he mentored me through all my writing. And he was someone that I could trust and rely upon. And so I think, in this position, although I’m not an English teacher, and I don’t run a writing program, the care that he had and the empathy and the compassion, and just the kindness, and how he treated us in grade 12. He’s like, you’re grade 12 students. If you have to go to the bathroom, don’t ask. I’m trusting you to come back without Tim Hortons. And so I carry that with me being like, I got to trust these kids and I need to show them empathy and compassion. And I just want to embody what he gave to me.

Sam Demma
I was recently attending a divisional PD day in the Livingstone Range School Division in Lethbridge, Alberta. I had the pleasure of speaking at it, and I also listened to this lady keynote called Muriel Summers, and she runs a program called Leader in Me. And one of her phrases was, could it be that simple. And you’re telling your story about Jeff and the fact that he offered you a safe space. You know, sometimes we think we have to do something so huge to make a positive difference in the life of a young person. But more often than not, it’s just about showing them that we care. It’s about showing a young person that you have time for them, that you believe in them, that they can talk to you. And I’m curious, like how do you think you connect with young people and make a difference in their lives?

Ireland Black
I think the number one thing I try and do is something you just mentioned is make time for them. I never want to turn a student away. So if they come to me, whether it’s to push them on the tire swing at recess or to sit and have a hot chocolate and talk about their bad day, I have to make time for them. And I want to make time for them, because I need them to know that I care. And I always tell them, you’re always welcome here. You can tell me about your bad days. You can tell me about your good days. But you need to know I care about how you’re doing. And I want you to be having the best day you can. So whether that’s you’re having a bad day and we can make it a little bit better, then that’s the best day you can have. And so for me, I always say like, these kiddos will come first to me. And I think that’s what I try and do is care for them and show them in the hallway. I smile, I say hi, I use their names, I give them high fives when I walk past their room, I give them a big smile and a wave. I just try and make myself present for them all the time.

Sam Demma
You mentioned at the start of this interview that you’re a psychology major and you love psychology. Are there any, not doesn’t have to be related to psychology, but are there any resources or books or anything that you’ve read that has informed some of your own beliefs in teaching or helping others? You mentioned using people’s names and I remember as a young person, I had a teacher who told me to check out this book called How to Win Friends and Influence People. And it was all about building these interpersonal skills and relational skills. And one of the chapters was about the importance of people’s names. And I was just so fascinated by it that after I read the book, whenever I was shopping in a grocery store or anywhere, if a person had a name tag on, I would address them by their name. And there was one occasion where the cashier looked at me and said, do I know you? I was like, no, but I just saw your name tag there. And she went, oh my goodness, thank you so much. And we ended up talking for two minutes and she ended up giving me a 15% discount on my order. I didn’t – I wasn’t expecting a discount, but I just became fascinated by that idea. And I’m curious if you’ve read any books or followed any people that have impacted the way that you show up every single day?

Ireland Black
That’s a tough question. I think there was a moment in my positive psych class during my degree and my professor, Anami, she’s lovely, she’s out at Red Deer Polytechnic for anyone who’s curious, she kind of stopped and she was like, Listen, I know to some of you, this is nothing more than telling you to be mindful and be positive. And this is things you’ve heard before. But how often do you apply them? How often do you take that minute to be mindful? How often do you take that moment to actually ensure you’re actively listening to someone, that you’re making eye contact, that you’re using their names, you’re repeating info back to them. How often do you do that outside of these four walls, outside of this classroom? And everyone’s kind of looking at each other like, oh, she got us there. And after that, I just remember taking that to heart and leaving the room being like, that’s exactly what I have to do. Growing up my grandpa had always told me like always take the high road. The V was always worth it and so I think I’ve carried myself through that lens and then when she had kind of called us out in class that day it kind of reminded me like it doesn’t take this big huge grand gesture it’s holding the door and acknowledging someone, it’s saying good morning. Positive psychology and being having a positive and a growth mindset is huge. But it’s so easy to get caught up in life sometimes that we forget that all it takes is that hello and being mindful and connecting with yourself just as much as trying to connect with others. And so I think that, although it’s not a specific book, was probably where I got a lot of my insight was that positive psychology class.

Sam Demma
Take the high road. It’s worth the view. That’s gonna be stuck in my brain for the next couple of weeks because of this conversation. I thank you so much for sharing that.

Ireland Black
Of course.

Sam Demma
This has been an insightful conversation from start to finish, whether it was the bake club, talking about the teachers who had an impact on you, talking about the moments that teachers create when they give their students time and believe in them. Thank you for making the time in your busy schedule to share with everyone listening with myself. I really appreciate it. If there is an educator listening right now, they want to reach out to you and have a conversation or share a compliment, what would be the best way for them to get in touch?

Ireland Black
Oh, first of all, thank you for the opportunity to be here. It’s been lovely and I was excited coming into this because I don’t think a ton of people know about the position. And so I’m happy to spread the word. I hope it carries on to other divisions. The best way to get a hold of me would be my email. So that’s iblack@cesd73.ca.

Sam Demma
Awesome, Ireland. Thank you so much or Miss.I I should say. Awesome, Ireland. Keep up the great work and I look forward to crossing paths with you again very soon.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Ireland Black

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.

Jeff Armour — Chief Operating Officer (COO) for the University Students’ Council (USC) at Western University

Jeff Armour — Chief Operating Officer (COO) for the University Students’ Council (USC) at Western University
About Jeff Armour

Jeff Armour (@WesternUSC) is the Chief Operating Officer (COO) for the University Students’ Council (USC) at Western University. Jeff graduated with a B.Sc. from Western University and after a few years of service overseeing the Wave and Spoke restaurant and bars on campus the USC encouraged Jeff to enroll in the Project Management program through Western’s Continuing Studies. Jeff was subsequently promoted to higher-level leadership position in the organization until ultimately landing at the COO role he currently holds. Jeff also recently completed his EMBA at Ivey in July 2023.

Jeff has an extensive background in strategic planning, project management, operations restructuring and realignment, change management and financial strategy.

Jeff is married to Mindy and has three children, Kennedee, Ben and Brad. He was born in BC but grew up in Peterborough, Jeff moved to London for school at Western and never left.

Connect with Jeff: Email | Instagram | LinkedIn | Twitter | Facebook

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

University Students’ Council (USC)

B.Sc at Western University

Western’s Continuing Studies

Eccelerated Masters of Business Administration (EMBA) at Ivey

Sebastian Sassaville – From Everest to the Sahara

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
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Jeff Armour. Jeff is the Chief Operating Officer (COO) for the University Students Council at Western University. Jeff graduated with a Bachelor of Science from Western University, and after a few years of service overseeing the Wave and Spoke restaurant and bars on campus, the USC encouraged Jeff to enroll in the project management program through Western’s continuing studies. Jeff was subsequently promoted to a higher level leadership position in the organization until ultimately landing at the COO role he currently holds. Jeff also recently completed his EMBA at Ivy in July 2023. Jeff has an extensive background in strategic planning, project management, operations, reconstructing, and realignment, change management, and financial strategy. Jeff is married to Mindy, has three children, Kennedy, Ben, and Brad, was born in BC, but grew up in Peterborough. Jeff moved to London for school at Western and has never left. I hope you enjoy this insightful interview with Jeff, and I will see you on the other side. Jeff, thank you so much for coming on the podcast. I really appreciate it.

Jeff Armour
Hey, thanks for asking me. I’m excited to talk with you.

Sam Demma
Something that piqued my interest, obviously we met at the orientation week at Western, but something that piqued my interest that we haven’t talked about is your start in construction, because I come from a family of tradespeople and my dad is a plumber by trade and builds homes. Tell me a little bit about your start in construction and how that led to working at the university?

Jeff Armour
I’ll try and give the Coles notes because I don’t want to take up the whole time, but the Kohl’s notes are essentially, when I was really, like, I don’t think I was 16, my dad was, who’s a doctor, was having his office renovated by a contractor who actually became a close family friend. And he suggested I approach him to see if, you know, I could do some work with them, you know, trying to get in those values of work and then getting pay. And I was the oldest child, so, you know, get out there and lead the way for everyone else kind of thing. So that job, I got it. And that guy, his name’s Robert Thurnbeck, who has passed away since, but was really formative for me. A lot of, even to this day, a lot of the leadership things he taught me, even though I don’t think I for sure he was not trained or anything, it just came naturally to him. He was leading a construction company and working with customers. So it was all of that sort of massaging of, there’s money at play, there’s timelines and all the rest of it. Learned a ton from him. When he passed away, I kind of took over the reins at like 19 years old of this company that had projects that still needed to, and it kind of split a little bit, but there was a chunks of it that, you know, I continued on and did some of the work that he underway. And it was kind of like, I was currently enrolled in the university doing my bachelor of science and it was really appealing to me to be doing that construction. So in the summer I was doing it, I was getting to lead a team of like, you know, there was like 20 years old, let’s say, or 19 years old. And there were, you know, carpenters that were working with me that were like 45 or 50. And the plumbers didn’t want to show up and the electricians were like, I think the price is going to go up. And here I am learning all of these, like you’re thrown into it, trying to make a go of it, and a great learning atmosphere. At the same time, I was finishing my BSc, and at that time, there were some challenges in some of the operations, and I was working at The Wave, which is an on-campus restaurant, not just in terms of financially, and we’ll probably get into that later on about how I sort of like view services in the post-secondary environment. But there was challenges with like people, bumps in seats too, like it wasn’t, you know, working. The general manager, the role I’m currently in, which I now call the chief operating officer, but the general manager at the time called me up and asked my suggestion for improving some of those spaces. And I gave him the recommendations and then he offered me a job and said, like, yeah, I want you to come and do all of that and see if you can fix it. I was young still, like 22, 23, somewhere in that range. And I thought, you know what? I can always come back to the construction, but this kind of interests me. And I will say my parents kind of pushed me a little bit. I think they felt like I was growing up maybe too quickly. I was working seven days a week with the construction thing. You work five days a week and then you do quotes and billings on the weekends and you pay deposit. It was non-stop. And it was probably a little too much. I don’t know. I’ve never asked him about that. Maybe over the holidays I will. But came to the USC, University Students Council, which is interesting because every university has a University Students Council. But the USC, for example, at McMaster, it’s the MSU, McMaster Student Union. Across Canada, the USC is known as the Western USC kind of thing. So I’ll say that a lot, so I’m just preparing the listener for that. Came to the USC, and that’s where things really changed in terms of like, it struck a chord in me where the construction money was great, but I suddenly had these thoughts mid-20s, late-30s of like, maybe it’s not about money entirely. You got to be able to pay your bills. I want to be able to like make sure my kids have what they need to, you know, if they want to play sports or whatever. But you know, me working seven days a week and just, you know, the thing about construction was you could literally see something at the end of the day and be like, wow, we showed up here and there was no second floor and now there’s a second floor on. And when I go back to Peterborough, which is where that happened and where I’m from, I’ll drive around the city and be like, oh, I put the roof on that house, there’s all the addition or like music. Can’t believe that chimney’s still up. The mortar was a little cold that day when we were repointing the channel. My point is, there’s a satisfaction that comes with physical creation. And I think what I tapped into, even though I was just working at the bars and restaurants, was the impact and the purpose that interacting with students at probably one of the most critical phases of their life when they’ve left home and they’re trying to figure out their way and they’re trying to learn and they’re trying to figure out how to make friends all over again and all of that, but in a different, they’re reinventing themselves, but also trying to invent what they’re going to be. And it just really resonated with me. That’s how the two came together.

Sam Demma
Can we go back to Robert for just a moment? It sounds like he had an instrumental impact on you. When I think about people in my life who have played big roles and taught me lots of things. Many of the greatest lessons came in moments when I was extremely emotional or something was happening or I made a mistake or things fell apart and this voice of reason from another human being just changed my beliefs or shifted my perspective in a big way. And I think back to a gentleman named Chris who, when during the pandemic my work was falling apart because all these schools were canceling engagements. And he helped me realize that, although it’s a changing and challenging time, there will be opportunities if you shift your focus and focus on the fact that people are gonna need this work now more than ever, and less people are gonna be doing it. And if there’s less people doing it and more people that need it, don’t you think that could be a cool opportunity if you figure out how to deliver things virtually. And it was like, it just, it was a big shift mentally for me. And so I’m wondering, when you think back to your time spent with Robert, do you have any experiences you can remember where you may have had a challenge or something come up and his lesson kind of pushed you forward? And if so, what was one of those examples?

Jeff Armour
Like, there are several I reference all the time, so I could probably give you an example in different realms. But before I do that, I want to say what you just said about finding a way to deliver this message. I think one of the… I don’t know that I would have accepted this invite from someone else if I didn’t feel like what you’re doing and what you’re talking about is absolutely critical. mental, the access to information that the world has, the mental health struggles that we have, the inability to make mistakes or accept that something is wrong because everything is perfect that you see online. I can tell you right now, it’s not even 9.14 in the morning, I’ve already made like four mistakes. And I love it because if it takes you 100 mistakes to get it right, let’s get through 99 of them real quick so we can get to it being right. But that isn’t the way the world is right now. And people need to hear that. Yeah, you’ve got crap in your backpack, as you say, and you got to get it out of there. You got to own it and accept it. And sometimes that stuff is good. Mistakes are good, right? And I think that’s to answer your question now, is I got to borrow a company truck. He had all these F-150s that had the red and white stripes and they all looked the same. And there I was, you know, and I had just gotten my license the year before and I put one of them in the ditch and I had to call him. And we had just had radios, there was no cell phones. So it was like these, you know, radios that we shared with all the trucking companies and everything. And I had to call and say over that radio, so I knew like 300 people in Peterborough were going to hear this. Hey, I need you to come out to quarter line. And I expected this is a job. He gave me a dollar raise every year, a 50 cent raise every year. You have a job. As soon as you’re done school, you just show up. You’re going to get a 50 cent raise. I expect with every paycheck, you’re going to buy a tool. Here’s a tool belt and a hammer just from a shop. You just pull it down. He goes, and I’m going to get you started. But like you want to see a tape measure in there, I want to see this, you want to see that. And if I took you to the garage right now, I have, it looks like you’re walking into a Rona or a Home Depot because he forced me every paycheck to buy a tool, but he gave me a raise every year. I knew it was coming, right? And I knew I had a job. So there was stability there, but there was also patience when I made a mistake, right? Like put the truck into the ditch. But then there was also like life lesson stuff. Like, you know, so I was the young lad. They always called me the young lad, right? Where’s the young lad today? Oh, I’ve got him in another job site. He’s cleaning up this. Well, we need him over here because we’ve got to move a bunch of drywall and like we don’t want to hurt our backs, that sort of thing, right? But he’d go pick me up and drive me over and he goes, tomorrow’s payday and he’d kind of look at me, you know, and he, you know those Colts, the wine dipped, rum tipped Colts, you know, like I’m sure they still exist, but he always had one in his mouth and he would pull it out and look at me, and he’s like, what do you think if I just paid him on Friday instead of tomorrow, right? And I’d be like, I think they’d be really upset, you shouldn’t do that, you know, and he would do it and then he said, he said, you know, what were they saying, right? And, you know, and he’s like, it’s good to remind them that they’re getting a paycheck and their work is valuable and you take him up for pizza lunch and make a big joke about it and big celebration and like it wouldn’t hurt anyone or anything like that but he really understood the balance and at the time I thought he was being I don’t know what the word is for it it wasn’t self-centered but I believe that it brought joy him handing a paycheck to a person and that person going like thank you. Mm-hmm Do you know I mean like I did a good job and there’s money coming to me because I worked for you and the customers Are happy and he was always so happy he was like a big bundle of joy all the time and all that like and and Even though we’re doing construction and sometimes it was like pouring rain and right out there putting tarps on stuff and it was brute, you know Everybody was happy and I think it was connecting. Everyone now connects work and work life and what’s that work life balance and all the rest of that. Like there has to be a division and work is where you’re unhappy, but life is where you’re happy. Do you know what I’m saying? And I think just separating that is terrible. Like I referenced Wayne Gretzky earlier on. He was someone, it was a podcast recently and they asked Wayne, what’s the magic number? How many hours a week were you practicing? How many hours a week? And he laughed and he’s like, zero. I never practiced. I was just playing the game.

Sam Demma
Ah.

Jeff Armour
The mindset of like, when are you putting in that work so you can go get the joy of in the game is separate. It’s all part of the game, right? I like to just, the game was something that we got to organize once in a while as a bonus, but being able to go out there with my friends and shoot, you know, stick or whatever. So there was a lot of those little kind of lessons about like people finding their purpose in their work and then understanding that, you know, the people that are putting up the skyscrapers in Toronto so people can live closer to their work downtown and make that city more vibrant are critical. That’s critical work that’s going on in the world. And I don’t think, I think people don’t see it that way anymore. They’re all jumbled up about what’s the purpose and what their job is and what they’re trying to do and maybe chasing the dollar a little bit. And they’re not finding happiness in that, I don’t think.

Sam Demma
You mentioned earlier that you realized maybe it’s not so much about making lots of money, making enough money, yes, to pay the bills and have some cool experiences, but that there was more important things. When did that realization come to you? Was that when you were transitioning into working in schools? Because I think, especially for younger teachers and even young professionals, there is this, I guess there’s this belief that to be successful, you have to make X amount of dollars. And I think it traps so many people into doing things that they don’t love just to check a box.

Jeff Armour
Right. Yeah, and yeah, for sure. And I’m not trying to be, there’s a lot of people who work really hard to make a lot of money doing that. And I don’t wanna suppose that I understand that that’s what motivates them or keeps them happy. That’s for a therapist to do to figure out where that comes from, you know, and maybe they ate, maybe they grew up in a household that struggled, you know, with food insecurity and who knows. And then now, having enough money is really important and that’s what makes them happy. Great with that. Great with that.

Jeff Armour
But for me, I think it was the building piece, the builder, the contractor part of me that was great at it. I really feel like I understood it and I connected with it. But I feel like there was a few moments when I was like sitting with a young student. It was – so I worked some nights and sitting there with a young student and they were just talking about how their roommates like – it’s late at night. We’re waiting for their buddies to come pick him up because you know he got left at the bar and whatever whatever and you know Most bars, you know in the world would be like it’s closing time get the hell out We don’t we don’t do that on campus. We make sure everyone gets home safe We try and see that people are leaving and you know, hey, you’re walking by yourself Let me get you foot patrol or whatever like we take it’s just a different approach not not as a maybe as a value proposition But it’s more just like, could run campus and, you know, people are trusting us to take care of their children.

Jeff Armour
Exactly, yeah.

Jeff Armour
So sitting with, and then just broke down and then we had a long conversation. I’m pretty, if memory serves me, we actually gave him a job and he was waiting for his buddies to come back and he’s like, you know, I gotta go home for Christmas and like, I’m pretty sure I’m failing a course and my dad’s not going to be okay with that. Not going to be. And, you know, we had some conversations and it was, I remember that one specifically, because it was outside the bar, it was out, we call it Concrete Beach, it’s outside of the building, but there’s this big area where students, you know, gather on campus. And it was a good conversation that made me realize, you know, wow, like, maybe, I’m going to struggle with this all the way through, but like, because I’m much better at self-deprecating, but like maybe I made a difference in that person’s life, right? And although I can’t see it like I built a second floor in a house, I have to believe I’m making a difference. And that statement, I have to believe I’m making a difference, I say to myself weekly weekly ever since in the 25 years that I’ve been at USC.

Sam Demma
You might not be seeing the second floor, but you’re definitely building a foundation in a person’s life the same way you built a foundation in a building with the work that you do with the USC. What are a few of the parts to your work that you find really rewarding? I’m sure there’s so many, but what are a few that come to mind?

Jeff Armour
Well, an easy one is, so my role is the chief operating officer. I am the, again, I hate talking hierarchically, but just so the listener can understand, on an org chart, I’m the top full-time staff person. So we are staff-run, but we’re student-led. So the boss, my boss, is the president who sits on the board of directors. There’s nine of them, so eight students at large, and then the president. That board is my boss that hires, fires me, does performance evaluations and all the rest of it. That president changes over every year. So they get elected. We come back in January, this, like, in four weeks or three weeks, and we’re going to hear who’s running to be president next year, and one of those people will be my boss and the new board of directors representative. So, first out of the gate, if you think, you know, well, thinking it’s bizarre is okay, because it’s awesomely bizarre, but not being okay with it means you should never work for a student association. You’re not gonna ever accept it if you’re like, oh, I couldn’t take orders from a 22, 23 year old. So that’s probably the best part for me though, is every single year, there’s a new slate of ideas, a new, fresh, sort of like, hey, I love that thing they did last year, I didn’t love this part of it so much. You know, and they run, they develop a platform, and then they open up, you know, I kind of call it when the person gets elected, they get to sit down with the current president because they don’t start until June 1, and myself and we open up the big book of truce, right? Okay, so you said you were going to reduce the price of coffee at Starbucks. We don’t run the Starbucks, right? But let me tell you how we use our on-campus operations to advocate for affordability in terms of food on campus, because we’re always cheaper than the, right? So it was like, oh, well, that’s all I really wanted. And right. So then what we’re going to do is we’re going to do a heavy advertising campaign that says, you know, hey, if you want to bottle a little water, we’re 25 cents cheaper. And we won’t we don’t directly say, you know, the school is this and the school is that we just advertise it because we’ve got a great relationship with the school. They’re actually but they got to pay bills as well. They’re a business and their purpose is a little bit different than what our purpose is. Our purpose, our mission, our vision statement is students have the power to change the world. And specifically, we say students, because although we have elected student leadership, you might think that’s the students that have the power to change the world. We actually it’s all students. So like we do something called midnight breakfast where we put out food during exams. And when those students are studying over and well, then they need that pick me up around 11 o’clock. They can just come over and grab a free plate of eggs and waffles and bacon and whatever. Fill their belly, see some people, get away from their desk, and then go back and study. And we believe that those students, one of them’s gonna go on and figure out a cure for the common cold, or is gonna go write some amazing poetry, or is going to be a great track star, and you know, whatever, and they’re gonna change the world in some way, shape, or form. So that’s why we do what we do, that’s why I get out of bed every morning, is I believe that students have the power to change the world.

Jeff Armour
The second thing is how we do that, our mission statement is we do that by enhancing the educational experience. So we don’t do the educational experience, we do mentoring and training and all of that, so there is some huge educational component, but in this moniker, it’s uppercase educational experience, which is what Western does. So we just enhance it, bus pass, health and dental, bars, orientation week, as you saw, stuff like that.

Sam Demma
With the USC, you’re also directly managing lots of different staff members and I’m assuming people would be reporting to you lots of times during the day. It sounds like you also were managing people on the construction site. In your experience managing people on the construction site and even at the university, what have you found to be effective when it comes to managing other human beings? I’ve had a couple of experiences and it’s challenging. It’s challenging.

Jeff Armour
It is. And that’s the beauty of it is people are challenging. If it was easy, they wouldn’t need a chief operating officer, right? If everyone just came in and did exactly what they said they were going to do and they never got sick and they never were confused about about what the priorities were or all that sort of thing, then it would be really easy. But the key to remember for me anyways is, first of all, you have to have the belief that everybody coming into work wants to contribute and feel valued. So that goes back to, it can’t just be about money. It has to be about something else. And I’ll tell you, if it’s, they’re not finding purpose where you’re at and I’m not talking I’m not talking specifically But the USC If you’re not finding purpose working for a consulting firm in Toronto My hope for you as a fellow human being is that you figure that out quickly Because what you are wasting is resource that you can’t get back You can always make more money, but you can’t get time back if your impact and purpose is somewhere else boy I hope you figure that out quickly. And so that is the approach that I take when managing people is, first of all, are you okay? And do you understand, like, what makes you happy and where you’re finding purpose? And if that isn’t the case, let’s talk about that and work through that. No hard feelings, no harm, right? I’m here to be your, I’m here to help you navigate all this if I can, if I can have the honor of doing that, right? The second thing is you understand then, now if you’re connected to what we’re doing, if you believe the students have the power to change the world, if you believe that this consulting firm that you’re working for is really making the agricultural sector a better place to be and that’s important to you because you’re down as a farmer, then awesome. Like you’re doing, you found it, right? Now do you understand from a leadership level, hierarchically, right? What the expectations are from either strategic planning or what makes impact or where we’re going as a team. And even if we’re all going in the wrong direction, let’s go in the wrong direction together, right? Figure out it’s the wrong direction, make corrections and then figure out what the right direction is. Because you’re not gonna get it right the first time, which is where the third thing comes in, which is patience. So is the person okay? Have they found their purpose? Are they able and willing to contribute? Because I don’t believe nobody comes into work to do something wrong. I’m like, oh, today I’m going to like make these mistakes or whatever. If they’re making mistakes, it’s either because they haven’t been trained. That’s the management’s fault. Or they don’t understand where they’re going. Management’s fault. Or they’re not propped up with the tools and resources to do what they need to do, management’s fault. So someone failing at the frontline level or even middle management, I see that as my, that’s my fault. I haven’t had enough time to talk to them. They’re not getting enough direction. They’re not getting enough. Or, or they’re unhappy. And this goes back to, you know. 

Sam Demma
Wrong position.

Jeff Armour
Are you, and if, and sometimes and I’m not gonna I’m gonna stick with construction to keep it at work from what I’m currently doing There were there were times where I had to sit down with someone not sit down because it’s construction site you know you’re having a coffee and the person be like It’s getting harder to get her to bed on Monday and Tuesday now and when I’m like, oh, what do you like? You know, I always like to do this like well, why not like just do it You know, how about you work here half time so you still get a solid paycheck and you got some money and go try that out. Yeah, yeah, you know what I mean? So encouraging people to be their best and if they happen to be their best where I’m the chief operating officer, that’s a win. The win-win is, or that’s a win-win. The win of that person going and figuring out what, but that attitude goes to the entire place. And people start to feel like, hey, I don’t get what’s going on here. I’m not afraid to ask because I want to be at my best because I don’t want to disappoint the students or I don’t want to disappoint my manager or whatever it is. So those are kind of the three ways. So it’s not really about I’m not much of a like during COVID. Yeah, I had to take a more, you know, firm hand on the wheel, if you will say, but that’s because we weren’t in a normal operating environment. It was like, yeah, you’re all not coming to work. This is what we can do, and this is what we can’t do. And this is, I know you used to like, whatever, like flip pancakes for midnight breakfast. But today what you’re doing is you’re doing a newsletter and you’re helping to copyright that. Like, cause, but you’re going to get, you have a job. So you go back to Maslow’s, like the primary thing is like, are you safe? Do you, can you pay your bills? Can you, you know, and that’s, that’s where you went during COVID. So other than that, I’m, I’m more of a carrot type of person of like, if we do this, wouldn’t this be great? And we can move the needle and move down this path as opposed to running around the office, trying to catch someone doing something wrong. You know, I saw you left five minutes earlier. And like, you know, the madmen approach of like the sixties and seventies and in fair and probably early two thousands as well. I think that approach has entirely changed.

Sam Demma
I was recently attending an event in Quebec City and saw a speaker by the name of Sebastian Sassville, and he has climbed Everest and done these crazy endurance adventures, 240 mile runs across the Sahara Desert. And he recently, more recently, did a bike ride across America, which is one of the most physically challenging, I guess, long-term races you can do. And he mentioned a time during the race when he was about to give up, and he had a team of, I wanna say, seven to 10 people that were supporting him along this two-week journey. He had to be on the bike 22 hours a day for the entire experience. And he talked about a moment where he broke down, it was very close to the finish, maybe a couple of days before the end. And he said, I think I’m gonna give up. And he had a team member basically tell him, no, you can’t because it’s not about you, it’s about us. There’s 10 of us showing up every single day. Sass, you gotta pull your weight. This is about our mission, our race, it’s not yours. And he shared this lesson with all of us in the audience to just remind us that our missions aren’t about us, it’s about we, the team, and all galvanizing towards and moving towards a common goal or a common mission. It sounds like that’s very similar to how you approach the call to action.

Jeff Armour
In my first week taking over this role, it’s funny you say that, for all the management team, the place was, it needed some of what you’re talking about there, and I printed up a sign that said we, and I had all the senior managers put it up. So reporting to me, there were eight senior managers at the time, and they all report, one was like each of the divisions, right? That support the organization and students and put WE up in their office. And within two weeks, everyone was asking like, what’s the WE all about? And it’s like, well, we’re either gonna fail together or we’re gonna win together, right? So that’s a very cool story though. Wow. 22 hours on the bike.

Jeff Armour
22 hours on the bike.

Sam Demma
And not just one day, it’s like two weeks in a row. He was talking about moments where he had hallucinations and he mentioned how vulnerable he had to be. At certain points, he couldn’t even reach down and touch his toes. He’d have to have other team members dress him every single morning. He had people making all of his meals. Talk about relying on the people around you to get the job done and recognizing that you can’t do it all alone. It was just a really cool, really cool, powerful analogy. And I’m carrying that with me in my backpack moving forward. And this conversation just reminded me of it a little bit. 

Jeff Armour
That’s huge. It’s almost like, and I don’t want to dehumanize him, but like, it’s almost like he represented the organization that was doing work 24 hours a day. It was happening. And there were all these people that were propping it up. And even when the organization was ready to fail, everyone was like, they rallied around him, like, you can’t. We’re not gonna let this stop, because this thing we value a lot. And I’m not, I know I realize I’m referring to a human being as a thing, but like, he sounds like he wasn’t even thinking for himself, he was just like, wait, literally just, you know, people were functioning for him, which is, yeah, unbelievable.

Sam Demma
Yeah.

Jeff Armour
I’ll think of that name for you again. I don’t have a pen and paper with me, so I’ll get that.

Sam Demma
Yeah, I’ll share it with you right after the podcast is done. Sebastian Sassaville. Sassaville. And anyway, yeah, it was very inspiring and it reminded me of this conversation. It sounds like you’re also very passionate about the services on campus, like the restaurants. And you worked in operations, you talked about working in the restaurant. Tell me a little bit about how those operate and why you’re passionate about them.

Jeff Armour
So yeah, we have a ton of, the benefit of being a big student association, we have a wide breadth, but we also have depth. So, like we do, we have a club system.

Jeff Armour
Every school has a club system, for most schools have a club system, but our club system has, you know, there’s 13,000 unique members and over 17,000 memberships. So some of those 13 have two memberships in clubs. That’s like a third of campus is involved in our club system, right? The spoken wave operations, although I’m happy that they generate revenue and that’s all great, what I’m really happy about is they’re lined up and working in those operations, 95% of the staff are, yeah, 95 or higher, are students. So they’re students that come in and get trained and work in the environment. And again, that’s important because they have a job, it helps them, you know, we pay back over a million dollars in salaries back to students every single year so that they can, you know, it’s no small, these aren’t small operations. The big thing it comes from is the community, right? And those people get exposed to other people they wouldn’t have met. And I feel like we’re at a bit of a crossroads, and not just post-secondary education wise, but we’ll stick to that, because that’s what this is about, in terms of like, especially with COVID, and you’ve got people in second and third year that didn’t get to go to their grad prom in high school or they didn’t, you know, have those formative experiences in high school. And high school is way too short. They used to be a grade 13. And that’s created a whole other mixture of issues because the drinking age is 19 and they’re coming at 18 or 17 in some cases. And so then that creates, well, what are you going to do when you’re 17, 18? You’re going to go to a house party. Well, this is an unpopular, students would call it a hot take is what I’m about to do here. But I would rather have the students drinking legally in a venue where they can be supervised with smart-served people. And we can put plates of nachos out and they can get food and it can be spread out over the course of the night. And we know what they’re drinking is safe. Or what’s worse is, you know, the recreational drugs that have turned into other things because it’s easier to get that thing going to the LCBO and get, buy a, you know, bottle of vodka or whatever. It isn’t about the vodka. It isn’t about the food and beverage operations making money. It isn’t about the clubs being used by—all those things are touch points on community and whether we want to accept it or not on the drinking and other stuff, the party side of the social side of things, or on the usage side for the services, students are looking for community. And I believe it’s our job to provide that and the universities, and not just Western, across the board. Parents are handing their to us at 17, 18 years old. And there’s an expectation there, in my opinion, that there’s going to be some resources and opportunities for them to build communities and develop and grow the way I did. When I came out, there was OAC, and that was grade 13. And then I moved into university, and I think I was able to go to the bars and all that right out of the gate. And so I made friends really quickly. And those friends were the ones that right before Thanksgiving, one of them would come back and be like, man, I got a turkey dumped. My girlfriend came back from Queens and she dumped me after Thanksgiving. It was called the turkey dump. I don’t know. They probably break up with them now over Instagram or TikTok or something. And then we’d all sit around, go to the spoke and grab some nachos and some wings, listen to Rick McGee and like, you know, sort of like everything would be okay. Instead of now, they don’t know where to go, right? And their roommates, maybe they’re not getting along with or nobody’s home. And so they go on Instagram or they go on social media and then there’s their community isn’t a real community. It’s a fake representation of what the world is. And so when you’re comparing yourself against that with the access to information, but it’s never been higher, the access to information, access to social media and all the rest of that. But there is an all-time low for patience for people making mistakes, saying the wrong word, doing something wrong, and an all-time low of community building. It’s a powder keg for what we see going on right now, which is widespread, you know, anxiety and pain, the actual, like, you know, people can cry on the drop of a dime. And so that’s what gets me going when you ask, well, what are the services? What do they mean? It’s an opportunity for you to, it’s just like, as you know, going back to my biology as you know, the electrons bounce around and hit more things, the more interactions you have, the more chance you have for a reaction. And that’s what the USC, I think, is trying to do is create opportunities for those interactions, which you did and you saw during orientation week. And like, after you left the stage, the number of students who either emailed or texted or DMed, they took a video of you and then sent it to my president Sunday and said like, that was awesome, you know, and right in the middle of the week, you know, they’ve been away from their family for three days now, and we hit them with something like what you had to say, that interaction maybe made them turn around and go to someone that they wouldn’t normally talk to and say like, how great was that? Like, the backpack guy, you know, like, you know what I’m saying, right? And that’s, we’re trying to create those interactions to create a community so that we can create some, at the end of the day, some reiliency.

Sam Demma
I wanna be just cautious of the time. You okay for one more question?

Jeff Armour
Yeah, great.

Sam Demma
Okay, cool. And I think reminding yourself, you said earlier, that I have to believe that I’m making a difference is something that I do consistently. Even after walking off a stage, you know, one time I was doing a presentation and there was a student sitting 90 degrees away from me facing the wall. And the entire presentation I was in my own head thinking, is this person listening? I was getting frustrated and a little bit upset. Is it me? Is it my delivery? What’s going on? And I remember driving home, being a little bit upset about it. And it’s funny because the whole room was engaged and it seemed like this one person was not potentially paying attention and I focused on that. But when I got home, this individual had sent me an email and it was a really long email. And I told this to a mentor of mine named Chris, the whole situation, and he told me, he’s like, it’s not up to you to decide how other people receive the information you share when you’re on stage. It’s up to you to just deliver it authentically, to lead with the mission and the purpose and hope that people will digest it and do with it what they need to. And so that always sticks with me, especially when I walk off stage and I’m not sure if it connected or I’m not sure if it made a difference. So I lean on those words you were saying and even what Chris tells me. But how do you pick yourself up in moments where you might doubt your own impact?

Jeff Armour
Well, I doubt it all the time. That’s why I have to say it all the time. Because although I don’t know that I could recount a moment like what you just shared, which is very, very cool. I kind of see it like I’m a constant sort of I try and be for the world, this constant kind of like, just a light.

Jeff Armour
Do you know what I mean? And it’s there. You want to look at it. And you in your case, yeah, actually look at it. You want to look at it or you don’t want to look at it. Sometimes you want to lay on the beach and get a tan. Other days, you know what, I just want to look at it through a window a little bit. And like, as long as it’s there, I can’t, it goes back to my management principles, like, I can’t assume where you are at in terms of like, you know, if you’re happy or not. But I want to present some thinking that maybe this world’s a little bit different than the way you’re perceiving it at the moment. Because the moment you’re in, if I had looked at myself when I was 20 years old being a contractor, I would have thought, is this my life, working seven days a week? But it was preparing me for a contrast, but also it was giving me data points on what was actually gonna make me happier. So it’s not a failure, it’s like, oh, well you tried being a contractor, it didn’t work. It actually worked great. And I probably could have afforded a bigger Christmas tree if I’d taken it. But like, yeah, it’s, the obligation is to just, I think, share it, and that’s why I say I have to believe I’m making a difference. The nice thing is, is that you have moments like you had that you just shared where someone sends you an email. Or there’s a president that you worked with, you know, six years ago, and they happen to now work for someone else, and you hear them say something to someone else that you told them September of their year, six years ago. And they say, you know, it’s not really about, you know, someone else. You just have to present the best version of yourself and share the light. And, you know, and then you’re like, oh my goodness, that’s the thing that I talked to them about. And now it’s made it different. You don’t realize it until you start see it reflecting back on yourself. And you’re like, okay, maybe this is catching on. Does that make sense?

Sam Demma
Yeah, it does. I think we need more lights in the world. So keep shining.

Jeff Armour
I meant it more like from a chemistry standpoint, that it’s not a river where you have to get in or you get out. It’s just kind of a passive presence, not like the light, like a church or something like that. It sounded like we got religious there, but yeah, I know it’s more, you can take the light in and you can not, you can stare directly into the eclipse if you want. But I wouldn’t recommend it.

Sam Demma
You might lose your vision. Last question, what are you most excited about? There’s so many changes happening in the world. There’s so many diverse student needs. What are some opportunities that you’re very excited about as we move into 2024?

Jeff Armour
I think that what the world is experiencing right now from AI and deep learning to the escalating conflict going on around the world in many different areas, that’s a very challenging time and I have to believe that challenges like that, humanity has always come out on the other side as a better version of itself. And I have three kids and I want to make sure that what the world looks like when they’re ready to shine their own light, we’re running with the analogy now, is a good place to be. And that’s what gets me up every single day is like, can we have to make a change here? There has to be a change that comes from all of this. And we’re being pushed for some reason, and you can never see it in the moment. You know, in that moment, when you’re going through that exam that you’re going to maybe not do well on, or you got to go home and tell your parents that you’re not going to pass or whatever it is. On the other side of that, if we can be patient with each other and we can help each other find our purpose and then we can be clear communicators and give like that’s what the direction is, is clearly communicate without trying to compare ourselves to each other. You know, like you always hear the adage, the only person you should be comparing yourself to is the version of yourself the day before. If we can get to that state, you know, where we just want to better ourselves and find ourselves, that’s what’s driving me. Specifically in 2024, I don’t know, I kind of want to see, I just want, you know, Travis and maybe Taylor Swift to break up or get married one or the other. It’s like something has to happen there because it’s like consuming everything. I’m excited for, you know, we’ve had a good cycle of the route of COVID and the student voice and activities coming back. I’m really excited to see what comes next with that and just, you know, continue to make a difference and hopefully hear more stories about, you know, that light reflecting back for myself so I can keep going.

Sam Demma
Love that. Jeff, this has been an insightful conversation. Thank you so much for taking the time, for sharing some of your ideas, your management principles, and the work that you’re doing with USC. Keep up the great work and all the best in 2024. Keep up the great work and all the best in 2024.

Jeff Armour
I’ll keep going as long as you keep going.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Jeff Armour

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.

Lynne Jenkinson — Executive Director of Flagstaff Family and Community Services

Lynne Jenkinson — Executive Director of Flagstaff Family and Community Services
About Lynne Jenkinson

Lynne has a diploma in Communication Arts; Broadcast Journalism and has had a varied career in private broadcasting and working many Government contracts for different levels of Provincial and Federal Governments. Lynne is currently the Executive Director of Flagstaff Family and Community Services and has been in this position since 2011.

Lynne is also an active FIRST Board member, FIRST is Flagstaff’s Informed Response Sharing Team. She is also an active member of the Flagstaff Food Bank Board and currently serves as Secretary and main fundraiser and grant writer. Lynne takes great pride in knowing what services are available not only in Flagstaff, but in outlying areas as well as what is available Provincially and Federally. Lynne writes many different grant proposals annually to introduce or sustain programs in Flagstaff and manages those many different Government grants through FFCS and FIRST.

Lynne is very community oriented and likes to be involved with projects that assist citizens live a successful life: mentally, physically and holistically.

On the personal side Lynne and her spouse Austin Hanson operate a year-round 10 site campsite in Camrose County that serves visiting workers and tourists. That operation continues to attract new people to Camrose County each year.

Connect with Lynne: Email | Facebook

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Flagstaff Website

YESS (Youth Employment & Skills Strategy) Program

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
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator Podcast. This is your host, keynote speaker, and author, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is my good friend from Daislin, Alberta, Lynne Jenkinson. Lynne has a diploma in communication arts, broadcast journalism, and has had a varied career in private broadcasting and working with many government contracts for different levels of provincial and federal governments. Lynne is currently the Executive Director of Flagstaff Family and Community Services and has been in the position since 2011. Lynne is also an active FIRST board member. FIRST is a Flagstaff’s informed response sharing team. She’s also an active member of the Flagstaff food bank board and currently serves as secretary and main fundraiser and grant writer. Lynne takes great pride in knowing what services are available not only in Flagstaff, but in outlying areas as well, as what is available provincially and federally. Lynne writes many different grant proposals annually to introduce or sustain programs in Flagstaff and manages those many different government grants through FFCS and FIRST. Lynne is very community-oriented and likes to be involved with projects that assist citizens in living a successful life mentally, physically, and holistically. On the personal side, Lynne and her spouse, Austin Hansen, operate a year-round tent site campsite in Camrose Country that serves visiting workers and tourists. That operation continues to attract new people to Camrose County each year, including myself and the backpack team in the spring of 2023. I hope you enjoyed this insightful conversation with my good friend Lynne, and I will see you on the other side. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator Podcast. This is your host, Sam Demma. Today we are joined by a very special guest, a guest that we met on the road as a part of the Empty Your Backpack Speaking Tour, Lynne Jenkinson from FIRST. Lynne, thank you so much for coming here and being on the show.

Lynne Jenkinson
Well, it’s always a thrill when people invite me to be on a podcast because to an old chick like me, this is kind of new stuff, but it’s also old stuff because we used to do documentaries all the time years ago when I was in radio. So yeah, podcasts are really becoming such a large and big thing. So it’s quite exciting for me. I’m excited

Sam Demma
I’m excited to have you on. Thanks for saying yes. Tell the audience a little bit more about yourself and what broughy outo where you are today.

Lynne Jenkinson
Well, I started way back in radio, Sam, way back in 1984, a long time before a lot of people were even thought of. And then I retired at the young age of 30 because I was kind of burnt out before burnout was even a term. And then I started just doing government contracts and now I’m the executive director of Flagstaff Family and Community Services and also the executive director of FIRST, which is a charity we run, which is Flagstaff’s Informed Response Sharing Team Society. And our mission in life is to promote healthy relationships. So we’re always looking for ideas and speakers to bring into our local schools through FIRST and the government grants that I get or grants from donors, grants from corporations. So we can leave, I guess, a footprint for the young people in the Flagstaff area. So I always say if I can bring a speaker in and they touch one person, we have done our job because from testimonials we see that people say, wow, like I learned that from that speaker and that is going to be maybe what I follow in life or I’m going to make sure I instill that in my life.

Sam Demma
When you finished in radio, how did you find this opportunity at first? Tell me more about the transition.

Lynne Jenkinson
Well, it took a long time because I was 30 years old and I thought, okay, I want to do more in life. So over about the next 14 years, I just looked for different jobs. Hey, I even worked in a liquor store, even worked as a cobbler. I shouldn’t choose for a while. I just went and learned new things and did things. I’m even a meat cutter by trade because I went to school for five months to learn how to be a journeyman meat cutter. I didn’t like meat cutting because you’re kind of a linsicle all day because it’s kind of a cool job you’re doing with the whole meat. But then I started getting just government contracts. I was working for this and that. And then I just kind of fell into a job at FFCS because they needed a teacher for a year for a federal government program to teach youth age 15 to 30 how to work and how to keep jobs. And then after that, it just seemed a good fit. And I got hired at Flagstaff Family and Community Services, which also partners with FIRST. So we sort of partner and run the charity as well. And then in 2009, I got a full-time job. And in 2011, I became the executive director. So that’s what happens in rural Alberta. When you decide to stay in a rural area, it’ll happen in rural Ontario too. You find the job that fits you, and you kind of figure out how it works into your life.

Sam Demma
Let’s talk a little more about that one year you spent teaching. What was that experience like for you?

Lynne Jenkinson
Well, that was a federal government-funded program. Right now it’s called the YESS program, Youth Employment Skills Strategy. Years ago it used to be called Skills Link. And the federal government will fund agencies to run programs, they call them interventions. And we had 15 students, and for six months, they were with me in a classroom, and we taught them how to do resumes. We even had one student teach others how to play chess, because that was once again, using your brain, right? So they learned how to do resumes, they learned how to find jobs, they learned how to keep jobs. And we said way back when, the old executive director, her name was Gail Watt. We said way back when what we’re teaching them to do is how to have coffee How to do coffee how to sit around and chat with people?

Sam Demma
And did you feel the work in the classroom was just as meaningful as the work you do now as an executive director Or what aspects of it did you really enjoy and found and on the reverse found challenging?

Lynne Jenkinson
Oh, very challenging is when you’re dealing with different people. Even think of a classroom with 15 people and they were aged 15 to 30 years old. Some were school dropouts. They didn’t call them school dropouts. They called those alternative schools and I think they still use that word now. And we had a lady who was 30. So you had people from age 15 to 30. So what was the most important thing is, wow, they’re all individuals. And I can’t imagine how teachers do it today, either grade 1, grade 8, grade 12, when you have 30 to 60 students in a classroom, because each of those people have a different personality, and they have different needs and wants. And how do you serve everyone? Very hard to serve everyone, but we talk about inclusive societies. societies, you have to figure out a way to connect with each of the people in that classroom. And me, that was 2003 and 20 years later, I still know where some of those youth are. 

Sam Demma
That’s incredible. What do you think helped you connect with the students in your classroom? How did you get to know them and tailor some of the content to their needs during the time in the room?

Lynne Jenkinson
Well, I’ll tell you this, Sam, I would never be able to be a teacher because I’m not politically correct. I connect with people by being honest and truthful and sometimes by swearing.

Sam Demma
And they receive it. They’re used to that. That’s their world, a lot of students.

Lynne Jenkinson
The one thing about youth is they can smell a fake as soon as they walk into a room and and the other thing we did I’ll tell you it’s If people well people are gonna hear this because I’m gonna say it there was Students in that classroom because they’re figuring out how to work for a living and stuff Yeah, if they weren’t there by 830, I knew where they lived. There was one couple. I literally Threw the sheets off their bed and dragged them out of bed in the house They lived in and said, you know, come on, I’m not playing this game and let’s go. You got to get up and go to work. You can’t do that for school, right? Teachers can’t do that, but you have to go that extra step. And that’s why 20 years later, some of these youth are still working. They have, gosh, one guy has grandchildren.

Sam Demma
Oh, wow.

Lynne Jenkinson
He had twins when he was 16 years old. And now 20 years later, one of those twins has had their own children. So that’s a huge thing when you… And they’ve been successful. They’ve stayed working. They’ve had families. These are federal government funded programs that no one really knows about because they run under the radar. And these are the changes that these federal government grants are making in people’s lives through educating and assisting them through the hard times in life.

Sam Demma
Without your guidance and the government funded program, that young man who now has grandkids, maybe you would have went on a totally different path in life. Thinking and hearing about his success story now, how does it make you feel?

Lynne Jenkinson
It makes me feel that we all work together as community, came together because in our program, we never had a problem finding employers who would take the youth that came through our program. Sometimes the youth in those six months that they worked and they were paid like the employers were paid a subsidy to take them on and that would still happen today if we had a current contract. Our last one ran out last year. But what happened was it really showed how community gets together to make sure that youth are successful. You can’t do it alone, Sam, and you know that, right? You know that from your speaker’s tour and building up all these relationships is that we cannot do it ourselves, and everyone has a story. And that’s the other thing that is so, so important. Listen to the story and see what you can pick out of that story as an educator to make a difference in that youth’s life.

Sam Demma
You mentioned that that one time you went to the individual’s house and pulled the sheets off and said, hey, let’s go. You know, today teachers wouldn’t be able to do that. It’s a different time. But the principle behind that action is you seriously believing and investing in these human beings’ success to the point where you’re willing to hold their hand and walk them to school, basically, or the facility, where does that principle or that level of belief in others come from for you?

Lynne Jenkinson
I think it comes from, I grew up on a Air Force base, CFB Cold Lake, and I think it comes from learning through life, watching my parents work. It comes through knowing that once we have discipline in our lives, and it’s not because I’m military, but it is. Like there’s a discipline and there’s rules that we must follow, and even if we don’t fit in, there’s still a way that everyone can fit in. Like right now I see a lot of youth struggling, and this is a post-pandemic, oops that bad word, but it is, struggling with anxiety. Well how can we give them the tools to live with that anxiety? How can we give them the tools to make sure they get out of bed every day feeling good? About themselves not just about everyone else. It’s about themselves It all starts with the way we feel in self, but I look at that the way I grew up It was it was discipline. It was accountability. It was responsibility to ourselves, but also to others.

Sam Demma
Did you have roles and responsibilities that were a part of your everyday life growing up, that was a part of your accountability to others, i.e. your parents?

Lynne Jenkinson
And I’m gonna say yes, but I’m the youngest of five and my oldest sisters would say, parents went way easier on me than they did on the first children in the family, right? And my dad-

Sam Demma
That’s what they always say.

Sam Demma
Yeah, I’m sorry.

Lynne Jenkinson
And my dad used to say to me when I was a teenager, he says, you can go do anything and it’s not gonna shock me because your brothers and sisters pretty much did everything except murder somebody. And I wasn’t going to shock them by doing that.

Sam Demma
No. Hopefully not.

Lynne Jenkinson
But it is, like when we have expectations, years ago somebody said to me, as like when you have, when you’re dealing with youth, are youth going to love the parent who has no expectations or are they going to love the parent who has expectations. And you’ll find that youth will really gear toward the parent with no expectations because that makes life easier. When you have to deal with the parent with expectations, it does make life harder. But once we have those expectations instilled in us, we keep growing to get out of that mediocre, adequate life. And we kind of want to have expectations for ourselves where we are a little bit better than we ever thought we could be.

Sam Demma
Would you say that mentality also applies in a classroom with teachers and their students? Should teachers have some sort of expectations or hold their students to some form of standards?

Lynne Jenkinson
I think they should, but for teachers, when you’re dealing with everything we’re dealing with today, is I think it’s hard to have expectations for everyone. And I think some teachers just say, you know, to have a good sleep at night, it’s like, oh, you know, I just got to wash that out of my brain because that would just add to so much stress. And teachers do have a lot of stress today. But you can see teachers that come in every day and flight staff and say, you know, my expectation is that today will be a better day than the last day. And, you know, I hang out with a grade one teacher, retired grade one teacher, and we just see a difference now in our schools. And, but boy, those teachers just shine who do have those expectations that each student will do what they can do or do better each day.

Sam Demma
And I think pouring self-belief into students is so important. One of the educators that changed my life had high standards for me. After I lost the ability to play soccer, he believed that I was going to do something else great in the world. And it was his expectation and the standards that he held me to that helped me find that belief in myself. And I can’t thank him enough. In fact, I invite him to speeches every once in a while and him and his wife come and hear about the impact he had on me and it makes them emotional. And I think every educator has that opportunity to hold their students to high standards in a non pressuring way, but in a very positive way. And you know, I’ve had many interactions with you, you seem to always be very optimistic and try and see things from a positive perspective. And I’m curious to know where that where that mindset comes from?

Lynne Jenkinson
I think it just comes, some people say, well, she’s the most negative person you ever met because she’s always talking politics and what’s happening in government and what’s affecting us. But it’s not that, you wouldn’t get through life if you didn’t have that thinking that everything can be better and will be better. And I’m always looking, always look to learn. And I did learn something and you will love this. I really think I went to an open house for the Battle River Community Foundation and an educator was speaking. His name was Patrick Whittleton. He lives in Daisland and works in Camrose and he said what’s happening right now because he’s um they’re doing like summer school to teach people to read or get better at reading. He says what’s happening right now is an acronym TLTR and it’s going to make people like me angry. It means too long to read. That is coming from our social media, right? And reading, and that’s how we learn. We continue to read, we continue to talk, we continue to converse. And that’s made a difference in my life that I took communications in college. Communication has changed over the years, but we still have to converse, we still have to be relational. You know yourself, when you’re out there speaking to the students, how they just glom onto you later. Remember, we ordered 200 books and we said, let’s just leave the books at the end rather than handing the books out to all the students. And the lineup at the end of your speech, we had 200 books. We left that day with only six books and then parents phoned us and we ran out of books because we gave away six books within the next week. Yeah. But that’s why, like the expectations are, that’s I guess the way I stay positive is I never have assumptions. People continually disappoint me but people always continually surprise me and the youth of today continually surprise me because a lot of people are negative about them saying this and this and this. It’s like, yeah, but they’re living in a way different world than I did 50 years ago with technology, everything else, but have the expectations that they will surprise you every day, they won’t disappoint you.

Sam Demma
You talked about the importance briefly there of being relational and building relationships. And it’s definitely something that I try and do when I’m working with students or delivering a keynote in front of an audience. How do you think you build a relationship with young people?

Lynne Jenkinson
I try so hard by getting the government grants that I can bring speakers in because that’s how the young people know me in this area. They know me as that lady from First or that lady from FCS, and parents begin to know. And then I think I build a relationship with the youth because we are here at FFCS, they begin to know that we’re here at FFCS and at first, and they know that they could pick up a phone. I’m not into texting. I will never give out my cell phone number because I like to sleep at night and other people don’t. And it’s the phone number and they just know that, hey, I can phone that office where that lady Lynn is and maybe I can ask her a question. I get people to phone about scholarships, those sorts of things. It’s not my job to know this and to help, but it’s my job to build my community. So I would never turn somebody away. It might take me two days to answer your phone call, and I want to talk to you. I want to hear your voice. I want to hear emotion. I want to meet you if I can. I want to see your face. I want to know your story.

Sam Demma
I love that you said it’s not my job to know, but it’s my job to build the community. And I think so often, not only in education, but in workplaces in general, people will say, well, that’s not a part of my job, so I’m not doing it. And I think if each of us were in positions that we were passionate about, and we always led with curiosity and the intent to build community and help the people around us. We would just have much more happy, optimistic places to work and employees to work with.

Lynne Jenkinson
And we would build better teams. We would build better teams. We would build better communities. But a lot of people are just scared sometimes to say what they really want to say so that’s that that’s that inclusive society We may disagree and I always say to the youth when we do our federal government programs You don’t have to like the people you work with but you have to work with them Yeah, like and hate is an emotion that really just sucks the wind right out of you So just figure out how to like people like the way their eyebrow goes, like their blue eyes, just like something about them and then you’ll get through the day and we will then continue to build our teams and build a community that is going to be successful.

Sam Demma
Great advice for a teacher who has one student that gets on their nerves. Find something to appreciate about them, find something to enjoy about them. There is always something even when it seems like there isn’t because we’re so similar as human beings, more ways than we are different. What is your wisdom for an educator who is just getting into the work, teaching young people who might be a little overwhelmed and intimidated by the current state of the profession and they came to you and said, Lynn, I’m really struggling, I just started doing this, I need some advice. What would you tell them?

Lynne Jenkinson
And I would say, I know it’s really hard because you all belong to a teacher’s association, but find somebody in your community, whether they’re a teacher or not, who can mentor you and that you can talk to and be honest with, that you can tell your story to without judgment. Judgment is so big these days, but let’s do no judgment and just find somebody you can talk to because we have to worry about FOIP and those sorts of things, but you can still tell a story without identifying anyone, no matter whether you’re in a small place or a big place, but find somebody to talk to because if you carry it within yourselves, which I see a lot of teachers do because they just feel they can’t share because it might identify that student or that issue, it won’t. If you tell your story, there’s no use of names, there’s no use of addresses, there’s no use of phone numbers. Just tell a story to somebody, but find that trusted individual that you can talk to.

Sam Demma
How have those types of conversations played a role in your own story?

Lynne Jenkinson
I’m very good at sharing, as you may have noticed already. But it is, as I said, I retired at 30 from radio because I was burnt out, but I didn’t stop. I took six months off. I could afford it at the time. I took six months off. I figured out what I wanted to do in my life. And counselling is a great thing too. I recommend counselling for everybody. But the other thing is you got to be able to pivot, and you got to be able to pivot in a positive way. But when you find a trusted individual, for me, I have a very good partner, right? So I can drop everything on Austin and he will be non-judgmental. He may not even have anything to say, but I dropped it on him and it’s just like a counselor. But that’s the most important thing, to be able to know that you can share and there’s always somebody else out there who is going to care.

Sam Demma
It’s so important that you mentioned he might have nothing to say but you can still share it all with him. I was listening to a podcast recently with a author named Simon Sinek and he was talking about the value of just sitting in the mud with people, not sitting beside them when they need you to give them advice or tell them what to do, but just to sit in the mud with them and be a shoulder. And sometimes that’s all we need. And sometimes that’s all students really need in their teacher or a mentor. And sometimes that’s all human beings need. And oftentimes when people tell me they’re going through a challenge or they’re struggling, my first gut reaction is to give them advice. And I stop myself and I remind myself, this is not what they need from me right now. They just need me to be here for them. If they need advice, they’ll ask for it. And they’ll make that request, or if they want my perspective. And if not, I’m just going to sit in the mud with them. And I think that’s one of the best ways to support young people. Have you had an experience where a young person was struggling and you kind of sat in the mud, the other thing that is so hard to do, Sam, is sit in silence.

Lynne Jenkinson
Sit in silence. There’s no judgment. There’s no nothing. And that eye contact, really important. You’re there with them in the room. And yes, I have numerous examples over the years, and it’s very hard for me to sit in silence. And people who know me and youth know that. And it’s like, so when you dump something on me and I just sit there with no look on my face not even you know and I just sit there and look at them and possibly you know just you sit in that silence you sit in that mud as you say and and that I guess numerous times and they know right then and there that that person has connected with them and they’re where I’m not even thinking anything anymore. I’m just sitting there with them and yeah, numerous times. And that is one of the best things you can do. And boy, does that build trust as well. No judgment, just silence. And then it’s, and as you say, no advice. Everyone has to figure out their own story.

Sam Demma
Such a good reminder.

Sam Demma
Because I mean, speaking about myself, I always feel the urge to jump in and connect the dots behind how what they’re explaining and experiencing connects to my own life. And the reality is, most of the time, people don’t wanna hear it. They just want you to be there. And I think being there is one of the characteristics or traits of a high-performing educator. Being willing to spend time with the student, having, as we said, high expectations for them, or just some standards that you believe this young human can grow into and the version of themselves that you think they can become, even if it’s a little higher than they have for themselves. That’s another high trait of a or another great trait of a high performing educator. What else do you think makes a high performing educator? What traits make a effective teacher or someone who influences you?

Lynne Jenkinson
One thing that I really find and it is so hard because of the stress on the educators, is just that ability to be present. The ability for those youth to know that you’re present, as I said earlier, they will call out a fake within seconds. But that ability to be present, whether it be speaking to them, just understanding where they’re at. at and in a classroom atmosphere it is that each youth knows you’re there. That you are not clicking on your phone and looking at your phone, you’re not looking at your watch as your watch is talking to you. It’s that ability to be present and more and more people are losing that ability because there’s just so much other stuff coming at them. So it is that ability just to know this is where I’m at right now and I’m here for you as an educator. And I’m here for you at break too, if you need me. But during that classroom too, to be present for every one of those youth, very, very difficult.

Sam Demma
There may be an educator listening, thinking, gosh, I wish we had FIRST in our community to support some of our schools, to bring in speakers and to help bring these programs in front of their youth. Are there similar organizations in different provinces that you’re aware of? If there’s an educator in Ontario listening to this or there’s an educator in BC or is it just in the Flagstaff area? 

Lynne Jenkinson
For what we do, I’ve just seen it in Flagstaff, but there are other groups. There’s charitable groups within any community, whether it be a Lions group or a Knights of Columbus, groups like that could help people bring in speakers. It’s always looking for partnerships, once again, relationships, once again, building community, and somebody with the passion. For me, I have the passion. I think bringing in speakers will change lives because it gives the students in our area, remember, we’re 8,440 people over 4,065 square kilometers. So bringing in a speaker, you from Ontario, a young man who has a message, that just knowing and if I can build that passion in somebody else to say, wow, if I go raise some money, maybe that school will work with me and we can bring in a speaker. Schools to me are very open to bringing in new ideas and new people. They will give you a couple hours of their day, and it may change the life of that one student in an audience of, around here it’s 200-600 students. In a large center, it could be 1,200 students listening to you, maybe more, Sam, right? You don’t know till later, that’s one thing about technology today. They can e-mail you later and ask questions, and teachers can get in contact with you. We have to share our knowledge and our passion and then we will build up the youth continually.

Sam Demma
I was so grateful for the opportunity to come to Daislin. It was such an amazing experience and I talk about it with Cross and Alion and Nina, the team, that it was so awesome because because although a small community, sometimes in the rural communities that we visited, including Daislin, there was so much gratitude, or at least that’s what it felt like from our perspective. And I just really enjoyed it, the hospitality, the experience, the location. So thank you for making it possible for us. And I hope to come back sometime soon. If there is one piece of advice you could give yourself when you were just starting your career, like you could travel back in time with the knowledge and the wisdom you have now and tap yourself on the shoulder and say, hey, I know you don’t think you need to hear this right now, but here’s what you need to hear. What would you tell your younger self?

Lynne Jenkinson
I would tell my younger self, and it’s interesting because I still see the same issue today, and I am a woman and I was entering a career that was very male dominated broadcasting at the time, I would say to myself still say it every day, you are worth it. Just keep going. No matter your gender, no matter, like you are worth it. Somebody else may not recognize that, but when you recognize it in yourself, you just keep moving forward. You are worth it.

Sam Demma
I love that. Lynne, thank you so much for coming on the show today. If there is an educator who wants to reach out to you, ask a question or share their thoughts about this interview, what would be the best way for them to get in touch?

Lynne Jenkinson
My best way to get in touch with me is via email. So it’s director@flagstafffcs.ca. I usually get back to people within a day on email. I do have a real life, but I will get back to you within a day because I do have my email hooked up to my phone and I believe that’s the best way and a lot of people have gotten a hold of me that way. And it’s a great way to build relationships and then when I email you back, you get my phone number.

Sam Demma
And if you’re ever camping in the Daisland area, she happens to have a beautiful campsite. So feel free to email her about that as well.

Lynne Jenkinson
Thank you, Sam. I really appreciate that. And I do hope that like with speakers, especially the youth, I hope to have you back in three to four years because then we get another group of students.

Sam Demma
I look forward to the day. Thank you for coming on the show again, Lynne. Keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon. Keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon.

Sam Demma
Thank you.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Lynne Jenkinson

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.

Alain Cyr-Russo —Senior Manager of Student Life at Algonquin Students’ Association

Alain Cyr-Russo —Senior Manager of Student Life at Algonquin Students’ Association
About Alain Cyr-Russo

Since 2010, Alain has worked in student life for La Cité Student Association. Originally hired as a programmer, Alain has since proven exceptional skills and dedication, rising to Senior Manager, Student Life.

While there, he oversaw various committees within the Student Association, including the student life committee. He also led events programming, creating a memorable student experience for thousands of students over the years. Alain lent his expertise to La Cité Student Association’s marketing and communications team and the Café-Bistro by overseeing operations for those teams in addition to student life. He recently accepted a position as Senior Manager, Student Life for the Algonquin Students’ Association where he oversees Events, Food Cupboard, Clubs and communities as well as the Equity, Diversity and inclusivity subject matter specialist.

Alain is passionate about the student experience, and he knows that it goes beyond events and programming. For eight seasons, he also served as head coach for the women’s and men’s volleyball teams for the La Cité Coyotes. He also brought the Food Bank to La Cité students and developed a well-being program, ensuring safety while leaving events.

In addition to all of this, Alain has found time to volunteer. From 2021 to 2022 he served as National Conference Chair for the Canadian Organization of Campus Activities (COCA) and is currently serving as the President of COCA.

Connect with Alain: Email | LinkedIn

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

La Cité Student Association

Algonquin Students’ Association

La Cité Coyotes

Canadian Organization of Campus Activities (COCA)

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
Today’s special guest on the High Performance Educator podcast is Alain Cyr-Russo. Alain, since 2010, has worked in student life for the La Cite Student Association. Originally hired as a programmer, Alain has since proved exceptional skills and dedication in rising to the senior manager of student life. Alain is passionate about students’ experience, and he knows that it goes beyond events and programming. For eight seasons, he also served as head coach for the women’s and men’s volleyball teams for the Lassiter Coyotes. He also brought the food bank to Lassiter students and developed a well-being program, ensuring safety while leading events. In addition to all this, Alain has found time to volunteer. From 2021 to 2022, he served as National Conference Chair for COCA, the Canadian Organization of Campus Activities, and is currently serving as the president. He has recently made the exciting transition to the senior manager of student life over at the Algonquin College Student Association. And during this conversation, we talk about what it takes to organize great events that actually fulfill the needs of your students and the students on your campuses. We talk a little bit about his experiences and journey through education that brought him to where he is today and some of his beliefs around building relationships with young people. I hope you enjoy this exciting conversation with my friend, Alain. I will see you on the other side. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator Podcast. This is your host, author, and keynote speaker, Sam Demma. Today we are joined by Alain Cyr-Russo. He is someone that I met at the COCA Conference this past June in Vancouver. He has such infectious energy. He’s just recently made a big transition in his life. Alain, I’m so excited to have you here. Please take a moment to introduce yourself.

Alain Cyr-Russo
Yeah, thank you so much for having me, Sam. This is exciting. And again, like you said, we met at COCA where I’ve been part of COCA for over 10 years now. I’ve been president for the organization now for two and been working for La Cité, which is a small French college in Ottawa. We have about 5,000 students and just recently changed to Algonquin College and now Senior Manager Student Life for the Algonquin Students Association where I left La Cité after 13 years. So, crazy news.

Sam Demma
For educators listening to this that don’t know too much about COCA, you’re someone who has given their heart, their soul, their blood, sweat and tears to this organization. Can you just explain what COCA is and what prompted you to get involved?

Alain Cyr-Russo
Yeah, absolutely. I first attended COCA back in 2012 as an event programmer. And it was an opportunity for me to just network with different people that share the same knowledge or interest within campus life. At the end of the day, we’re all there to, you know, regroups universities and colleges from across Canada, east to west coast, and we give ed sessions, keynote speakers, and we also give an opportunity for people such as you and other artists to showcase in front of these programmers in hopes to give you that opportunity to present in front of students from across Canada. And you mentioned that you recently transitioned from La Cité to

Sam Demma
Algonquin. How has that move been so far over these first few weeks of school?

Alain Cyr-Russo
Yeah, it’s insane to say the least, but it’s been great. You know, when you leave an organization after 13 years, you’ve been there, you’ve cared for it, you’ve started projects that are yours and that you’re leaving and you’re hoping that it’ll stay alive while you’re gone type thing. But the transition has been really good. Algonquin Student Association have been really great and the transition has been smooth. Just because I’ve been doing this for 13 years and I moved into a position that’s very similar, just a little bit more, what’s the word I’m looking for here uh but like a little bit more not niche but um you know I’m focusing just on student life as in before I was focusing on multiple things I felt like I wasn’t giving my 100 percent and I felt like this is an opportunity for me to move to Algonquin, bigger challenges, more students uh and uh an opportunity to to put forward great events and just enjoy my time and learn as well, right? Because as humans, we’re always learning. You never stop learning, and this, for me, was the next path for my personal growth.

Sam Demma
When you say the role you’re in now, you’re mainly focused on students. What are you hoping to accomplish over the next couple of years? And what do you think some of the challenges are that students are facing that you and the association are hoping to address or improve?

Alain Cyr-Russo
That’s a very, that’s a great question. I think it’s important to know that like a senior manager student life, one thing that you oversee is events, you know, just make sure that students are, you know, entertained during their time on campus. I mean studies are important but to network, socialize and enjoy your time on campus is an important factor in you know your life and that’s where you meet friends and maybe possibly co-workers. But I also oversee our student food cupboard as well as clubs and communities and just recently opened a position for equity, diversity and inclusion coordinator which I’m super excited to have on campus. As we know, you know, the international community on campuses is growing, and we just want to make sure that we best serve those students. In terms of food cupboard, I think, you know, we all know that food insecurity is a real issue, and I want to make sure that we help those students in need, because you have to stay focused. And then for us to be able to provide some food to students in need is very important to us. You know, I think most campuses have a food cupboard or food bank now on campus. And I think it’s a great service to have. And it’s just to know how to better that service as well. You know, in terms of international students, we now have a winter coat drive where we ask students and staff to bring lightly used winter coats and or pants. And then we give that out free to international students or whoever needs them. And then clubs and communities. Again, this is like a great place for students just to have common interests, to get together, socialize and play whatever they need. Like, you know, we have an eSport, we have a knitting club, and we have all sorts of clubs on campus just so that students can find other students that have the similar interests.

Sam Demma
You’re someone who’s spent their whole life

Sam Demma
surrounded by education. You’re a student, you got involved in COCA, you worked at La Cité for 13 years, now you’re at Algonquin. When you were growing up, did you know that you wanted to be a director of student life? Or how did this, like tell me more about your personal journey that led you to where you are now.

Alain Cyr-Russo
Yeah, that’s actually a great question because I’ve never really like thought about it. Truthfully, when I was younger, I wanted to be a gym teacher then I was like, I don’t know if that’s for me. I’ve always been active playing sports and staying busy. Afterwards, I wanted to be a police officer. So I originally went to college to become a police officer and that didn’t work out at the very beginning. I’ve done a few interviews and I decided to go back to school in leisure studies. And that’s where I stayed at La Cité. They offered me a job after graduating, saying we’d love to have you as an event programmer on campus. I’ve always kind of been, Even in high school, working with the sports club, or we had two different kind of, one was the workout club and then one was the sports club. I was always involved in student life on campus and even in high school, and I enjoyed it. I enjoy organizing stuff. I enjoy making people happy and just keeping people busy because at the end of the day for me, staying busy and out of trouble is what kept me sane when I was in high school and in college. And I think that’s what’s important to give back to students. So you grew up having passions for sports.

Sam Demma
I think similarly, sports and teaching, you’re mentoring people, you’re providing unique experiences for students. So it makes sense that you landed where you did now. Do you ever think back to your own experience as a student? And were there any teachers in your life that you think had a big impact on you and maybe slightly pushed you in this direction? Another great question.

Alain Cyr-Russo
I don’t know, like my volleyball coaches in high school from from Dallas how really had a huge huge impact on me they were you know recent university graduates when they first started teaching I was in 10th grade at that time and they they kept me busy they kept me you know people that were open to conversation and I think they kind of did push me to just being mindful of things and being, you know, polite and give back to the community. So, you know, I think they did have an impact with me without necessarily noticing it, you know, but did I end up where I really wanted to be? I don’t know, but let me tell you, I very much enjoy it because when I was at college, I played volleyball, which kept me busy, played for four years, but I never really participated into events. And I’ve seen a couple events here and there, but never really went to them. And then when I put on my event in leisure studies, I did a huge comedy show and I saw how students enjoyed it. So when the job offer was offered to me back in 2010, I was like, you know what, I’d love to just do more of this and see students smile and enjoy the events on campus and diversify whatever I can to keep these students interested, engage on campus and socializing and networking. So yeah, that’s kind of where I end up and the impact that I feel that I had from maybe those two teachers. events is a big part of your role now, and was a big part of your role at La Cite.

Sam Demma
Educators listening to this right now, some of them may have the responsibility of planning events for their schools,

Sam Demma
universities, and colleges. You’ve planned so many. What do you think makes for a great event? And how do you kind of consider what events to bring to your school?

Alain Cyr-Russo
So in order to do a great event, I think it’s understanding your clientele, who you’re working with, and who you’re doing the event for. You might have a good idea yourself, but it doesn’t necessarily answer the student needs. I love to interact with students and just understand what they want and would like to see on campus. And then I try and put it together. You know, venues an important part, budgets an important part, logistics and just being organized and make sure that you’re not just doing this on your own, but you also have maybe a team supporting you to give you more ideas in terms of that event. Because I’m a French-Canadian guy, I grew up in Ottawa and I know what I like, but I also try to be part of the organization or like the, you know, build up of this event so that I understand what they actually want and what they’d like to see. You know, do they know artists and people in the community that they’d like to see at this event that would better answer, you know, those student needs? And I think that’s very important. It’s not just about you, if you want, as a programmer or somebody putting an event forward. It’s about understanding the students and what they’d like. I mean, obviously, I don’t have the budget to bring in Drake. I think we have to be realistic here. But it’s just, you know, let’s listen to what they want and need. And when you also have students that are part of an event and putting forward an event, often enough, their students will, or sorry, their friends will want to come and support them as well. And that’s where you get people to come in.

Sam Demma
It also makes me think about how great of a leadership opportunity is for the students when you give them some responsibility in the choosing or planning or organizing of the event. And I would assume that a lot of the events that you put on are widely attended because you listen to what the students need and want and try and cater to those needs. What are some of the events that you’ve put on over the past 13 years that when you think about them, you have these fond memories? And I’m sure every event has been special in its own way, so it’s hard to just single one or two, but what events do you think had a really great impact and really reached those kids due to the needs they had at that point in time?

Alain Cyr-Russo
I mean, obviously, I’m fairly new to Algonquin, so it’s a little bit harder to answer that in terms of the Algonquin side of things. But being at L’Essie T’Aye for 13 years, I’ve put on a lot of events that either work or didn’t work. Obviously, times have changed, so some events weren’t as popular as before. We had a lot of Acadians way back when, like 2012, at L’Essie T’Aye from New Brunswick and they want to do you know uh an Acadian party. So we we brought in like uh you know being here from New Brunswick we we worked with Moosehead as well for getting some decor and just making that vibe. So that was really cool because it brought like all the Acadians on campus together without necessarily them knowing who was from New Brunswick and that part of the world. But then I think one of the biggest events that really I’ve enjoyed in the last couple of years just because we really work with the international department and our students from, you know, Africa, Haiti, is our what we call a multicultural night in the month of February for Black History Month. And we normally get a lot of students wanting to engage and be part of that event. So we’ll normally have, you know, like, we’ve had an event where we had a flag from every country that we have on campus, walk down this tiered seating that we had, and everybody was kind of carrying a flag, they kind of crisscross. And that just gave a real perspective to students of like, hey, like we have people from all over the world on campus, and that really just touched me because I never realized how diversified we were on campus. And then, you know, just part of that night we had students from Morocco, we had students from Canada, from Beronzi, like performing on stage. So it just brought all these cultures to perform together. And it was just really nice to see. And we had over like three, 400 students attending that event, which was fantastic. Especially when you’re looking at a smaller campus, it’s not always easy to get that many people out. But that event really have touched me in the past. And now that is one of the biggest events we’ve put together.

Sam Demma
I know a good fella from Burundi.

Sam Demma
My friend, Mac.

Alain Cyr-Russo
Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Sam Demma
When you’re thinking about students’ needs and desires, how do you collect them? What have you done in the past? Is it about walking the campus and having conversations, using surveys, how have you tried to figure out what students are looking for?

Alain Cyr-Russo
Yeah, one thing that I enjoy doing is just after events, letting students know that like, hey, if you’ve got an idea, come see me. And often enough, like they’ll come see you right after the show or the event and be like, hey, be cool if we could have this. Because surveys Surveys are good, but often enough I find people either don’t answer them, but also you can’t have that real conversation with them. And I find often enough their answers are a little bit grandiose if you want. So like, I’ve had somebody say, I’d love to see you fill in Vion at La Cité. And it’s like, okay, great. I love your idea, but unfortunately it doesn’t fit within the budget. But when you can sit down and actually have a face-to-face talk with a student and actually like hear their passion and what they’re looking for, it’s always great. And I love to just walk, like sometimes just, you know, when we’re just looking at clubs, if I see students are playing chess, for example, and I’m like, oh, we don’t have a chess club, I’ll, you know, approach them and be like, hey, did you know you could, you know, get clubs and funding and, you know, we can do promotion for you, try and get more people interested in this chess community. And they’re like, oh, that’d be great. Like, we’d love to have more people come play chess with us. So just having those approaches and conversation with students is so important.

Alain Cyr-Russo
We had so many different clubs in my school.

Sam Demma
And I think even back to when I was in high school. And I think one of the most beautiful things about clubs is you find like-minded individuals who are passionate about the same things that you are. And I met some of my closest friends doing similar interests as a part of clubs or extracurricular activities. You touched upon the idea of connecting with students one-on-one. I think it’s so important to build relationships with young people when you talk to them face-to-face and hear what they’re looking for. How do you think you build a relationship with a young person?

Alain Cyr-Russo
Well, I think it’s important to not be afraid of students. I find like as we grow older, sometimes like it’s we have a little bit of that disconnect, I find with with our crowd. But I think it’s important to just approach and have that conversation. You know, we’re often stuck, stuck behind Facebook and Instagram and texting, but you can’t build a great relationship with someone when you’re always behind a screen. So I think that face-to-face is important. I think it’s also important to, I think you touched on it, networking. I believe networking is the most important aspect of life because you don’t know who you’re gonna cross paths with, you don’t know who you’re gonna be working with, you don’t know whose help you’re going to need in the future. So just the networking, which is something like COCA has given me a lot, is just a family, a community, and that’s actually, you know, we both met there. So I think networking is a huge, huge factor in life that will bring you forward networking will also give you opportunities and maybe ideas for the future.

Sam Demma
We did meet at COCA and I met so many amazing humans just like yourself there. I’m so grateful that I pushed myself to go. I was listening to some students after an event that I was at recently and they’re walking off the campus and they said to themselves, I’m so great that I’m so happy and grateful that I made the decision to show up. I think that half the time the battle is just convincing ourselves not to stay comfy in bed, but to go to the events and to meet the people and to have conversations. And I’ve found that when you start asking questions, it helps you realize how small the world is and how interconnected we all really are. And I really appreciate you taking the time to come on the podcast here today and talk a little bit about your educational journey, what you think it takes to put on a good event and what the heart of an event is, which is addressing the needs of the people that are going to be in the audience. I appreciate you sharing a little bit about, you know, the idea of how you go about getting that information and having those one-on-one conversations after events finish. And if you haven’t heard it recently, congratulations on the big move to Algonquin. I wish you nothing but the best in the new position. A question I always like to ask all my guests before I finish with the interview is if you could travel back in time and speak to Alain when he was in his first year working at La Cité 14 years ago or 13 years ago, but with the knowledge and the wisdom you have now, knowing what you know, what would you tell yourself? What do you think your younger self needed to hear when you were just beginning the position?

Sam Demma
Wow.

Alain Cyr-Russo
One thing that I wish I did more when I was younger is just read and inform myself. I feel like I often act like I knew everything, and we don’t. I always like to learn, but I never took the steps to get there. So one thing is do communicate with people, do reach out, don’t be afraid, and get out of your bubble, get out of your comfort zone and try something. It may or may not work, but you’ll never know until you do it. So that is one thing that, you know, back in 2010, I was afraid, and it’s something that I definitely tell myself. Well, keep reading. Thank you, Alain, again, for coming on the podcast.

Sam Demma
It’s been a pleasure chatting with you. If you’re comfortable with it, I’ll put your email in the show notes and if any educator tuning in wants to connect with you or have a conversation, they can reach out. But until we meet again, hopefully soon, keep up the great work and good luck in this new adventure. Awesome, I appreciate it. Thank you so

Alain Cyr-Russo
much again for having me on your podcast. It’s been a pleasure and excited to hear the final result if you want. But yeah, anytime, if you wanna share that email, I have no issue.

Sam Demma
Awesome, thanks, Alain. Awesome, thank you.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Alain Cyr-Russo

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.

Daniette Terlesky  — Student Leadership Teacher at Our Lady of Mount Pleasant School in Camrose, Alberta

Daniette Terlesky — Student Leadership Teacher at Our Lady of Mount Pleasant School in Camrose, Alberta
About Daniette Terlesky

Daniette Terlesky (@mrsTerleskysmch) has been teaching for 21 years with Elk Island Catholic Schools. She is currently at Our Lady of Mount Pleasant School in Camrose, Alberta. She has taught grades 7-12 sciences primarily and in the last 4 years has also taken on leadership classes in high school.

She is an avid believer that the more involved students are in extracurriculars at school the more they’ll enjoy their overall experience. Connections are important and celebrating the gifts and talents of all students are very important to her. Leadership gives students those opportunities to get involved and use their gifts and talents to make a difference in their schools and communities.

Connect with Daniette: Email | Instagram | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Elk Island Catholic Schools

Our Lady of Mount Pleasant School

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma
Today’s special guest on the High Performing Educator podcast is Daniette Terleski. Daniette Terleski has been teaching for 21 years with the Elk Island Catholic Schools. She currently is at Our Lady of Mount Pleasant School in Camrose, Alberta. She has taught grades 7 to 12 sciences primarily and in the last four years has also taken on leadership classes in high school. She is an avid believer that the more involved students are in extracurriculars at school, the more they’ll enjoy their overall experience. Connections are important and celebrating the gifts and talents of all students are very important to her. Leadership gives students those opportunities to get involved and use their gifts and talents to make a difference in their schools and communities. I hope you enjoy this exciting conversation with Daniette Terleski and I will see you on the other side.

Sam Demma
Welcome back to another episode

Sam Demma
of the High-Performing Educator Podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today we are joined by Daniette Terlesky. Daniette, thank you so much for coming on the podcast. 

Daniette Terlesky
Tell me a little bit about where you grew up, what your childhood was like, and maybe provide some context that brought you to the person that you are today.

Daniette Terlesky
Most of my time growing up has been in Camrose, Alberta, and I was big into dancing, so I danced. A lot of my life, wanted to do some sports, but it was hard to fit in with dancing, so I got some track and field in there. Family was super important. Spent a lot of time with my family. I have a younger brother, he was big into hockey, played WHL, so followed him around a lot to watch. And yeah, I didn’t know if I was gonna be a teacher. My dad always said, don’t be a teacher or a nurse. So here I am, I am a teacher. It was kind of to defy him in a little bit, but it was the right fit place for me. And, yeah, now I have two children and we’re back in Camrose and it’s just, it’s a great place to be. And I don’t know.

Sam Demma
Yeah. When you said you’re back in Camrose, did you leave for a period of time and live somewhere else or have you been in Camrose your entire life?

Daniette Terlesky
No, so when I started teaching, I taught my first four years here in Camrose, which was lovely. And then I moved, I stayed with the same school division, but I was able to move and transfer and I worked in Vegreville for about 12 years and then transferred back here and I’m about to start my seventh year back in Kamrose. That’s awesome. You mentioned

Sam Demma
your dad said don’t ever become a nurse or a teacher but also that family was very important to you back when you were growing up and still now. What did your parents do and did it, I guess your dad not so much, but did your mom’s profession inspire you to do what you’re doing today?

Daniette Terlesky
Well mom and dad have business so they they work together in a business But my mom It was highly involved with many different things when I was a kid and still to this day she volunteers She does lots of crafts and she has lots of hobbies. And she’s really taught me to volunteer and help other people. And I think that’s part of why I do what I do.

Sam Demma
What kind of volunteering did you experience growing up? So I can’t even think of all the things

Daniette Terlesky
So I can’t even think of all the things that my mom has done in her time. Like, she helped out at the hospital with palliative care. She’d help out in the church. She just always seems to be involved. And now she’s involved with Rotary, which is great. And trying to get my group of students involved with Rotary too. So whenever there’s a place for her to help, she’s always tried to make herself available. And so I think that’s kind of where I get it from that I think it’s important to help out where we can help out.

Sam Demma
It sounds like she had the heart of an educator, although she got into business.

Daniette Terlesky
Yeah. She was kind of in the nursing profession for a period of time too,

Daniette Terlesky
but it just worked out better to work in the business with my dad. So. Gotcha. Oh, that’s awesome. Out of curiosity,

Sam Demma
Tell me a little bit about your own educational journey that brought you from a student to your first teaching job. So grade 12, I didn’t know what I wanted to do still.

Daniette Terlesky
I had to figure it out and I thought, Oh, maybe physiotherapy, you know, like, just would get me in the door. But I went into general sciences to start off with, okay, thought about pharmacy. And then it was just like, my, my heart kept saying, I think I want to be a teacher, I really do. And so soon as I transferred into education, I think it was my second year university, right fit. I was around the people that were similar to me, we had common interests, and it just felt like the right place to be. So I finished my four years of university at the University of Alberta. I got to teach with a few teachers that had taught me. And now I’m in that position since I’ve been teaching so long that I’m teaching with students or people that I taught.

Sam Demma
Oh, cool.

Daniette Terlesky
Yeah. Been around a while.

Sam Demma
It’s a really unique experience when there’s a full circle moment. And I’m sure although it reminds, you know, those veteran teachers of their age, it’s a full circle moment and it probably, I would imagine makes you feel very fulfilled and significant. What does it feel like when one of your former students ends up on your staff?

Daniette Terlesky
I think it’s pretty cool because obviously we didn’t turn them off of the profession.

Sam Demma
Yeah.

Daniette Terlesky
When they’re in school. Like, it must have been a positive experience. And it’s just, it’s really neat to see them as adults and being in that same profession.

Sam Demma
I think creating those positive experiences for students is one of the most important things that educators can do. You know, some students will struggle with certain curriculum, but making sure they know they’re walking into a safe space where they can express themselves, be who they truly are, and know that they’re being supported by the adults in their life is something that every student has access to if the adults in their life and their school strive to create those spaces. How do you think we create those spaces where students do have exceptional experiences and want to be around school or be in school?

Daniette Terlesky
I think we create the connections. Trying to have those authentic conversations and connections with the students, I think is so incredibly important. Providing clubs, different extracurricular is really important so those kids can kind of blossom and thrive. Our school is, has a great athletic reputation, we have great sports teams, but I see the need for leadership and for the drama programs and those arts and different things like that because not all those kids fit into that route and You want everybody in the school community to feel Valued and important and have something that they can really do well at so I really just think those one-on-one Connections and just different opportunities for them. It’s really important Can you think of a student who you’ve taught or someone in your school?

Sam Demma
That was that was not shy, timid, or struggling, but that wasn’t reaching their full potential, and then through an opportunity, or tapping them on the shoulder, or building a connection, you saw them really personally grow and flourish. Does any students like that come to mind?

Daniette Terlesky
There’s definitely a few. There’s definitely a kid who just graduated this past year. He got involved a little bit with leadership and even when he wasn’t taking the class, he just stepped up anytime we were planning. He’s like, you need extra help.

Daniette Terlesky
So that was really cool.

Daniette Terlesky
And then on a side note, one of the drama teacher and I were involved with some community theater last year. And the drama teacher like tapped him on the shoulder and was like, you should come out and like audition. And he had never done anything like that. And he, he did the show with us and it was just really cool to see him trying new things. And I think he’s just going to be better off a little bit more well-rounded because he, he took that step to try something different.

Sam Demma
Yeah.

Sam Demma
Knowing that you’re extremely involved in the school and like your mom, try to volunteer when you can as well. Why do you think those personal skill building classes like leadership and extracurricular activities are so important in a school setting?

Daniette Terlesky
I think they just give students an opportunity to do something, maybe in a little bit more relaxed environment. There’s not the stress of the studying and the test anxiety and the things like that. You know, they can be them, maybe. And if it’s something that interests them, then it just kind of helps them grow more. And those connection things are really important in real life when you leave the school and everything’s big and scary It’s like if you’ve had those opportunities to try some new things. It’s not maybe as daunting

Sam Demma
You know, you know one of the analogies that I talked about and I share is about the backpack that we all carry and You know I had some educators in my life growing up who helped me empty my backpack and instead filled it with self-belief and courage. And they believed in me a lot. And I’m curious when you think about your own experience through education, if there was any educators in your own life or caring adults that played a really significant role in helping you believe in yourself and inspiring you to keep moving forward. Is there any teachers who played a big role?

Daniette Terlesky
I’ve had some really amazing colleagues, but there’s like an administrator that really sticks out in my head. She was big on praising people in the things that they do well, allowing you the opportunity to do the things you do well, and just always being in your court, helping you, being your biggest cheerleader and things like that. So, I really, yeah, she really helped me to grow and to see a little bit and understand a little bit more also about servant leadership.

Sam Demma
And is this someone who you’ve stayed in touch with or had at one point at the school or a school you worked in? How did you cross paths?

Daniette Terlesky
So yeah, she was principal for three years at the school in Vegreville I was at. And then she moved on, I moved on, and then she actually came in and worked at the school that I’m currently at for a little bit of a short period of time. So it was great to connect again. And yeah, we’re still in contact definitely.

Sam Demma
That’s awesome. It’s funny I think sometimes educators they don’t hear about the impact they have not only on students but also on their colleagues or their their peers. You know maybe you get a lot of handwritten notes or you get every once in a while a student that comes and tells you how significant of an impact you had on them. But I think you know as teachers you also impact the teachers around you. And when things get difficult, you probably lean on the staff in the school building. So I think it’s really cool that she was able to understand the impact she had on you and that you reconnected after a couple of years. I’m just curious, like, what resources have you found helpful in teaching? What resources have you found helpful in trying to engage students or just in general that have helped you in your own personal development and professional development as an educator?

Daniette Terlesky
I’m going to be honest, I’m not big on like reading books and getting the ideas from that. That’s totally fair. I totally am one of those people who love to hear other people’s experiences. I like to see what they’re doing. So, any chance I can go for professional development, I totally take that, especially if I can find free professional development. Just in collaboration with other teachers is huge. But again, I’m one of those people who has to see it. I need to understand it a little bit more. Cause sometimes just reading about it doesn’t mean anything to me. So seeing, doing, um, is really important. And like going to those leadership conferences and hearing from other educators and, and amazing speakers. It just like inspires me to like take their messages and try and use it in my everyday life and teaching.

Sam Demma
Yeah.

Sam Demma
I love that. I think learning from other people’s experiences is one of the best ways to pick up ideas. You mentioned collaborating with teachers. What is a collaboration with another teacher look like? Can you provide an example or how would you go about doing that with someone in the school?

Daniette Terlesky
I’ve been lucky enough to have a few teachers that were teaching the same subjects the same semester and so it’s just like sitting down in their classroom at the end of the day and being like, hey, I was thinking about doing this, like, what do you think? And like, working together to come up with the activity or, you know, and then be like, I did this, don’t do it, it doesn’t work. Or, like, you need to tweak this before you do it, right? So it’s really nice to have somebody else who’s also doing the same thing as you so you can like bounce ideas off of them and just work together and sometimes it kind of lessens the workload a little bit if like somebody’s like hey I already created that you can just use it you know oh like fix it as you need it that really that really helps like why reinvent the wheel they always say I think there’s so much to be learned from collaborating sometimes and a newer teacher might be a little nervous to reach out to the people around them.

Sam Demma
What’s your advice for a new educator who’s tuning into this feeling a little bit overwhelmed or anxious about? starting this new chapter of their life I

Daniette Terlesky
Think you just need to figure out the person on staff who’s still got energy, still positive. Because you’re going to, like this work can get to you and they kind of are stuck in a rut. But if you can find those people who are positive and like so many teachers, like I really actually haven’t come across too many educators who won’t share what they have. Because we’ve all been there. A lot of the stuff I use is still from a teacher I worked with years ago, right? And I just like am tweaking it, but ultimately she just passed it over to me and it helped so much, right? Like you shouldn’t have to start from square one. There should be somebody there who can kind of help you along, give you some training wheels.

Sam Demma
Yeah, it’s fair. It works with biking. Why not teaching? Yeah. That’s awesome. And if there is an educator listening to this podcast and they think, hmm, Inyet seems like an educator that’s still passionate and has lots of energy, I might want to ask her a question. What would be the best way for them to reach out or get in touch with you?

Daniette Terlesky
They could definitely email me. I don’t know if you provide an email, but email is probably the best. I am on Facebook, but I think I have a privacy setting there, so it might be a little bit harder to find me, but my name’s on there. You could try and find me on Instagram too. I’m not really great with all the social media.

Sam Demma
With your permission, I’ll include your email in the show notes of the episode so someone can reach out if they want to get in touch.

Daniette Terlesky
Yeah, absolutely.

Sam Demma
Awesome. Well, this has been a fun conversation. Thank you for taking the time to come on the podcast, talk a little bit about your beliefs in education, the pathway that you took, and share a few ideas for educators to improve themselves and also their practices. So from the bottom of my heart and all the educators listening, thank you so much, and I hope we cross paths again very soon. thank you so much, and I hope we cross paths again very soon.

Sam Demma
Absolutely. Thank you so much.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Daniette Terlesky

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.

Geoff Gauthier — Director of Marketing and Communications at the British Columbia Institute of Technology Student Association

Geoff Gauthier — Director of Marketing and Communications at the British Columbia Institute of Technology Student Association
About Geoff Gauthier

On his second journey with the BCIT Student Association, Geoff Gauthier takes enhancing the quality of student life seriously.

As the Publications Manager running the Link newspaper in the early 2000’s, Geoff had an amazing opportunity to work with closely with students, finding out what they need and what they think, and that experience shaped and defined his need to help them wherever he could.

Fast forward a number of years and a new opportunity to lead the group responsible for delivering student life programming as the Director of Marketing and Communications was too wonderful to pass up.

Geoff is curious and attentive. He’s listening to his students and adapting to their needs and he’s making the necessary changes to provide them with best experience possible.

Connect with Geoff: Email | Instagram | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

British Columbia Institute of Technology

British Columbia Institute of Technology – Student Association

Link Newspaper

The Creative Act: A Way of Being by Rick Rubin

BCIT Hack the Break

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
Today’s special guest on the High Performing Educator podcast is Geoff Gauthier. On his second journey with the BCIT Student Association, British Columbia Institute of Technology, Geoff Gauthier takes enhancing the quality of student life seriously. As the publications manager running the Link newspaper in the early 2000s, Geoff had an amazing opportunity to work closely with students finding out what they need and what they think, and that experience shaped and defined his need to help them wherever he could. Fast forward a number of years, and a new opportunity to lead the group responsible for delivering student life, programming, as the Director of Marketing and Communications, was too wonderful to pass up. Geoff is curious and attentive. He’s listening to his students and adapting to their needs, and he’s making the necessary changes to provide them with the best experiences possible. I hope you enjoyed this enticing and exciting conversation with my good friend Geoff, and I will see you on the other side. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator Podcast. This is your host and speaker, Sam Demma. Today we are joined by my good friend, Geoff Gauthier. Geoff, thank you so much for coming on the show this morning. I appreciate it.

Geoff Gauthier
Hey, you’re welcome. Thanks for having me, Sam. This is wonderful.

Sam Demma
I always like to get started by asking people a big question. What made you the person you are today? Where do you come from?.

Geoff Gauthier
That’s a huge question. What made me what I am today? Yeah, you knwo what, I’m gonna answer your question with a question as I normally do. I’m not even really sure, man I’m freezing up already haha.

Sam Demma
Well where do you come from? Tell me where you come from.

Geoff Gauthier
So I’m from British Columbia, Canada. I’m like mainly from here. I’ve lived here for the vast majority of my life in various places from the lower mainland through the interior, traveled around a bit. Yeah, I think a lot of it is like, what brought me here? I question that constantly. Why do I do what I do and how did I get here? Right? And I was a journalist before all of this, and now I work for a student association in British Columbia. So naturally, I am a service-based person. I like to make sure that people are doing well. And I think that just sort of manifested in how I ended up here.

Sam Demma
Did that come from your parents? Were they of a service mindset or teachers in your life or coaches?

Geoff Gauthier
Or where did that mentality come from? I think probably teachers and coaches. My parents were, I mean, we all have our parental things. I don’t want to speak ill of my parents, but they’re young and challenging. So, my parents were both like 20 when they had me. So, I have relatively young parents. And when you’re 20, I don’t know, you’ve been 20 recently, you know, you don’t really know a lot. And so when you have a child, like, you just do your best to try to like push and encourage that. And like, I know, my dad was a big hockey fan and he pushed me to really hard to like, and my brother to be, you know, to be hockey players. And like, we, we tried our best and you know, you get so far and skill can only take you so far. And then it’s just a matter of other things. Right. So, yeah, I mean, I don’t know if my parents were, my mom is kind of a service person and I think she’s gotten back to those roots, but you know, it was the 80s and 90s and things were different back then. So there were like other avenues and ways of pushing. So I just think I just learned it from watching other people and just like recognizing a need to help others and like ensure success of other people. Right. Like, you know, I can be of service elsewhere, then I do what I can to do that.

Sam Demma
I have a phrase, I say, we can’t lean on ourselves. Sometimes we have to lean on each other. And it’s something that I encourage not only students, but also educators to realize. When there’s a new teacher in a classroom, you don’t have to know all the answers, but you have to be willing to reach out to people in your life to find them, you know? And there are people that want to support you. You talked about watching people in your life and that’s what taught you about service. When I think about the people I’ve watched, one person that comes to mind is my grandfather who came here with nothing and worked on a farm during the day and then did an overnight shift at GM to try and provide for his family, my dad growing up. And he would get boxes of squash from the farm job he did during the day. It was so much produce that he couldn’t eat it or just use it at his house because there was way too much. And instead of just throwing it away, he would put it in boxes, drive around the city, and drop it off on people’s front porches. And he was an individual in my life who taught me the importance of trying to be of service and live that life of service. You mentioned it might’ve been like teachers or coaches. Can you think of any specific person that you think had a really big impact on you?

Geoff Gauthier
It’s funny, man, you mentioned your grandfather and I was thinking about my grandfather. He passed in 2015 or so. Oh, geez. And it was on my mom’s side, and like, but he was, so maybe not necessarily serviced, but he taught me a lot of really valuable life skills. And he was like, kind of had the most impact on me when he passed, it was pretty hard for me. But he, like, it’s the simple things that I remember him teaching me that made me want to teach other people the things that he taught me. So he taught me, he would take me camping and he taught me like how to chop wood and build a fire. And it’s not like, it’s very simplistic, it’s very rustic, but he taught me this basic act of like how to create warmth for people and how to create a comfortable environment out of nothing, right? So it’s like those little pieces. So now I can teach my son how to build a fire and then he’ll be able to teach his friends and family how to build a fire, right? Like there’s all these things that, it’s a very simple act, but it’s like that knowledge, that passing on of knowledge is like a huge thing. So yeah, you mentioned your grandfather. My grandfather was kind of a similar background, came here, was literally born on a, he was born in Canada, but he was born on a latitude and longitude line. There was no hospital, right. He was born on a farm in Saskatchewan.

Geoff Gauthier
Right.

Geoff Gauthier
So, so yeah, he like, he grew up with that, that same ethic of like, you know, you came from somewhere else and you, you, you know, help your community and you, you build that community and you make that happen. So like, he was a big influence on me. I think I had, I had a couple of coaches and I had one teacher along, I had an art teacher in grade 11 and grade 12. She was really influential on like getting me to explore not like what other people were doing, but what I felt like I needed to do. And I think that was a big push. Yeah. Shout out to Mrs. Byfon Schmidt if you’re around. Yeah, she’s rad. So yeah, she like, she just encouraged me to follow an artistic path, which I hadn’t considered before because I was so like into sports and like competition. The artistic side of me was there and she was kind of nurtured that and pushed that out. So those were two kind of really big people in my life that pushed me to learn a bit more about myself and also how to teach others how to do that same thing.

Sam Demma
That’s so awesome. I think the arts get overlooked so much in schools that people disregard them as a potential pathway and also as an opportunity to explore yourself. I think art is such an amazing form of self-expression and I was recently listening to a book by Rick Rubin and it’s like all about arts and you may have actually heard of it. It came out recently. Yeah. And he was talking about the importance of appreciating everything around you and I was on a walk while I was listening to it with headphones in and he was talking about appreciating nature and I just started like looking around and I was like, the world is art, art’s everywhere.

Sam Demma
You know?

Geoff Gauthier
Beautiful, everywhere you look is gorgeous.

Sam Demma
It just forces you to kind of pause. The cool thing that you mentioned about your grandfather is all the activities he did with you, like teaching you how to cut wood and how to go camping, those types of things, they’re all an investment of time. I think investing your time in other people is how you build relationships with them. In the classroom, with students? Like how do educators build relationships with kids or how have you done it in your life so far?

Geoff Gauthier
Yeah, so it’s awesome that you mentioned that. I mean, the biggest thing with everything that I do in my life right now is as you discover as you get older, everything is about relationships, right? So like if I’m selling a sponsorship to a third party person outside of my organization, I need, it’s not like, hey, give me money and I’ll make you, I’ll put your name everywhere. You gotta like talk to them and you build that relationship with them and you build trust and you build a community and you understand each other’s needs. It’s not like, you know, if I’m gonna ask you for money, I’m gonna need to invest some time in getting to know you, getting to know your company, getting to even know your people. Here at the office, it’s the same thing with my employees, with the people that I work with. You know, I talk to them, I know them. I know everybody’s name in my organization. I know a little tiny tidbit of information about them. And I think this comes from journalism. Because I had to keep a lot of names and notes about people, or I had to keep them straight. I need to know my contacts, who’s who, what do they do, and know a little bit about them so that I can know who they are and like have that relationship with them. So I know everybody’s name, I know a little bit about them. I know if they have a dog or a cat or a kid or what they like to do on weekends kind of thing, like a little bit, a little bit about them. It may not, it might be, some of it might be surface, but I can say hello to everybody, including like the, the staff that do the cleaning. Like Habib empties our garbage cans, but he’s still a person and he’s a human and he has a story. And I ran into him in the community, ran into him at the mall by my house. And I was like, Hey man, how you doing? How are you? It’s, it’s always weird to see somebody outside of their, you know, their role that you see them in every day. And I was just like, dude, you live in my neighborhood. And we got to talking and he lives in the neighborhood with me. And I’m like, this is great. Like, I just, I know people around, right? And I’m going to be, I’m a person who’s in a position of power within my organization. I’m going to be in the community. People are going to talk to me and there’s value in making those connections and knowing those people and being able to keep talking to them. I think that’s like a hugely important part of growth as a person and also like an important part of being a community member.

Sam Demma
And it takes that extra step and effort to really get to know somebody, even if it’s not their whole life story and a thousand details, but a couple of small things. I love that nugget. I think educators should treat that aspect of their work like a journalist and take notes and get to know people in their classrooms. I think that’s a really good piece of wisdom and advice. Yeah, it’s super important, man.

Geoff Gauthier
It’s helped me so much in my career, just being able to know people and being able to talk to people on a one-to-one basis and be like, hey, how’s your son doing? Or remember, like, you know, and time goes by so quickly, you’d be like, hey, how’s your son doing? Oh, he’s married and he’s gone off to Iraq. He lives there now. Whoa, holy crap. He was like 12 when I met him. So, you know, yeah.

Sam Demma
So you mentioned that you grew up in competition. Yeah. You know, hockey was a big part of your childhood. You then had this amazing art teacher who kind of poured belief in you and it challenged you to explore different pathways. Where’s the gap between like end of high school to where you are now? Like what did your educational journey look like that brought you here?

Geoff Gauthier
I just, that’s wonderful. So I took a year off after high school because I was-

Sam Demma
Me too.

Geoff Gauthier
Yeah, right? I was like, I was gonna do, so I was playing hockey. Yep. I find that that sort of stopped being a thing, you know, like right around that timeframe, but like 18, 19 kind of thing. Yeah. I’m like, I need to like figure out what I’m gonna do with the rest of my life. It’s not going to be playing hockey at this point, so I’m going to have to figure out what to do. So my dad, I started apprenticing as a plumber for a little bit after high school, which was interesting. I was like, I don’t want to do this. I got my hand stuck in a pipe full of effluent. I’ll use effluent as the word. And I couldn’t get it out, and I had to get somebody to come and cut my hand out of the pipe. And I was just like, oh, I need to do something else. I’m like, I washed my hand a million times and it smelled for like a week. And I was just like, I gotta do something with my life. So I’m like, I’m gonna go to university. I’ve kind of always been interested in journalism. I wanna do that. But I started off, I did a bachelor of arts degree in professional writing, and then went on to fast track a journalism degree. And then I ended up working at BCIT in the early 2000s, and I did a diploma of technology in desktop publishing while I was there. And so like all of my education background comes from basically journalism and print media. And as you know, and everyone else knows, like I used to work at a newspaper and print media just started dying. Newspapers just stopped being a thing that existed. I have all this knowledge in my head about how to like build print processing, and it’s like pretty much useless at this point. So I had to figure out like, how am I going to make this work? And I got a job with a company where I started doing communications, like press releases. I’m like, I’m a writer, I can write. There’s one thing I can do really well, it’s writing. And I wanna be the best at writing, I’m gonna try and work on this and become a really good writer. So I’m gonna like, I’ll write press releases for this company. And then I just got some lucky opportunities in that company where I got to do press releases. I also got to do like machinery installs, which was kind of like a thing that I did on the outside. So like it was a company that does like mining, whole cycle management, whole cycle management. It’s like a tech company, but everybody, it was a small company at the time and everybody did everything. So I was writing press releases. I was creating marketing materials. I was like building computers and like drawing icons for software. It was like, it was a pretty cool, I got to blend my art and my writing and my journalism skills, like all into one thing. And it just sort of blossomed from there. And I just kind of got good at marketing. I got good at like knowing what, build relationships with our customers, know what they want, provide them what they want, really listen to what they’re asking for and giving them those pieces.

Geoff Gauthier
Right?

Geoff Gauthier
And it just sort of, it just blossomed out of that. And I got really good at it. And just, just out of habitual practice. And I’m like, and then that desire and that want to be really, really good at something, you know? So, yeah. And then I, I ran into the executive director, former executive director, weirdly in a liquor store in Coquitlam, I was buying some wine. I don’t really drink anymore, but at the time, I was with my family and I bought some wine and I ran into her at Liquorsworks. She’s like, what are you doing these days? And I was like, oh, I’m working in marketing for this mining company. And she’s like, oh, interesting. And she’s like, we just got to chatting. And it was like, again, I’d made that relationship with her when I worked here the first time, right? And when I worked here the first time, I worked as a journalist. I worked in the publications department. Sorry, I totally glossed over that part. When I worked at the BCIT Student Association the first time, I was in publications. I produced a newspaper. It was the early 2000s, they still existed then, for the students. And I learned about how to be of service to students. And then I was like, I gotta go. I was in my late 20s, early 30s, and I’m like, I gotta go get in the real world and become this, like get some real world experience. And that’s how I managed to get like into that marketing department. And then ran into the ED, talked to her for a little while. And then a couple of months later, she phoned me up. She’s like, hey, why don’t you come back and have lunch with me at the student association? I was like, oh, okay. And like just dumb old Jeff, like not picking up on any cues. I’m just like, oh, okay, sure. I’d love to come for lunch and hang out with you. Cause we’d gone for lunch before in the past. I kept that relationship alive during the decade that I wasn’t here. And, uh, you know, like we went for lunch every once in a while, like it was like every couple of years kind of thing, right. Just to catch up and say hi. And cause she really inspired me to like become who I am as well. So that’s another story I completely glossed over. And anyway, I came back and she’s like, yeah. And she, she had her HR manager with her and they’re like, this is what we’ve been doing with the SA since you’ve been gone. Here’s this new thing that we’ve done. Here’s how we’ve expanded. Here’s all this stuff that we’ve built. I’m like, oh, this is all really amazing. I’m like, I can see the potential of how we can use this to get the students just looking at them. It’s so cool. Then we’re sitting down eating lunch and she’s like, so what would you think about coming back here to work? I was like, what? When I look back on it, it’s so funny because it was so obviously and clearly like a recruitment thing. And I just was like not picking up on it. I was like in my, the prime of my career, in my other job, I was doing really well. I was like, but the problem with that other job is I had traveled a lot. Okay. And this, and so I was like missing out on my son growing up and missing out on seeing my wife. And I’m like, I’m always gone. I’m always at conferences. I’m always in other parts of the world and I’m doing other things, which is kind of cool. But you know, I was, I was gone a lot. So she was like, you want to come here and work in marketing? I was like, yeah, you know what? I was nervous, but I took that step because I trusted her because she’s treated me well in the past. So I came back here and then this is, I came back, I’ve always felt while I was at the other job that instead of like making somebody rich that I’d never met before, I could like come back and help students. I can come back and make a better life for students and make like, I remember how difficult it was for me in university. And I just was like, if I can make a couple of students’ lives better, that’s way more fun than making somebody else get another yacht, who I’ve never met, right? It was one of those things. We ended up, that other company, we ended up getting bought out by a major corporation. And so it ended up being kind of like, I don’t know, this doesn’t really work for me anymore.

Sam Demma
The meaning and significance wasn’t really there.

Geoff Gauthier
It changes, it changes, right? So I needed to come back and I needed to do something with students and then I’ve been here now for four years and I like, three really tough years, but we’re getting back on it now, so.

Sam Demma
You mentioned that that individual who was the director of the school had a really big impact on you and helped you pivot. Like, what did she do for you that made a really big difference?

Geoff Gauthier
So, she asked me a key question and I’ll never forget this because this is like when I was when I was younger, um, I had a manager who was not so great who who was in who worked here and then you know I don’t want to speak really about that but but like The ed app she asked me a very poignant question. She’s like, who do you feel accountable to? Because we were talking about management and like not feeling like I I can trust this person and not feeling like this person is helping me develop my career or meaning to help students in any significant way. And I said to her, I’m like, I’m accountable to the students of this school. I’m accountable to the students of the school. And it wasn’t a thoughtful answer, I blurted it out. And I think that was that moment where she’s like, okay, this guy, this guy actually cares, cares, and actually like believes in this and actually wants to like progress and make things good here. Right. And then, and I shortly after that is when I quit and I left and I went to the other company, but, but yeah. And so I think in the back of her mind, she had that thing where like, we had this relationship where she knew she could trust me. And she knew that if she brought me back here, I would be that person to like help students, to really push the organization to want to do that. And like now I’m in a position where I have that ability and it’s taken some time, but I’m like, I’m getting there now. I’m getting there now. It’s so obvious you’re passionate about the work that you do. I can feel it coming out of you as you’re talking. You’re like, you’re an intense dude. I’m like, I know, I know. Oh, it’s the best way possible.

Sam Demma
You mentioned through university, you kind of had your own challenges. What are some of the things that you’re striving to help to support students now at BCIT that you think would have been valuable if you had when you were going through university?

Geoff Gauthier
So this is the challenge with working in a university setting, it’s like figuring out what most students want.

Geoff Gauthier
Right?

Geoff Gauthier
So when you work for a student association, we’re a non-profit, right? And we’re here to help all students, but the people that you hear from are the students who are sort of the least, yeah, the most engaged and then the least advantaged. Right? So we’re not hearing from the, the middle students are content and they’re happy. So we hear from the students who have many challenges and we hear from the students who have, who are the most engaged with us. And it’s weird, man, you see it, the most engaged students are the most advantaged students.

Geoff Gauthier
Right?

Geoff Gauthier
And the students who have the most challenges are the most disadvantaged students. How do I make that middle ground work for everybody? What can I provide? What kind of services and programming can I provide that helps these people out? So it’s always a challenge to put those two pieces together. And that’s like the hardest part of this job is to like make that balance happen. It’s easy to cater to the middle students. It’s easy to like give the right programming and the right messaging to the middle students. It’s much more difficult to A, keep the engaged students happy, and B, keep the, oh, A and A1. And like, where can I step in to help make everybody’s lives better, right? And when you make someone’s life better, sometimes you make somebody else’s life worse. Or in perception, it’s worse. So, yeah, that’s a tough question, man. Like, I’m just doing my best to try to like, make sure everybody has a good time at school, and is able to make it through here. Because like we don’t provide any education at the association. We provide student life. We provide value and we provide services for free to help people get an advantage sort of while they’re here and then also get them out, right? So they have an advantage over their competition when they get out. And as someone who comes from a background in competition, every possible advantage I can give you to beat out the competition in the future, I’m going to try to give that to you. That’s awesome.

Sam Demma
What events have you, or has the organization, association run in the past that you think achieved some of that goal of catering to the middle, the most engaged and the less advantaged, and really had an impact?

Geoff Gauthier
Yeah, this is a weird question. I mean, you know how things have kind of gotten with the world.

Sam Demma
I guess COVID was weird.

Geoff Gauthier
It was, man, and like I’ve been working, so I started working here again in 2019.

Sam Demma
Okay.

Geoff Gauthier
It was June of 2019. Jeez. So I had like six solid months of like doing really cool programming for students and then we’re all of a sudden everybody’s working from their house. So we’ve just kind of been kicking it back in. But one of the, it’s like I think to like one of the events that’s kind of cool that we do that appeals to my nerdy background where I can kind of help it help out and figure it out. We do a hackathon for the the school of computer studies students and so we’re able to kind of leverage some of my mining contacts to have a company come in and provide data sets to these students who create these sort of virtual businesses and virtual business ideas over a weekend. So we put teams from different schools into or we create teams from students in different schools. So like you get some business students, some marketing students, and some design students, and we put them all together on a five or six person team, and then we give them data sets, and they, over the weekend, they work to create a business plan out of these data sets, or like, and like this is a fun thing for me to like put on for students, and it really only appeals to about 100, 150 students, I’ve said, every year, but it’s, it’s one of those events that like I look forward to it every year. It’s a lot of work. It comes in January, like right after the holiday season. And all my staff’s like, oh, you gotta do that. It’s gonna be such a, it’s so much work. And I’m like, it’s so much work, but it’s so much fun. And yes, I get all excited about it. And what ends up happening is I pair some businesses who are looking for talent, and then I provide them with students who are exceptional within that field. And we get data from those people, we get sponsorship from those people that gives us money to be able to provide more services for more students.

Sam Demma
Right?

Geoff Gauthier
That’s awesome. So it kind of combines, it puts everything in perspective, it puts everything into like what I do, into like a kind of a microcosm of like what we’re trying to achieve here. So that’s why I love that event so much. I mean, you know, you come here and you can feel the excitement and the energy on the Friday night when they start. Everybody’s in the great hall, they’re outside, there’s a buzz, they’re like all excited. Some of them are meeting their team members for the first time. They’re people that, you know, at BCIT we have a very short school year, it’s two years, and they’re in and out really quickly. It’s like you don’t meet everybody, and then all of a sudden you’re paired on a team with a marketing person and a designer and some business and computing students, and you’re like, all right, you all never met, now you gotta work together to create something awesome. And out of that, and then there’s several teams, and so they compete. So I get my competition out of it too. I see my students strive and they want to work and they want to be the best and they want to figure it out. And then on the end of the weekend, on the Sunday, they’re judged and they’re awarded prizes and possibly job opportunities coming out of that. So if there’s something I can provide like that for students that like, A, gets them in front of employers, gets them into a mode where they’re competing to be their best, and pushes them to like work hard and work together and work in a team environment with people they’ve never met. I’m building growth, I’m building challenges, I’m building connections and I’m building relationships. Not me, but you know, my team. I said that, it’s very egocentric, I shouldn’t say me. Our team, our school is building, the event is really building that. And it’s not just me that’s doing it, it’s a combined effort from everybody. But it gets me excited when we do stuff like that, right?

Sam Demma
Is that one of those hackathons where everyone’s in the same hotel, they basically sleep in the same room?

Geoff Gauthier
In the great hall at our campus. They’re like out there, yeah, they stay overnight, they just work all weekend. Sometimes they leave, sometimes they come back, and we roll out like a buffet table. We had a taco bar one year that was really popular. We rolled out a taco bar. Everybody was stoked about that. So we try to feed them and keep them interested and keep them here. And they work really hard all weekend. It’s a satisfying thing for the students to do too. They really get to contribute in a way that’s meaningful and create something cool. And so if I can, I need to do more things like that with other schools and try and figure out ways I can make that happen as well.

Sam Demma
Well, that also facilitates new friends, right? Even if they’re from different schools, you might become friends with someone that you’re gonna talk to for the rest of your life.

Sam Demma
Yeah, totally.

Geoff Gauthier
The weirdest thing happened too, like I coach youth soccer. My son plays soccer and he’s wonderful. He’s a great midfielder, plays really well. I got my team the other day, like on TeamSnap is our program we use. I got the team, there’s the roster sitting there, and I got two new players on my team this year, and one of those players, I was like, this kid looks kind of familiar. And I click on him, and I look at his parents, and I’m like, The parent is one of our key sponsors from the institution who sponsors our hackathon. No way. Yeah, it was like this super weird thing. I’ve never met this kid before. I didn’t even know that she had a kid. And now I’m like, okay, cool. So now one of our key sponsors for hackathons child is on my soccer team. So I’m going to have to be on my best behavior at all times. So yeah, it’s just really, man, it’s funny. And this is what I’m talking about, about how the community thing works, right? How these weird things happen, where you’re in a community, your community, when you work at a school or an institution, is pretty tight-knit. I know people, I’ve known people here since 2001. I’ve met people here when I started working here in 2001 that still work here, that I still interact with on a regular basis. That was 22 years ago, Sam. Wow. Yeah. I still know people, right. And like I’ve gone away and I’ve come back and they’re like, Oh, Hey, you’re back. And I’m like, yeah, I’ve been here for four years. I haven’t seen you yet. Yeah. It’s pretty funny. It’s a big place too.

Sam Demma
Right. Well, it sounds like the funny coincidence finding out that, that athletes, parents, or someone that you knew, that starts from being curious and like exploring a little bit, you know? And you seem like someone who leads with like curiosity. Where does that come from? Where your curiosity stem from? That has been forever.

Geoff Gauthier
That was dangerous when I was younger. Serves me well now that I’m older. Man, I think that’s the journalism part too. I can’t stop. I’m not a very chill person. I think we can discuss that. I like, I remember when I met my wife when we were initially dating and I was like, yeah, cool, I’m chill. She’s like, you’re not chill at all. You’re like zero chill guy. And I’m like, oh, I’ve always thought I was really chill and relaxed, and you’re not relaxed at all. You’re like very high strung. And then so, so I’ve accepted that. And with being high strung, it becomes being curious. But what I have to be careful about is going too far down that rabbit hole, right? Like, I love, I love being curious. I love to know things. I love to know a lot as much as I possibly can. Like you, just even meeting you and listening to you speak, and I’m like, well, I want to know Sam more. I want to get Sam to my university. I want to hang out with Sam. I want to know this guy. I want to talk to him a little bit. I just needed to make that connection with you. I’m like, tell me more about you. And we talked in person for a while afterwards. And I was just like, you’re an interesting person. And I think through journalism, I found a lot of interesting people. And everyone has this really cool story to tell. I haven’t met anybody who’s boring, right? Like people will go, I’m so boring. I’m like, okay, well, tell me a little bit about yourself. Like open up a little bit and let me hear about what you do. Cause you’re not boring. Everyone is inherently interesting. Everyone has a story or something in their background that’s fun or funny or exciting or traumatic or whatever. But whatever the story is, you’re going to have something to tell me. And I wanna know about that. I wanna know who you are. I wanna know like why you do what you do. And I know that’s why you asked me to come on here. You’re asking me those questions. And I’m sitting in back of you. It’s fun. For me, it’s fun. And I know for other people, it’s not fun. And so I’ve gotten old enough now to recognize when people are uncomfortable when I’m asking them questions. So I just back off and I’m like, okay, cool. I get it, right? But like, I used to push, like, you know, no, come on, tell me. Every time I’d find the quiet person at a party, I’d push that person to talk. I wanna know more about that quiet person. Because like quiet people always have the most to talk about if you push them hard, right? Loud people, man, you know what I’m about.

Sam Demma
I hear it all.

Geoff Gauthier
Yeah, I will tell you my life story in a podcast in 15 minutes, and no one cares. But the quiet people, they have cool stories. They have the best stories to tell because they only speak when it’s important for them to speak. So yeah, anyway, so I used to do that, but I don’t push as hard anymore on people. I let them kind of naturally open up to me. I build that trust with them first, right? If they want to talk to me, they’ll talk to me. I don’t need to be a and push them about it.

Sam Demma
I hear you. Yeah, I think the, I’ll make an addition to the importance of curiosity, like genuine curiosity.

Geoff Gauthier
Genuine curiosity, yeah.

Sam Demma
That’s like the, I think that’s the key because even if the person is shy, they feel like the question is coming from a place of love and like really wanting to know more about them. So they’re even a little more encouraged to talk. And I think you do that really well. Like, you seem very curious when you ask questions. And even I remember when you approached me in the hallway, I was like, ah, I feel really like acknowledged by this guy. And I would like to get to know him a little more. And so you talked about the beginning service and wanting to help students. And not only do you do stuff with, you know, BCIT, but you do a lot with COCA for people listening who don’t know what COCA is, like let’s give them a little quick snippet of what it is and what got you involved.

Geoff Gauthier
Oh man, okay, so COCA is the Canadian Organization of Campus Activities and I’m the West, one of the Western Regional Board Directors. Congratulations. Thank you, yeah, I filled in for a year, for like half a year kind of thing, or like eight months, and then I was re-elected this year to keep working with them. And a COCA is an organization that like, I didn’t know anything about it. One of the former directors phoned me up just doing their kind of annual drive to get more members. And they’re like, Hey, you used to be a members. And I’m like, I don’t know anything about this. What is this? And so he guided me through like what COCA is. And I’m like, this is beneficial to be a part of for us to learn about what we can provide for students. I would never have met you if it wasn’t for Coke, right? And like all the people that I work with on the board are all fantastic and they’re all high performers. And I think that’s what, you know, you talk about the high performance podcast, man, these are all people that work extra hard to make things happen for for other people. So like, I’m working at BCIT, I coach youth soccer, I dedicate my time to the board of directors. Like, I don’t, I don’t do a lot.

Sam Demma
I don’t eat. I don’t have time.

Geoff Gauthier
But yeah, I just, it’s kind of this never-ending cycle and I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t do those things. Yeah. You know? And like, and it provides me with these wonderful opportunities to meet folks like yourself and to like, see what is out there. And it feeds my curiosity and I get to know more people and I get to make those connections. And now I don’t have just connections in BC, I have connections all across Canada. So within the universities, like in the university service spectrum, I have connections now and it’s beautiful to hear from them the challenges and the triumphs that they have as well. Right, and see how similar they are and I can learn from them. And I can, you know, I talk, Crystal Ben from St. Clair College, they have, she told me this story about how they have like an eSports coliseum, or like, not a coliseum, but like an arena on their campus. And I’m just like, what? You gotta be kidding me. We have an eSports club here, and if I told them that, they’d lose their minds. They would just go, they’d be like, they have a whole arena for this? Like they have a dedicated space for that. And I’m just like, man. So I’m like, how can I bring that to BCIT? How can I bring that here? How can I, like, how do I make that work on my campus? Right, or I hear from, and that’s like on the other side of Canada. I’m like, how do I do that here? Right?

Sam Demma
I love that.

Geoff Gauthier
I want to know.

Geoff Gauthier
Go ahead.

Sam Demma
I love that it’s not, oh, we can’t do that. Like the first question that pops in your head is how? How can we bring that here? How can we do this? And leading with that, I think so often the thing that holds ourselves back is not other people’s opinions of us, it’s actually our perception of ourselves or our perception of what’s possible for us. And I think removing the words can’t from the vocabulary and focusing on the how and approaching things like challenges, not problems, is such an impactful perspective to hold. And yeah, it’s cool that you just like, that’s your default, it seems like.

Geoff Gauthier
I’m gonna tell you a quick story about that. It’s only been my default recently. I have had to work very hard. I’m a Gen X. I came up skeptical. I worked as a journalist. I had to like, do I believe this person? Is this person lying to my face? Are they credible? How do I fact check this? I didn’t trust anybody for the longest time. And I’ve opened my heart to trust and I’m trying to change my mindset to eliminate can’t, won’t, done. And working in this environment is super challenging because there’s no money in, we’re a non-profit and there’s like, we’re, you know, so how do I create enough resources to build? Right? We don’t have this resource. Don’t tell me we don’t have it. Tell me how we can create it. Yeah. Right? I get that we don’t have it. I’ve seen the budget lines. I know what it looks like. I understand there’s challenges. What could we do to change that?

Geoff Gauthier
Right?

Geoff Gauthier
And I’m just like, and if I instill that in the people that I, it’s so easy to say, I can’t do that. It’s so, I can’t do that. I won’t do that. I’m not going to do it. Right? No, no, we’re not going to do it. No, we don’t have the money. Yeah, that’s so easy to say that. It’s way harder to go, is there a way we can make that work? Is there something that we can do? Is there someone we can partner with? Can we build a relationship with someone who can help us do that?

Geoff Gauthier
Right?

Sam Demma
Like- Can we call that athlete on the soccer team’s dad?

Geoff Gauthier
Yeah, exactly, right?

Geoff Gauthier
Like, hey, I know a guy in the community who might be able to help us. Yeah, that’s another thing too, right?

Sam Demma
I got a person.

Geoff Gauthier
I got a person for that.

Sam Demma
People always say,

Sam Demma
when one door closes, another door opens, added like an extension. When one door closes, another door opens, but there’s always a human being standing behind that new door opening it for you. Exactly. That comes back to your whole point of relationships. And understand that person and know that person and take your time to understand

Geoff Gauthier
Maybe why they opened that door for you. Yeah. Is there a reason for that? And like, can I open a door for them if they did that for me? Would I do that in the same position?

Sam Demma
Well, maybe there’s a person listening to this that would love to open a door for you or would love to get to know you in the hope that you might open a door for them. If someone is listening, an educator, and they just want to send you a message and appreciate you for taking the time to share on the podcast or ask you a question or just connect, what would be the best way for someone listening to reach out?

Geoff Gauthier
Oh man, probably a text message. That’s like the only thing I answer now. Man, I don’t post on social media. Like I have an Instagram handle, it’s @mistergoats. It is pictures of my kid, my cat, and my motorcycle. And my family, and that’s really it. I’m not really active on social media. I’m on Blue Sky, I’m on Blue Sky now. I misspelled my name when I signed up, so it’s @mistetgoats.

Sam Demma
That’s awesome.

Geoff Gauthier
And you can’t change it, because it’s a new platform, so I’m over there if you want to look me up, Blue Sky Social.

Sam Demma
I can include your email and show notes as well, if that’s okay with you.

Geoff Gauthier
Oh yeah, absolutely. Yeah, you can email me anytime. ggauthier@bcitsa.ca. They’ll be in the show notes. Man, I don’t know. That’s how you get ahold of me. That’s the best way to get ahold of me. I don’t, I’ll give you my phone number too. You can, people can text me. That’s the easiest way to get ahold of me. And I’m happy, I’m happy to chat. And if you have like, if you want some ideas or if you want to share ideas or you want to get to know me a little bit, I’m totally open to that. Always good to connect with people wherever I can.

Sam Demma
This has been an awesome conversation, man. Thank you for saying yes, despite not knowing what the heck we were going to do.

Geoff Gauthier
I appreciate you. I trust you, Sam. I trust you. And you’re a wonderful person. I know I’ve only known you for a few hours, but man, you make that connection. Like there’s something about this guy that makes sense. I just, I love that. And I appreciate you having me on. I hit my table and shaking everything, sorry.

Sam Demma
You’re good.

Geoff Gauthier
Thanks again. Everyone, podcast rule, don’t slam it.

Sam Demma
Thank you, Sam, thank you.

Sam Demma
This is awesome. This is awesome. Geoff Gauthier. Right on.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Geoff Gauthier

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.

Jeevan Dhami – High school teacher and current Leadership Department Head at Panorama Ridge Secondary School in Surrey, British Columbia

Jeevan Dhami - High school teacher and current Leadership Department Head at Panorama Ridge Secondary School in Surrey, British Colombia
About Jeevan Dhami

Jeevan Dhami is a high school teacher and current Leadership Department Head at Panorama Ridge Secondary School in Surrey, British Columbia. He originally began his career as an Outreach Worker in 2014 at the same secondary school he would return to as a continuing teacher in 2019. With an extensive background in community work through various organizations, Jeevan consistently pursued academics while attending Simon Fraser University to further his education. He completed his Bachelor of Arts with a focus in History and Criminology, then a Bachelors of Education with a focus on Environmental Education and is currently working on completing his Masters in Educational Practices.

Outside of the classroom, Jeevan can be found keeping up with his other passion of sport, by coaching Senior Boys Basketball. As a former student-athlete, he understands the importance of transferable skills through sport, which he hopes to pass on to his players and his community. His philosophy on life and teaching is based on the power of connection as he works to create a sense of belonging for people within his community.

Connect with Jeevan: Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Panorama Ridge Secondary School

Simon Fraser University – Criminology Major (Bachelor of Arts)

Simon Fraser University – History Major (Bachelor of Arts)

Simon Fraser University – Bachelor of Education

Canadian Student Leadership Association (CSLA)

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 on the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and keynote speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Jeevan Dhami. Jeevan is a high school teacher and current leadership department head at Panorama Ridge Secondary School in Surrey, British Columbia. He originally began his career as an outreach worker in 2014 at the same secondary school he would return to as a continuing teacher in 2019. With an extensive background in community work through various organizations, Jeevan consistently pursued academics while attending Simon Fraser University to further his education. He completed his Bachelor of Arts with a focus in history in criminology, then a Bachelors of Education with a focus on environmental education, and is currently working on completing his master’s in educational practices outside of the classroom. Jivan can be found keeping up with his other passion of sport by coaching senior boys basketball. As a former student athlete, he understands the importance of transferrable skills through sport, which he hopes to pass on to his players and his community. His philosophy on life and teaching is based on the power of connection, as he works to create a sense of belonging for people within his community. I hope you enjoyed this conversation. I surely did, and I took so much away from it. And I look forward to seeing you on the other side.

Sam Demma (01:28):

Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Super excited to have a good friend on the podcast today. We met, we met last year in May, and then again this year, again, last year. No, again, this year in September. Jeevan Dhami is a good friend, a connection through the Canadian Student Leadership Association. My man. Introduce yourself so people know who you are and a little bit about what it is that you do.

Jeevan Dhami (02:00):

Hey everyone. Happy to be here. Like Sam said, met met this young guy at the conference in Cloverdale about a year ago, and I just loved his energy and had to reconnect with him. We’ve been touching base from time to time, and he was able to come talk to our school. Myself, I’m a, a teacher here in Surrey and I’ve been living here for about 15 years now, and had to kind of adjust to calling Surrey my home, but it’s it’s a place that I, I, I think I, I’m finding, finding my own in.

Sam Demma (02:41):

15 years. Where were you before the 15?

Jeevan Dhami (02:45):

So, I was actually born small town up in central bc Cornell, BC is my, my hometown. It’s a small little town, 10,000 people. great place to grow up. Great community. Lot of outdoor things to be doing very close-knit community. So when you when you got in trouble, the whole town knew about it? And

Sam Demma (03:11):

Are you speaking experienced?

Jeevan Dhami (03:13):

I was yeah, I was definitely one of those kids that would be reported on <laugh>. Nothing like criminal, but it was all like the, the gossip growing up and especially in the like Indo-Canadian community here. it was, it was a small, small town, but we had a big population. So coming with from a family that I have four older sisters that were always, you know, I idolized, oh, your sisters are so good. And being the youngest of the siblings that was supposed to live up to that standard, and like, who, who’s you are their sibling. Like, they’re so nice and respectful and you’re just a bratty kid. But <laugh>, I, I think a lot of it was just immaturity at the time. Yeah. and being the, the only boy you’re often afforded a lot of luxuries that your sisters don’t necessarily get, so may have taken advantage of that. Luckily, I, those sisters of mine kept me in check pretty, pretty well and helped, helped me learn from my mistakes and helped me shape the person that I hope <laugh> I am becoming now. Maybe learning from those things.

Sam Demma (04:33):

Were you still in that hometown of yours when you had the realization that you want to work in education or one in your own journey as a student? Can you remember pinpointing, I want to be a teacher or work in schools?

Jeevan Dhami (04:48):

Yeah. My path was, it was a little different. I, I was always good at school. School came easy to me, but for me it was more of the social side of things. I, I loved sports and I loved athletics. just being a part of that community, it was very interesting for me. Cause growing up in that town, there was always, there, there was a lot of segregation for the most part kind of unspoken. So there was a brown school and a white school, and I ended up being the one living in, in the communities where I was at the white school. So I didn’t necessarily fit in with that community, and I didn’t necessarily belong with the brown kids, so I was kind of always in the middle. So I didn’t always feel like I, I belonged to one particular group.

Jeevan Dhami (05:37):

I at first I didn’t appreciate it at the time. I felt like growing up, you’re not realizing that, Hey, I, I don’t fit in. I don’t belong in certain aspects, so where do I fit? You feel like you’re a, a piece of the bigger puzzle, but you don’t know where exactly you, you sit or where you lie. So it took some, for me to realize that that was my biggest strength actually. Like, I was able to kind of maintain those strong relationships. And when you get into high school or it becomes a melting pot, like everyone’s together, you know, the people that you see at Temple on the weekend, you’re seeing on a day to day basis, and the people that you see and your Monday to Friday school session are now your teammates. so it just becomes a, a tight knit community.

Jeevan Dhami (06:21):

And that was, that was part of my process though. I tend to take advantage of that being a troubled student I think at the time, I, I was smarter than for my own, than my own good. And I would finish my work and then I would become disruptive. I wanted to be the class clown and make jokes and make my friends laugh, and things like that would talk about me in trouble. but my path to school, I always, I always loved learning. I always loved school. It became my, my, my safe place. didn’t necessarily have, you know, the best childhood growing up kind of thing. so there, there’s a lot of emotional issues and, and dealing with a lot of that. As a young kid, I didn’t realize that I was leaving more of a negative impact than a positive, but I had those leadership qualities that a lot of my teachers saw in me.

Jeevan Dhami (07:19):

So instead of kinda disciplining me, ridiculing me, they, it, there’s a few one in particular that tried to harness that energy and kind of switch it to the good. so he, he had always been like a positive pillar. He is a very, very great role model to look up to. And just slowly getting to build that relationship as I matured as a student we just had a lot of good conversations. I loved his energy. you, you never saw him with without a smile on his face. And then you did, you knew that, you know, something had happened, like somebody had crossed the line. And that kind where I got to see a, a real positive educator where it was his demeanor on a day-to-day basis. And he never actually even taught me in my senior year of high school, just the day-today passing. Right. So I would see him in the hallways. I would, I would finish my work in class, and I’d sneak out to just go have a conversation with him. And sometimes I would get in trouble for that as well. But

Sam Demma (08:25):

<laugh>,

Jeevan Dhami (08:27):

I, I think he saw just how vital those were for me to develop in those moments. And solely over time, I started to progress and I found that you know, history was one of the few subjects that I actually consistently enjoyed. and it was just something that I always was connected to. So I knew that I wanted to go to school to study history, and I always had three career choices in mind. So I was always drawn to policing, teaching, and law, and policing and law would always change at number one. I just wanted to come back and, and help my community and, and make a bigger impact. But teaching was always consistently number two, and I didn’t catch it at the time. Actually, someone recently pointed out that all three of my choices were about serving the community, but teaching was probably where I’m gonna have the biggest impact.

Jeevan Dhami (09:27):

I just never realized grade 12 student that pointed like, oh, you’re actually quite, quite accurate on that, especially now. I teach in a school of 1600 kids, and yeah, that number kinda continues to grow, so, so hopefully it’s like a ripple effect. But yeah. my plan after, I didn’t wanna leave small town, I loved the rural life, but my family decided that we were moving to the lower mainland and sold my house at the start of my grade 12 year, I’ll never forget it, one of my best friends at the time, he lived next door to me, and we had been living next door to other for about 10 years, and he got home and, and was talking the driveway. And he, you’re not gonna tell me, tell me, tell you what, like, you’re selling your house. I’m like, I’m selling my house.

Jeevan Dhami (10:21):

Like, yeah, I saw it in the paper, like, I didn’t know that you’re moving. I said, neither did I. This is my start of my grade 12 year where I want. Yeah. So I, I was quite annoyed at that, but household. But my mom and I, we, we stayed in the basement suite just so I could finish off my grade 12 year. And it, it was nice to see that little small sacrifice just so that I could have the year that I wanted. but yeah, as, as I wrapped up high school, I wanted to continue my education in the University of Northern British Columbia up there. I had, I had my goals and my plans, and this just kinda threw me, threw me for a loop. So I had to go back and go back to the drawing board. Coming from a small town I didn’t have a lot of insight, I guess, or guidance on how to navigate life in the lower mainland, but I knew that song and Fraser University’s reputable school, so, okay, I’ll, I’ll apply there.

Jeevan Dhami (11:24):

I can still live at home in Surrey and I can commute. And little did, I knew that that commute was gonna be an hour and a half on a bus sky training every single day one way, and then another hour and a half <laugh>. So I found it to be quite miserable. I actually hated living in the lower main line. I was quite miserable. Just didn’t really try to make positive connections or relationships with, with people. I always had kind of one foot out the door. I planned to just do my first year and I’m gonna move back up north. I’m gonna live with some of my old buddies, and I’m gonna, I’m gonna have fun up where I want. And I still have those three top career choices in mind. But slowly I started, I started working in the community. So my first job here was working at the local Y mt a, which is just a few minutes Nice from my house.

Jeevan Dhami (12:22):

And I, I went to interview for a front desk position and I didn’t get that job, but they really liked what they saw and suggested I’d be a part of youth programming. And so I went for a second interview there, and I started working in youth programs where I was just, you know, coaching little kids, soccer basketball, some sports programs, running birthday parties on the weekends and <laugh>. It was interesting. But I made a lot of strong connections there. And I realized, okay, well the lower mainland’s not, not too bad here. I started making some good friendships and, and relationships and started really being involved in my community and accepted that, Hey, I’m, I’m going to be here. This is my new home. And started to see the impact that, you know, I could have or that this community could have on me.

Jeevan Dhami (13:13):

And slowly started to get more involved in there. Actually, I met one of my best friends who’s they him and I met, but he was in a different department in the Y than I was. And he would kind of come into my space without kind of announcing himself. He would get a lot of positive energy and I’m like, well, who’s this guy just kind of coming up in my space? And I would do the same in his counteracting. We slowly did like the spider-man me, where we just pointed at each other like, Hey, the reason why I think we’re butting heads is cause we’re so much alike. And he brought me into a volunteer position running a youth leadership program. And slowly just opportunity after opportunity kept coming for me. I worked for different municipal organizations for the city, for other municipalities, just running different youth programming.

Jeevan Dhami (14:08):

And slowly along those ways, while I’m trying to pursue a career in law, I I was in the process of writing my lsat. I was actually working in an accounting firm at the time as well. And the accounting goes to me is like, oh, you’re going into law. Like, have you sold your yet <laugh>? And I found that very interesting because this was the same person that would have to spend nights away from his family in the office. I was like, okay, so this, yeah, it’s very, very strange to me. So he, he kind of talked about how, you know, that it’s a tough field to be in, and I didn’t know if my personality would match. I was a process of applying for law law schools and things like that. I wanted to be a lawyer. I was chasing affluence. But internally, I think I deep down knew that that wouldn’t be build, it wouldn’t gimme fulfillment or joy. Where I found joy was working with young people where I was making a positive impact. And slowly I kind of contemplated my, well, what am I doing? Like, this is not the career field I wanna be in. And I went back and I reached out to that, that teacher and said, okay, like I’m really, I’m contemplating my career choice. I think I want to go into teaching. And he said, oh, yeah, I, I knew that you were gonna do that when, when I met you in high school, like grade eight. You like <laugh>.

Jeevan Dhami (15:34):

Exactly, yeah.

Jeevan Dhami (15:35):

You’re like, ah, shut up, <laugh>.

Jeevan Dhami (15:38):

That was interesting too. Like, he, he made that comment. He was like, well, I saw those qualities in you, and I just don’t think you saw em in yourself at the time. And I figured eventually that you would, would find them for yourself. And so it was very interesting having that conversation. And I was still doing a lot of community work. so I ended up working for the Story school district as an outreach worker. Nice. And again, that was just, just kind of lateral moves that started from like my first job at 18 at the Y which just led me to new opportunities new jobs. And eventually I realized after working in some, some of these inner city schools I realized that I could backdoor into teaching, so I could still work at the same time while keeping my, my current job while I finished my teaching degree.

Jeevan Dhami (16:31):

And as an outreach worker, I, I often share, this is, I call it, call it serendipitous, call it state, whatever you will. But my first posting as an outreach worker was at this school that I was first posted at as a teacher in the exact same classroom. So it’s weird how things kind of lined up for you. So that’s, that’s kind of what took me to my path. And I’m, I’m still teaching at that same school. I, I’m slowly getting a little bit more comfortable. I’m, I’m technically five years teaching, but I’ve been in education since I was like 18, really. running those, those programs, a lot of youth education. So although my, my teaching credentials are, are fairly new, I think I have a lot of experience just working with within my community. And my current school is, is a little bit more of an affluent neighborhood, but the majority of my work has come from inner city schools that it is not the most affluent.

Jeevan Dhami (17:37):

And that some of the most rewarding experiences I think I’ve had. It’s, it, it’s definitely tough to build those connections where, you know, the goal of teaching is to, you know, teach content for the most part. But in, in those areas, it’s often tough to even get to the criteria, the, the curriculum because you’re dealing with, you know, getting kids to school mm-hmm. <affirmative>, making sure they’re fed supporting families in need. And there’s so many other things going on where, where teaching can kind of take a back door. So it’s, it’s nice being in this school because there is a high level of academics. So I get to do a lot more with my academics, but I still get to teach a lot of those personal social things that I learned from the inner city school. So it’s something that’s always been ingrained in my process. I think that’s one of the most rewarding parts of the job is you get to tie in different aspects. We’re not just teaching them, you know, content as social teachers. I’m not just teaching ’em about World War One, World War Two, and yeah, teaching them lessons about, you know, how, how you treat one another. How we learn from our past mistakes and grow as individuals, not just, you know, regurgitate this content that I’m teaching you. There’s, there’s more there.

Sam Demma (18:54):

That’s awesome. I love your journey and I appreciate you for sharing it. That was a, a phenomenal overview, <laugh>, and I really appreciate it because it seems like you, all your jobs leading up to education were involving programming in youth. So although you didn’t know for a long time that you wanted to be a teacher, you could kind of looking backward, realize you were doing it all along in different ways, <laugh> which is pretty unique and cool. you mentioned that teacher a few times when you were a high school student who you would finish your work early in class and go and visit and have a conversation with, and then you talk to him afterwards as well. What did he do that had such an impact on you that you wanted to go and spend time with him? Like, why were you drawn to him to chat and have conversation?

Jeevan Dhami (19:47):

Yeah, I think through my whole journey there, there’s three main educators that pop out for me. I think most kids are lucky to have, have one positive adult in their life. But I think along my path, I’ve had three. so my, my first one was one of my, my younger teachers Mr. Law, Mr. Law was my elementary teacher, <laugh> is this an awesome guy? He, he actually taught all of my sisters. So he was that first one to be like, you’re, you’re there. Brother <laugh>

Sam Demma (20:19):

<laugh>.

Jeevan Dhami (20:20):

He, he was one of the, my first teachers that taught me more of the fundamentals about basketball too. So I, I love basketball, playing up is my favorite hobby and pastime. and he was the teacher that would often give up his recess, his lunchtime, his after school to give up the opportunity to just shoot around in the gym. and I think that’s the first time that I got a glimpse of, you know, positive teacher that makes so many sacrifices outside of the classroom. so yeah, Mr. Law was like one of the first, he, he kind of paved the way for building those relationships. And then that other teacher is, is Mr. Stall. so Mr. Stall, he, he was another, he was another brown teacher, one of the few that we had in our school. So it was easy for me to kind of look up to him as mm-hmm. <affirmative>

Jeevan Dhami (21:13):

As someone that I could connect with. And someone that’s kind of been in similar situations where you don’t necessarily fit with one group or the other, you’re kind of in between. And he was a volleyball player. Well, volleyball is not the sport to be playing, right? Like, so there’s, there’s a whole bunch of different things there. But it was more of his, his positive demeanor and his optimism. Like I said, he just, he very rarely did not have a smile on his face. And I think that’s something that I, I really wanted to internalize. I don’t think I necessarily had a lot of positive adult male ro role models growing up. And to see someone that was that positive and optimistic about the, the daily world, even when there are so many bleak things going on, it was just a refreshing take on how to navigate life and approach it with that positive and optimism.

Jeevan Dhami (22:06):

And I think that’s what I internally did feel. I just didn’t know how to express that in the best way. And, and slowly, I do consider my, myself an optimist for the most part. I always try to see the best in, in, in people in situations, but I think a lot of that does stem from, from Mr. Saul there too. I still keep in touch with him. I tell him often, okay, you, you gotta come back and, and chat with me. Like, we gotta narrow down where this epiphany happened, like how you saw this. We, we keep in touch from time to time. And then so that was kind of like the early high school years. So so part, part of my journey again is like grade eight. I, I had a huge, like, falling out with a, a lot of my friend group.

Jeevan Dhami (22:55):

And grade 9, 10, I was like, well, you know, I’m just gonna step away from sports. Like, I, I’m not gonna play anymore. Like, I don’t feel like playing junior ball. I’ll play some community soccer here or there, but I away from the thing that I connected to most, and then slowly that, that was more like personal relationship stuff. I just didn’t feel like being involved in drama. Mm-hmm. And some of the negative toxicity that can be involved in sports. So I, I stepped away and that’s probably one of my bigger regrets. I don’t live life with a lot of regrets, but if I could go back and, and talk to my younger self, like, don’t quit, man. Like, just keep playing. Like whatever, it’s, you love the sport, stick with it, and who knows what doors can open up with for you.

Jeevan Dhami (23:41):

But I think, I think I missed some critical development there. not to say I was gonna go play in the league or anything like that, but, you know, maybe, maybe play some post-secondary get some my school paid for. But I think I kinda closed that door when I made that decision. But I was very fortunate that third adult was a coach. Mr. Capper. Nice. He he came back and he, he’s actually from the Maritime. He played basketball at Queens University, just giant man. I, I’m, I’m six four and I think he was like 6, 8, 6 9, snap

Jeevan Dhami (24:21):

Probably like the tallest person that had, so he came back and so he started teaching at our school and somehow we convinced him to coach our senior boys team. And like the guy just had a wealth of knowledge and just spent so much time working and helping me develop as a player. And it was fun. I got to see the, the fun of sport again and play a little bit of a higher level for, for myself, pushing myself. But it was the same thing that I saw, like in Mr. Law. Like, we’d finish our practice and I would play him one on one and he would crush me every single time. But, but slowly, like, I started to get better and then I like, like, I can beat this guy now. Like, he, I don’t think he ever let me win, but I definitely did earn, earn my my victories over him. again, it was just, I think the biggest thing that I take away from all three of those guys, it was not so much what they outta classroom stuff that they did, their personal sacrifice of their time. And obviously I recognize it more as a teacher now, but definitely it, it’s that extra commitment. The, the extra stuff that they did that stands out for me,

Sam Demma (25:39):

Well, we’re on the street, is that you’re the new MR. Law for some high school students at pr <laugh>. You just took a bunch of them after school to one of their games out in Langley. And whether you realize it or not, you’re now making the same sacrifices that they made for you when you were a student and they were a teacher and a coach. So keep doing what you’re doing. It’s making a, a big difference. And you never know one of those kids might come back and be on a podcast 20 years from now, <laugh>, <laugh> and be saying the same things. Right.

Jeevan Dhami (26:12):

Yeah, hopefully, I think that’s the goal. yeah, on that note, I did just have practice and we played some bump and I went three and just, just beating these young guys, so, got it. I was extremely gas, I’ll tell you that bump, it’s a lot of shape right now. But that conditioning piece, that’s been fun. But I, I think that is the goal is just to hopefully give these young people an opportunity to find some, some positive connection or, or open up some doors for them that they might not see themselves in. And like I said, <laugh>, you don’t know it at the time, but a lot of these adults see it in you. And I think that’s the one thing that is tough about teaching is you won’t know the impact that you’re having. Cause sometimes it’s not gonna happen in the moment. one thing that I would say is these, these kids today, they’re, these kids today sounds like such an old man <laugh>. They’re, they’re way more in, in tune with their, their emotions and, and expressing of them. So it’s very nice to see that a lot of the, these students now are expressing like, Hey, I appreciate this teacher. I express my, my gratitude in certain situations. I see the sacrifices that are being made. I see the impact that you’re making. And it’s nice to see it. And hopefully we, we see it a little bit more in, in that meantime. Cause most often

Jeevan Dhami (27:59):

Choosing to do this, and we’re hoping for the best and hopefully they find their success and maybe one day they’ll appreciate it and then thank these teachers that they make a positive impact. But it took me time to go back and thank those individuals for sure.

Sam Demma (28:14):

Nice. it’s so cool. sports was a big part of my high school experience and it definitely helped me become the person that I am today. And I can think back to coaches that I had who had a big impact on my life. when you think about your transformation and your whole journey through education as a student, but also as a teacher what is it that you’ve done as a teacher but also teachers did for you when you were a student that you think enabled you and them to build such tight relationships? Or how do you like build a relationship with a young person as a teacher?

Jeevan Dhami (28:57):

Yeah, that’s, that’s a gray area for me because I think a lot of my teacher training told me that I have to be extremely professional at all times and I can’t blur that line. so this is still something that I’m trying to navigate. I think for myself personally, it’s unfortunate because I do want to, you know, share my, my, my silly my goofy side, my drop my guard a little bit here and there. But I think a lot of my training has told me that I don’t have that luxury where I can see some of my colleagues and my coworkers, they can blur those lines a little bit. whereas for me, I, I don’t feel like I can do that just yet. maybe <laugh> if, if things change down the road, nice, but maybe get a little bit older, wiser. But for now, I, I think for me, my biggest thing is just trying to role model that behavior.

Jeevan Dhami (29:59):

I think providing some of these young people with, with someone that looks like them, that is representative of their community, that is doing something different than the expectations. So right now we are, like I said, we’re a fairly academic school. Yeah. And when you, I, I teach a career course, so most amount the time the kids are like, oh yeah, my, my parents said I gotta be a doctor, lawyer and professional in, in this field. And like, man, you’d be such a good teacher. Like, oh, my, my parents wouldn’t like that. So it, it’s tough to navigate that. So trying to kind of role model that you can be more than just your, your, your parents hopes and dreams. Like yeah, honor them, do what you can to live up to some of their goals and expectations, but at the end of the day, you still have to find what gives you purpose and meaning.

Jeevan Dhami (30:50):

And that’s part of my journey and my story that I’ve, I’ve had to discover is that, you know, I, I wanted to pursue law because I felt like, hey, that was a successful career that would be respected. It would give me a financially stable life and all of those Xs and os that it, it’s, you know, completing. But at the end of the day, it wasn’t giving me that fulfillment, that personal joy, that happiness, I think that I, I find in, in youth work, and that’s kind of one of my main teaching perspectives is you can’t pursue a career or take an opportunity because your coach is telling you, your parents are telling you, or I’m telling you, you have to find your more internal drivers and, and hopefully if you listen to your, your, your gut feeling a little bit more you, you can make that positive decision for yourself.

Jeevan Dhami (31:45):

So showing them that there’s an alternative route while still building positive relationships in a professional manner, I think it just kind of helps for me to role model the behavior that I want to see in some of these students. Nice. It’s, it’s making that difference. Cause I, I, I see it where, where some of like, not, not to say anything negatively about any of, yeah, my, my colleagues, but I see it easier for them to, you know, blur those lines a little bit. They can try to relate to those kids on a more personal level where they’re allowing their personalities, their, their, I don’t wanna say unprofessional, but like I guess more of their, their silly, their, their authentic selves a little bit more. Whereas for me, I, I try to do it with any professional. And I think part of that is more of my, my upbringing through this educational system.

Jeevan Dhami (32:47):

I think a lot, a lot of educators that have come into is like, sometimes young male teachers get a negative reputation in the school, especially when you’re in vulnerable situations, if you build strong connections with kids. And I think that’s happened in the past where I’ve, I’ve had strong, meaningful connections, but, you know, people in the same field or superiors will question your motives or your intention. Mm. Right. So it’s, it’s kind of like a toxic thing, which is unfortunate, but that’s always kept in the back of my head. I would never want anybody to question my, my professionalism or my motives for building strong connections with kids. So if I always remain professional, I’m leading by example with these kids and I can still make strong bonds within those confines. Yeah. But I, I don’t have to, you know, take it down to a personal level.

Jeevan Dhami (33:41):

I don’t have to be their friend to only maintain a relationship. I can still remain their teacher Yeah. But still have that positive connection. I think that’s what all three of those teachers did for me is they role modeled that behavior. They maintained that professional, the professionalism of being the teacher and not just my friend even as much as they, that I consider them to be my friends at the time. Yeah. they kind of drew the line in the sand inadvertently without blurring in. I think that was very important for me to kind of realize that there are structures and parameters in PA place and those need to be honored, but you can still build meaningful connections despite those. Nice. If that makes sense. I dunno. It does, if I answered your

Sam Demma (34:32):

Question. It does. Yeah. Absolutely. you b yeah, it sounds like you build a strong relationship through taking an interest in the young people in front of you, but in a professional manner. <laugh>. and I, yeah, I appreciate you sharing the, the context and some of the insight and how those teachers did it, did it with you. when you think about your journey in education so far, and you’ve been formally teaching now for, did you say you’ve been formally teaching for five years, right?

Jeevan Dhami (35:01):

Yeah. But going on five, no officially,

Sam Demma (35:04):

But been working with youth for much longer. if you could kind of go back to your first role at the Y M C A, but with the experience you have working with young people now knowing what you know now, like what advice would you have given your younger self if you were restarting a journey working with youth? And not because you would change anything about your journey itself, but you thought it would be helpful to hear before you jumped in.

Jeevan Dhami (35:32):

Man, that’s a, it’s like this, this is where Sam comes in to shine and stop me. you know what I, I think that is, it’s tough cause I, like I said, I’m not one that wants to live on a regret or Yeah. Or anything like that. So I don’t think I would really change a whole lot. Yep. But if I could go back, I would just tell myself to, to trust my gut. Mm-hmm. I think internally I knew that a youth work is where I am finding the most passion and joy that I can trust that and, and jump into it a little bit early. I don’t know if that would change where I am at right now. I think it may have just kickstarted it to, to be doing that a little bit earlier. I think what, from my path and my journey, I think there was a few extra years that I took to figure out what exactly I wanted to do.

Jeevan Dhami (36:28):

Nice. So there was that wall between, you know, completing my undergrad and, and finding that outreach work position and then deciding, well, okay, now I’m gonna go into teaching. Whereas a lot of the, but see, and that’s the thing. Cause if, if I were to go back and, and jump into it sooner, I don’t know if I would’ve the same experiences. So we do this, I do this activity with my kids. we’re in grade 12, so within the professional confines, but well, it’s actually called Dear Johnny in activity. I just call it dear. They get to <laugh>, they get to put questions and honestly into a a and I spend some time like asking them, because for weeks on end, I’ll, I’ll often grill these kids like, okay, what are your goals in life? What do you want to achieve? What, what can I help you with?

Jeevan Dhami (37:22):

Kinda thing. So that’s a lot of the one-on-ones from my perspective. So, nice. I try to spend some time doing it. But e every single year is very unique. And I actually shared that I do this activity with some of my colleagues and they’re like, terrified. You just let them ask you any questions. And honestly, <laugh> like, I’m like, yeah, a hundred percent. Like I had the same conversation. I was like, Hey, like, be respectful. I’ll be as open as I possibly can and I’ll be honest. But if you guys are are respectful about your questions, I will answer that. Like, whatever you have, gimme my personal life, my, my career path, my, my teaching perspective, my views on sports, politics, whatever it is. Cause part of my approach is I, I don’t tell them how to think or tell them what I think. I provide them with the evidence and the, the content and I let them make their own decisions.

Jeevan Dhami (38:15):

Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. But they’ll often ask me like, oh, what political party would you vote for? Like, what, what political party do you think I would vote for? So it’s just like probing with questions. So we did this activity and every time is different. And one of the kids asked me what was my most rewarding moment in, in teaching. I was like, whoa. Like that. That’s a good question for grade 12 students to be asking. Yeah. And I, I’ve never really had that question. And I’ve done this like dozens of times. It made me think. And the one moment that popped out was my role. It wasn’t teaching, it was being an outreach worker. So I worked at this one school in elementary school actually. So again now a tough environment to be with cause I can very well with high school students, but elementary is just different level of emotions and was running this afterschool program.

Jeevan Dhami (39:09):

And there was one student that was a like 12 year old girl with an attitude of like, a 17 year old, just don’t talk to me. I don’t wanna be here. I don’t belong here. But she was a part of my afterschool program and she showed up every single day. And this was a tough school working with a lot of students in communities. And this kid just came in every single day. But she would always come in with the attitude of, Ugh, I hate this guy. Like, why are you here? Why do I have to be here? And it was the same attitude I got every single day. So for two years I did that in two years consistently. Like this girl never attacked whatsoever, never gave me a smile, never acknowledged that she appreciated the program. And slowly when I figured out, hey, like I’m gonna be going to teaching, I’m gonna be stepping away.

Jeevan Dhami (40:05):

Like, it was very important for me to have that transition where I wasn’t just to cut off the tie. Yeah. So I worked with my managers and so we had support staff at the time, and one of my friends, he was just coming into the role and I thought, Hey, he’s gonna be a great fit for the school. I think it would be awesome if he could take over for me, but I don’t want it to be like, G’s gone and he’s in. Right. I think it would be far more beneficial for the school if we have a transition where he’s shadowing me. The kids are building relationship as an extension of me. They’re seeing that, hey, this is G’s friend. Like he is similar. So we don’t have to feel as sad if, if, cause I did build some strong relationships minus that one girl <laugh>.

Jeevan Dhami (40:50):

Ah. So slowly we, we transition, I started to step away and she comes in once I announced, I’m like, okay, like this is ej. Like he’s gonna be taking over for me because I’m gonna finish my teaching program and, and I’m gonna be an official teacher. And most the kids were happy and that that same girl goes good. We like EJ better than you anyways. Like, I’ve been here like two years grinding it out with your attitude day in and day out. And EJ is gonna come in and, and you’re gonna love him. Ejs a great dude. So I was like, I had no problem with it. I’m like, that’s fine. My, my goal worked right For, for her to be that like passing the torch, like that’s fine cause that’s what those kids needed. And same thing. Then the last day, I’ll never forget it she, the student that, that despised me on my last day, she just breaks down in tears, man, just falling and comes in and just wraps my legs.

Jeevan Dhami (41:58):

Just bear hugs me. And this kid would not let go. Like, she was just an emotional mess. And like, I’m not an emotional person. I don’t break down a lot. But that broke my heart, man. Like, even now, like I still, like, I get a little welled up thinking about it, unfortunately. But like, that was, that was the, the moment, like, holy crap. Like, this is what my biggest learning opportunity is as a young person to realize, hey, this kid will tell you to f fall off, tell you they hate you. Say that they don’t want to be here, but they still show up. They still meet you and you are making a bigger impact than you’ll ever know. So that was like one of my most defining moments. And it’s something that I’ve always kept in the back of my head as I keep teaching.

Jeevan Dhami (42:46):

So when these kids are like showing in late to class, I’m like, well, they’re still showing up these kids that are, you know, falling asleep in class or whatever it is. I’m like, well, deep down, did you have breakfast today? Mm-hmm. <affirmative> like, did you have a good night’s sleep? Are you having, you know, emotional issues? Are you having family issues back home? Are you being bullied in harass? So those are the things that kind of go through the back of my mind. It always reminds me of that student. So when you tell me if I could go back and, and change anything, I think if, if I were to risk changing that moment, that has kinda helped define me right now. I, I don’t think I could provide any advice <laugh> if I were to risk that. I think that is probably one of the most defining moments for myself as, not even as a teacher or educator, just as a person, as a human being. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, it’s what stands out most to me. So I, I don’t think I could go back and provide much advice. Maybe just, hey, trust, trust your gut. Trust your gut. You gotta trust your gut. You know what you’re doing. And don’t be afraid to, to take that risk, that jump.

Sam Demma (43:53):

Nice. Man. I got goosebumps when you explained that story too. So <laugh>, it’s super visceral and I hope lots of educators have the opportunity to experience something similar throughout their career. I think that’s a really cool memory and learning. And yeah, I appreciate you for coming on the show. This was a really great conversation about your journey and some things that have gone on through your career path and some of your philosophies around education and relationship building. If someone is listening to this and wants to reach out and ask you a question, what would be the best way for them to get in touch? Do they write a with Dear Dhami at the top or <laugh>

Jeevan Dhami (44:33):

<laugh>? Send me an e send me an email. Dear dmi <laugh>. yeah, I, i I try to practice professional courtesy again, try to respond to my emails. Email is probably the best way to contact me, it’s just dhami_j@surreyschools.ca. You can, you can try to reach out to Sam, maybe Sam can connect us as well. Appreciate the work that Sam does. I think it’s part of why I wanted, wanted to do this and why we’ve maintained such a strong relationship is I think you and I have a lot of similarities in personality type, and I got a few years on you now, but I see a lot of those things in, in you as a young person. So I, I I think it’s important that anyone listening to this is just the biggest thing I can say is just show up.

Jeevan Dhami (45:28):

Just be present. I think the strongest connection I’ve made with my kids, with, with other educators, with, with people like Sam and people in the community, is when you show up and be present just for, for, you know, 10 to 15 minutes, give them everything you have. You might be sacrificing a little bit of your personal time, but you know, if you’re a teacher, the kids will appreciate you, you know, giving up your free time to come watch them play their sport or participate in their, their band event, their acting debut or whatever it is. Those kids will eat that up and they appreciate it so much more than they will ever tell you, and I hope you all have that moment that I just shared. And even if you don’t, keep showing up because one day, whether you know it or not, you are making that moment for so many people that you may never know about. So I appreciate Sam, keep doing the work that you’re doing. And anyone listening to this show up, be present and you don’t know the ripple effect that you’re creating, but you casting that stone, they’re, they’re definitely out there.

Sam Demma (46:40):

You heard it here first. You gotta strive to be someone’s Taco <laugh>, thanks for coming on this show, my friend. Keep up the great work and we’ll, we’ll connect and stay in touch very soon.

Jeevan Dhami (46:51):

Awesome. Thanks a lot Sam.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Jeevan Dhami

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.

Martin Tshibwabwa – K-12 Educator passionate about Special Education, Social Sciences, and Languages

Martin Tshibwabwa - K-12 educator passionate about Special Education, Social Sciences, and Languages
About Martin Tshibwabwa

Martin Tshibwabwa is a K-12 educator passionate about Special Education, Social Sciences, and Languages. He relishes the opportunity of guiding students to attain their learning goals and feed their desire to be lifelong learners. Democracy is about engaging everyone. Henceforth, his pedagogy is led by the concept of Democratic education – A concept that promotes the development and celebration of diverse learning experiences.

Connect with Martin: Email

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Resources Mentioned

What is Democratic Education?

What is Special Education?

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):

Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Martin Tshibwabwa. Martin Tshibwabwa is a K-12 educator with a passion for special education, social sciences, and languages. He relishes the opportunity of guiding students to attain their learning goals and feed their desires to be lifelong learners. Democracy is about engaging everyone. Henceforth, his pedagogie, is led by the concept of democratic education; a concept that promotes the development and celebration of diverse learning experiences. I hope you enjoy this exciting conversation with Martin and I will see you on the other side of this interview. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host, Sam Demma. Today we are joined by a returning guest who has recently taken a new step in his educational journey. Super excited to have him on the show. Martin Tshibwabwa, it is a pleasure to be here with you. Please start by introducing yourself and telling the audience what it is that you do in education.

Martin Tshibwabwa (01:11):

Greetings everybody. Sam, thanks for having me once again here. I appreciate it. And yep. As you did mention, it’s my second time back on the podcast and I’m excited to be here again. And myself in a little nutshell, I am a publicly funded teacher in the elementary panel and right now I’m a special education teacher and I also teach french as a second language. And that’s pretty much me as a, in a nutshell on my role in education right now.

Sam Demma (01:42):

Why education Did, did you always wanna be a teacher? Did you always wanna work with kids or did you wanna be a farmer but decided to only do that during the summer months? <laugh>?

Martin Tshibwabwa (01:55):

Well, it’s it’s fun, right? Cause we’re, we’re always constantly learning. And before heading into teaching I went to medical school. It didn’t work out. I had a little burnout. So came back reset and while taking my time off, I decided to jump into something new, which was education. Give it a shot, loved it. And ever since, been in education. And then during the summertime, as you mentioned, I do farming. Cause when I was in medical school, I was in an offshore school and that’s where I got the taste of farming cuz I go get my produces in a farm. And the farmers, I helped them out. They taught me some skills that I learned there. So while I was at home during the summertime, it became a hobby. And the hobby turned into now and every, every summer passion that I do,

Sam Demma (02:49):

Not only did you do middle school, school offshore, but you were on an island, correct?

Martin Tshibwabwa (02:54):

That is correct.

Sam Demma (02:55):

There’s no, that’s correct. There’s no better place to go to get an education than on an island <laugh>.

Martin Tshibwabwa (03:00):

That’s right. I was saying no man is an island himself. Right. We’re always standing on the backs of others.

Sam Demma (03:05):

It’s so true. And you still use some of your medical learnings. I remember one day I was feeling really sick and, and you said, Sam, I have a recipe for you. Just make sure that, you know, you don’t drive after this one <laugh> you gave me, you know, cool mixture of lemon and a couple other ingredients to kind of soothe your, your cold. And I <laugh> it was, it sticks in my mind to this day.

Martin Tshibwabwa (03:30):

Exactly. That’s true. That’s something I learned too. Right now just pass it on to you. Just share it, share what I know I share with you also. Right?

Sam Demma (03:36):

Absolutely. So tell me a little bit about your current role in education and how it differs a little bit from what you’ve done in the past. Cuz you’ve just made a, you just made a transition,

Martin Tshibwabwa (03:48):

Right? I was on the high school panel and I transitioned over to the elementary panel. And when I transferred over to the elementary panel, I got the opportunity to teach France as a second language. And that was very rewarding because it it took me outta my comfort zone. Mm-hmm. Versus coming from a full day French school to an English speaking school. It challenged me because I had to I had to attract English native speakers to learn French. Keep in mind that when the French teacher shows up, it’s pretty much break time for everybody. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, you need to get them back on board and to get them back on board, you need to find strategies. Like what do you do within the frame of 40 minutes? It was challenging, but it’s fun because you get to know your students and they get to know you and you end up building relationships.

Martin Tshibwabwa (04:42):

And I realized that in anything actually before you move forward in any content, and you can probably speak on that yourself before you dive into something or you dive into your material, there’s no stance in diving in it right away if you don’t build a relationship with your audience. So I realized that the number one thing is building a relationship with your audience. Mm-hmm. Once you’ve established that relationship, everything else was in place. And after serving that role, I went back to special education and special education. It’s my baby and I’m loving it right now. Mm-hmm. Cause I’m learning things that I didn’t know, especially being the elementary panel, I’m working with younger students and with those students I’m able to learn something that I would’ve not seen in high school. Because in high school they come to us, they’re already molded, they know where they’re headed. Whereas in elementary, we’re working that individual. We’re molding them into which learning styles best suits them and not able to see both sides of the coin. It’s, it’s rewarding.

Sam Demma (05:44):

That’s awesome, man. I, I’m inspired by your enthusiasm despite the changes. I think sometimes as humans we approach change with disappointment or we approach change with fear and anxiety. And it sounds like you’ve really dove in and embraced the changes and have put on the learner’s cap and tried to learn new things. And you mentioned the importance of, you know, building that relationship with your audience as a teacher in a classroom, especially as the French teacher. I’m curious to know like how do you actually do that? If there’s a teacher listening to this that’s thinking Martin, I’m also the French teacher of an elementary school and I struggle every time I walk into my French class. And the kids, they just don’t seem to listen. They always talk over me. what would you tell them? Like what are some things that you do to try and build that relationship that you found has helped in the classroom?

Martin Tshibwabwa (06:47):

I find that sometimes you need to let the individual take control also of the classroom environment. Let them take control. Sometimes I let them take control. Sometimes you may not be able to teach and that’s okay. Sometimes you may be able to teach for the full 40 minutes and sometimes you may just be able to teach for half the 40 minutes. And that is okay because I feel like when you try to go against the grain, that’s when there’s no resolution because there’s always gonna be heads bumping. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Whereas if there’s a balance, it’s true that we have a job to do to deliver curriculum. But I always tell myself, as long as learning is still happening, even if we’re going off topic still try and bring them back on the topic. For example, if I can bring an example at this moment, let’s say we’re talking about verbs.

Martin Tshibwabwa (07:35):

You being from Italian background, I’m pretty sure you have the same thing in Italian where you have verb tenses and everything has a gender or a number. Same thing applies to French, but in English doesn’t happen. So a fun conversation I like to do is students have seen already some verbs in French or we’ve done already some vocabulary words. And I try to tell them to pick up some differences that we find in French that we don’t see in English. So yes, the conversations are happening in English, but really they’re talking about French content. So I know that later on, at a later time when I come back on it, I dropped down my notes as students are speaking and I can make reference back to what they’re speaking about in English. And it’s funny, for example, let’s say if I hear you say something to one of your peers, when I’m delivering my lesson, I might come back to you and say, Hey Sam, by the way, do you remember on X day you did say this?

Martin Tshibwabwa (08:30):

And it’s funny cause you’ll see the kids, I will light up and say, whoa, you’re paying attention <laugh>, but you didn’t say nothing that day during class. Mm-hmm. And you can just see like by doing that too, you’re still building a relationship but they don’t know. And then when they see that, you actually refer ’em back to some points that they mentioned two weeks ago and you’re bringing it back in your lesson. They get more engaged. It’s true, it’s in English, but when you come back to your lesson, you’re showing them the difference. So they can see both sides, English and French. Except that in French there’s more rules to follow. Where in English we don’t have that.

Sam Demma (09:06):

Hmm. Yeah. That idea of active listening and repeating back to students weeks later, things they said previously. It’s such a smart idea that I think any educator can pick up, put in their toolkit and use in their classrooms. Do you take notes in a notebook? Do you have a notebook for each of your classes? Or where do you capture the, the points or ideas so you don’t forget them?

Martin Tshibwabwa (09:29):

Oh, time goes by quick in 40 minutes. So luckily enough we have technology. So I take, I drop down notes on my phone right away. I dropped down notes, make a reference point, dropped down notes. And it’s funny cuz I know we’re not supposed to be using our cell phones, but kids will look at me and they’ll, they know I’m not texting because they always know that I, my, I have my phone loud and I always tell students like, hey, like I have no problem for you using your phone, but you have to be able to self-regulate. I won’t be the one being a police officer or a security guard or a patrolling or a helicopter on top of you to tell you put your phone away. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, I put my trust in you. He guys know when and not when to use it. So when you guys see me on my phone, it’s funny cuz sometimes I’ll have my notes when I’m writing on the, because that’s a French teacher, you constantly traveling.

Martin Tshibwabwa (10:16):

So I dropped out my notes on my phone because it’s much more easy to handle or my tablet and students can see, they always know that I’m taking notes. Mm-hmm. Because I used to use a a notebook and when I used to use a notebook and then students would see their name in it, it gave a bad impression. They always thought that I was dotting down something that was not positive about them. But with the phone or a digital device, I find that it’s different for them. Or sometimes I’ll, if I have the chance to have my my laptop with me, I’ll use my laptop. But the convenience of having a handheld device is different than having a laptop. Right.

Sam Demma (10:51):

Hmm. That’s a,

Martin Tshibwabwa (10:52):

So versus being the traditional method of writing down notes on a paper using a digital device, I find it’s more of a calm environment for the students.

Sam Demma (11:01):

That’s a great idea and a unique perspective that I didn’t even think of. Especially from the student’s perspective. Seeing their name being written down. I think when I was a student, if I saw my teacher write my name down in a notebook, I would be like, oh my goodness, what did I do? <laugh>,

Martin Tshibwabwa (11:17):

Something’s happening. A phone call. Or you staying during recess. Right.

Sam Demma (11:21):

Yeah. So I like that. Thanks for sharing. Yes. You, you mentioned that special education is your baby. Tell me more about that passion for special education. Why is it something you love so much?

Martin Tshibwabwa (11:35):

I love it’s so much because it puts it in perspective that every individual, every child can learn. Hmm. Different ways, different strategies, different methods. But at the end of the day, the results are there. Versus being the traditional classroom or being in a life skills course every child can learn. And that’s one thing I love about special education and it’s constantly challenging. And nowaday days are the same, just like in the classroom.

Sam Demma (12:06):

What about teaching and working in special education makes you feel like you’re making a serious impact? Because I would imagine you feel like you’re making an impact whether you’re in, you know, a special education classroom or any other classroom in a school building. But I think there’s a, there’s a large opportunity in special education to feel like you’re making a very significant difference.

Martin Tshibwabwa (12:30):

Absolutely. Well it comes back to first as a team, of course it’s not just me. We have a team and it comes back to first as a team having a purpose. And once you have that purpose, you find creative ways to advance. And by advancing you’re actually persevering and you’re helping the child reach the full learning potential. So I think having those three things is the main, the main foundation for learning versus special education or non-special education students. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And also, it’s funny, funny enough, special education students who are gifted are actually part of special education. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. So I find the three things to keep in mind is first to have a purpose. Once you have that purpose, you find creative ways to problems. And once you get that creativity and purpose concept together, it is actually the gasoline to continue to persevere.

Sam Demma (13:31):

Hmm. Can you share a story about a student, any student who you’ve seen, develop and reach their full learning potential by participating and by a team of people, like teachers like yourself supporting that individual special education or not? does any student come to mind that makes you internally smile? <laugh>,

Martin Tshibwabwa (13:56):

Myself,

Sam Demma (13:58):

<laugh>?

Martin Tshibwabwa (13:59):

Yeah. Yes. Myself. Like I look at my journey at first I’m a native French speaker and then when I was younger my parents put me in a French day school for about, I can’t remember exactly, but let’s say about three to five years from there I got withdrawn. They put me back in an English school language barrier, kept on pushing, learning, learning, learning. And then once I was done, I was still in elementary school. I wanna say when they put me in English schools, I bought in grade four, grade five, no grade three or grade two. And then fast forward to grade four, five, all the way to grade eight, they put me back in a French school. So my brain was confused cause I was going back and forth. Yeah. So once I was done grade eight we were living in Ontario at the time.

Martin Tshibwabwa (14:50):

Before that we were in Quebec. So when we moved to Ontario, they put me into a French school after grade eight. And then high school came, when high school came, they shipped me back to high school and English. That’s when the challenges began because I came prepared, I was prepared in French content. And when I get to high school, it’s a different ballgame because now you have the two streams I apply in academic. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, I went into the academic route. It was tough because brand new language for me, yes I was around English, but having learned all my elementary years in French, a little bit of English, but mostly French. And then the sudden switch, it was tough. It was always an up climb for me, an up climb and up climb. And things didn’t work out as planned, but I still succeeded.

Martin Tshibwabwa (15:40):

I had a combination of applied in academic courses and then from there I went to, as a prep, I didn’t wanna go to university right away. I went to college. College was an English. Fast forward university was English. But I find that college helped me more. And my last two years of high school helped me a lot to ease my transition to college as a WHI year student and then university. And then funny enough, I went to med school, but then when med school did not work out, med school was in English. When med school did not work out, this where the twist happens, teachers college, I completed it all in French

Sam Demma (16:17):

<laugh>. I thought you were gonna say that vet school was in Dutch or something. <laugh>.

Martin Tshibwabwa (16:21):

Oh no, no. So that’s the twist. So it’s funny how it went from English to French, French to English, English to French. And then when it came to teachers college, I completed the whole content in French. And here I am now. Which I kind of loved it because it’s an academic context in both languages. So it really put things to perspective for me. And I have a better appreciation now for learning

Sam Demma (16:50):

And language. It’s, it opens so many, it opens so many doors, breaks down so many barriers. If there’s a teacher listening who also teaches French and their students often say, miss, why are we even learning this? Or Sir, why, why are we doing this? We don’t, we don’t care about this language. Like what would your response be if you were talking to a student like that or telling a teacher to help them or coach them through a response to a student?

Martin Tshibwabwa (17:18):

Well it’s funny cuz as you said when students say that I actually agree with them, I do agree. I tell ’em, okay, French, French is not the as is not useful for you. Or as they were saying, I hate French, French sucks. I say, you what? I do agree with you. But tell ’em the reason why I wanna do the why because I can say when we go to gym class, I don’t like playing soccer or I don’t like playing basketball. But why did you try? Mm. Did you try learning? And when I ask them questions like that, you can see their, like the expression that they say dear in front of a headlight, they dunno what to say because it’s almost as if they’re trying to escape a topic that they haven’t invested themselves enough into or for other reasons. And I find that when I ask, when actually agree with them, first of all it catches them off guard because usually when people disagree, you find a reason to bring them back to positivity. Mm-hmm. But me, immediately I say, you know what? I do agree with you French does sucks. What can we do about it though?

Sam Demma (18:22):

Ah, <laugh>.

Martin Tshibwabwa (18:24):

Or if they say, I hate French, I agree with you, I hate French too. And then this way they get clever, they’ll tell me, well you do speak French. I’m like, yeah, but I also do speak English. And right now I’m telling you in English that I also do not like French <laugh>. So when they do ask me sometimes why I don’t like French, I’ll tell ’em, well first of all, there’s a lot of rules to remember and I get it when you have those rules to remember, you feel defeated. But it’s well starting with the baby steps first, going back to the beginning, knowing your gender, your number and your verbs, tenses. Once you have those three things done, anything else is possible. And I believe it’s the same thing in Italian, correct me if I’m wrong, but mm-hmm. <affirmative> in French, we have two important verbs to have and to be. Those are the basics. Once you know the verb to have and to be, which is wan, that’s the foundation. And then you of course include your tenses present, past tense, future tense, and your vocabulary words that you inserting there. And just remembering the role of masculine feminine. Once you have that patted down the doors open. And a lot of students, when I started showing them those examples, they started to grasp the concept.

Sam Demma (19:38):

Hmm. That’s awesome. I think one of the reasons people get into teaching and education is because they want to help a student reach their full learning potential. As you said it, you gave the example of yourself and I think it’s a great example. So thanks for sharing. I didn’t know that about your journey that you switched between English and French speaking schools your entire life. <laugh>. When you think about students that you’ve taught, is there also any young people that come to mind who maybe were going through a challenging time or didn’t feel like they were smart enough or good enough and through perseverance and continual effort and showing up, they were able to transform their own personal beliefs about themselves and kind of grow into their own potential?

Martin Tshibwabwa (20:24):

Well, absolutely. And I feel that March, 2020 brought a lot of things to light with the, the shutdown with the Covid 19 pandemic. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> it brought a lot of things to light where students included ourselves. We had time to completely shut down and reset. And during that reset, because there’s no distraction, including ourselves, adults, students had that moment where they were shut down, but they had time to also reflect. Cause when things are going the right way before Covid we’re constantly galloping from activity to activity. We have sporting activity after school, but we have dance lessons, recitals, et cetera. But when the shutdown in Marshall 20 occurred, a lot of students were just like us at home, nothing to do. And a lot of them started to doubt themselves because now they had no distractions away from school. So when they’re at home, I saw a lot of students that when we returned to e-learning and also in-person learning, they had a dislike for school.

Martin Tshibwabwa (21:38):

A lot of behavior that we did not seek come out. Were starting to come out. And it’s during that time where you find you can help students by having them look at their strengths and their needs. And one of the things that I always, I I always like to do is how can we take your needs and turn them into fuel if you hear in the right direction to reach your full learning potential. And of course in the beginning it’s hard but to, interesting to go back to their agenda. Agenda or even journal and write down a goal that they wanna accomplish. You know, the big picture, but write down your goal. It’s funny enough cuz I have a gentleman who I speak to quite often, his name is Justin Oliman, actually. He’s, he was one of the coaches for the Toronto Raptors.

Martin Tshibwabwa (22:32):

And one of the things that he told he, he mentions is the 2019 championship goal that they had. So they had different goals that they wanted to achieve during that year. And with those goals, they ended up actually reaching the championship and they won. Yeah. So that’s one thing I tried to include also with students who are doubting themselves. Have your big picture, have your championship that you wanna reach, but of course you wanna reach it overnight and you put yourself some, some mile some, some small milestones that you want and also celebrate those small victories. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, which goes back also to your concept of small consistent actions. So implementing those two concepts together I find actually helps students get back in the right direction and keep them motivated to reach their goal. Right.

Sam Demma (23:27):

So what keeps you motivated? It’s, it sounds like you pour a lot into the students and help them find their needs and turn their needs into fuel. What keeps you, what keeps you going?

Martin Tshibwabwa (23:41):

Honestly, ask questions. Ask questions. Like, for example, yourself. You see that I’ll shoot you a text. Hey, how do you do this? Explain me. How do you do that? And how do you, what, what works and what, what does not work for you? And, and that’s one thing I always do. Even my pros, I’ll send ’em an email, I’ll shoot them an email just to see how to go about something. And of course when you ask a question to somebody, they’re pretty much the master. And I can’t remember which book I was reading, but there’s a philosophical pH philosophical book that I was reading. It does say Learn from the master. You take what the master does, but you replicate it, you replicate it, probably the exact same recipe, but at the end of the day, you also wanna make it yourself. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> put it, put a piece of it of yourself in it because something that you do, I cannot deliver word for word the way you do with your ambience. But learning from you, looking at the way you deliver something, if I can replicate it, but also put a, a a concept of my own in it Hmm. Will just continue making that concept better.

Sam Demma (24:52):

Yeah. It’s kind of like borrowing the recipe but adding a few extra ingredients of your own that you think will compliment it. And

Martin Tshibwabwa (25:00):

Exactly.

Sam Demma (25:01):

The longer you make it, the more you try different new things. And a year from now, that concept from somebody else was the foundation of a totally brand new thing that you’re doing. Right.

Martin Tshibwabwa (25:11):

Exactly. And it’s funny enough cause I have another good friend of mine who’s a chef and he always tells me when I go to one of his classes, sorry, one of his one of his one of his excuse one of his events, he always says, no recipe should be followed to the tea. Mm-hmm. And the reason why it says is because when you read out a recipe in a book, it doesn’t tell you, for example, if it tells you, okay, put three cups of sugar, my cup can be different than the cup that they’re talking about. So instead of falling your recipe to the tea, what you should do is follow the recipe. But as you’re following that recipe, make it your own by tasting it. If it’s to your liking. That’s it.

Sam Demma (25:58):

I love that. I’m starting to get hungry,

Martin Tshibwabwa (26:00):

<laugh>. Exactly.

Sam Demma (26:02):

If, if an educator Martin is listening right now, wants to reach out to you, maybe they’re in a transition in their own educational career, they wanna ask you a question, just connect and have a conversation, what would be the best way for someone to get in touch?

Martin Tshibwabwa (26:17):

Well, email, email’s the best way and we’ll have my email listed at the end of this podcast and they can touch base for email, email’s the best way to reach out right. And then from there we can when whatever’s needed.

Sam Demma (26:30):

Perfect. And one final question before we wrap up the interview. What are you most excited about in 2023?

Martin Tshibwabwa (26:39):

Oh my goodness. Just staying healthy. Staying healthy and contribute to that healthiness, getting to good healthy habits, good diet and working out and a balance and work habits. Right. We remember that because sometimes we get cut up and we don’t take time for ourselves.

Sam Demma (27:01):

Very true. Likewise

Martin Tshibwabwa (27:02):

For you too.

Sam Demma (27:03):

Yeah, I was gonna say the same, to be honest. A friend recently told me, you know, people with good health want a million things and people with bad health only want one. And it was just this stark reminder how important it is that we take care of our physical, mental, spiritual wellbeing. Because without it, nothing else really matters. So I wish you the best of health this year, continued success, amazing habits. Let’s definitely stay in touch and keep up the great work.

Martin Tshibwabwa (27:34):

Absolutely my brother.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Martin Tshibwabwa

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.