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Student Leadership

Dulcie Belchior-Demedeiros – Principal of Student Success at the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board

Dulcie Belchior
About Dulcie Belchior-Demedeiros

Dulcie Belchior (@MsDBelchior) has been in education for the past 20 years. She is currently the Principal of Student Success, Learning to 18 and Secondary Program at the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board where she is able to share her passion for instructional leadership, teacher development and student success. Wife, mother, educator, and bookworm!

Connect with Dulcie: Email | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Specialist High Skills Major Programs

Principal’s Qualification Courses

The Edwin Platform

Bee-Bot Programmable Robot

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:02):
Dulcie, welcome to the high-performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit behind what brought you to where you are in education today?


Dulcie Belchior (00:14):
Sure. Thank you for having me, Sam. So my name is Dulcie Belchior. I’m currently the principal of student success learning to 18 and secondary program at Dufferin-Peel Catholic district school board. And how I got here. Wow. That’s very complicated. I think sometimes when you talk to teachers in terms of how they, you know, they decide on their vocation, it’s kind of a twisty, twisty, turny path, and there’s so many different things that happened in their life that, you know, make them reflect on the fact that, you know, you know, I can, I can do this type of job. I can work with kids. I can be a teacher and for me, I think it, it did start early. And I think if you ask a lot of teachers and starts early, when you’re a small child, when I was four years old going into JK, I grew up in a family that spoke Portuguese.


Dulcie Belchior (01:16):
So I went to school, basically. I was born in Canada. I was born in Toronto, but I only spoke Portuguese. So I basically entered school as an ELL student. And what happened from there is I did, was able to learn the English language quickly. And so in JK, I became a mentor for the other ELL students by the end of the year, trying to teach them to speaking with, Hey, you say this, do this. This is how you say that. So I think I remember that experience even though I was very young because I think it was very important to how I became a teacher. And so it started very early there, I think in elementary school too. I was that student that kids could go to for help. So if you didn’t want to go, you know, some kids don’t want to ask the teacher, they want to ask a friend or student.


Dulcie Belchior (02:11):
So I was that kind of go-to student, but they knew that if you went to Dulcey, you weren’t going to get the answer. That’s not what you went to Dawson. I was like, I’m not going to give you the answer. I will show you how to do this. For me. That’s very important. I think as a teacher, as a person, you know, that old saying where if you teach a person to fish, you know, they will be able to survive their entire life. You don’t just give them a fish. And so even in elementary school, I, I would show them how to do it. This is how you do the math problem, for example. And I think that was, you know, that helped them more than just giving them an answer and them walking away. So I think that’s another as to, you know, my reflection as, so I can be a teacher.


Dulcie Belchior (03:03):
I, I think that’s a good vocation for me in grade seven and eight, I helped in the JK class, you know, yours do that volunteer work in, in junior kindergarten class. When I was in university, I took a bachelor of science. But throughout university, I, you know, I was able to be lucky enough to teach international language program. So I taught elementary school kids, Portuguese. So I was doing that, not as a teacher, but as a late person, teaching them the language working for Dufferin-Peel at the time. And and I am a student of deaf from as well. I know a lot of teachers go back to the board that they were a student at and that’s the same with me. So I’m a different field graduate and very proud of that. And also in university at that time, they still had emergency supply teachers.


Dulcie Belchior (03:53):
So I was doing that throughout university, even though I was taking my bachelor of science. And after graduating with a bachelor of science, then you decide, okay, well, what can I do with the bachelor of science? What, or where am I going to go? So I had my eyes set on probably maybe pharmacy. I did work at shopper’s drug Mart in the pharmacy as an assistant pharmacy assistant for my whole entire high school career in university career. So again, you know, you’re doing something, you know, you can do it, you fall into that. Maybe I’ll be a pharmacist. So that was a choice that, you know, and in life sometimes you have disappointments and that was a disappointment because I was never able to get into the program. So I did apply then to nursing and I applied to teaching. So I did have a choice then between teaching and nursing.


Dulcie Belchior (04:52):
And that’s, I think, you know, where you get to that point where you really truly have to reflect, this is my future. One of my best stat. And I think both of those careers, their careers, where you can help people in different ways, but you can help people. So I, you know, there was a lot of conversations with family, with my fiance. Who’s now my husband with some teachers. And I did decide that teaching was probably the best vocation for me. And so with all of that that long journey, I went into the bachelor of education program at York university. So that is my complicated story of how I got into teaching.


Sam Demma (05:34):
Oh, that’s not such an awesome story. I’ve never had someone tell me about mentoring other students in JK. So that’s such a cool, like origin for the story. Thank you so much for sharing. No problem. Like what happened after university? So you go into your bachelor’s at York, did you return directly to Dufferin-Peel and what different positions did you work in before getting into student success? Right.


Dulcie Belchior (05:57):
So after I graduated from New York with my bachelor of education, I was lucky enough to get a position as a teacher at Jefferson Peele. So I started my career teaching grade seven and eight at a school which no longer exists in the board. So it was near the airport in Mississauga, and it was actually called our lady of the airways, which I think is such a beautiful name for a school. But that school sends closed down. So I taught grade seven and eight for two years, and I was teaching science as well. So I was doing some rotation science because I was lucky enough to have that background. So that was an opportunity to share my talent and my joy, because I love science with the students there. So I did that for two years and in those two years, I decided to apply for the master’s program at Boise.


Dulcie Belchior (06:53):
So I started doing that part-time within the first two years of me starting teaching. So I got my master’s a couple of years later, curriculum teaching, learning department and specialized in teacher development. So I started that in my first couple of years of teaching. After that, I I applied for a position at St. Francis Xavier secondary school in Mississauga. So I was successful with the interview. So I became a high school teacher teaching science, which I love. So I was able to teach chemistry, biology grade nine and 10 science. And I was also trained to teach in the international baccalaureate program there. So I taught biology with the students there. So I got a lot of different types of experience there as well. I was able to help support the student council there cause I love student council because I was the president of student council at father Michael Gates when I was a high school student.


Dulcie Belchior (07:57):
So I thought, you know, I think that’s something that I can help students with. So I supported them there as well after teaching at St. Francis Xavier for many years, I decided it was time for a change time for another challenge. So I started taking my principal’s qualification courses and I got my PQP part one and part two. And I went into the interviews for a vice principal position at the board and was successful. And my first position as a vice principal was at St. Margaritaville secondary school in Brampton. So I worked there for approximately four years, and then I was a vice principal at father Michael Gates. The school that I actually graduated high school from, which was a little weird sometimes, sometimes going back as a VP within some of the teachers who were still there, but it was a great experience. So I was a VP there for years. Then I became a principal and I was a principal at St. A Dustin secondary school in Brampton for one year. And from there, I became the, my current time in the current position. Now the principal student success learning to 18 and secondary program. So that’s how, again, I found myself where I am to.


Sam Demma (09:18):
That’s awesome. What does the role entail? You know, student success and secondary programs, you know, certain educators are sitting might not be familiar with it, especially if they’re outside of Canada. So what does it, what does it entail? What does it look like and why are you passionate about it? What do you think student success means?


Dulcie Belchior (09:38):
I’m passionate about student success because my model, or, you know, what motivates me is that I want to inspire a love of learning in every student. Students need to see themselves in the learning. They need to see themselves be successful in the learning and our jobs. As teachers, as educators, is to provide the environment where they will be successful, not where they can meet, where they will be successful. And I think having this position at a system level really helps me help the principals, the administrators in the schools, and helps the teachers in the schools as well to provide professional development, to provide resources, to provide critical and culturally responsive resources for schools that will have students be able to number one, see themselves in the learning and number two, be successful at that learning. So again, that student success encompasses a lot of things that are in campuses, programs like, oh, yeah.


Dulcie Belchior (10:45):
Program programs like SHSM and even programs where students who may not have been successful in the past, I may have left school without graduating can come back and we invite them back to finish and to graduate and to get that opportunity to do that at a time in their life where they’re ready to do that. So I think there’s so many layers to this job where it it’s exciting. It’s exciting. And it’s a job where you can show people that teaching is not just filling a bucket full of knowledge. And here you go, that’s your knowledge, okay. It’s igniting a flame in students and in teachers and in all educators where everyone loves to learn, they see themselves as learners, they see themselves being successful and they can move forward and do what they are passionate about. So they have an opportunity to actually see what they’re passionate about, to experience things, different things so that they can make choices for their future, which is the most important thing.


Sam Demma (11:54):
I love that. And where did your passion for student success come from? Was it originally something that you wanted to explore and try, or did you know that it was something you were, you know, extremely passionate about?


Dulcie Belchior (12:07):
It’s something I’ve always been extremely passionate about. And as you know, when I became an administrator was an opportunity to become that instructional leader for teachers. And so when I started having that opportunity to pass on this passion, I guess, for students success for, you know, instructional leadership for assessment, for evaluation, for rich tasks, just doing a lot of great teaching whenever I had the opportunity to share that with others, I took it. And I think now in this position, it’s, it’s just a perfect place where I’d love to share different experiences, different resources, different opportunities, different types of professional development so that our educators can, you know, we’ll be able to ignite that flame in all of our students.


Sam Demma (13:05):
I love that. That’s awesome. That’s so cool. And what do you think right now are some of the challenges that we’re faced with in education and on the other coin, also some of the opportunities that these challenges may be bringing to us and, you know, a very difficult scenario.


Dulcie Belchior (13:23):
Well, I think, you know, let’s talk about the elephant in the room, which is COVID-19. And I think that’s been a huge challenge in education, especially since we’ve had to pivot sometimes on a daily basis and where educators have had to really, really change their mindset on what teaching and learning looks like. And students have had to change their mindset on what learning looks like. And, you know, going into a digital type, only learning has really pushed everyone to a new level. We really have been forced to become 21st century learners. And I think that is an opportunity in itself. So it is a great positive where we’ve learned how we can leverage digital technology as a wonderful tool to help students learn because that’s how they learn. That’s how they interact. That’s how they socialize. So it’s something they’re familiar with, which helps them be successful.


Dulcie Belchior (14:29):
Now, I don’t think that it should become the only thing that’s not what teaching and learning is about, but it is a wonderful tool that we can leverage in our classrooms. And I think so that’s been a challenge in itself, and I think it’s also an opportunity for the future. I think coming back in September, some of the challenges are going to be that, you know, students and staff, even though, and we’ve heard this before, we’ve all been in the same storm of COVID-19. People have been traveling through this storm in different vessels, different boats, sometimes a dinghy, sometimes a piece of driftwood. And now they’re coming back and we’re all going to be interacting with each other and we need to be kind, we need to be compassionate. We need to listen, and we need to understand that everyone is coming from a different place.


Dulcie Belchior (15:26):
So we are, we cannot, we cannot come back into our classrooms and expect everyone to be at the same level of learning at the same level of knowledge, at the same level of mental health and wellbeing, we are going to all be in different places. And I think so we have to come back with that understanding. And I think that’s the most important thing is to go slow, move slowly, listen, talk to students, get to know your learners, who’s in your classroom and what are the needs of every student in your classroom. We’re not going to go forward until we know what the needs of all of these students are because they’re all going to be different. And I think we have to change our mindset. We can’t think about it as a deficit. So, you know, the knowledge that they don’t bring in now because of COVID, that’s a deficit.


Dulcie Belchior (16:18):
No, we have to look at it as what are they coming in with and how can we move them forward? So how will we move them forward from where they’re at? So it’s not a deficit model, it’s a model of where are you at? We’re going to move you forward from there and we’re going to move everyone forward. And we’re going to use the best of our abilities to do that, but we have to do that with kindness and we have to do that with patients. And we have to know that it’s not going to happen in a day and it’s going to take a long time and that’s okay. That’s okay. Because we need to ensure that our students in our classrooms are healthy and that their well-being is taken care of and also our educators. Okay.


Sam Demma (17:06):
That’s amazing. The, you know, the cool thing, I think about student successes, that you have an opportunity to really impact a young person and not to not to say that, you know, every educator doesn’t have that opportunity. They all do, but when you’re focused solely on the success of the students, it’s, it’s a cool opportunity to make a big difference. Have you, you know, over the past couple of years being able to see the impact of some of the programs on the students directly and maybe you can share a story of one in particular that sticks out in your mind, and if it’s a serious individual, you can just change their name or just use Bob or something. Yeah.


Dulcie Belchior (17:45):
And, and in general, you’re right. It’s a great opportunity to see success and to see successes everywhere in the board. So it’s not just, you know, in one school it’s, if you have a, a program that you introduce, it’s how this supports a larger group of students or educators. So some of the things that we have done through program, number one, it has been we introduced the Edwin platform in our board for elementary students. So for grade seven and eight students, and what this platform did was actually provide students with one-on-one technology. So every student gets a laptop, a Chromebook, and the amazing things that I have been able to see, the amazing presentations, the research projects, just everything that’s coming out of the ability to change the mindset of learning and having students able to work together in a different way. And to have that one-to-one technology as a tool, it’s also helped the teachers change their mindset in how they teach in the classroom.


Dulcie Belchior (18:59):
And this was introduced before COVID. And I think that it benefited when we went into COVID with students already being kind of immersed in this type of learning. So it changes the way that they learn. It changes the way that they can present their ideas. You can do so many rich tasks using technology when students have it one on one. So I think that’s been great. And you see it, I see it in a large capacity, right? And students in general, families in general teachers saying how wonderful it is to have these things in their classrooms and how it has opened their minds to so many different ways of teaching and the different things that students can do. Students in JK, for example, coding, using the computers, we introduced a lot of different types of coding resources. And we, for example, the Bee-Bots, so it’s a little B that junior kindergarten students can actually code to move around a carpet or a floor.


Dulcie Belchior (20:15):
And they are learning coding at four years old, five years old. And that’s just, it’s amazing. So when you see videos that teacher’s tweaked videos, that teachers send us of their students working together in groups using these, Bee-Bots knowing that number one, they’re having fun. You can see that they’re having fun. Number two, they love to do it. And they’re learning a new language. This is a completely new language, and they’re learning it at four years old. It’s just amazing to that happening. So that was another thing that we did. I think another important thing in program that we’ve worked on is ensuring that, you know, we’re working on getting co culturally responsive and relevant resources into our secondary classrooms and our elementary libraries as well. But especially into our English classes, getting books where students can feel like they’re being represented, like they’re being reflected in the learning different characters relevant topics.


Dulcie Belchior (21:25):
And, you know, the letters that we have received from different students who were asked, here’s a book, let’s read it as a class. Give us your feedback on the book. What do you think, do you think students in your grade will like this book? Do you think it’s culturally responsive? Do you think it’s relevant to your generation right now? And the letters that I received from students saying, wow, thank you for actually asking that question. Thank you for having students involved in what we’re going to learn. You know, thank you for asking us, is this relevant to me as a student? And so again, I come back to that listening, understanding, knowing where kids are and, and asking the questions, you know, is this good for you? Will this help you learn? Will this help you love learning? Will this help you be successful? And I think that’s one of the biggest things that we’ve worked on that I find has been very rewarding. And we’re still working on that. It’s a large project obviously, and, you know, it takes time, but we’re working on it. So I think that’s been wonderful.


Sam Demma (22:37):
That’s amazing. And if you could go back in time and speak to your younger self, like, you know, first year teaching, but what the advice and knowledge you have now, what advice would you give to your younger self?


Dulcie Belchior (22:50):
I think when you’re when you’re a new teacher, and I think back when I was a new teacher, it’s almost like you’re in survival mode and you, you think, oh, I just got to get through all of this information. I just have to teach, you know, I have to ensure that everything in this book is done and the kids get it and they all understand it. And it’s all good and done. So if I’ve covered it, I’m good. I think the advice that I will give is to take it slow, to take that time, to talk to every student, to get to know every student. So get to know what they love, what they’re interested in, how they learn, what they like to learn. What’s their favorite subjects and base your whole year. Everything based on that, because you can teach whatever. It doesn’t matter what you teach, but if you are not connecting with your students, they will not learn.


Dulcie Belchior (23:48):
They will not learn. So I think taking that extra time, cause I know time is always an issue and it is time is always an issue for everyone in every career. But that is so important that time that you take initially with those students will make a difference for the rest of the year and for years to come, they’ll come back. And I think that’s the one thing that students will come back and say is you took the time to know me so that I could be successful. So that’s the advice I give to any new teacher.


Sam Demma (24:21):
Love that. Awesome. They’ll see. Thank you so much for sharing some of your stories, philosophies, perspectives. If another educator is listening right now and wants to reach out to you and bounce some ideas around, talk about cool programs, what would be the best way to get in touch?


Dulcie Belchior (24:36):
Well, they can get in touch with me on Twitter. So it’s at @MsDBelchior, or they can email me at dulcie.belchior@dpcdsb.org.


Sam Demma (24:55):
Keep up the amazing work. Thank you so much for coming on the show. Best of luck with the next school year.


Dulcie Belchior (25:02):
Thanks so much, Sam. Have a great day.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Dulcie Belchior-Demedeiros

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.

Peter Prochilo – Superintendent of School Effectiveness, Sudbury Catholic District School Board

Peter Prochilo
About Peter Prochilo

Peter Prochilo (@PeterProchilo) is currently a Superintendent of Education with the Sudbury Catholic District School Board. His portfolio includes the supervision of all Secondary Schools, Secondary Curriculum, Alternative and Adult Education, International Education and the Remote/Virtual School

Peter leads with a passion for equity of access and enhanced student pathways as he supports students, staff and school communities as they collectively strive for improved outcomes for all. 

Connect with Peter: Email | Twitter | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Time Blocking

Marzano’s Evaluation Method

It’s all in your head

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the high-performing educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker Sam Demma. Today’s guest is Peter Prochilo. Peter is currently a superintendent of education with the Sudbury Catholic district school board. His portfolio includes the supervision of all secondary schools, secondary curriculum, alternative and adult education, international education, and the remote slash virtual school. Peter leads with a passion for equity of access and enhance student pathways. As he supports students, staff, and school communities, as they collectively strive for improved outcomes for all. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Peter. It was an engaging one with lots of actionable ideas and insights.


Sam Demma (00:45):
Peter, welcome to the high-performing educator podcast. Each pleasure to have you on the show here today. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about your upbringing and what brought you to where you are today?


Peter Prochilo (01:39):
Okay. Thanks Sam. Good to be here. So my name is Peter Prochilo and i’m the superintendent of education for the Sudbury Catholic district school board with primary responsibilities around secondary programming in schools. So my educational journey began back, I guess when we can go further way back started with my, one of my older sisters being an educator and, and watching what she was doing I’m the youngest of five. And there was a large gap between me and that sister. And so I watched her and the joy education and working with children and young adults brought her. And that was sort of my, my end, if you will. And then through university, it just became more and more clear through my involvement either in coaching various sports and just my involvement in the community that it was, it was going to be my path. And so that brings me to, you know, education. I had 26 years as a, as a teacher and then a special education resource teacher consultant program principal and school principal, and then the arose to apply to my present position here in Sudbury. And it became a big big shift at at my age to to take that leap and take that leap and come and take on this role and the challenges of the role. And it’s been it’s been great.


Sam Demma (03:19):
Wow. That’s amazing. And aside from your own sister, which must’ve been a huge inspiration and motivation for you, do you recall other educators or teachers that you had when you were a student that also played a pivotal role in your, you know, your own development as a student, but maybe even inspired you to consider education as well?


Peter Prochilo (03:39):
For sure. I think a lot of those came during my years in high school where we had a number of teachers that you know, it was sort of that unwritten rule. I didn’t need to be set. They were there for students. And we were able to students were able to connect with them and B became, they became mentors if you will. And then they and, and so they were, there were some go-to people that definitely paved the way, if you will, to see what, what a career in education would be like and, and what that looks like to help others. And so at that stage, it became for me realizing that, you know, educators are really the, the gatekeepers of equity and my friends and I, my, my peer group at that time were from a certain socioeconomic status.


Peter Prochilo (04:36):
And we were able to see how, regardless of your background, regardless of where you come from everyone was treated equally. And, and I was lucky to be in a school that that was espoused, but, you know, certainly for the mentors that I reflect back on as mentors, they were really championing that idea of equity before it became it became an entity, as we know it today, right. Being immersed in curriculum, immersed in policy they were living, they were living that idea of equity. It doesn’t matter. Who’s in front of me who comes through that door, we’re all treated the same and they should all have the same opportunities to succeed.


Sam Demma (05:22):
That’s amazing. And when you think about those educators that also had a big impact on you personally, like, what do you think they did for you? Like if you had to think back, and you’re not that old, so you can definitely think back to high school for a quick second, but if you had to put yourself back into a high school classroom, like, what do you think teachers do or can do to make sure that their students feel seen, heard and appreciated and, you know, make an impact on the students in their classroom? And what did your students do for you or your teachers do for you?


Peter Prochilo (05:54):
Well, I think, you know, reflecting back, I can, I can identify it now, but in the moment it was just accessibility. They were accessible. I think when you, when I reflect back on what it means to me now is that they were really showing their humanity. Right. We saw these people in the community, they were my coaches for soccer. They were like, we’ve seen them in, you know, community events or my church, or, you know what I mean? Like they showed the human face of service really, in a nutshell, they were, they were really exemplary in putting themselves forward. And we knew, you know, even at that age and everyone comes from different backgrounds, everyone has different experiences. Everyone has different challenges. Everyone is carrying things with them that we may not know right. Or that they’re dealing with, but they came into that classroom and that building everyday best foot forward, smile on their face. It’s old time, you know what I mean? I’m really cool with that. But it was like, it was, it was game time for them. Right. And so they knew being in that space, what they, what they could meet to the students that they serve. And that really shine through because you can see the, you can easily see the difference between those that ended up being mentors of mine, to those that were not as approachable.


Sam Demma (07:16):
Yeah. I think that’s really important, you know, making your students aware that you’re there for them and that you have time for them. My, one of the things my teacher did that had a huge impact on me was get to know me on a personal level so much so that he could understand my motivation for being in his class, right. For every student, the reason you might be sitting in biology class is different. One student might want to become a scientist. Maybe I just want to take biology so I could get into kinesiology in university. Like every student had a different reason. And if you know, the reason why a student is sitting in your class, it allows you to, you know, appeal to their motivation and interests. Yeah, accessibility getting to know the student were things that had a huge impact on me as well. So thank you for sharing that. What do you think are some of the challenges we’re faced with an education right now? I mean, obviously because of COVID, there are some huge ones. But what do you think are some of the challenges we’re faced with and what are some of the opportunities within the challenging?


Peter Prochilo (08:15):
I’m glad you said that Sam, because I see COVID as presenting, of course, the challenges that we all have come to understand, but it also provides a lot of opportunities, a lot of opportunities to meet those challenges. And one of the big challenges that we’re dealing with now, and I keep coming back to the idea of equity is, is equity of access. And so it’s really important in my role and for my colleagues and for all of our system leaders and school leaders is to really look at what are what are the, what are the impediments to equity of access in a remote situation when we’ve had to cycle into remote learning and you, it really becomes a parent students that, that need need more support than others. And there’s that you’re, you’re trying to try to bridge that gap, right.


Peter Prochilo (09:06):
In terms of providing and providing access, whether it be access to technology access to, to us. And just making sure that you are always acting as a community, right? Because you, you, you tend to a situation like COVID can quickly make people think in a, more of a siloed situation, right? This is, you know, this is my department, this is what I do. And the trick has been the push has been to make sure that everyone acts continues to act and they do to act as though we’re all, we’re all together because it’s more important to be together. Especially during this time, the opportunity comes in the realization that we’ve been able to very quickly and effectively leverage technology. And so for the last 10 years in education, we’ve been looking for ways to effectively use technology in a classroom setting.


Peter Prochilo (10:07):
Face-To-Face whether you’re a fan of Marzano’s work on, you know, the triad and using technology one, you know, one piece of technology for three students working collaboratively. And now you, you see that a lot of that change has that a lot of that shift has to happen because students are either at home working right. And trying to connect. And so the beauty came out in leveraging technology effectively to maintain that community feeling. And I think that’s one of the successes that, that shines through whether it was students in the elementary panel that had a complete remote school, and may we still partnered them with their homeschool. So they have that, that connectivity, and even for secondary students, right. Because in my, in my specific role, we’re going to go into this year where students have high school students that have a four year career, I’ve had two years jumping in and out of remote situation.


Peter Prochilo (11:04):
Yeah. And so now the opportunity is to really, when they come back face to face is to really, you know, show them what that community is all about because it’s been disjointed. Right. And so the opportunity and the challenge, you know, two-sided coin, the challenge is to you know, of course, all of our colleagues and, and, and my staff are ready to do so is to welcome them back with open arms, make them feel you know, deal with that, that, that little bit of trepidation, that little bit of anxiety will coming back face-to-face and really using that as an opportunity to showcase what a school community can be. All can be all about point.


Sam Demma (11:48):
Yeah. That’s awesome. And what personally, what personally motivates you every day to continue doing this work?


Peter Prochilo (11:57):
You must have a personal driver as well. They wakes you up and keeps you going as well. Yeah. It’s a number of things, but primarily that, that idea of being a guardian of equity, right. That’s the piece for me that, you know, it’s kind of the lens. I see a lot of problems through, you know, where, where is the equity piece in this? How can we make sure that the challenges challenges are met with that, with that lens you know, we have a group of students will always have a group of students that will do very well. We’ll always have a group of students that need extra support, but sometimes I find from my own experience is that we really need to connect with all students and making sure that they all have voice choice and see themselves as learners. Right. And it’s not only, and so you’re thinking not only for these four years that we have them in high school, but we need to help all of them see themselves or the next part, right. You’re preparing them for a few weeks that you, we may not see, but you, you, you want to make sure that we give them all the, all the tools that they need to make those choices. And, and to know that they’re better for having had us in their lives through grandiose.


Sam Demma (13:23):
Makes sense. My grandfather… I think you’re Italian? I come from an Italian background in Greek as well. And my Italian grandfather Salvato was a big gardener. And he would always bring me to his backyard, gardens, tomatoes, everywhere, cucumbers, zucchini, like everything. And the more I started working with students, I realized that educators or anyone that works with youth are kind of like gardeners and you plant the seed and you do what you can to water it. And, you know, sometimes, you know, you show up one day and the tomatoes fully there, you didn’t even see it grow. Sometimes it never grows until, you know, 20 years later and you don’t even realize it. And I think that’s the same with students. You know, you, you do everything you can to set them up for success. And you know, maybe 10 years later, they come up to you and say, Hey, Pete, I remember what you told me. I remember what you told me 12 years ago and, you know, whatever class. And you’re like, I don’t even remember what I told you. How do you remember what I told you? But I’m curious to know, do you have any stories that come to mind of, you know, programs that have impacted young people within the schools you’ve worked in, or students that have come up to you or teachers that, you know, and let them know about the impact of the work has had on them?


Peter Prochilo (14:36):
I’ve been lucky to have a number of really unique experiences. And I’ve been blessed with students that have sought either sought me out or met me by happens happenstance. And you either invited me to their wedding or made a you know, a king to came to my office to show me their first born child, you know, and they wanted me to meet there and see what they become. So at one point in my career I was facilitator, I mean, educator in a classroom that was purposely designed around students who always found themselves in physical altercations. So it was a standalone class where students came to me from different schools and we worked on we worked on an educational and a social plan for six weeks at a time. Okay. And so benchmarks were six weeks and we would, we assess work with the student and the family and have them go back to their home school.


Peter Prochilo (15:45):
Right. And so these students as you can imagine, were either on the verge of being expelled have multiple multiple incidents of physical altercations and the like, and I had I can remember each of their means for the two years that I taught that class. And I can remember even up to about four or five years ago, where one of those, one of those in this case, it was a young young man. Now an adult came to me and wanted to show me his, his welding, his new truck, right. Because he’s now, he’s now an underwater welder. So he took it to you know, and he wanted he came, he sought me out at the school where I was at and made the appointment to come and see me and want to, want me to see where he, he where he, where he’s been, what he’s been doing, that was great, you know, and it was I just stopped everything right there and made time for him.


Peter Prochilo (16:57):
And and we had a good, we had a good talk and I was good, you know, it’s, it was really good to see that some of those things that we, you know, we take each of the students’ interests to heart, of course, and you, you, you deal with each student individually, but it’s, it was good to see that sort of the cumulative effect of things that I stick to and say, you know, it goes back to your garden analogy. Cause my dad was a gardener as well. And so, you know, regardless of what produced that year, I knew that my dad did the same thing to that garden every year. She might tweak a couple of things, but the care that he put into that garden was the same every year, regardless. So the same thing in this case, this young man who came back in that, you know, it may have been at that point in time, I’m teaching this young person in that, in that immediate role when he was in that class, through these steps. Right. But sometimes we don’t think that, you know, we think it’s just a process, but it’s really a a connection that you’re making with the students. Right. And we, even though we might do it repeatedly, like you say, you don’t know that effect. Right. We may wonder what happens, but it was really great that the student came back to show me yeah. He was more proud of the certificate or his truck.


Sam Demma (18:29):
That’s awesome. That’s amazing. Yeah. The phrase that my teacher taught me that had a big impact that aligns with what you just said was you just got to take consistent action and forget about the result, take the actions and forget about the results. And his phrase was small, consistent actions. And I actually wear it on my wrist on this little wristband. I’ve actually, if you give them to the students too, but yeah, it was something my grade 12 older shoes teacher taught me and it’s such a good reminder. Yeah, you’re right. Like the process some years you stick to it, but the produce might not be as great, but you did everything that you needed to do. Same thing with teaching, you know, sometimes people forget that, you know, especially students forget that educators also have families and problems and challenges, and they’re also human beings themselves. You know, when they’re standing at the front of the classrooms, what are some of your own personal hobbies and passions? I know guitar is one of them, but maybe you can share a couple of those things.


Peter Prochilo (19:26):
You know, it’s really been trying to, like you say, try to stay consistent with things. So those are my own hobbies outside of, outside of my work, including my family. It would be certainly the outdoors is a big part of that, whether I’m golfing or I’m just out on a hike even, or for a run or even just a walk, especially around the lake here, it’s always, always trying to do new stuff like that. I’m always branching out that way. And also I know I mentioned golf even though it’s, it’s more of a long walk interrupted by hitting a light balls many times.


Sam Demma (20:06):
And swimming sometimes.


Peter Prochilo (20:10):
Yeah. And then, you know, for me, even one of the sort of escapes, if you will, is, is kind of the, the last few years has been reading nice items. Cause we’re always confronted with reading for for our occupation for work. And it’s there, but you know, making the time to read other items, right. Other other works, it’s always been non-fiction for me. I sort of been musically sort of the, the genre of music and biographies and the like, because music is certainly a big part of, there’s always a song in my head, said my staff one or two that are you humming today, right there. Yeah. So it’s just, it’s, it’s a sort of a combination of things, but certainly even with a busy schedule, just trying to maintain a level of physical activity as we get older, those opportunities for team sports seem to dwindle, but you know other than other than personal fitness getting out into nature is really.


Sam Demma (21:25):
I love that. Well, it’s on the topic of books about music. Here’s the one that I read recently that maybe you can check out. It might be a different genre than you’re used to, but I think you’d like it. So, this book is called it’s all in your head. Get out of your way by Russ Russ, Russell Vitaly is actually a Sicilian rapper from the U S yeah, funny. And I love his book. So he’s an independent artist and basically outlines the story of how he went from nothing to something. And what makes this story very unique is he never ended up joining a record label, turned them all down and kind of did it himself. And it just outlines this whole journey and story and what he overcame and how he got to where he is now and yeah, different genre, but you should check it out.


Sam Demma (22:10):
It might be something that you can listen to. And I think you’re so right about music too. Like when I think back to high school and every kid has different hobbies and they all play different sports and different activities, but I think something that every student has in common is they’ve listened to some form of music Friday. It’s like, it might be a different genre, but they all have a band or an artist or something that they like listening to. An art has such a way of connecting with young people so much so that I’m actually myself trying to work on a spoken word album to appeal to students as well. And yeah, you just really, you just nailed that connection in my own head. And I was like, ah, that makes a lot of sense. I think everyone has a piece of music that they’re always looking forward to. If you could go back Peter and speak to yourself in your first year of teaching, you know, when you’re, but, but with the knowledge and experience you have now looking back, what advice would you give your younger self?


Peter Prochilo (23:05):
Two things. One develop consistent habits right away. Okay. You know, because even the mentors at that time would tell me, you’re going to find your, you know, you’re going to find your way. Right. But you know, it’s really good to compare what you do. I always use the term skeleton, right. It ask my staff or Caitlin let’s deal with the skeleton and we’ll fill in the fill in the parts. You know what I mean? We’ll fill in the rest. But to have that starting point is really important. And I think if I would be able to go back, I would dig deeper in some of the literature and it would be non-educational. I would really go back and look at sort of the, the, the thoughts from the business world, how they manage time and how they, how you schedule your day and all those kinds of things. Because I still do that to this day.


Sam Demma (24:11):
Yeah.


Peter Prochilo (24:13):
I don’t know if you’ve seen time-blocking before.


Sam Demma (24:16):
I’m a huge fan.


Peter Prochilo (24:19):
And so I see this.


Sam Demma (24:22):
This is awesome.


Peter Prochilo (24:23):
I have one of these people make fun of me for it. That’s fine. But it’s my it’s my time blocking from five in the morning, till midnight. And what are my top priorities? What are my secondary priorities? And then a certain light rain.


Sam Demma (24:40):
Where did you grab the idea from originally?


Peter Prochilo (24:43):
There was a couple that floated around one strong Elon Musk that uses something similar. And then there were a few versions online and I just modified what I saw to fit, to fit. What’s going to work for me, but that’s what I mean by a skeleton. Right. So if I had something like that, when I started, that’d be number one, you know, searching for those elements that help you organize yourself and stay consistent. That’s the first, the second thing I would tell myself is don’t take yourself too serious. Yeah. Have a little, and I did have fun. Like, don’t get me wrong. There’s my stories are pretty hilarious from when I started teaching, you know, I had fun, I had fun with colleagues. I had fun working with students got involved. You know, I coached, I did some after-school group. Like we did a, I did a bunch of things, but not to take yourself seriously and just really enjoy where you are in that moment. Don’t think ahead too far.


Sam Demma (25:44):
I love that that’s, those are awesome pieces of advice. And you got me thinking again about the organizational techniques and tactics and ideas. Have you read any books that have been foundational in terms of your self-leadership stuff that you think you should, you know, would be valuable for another educator to check out or read or listen to?


Peter Prochilo (26:02):
Well, my experience has been fairly unique well in Ontario, because it’s always been through Catholic schools. I got in counted organization. And so I’ve always taken the Ignation view. So that’s been sort of my guidepost, spiritually and organizationally. Right. And so I really that kind of did that on my own for awhile. Yeah. Seeing that ignition thought. And then the concept of servant leadership really came forward in a boat 15 years ago, perhaps. Nice to forefront in terms of what, you know, green leaf had a whole series on servant leadership. And that was sort of the solidifying moment where it was, oh, this is a thing it’s not just something that’s rattling around in my head.


Peter Prochilo (27:01):
And and then just, you know, reading as much as I could about that and, and sort of identifying the items that I, the things that I already do, and then looking at what else I can incorporate, you can incorporate everything because you, you know, this is year 30 for me in education, 30, 31. So you know, educators take, you never abandoned the good stuff, right? Like it’s like a snowball, right. You start off with your core beliefs and then this comes along, right? This, this new thought, this new approach and you incorporate it into what you’re already doing, but you never let go of what’s at your core is getting bigger. But that in the center is still the center, still the center. Right. And you, you all, you pick up the great things and you know, some things go by the wayside, but you’re always, you’re always developing. You’re always adding to that core.


Sam Demma (27:58):
Love that. Awesome. Well, this has been a very awesome conversation. I really appreciate you taking some time to come on the show and share some of your philosophies, resources, stories it’s been. Yeah. It’s been a pleasure chatting with you. If, if there’s another educator listening right now who feels a little inspired or just wants to, you know, reach out will be the best way for them to get in touch with you.


Peter Prochilo (28:21):
Probably just through, email’s probably the easiest at this point. And I can share that with you, if you want me to, to share.


Sam Demma (28:28):
Sure. You can actually say it now, or I can put it in the show notes of the episode as well.


Peter Prochilo (28:32):
Yeah. So it’s just peter.prochilo@sudburycatholicschools.ca.


Sam Demma (28:45):
Awesome. Peter again, thank you so much. This has been great.


Peter Prochilo (28:47):
It’s been great. Thank you for the opportunity. It’s been great talking to you and I look forward to listening to the rest of your series.


Sam Demma (28:57):
Now and there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the high-performing educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review. So other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show. If you want to meet the guest on today’s episode, if you want to meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not feel your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Peter Prochilo

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.

Douglas Gleddie, PhD – President of Physical and Health Education Canada and Professor at the University of Alberta

Douglas Gleddie President PHE Canada
About Douglas Gleddie

Douglas L. Gleddie, PhD, is a husband and father who also happens to be an Associate Professor and Acting Vice-Dean/Associate Dean Academic in the Faculty of Education at the University of Alberta (UofA). He teaches physical and health education curriculum and pedagogy to undergraduate students and graduate courses in health and physical education, reflective practice, physical/health literacy and research methods. Doug’s research focuses on narratives of physical education, school sport, physical literacy praxis, meaningful physical education, and teacher education.

Doug’s life-long journey of exploration into joyful and meaningful movement has enabled him to work with a wide variety of people and organizations across Canada and around the world. Doug began his career as a K-12 teacher, spent 6 years as the Director of the Ever Active Schools program, served 2 years as the Alberta Board member for PHE Canada and has chaired local, national and (coming soon) international conferences. He co-authored three books including the most recent – Healthy Schools, Healthy Futures. Doug can be found on Twitter (@doug_gleddie), writes a blog at www.hslab.ca and takes care of his own wellness by being active with his family; improving his guitar picking and seeking new adventures.

Connect with Douglas: Email | Twitter | Website

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Meaningful Physical Education: An approach for teaching and learning

Healthy Schools LAB

PHE Canada

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):
Do you want access to all the past guests on this show? Do you want to network with like-minded individuals and meet other high performing educators from around the world? If so, go to www.highperformingeducator.com. Sign up to join the exclusive network and you’ll get access to live virtual networking events and other special opportunities that will come out throughout 2021. I promise you I will not fill your inbox. You might get one email a month. If that sounds interesting. Go to www dot high-performing educator.com. Welcome back to another episode of the high performing educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s guest is Doug Gleddie. Doug is a husband and father who also happens to be a professor at the university of Alberta in a career filled with change. The only true constants have been physical education activity, working with students and how joys filled the spaces in between this lifelong journey of exploration into joyful and meaningful movement has enabled Doug to work with a wide variety of people and organizations across Canada and around the world.


Sam Demma (01:16):
He has published numerous articles in academic and professional journals, and co-authored four books, including the most recent, meaningful physical education and approach for teaching and learning. Doug is a founding member of the healthy schools lab, and his research interests include narratives of physical education, school sport, physical literacy Praxis, meaningful physical education, and teacher education. Doug does his best thinking on a mountain bike or around a campfire. I’m so excited for you to hear today’s conversation with Doug. I will see you on the other side of this interview. Enjoy!


Sam Demma (01:57):
Doug. Welcome to the high-performing educator podcast. Pleasure to have you on the show here today. Why don’t you start by just introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about what brought you to where you are today in education?


Douglas Gleddie (02:08):
Yeah, sure. Thanks Sam. I appreciate you having me on it should be fun. You promised it would be fun anyways, so that’s good. Yeah. So I’ve been in education now for almost 25 years, which seems kind of strange. Cause I don’t feel that old, but I guess I am so yeah, it took me a while to kind of find my way into education a bit because I you know, with my own kids now, I always, I always encourage them to think about no matter what they’re working in or what they’re doing. Just think about what they enjoy about it. Right. And, and what are they good at and what skills are they learning and how does that apply to different things? So for me, a couple of commonalities emerged the first was just a love working with children and youth anywhere from Sunday school to babysitting, to playing with cousins.


Douglas Gleddie (03:05):
I just, I really enjoyed that piece. So that’s kind of stuck. And then, you know, physical activity movement has always been a key part of my life from like I grew up on a farm and I basically had free range of the half the section and could, you know, run around with very few restraints and you know, climbing trees, hopping, fences, getting chased by cows. It’s all, it’s all part of the game. And so that, that physical activity was really good. And just so those two things kind of connected eventually and led me to a career in education and specifically more physical education. So that went through from, you know, I spent almost 14 years as a teacher K to 12, but most of that time, junior high, but I’ve, I’ve taught everything except food studies, I think. And then and phys ed K to K to 12, settled at kind of junior high that seven to eight and then eventually ended up getting a master’s degree and then a PhD in ending up at the university. And sometimes I still feel I don’t belong, but I’m still a teacher first.


Sam Demma (04:13):
That’s awesome. It’s a cool journey. What about physical activity appealed to you or phys ed. And where did that interest come? Did you also play sports growing up like a lot or?


Douglas Gleddie (04:24):
Yeah, I did. I, you know, I played a lot of sports. I still do. It’s I really think it’s the environment. It’s just, it was that opportunity. Like we didn’t have, I mean, I certainly don’t have the distractions that kids have today with, with devices and social media and everything else. Like we were barely allowed to watch TV and there was only really out on the farm. We only got one or two channels consistently anyways, so it wasn’t a big draw. And so it was just, I think that foundation of, of just being encouraged to be outside and we made up our own games, we played and then like I never played organized sports until junior high. I played one season of outdoor hockey before it moved into or, and then it was too expensive. And so we couldn’t do it anymore, but we always played, you know, we played hockey on our pond.


Douglas Gleddie (05:19):
You know, my brothers and I, and my sister, we, we invented games, you know, throwing a tennis ball at the back steps and you had to catch it before, you know, one person will throw it. The other person have to catch it. And if it hits the screen door, y’all ran like hell, cause mom would get mad. So he figured out the rules. But I think it’s also just, just the freedom of being able to choose what you enjoy. So if you feel like what you need is a walk in the woods, then you choose that. If you feel like what you need is a, a super competitive game of tennis with someone who really pushes you to be better than you can choose that.


Sam Demma (05:53):
That’s awesome. I love that. And I’m really fascinated farming for him. We’ll get to that in a second with, with this idea that if you don’t, if you don’t so anything, you don’t reap anything to go at a young age, you get taught, like if you don’t plant the seed, you’ll never get the vegetable. So I feel like whether, you know, it or not, you’re taught that if you want something, you have to work for it. And I’m curious to know for you personally, if that life of growing up on a farm, like taught you a lot of principles that you think you still hold today.


Douglas Gleddie (06:25):
Oh. And you know, you have to, you certainly have to take care of things. There’s responsibilities. Like we, we had mostly livestock. I mean, we did crops and we had a massive vegetable garden. And so you do, you have to put the work in and you can’t just plant the seed. And then, you know, three months later start picking tomatoes, you know, there’s, there’s weeding, there’s pest control, there’s fertilizing, there’s, you know, all that kind of stuff in there and it takes work. Right. And and then with livestock, you learn a lot of both sacrifice because you can’t, you can’t take care of your own needs before your livestock’s needs because that’s your livelihood. And so, you know, there were years, like I remember a year when my dad, my dad hurt his back and I was, I was one of the only, I think I was the only kid at home.


Douglas Gleddie (07:13):
My older brothers were away at college and it was like minus 50. So we had sheep and we had, you know, probably six, 700 ewes to take care of. And so they’re all outside and, and they had shelter, but you need to get on feed them. So you, you bundle up and you put on your ski goggles and you, you do what you need to do, but you have to take care of that before you take care of your own needs, because literally they will die without your care. So I think that work ethic, that, that ethic of care, and, and also like we did things together as a family, like it was a family farm. We work to get stuff done. And when, you know, when it’s time for the, you know, the, the, the phrase making hay while the sun shines and comes from a real place, because you got to get that hand. So, you know, I spent time sitting on a Baylor past midnight you know, picking up hay bales, stacking bales because you have to get it done. And it was, it was hard work, but we did it together. Right. You’re in it together. Yeah.

Sam Demma (08:19):
That’s awesome. Like I, my, so my grandfather worked on a farm for most of his life. He came here with nothing and he work at GM at night and then on a farm during the day and barely ever saw my, my dad, my dad would tell me that once a week on Fridays at like 2:00 AM, he would come home and get off early. And he would wake the family up for a pizza and a, they would all eat together and like the mall, cause tomorrow tomorrow’s not school, everyone can sleep in. And you know, it’s funny cause like the things you’re saying are like similar things to my grandfather, I think passed down to me about like hard work and these types of values to transition the conversation slightly. I was just curious about asking you about that. But to, to transition this slightly what, what, what led you into education? So you could have taken like the passions you grew up with in many directions, coaching athletics. Why, why did, why did it end up that you went into teaching?


Douglas Gleddie (09:16):
And a good, good question. Sort of go back to what I said earlier about trying to find what, you know, what kind of makes you tick and what you enjoy, like the outdoors children and youth mood. But, you know, I, I considered being a conservation officer like being an official wildlife cause that’s outside. But so I think for me, I, like I had an experience of, I ended up teaching overseas for, for a year in south America. And I really enjoyed that experience of working with the kids. And I think for me the difference was that being a part of a kid’s learning journey and being a part. And, and when you see, when you, when you have a student in specifically in phys ed, that they kinda, they kinda get it and that, that, you know, that switch kind of turns it or that, that switch flicks and you kind of know, they go, wow, this is really fun.


Douglas Gleddie (10:13):
Like I enjoy this and you see them picking it out. Like I’m a big mountain biker. I love, I love to mountain bike. And I used to run in the junior high. We ran a mountain bike club and we did stuff. And to, to, to see someone and specifically there’s a, there was one girl. I remember she was pretty tentative about stuff, but she came on a trip with a bunch of us and there, she was the only girl on the trip, but she did awesome. And she went off like this two foot jump that she never would have done before. And she was just so excited. Right. So, so to kind of see that and to encourage that and to get people excited about movement and, and taking care of themselves, I think that’s where I ended up, you know, going down that road to teacher education. Cause I didn’t, I did an undergrad degree in, in basically history and physical education, a major concentration. And then I didn’t know what I wanted to do for a while. And I played around with stuff and I, I played sports. I did some coaching, but it was really that, that physical education piece in those early, that early learning and being able to connect with kids that way, I think.

Sam Demma (11:20):
Cool. And whereabouts were you in south America when you taught overseas? Oh,

Douglas Gleddie (11:23):
I was improved. Oh wow.

Sam Demma (11:26):
That’s awesome.

Douglas Gleddie (11:26):
Very small jungle town.


Sam Demma (11:30):
Did you ever hear music like this? [inaudible] That’s awesome.


Douglas Gleddie (11:39):
You just have that handy right there.


Sam Demma (11:41):
Whatever, whenever you tell bad jokes, I’ll crack this one, but that’s awesome. What brought you out to Peru? So like w was there like an opportunity? Tell me more about that.


Douglas Gleddie (11:55):
Yeah, it was it was. after I graduated from my first degree I just, I wanted to, actually, I was looking at traveling the world that wants to just maybe take a year and travel around, but I wanted to kind of give back. So I wanted to either go and, you know, volunteer somewhere or work on a mission or do whatever. And so I was looking at opportunities and I just actually wanted to do that for about a month. And then I just wanted to travel. But one of the guys I talked to he’s like, well, we’ve got an opportunity at this school if you want to come here and teach. But it’s a full year. And I was like, nah, not interested in, he looked at me, he said, I think you’ll be back. And it was at this big, I don’t know mission Fest.


Douglas Gleddie (12:37):
It was called all these different opportunities for different service organizations and that sort of thing. And so, and yeah, I was back and I talked to him a little bit more and, and and you know, they needed someone to teach phys ed and a little bit of history. So it seemed like it was tailor made for kind of the training that I’d had. And so that’s how I ended up there. It was great. It was a fantastic experience just to be immersed in completely different culture, different language. You know, I took some Spanish classes before I went down, but I basically learned on the fly, which was fun. And I was teaching mostly Americans at the school. But just to, just to live in the community and, and I would love to go into town and go play basketball and volleyball with people. And there’s just different, different cultural situations that you have to learn and figure out. So it was yeah, I would say it was a pretty formational experience.


Sam Demma (13:33):
That’s amazing. And did you find it challenging or if so, like what were some of the challenges at first?


Douglas Gleddie (13:40):
Oh, yeah, it was challenging because like, I didn’t know anyone there. Right. And you, at the time, like you have to think this is, so this was in, let me see 1993, it seems like a long time ago now, but very little internet. I did get an email address when I went down there, but I literally only knew one of the personal email address. And that was my brother who was at the university of Saskatchewan at the time. Like even phone lines were one way. So literally if I would phone you, I’d be like, Hey, how’s it going, Sam over, over?


Douglas Gleddie (14:23):
So, you know, a little bit of isolation, but great community. The language was a challenge, but I, you know, I enjoyed that. I’m, I’m pretty open and pretty willing to take risks. So you just kind of jump in and you mess up some words and you, you know, you figure some stuff out. Yeah, I don’t, I just found it to be a really, like, there were lots of challenges, but nothing seemed unsurmountable. You just kind of go through and, you know, you’re 23 and you figure it out. Right. You know what that’s like?


Sam Demma (14:57):
Yeah. I mean, in two more years I will. But people always talk about gap years, fifth years especially now with COVID, it’s being talked about even more. And something that always emphasize is travel. Like, do you think traveling to another country is an experience that everyone should go through living somewhere else? Kind of off topic, but just curious about your thoughts on that.


Douglas Gleddie (15:22):
Yeah. I do. Like with my, with my classes, with pre-service teachers at the U of a, I, I certainly encourage if you have the opportunity to try and like go teach in Cambodia, go teach in Thailand. There’s lots of opportunities. You can still teach, for example, using Alberta curriculum and some of these schools. And so it doesn’t, it doesn’t hold you back for your career in Canada. But and I do think there’s a difference between just traveling and visiting. Like you can go, you know, you could go visit Peru for a couple of weeks and you’ll get a sense of things, but when you live there, you know, I, I kept on my favorite phrase after I’d been there for awhile is a, I’m going to butcher the Spanish, but it’s like, I’m not a tourist. I live here like this. So I go to the market and someone would go, oh, this is, you know, this is five solos. And I’d be like, no, no, no, I’m not a tourist. I live here. Oh, you know, half that.


Douglas Gleddie (16:22):
But so I do think going somewhere and spending a significant amount of time with the people that are there. Like I had an opportunity to spend three weeks in Kenya, a number of years ago, and it was different than spending a year improve. And I still, you know, we were working with the local community and, and we were you know, we, we shared tents with, with locals and we shared meals and we did that the whole time. And so that was really good, but it was still only three weeks. And so you’re still kind of parachuting in and then running away. Whereas when you’re there for a longer time, you can deal with Velop relationships. You can get deeper understandings, I think, but I would definitely recommend if you have opportunity, not everyone has the opportunity and you know, it can be difficult to find the funds and to find the support to do that. But if you have the chance, but yeah. Going to a, you know, a resort and Ken Kuhn doesn’t count as visiting another country.


Sam Demma (17:18):
Yeah. I think that’s very important to state. I actually, I’m a big fan of traveling just for new perspectives and awareness. Like I did Iceland two summers ago before COVID and we drove in a car, slept in the car, like crazy experiences, but to the whole country in like 10 days, and I’m actually going to Calgary and we’re going to do like again, a big road trip, not staying at any hotels, they’re all like hostels and Airbnbs, but yeah. And I think it’s a great experience for anyone to have only teachers, but people in general, I’m curious about people who made an impact on you while you were still in school. If you can remember. I know you’re not that old, but, but think back to, you know, you and high school, even in college university, did you have any teachers that at the snap of a finger you can think of this person had a big impact on me as a student? Maybe even like pushed me in this direction a little bit.


Douglas Gleddie (18:16):
Yeah. I think there’s certainly, I mean, I, I did have I had a physical education teacher in elementary, junior high, who and I didn’t really recognize it until later kind of looking back his impact. And it was interesting like quite a number of years later, I was doing a workshop out our teacher’s convention here. And he signed up to to introduce me, which was kinda neat because it was like, oh, that’s Mr. Goodell. He gets to, he gets introduced, man. So he started out, he’s like, well, this is Doug. I taught him in elementary and junior high. And if this is a great session, I taught him everything. He knows if it’s not a good session, he couldn’t teach that dang kid anything.


Douglas Gleddie (19:02):
But, you know, he, he was very innovative in his own way. He tried some really unique things with participation in schools, Ford and not, and, and those are things that I’m working on now. So I think looking back, like I wouldn’t have recognized it at the time, but looking back, I, I see, yeah, there’s some, there’s some impact there. I had a volleyball coach and just for one year in my last year of high school who came in and, and took a completely different approach to coaching that was much more developmental and fundamental that just let’s play games. Let’s just scrimmage.


Sam Demma (19:33):
What does that look like? Like what did she, or what did that person do that made a big difference?


Douglas Gleddie (19:38):
Yeah. Well, I think first of all, he came in with like, he had some high-level coaching experience in Japan and different places. And so, you know, we would, instead of just all these set drills and we would still ran some drills, but he, he had all these different games, like small side of games that helped you become a better player. And you know, it just, and he had ways to motivate. And I know not, not every player necessarily have the same experience that I did, but I just found the year before, when I played, it was just basically just scrimmage. And if you’re on the starting six you’re on that side and you got a different approach, and if you weren’t in the starting six, whereas this coach, he was just like, no, I want to develop everybody. I want everyone to be better at what they’re doing.


Douglas Gleddie (20:21):
And, and he was setting up plays and he was teaching us new things and there is a sense of fun. And so yeah, I took a lot on of his instruction. And then I had, you know, I had some, some you know, other T like a chemistry teacher and English teacher in high school who had just, again, more looking back, I just recognized, no, I had an English teacher in grade 10, and I don’t know if people still read death on the, the classic Canadian story of, of sealing outside of Newfoundland and stuff, but she was looking for what’s the big theme. What’s the, and I basically wrote a whole paper saying, it’s just a book. Like, it’s just a book. It doesn’t have to teach it. But as I was writing at events, I came around, well, okay, fine. There’s themes. And, and she really challenged me in a good way.


Douglas Gleddie (21:09):
Right? Like she could have just given me a zero on the paper and said, you didn’t do what I asked, but she said she actually engaged with me and went through and that’s good. Right. I had a chemistry teacher who chemistry, biology teacher who kind of made things real. And it’s interesting. I went back and told him, so he he’s actually directly responsible for me being able to, to save a couple of people’s lives, which is kind of crazy. And I was actually when I was in group. So he told us a story and in a grade 12 biology class about carbon monoxide poisoning and how, when they were on a road trip with the school and not in those days, kids could drive their own vehicles and go to school events. And, and there was a couple of kids who they had the exhaust was leaking into the car and they started to fall asleep.


Douglas Gleddie (22:03):
And so he was saying to us, well, you know, someone has carbon monoxide point and you cannot let them fall asleep. You got to get them out in fresh air. You got to get them breathing. You got to get moving. So, you know, probably eight, nine years later, maybe not quite five, six years later when I was on a, a boat trip across lake Titicaca in between Bolivia and Peru. And it’s a big lake, it’s one of the highest navigable lakes in the world and the boat, we are on the diesel fumes. It was a stormy stormy afternoon. And the diesel fumes are coming in the, in the cabin when we pulled into port. And I spent most of the time outside in the rain, cause I didn’t want to breathe the fumes. And we came in and one lady from France was completely passed out and her son was going in and out. And so I knew what to do B because of this teacher. And so I got them outside and literally with the young man, I just, I really just slapped the hell out of him because I had to keep him awake.


Douglas Gleddie (23:07):
And then for the, for the woman, like she she was completely out she had locked up her jobs, so I couldn’t give her multimode. I had to give her mouth, the nose to kind of keep her in oxygen. And then we had to there’s no ambulance is there. So we had to call basically called a cab and took a cab to the hospital. And I was trying to remember all my high school, French. And but anyways, by the time we left, she was, she was sitting up on oxygen. She was healthy and thankful, and I hope she didn’t have any damage. But so yeah, there’s, there’s some, but just the fact that this teacher was trying to be real with us and trying to share, not just, this is what carbon monoxide poisoning is and you know, the carbon oxide of fixes to your red blood cells. So that oxygen can’t. And I mean, he taught that stuff too, but he also talked to rural applications. So that was pretty cool.


Sam Demma (24:02):
Have you already written a book or are you going to what? The Frick dude, like these stories are crazy. Find this 50 degree weather with sheep and saving some lives.


Douglas Gleddie (24:15):
Yeah. I’ve had a good, I’ve had a good life. I’ve had a good life.


Sam Demma (24:19):
It’s cool, man. It’s cool. Well, that’s awesome. I love it. Real world application is always something that inspired me in class. Cause it made me feel like I could use the things I learned right away. Maybe not in that case, but some point in your future, you could use the thing passion to, it sounds like this teacher was someone who was passionate about what he was talking about. And when I think back to the educators that made the biggest impact on me, it was the passion that really spoke through.


Douglas Gleddie (24:46):
And I, and I think they, the teachers that have the most impact, you can tell that they enjoy what they do. Right. And they also enjoy the people they work with, which includes students. Like when I was teaching too, there’s always a few people in the school I’m going, why are you here? Like you clearly don’t like kids, you clearly don’t like the subject that you’re teaching. So why are you here? And even when I had student teachers, I would just tell them, listen, if you’re passionate about teaching or your subject area, just like you said, you’ve got that passion for it. And you enjoy working with kids. There is no better job in the world as far as I’m concerned. However, if you don’t and you’re just here because you think it’s good benefits, it’s a decent salary for the education level. You like the summers off, you know what, honestly get the hell out. Cause we don’t need you here and we’re going to be blunt, but that’s, we’ve got better things to do. And these are, these are young people’s lives that you’re messing with.


Sam Demma (25:44):
Yeah. I couldn’t agree more. I couldn’t agree more. I think there’s, there’s a lot of other careers where you could be mindless and just show up and do the work and go home and it doesn’t have an impact on others. Yeah. Education is definitely not one of them. And especially when it comes down to the things we say, you know, kids look up to their elders and teachers most of the time and you tell a kid something like it might stick with them for the rest of their life, you know and, and affect them either positively or negatively. So, yeah, I totally agree.


Douglas Gleddie (26:14):
Although on that note, you never know what might stick. Cause I a number of years ago I met with a former student who we had reconnected on Facebook and, and so we went out for coffee and, and it was great. And he’s now a teacher actually in a, I think a very, a very good teacher. But I taught him in grade 7, 8, 9. And so he’s like, oh Mr. Gladney like, it’s so good to connect it to you. And he goes, I’ll always remember that one lesson that you taught us. And I was like, well, less than is that Never order a messy down there on the first date.


Sam Demma (26:54):
What’s the story. Can you share the story real quick?


Douglas Gleddie (26:57):
Yeah. So it’s like, I’m like, well, thanks that I’m glad you got one thing out of tire. Well, so what I, what I did, I was teaching grade nine, social studies and I used to run a virtual stock market. And so I give each of the kids a hundred, a hundred thousand dollars and they had to invest. And it was a, it was this website that was actually pulled numbers from the Toronto stock exchange and it kept track. And so I made a bet with my classes. I said, whoever can earn more money than me in this three months, time span with your a hundred thousand dollars, I’ll buy you lunch. And so it was these three, these three boys they all earned more than I did. And so I took him out for lunch and we went to this local dinner tour. And at first, you know, their typical junior high, you’re like, I’ll get a small something with this. I’m like, guys, I’m buying your lunch, get the jumble don’t air. They’re like all in. And then we’re eating these things and there’s mess everywhere. And that’s when I, I said, well, word of advice, guys, never order, you know, a big message in there on a first date.


Sam Demma (28:03):
Was so funny, man. That’s awesome. That’s funny. That’s, it’s, it’s true sometimes. Depending on what that person needs, maybe that person just needed a humor that day. Right. And like something to lighten the load. Like I sometimes I’ll do a speech and what I think is so important, someone else comes out to me and says, oh, and you said this, it was so important. And I was like, I don’t even like, think that’s an important thing, you know? And I think that’s also really important to remember every everything we say matters. Awesome. And so you’ve worked in a range of different school environments different settings. Explain a little bit about where you are now and what the job entails.


Douglas Gleddie (28:44):
Yeah. So I’ve been at university of Alberta and the faculty of education now for nine years. I think it’s sorry. I’m in my ninth year, I guess it would be more accurate. And I’m currently an associate Dean of graduate studies in the faculty. So I’m doing more admin than teaching which it’s been an interesting journey doing administration. And I do enjoy aspects of more leadership than administration, but I do miss the teaching. So I haven’t taught undergrads for a couple of years. I’ve been teaching grad students and I do love teaching grad students because we have a program. We have a health and phys ed master’s cohort program, which every few years we take in a new group of 24 students. And that is fantastic. It’s so rewarding. But yeah, so you know, we’re going through lots of change right now.


Douglas Gleddie (29:37):
So there’s, there’s budget cuts, there’s program changes there’s institutional. So it’s dealing with that stuff, but, but change management is very interesting. Just to see, you know, who’s, who’s okay with taking a risk moving forward and who wants to just stay comfortable. And the fact is we’ve been forced out of comfortable from because of the budgets and stuff like that. But I do really enjoy working with grad students. For example, I just, I just had one of my PhD students just successfully defended her dissertation on Tuesday morning. So that’s super exciting. And she’s got a wonderful career ahead of her. So that’s give a little shout out to Dr. Harden Krieger as of freshly minted, but yeah, I think, I mean, a university is a unique place and as a, as a teacher there is a lot of education that goes on there.


Douglas Gleddie (30:32):
It’s, there’s a lot of flexibility and there’s a lot of opportunity to try new things. So like this master’s cohort, something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. It took us about five years to get it up and running. But once we did now, it’s very successful. I’ve got some great colleagues that I work alongside that help out and, and share the load and bring their own expertise, passion, and innovation to the program. And so that’s, you know, good work with good people is, is really, that’s kinda my kryptonite. It’s hard to say no to


Sam Demma (31:05):
Awesome love that. Cool. And what do you think are some opportunities right now in education? Like I know COVID has changed things a lot. It’s given us tons of challenges, but I think along with all challenges or some little opportunities here and there, curious if you have some of that.


Douglas Gleddie (31:21):
I think you know, I kinda, I kind of get annoyed when people are like, well, what was the silver lining of? COVID like, well, there’s no silver lining. A lot of people died. A lot of people got sick and it really sucked for the last 18 months. But at the same time, like you said, we definitely learned something, right. So I think we, we learned that or were reminded maybe I always liked one of my favorite mark Twain quotes, and he’s got a lot of good ones, but never let school stand in the way of a good education. That’s a rough paraphrase, but school is just one way to get educated. You know, there are so many different places to get educated. And I think for post-secondary institutions, we’re learning that we can’t just sit back and say, Hey everyone, this is where it’s at.


Douglas Gleddie (32:09):
You need to come to us. We need to be out there, but we need to be innovative. We need to be reaching people where they are providing what they need. That doesn’t mean we give up on theory. It doesn’t mean we give up on the idea of a university in the idea of a university is to share ideas and discuss and debate. So I think that’s one way you know, even with our health and phys ed cohort, we, we recognize early on that the way to bring people in is to not have them all come to campus all the time. So we do a summer, we do like two consecutive summers where you come for two weeks and it is important that we connect face to face and then the rest is online, but they’ve created those relationships. So, you know, the fact that you can, you can interact and create pretty deep relationships with people without being in the same room. Now I still think ultimately face-to-face is where it’s at. And you have to get there eventually. But, so I think that, I think we’re going to see a lot of post-secondary programs that are pushed to innovate and the ones that don’t, they’re going to fall behind.


Sam Demma (33:16):
Got it. Cool. Awesome. And you know, I can’t remember how many years you said you’ve been teaching 29, 25?


Douglas Gleddie (33:23):
I think 25


Sam Demma (33:24):
Okay. And this is, might be a tough question, but if you took all the experience and knowledge you have now through the past, you know, two decades of teaching and you could give some advice to your first year younger self when you were just getting into the job, like knowing what you know now, what would you tell that first year Doug?


Douglas Gleddie (33:50):
Well, I think the consistent thing all the way through is that like teaching what’s like life, it’s all about relationships. So if you don’t care about relationships, the rest of the rest falls behind. And I think the biggest piece of advice is it’s not about you because as a young teacher, like I remember going on the gym and shooting around and, and you know, I used to play a lot of basketball and, and I’m, I’m pretty tall and I used to be able to jump. And so, you know, I go in there and I’d be like, I’d be like Dunkin on kids and stuff. And I’m like, yeah, I just dumped on a 14 year old look how good I am. That’s part of that’s just because I was young and part of it too, you’re insecure and you’re trying to cement your place into things. But I often tell my, my student teachers right now, as you may tell, I like a lot of quotes and a lot of different things, but there’s a, there’s a Soundgarden line. You know, be yourself, it’s all that you can do or it’s all that you can be. And so that’s really, you have to be yourself. And if you’re your honest, authentic self, and you’re also reflective and you’re relational, I think you’ll go far.


Sam Demma (35:06):
Cool. This has been a great conversation. Thank you so much for sharing some of your experiences and stories. And if someone’s listening is been inspired by anything and just wants to connect, what would be the best way for them to reach out to you and get in touch?


Douglas Gleddie (35:20):
Hmm. Well, probably I’m the only social media I’m on at the moment is Twitter. So I think I’m, I don’t even know what my handle is. Yeah. I think it’s d_ bloody pretty original. My email is dgleddie@ualberta.ca. Chances are nowadays, you can just Google stuff and you’ll find people I’m fine with emails to connect up. That works for me. Awesome. I also really appreciate the work you’re doing Sam in terms of this, like, podcasts are so great. Like I’m a huge podcast fan. I listened to a wide variety when I’m working out or just walking or biking to work or whatever. And there’s so many, you know, you asked about the way like institutions change and education changes. Like I write peer reviewed papers and there’s an important piece for that. But if it never gets into the hands of teachers or into the hands of people who can use it, it doesn’t go anywhere. So to do things like this, podcasts, blogs, talking to teachers, book clubs, whatever it is, that’s where it’s at. Yeah.


Sam Demma (36:29):
I appreciate that. I appreciate it. And I hope it continues to reach more educators so they can learn about everything we talked about. And I think I’ve interviewed like 120 people now, selfishly, I’m learning a lot. And I think everyone’s getting to learn from each other. It’s like free peer to peer personal development


Douglas Gleddie (36:48):
Now. So I’ve got a question for you. If that’s allowed?


Sam Demma (36:52):
Sure, we’re still live.


Douglas Gleddie (36:56):
It’s not an embarrassing question. So you’re, you know, you’re interviewing all these folks and you’re looking at education and you’re doing this. What’s your, what’s your plan moving forward. Are you, are you going to go into more formal education? Are you like, I think you’re educating people now. But what’s your, what’s your immediate then maybe longterm plan.


Sam Demma (37:14):
It’s funny. You mentioned never letting school get in the way of education. I’m someone that believes that, that as well, there’s so many ways to get educated, educated and informed. I actually went to university for two months. I’m a student to take a gap year. A fifth year, went to school, realized that it wasn’t what I wanted and then dropped out and coming from a European family, my parents immediately were like, what the heck are you doing? You know, it’s talking about us laughing that kid inside the head when you were in Cambodia on the boat. You know, I got, I got some math, a couple of times metaphorically. And I told my parents, I want to speak to kids. I have stories that I think would inspire them to follow their dreams, to be servant leaders, to give back. And I just started doing that at the age of 19 and I found a youth speaking university and I went and I, I flew to California.


Sam Demma (38:06):
I flew to Vancouver. I bought these programs found a coach, hired a coach kinda like dove in. And so all the work I’m doing is catered towards helping young people and youth realize the importance of their own potential and possibilities. And then also along that line, understanding that life isn’t all about you, but you have to also give back and be a good human being. So like, what’s, what’s the future right now. I’m actually working on a spoken word album and I won’t share it live, but after we hit the stop recording, I’ll, I’ll share it with you. And I’m also working on a book called dear high school. Me, which much of life lessons for students from someone not far removed from school. So I’ll get into formal education. I’m not sure I will continue doing the stuff I’m doing now, but just try and do more.


Douglas Gleddie (38:55):
Yeah. And just know, I don’t ask that question out of a, “you should really do formal education” because I do think we push, we push kids to university too much for some it’s absolutely the right place to be. Right. But like I said, there’s so many different places to learn. There’s so many opportunities to grow and develop. And so I think it’s really cool to see what


Sam Demma (39:17):
I appreciate that. And I, I love the question and I’m, I’m very cautious about giving other young people advice, because again, it’s not like it depends on where you want to go. Right. It’s like if I wanted to be a doctor engineer or a teacher, like you have to take certain paths. So yeah, I appreciate the question. And again, this has been an honor. Thank you so much for coming on the show, keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon.


Douglas Gleddie (39:39):
Yeah. Likewise. Thanks for having me.


Sam Demma (39:41):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest and amazing interview on the high performing educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review. So other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show. If you want to meet the guest on today’s episode, if you want to meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and sign up to join the exclusive network. You have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not feel your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Douglas Gleddie

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.

Kevin Wendling – Elementary School Principal at Northeastern Catholic District School Board

Kevin Wendling Elementary Principal
About Kevin Wendling

Kevin Wendling has been in education for well over 25 years and his diverse experiences working in different school boards, countries, and roles have given him the perspective needed to approach his work in a faith-based, holistic approach.

Kevin is a passionate and experienced school administrator in the elementary and secondary panels in private schools and publicly funded Catholic education system in Ontario, as well as an International School in South Korea. 

Connect with Kevin: Email | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

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):
Do you want access to all the past guests on this show? Do you want to network with like-minded individuals and meet other high-performing educators from around the world? If so, go to www.highperformingeducator.com. Sign up to join the exclusive network and you’ll get access to live virtual networking events and other special opportunities that will come out throughout 2021. I promise you I will not fill your inbox. You might get one email a month. If that sounds interesting. Go to www dot high-performing educator.com. Welcome back to another episode of the high performing educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker Sam demo. Today’s guest is Kevin Wendling. Kevin has been in education for well over 25 years and his diverse experiences of working in different school boards, countries and roles have given him the perspective needed to approach his work in a faith-based holistic approach.


Sam Demma (01:00):
Kevin is passionate about influencing others in a positive way and getting through to students. He’s an experienced school administrator in the elementary and secondary panels and private schools and publicly funded Catholic educational system in Ontario, as well as an international school in South Korea. I hope you enjoy today’s interview and conversation with Kevin and I will see you on the other side, Kevin, welcome to the high-performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Start by introducing yourself and showing you a little bit, a little bit behind why you’re passionate about the work you do in education today.


Kevin Wendling (01:37):
Yeah. my name’s Kevin Wendling. I I work up here at Bishop bellow school and with the Northeastern Catholic district school board. I’ve been in education well over twenty-five years. And a majority of that has been as a principal vice principal or administrator. Part of my career has worked for different school boards. So I’ve worked some time in Niagara, ran Haldeman Norfolk, and actually worked overseas in Korea for three years at a national school. So I’ve had some very different and actually worked in the private schools as well, private school system. So in Ontario, so I’ve done a lot of different things. My, my passion is about educating kids and my passion is about being a leader and influencing others and all that really traces back to a faith based summer camp that I worked at when I was in high school and those opportunities, and then coming back and tutoring in high school really kind of set the stage for me to want to go into education. And actually I did some retreat work with Niagara Catholic district school board with grade sevens and eights. And that kind of put me on the path towards leadership or becoming a principal. And I’ve been actually a principal and vice-principal both elementary and secondary. So I’ve got lots of different perspectives and I’ve never, never met up an opportunity that didn’t help me. And I hopefully didn’t help the school that also helped the school community as well. So lots of lots of great things.


Sam Demma (03:06):
Can we go back to Korea for a second? Well, what brought you out there? What work were you doing there and what was the experience like living in a totally different culture?


Kevin Wendling (03:16):
Yeah, well my wife and I, we have, we have five children and basically my wife went to Europe one summer with some family and came back and we had a talk and she said, you know what? I have a degree in history, but I don’t understand the world. I don’t understand. I went to Europe, I went to Italy, I went to England and you know what what it says in the books. Isn’t, isn’t what it is out there. She goes, I really let’s try and do some international travel. Let’s try and maybe even do some international teaching and with a family of five, we were limited to where we could go. And so we ended up in Korea, we ended up a school that was a Christian based school that was just starting up. And so when we arrived, it was up to grade 10 and she taught middle school, you know, grade 6, 7, 8.


Kevin Wendling (04:01):
I taught high school, actually. I had just done been involved with six years of being an elementary principal. And we took a leave of absence from our jobs in Ontario and went there and basically within a year they needed a high school principal and I became the high school principal and saw the first graduation class. It was an IB school. So that was whoa, like the training involved with that, the, the expectations, the high expectations and some of the, you know, the, the best five teachers I worked with, I would say two or three of them were there. It was great. It was a lot of collaboration, a lot of working together, but we really went for our kids too. So our kids could get a different idea of a culture. So my middle daughter played hockey in Korea. If you can imagine that.


Kevin Wendling (04:48):
So my daughters, all five of my daughters actually danced ballet and all of that. So they really got a chance to see the culture. And they actually learned a lot of Korean, which is, I’ve been told one of the most difficult languages to learn you. Also, we also got to travel, do I be training? We had the opportunity to travel and whenever we traveled, we took the kids with us. So we actually, we went to the Philippines, we went to India, we went to China, a number of times to sight Penn for us, like a summer vacation in the Marguerite in the, you know, that part of us at the time. So we got a chance to kind of see everything. And we did that for three years. And after three years we had a choice. We continue to do this for the rest of our careers, or we come back to Canada to Ontario.


Kevin Wendling (05:33):
And we just decided to come back to Ontario. And it was fantastic opportunity as a principal. I probably gained more than anybody and experience just because of the way I was treated as a principal, some of the experiences I’ve had just phenomenal and really a very, very, the big difference I would say is that the committed people, when you go overseas, your committed, you are there, you know, it’s like Balboa, you burnt the ships you’re there. The people are very committed and actually their families are too. So we saw a lot of families and a lot of, you know, younger families with kids like us at the time. And we just had a great time. It was a fantastic experience and we’ve kept some of those friendships going even after we left. So really good.


Sam Demma (06:20):
Awesome. I love the balboa reference where you put logs on your back and do lunges in the backyard.


Kevin Wendling (06:27):
That’s Awesome.


Sam Demma (06:27):
Where did you, so, okay. Let’s go back now to the faith based summer camp. What was that camp and what about that experience encourage you to get into education?


Kevin Wendling (06:41):
It just, it totally blew my mind in terms of what I saw to that point in my life. Like I would, I was, I was in a really good high school, but it was one of my teachers at the high school who introduced it to me. And what he introduced me to was just a different way of leadership, a different way of, of looking after kids. You know, I, I ended up you know, looking after kids around nine, 10 years old. But then later on did trips to Algonquin park, canoeing and hiking with kids like 12, 13, 14 years old, it just was a true community feeling and true your ship in action. Like you had to be a leader, you had to go out and like leadership. Isn’t about stuff in that as, you know, stuff in textbooks it’s about going out and being a leader, that’s the best quote I ever heard is leaders lead.


Kevin Wendling (07:32):
And so you, you had that opportunity to go out and to be that leader for each other. And also the faith aspect was the fact that it was a, it was run by the bazillion fathers out of Toronto. And they really I learned a lot about spirituality from them and from the preset where there, it actually later went on. When I finished university, I actually was the first lay chaplain at the ethical camp for two years and was on the advisory board and did some other things with the camp. It ended up it’s doesn’t exist anymore. It kind of gave way to times and to things and to money and all kinds of stuff. And but that opportunity for me was just phenomenal. It really was part of my formation to become a teacher. And what it taught me is it gave me the confidence saying, you know, I want to be a teacher.


Kevin Wendling (08:21):
And in fact, one person I met there led them to the program. I went at the university of Waterloo math teaching option program. And it was someone who I met there that introduced it to me, but it was just later when I had a teacher who influenced me to go there, I said, is it, you knew exactly the influence is going to have on me. You knew exactly I belonged here. And you said, yes. And that’s why you need to be here. And that it was just that, that tale of teachers having influence and affecting the kids and affecting their students and making it a, a, a great place for them to become the leaders and the people that need to be.


Sam Demma (08:55):
I love that. And like you mentioned or alluded to like, now’s a different time, right? Like COVID is changing things you were telling me before we hit record that uncertainty is a common feeling amongst school staff, probably all around the world. What are some of the challenges that are going through your mind, your staff’s mind, and, you know, how are you all grouping together as a strong team to try and figure things out?


Kevin Wendling (09:18):
The number one is, is as much as we’re a school and we’re about learning, it’s the number one thing has to be about safety has to be about the kids being safe and, and the kids making sure that they’re not getting sick. So we were elementary. So majority of our kids, you know, really great, six down to kindergarten, haven’t been vaccinated. And so they’re very susceptible, especially with the Delta virus right now and how much it can affect kids. We want to make sure they’re safe, you know? So it’s making sure we’re masking making sure we’re sanitizing, our hands, social distancing, all the things you hear. We, we we’re teaching that each and every day to the kids and just reminding them of it. And yet throughout all that, we’re trying to learn and making sure that the learning is there for them and giving them the opportunities for them to learn.


Kevin Wendling (10:05):
And yet underlining all that is the uncertainty of, okay, could we shut down again? We shut down three times last year, we shut down once more than everybody else for an additional three weeks where we distributed the computers and they went out and and actually Lucy went through a time where it was really, we had a number of cases and it was surging. And people were really scared because it was like, oh no, is this really going to affect? And that’s been the case with all the flying communities, flying communities up the coast of James bay actually had over 200 cases in jail. And that’s, and over half of those were, were kids under 18. And so, you know, we we’ve seen it. We, we lived the fear, we’ve seen it. And it’s like, are we going to get through this year? Are we going to have to pivot again?


Kevin Wendling (10:51):
And let’s face it, teachers teach and are trained to teach face to face. It’s, it’s all about, I want to be in front of those kids. I want to work with them. If there’s a problem, I go beside them. You can’t do that on a computer. Technology is fantastic. Technology is great, but for younger kids, it’s, it’s not the way to learn for them. You know, whether it’s the mental health aspect, whether it’s the learning aspect, you gotta remember too. When we, when we dove into this 18 months ago, teachers don’t normally take courses on distance education. Suddenly you had to, you had to be an expert, and that was hard on a lot of people. And, and then you come back and say, well, yeah, you gotta wear the proper PPE and things like that. And you just feel a little bit distanced, you know, naturally you figure in the kindergarten class, there’s a lot of hubs and a lot of, you know, hand on the shoulder and things like that.


Kevin Wendling (11:38):
And people feeling closest together, physically, you can’t do that. Now. You really have to, you know, keep that distance and, and make sure. And again, we, we don’t do that. We actually do that now to show we care in a different way, because we want them to get sick and we don’t want them to. So those are, those are some of the things you know, as a principal, I don’t think people realize that when there is a positive case in your school of probate and suddenly a class that should shut down, you’re working with the health unit. And there’s a lot of things that are going on behind the curtain to make sure things are okay and people are safe and, and yet confidentiality is making. So there’s so much of that stuff that people don’t don’t know. And they don’t need to know because it’s affecting them.


Kevin Wendling (12:19):
And then we get the other side where parents are frustrated. Parents are incredibly frustrated, they just want consistency. You know, just think if you’re a a single mom and you’ve got two kids and you’ve got a job and that stowing, and suddenly you get COVID or someone you work with gets COVID or, or where you work has suddenly shut down. And, you know, and then you get another job or you got two or three, and then you got your kids and suddenly there’s something at school. And now they’re, you know, you got a great to integrate for, and suddenly they have to do, you know, virtual education. How does that work? How do you maintain your job and do all that? And the government’s been great. Government has had programs and things to help, but, but that’s not what they expected. That’s not what’s best for everybody involved.


Kevin Wendling (13:01):
So it’s an, it’s an incredible challenge. I think we’ve learned a lot from it. I think we’ve learned a lot about education Ontario and the value of it and want to teach, but we also, we’re living through a very difficult time. It’s a time where there is a time in the end right now we see a lot of hope and we’re hoping that it’s going to get better and we see signs of it. But then as we go through this with the Delta variant, and then the next wave we, we wonder if this is going to be a big wave or is this going to be a small way? You know, you know, it’s like waiting on the dock, but you don’t know what’s going to hit you. Yeah.


Sam Demma (13:35):
Yeah. So true. And do you think that there are things that will forever be changed? Not in terms of like PPE, but the disruption of COVID-19 may have also caused lots of reflection. Could we be doing things differently? Is there, is there anything to take away from this? Do you think there is anything that came out of it that was like, this is interesting. Might be something that we continue to do or revisit or, or look at as an opportunity?


Kevin Wendling (14:00):
I think every procedure, I think every procedure that, that we have at schools has had to be looked at from a, from a safety, a health and safety and you know, immunology, you know, like the whole science behind it, you know, let’s put in once things like that. And some teachers have found, there are some things that are better, you know, in procedures and how things go. And there’s things, maybe not like, for example, something they push for years is literally literally sludge. So in other words, you know, you come to school, whatever’s in your bag, you put back in and you take home and you throw it out at home. We’ve had to do that because of COVID. And actually, you know what, that’s something that environmentalist I’ve been saying for a while. Cause if you’re throwing out the garbage as a parent, maybe you’re going to pack the lunch in a different way.


Kevin Wendling (14:44):
Maybe you’re going to do things in a different way. So that’s, that’s just like one example of how, you know, things have changed. We also aren’t as supposed to accept lunches, you know, last year in particular through the day, like, because you’re not supposed to have parents come to the school. You know, so basically, you know, parents make sure the lunches packed. What’s sad though, is you’ve seen a lot of these pre-packaged lunches. Well now, because like, for example, like our school at one time allowed microwaves to warm up the meal, we, we can’t allow that right now. We can’t have microwave salon. You know, that may change soon, but, but right now that’s our policy and that, that was direction from last year. So there’s, there’s a lot of little things here and there. I, I, you know, the other is, I think you’re going to see the whole virtual school thing stay.


Kevin Wendling (15:32):
I think some parents like that. And again, what, what would be interesting to know what the reasons were because we’re really not asking the reasons, I think the other thing, the importance of mental health and you know, the whole idea of mental health and that awareness has become paramount. When it first came out, we saw it as important. We now are really seeing important. We’re seeing probably one of the things I really noticed up here when we had the vaccine clinics in June for 12, between the 12 and 18 year olds, you would think, okay, 12, 18 year olds. Some of these kids are just going to come on their own. You know, the parents will just say, just go and whatever, every student who got vaccinated that I saw in the clinic, I was in for the day to kind of help out.


Kevin Wendling (16:16):
And again, we were coming in to help because it helped you and ask, we need some people just to be positive support, but every one of those kids had a parent with them. And like even a 17 year old had a parent with them. And I would say some of these kids had their hoodies up over their head, kind of, kind of being really anxious. They were scared about the shot. They were scared about things because again, a lot of that’s out in the media and you know, there’s some positive stories and there’s not so positive stories. And again, they were worried about that. And again, to the point where I was doing like check-ins with kids every so often, and I knew some kids were just nervous because they didn’t know me cause there’s there’s schools that, that were being served by that clinic at the hockey arena.


Kevin Wendling (16:58):
And I actually knew that. So I would just go over and said, look, you don’t know me, but I got to make sure you’re okay. Just give me a thumbs up if I come by and give you a thumbs up. Just, just so I know you’re okay. Because if, if they got sick, if they had a reaction, I had to make sure of that. So it was interesting that way, there was a lot of things. I think we’re learning along the way with, with other things and other aspects, I think we’re learning about ourselves as a culture. You know, we have some people who don’t necessarily believe in vaccines, but yet we’re all supposed to believe in public health and make sure everyone’s safe. So I think there’s a, a push and a pull there. And I think some of it is very regional.


Kevin Wendling (17:36):
And that being said, you know, we great example, like I mentioned before, we had a community up here. We had access to the vaccine in February, March this year, all the communities did. And yet we still had a community that skyrocketed and 200 cases like that. Like it, it didn’t take long. This virus really can move quickly, especially with the Delta by period. So it’s actually up here in the whole Timmins area. There were a number of cases where if you remember some people don’t that in June, the rest of the province could have opened open up the government. We would have shut down. We would have no. Cause we had, we were searching in cases. It was unbelievable in the, in, in the Timmins and the porcupine health unit area, how bad it was.


Sam Demma (18:20):
Wow. Yeah, it’s a, it’s such a interesting time and just put it like that. And fingers crossed that things also started to clear up in all schools, across the country, across the world when it comes to making connections with students, you know, you talked about walking up to the ones in the clinic and giving them thumbs up, which is awesome during a time of stress putting the hat on, like we’re back in a regular school you sound like you’ve done so many different roles in education. What have you found is the most effective ways to build trust and a relationship with a student in a class or in a school?


Kevin Wendling (18:56):
Starts with a smile and a kind word asking them their name. Because again, you know, and again, I’m, I’m, I pride myself on knowing names for a good part of my career and that when I went overseas, it’s like, okay, I’m struggling with this. It’s, it’s just being very genuine and honest and caring about the person before you can make any relationship. You’ve got to show that, that empathy and compassionate, caring, showing you care about that person and you take the time to talk to them and get to know them that that’s where it starts. And then the relationships build from there. And again, it’s, it sounds simple. It’s not because you have to have a big heart and you have to go out and that’s how that’s again, that’s how the relationship starts. And again, we’re, we’re in a place right now in Lucy where, you know, over 90, approximately 95 or high 90% of people here are indigenous background.


Kevin Wendling (19:49):
And I’m not of indigenous background. I so guess what, I’m maybe someone that I will be trusted right away, especially with everything going on right now with, with the residential schools. And, you know, there wasn’t one in Mussolini, but there’s been a few of, there were a few off the coast that were closed down. And so whenever they kind of happened in the spring with regard to residential schools and that issue came up, that hit us hard too, even though we were, we were virtual at the time. So we had been in front of the school and we actually had parents and grandparents who were survivors of the residential schools actually have a teacher on staff, survival, potential schools. So, so again, when, when you talk about making those connections and making those things, you have to see where that person is as well.


Kevin Wendling (20:32):
And you have to come in. And I think the other thing too, being up here has kind of confirmed that, but even overseas and anywhere, it’s like, are you going to be here tomorrow? Are you going to be here to continue this relationship with me? Or are you going to pack it up and leave suddenly that’s important as well. People need to feel that basis that you’re at, you’re here for the long haul and that you’re here to help them and that you want to help them, you know, and, and that’s, that’s really key. And I, you know, normally you would say maybe that’s just for elementary kids, but I think that’s also secondary now too. I think the secondary kids, especially with this, I’ve been hard hit and the anxiety and things that they face is quite big.


Sam Demma (21:08):
Teaching is such a giving vocation, giving, calling. You’re not only giving students information, but sometimes they’re also like a coach and a mentor. Even if you’re not coaching a sport, you know, you kind of give students a shoulder to lean on. Sometimes if they need to talk to you about something that’s uncomfortable, what’s your experience been like with boundaries, you know, separating work from life and making sure that although you’re consistently able to give you’re also filling up your own cup and making sure you’re not burning out, especially during a time where you might be staring at a screen for seven hours a day and, you know, answering phone calls twenty four seven.


Kevin Wendling (21:43):
Yeah. I, you know, because my very first school I was principal at was in my hometown. You know, it was in port Colborne Ontario and, you know, so I would go out with my kids for activities and sports and I would see other kids around and, and you know what, they, they knew the boundary. They knew that I was Mr. Wellman. They knew that I would say hi to them, but they also respected the fact that from their parents, from their upbringing to kind of have that, that boundary there, however, my life has always intermixed. You know, I’ve, I’ve actually coached my kids and coached a lot of sports. Even the whole morning. I coached Shane love volleyball, and then did a lot of volleyball coaching and at the travel team level and, and various levels all the way up to UAA team.


Kevin Wendling (22:27):
So I had that experience as well, but it’s really about, you just naturally have to make, you know, those boundaries and just let people know that things are. And so when a student kind of crosses that boundary, like even as something as simple as, oh, I remember I was at one school was out for the buses and it’s, it’s a little joke when kindergartens grade ones learn that you have a first name, you know, it’s not Mr. It’s, you know, my first name’s Kevin. So they would come up to me and I remember them whispering and going, we don’t want your real name. And they go, yeah, it’s Mr. And they go, no, no, no, no. We know your real name. And I said, well, what do you think it is? And they go, well, we’re not supposed to say your real name because, you know, and they knew it wasn’t right.


Kevin Wendling (23:10):
I said, don’t just tell me. And they said, we think it’s Kevin. I said, it is, what should you call me that? And they said, no, you’re Mr. Lenley. But they think it’s funny because you’re human, it’s human side to you. And we’re like, when I show them pictures or they come to my office and they see pictures of my family. So it’s not, you know, boundaries are important for respect, but you gotta be careful that that boundary doesn’t dehumanize you as well. You’re, you’re very much you’re very much a human being and they know that. But when they realize that you have a family and you have a white friend that you have kids and they see those kids and they see pictures, or you’re out at a hockey game, you know, that’s the thing you don’t want to create the boundary where a kid comes up to you and says, hi, Mr.


Kevin Wendling (23:51):
Welling, how are you? And you just kind of push them off or shut them off. Some kids though, don’t want to come up to you and they see you. So you wave you wave. And that makes them realize that you’re a human being as well. But boundaries are incredibly important when you, when you talk about from a leadership standpoint that, you know, in terms of like your employees and people you work with and things like that. But in terms of kids, they actually know the boundaries and you may remind them of it, but you do so in a way that’s human and compassionate because that’s, that’s part of being a teacher. That actually to me is an incredible teachable moment because yeah, today, right now, some kids really, you know, some schools, you actually see people call them, you know, they I’d be called substitute Mr.


Kevin Wendling (24:31):
Kevin. And I’m like, oh, well, I don’t like, well, they can’t pronounce your last name. I said, you know what, I’d rather them not pronounce my name, last name properly and learn along the way saying, well, I can’t say your name. Cause it’s, it’s difficult for me to say and just rename you something, you know, your name is part of who you are and part of the respect that you got to give to others. So there’s that one to unpack that one. There’s a lot of stuff that when you talk about boundaries and you know, that, that can be incredibly tough, but in terms of kids and stuff, like, yeah, they need to know the boundaries, but they also need you. You can’t use that as a way of dehumanizing who you are. Yeah.


Sam Demma (25:08):
Also you put up a barrier that’s not necessary right there. It makes it even harder for them to reach out. I think our online that you’ve been teaching for 27 or 28 years now.


Kevin Wendling (25:18):
Yeah, yeah. Teaching and being involved with education. But considering I like tutored kids even back in high school. It’s it’s and I was a leader of a cup pack. You know, even before, like, it was funny, I’m brilliantly pack leader who worked with others that actually had to get a drive to the, to the, to the meetings cause time. So yeah. All the kids and working with kids for a really long time. Yeah. Probably, probably over 30 years, but professionally as a professional it’s I think it makes 27.


Sam Demma (25:49):
Okay, cool. And so it might be a tough question, but if you could take all the experience and wisdom that you have gained over the past 28 years and distill it into a couple of pieces of advice for your younger self, when you were just starting this work, like knowing what you know now, what would you share with your younger self?


Kevin Wendling (26:10):
Be honest, be genuine and just love the kids. And, and as you teach them just help wherever they are just help them. And and everything else will work out. It’s really about loving kids. It’s really about teaching them for myself as a, you know, that’s for me just general that’s, that’s my 24 year old self, just starting to teach, you know, who was nervous about lesson plans and this and that. And it’s like, no, this, this will all work out. We’ll be okay. As a, as an administrator, as a principal. And I learned this very quickly. So I was lucky. It’s really about four things. You know, you want to create a school that, where kids learn, where kids feel safe and where kids wellness is looked after, but I would even say have fun. And from a face standpoint, you do all that, knowing that God is with you in that below of the holy spirit is with you.


Kevin Wendling (27:09):
And that, and that basically from a faith standpoint, that all those things have to come from a faith perspective as well. So those would be two piece of advice I’d give, give my younger self. And, and the other thing I would say is to do this job, it’s not just you, it’s also your spouse, it’s also your family. So, so my kids, you know, let’s face it a family with, with two teachers in it. There’s certain rules you learn and, you know, there’s certain things you learn and certain things you say and don’t say, and, and, but it must’ve worked because my oldest is going to be is a teacher and she’s just going into her second year. And I probably have at least two other teachers, I’ve got two who said, Nope, I’m not teaching, but yet I watch how they work and interact with others.


Kevin Wendling (27:54):
And there you’re just like teachers. They’re just like teacher. I have one daughter who’s probably going to go into the medical field and yet she could tutor and help kids read and do all that and analyze it better than almost any teacher. I know. And her biggest frustration was, I don’t understand why parents don’t help their kids. You know, like I don’t understand that. And she just sits back with that. But, but that’s the thing it’s, it’s, you know, it’s, it’s a whole, almost like a family thing. And again, if I look too, there’s no teachers, my family, but I look at my wife, her whole family is teachers. And one of the best teachers I know other than my wife has actually her mother who was awesome kindergarten teacher. And actually as a young principal, I would go to her for advice and say, look, you’re a veteran teacher.


Kevin Wendling (28:39):
What am I missing something here? What do you think? And she was, she was always awesome with the advice. So I guess that would be the other piece I would give is you’re not alone. You need to collaborate with others. You need to work with others. You need to, to know that you don’t know everything. And I’ve probably early on my career. I was a little stubborn that way. I figured I knew things, but man when I kind of let that down and work with others, it’s phenomenal how much others can build you up and teach you. If you have an open mind to that and going overseas taught you that as well. Oh my gosh. You want to change your life, go overseas for a year. It true. Like that’s an old saying that they say, but it truly makes a huge difference.


Sam Demma (29:21):
I love that. That’s awesome. Kevin, thank you so much for being generous with your time and sharing so many coolest stories and ideas and principles and your journeys traveling overseas, your journeys at summer camp. If there’s an educator listening right now who feels inspired or just wants to chat about something related to the podcast or anything they heard, what would be the way for them to reach out to you?


Kevin Wendling (29:43):
That’s the way we be at my address at the school on that. KWendling@ncdsb.on.ca. That’s, that’s probably the best way to do that. And I would, I would love to hear and if stories to share or people that, you know, along the way, like, Hey, let’s talk! I’d be more than open to those opportunities.


Sam Demma (30:09):
Awesome. Kevin, thank you so much for doing this. I appreciate your time and keep up the great work.


Kevin Wendling (30:15):
Thanks for having me on the show.


Sam Demma (30:17):
And there you have it, another amazing guest and amazing interview on the high performing educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review. So other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show. If you want to meet the guest on today’s episode, if you want to meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www dot high-performing educator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not feel your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Kevin Wendling

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.

Melissa Wright – New Brunswick Student Leadership Association President

Melissa Wright New Brunswick Student Leadership Association President
About Melissa Wright

Melissa Wright (@WrightMelissa_)is a passionate educator and speaker that is driven to help schools create a place where students belong and everyone feels like they matter. Melissa is also the president of the New Brunswick Student Leadership Association President.

By sharing ideas that work in her school, she helps educators and students see they can improve their culture and climate. She is known for her passion and desire to see students succeed, and find their inner leader.

Connect with Melissa: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Kennebascis Valley High School

Jostens Renaissance Program

www.melissawright.ca

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:02):
Welcome back to another episode of the high performing educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker Sam Demma. Today we have on a very special guest. Her name is Melissa Wright. She is a passionate educator and speaker that is driven to help schools create a place where students can belong. And everyone feels like they matter by sharing ideas that work in her school. She helps educators and students see they can improve their culture and school climate. She is known for her passion and desire to see students succeed and find their own inner leader. Along with all this, Melissa is also the new Brunswick student leadership association president. And on today’s episode, she has so many unique ideas and inspiring moments to share. I hope you enjoy it. Let’s get in with the interview, Melissa. Thank you so much for coming on the high-performing educator podcast. It’s a pleasure to have you here. We were just talking about some salsa and bachata and dancing early morning. Can you share with the audience who you are and why you got into the work that you do with youth today?


Melissa Wright (01:08):
Yeah. Thanks so much, Sam, for having me. It’s a pleasure to be here. I think it’s absolutely wonderful that you’re doing this. I’m so kudos to you. But yeah, a little bit about me. I’m a high school educator at Kennebascis Valley High School. This is year 16. I’ve been fortunate enough to have my whole career here and I mostly teach math, but I also have a local option of dance. So that’s super fun to teach because, you know, we do classical styles like tap and jazz, but then we also have a vice principal in our school that had learned but shadow from a previous relationship. And I had never done that style before. So he taught me and then we taught it to the class. So now he comes in and guest teaches that.


Melissa Wright (01:47):
So that’s a super fun class, but you know, it’s so great every day to be able to come and do something that you love. You know, I got into teaching because of dance. So when I was about 13 or so, I started assisting at my local dance school. And then by the time I was 16, I was teaching classes on my own. So that’s where I fell in love with teaching. And then, you know, I love math as well in school. So I said, well, I’ll become a teacher. And then once I became a teacher saw that, Hey, there’s an opportunity. You can write your own curriculum because in new Brunswick don’t have a dance course it’s written by the province. So I took that opportunity to, to write that and got it approved. So it’s great that we, that we have that here, but also part of what I do in love is, is student leadership as well.


Melissa Wright (02:30):
So when I was in high school, I was fortunate enough to have an educator and she always gets embarrassed every time I say this, but Heather Malco was my student council advisor in high school. And she really, really inspired me to be a teacher and pushed me to be the best version of myself. I could be. She was my, she taught me French in grade 10, but she was my student council advisor in high school. And, you know, it’s just amazing that she got me into that and pushed me to go through that. And we now work together, actually the pneumonic student leadership association. So it’s come completely full circle. And you know, it’s so great to have those people that inspire you to do those things that you know, that you love and that they sometimes can see in you that you can’t see in yourself.


Sam Demma (03:14):
I love that. That’s amazing. I have a similar story with the educator in my school named Michael loud foot. He just retired, although we don’t stay in touch to this day. So I think it’s awesome. And shout out to Heather and make sure you reach out to her after this and tell her that her name’s on another show. I was reading on your website before this interview that you want an award and your whole, your whole messaging in schools and for students is to help them feel like they matter. And I’m curious to know how do we make students feel like they matter during a time like COVID-19?


Melissa Wright (03:50):
Well, you know, it all comes down to relationships. It really, it really, really does. And, you know, I was fortunate enough when we closed in the spring during COVID that, you know, we’d had some time to build those relationships in the classroom so that the students trust you you know, coming into a new school year, that can be a little bit more difficult if you haven’t taught the students before. But I think it’s the fact of, you know, if they know that you’re there and that’s, you’re supporting them, you know if they have things going on outside of school and they come to you and say, you know, can I have an extra day to write before I have this test? You know, give them some grace, right. Then that’s really going to help them feel comfortable. And the thing of it is we are, we’re finding that so many of our kids with this whole cause we’re a hybrid, right?


Melissa Wright (04:35):
We’re there one day in the classroom and then the next day at home. So they’re getting stressed out about, you know, the workload and that sort of thing. But you know, sometimes we just have to take them aside and say, listen, you know, you have this math assignment, but what’s going on outside of school because this math assignment pales in comparison to perhaps the thing that you have going on in your personal life, or, you know, and I always tell the kids, they always ask me, you know, like, where am I ever gonna use this math? And I said, you know sad as it sounds, you might never learn, need to know how to graph a parabola in your everyday life. But I said, the skills that you use to do that, like grit and perseverance, and you know, this is a challenge and working hard, all of those skills, I guarantee you, you can use in any field that you go into. So I think we need to build those relationships with kids and show them that these skills and the resiliency it’s going to take them to get through this situation. And this school year is going to be something that’s going to stick with them for a lifetime.


Sam Demma (05:34):
Awesome. I love it so much that the social emotional learning side of subjects is not talked about enough and you did a great job just now explaining that. So other educators, if you get that objection by your students, definitely quote Melissa, what did Heather do for you when you were a student that pushed you? Did she tap you on the shoulder and tell you to get involved? What was it that she did if he could travel back in time that lit a fire within you that maybe another educator listening might think, wow, let me try and embody that thing, whatever she did to also light a fire under their, their own students.


Melissa Wright (06:10):
Well, when I first had her, she came into our school when I was in grade 10 and I had her for grade 10 fringe and she was just, she was a young teacher, bubbly personality, full of energy. So obviously, you know, her personality for one I gravitated towards right away. But the second thing was, you know, she, I had been involved in student council in grade nine and you know, I was lucky enough to be involved again in grade 10 and she ended up coming to take over. So, but when it came to grade 12, I was like, oh, you know, maybe cause I’d been a rep in grade 9, 10, 11. I was like, well, you know, maybe I’ll run for an executive position, but you know, I’d be okay with just being grateful type thing. And she’s like, no, you know, Melissa, I think you should run for president.


Melissa Wright (06:52):
So she was kind of the one that just said, you know, like the, what if you take those what ifs and turn them into, you know, I can’t, you know what I mean? So she was the one that said, you know, why don’t you run for president? I said, well, I’ll give it a shot. Cause you know, if I didn’t get elected, then the recollections were after that. Right. So I had a, I had a second chance type thing. So because of her just saying, you know, like, why don’t you do this or try this sometimes it’s just planting that little seed and that idea in a person’s head that makes them think a little differently, that things, wow. Maybe I should take this opportunity.


Sam Demma (07:28):
Yeah. That’s a great point. And I think back to my story as well, and my teacher did the same thing, it was a challenge. He challenged us. I think young people love challenges. They always want to show other people up, especially their teachers. So a little tap on the shoulder. A challenge is a great way to do that. Speaking of challenges during COVID, there has been many, I know you’re doing hybrid learning. Has there been a challenge that you have overcome that you think is worth sharing with another educator? Maybe you had a unique idea to solve a certain problem. And then I’ll ask you a follow-up question about, have you had any students who have been impacted during this time in a major way, and you can change their name if you want, but share a story and it doesn’t have to be during COVID.


Sam Demma (08:09):
It could be in your whole journey of education, share a story of a student who has been deeply impacted by something that’s happened in the school. Because another educator might be starting school this year and this might be their first year teaching and they might be thinking, oh my goodness, like what did I just sign up for? And a story like that might just light a fire in their belly to remember, no, the reason we do this is to change lives. And although it’s tough, we develop that grit and resiliency. So long question, first part share some unique ideas about overcoming COVID challenges. Second part student story changed their name for privacy reasons if you’d like,


Melissa Wright (08:43):
Okay. So yeah, ideas for, for COVID. So when I’m actually, I’m involved here at school, we have what’s called a Renaissance. So it’s all about school, culture and climate. So Jocelyn’s, everybody knows Jocelyn’s further rings in yearbooks. They’re kind of the ones that they don’t like determine what your program is, but they help with resources and that sort of thing. So we’re lucky enough to have the Renaissance team here at the school that I, that I run. And the big thing that we did was to make sure that the kids were still connected. So in those first two weeks, when for here in new Brunswick, when they closed in the spring, the first two weeks were kind of treated like snow days. Everybody was just home. There was no schoolwork, but as the advisor, one of the advisors, I have another advisor, we felt it was still important for us to stay connected to our team.


Melissa Wright (09:33):
So we kept continue to meet virtually, even though we didn’t really know what was going to happen in terms of our events and that sort of thing, we said, okay, we still need to meet with you guys because it’s just a, check-in say, Hey, how you doing? Do you need anything? But then the kids were the ones that said we’d brought in a guest speaker and a fellow educator, friend of mine from Wyoming Bradley Skinner. And he sparked them to say, why can’t we still do what we were going to do, but do it virtually. And I’m like, that’s phenomenal. Let’s do it guys. How do you want to do this? So we did all, like, we still did almost all of our events that we would have in the spring virtually. So we did things like in the springtime, we always do something called Kisa grad goodbye.


Melissa Wright (10:15):
So it’s, it’s quite cute. It’s normally it’s a piece of cardstock with a grad cap on it and people can purchase them for 50 cents. They write who it’s to who it’s from. And then they can write a little note on the back and we stick a Hershey’s kiss to it. So, and we usually deliver it to their homeroom class, but we weren’t physically in the building to do that, but we still want it to be able to have that because that’s become a tradition for our grads that, cause it doesn’t matter what grades you have, you know, how long it’s taken you to get to the finish line. Anybody can get a kiss goodbye. And our advisory teachers love it because it’s very affordable because you have the same kids until they graduate. And it’s a nice little, just a little something that they can that they can get.


Melissa Wright (10:59):
And so we said, well, we have to do it digitally. So we set up a Google form and people filled it out and we thought, you know, we shared it on social media. We thought, okay, you know, teachers will fill that out. Probably some students, but it was amazing because not only teachers and students did it, but there were also, you know, grandparents or aunts or uncles or friends that, you know, they might not even have been coming home for graduation, but they were like had normal time, but they were even still able to send those wishes and congratulations virtually. So the, and then we did the opt to look like they did on the paper copy and we emailed them to all their advisory teachers. And then that way they could send them to them through email or teams or however they can get ahold of them.


Melissa Wright (11:40):
So that was something that became very positive. And because of that, I think now this year we’re still, you know, in the building, we will do it like we normally do on paper, but then there’ll be an option for people to also it virtually, it won’t be as fancy. We won’t do it as fancy because it takes a lot of time, but it’ll still be an option. And I think, you know, it’s something important that we give those options because it’s important to celebrate our grads. It’s important to celebrate our students and our staff. So any way that we can continue to do that even during the, especially during these times is, is gonna make a huge impact. Another thing that we normally do in person is called thank a staff number. And we do this in may because everybody knows that may is a grind and educator.


Melissa Wright (12:26):
It really, really is. Everybody is exhausted and you know, they’re looking towards summer vacation. So what we usually do when we’re in the building is in advisory, people get slips of paper and they can write a nice note about any staff member in the building. It could be teacher custodian, cafeteria worker, you know, office staff, anybody that works here at K VHS and kids are allowed to fill up more than one. So, and the kids were like, well, we still have to do this, especially now because the teachers are working like mega overtime more than they normally would. So same thing, we set up a Google form, people filled it out. And then we even had parents that were filling it out, you know, not just students and teachers for other teachers. And it was just so nice to see the appreciation that everybody had and we thought, okay, so we’ll do these up and email them out.


Melissa Wright (13:16):
But we were lucky that teachers came back, just teachers in new Brunswick came back to the building in June. So as the advisors, we were able to hand deliver those, the teachers and some of them were like, what? This still happened. I didn’t even know. Right. And we make sure that every, every single staff member in the building gets at least one, because if, if there isn’t one for them, then members of our Renaissance team take minute, a few minutes and write one for everybody that doesn’t have one. So, you know, I have, I have stacks of them. I found them when we were home at a stacks in the home, I keep them in my desk. Teachers have told us when they’re having a bad day, they pull out and read those notes. And sometimes they’re not signed. Sometimes they’re anonymous and that’s perfectly fine.


Melissa Wright (13:57):
We tell the kids, you don’t have to put your name on it if you don’t want to, but if you want to that’s good. And there’s one other idea I’m going to share with you. And that leads into my student story. So we always do something in the spring called Crusader champion and what that is. It’s a ceremony to recognize students that have made improvement in their attendance, their their behavior or their attendance. So students are nominated by their teachers to come. So we have a population of approximately 1100 students. And the last one that we did in-person we were at about 120 kids. So that’s over 10% of our population got nominated to go to this, which was amazing. So, and they, so they get an invitation in their homeroom class and they don’t know. It just says, you’re invited on this date to the mini gym at this time to be celebrated as a Crusader champion.


Melissa Wright (14:45):
And the kids are like, I thought after 15 years they would start to catch on. They always forget. It’s okay though. So they get the little card and they get to get out a third period class. And they, they love that part, first of all, but they have to have the invitation to show their teacher and to give it to us when they come to the ceremony. So they come to the ceremony and they get free lunch and there’s, you know, door prizes that we draw for, but they also get a bunch of swag. So our parents school support committee sports, we have a little rewards card and they’re the only kids that get that for that month in the school. And there’s six spaces on it. So there’s two that are one more day on a homework assignment, pretty simple. Two of them are best seat in the house.


Melissa Wright (15:24):
So they get to choose where they sit for that class. Most of the time in my class, if they use it, they get, take my teacher comfy chair to their desk. That’s usually what happens, but in the middle of the two in the middle are the favorite. So there’s one, that’s a fi it’s just a five minute break away so they can leave one class five minutes early. But the other one, which is the most coveted square on that card, and I’ve actually had kids try to get their cards early because of it it’s called a KD quick pass because the church at the top of the hill, every Wednesday serves free craft dinner for our whole school population for anybody that wants to come. So after third period, it is a mad rush to get up that hill, get Kraft dinner, like the beat the line.


Melissa Wright (16:07):
So if they have that one space, they get to leave once on a Wednesday, five minutes early to beat the rush. Now, unfortunately this year because of COVID, the church is not doing craft dinner, but we’re hoping that eventually we’ll be able be able to get back to that. And then there’s usually, you know, swag from, we have sponsors like dairy queen gives us gift certificates and that sort of thing that we give them. And then usually there’s some sort of cavies way, whether it’s a t-shirt or a bag or a water bottle or something like that. But they’re kind of when they come into that ceremony, like the deer in the headlights thing, cause one year they walked in and our superintendent was there and a bunch of officials from district office and they were kind of like what’s going on here. So, but when they, when they find out why they’re there and that a teacher has nominated them to be there, it completely changes everything.


Melissa Wright (16:51):
You just see the smiles, you know, on their faces and we, and the wonderful thing about that ceremony, it doesn’t matter what your academics are. Right. You know, teachers just want to nominate you for your improvement. Right. We’ve had all different kinds of students there, you know, from students, you know, special needs students to our we’ve had high academic Florence, but we’ve also had those kids that are the middle of the road, you know, that are working their tail off, making an improvement little by little. But yeah, like I was saying that that leads into my story and I will change the student’s name for privacy. And where’s the student probably, oh gosh, probably three years ago now. And we’ll just call him John. And he, he was having, he was having a rough go. So I had him, I had him first semester in math and his mom came in.


Melissa Wright (17:35):
She said, you know, for me, the teacher, I’m very worried about him. And when I said, you know, don’t worry, we’ll do whatever we can to help them to try to get through. And so the semester came and his attendance wasn’t that great. But when he was in the classroom, like he worked hard, but he wasn’t a behavior problem, but he just missed a lot of time. And so, and you miss so much that, unfortunately he wasn’t going to get the course, but he still came and he wrote the exam and he wrote a note on the exam. You said, you’ll see, I’ll do better next semester. Cause you knew I had the repeater class. So second semester came, he was doing great. He had like 85 working hard. And then one day he came into class and something just seemed off, you know, how you can tell when one of your friends or something that just seems something’s off.


Melissa Wright (18:24):
So I said, you know what, I’m going to call mom and do a positive phone call. So I called her and I said, hello, this is Mrs. Wright calling from KVA. Jess, do you have a moment to talk? Oh yes. Just a second. You can hear like running down a hallway and she’s like, okay, I’m somewhere quiet is everything. Okay. And I said, everything is wonderful. I’m just calling to let you know how proud I am of John and the work he’s doing. And you know, when the improvement and the turnaround that he’s made, and she said, you do not know how much this phone call means to me today. She said, this weekend, John saw his father for the last time. You will not see his dad again. And she said, you know, we’re in the process of selling our house. And this morning, you know, when he went to leave for school, there was a big kerfuffle and he couldn’t find his cell phone.


Melissa Wright (19:11):
She said the things that you guys have done for him, like, cause when they go to that Crusader champion, he had been invited there, they get a certificate. She said, he’s a grade 11 boy. He came home and put that certificate on the fridge. He said he didn’t even do that in elementary school. So we never know what impact, like it was a, it was a piece of paper that we photocopied a slice of pizza at a lunch ceremony. You know what I mean? And our little rewards card, but we don’t, to us, it seems so insignificant. But to that kid, it was everything right. You, you don’t realize the impact sometimes your ha having. And sometimes we don’t hear those types of stories, but when we do, man, those are the little golden nuggets that you, that you have to hold on to. Wow.


Sam Demma (19:59):
A phone call,


Melissa Wright (20:00):
Just a phone call, one simple phone call.


Sam Demma (20:04):
That’s so amazing. And I think even just thinking about most calls home are for negative news. Changing that script and doing, doing a positive phone call can make a huge impact as well. And that’s an amazing story. And for anyone listening, who’s just getting into education. Those stories happen. I spoke to dozens of educators on this show. Melissa is not an anomaly. That’s a great story. But you’re going to change lives. It’s, it’s, it’s a part of this job. You’re not just a teacher, you’re a mentor. You’re sometimes a perinatal figure to some students. I would even believe in a certain to a certain degree and you never know what a student’s going through. So that small action like Mike lab would set a action can make a massive global change. That’s an amazing story. I honestly think we should just end the podcast right here. This is, this is a phenomenal way to close it up. If if another educator is listening, do you have any last words you might want to share with them? Imagine, let me put it this way. Imagine you were starting teaching this year and you wanted to be Heather for yourself and you would give yourself some advice. And this is a crazy first year of teaching. What would you say?


Melissa Wright (21:18):
First of all, just in the teaching world, give yourself some grace. You’re not going to be able to do it all. And that’s okay because those students need you in the classroom. So like you might not have the perfect lesson plan, you know, try something new and if it flops it flops, but you have to take care of yourself so you can take care of your kids. And be there if you have a family as well for your family. You know, and the biggest thing of it is if you see that potential in a student, tap them on the shoulder because you don’t want to regret not doing that. You know, it’s sometimes, you know, sometimes it’s a, it’s a hard thing to approach. Like you’re not sure how to do it. And it might take a couple of times a tapping the kid on the shoulder, but don’t lose sight of that.


Melissa Wright (22:06):
Like seriously do that. And you know what I mean? You have to find when you’re a teacher, especially in your first couple of years, find your thing and find your people. Like you need to find those people that lift you up and inspire you to want to be better every single day in that building because yeah, teaching is tough. Teaching and COVID-19 is even tougher. It’s seriously, seriously is. And those people that support you and are going to be there for you. Those are the ones you always want to have around you. If they inspire you to be better, those are the people you need to be hanging out with. And don’t, and don’t lose, lose sight of who you are. You know, if ever, you know, I’m myself, I’m a very positive person. And in these times it’s so easy to get sucked into the negative.


Melissa Wright (22:53):
Try not to find the joy and every single day that you can, even if it’s one little nugget, like maybe a kid told a funny joke in class, I had a kid last week, somehow he got off topic and was talking about Donald Trump and his dad sent him a text and said, stop talking about Donald Trump in class. So he was short. So that was a funny for me that day that I took home and was laughing about it. You got to find those little moments of joy and seriously, seriously, you will make an impact even though you might not hear about it until years later. So they take it one day at a time and drink lots of water.


Sam Demma (23:33):
That’s awesome. I did a recent podcast with Dr. Greg Wells. It’s like a performance expert and he said the biggest biohack is a drinking water, drink, more water. I, that was a great way to close it. Make students feel like they matter small actions, small acts of kindness. This episode has been amazing. Listen, thank you so much for spending some time on the show with me. If another educator, maybe from another province or country is listening and wants to reach out to you to just bounce some ideas around and borrow some of your joy and enthusiasm. How can they do that?


Melissa Wright (24:07):
Well first they can, you can find me on my website, just www.melissawright.ca, or you can find me on social media. I’m on Twitter and Instagram. It’s @wrightmelissa_ on both Twitter and Instagram, or if I’m on Facebook, I’m under Melissa Sue Right.


Sam Demma (24:24):
Awesome. Thank you so much, Melissa. It’s been a pleasure.


Melissa Wright (24:26):
My pleasure. Thanks


Sam Demma (24:28):
There you have it. Another action packed interview on the high performing educator podcast, Melissa would love to hear for you from you and have a conversation. So definitely reach out if you have the time and also consider leaving a review on the podcast so that more educators like yourself can find these conversations and benefit from the inspiration and ideas. And if you are someone who has either of those things to share on this podcast, either inspiration or ideas, or, you know, somebody who would be a perfect guest, please email us, info@samdemma.com. So we can share those stories and ideas on the show until then I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Melissa Wright

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

Paul Dols – Climate & Culture Coordinator at Monrovia High School in Southern California

Paul Dols Student Leadership
About Paul Dols


Paul Dols (@PaulDWildcat) is the Climate & Culture Coordinator at Monrovia High School in Southern California. His responsibilities include being Activities Director, Renaissance Coordinator, and Link Crew Coordinator. 

A classroom teacher for 26 years, his passion and goal are to create a school that every student and staffulty member calls home and no one wants to leave.  Paul believes that education is the noblest of professions and provides the opportunity to “Sow the Seeds” each and every day.

Connect with Paul: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World

Josten’s Renaissance leadership 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 (00:00):
Do you want access to all the past guests on this show? Do you want to network with like-minded individuals and meet other high-performing educators from around the world? If so, go to www.highperformingeducator.com. Sign up to join the exclusive network and you’ll get access to live virtual networking events and other special opportunities that will come out throughout 2021. I promise you I will not fill your inbox. You might get one email a month. If that sounds interesting. Go to www dot high-performing educator.com. Welcome back to another episode of the high-performing educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker Sam Demma. Today’s guest is Paul Dols. He is the climate and culture coordinator at Monrovia high school in Southern California. His responsibilities include being activities, director Renaissance coordinator, and link crew coordinator, a classroom teacher for 26 years. His passion and goal is to create a school that every student and Staffold T member calls home. And no one wants to leave. Paul believes that education is the noblest of professions and provides the opportunity to sow the seeds each and every day. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Paul and I will see you on the other side, Paul, welcome to the high-performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Why don’t you start by just introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about why you do the work you do today in education?


Paul Dols (01:34):
Sure, sure. Sam, thanks so much for having me. I really appreciate it. I’m flattered. So I I’ve started in education back in the previous century. I had my first classroom in 95, 96 at a middle school in Northridge, California. I did middle school for a couple of years. And then in 1997, I moved to Monrovia high school. For those who don’t know where Monrovia is, we are in the foothills of Los Angeles about 10 miles from Pasadena in the rose bowl, which is kind of our GeoCenter for everybody. Who’s not sure where we are. And I’ve been at Monrovia ever since. It is a home away from home for both my wife and me. She’s an elementary teacher in the district. She’s my reason for being in Monrovia. And we, we have been invested in the kids and the families of this community now for gosh, 23, 24 years.


Paul Dols (02:26):
And it’s a passion, it’s a passion for, for this community. And especially for the kids who grew up in this community. I was social studies teacher by training and, and love government and, and politics and that kind of stuff. So that was what I taught for a long time. In 2008, I got tapped to take over something called the Josten’s Renaissance leadership program from a friend and mentor of mine who moved into administration. And that kind of started my divergent journey a little bit towards student leadership and towards reaching into the more social, emotional side of things which is where I’ve kind of been ever since. I, in 2017, I picked up activities as the activities director created a title for myself. I started calling myself the climate and culture coordinator and, and encompasses the Renaissance side of things and the activity side as to do our link crew program for our freshmen mentor project.


Paul Dols (03:25):
And I’m all about the social emotional side of education now. And it’s something that I didn’t think about when I started, I was all about the curriculum. And now it’s complete 180 and I am preaching for the mountaintops that we’ve got to take care of our kids on the social emotional side first and throwing out the, you know, the Maslow before bloom phrases become very popular lately. We’ve got to take care of what our kids need first before we give them that curriculum. So in a nutshell, that’s me, man. I I love what I do. I’m super spoiled here that I get to focus on that side of things almost exclusively. And that’s it, man. That’s, that’s the, that’s the nutshell version.


Sam Demma (04:09):
It’s it seems like social, emotional learning is finally coming to the table of discussion in all schools, across the, hopefully the world for an educator out there. That’s still unsure why it’s important and what it’s all about. Like how do you explain social emotional learning to someone and why you think it’s so important?


Paul Dols (04:27):
You know, I think the easiest way to do it. And I think one of the most important things to understand with there’s such a wide range of where teachers are and educators are on the spectrum of this is it’s okay, wherever you’re at. For some folks, they get into this, this job and it is it’s the, the subject they teach that they love. And they come to realize that they love the kids even more than they love the subjects that they’re teaching. And, but it can be hard for people. People have had all these different life experiences and maybe being a little bit more open with their own life with students is not something that they’re really comfortable doing. But the way I, the way I try to, to bring people to my side of things is basically just to reminding them that the world that we’re creating for these kids now, the businesses that are looking to hire these kids, when they get out of high school and college, the corporations that are trying to grow, they’re now looking at what used to be called the soft skills and it’s everything that they’re looking for.


Paul Dols (05:27):
It’s no longer about their GPA or their sat scores. And people are finally beginning to realize that those measurements really only measure one very small part of who a person is. And when you’ve got corporations like Google and Microsoft and, and even the banking firms are looking for people, AI that can work well together, that can critically think and analyze a problem and then work with other people to solve them. These are things that we don’t teach that well in America, we don’t really focus on it. It’s more about that rugged individualism still, but I think coming through COVID especially, and I don’t think we’re completely through it obviously, but through what we’ve experienced over the last 18 months, I think we realized that that individual I’m just going to get through this on my own kind of mentality is actually really detrimental to what we’re trying to accomplish.


Paul Dols (06:18):
And once we kind of realized that, and for me, I tried to instill in my kids as the leadership kids on our campus, to demonstrate that through how they act you know, practicing kindness above everything else, putting other people first taking and putting themselves in somebody else’s shoes, that empathy gap that Michelle Barbara talks about in her book, selfie is just incredibly true. And you know, that she cites a statistic that says that the more that we have less, less empathy, we have, the more anxiety we have, and we’re seeing this huge uptick in anxiety in kids. And we’re lucky enough, we came back. This is our second or first day of our second week back to school and we’re back fully in person and God-willing we get to stay there. But the anxiety that I see on kids’ faces and the concern and the unsuredness of what they’re doing is very, very real. And if, if that is the case, then we have to practice that empathy with, for those kids. And that is where I come at with, with staff work question, you know, I don’t know if I want to do this or not. We have to remind them that they’re not going to learn if they don’t feel safe. And like my buddy, Phil Campbell says, if they’re not seeing her in love, they’re not going to learn. How do we make them feel seen, heard, and loved.


Sam Demma (07:40):
That’s awesome. I love that. And the, the principles are so important. And you even have one behind you right now. I know this is only an audio podcast, so most people won’t see it, but it says leadership is an action, not a position. What does that line mean to you? And how do you use that to help students understand that we can all be leaders?


Paul Dols (08:00):
You know, I think it’s, we, we put that up there right before the pandemic. It was, it was ironic, but we so often, especially with, with like the ASB mentality or the Renaissance mentality of kids who come in and I’m lucky enough that I have classes, I have an ASB class, I have a Renaissance class. So it’s about 75 kids who are in our leadership program for a lot of people. Sometimes it’s a title. It’s something that they drop on a college application. It’s I was the senior class president. I was the ASB treasurer. I remind them on a daily basis. It’s not who you are. It’s what you do. It’s, there’s a, there’s a poster, the Maya Angelou quote up above me. You know, they’re not going to remember, you know what you say, they’re not going to remember what you do, but they’re going to remember how you made them feel.


Paul Dols (08:50):
For me, that is, you know, I just hung that up. We came back to school because I needed to see every day to remind myself or my kids leaving the room feeling better than when they came in. And for my student leaders, that same challenge as the case when they go into, when they’re in here and in my classroom, our classroom, it’s easy. It’s easy to, to be that empathetic kind soul. But what are you doing in math class and hour later, what are you doing at lunchtime to make other people in your campus feel important, feel connected, feel seen. And so it is that’s there to remind them and they see it. They can’t help, but see it cause it’s right above the board. And you know, it’s also to remind them that people watch them. I think it’s really important that, you know, there’s, I don’t, I can’t attribute the quote to somebody, but it characters what you do when people aren’t watching. And I think that is important for students to realize, even when you’re out in the community, your actions that you’re taking is going to determine who you are.


Sam Demma (09:53):
And they also impact other people, whether we know it or not driving by and looking over, right. One of the reasons why we would, we would always pick up trash on Saturday morning in large groups in very populated areas is because our hope was that someone would drive by look and instead of throwing their cigarette butt out the window, say, oh, maybe I should actually not. When you see 20 young kids picking up their garbage, you know it’s true. Every action has an influence. And I’m curious to know if something influenced you when you were growing up that directed you towards education. Like, did you know from a young age, on your own career journey that you were going to be a teacher, or did you like fall into this? What was the story behind your own career journey?


Paul Dols (10:33):
You know, I, I just told the story yesterday in class. That’s kind of funny. So I knew from the sixth grade off I was, I was blessed and I use that word very carefully, but I was blessed with incredible teachers from the little tiny private school that my brother that I went to in Baltimore through my middle school journey and then high school out here in California, I was blessed with teachers that just got it. They cared, they, they were invested in me as a person, not as a number on a roll book. And I I’d had a natural love for learning that I think came from my mom and dad that that really kind of drove me. I love to read. I love to learn about stuff. I don’t know. And that’s from a very young age, you know, I remember this is going to date me, but there was a huge deal when my parents bought the world book encyclopedia.


Paul Dols (11:26):
So for all the young people listed here, there used to be these books that took the place of the internet, the internet replaced the encyclopedia. But I just remember every year that we would get an update of everything that was new for the year. And I thrived on that book, I would page through it and just, it was amazing. So that love for learning drove me. In my brain, I always thought I was gonna coach basketball and teach U S history. That was, those are my two loves. The history part kept growing and the love for basketball is still there, but the idea of coaching and, you know, to all of the coaches out there, God bless you for what you do for the small amount of compensation that comes to you financially. And the time you give it’s amazing. But I made a decision when our, when our first child was born, that I can’t give up that kind of time with the family to do that.


Paul Dols (12:19):
But I just knew from the first time I stepped into a classroom as an educator, this was it. This was what I was supposed to do. I don’t have a ton of stuff left over from my time at a middle school, but there’s one picture in my office that it was my very first class and it’s just a class picture. It was super weird eighth graders, like, what are we doing, dude? But still hanging in my office to remind me of that day. And, you know, I think it is just, it’s such a privilege to do this job. When you realized that, you know, anywhere from 120 to 180 kids a year, you, you have somebody’s most precious possession and what you do with that can shape their entire life and you never know. See, and that’s the funny part. You never know when you’re going to influence somebody.


Paul Dols (13:13):
And when you’re going to say something that just sticks, that’s a little scary. Cause it gave me as I have a first period conference I’m blessed to be blessed. You know, I think it’s, it can be really intimidating when you realize that if you’re not in the right Ted space and you say something to a kid, it could send them the other direction. And there are days where that could happen. Cause because as human beings, man, we people forget that the teacher in the front of the room may be having a bad day too. And it may have nothing to do with anybody in the room. It could be something going on at home. It could be something that happened on the freeway. It could be an illness, especially, you know, with everything going on now. And so I think it is if you maintain that idea of being a privilege to serve and you approach it that way, you get so much back in return and these, these kids that I’ve been lucky enough to work with over the years.


Paul Dols (14:13):
I mean, they’ve gotten me through some really hard times. I’ve lost both of my parents in the last five years, six years now. But other than my wife and two children, the people that got me through it were my students, their reaction to when I came back the way they would lift me up and, and just kind of carry me through and just messages of encouragement that periodically see, and they give it to you. And they, you know, there was a kid who left me a note on my desk just the other day. She said, Hey, you look tired. I noticed the first week, but thank you for who you are. I don’t know who sent it. I don’t know who left it on my desk, but I was like, Ugh. So they give as much as we probably more than what we give. And it’s a, it’s a need for us to be able to look at a kid regardless of where we’re at right now and say, okay, that kid has a story. They’re writing their story right now. And we were lucky enough to be a part of it. And because of that, you have to take that role seriously. You have to step into it and embrace it and cherish it really.


Sam Demma (15:16):
I love that. That’s so awesome. That’s so cool. The note on the desk too, and it’s so true that every student is writing their own story chapter by chapter. And the coolest part is that the things that you say, the way that you hold yourself could actually alter the way they write their chapter. Right? That’s the, that’s the coolest privilege. You know, you mentioned you had, you were blessed to have teachers that just got it. What does that look like? Like what did those teachers do? That another educator listening could strive to do something similar in their own classroom to have a, you know, a positive effect on their students. Can you recall any of the things that those teachers did for you that made a huge difference?


Paul Dols (15:55):
You know, I think for, for, to have an impact on a kid, you have to be real with them, be authentic with them. And it’s, it’s, it’s not simple, but it sounds simple. And it’s, it’s being open with them about who you are as a person and making sure that you see them as people, not just as kids, the, the phrase you’d all well, kids these days, and then you fill in the blank. It’s, it’s always irked me a little bit when, when people talk about, oh, how could you teach high school? They’re so hard. They’re, they’re, they’re just disrespectful then. I’m like, no, they’re not, they’re not. You know, I think, you know, Diane dollar was my AP us history teacher and inventor at point of high school. And she had a passion for history and she taught her butt off every single day.


Paul Dols (16:49):
And she held us to a really high standard and it was hard. It was the only AP class I took in high school. I wasn’t one of, I was an okay student. I wasn’t a great student, but, you know, I took it because I wanted to have her as a teacher because I had heard you’re going to learn more than you ever can imagine. So I took that challenge and it was hard. And, but, you know, I still have contact with her and we still periodically, we’ll sit down every couple of years and have a cup of coffee and, and I get messages from her on Facebook and to just be encouraging, I mean, and that’s been good Lord, it’s 30 plus years now that I was in her class and you know, not every teacher is going to be like that. And I don’t think there’s a mold to create what that looks like, except for the fact that if, if you care about your kids as people first and you really delve delve into who they are as people and realize that those stories that they’re writing, that you’re just lucky to be in it.


Paul Dols (17:54):
And in operate from that mentality. I think one of the hardest things is there was always this idea of classroom management that we get taught in teacher school, which you know, is kind of the worst and giant waste of time that we do because you can’t really teach how to teach. You just have to get in there and do it. But you know, it was always, I’m going to respect you as the students, when you respect me first. And that’s actually the reverse of which had happened. And it’s hard for adults, especially the longer you do this. It’s, it’s hard to look at a 13 or 14 year old kid and say, I’m going to respect you for first. And then eventually you’re going to come back and respect me as the older person in the room, because that’s the opposite of what we teach in society, respect your elders, respect your elders, respect your elders, which is true.


Paul Dols (18:46):
And they should. But when you’re coming at an adolescent, who’s dealing with his own stuff at home and has a 50 to 60% chance of coming from a broken home where there’s, you know, one parent or there’s a divorce or whatever they’re dealing with and you add onto it, their mental health and their mental wellbeing. And if you come at a student and you say, look, respect me in their brain, the question should automatically be, why would I respect you? What, why is that required of me? But if you come at them with love and you come at them with compassion and you come at them with empathy, they can’t help, but respect you. I have a couple of kids that I’ve been working with for three years now. And it’s been a three-year battle for me to break down the walls that they’ve put up.


Paul Dols (19:33):
I’m starting to see that happening with them. And it’s just persistence. It’s an unwillingness to give up on, on that relationship. And I think when we throw that word into it, when you throw the relationship word into it, it gives some people back off a little bit because they believe there has to be this barrier between the teacher and the student. But if you build that barrier, you’re putting up an unnatural obstacle to the relationship. And so I think for me, that is, is what I focus on a lot. When I was teaching my content back in the day, I was never the most effective AP government teacher. You know, back, we used to have rate your teacher.com. I think they still have it. I would periodically be brave enough to go out there and read what they said. And, you know, my comments were always positive for the most part, but that was kind of said the same thing.


Paul Dols (20:24):
I may not have learned a lot, but I know he loved me. And I don’t know if as a, as a teacher, maybe that’s not the best compliment in the world for some, but for me, I’m okay with that. If, if kids leave here and they know what it means to be a good person and if know what it means to be kind to others and how to work with each other and to work their way through problems critically, I’m okay with that because I think that’s what the world needs. The world doesn’t need somebody, you know, that, you know, understands how the war of 18, 12 formed had happened and what was the relative salt of it because they live in a world now where that information is at their fingertips. They need to know how to relate to each other because that’s what honestly, that’s, what’s missing right now.


Paul Dols (21:17):
We’ve messed this place up so badly collectively as the adult for young people that we can’t fix it, the young people are going to have to fix it. And the only way it’s gonna get fixed is if they learn how to communicate, how to compromise and realize that it’s okay to have divergent opinions, if you’re willing to listen to each other and not see each other as that person is my enemy, they may have a different belief system. They may have a different faith. They may have a different opinion on masks. They may have a different opinion on a vaccine, but they’re still human. They still are writing their own story. And if we just talk to each other respectfully, we may not agree, but we have to be okay with that. And the adults in the room, whether it’s Congress or your state legislature, or your school board, or whoever, the adults in the room, aren’t modeling that. And because of that, what kids are seeing is society embracing conflict instead of compromise yeah.


Sam Demma (22:22):
Or discussion, right? Yeah. Yeah. It’s so true. It’s so, so true. If something that someone else says triggers you, it’s, it’s a, it’s an opportunity to go internal as well because people can’t make you angry. You know, they can say things, but at the end of the day, you’re, you’re in control of your emotions. And of course, sometimes, you know, we get upset and we say things, and again, that goes back to the idea that we’re all human, but, and then that all ties back to the importance of social, emotional learning and regulating your emotions. This has been such a great broad conversation. Paul, thank you so much for sharing a little bit about your journey into education, some of your own beliefs and principles that have served you and also the other teachers that had an impact on you growing up, if someone’s listening and wants to reach out and just have a conversation, another educator from somewhere in the world, what would be the best email to, to, to send or to get in touch with?


Paul Dols (23:15):
No, I would love that. I love talking about this stuff, man. I think, you know, one of the biggest, it’s a community of learners who do this job. I learn more from colleagues and from people all over the country that I’ve been lucky to meet through some of the stuff that I’ve done that social network and that, that PLC or that personal learning community. So yeah, you can reach out to me pdols@monroviaschools.net. I’m also on Instagram and Twitter at Paul D Wildcat. And I’m not on social media as much anymore because I watched the social dilemma. I am out there a couple of times a week posting some stuff and reposting some of the encouraging stuff that I see. But yeah, I would love to connect to anyone who wants to talk about social, emotional learning, what we do and why we do it and share stories. Cause I think it is incredibly important to pursue that.


Sam Demma (24:22):
Awesome. Paul, this was amazing. Thanks so much. Keep up the great work and I will talk soon. Thanks brother. Appreciate it. And there you have it. Another amazing guest and amazing interview on the high-performing educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review. So other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show. If you want to meet the guest on today’s episode, if you want to meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Paul Dols

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

Daniel Horgan – CEO and Founder of CoLabl and the Talent Accelerator

Daniel Horgan Founder and CEO CoLabL
About Daniel Horgan

A volunteer role with a YMCA summer camp at the age of 12 sparked Daniel’s passion for service and building community. At the age of 18, Daniel pioneered the first youth-led Community of Promise in Pittsburgh under Retired General Colin Powell’s national America’s Promise movement, landing him a seat on the national board of directors and recognition from President George W. Bush.

Daniel (@HorganDaniel) has over 20 years of experience working in the business and nonprofit sectors, fueled by his commitment to increasing others’ access to relationships and opportunities that transform their lives.

He has worked with companies of all sizes including the world’s largest global brands like Nike, Starbucks, and LinkedIn, some of the largest school districts, national and local nonprofit organizations and government agencies. Daniel has proudly served on several nonprofit boards and advisory councils including City Year DC, the Community Foundation of the National Capital Region, Team Kids, and the Greater Pittsburgh Nonprofit Partnership.

Named one of Pittsburgh’s 40 Under 40 Honorees, Daniel has keynoted dozens of conferences and training seminars and is the author of Tell Me I Can’t…and I Will. He currently resides in Arlington VA.

Connect with Daniel: Email | Linkedin | Website | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Zig Ziglar

The YMCA

The Talent Accelerator

Situational based leadership

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the high performing educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma, today’s guest Daniel Horgan is someone who I had the chance to work very closely with throughout the entire summer of 2020. He contracted me to do some facilitation, some keynote speaking, and some workshops for his programs that you hear a lot about in today’s episode. And as our working relationship built our personal relationship built as well. And today I’m super, super honored and excited to call Daniel a close friend, and you’ll see why on this episode, he’s up to some amazing work and doing some great things, a volunteer role with the YMCA summer camp at the age of 12 is what sparked Daniel’s passion for service and building community at the age of 18 Daniel pioneered the first youth led community of promise in Pittsburgh under the retired general Colin Powell, his national America’s promise movement, landing him a seat on the national board of directors and recognition from president George W. Bush.


Sam Demma (01:02):
Daniel has over 20 years of experience working in the business and nonprofit sectors fueled by his commitment to increasing others, access to relationships and opportunities that transform their lives at CoLabL. Daniel is working at the intersection of talent development and community building with this specific focus on creating and facilitating brand relationship and skill building experiences that support existing and future talent. He has worked with some of the world’s largest brands, including Starbucks, Nike, apple, LinkedIn, school districts, national and local nonprofit organizations and government agencies. Daniel has proudly served on several nonprofit boards and advisory councils, including city year DC, the community foundation of the national capital region team kids and the greater Pittsburgh nonprofit partnership. He was named one of Pittsburgh’s top 40 under 40 honorees, and he has keynoted and facilitated hundreds of conferences and training experiences, published several articles on forbes.com and is the author of “tell me I can’t, and I will.


Sam Demma (01:59):
I’ll tell you, Daniel works very closely with a lot of youth, and if you don’t have a pen and a paper beside you right now, I will encourage you to grab one because you’re going to have a whole page of notes. Here’s the episode with Daniel Horrigan I’ll see you on the other side…


Sam Demma (02:15):
Daniel, thank you so much for coming on the high-performing educator podcast. It’s a huge pleasure to have you on the show. Why don’t you start by sharing a little bit about yourself and why you got into the work you do with young people today? I know it’s a long question.


Daniel Horgan (02:28):
No, absolutely. Well, Sam, first and foremost, thanks so much for having me. I’m a huge fan of the work that you’re doing and I’ve enjoyed collaborating with you. So thanks again for, for having me on quick high-level overview of me. Like, so I started my, I say when I was 11 years old, YMCA summer camp, where my two older brothers were camp counselors. I convinced them to let me not just come to camp, but let me volunteer with the six year olds. And I would say that that really sparked my interest in service and really it sort of set me out on this path to really think about the unique contributions that I have to offer. And, you know, through the years I’ve worked in nonprofit management, running nonprofits, locally and nationally here in the U S spent some time in corporate social responsibility looking at the corporate philanthropy space.


Daniel Horgan (03:14):
And I think employee engagement with capital one and then launched my own consulting company CoLabL which I’ve been running really to help apply all of the lessons that I’ve learned, frankly, over the last 20 years. Like what drives me to do this work is that I see so many young people, especially just not have the social capital that unlocks their awareness of new opportunities or awareness of different paths or experiences that they can take on. And so I just tried to get in front of as many young people as possible, connect them to as many professionals in different pathways and see where it goes from there.


Sam Demma (03:47):
Speaking of connecting young people to professionals, you have a huge milestone to celebrate literally this morning as we’re recording this you want to share a little bit about it and how it kind of came to be.


Daniel Horgan (03:58):
Yeah, absolutely. So I’m super excited for this morning. We crossed a major milestone in matching 278 in Canada, Deloitte volunteers with young leaders all across Canada. Most of these young leaders are ages 18 to around 24. Some of them are in college, some of them were in sort of non traditional post-secondary education pathways. And the goal is that we work to connect these diverse employees with them to explore their career pathways, to share their insights that they’ve gathered through their deployed experiences. You think about like a traditional, the, what employee. They had the opportunity to work with a lot of different clients and a lot of different projects. So they were able to glean a lot of lessons from those experiences. And so we want to create this experience where for one hour, that’s a minimum commitment. We’re asking these Deloitte volunteers to share what they’ve learned and really at the same time, learn from the young people, like let the young leaders shared their questions, share their own unique experiences.


Daniel Horgan (04:57):
And if it sparks something beyond that one hour, that’s amazing. I’ve already gotten a bunch of emails from people that were like, are we allowed to like follow up and have a second meeting? And I was like, yes, you’re absolutely allowed to do that. And so it’s been a pretty cool project. As you can imagine, we sort of skyrocketed when we first launched the program to about 200 volunteers signed up right away, which shows us, I think that there’s a huge appetite and interest among a lot of people to give back and to positively contribute to young leaders on their own.


Sam Demma (05:28):
And you had mentors, I would suppose back when you were going through high school and, and university, and some of those were people that you probably didn’t even meet. I.E. Zig Ziglar, which I read about in your book, do you want to share a little bit about how like mentorship and mentors in your life have played a huge role in your development?


Daniel Horgan (05:48):
Yeah, absolutely. So Sam, it’s so funny, you mentioned Ziglar. I was doing a training last week where this big Ziglar quote came to mind in the middle of this training based on what somebody was saying. And I shared it and somebody was like, oh, tell me, how did you connect them? Like, here’s the story? 20 years ago, I was working all day taking night classes and I lived about 47 minutes away from the university I went to. So my nitride home, I would listen to cassette tapes and they were like, what? But yes, I would pick the set tapes in my car to listen to Zig Ziglar on tape, basically like, you know, just learning and trying to get as much as I could from, from all of his amazing lessons. But what’s interesting about your question to me is when I reflect, I do so much work in the mentorship space.


Daniel Horgan (06:32):
And I think that so many people work here in mentor. They think traditional like big brothers, big sisters one-on-one matches oftentimes for a long period of time. And when I look back on my own life, I don’t think I really had people that I would say, quote unquote, were my mentors. I never referred to them like formal advocates, coaches, devil’s advocates, like people that just challenged me in all sorts of ways and cheered me on when I succeeded, helped me troubleshoot when I was failing at something. And so I think that, you know, whether it was my student council advisor, who would never answer a question with a straight answer, he would always return a question with a question which taught me to be curious or people like the, the Zigler or Oprah or Les brown, who I just, I studied their craft in a way that they were inspiring people and the way that they were serving through their words and through their coaching and trainings. And I think those people had probably the biggest impact on me.


Sam Demma (07:35):
And that’s awesome. And what pushed you into the direction of starting your own work? I think lots of people listening educators are like, had a defining moment when they decided I’m going to get into this work that I’m doing with young people, because it lights a fire in my soul. It’s meaningful. It’s building tomorrow’s leaders. Why did you decide to not pursue corporate work? I know you did for a while, but then take the leap into entrepreneurship and try go full on with this youth empowerment stuff.


Daniel Horgan (08:05):
I think there’s two quick stories I’ll share with you. One is when I volunteered at the YMCA, you, I told you I did it because I was home for like the first two weeks, the one summer where my both of my brothers went to work. And I was like, this is not fun anymore. Like I’m all by myself. I convinced them. And like, I always wanted to follow in their footsteps. And for the first year that I volunteered at the camp, that’s what I did. It was the second year that I went back to the camp when I was 12, I was matched with a young kid named Patrick who had down syndrome. And the entire summer I was matched one-on-one with Patrick. And my goal was to make sure Patrick had like the best summer experience possible. And it was that summer, honestly, that like I learned that it wasn’t about following in someone else’s footsteps, but it was about basically carving out my own path and part of carving out your own path.


Daniel Horgan (08:51):
I think if you’re going to be successful is learning how to the needs, the wants the desires of others so that you can serve in the fullest way possible. And so with Patrick, you know, Patrick parents were super protective and rightfully so. They wanted to make sure that like, he didn’t get hurt, that he was only engaging the things that they thought he could or wanted to do. But then I would see Patrick, while we were sitting on the sidelines and the rest of the kids were playing a game of kickball and Patrick had this look in his eye and they’d be like, do you want to play? Right? And he’s like, yeah. And I’m like, well, let’s play. And he’s like, well, my parents don’t want me to play. They don’t want me to get hurt, like, but you want to play. So let’s just test it.


Daniel Horgan (09:30):
Let’s just see, like, can you bring this to life? Can you bring this interest, this passion for life? And we got them to play. And he had an amazing time. And even his parents over the course of the summer started to realize that you have to make this switch at some point where you’re not following someone else’s chosen path for you, that you are creating and, and, and sort of designing your own experience. And so fast forward in time, you know, I worked in lots of different contexts locally and nationally and incorporate a nonprofit. And I had a coach when I was at capital one who taught me essentially the skill of taking a step back and zooming out to see where in my career at that point was like 15 years in, was I most happy. And what she made me realize was I was most happy when I was creating an entrepreneurial. And so coming out and doing my own thing for me was the space where I could be the most creative, I’m a fast paced person. So like, I like to move quickly. If I see a problem, I want to fix it. I don’t want to like talk about it forever. And so like the ability to test and learn and iterate has been something that I would say continues to fuel. The entrepreneurial spirit within me.


Sam Demma (10:44):
That’s such an amazing, it’s such an amazing story and example to highlight that point. And I think a lot of educators can relate in the sense that, you know, in life they might’ve been going along. And then they had a defining moment where they decided, you know what? I want to teach these young people. When they first start teaching, they have this idea that, you know, I have to follow the curriculum a hundred percent and make sure I get all of these lessons done in this amount of time. And then as I, as they progressed, and as I’ve talked to more veteran educators, they tell me, you know, if I could go back, the piece of advice I would give myself was to go off. The beaten path was to serve the students, not really, and not relating to what’s on the agenda today, but for what they need today, if during our discussion, something came up, you know, I had to veer off track is that’s the best way to serve them.


Sam Demma (11:32):
And it’s like you said, you have to stop following the rubric or the agenda or the footsteps of others, and just carve your own path based on those desires and needs of others, which is a, such a sort of fascinating point. And all the educators listening could probably relate. If you could think back to when you were in school, did you have any teachers or educators in your life who deeply impacted you? For me, it was my grade toll road issues teacher who opened up my eyes to different possibilities and social impact. I know you’re not that old, so it’s not too long ago, but is there anyone that comes to mind?


Daniel Horgan (12:11):
Yeah, I mean, I would say I mentioned him earlier within my student council advisor, who also taught a leadership class at my high school. So it’s, it’s funny, like doing the work I do now. I am a naturally introverted to where I get my energy is like through my own sort of individual reflection and sort of learning process. And so I was like re and I also went to like a much, much smaller school and then transitioned to a campus style high school that had like 1500 people in my class. So it was like a very big learning curve for me and an adjustment. And I were not like my first year and a half, I was pretty much like just went to class, you know, did well in school and just like do what I needed to do. And like, just didn’t want to be noticed to be honest.


Daniel Horgan (12:55):
And my locker was right outside of Mr. Meyers is his name, Mr. Myers, his office. And like halfway through that school year, my sophomore year, he started talking to me about student council and like all these activities. And he’s like, Hey, you know, you should get involved in some of this stuff. And I was like me, like, why would I go? Like, I just didn’t see it. But like, I think he saw something in me and the way that like we interacted each day. And then we, I said hi to him and have small chat. And I think what I would share with you in terms of that question is Mr. Meyers convinced me this next semester to take his leadership class, which unlocked for me, like an entirely different understanding of leadership. We, I remember clearly the handouts on situational based leadership and how you apply different leadership strategies to different contexts.


Daniel Horgan (13:40):
And it made me realize that, like, I don’t have to be the, you know, the outspoken person in charge all the time. Like I can be in different contexts playing different roles. Then he also got me, encouraged me to take forensics, which was like speech and debate where I started like taking on different acting roles and competing on the weekends in these states. And what high would in hindsight, like, I didn’t know it at the time, but when he was doing with getting me to come out of my shell and he was trying to do it in a way that was like, take on a different character and like compete in the acting thing. Right. It’s not, you it’s like somebody else that your TA and I would take on these crazy characters because it was totally not me. And it felt like I could do that.


Daniel Horgan (14:20):
Right. But then I started translating it to leading workshops, but he had me do it like the local and then state level. And I went on to like lead a statewide camp for middle school kids. And it was all about his training, right. He was slowly patiently coaching me, seeing within me something I didn’t see in myself and challenging me with questions instead of telling me what to do, which is today is like my top advice for educators and mentors is lead with questions and curiosity and bring the answers out of people because oftentimes students and young people, especially they have the answer, they know what they want to do. They just haven’t given them themselves permission to do it.


Sam Demma (15:04):
That’s such a good reflection. And I’m thinking about situations in my life, even like on a personal note where you might want to tell someone your advice, but it’s probably a lot wiser and more impactful to ask a question and help that person come to a realization themselves. Even if it’s not the answer you were looking for. That’s a great piece of advice and I need to hear, and I hope anyone listening needs to hear it as well.


Daniel Horgan (15:25):
Yeah. It’s hard to do, but you can do it with practice.


Sam Demma (15:29):
Small patient challenges like your teacher. That’s amazing. Since then, you know, and you’ve developed, you’ve developed and delivered, I’m sure hundreds of sessions, you know, maybe even thousands by now, what have you learned one about facilitating to young people and impacting youth, but also virtually cause I know you’ve, you’ve been doing a lot of work virtually and one of the things that educators are struggling with is engaging young people virtually and you know, you know, every time you do a presentation, you probably learn something new, learn something different, the more online presentation you give, you learn something new. Have you had any realizations, has anything stuck that you’ve, you’ve figured out that you think might be worth sharing with an educator who teaches a virtual class?


Daniel Horgan (16:14):
Yeah. I mean, my number one tip that I’ve been sharing lately is when, when COVID hit and so much of the world, I mean, my business completely went from being in person. I was in like three different cities a week. So like all of a sudden doing everything a hundred percent virtually. So like I got stuck in the trap in the very first, I would say months where I was just like constantly researching and trying to find like every trick in the book around virtual learning, virtual engagement and like tested things out in different, in different formats. And what I realized was that it’s not about the tricks. It really is about an authentic connection with the audience, quote unquote, right? With the students, if the students feel your vulnerability and the way that you’re teaching, coaching, being curious, they will connect with you and stay engaged with you in whatever experience you’re creating.


Daniel Horgan (17:07):
And so I would say, you know, focus less on like the tricks and more on the authentic connection. And then second I would say, which is one of my favorite Maya Angelo quotes, you know, peop students, well, from an educator’s perspective, students will forget what you said. They’ll forget what you did, but they’ll never forget the way you made them feel. And so what I always try to reflect on when I create, or I’m speaking or doing training experiences, if it’s the experience that you’re creating, that is going to pull them in to, how do you want that student to feel in that virtual context? And how are you tapping into, by being curious how they’re feeling? Right. So like if you’re a student who now all of a sudden can’t see their friends as much and don’t have the social interaction in the school building and are trying to adjust to this whole new virtual world as well, like lean into the fact that we’re all in this together, lean into the authentic stories of what you’re navigating and what you’re going through and where you fail or where you try something that doesn’t work and share those funny stories and what you’ve learned from it, with your students and invite them to share with you in return.


Daniel Horgan (18:17):
And it creates a common bond. And I always say that common bond recreates the foundation upon which you can build that relationship. And that relationship is so pivotal for, I think, any educator to be, you know, an effective instructor and an effective mentor to these students.


Sam Demma (18:32):
That’s awesome. I love that. And you’ve been doing this for a while. I had the pleasure of working with you on the talent accelerator, which is a phenomenal program for young people who are working on their professional development and career development. Would you mind sharing a little bit about that specific program and how it works?


Daniel Horgan (18:50):
Yeah, totally. So the talent accelerator was launched. I say the silver lining of COVID, right? So a lot of the companies that I work with in a lot of the communities around the U S they were canceling their summer internships or job opportunities for young people. And the reality is just economically. A lot of young people rely on these experiences for the funds to support their next semester of school or the miscellaneous expenses tied to books or transportation, things like that. And also these experiences are what gives young people an opportunity to test different career pathways and decide what they want to pursue or don’t want to pursue. And so the town accelerator, we created a virtual experience where students are engaging in project based learning assignments related to different career pathways. Each project takes about 10 to 15 hours and students, they pick their course.


Daniel Horgan (19:38):
So they pick which projects they’re most interested in. They work through the project, learning about in the research section, all about the context, seeing examples, then they get to create something, their own original work, which is a way for students to build up their portfolio and sort of showcase the value that they can bring to potential employers. And then the opportunity to gather feedback. So every student is matched with a group of coaches who are employee volunteers from different companies, representing different industries, functions and levels. And so the idea again, is that students are, are creating something. They’re getting feedback, they’re getting coaching. The number one takeaway that you know, Sam and I, when we work on this over the summer as a pilot with 460, that’s quite a pilot, we learned to let Mike one of the key takeaways, then the student’s feedback was so many of them had not had practice or a lot of experience presenting.


Daniel Horgan (20:30):
And so the idea of presenting in front of their peers, presenting in front of professionals, getting real time, coaching and feedback. It enabled them to not just develop that skillset, but boost their confidence, knowing that their voice mattered and their creative ideas could unlock other opportunities. And so again, I think the most educators listening I’m sure will relate to the experiential learning. The project based learning design of the talent accelerator is I think what really pulls the students in because it’s not somebody just lecturing at them. It’s a real experience. Self-Directed learning. Like we’re not teaching them. It they’re sort of teaching themselves. And then reflecting back to us, their application of learning


Sam Demma (21:10):
So true. And you can see the improvement of these students after they finished and the smile on their face after they finished their presentation, the, the feeling of teaching and seeing a student or young person grow is such a fulfilling feeling. And the TA talent accelerator does a great job at just allowing kids to build themselves up in all areas of their life. And if someone’s listening and thinking, you know, Daniel’s a really cool guy. I would agree. What would be the best way for them to reach out? Maybe just ask a question or have a conversation with you.


Daniel Horgan (21:43):
Yeah. So they could definitely reach me by email. It’s just Daniel@colabl.com, or they can check out our website, colabl.com or on Twitter @HortonDaniel. So love to connect with anyone who’s interested in.


Sam Demma (21:57):
Awesome. Dan, thanks so much for coming on the show. It’s been a huge pleasure having you on and we’ll stay in touch and hopefully do some more work in the future.


Daniel Horgan (22:04):
Absolutely. Thanks Sam.


Sam Demma (22:06):
And there you have it. The full interview and conversation with my good friend, Daniel Horgan. If you enjoyed this episode, consider taking two seconds to leave a rating and review on the show. It’ll help more high performing educators, just like you find this content and benefit from hearing it. And if you do have something that you want to share, some insights or inspirational stories of transformation in education, please shoot me an email info@samdemma.com and we’ll get you on the show as a guest as well. Anyways, I’ll see you on the next episode. Talk soon.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Daniel Horgan

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.

Andy Speers – Intermediate teacher at Elora Public School and Co-Creator of Empowerment Day

Andy Speers Teacher Elora Public School
About Andy Speers

Andy Speers is an intermediate teacher at Elora Public School.  He has been teaching for 17 years and is passionate about experiential learning and giving students valuable lessons surrounding leadership and inclusion. 

He currently runs a sledge hockey and wheelchair basketball program along with heading Empowerment Day for the Upper Grand District School Board. 

Connect with Andy: Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Empowerment Day (UGDSB)

Wheelchair Basketball Program (Patrick Anderson)

Tessa Virtue (speaker)

Spencer West (speaker)

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):
This is your host and youth speaker Sam Demma. I am very excited to bring you today’s conversation with my good friend, Andy Speers. Andy originally called me a few years ago when I was out in Vancouver speaking to some schools about a ginormous event he was running called empowerment day. And from that moment, him and myself have become good friends.


Sam Demma (01:07):
And I’m so happy that I had a chance to talk with him and share this conversation with you through this podcast. Andy Speers is an intermediate teacher at Elora public school. He has been teaching for 17 years and is passionate about experiential learning and giving students valuable lessons surrounding leadership and inclusion. He currently runs a sledge hockey and wheelchair basketball program along with heading empowerment day, a massive conference board wide event for the upper grand district school board. I hope you enjoy this conversation and I will see you on the other side, Andy, welcome to the high-performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here this morning. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about what brought you to where you are today in education?


Andy Speers (01:56):
Oh, that’s a loaded question right off the bat, Sam. I know. Thank you very much for having me. It’s a pleasure and honor to be here. My name’s Andy Speers I’ve been a grade seven eight teacher in the upper grand district school board for 17 years now. Currently at Elora public school just transferred there after six, 16 years at Drayton Heights public school. And yeah in all honesty got, got into education and got into education really because of my grade five teacher. To be honest with you. I, I knew I wanted to be a teacher after I had her as a grade five teacher and really everything that I’ve been doing leading to now is really because of, of that year.


Sam Demma (02:52):
That’s awesome. And did you know from a young age that education was the thing for you? Or what, what led you? What led you down the path?


Andy Speers (03:02):
Yeah, like I said, I’m a grade five teacher. Her name was Mrs. Revard. I’ll never forget her. And she just was an amazing teacher really kind of, really kind of showed me how important it was to have a quest for learning and you know, and ever since her, like, I was not overly a great student. Right. I did what I needed to do to get by. But when it mattered most, I kind of remember the lessons in which she gave me through the, that, that grade five grade five year. And yeah, so right from, honestly from grade five, when I first got into it, I just thought, you know, teachers got it great, you know, like, you know, summers off and all that stuff. But then as I kind of moved closer to the, the career I realized why I really wanted to do it. Got it.


Sam Demma (04:02):
Yeah. That’s awesome. And you mentioned this grade five teacher. Do you remember some of the things that went? I know it was a long time ago, not that you’re an old guy, but you know, grade five was a while back. Do you remember any of the things that she did that had a big impact on you or generally if you had to think back, like what do you think?


Andy Speers (04:18):
And I think in all honesty, just making connection making a connection with, with her students. And, and it, it’s interesting too because I, I, you know, my classmates, I don’t know if she had the same impact on them. She just did on me. She just made such a great connection with me. And I, really kind of, obviously there’s lots of people, my parents and my wife and all that stuff have attributed to me wanting to take this path is not all Mrs Revard, but just kind of specifically showing kind of the importance of a connection and and the impact that one person can have on another in, in kind of pushing you in a positive direction. And that’s, that’s really why I wanted, when I got into teaching and I, I kind of looked at the age group that I might want to teach, and I really kind of picked that intermediate area because I really see that as being kind of the most influential years of of a kid’s life. Right. they, they’re going to pick a direction in which in which they’re going to go. And I kind of thought, you know, what if, if I have the ability to, to point them in the right direction then that’s a win for me. And I think a win for them too. So yeah, so that really, I, think the biggest thing that she taught me is the power of a connection.


Sam Demma (05:51):
And in terms of making the connection, was it through her talking, you pulling you aside asking questions, getting to know you on a personal level. Like if an educator is listening right now and they’re like, this sounds phenomenal. I want to make more connections with my students. When you think that, what do you think that looks like in the classroom or in today’s learning environment?


Andy Speers (06:09):
Well, what I’ve learned from her is, you know it’s, it’s important to, to make a personal connection with your students. And, and that can be done in so many different ways and it’s going to work differently for different students, right. Some students are, you know, we’ll, we’ll kind of be a bit more standoffish, especially at the age group in which I am, and they don’t want to you know, a lot of times these days as well, too, don’t want to make it seem like they’re you know, have that close relationship with their teacher, but just even, you know, ask them, you know, asking them about their weekend. You know, if they’re into hockey or music or whatever, just kind of keep tabs on them as to where and what they’re what, they’re, what they’re up to outside of school as well, too making, you know, making connections with parents and families as well.


Andy Speers (07:01):
I just think is so important having that open line of communication you know, moving forward, not, not overdoing it because my wife and I have been on the other end where, you know, that that teacher is just like constantly in communication with, and, but, but at the same time, just, you know just touching base with them every once in a while, making sure that come report card time, and many teachers have heard this come report card time. It shouldn’t be a surprise kind of where their, their kid is. Right. but I even find with parents as well too, there’s some parents that are kind of willing to open up and really want to chat with you about kind of you know personal life. And then there’s some that just, you know, what, where’s my kid academically and, and, and that’s, that’s good. So you kind of get that sense from just talking to them for the first time.


Sam Demma (07:52):
And at what point in your educational journey career did you decide you wanted to get involved in as many extra curricular activities as you could, and start clubs and start conferences, maybe tell me about the beginning of empowerment day as well?


Andy Speers (08:08):
So this is, this is an easy start, Sam. My son, who’s now nine years old going into grade four, he’s coming to a Elora with me next year, which is really exciting. He was born with down syndrome and so my wife and I, when he, when he was born we started looking at where we can kind of make impact to, to help him and other, other kids with special needs in the community flourish and be involved. And I have my background is I have a phys ed degree. And my wife is a special education consultant in the board. At the time when Ash was born, she was a resource teacher so a special education teacher in the board. And so we kind of combined our, our forces and we looked at the parks within our community and we were able to in it, it was, it was so amazing with, within I think 15, 15 to 20 months or so fundraise enough money to put two fully accessible playgrounds within our community.


Andy Speers (09:21):
So one in Ferguson, one in Laura and yeah, they’re, they’re just so well used and, and all that. And so, you know, after we accomplished that, we kind of started thinking, okay, well, what’s next? And I started to talk to my student leadership group about different ways in which we could have impact. And this was right when this was the year in which we day was it used to always be there used to be a weekday Waterloo which we would be able to take a, you know, 20 to 25 kids to, and what ended up happening was they canceled the day Waterloo and just moved it to Toronto to at that point, their Canada center. And they called it weekday, Ontario. And you were only able to take eight kids while as you know, how many kids, especially within this age group, want to be leaders, want to experience that want to go to like big, powerful days like that.


Andy Speers (10:21):
And so what my student leadership group kind of said, well, there was two girls in particular Ms. Tate Driscoll and Alexis Cooper, I’ll never forget them that actually said, why don’t we do our own kind of weday? And I was like, oh, okay, well, that’s great. And well, who would we have, you know, who we have at this thing? Like, we don’t have any money, we don’t have anything. So what are, how are we going to do this? And so we ended up being able to raise $6,000 for our first what’s called empowerment day. Now we held it at the Drayton arena. We had 1300 students and we were able to raise enough money to get Spencer west who is a very, probably the most prestigious weekday speaker. He’s just phenomenal you know, climb Mount Kilimanjaro on his hands to raise millions of dollars for drinking water millions of dollars for clean drinking water in Africa.


Andy Speers (11:20):
So just truly inspirational. Wonderful. And I, one of my, or one of my cousins is a really great musician as well, too. So we had her as well, too. So, you know, we kind of pieced it all together. We had a bunch of students there. Well, the feedback from that day was so incredible that we’re like, you know what, there’s such a need for this, let’s make this grow. So we went from a, about a $6,000 budget to the following year. We got students out and you know, doing presentations and to different groups, different businesses, all that kind of stuff. You know, to, to fundraise a little bit more. And, and to this day, we, you know, we’ve never had a sponsor kind of canceled it. Like a sponsor has always came back the next year. They come to the event and they’re like, yes, this is amazing.


Andy Speers (12:07):
This is what we want to be supporting. So you know, but we go out each year and we make new presentations and, you know, the bigger that we kind of get the bigger stars, like Sam demo we’re able to afford. And but yeah, so we we’ve been going, this’ll be its seventh year. We’re now, currently at the Sleeman center in Gwelf which houses about 5,600 students. Schools are one thing that we made clear, right from the beginning, schools are allowed to bring as many students as they want. So if they want to bring every student from grade five to grade eight, then go for it. If they want to bring, you know, just a grade six class, then they can do that as well too. This is obviously only in the upper grand district school board. So we, we don’t offer because it’s so popular.


Andy Speers (12:55):
It really honestly sells out in about twenty-five minutes. So we put it out online and let everyone know what’s coming out online and, and the seats are gone, you know, but I, I believe other than maybe one or two schools, every single school has the opportunity to be there. And some schools choose not to come like each year. So a lot of times they’ll come one year and then they won’t come the next year and then they’ll come one year. It really depends on how they want to pay for it and all that kind of stuff to be there. But, you know over the years we’ve had the likes of Chris Hadfield, Serena rider, Hayley Wickenheiser this year coming up we have Tessa virtue, you know, so we, we we’re, we’re really we’re, we’re really kind of growing and you know, these last couple of years in which it’s been canceled my hope is that it’s not something that is, is going to lose any steam or anything.


Andy Speers (13:56):
I think everyone is going to be excited to do it again. So this year we’re, we’re going to have a virtual event in October, which we recorded last year with our my student leadership group. And and just did everything virtually with our speakers. And then this year coming up or, sorry, the following year in 2022 we’ll go back to our original may at the Sleeman center. The hope is anyways, right. It just depends on where we all are. And then, yeah, like from, from there as well too, my, my wife and I really looked at where we want to go as far as accessibility is concerned as well. And we were, I was able to kind of secure some funding to start a sledge hockey program in the upper grand district school board. And so it tours around to the 14 schools a year.


Andy Speers (14:44):
And I I’ve trained numerous coaches and they’re so they kind of take it from there and the board is so good about getting equipment to, and from arenas and all that kind of stuff. Cause it’s a, it’s a big job. And then also also we started just started just before COVID the year before COVID we started the Patrick Anderson wheelchair basketball program and pat is a former empowerment day speaker and one of my best friends. And he’s seen as the world’s best wheelchair basketball player of all time, kind of like the Michael Jordan or LeBron James of wheelchair basketball. He’s got five gold medals, Paralympic gold medals. He’s from Fergus right here. I went to high school with them and we’ve been best buddies ever since. And so him and I kind of teamed up and we started that program with the help of Bob Cameron and his wife, Linda as well, that own heritage river here.


Andy Speers (15:35):
And they, they stepped up and were able to pay for 16 sport wheelchairs and that tours around you know, the, the hope is, is once COVID is over roughly around 30 to 35 schools a year. Wow. So with, with, with instruction, right, from the best player in the world. So as I say to schools, you know, when you’re getting this you’re, if this was a hockey program, you’d be getting instruction from Wayne Gretzky, you know, so it’s really, really cool. He doesn’t go personally, but he we’ve videoed everything. And so teachers can follow along. He talks right to the students. And so the teachers can basically press play and and pat, pat runs them through everything in which they’re going to do. So it’s, it’s really cool. So yeah, my, my main focus has always been kind of, you know, accessibility inclusion and, and one thing that’s about empowerment day as well too, is that there’s always going to be a speaker and empowerment data. That’s going to focus specifically on that.


Sam Demma (16:41):
Awesome. And does your buddy also play for team Canada right now? Is he in, is he in Tokyo for the Olympics?


Andy Speers (16:47):
So this is so he, his first Olympics was in the year 2000 in Sydney, Australia. And so he did gold in 2000 silver in 2004 and then golden Beijing, golden golden London. And then he retired because he’s a music and as well too, and kind of met his wife and started kind of having kids and they live in New York city. And he so he decided to, you know, what, I’m going to retire from basketball. I I’m, I’m crouching on 40 here. And I’m going to really focus with my, my wife on our, our band and, and making a go of music. And he’s a phenomenal musician. He actually played at my wedding and you know, our, I think it was my wife and I’s wedding song. So he, he played that for us, for our first dance. But yeah, he he is but he team Canada, I think basically kinda kind of said, please, could you come back because he’s just that good, that elite. And so he got himself as best back into shape as he can. He’s, he’s insanely in shape, but back into shape basketball shape anyways. And he’s back over at Tokyo at the pair games right now. So his next his first game is tomorrow actually. So I’ll be streaming it and watching it from here.


Sam Demma (18:15):
So V2 actually. So I know one of the other athletes, the name’s Lee, my Almac and yeah, so this is a small world. I was connected through another guy. So when you mentioned Paralympic basketball, I was like, I know someone out there that’s so cool. Well, that’s amazing. And you know, the highlight on accessibility I think is so important. I there’s a group of students in Waterloo, I believe they’re just graduated high school going to university and they started a non-profit while they were still in grade 11 called Acceso. And the goal of the organization was sorry. Oh yeah, sorry. So the goal of the organization, the goal of the organization was to walk through malls and walk through stores and rank their accessibility and post it publicly online and like state where things could be changed and improved to make the spaces more accessible.


Sam Demma (19:08):
And they walked through, they walked through over like a thousand independent stores over the span of two years. Many of which they got kicked out of because they had iPads and were making notes and people thought they were going to like steal something or just kind of funny. But yeah, when you talk about accessibility that came to mind and it’s so cool that you’re integrating that into the empowerment, they stuff, those two, those two students that came up to you and said, Hey, Andy, you know, we really want to do this. Do you still stay in touch with them?


Andy Speers (19:41):
Well, now that I moved to a LoRa no, but, and, and not as much, I always invite them obviously to empowerment to kind of see, let them see what they’ve started, but you know, they’re, they’re well off into university and maybe even past university now. Right. So yeah, so I, I don’t stay as much in touch. I, I, the, the years following them leaving a little bit more I did you know, a bit of reference stuff for them and things like that. I know that they moved on both of them and within their own community, we’re on the youth council to try to make change for for, for youth in the community afterwards. And that’s, that’s a completely voluntary you know, position and you just basically volunteer yourself to do it. So it just shows the, you know that, that those two just really want it to make positive change. Whether or not it was in a school setting or whether or not it was in, when they went on to high school. I know that they both had big roles kind of in leadership as well, too.


Sam Demma (20:55):
Yeah. And there could be other educators listening right now thinking, holy crap, that’s amazing. You guys put on this conference for your school board every year, and it’s this a rewarding experience and someone else might be listening from a totally different school board thinking if my students came up to me and said, Hey, let’s, let’s host an event with 5,000 people in a, in an arena. It might be a little overwhelming at first. Like, how did you go from this sounds like a great idea to let’s actually do this thing.


Andy Speers (21:24):
Well, I think, you know, a lot of things have to fall into place. Right. And, and my advice to anyone that would like to start, this is one don’t, don’t hesitate to start small because it has to start somewhere. Right. The other thing is, is to reach out to people like whether it’s me or someone else that has done it before and, and kind of get your bearings as to what it might take to kind of put this together, because it certainly is a lot of work. You definitely need kind of a champion to kind of take it, take it on. But I can assure you that, you know, after the first couple of years and you have the opportunity to kind of get the kinks out of it, it becomes a lot easier, right. So I think everyone looks at it as it’s an overwhelming amount of work to start something like that and go out and find sponsorship and all that kind of stuff.


Andy Speers (22:24):
And yeah, you’re going to have to take some time on your own. It’s going to be outside of school time. You’re going to have to sometimes meet students at you know, different organizations or businesses that, you know, maybe seven o’clock at night when the businesses like when they’re available and that kind of stuff. But at the same time, once those connections are made and once kind of all your ducks are in a row the day becomes a lot easier. It’s a lot easier to put together. And throughout that time too, you’re going to put together a team of other educators as well, too. So like around empowerment day, now we have, you know, a team of educators that are that puts again together lesson plans based on the, what they’re going to be learning about each, like from each speaker, right?


Andy Speers (23:11):
So each speaker will have a certain message and we find different messages, so four or five different messages from each of those speakers. And then there’s lessons around those lessons that they’re going to be learning. And they’re going to learn about those speakers so that when they get there, they feel almost like they know the speaker and that they’re, it becomes kind of like a life-changing event rather than just another field trip. And that’s and then you’ve got teams that are at the facility that are directing everyone. You’ve got teams that are, you know you know, helping you with seating teams that are, you know helping with contracts team. So it, you know, the first by starting small, you kind of see what it’s going to kind of take if you want to grow. And if you don’t, it’s fine, right? Like there’s, there’s lots of incredible, like smaller events.


Andy Speers (24:01):
You don’t need to have the elite of the elite com I always find too that the best speakers on empowerment day are never the ones that, and sorry to, you know, Tessa virtue, whoever’s listening to the podcast, but the biggest celebrity that is, is going to be there. That might be your draw to get people to, to come in the best speakers are never the ones that are the biggest draw, right? The biggest you know, we’ve had Mariatu kumara com. That is Marriott’s Tamara. She is bite of a mango is the book that she or memoir that she wrote. And she’s a former prisoner of war that at the age of 12, at these kids’ age that are watching this event at the age of 12, had her hands cut off while she was a prisoner of war and she takes them through an extremely emotional time in her life.


Andy Speers (24:56):
And you can hear a pin drop of 5,600 students from grade five to grade eight. Like it’s so impactful. We had Michelle Chika Y nine, that is was a former child. Soldier was forced at the age of five to be this child soldier at the age of five. He was forced to shoot his best friend. And he hates takes them through this experience. And again, just, it’s so powerful, the, the sound of silence, right. So they don’t need, and, and, and these individuals aren’t necessarily the most expensive people to, to get. Right. and so you, you might need to look at, okay, well, how, how do I get a budget of $6,000 and, and just get one, one speaker for that $6,000. And can I get a venue donated, you know, for this great event, because there’s a lot of places out there that want to help youth in this community.


Andy Speers (26:01):
So, you know, is there an arena or something that, that would be like, yeah, you know what, this place is sitting empty through the day anyways. Yeah. Bring, bring your people in. Right. And then the board, the whatever board you might work for, you know, they should be willing to help you, what you want to put on an event that’s going to empower 6,000 or empower a thousand of our students. Yeah. Awesome. How can we help? Right. What do we have to do? And so a lot of times there’ll be there to supply you with chairs or tables or a stage or something, right. Lights or audio, or maybe they have, like, we have the brilliant Ron birdie. That’s kind of our ADA coordinator within board that has been, I’d be nowhere without them. Right. that does kind of the AB stuff.


Andy Speers (26:49):
So you know, like there it’s, it seems overwhelming when you start kind of putting everything down on paper, but I can assure you that things like I would encourage people to look into it look up empowerment day and look me up, send me an email. Right. Like, I, I would be glad to, if, if I could see kind of this day kind of growth that would be the best thing that I’m at the point kind of at at with empowerment day that I can’t grow really anymore. Right. We’re in the biggest venue in our entire board. Right. it can’t get bigger than where we are. And so to see it grow into other communities, into other boards, it doesn’t even need to be called empowerment day. Just a version of it. That that would be amazing. And I’m, I would be always willing to help out with that.


Sam Demma (27:42):
I love it. And if someone is listening right now and is interested in getting in touch with you, can you verbally just share an email or some way that they could reach out and get in touch to have a conversation?


Andy Speers (27:52):
Yeah, absolutely. It’s Andy.Speers@ugdsb.on.ca


Sam Demma (28:08):
To wrap up this conversation, if you could go back and I need to, the first year you got into education and teaching both at the same advice and experience you have now, what did, what words of wisdom would you give your younger self?


Andy Speers (28:20):
Oh that’s a, that’s a good question. You know what, it’s, it’s interesting. Cause I taught a grade two class my very first year. And then I moved to intermediate the very following year. So I, I’m gonna, I’m gonna look at if it was my second year, is that okay? Yeah. Coming into intermediate. My, I think my biggest piece of advice is especially for the age group in which I teach is don’t go into a year wanting to be the student’s friends, always remember that you are their educator first. And, and students will learn to respect that a lot more than you trying to be their friend and kind of, you know and because by you being in their friends, then, you know, the, the routine and the discipline and the the class management, although that stuff kind of falls apart.


Andy Speers (29:22):
And that was the, I remember my first year of teaching intermediate, I went in and I’m trying to be buddy buddy with these, with them and stuff like that. And they walked all over me all over me. So go in and, and, you know, have your, have your rules, put your thumb down. And, and students will really learn. And by doing that and starting with that, that’s, you know, that’s going to allow you later on within the year, like even within a few months to kind of turn the corner a little bit, because they know what your expectations are. They know exactly, you know, what, what is expected of them and, and that, that can allow you to then start to really dig into making those connections with them. Right. and so, you know, when they know their expectations, they’re going to, you know, when, when they get different assignments and things like that, you know, that allows you to then sit down with them afterwards and kind of say you know what, we can take this and we can do even that much more. Right. And, and allows you to push their boundaries a little bit more, take them outside their comfort zone and stuff. So, yeah, don’t be buddy-buddy especially not right off the bat, not a good idea.


Andy Speers (30:40):
Yeah. Yeah, exactly. So always remember that you are there as their teacher and I, and I say that to them. I always say, you know what, guys, I’m a fun, loving guy. It takes a lot to really get me angry, but at the same time I am your teacher. I’m not your friend. Okay. So my name is Mr. Spheres. Okay. It’s not spear easy. It’s not, you know, all that stuff because yeah, I, I, I ended up teaching this year I taught seven boys all off the same hockey team where in my class, and you have to, we really worked right at the beginning of the year of reminding those students, that the classroom is a classroom and not a hockey dressing room. And, and my name is Mr. Speers. It’s not spear Z. And they got it really, really quick, right. So it’s just kind of setting those boundaries and, and, you know, allowing yourself to, to laugh and have a good time with those kids. But at the same time, you know, making sure that those rules are followed and, and make sure that you’re their teacher, not their friend.


Sam Demma (31:45):
I love that. Love that. Awesome. Andy, this has been a jam packed interview about event planning about student impact about you know, your best advice, your journey and education?


Andy Speers (32:00):
If I could give one more thing as well too, is that, especially with the leadership stuff and event planning to let give students the opportunity, don’t feel that you need to do everything yourself. Students will always step up student if you give them that opportunity. And you’d give them clear guidelines as far as what is a an and I, I know as far as academic wise and stuff, that’s not always the case. Okay. But when it comes to leadership wise and, and they know that kind of everything’s on the line, I always say to our guys that go, you guys are planning an event for the entire board. We there’s a lot on the line here. If you can’t handle that pressure, then you’re might not be in the right spot. Right. Or we can give you less of a, less of a job that, you know, maybe you’re coming and doing set up with me.


Andy Speers (32:47):
Yeah. Right. Rather than, you know, getting up, you don’t have the opportunity to get up and introduce a speaker. And a second before, you’re about to go on, go, I can’t do this. That’s not, it’s not in the cards you, so you need to know. And, and I always say to, I would not ask you to do this. If I didn’t believe you couldn’t do it. And, and they really will respond to that. They will, they, they will step up. I’ve never had a student in seven years back out of a speaking agent there. These students are there. They’re so nervous before going up right there. They’re getting up. And they’ve got 5,600 students in front of them all around them. And they know they’re going to be judged and they know, you know, and they get up there and they just, that’s, that’s my favorite part of the entire day, just seeing some of these kids go so far outside their comfort zone, but then moving forward, getting up in front of a class and doing a presentation, getting up in front of a hundred people, it’s nothing to them. Right. So, yeah. Yeah. So I would just also give that as well to give students opportunity. They’ll step up of love.


Sam Demma (33:53):
That I can, I will right


Andy Speers (33:56):
Now. It’s it’s I can, I will watch me. Nice.


Sam Demma (34:00):
Cool. Cool, Andy again, huge pleasure. Thank you so much for coming on the show. Can’t wait to see you again in may and you have the great work and we’ll, we’ll talk soon.


Andy Speers (34:09):
Awesome. Sam, thanks so much. Thanks for the opportunity and good luck to all those teachers out there, not coming here


Sam Demma (34:15):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest and amazing interview on the high-performing educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review. So other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show. If you want to meet the guest on today’s episode, if you want to meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and sign up to join the exclusive network. You’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Andy Speers

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.

Lisa Galay – Experiential Learning Leader at the Halton District School Board

Lisa Galay Experiential Lead Learner
About Lisa Galay

Lisa is the Experiential Learning Leader at the Halton District School Board. She proactively seeks out opportunities for her students to gain real-world knowledge through hands-on experiences. This occurs through career fairs, pathway exploration events and programs that she works to implement in her school board.

Her intention is to help students see connections between what they are studying in their high school courses and jobs that use the skills and knowledge acquired in those courses in the ‘real world.’

Before growing into this role as the Experiential Lead Learning, Lisa worked as a science teacher, a guidance counsellor and taught co-op and careers. In this episode, Lisa shares dozens of ideas that you can use immediately. P.S. Her favourite ice-cream flavour is chocolate.

Connect with Lisa: Email

Listen Now

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

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. This week we have on the show, another very special guest, someone who reached out to me during COVID to do a session for them during take your kids to work day. Now, unfortunately, the session got canceled due to COVID-19 and school board regulations, but Lisa and I still had a wonderful conversation and I thought it would be very valuable to bring her back on the show so she can share some of her amazing ideas with you. Lisa is the experiential lead learner at the Halton district school board, and she proactively seeks out opportunities for her students to gain real world knowledge through hands on experiences. In this episode, she shared dozens of ideas that you can use immediately after you leave this recording. PS, her favorite ice cream flavor is chocolate.


Sam Demma (00:54):
Just know in case you want to ship her a gift. That’s what she loves. Anyways, let’s jump into the episode. I’ll see you on the other side, Lisa, thank you so much for coming on the show here today. It’s a pleasure to have you. We talked a little bit earlier on the phone about different events. You were planning in the school board about chocolate ice cream home. Ken here, can you share with the audience who you are, why you got into the work you do with young people and what keeps you going at it every single day?


Lisa Galay (01:22):
Sure. Hi everyone. My name is Lisa Galay and I’m the leader of experiential learning for grades seven to 12 with the Halston district school board. And the work that I do today is definitely not where I thought I would have landed. You may have heard that before Sam but it it’s such important work. And my role right now is really to work with educators in our board to create engaging initiatives for students that give them hands-on experiences that allow them to reflect on those experiences and then to apply what they’ve learned from their reflection and, and from the experience itself. So that’s really that experiential learning cycle. And you know, in my role before I was, I was in this role, I was a science teacher for many years. I was a guidance counselor. I taught co-op and careers.


Lisa Galay (02:18):
And you know, all of those roles certainly allowed me to work with, with youth, which I knew I always loved. It was something that I did long before I was a teacher. And I think it always gave me this real sense of satisfaction that I was really making a difference. I always knew that I wanted a job where I could clearly see the difference, even if I might not see it for months or years or, you know, who knows how long. But I always found that working with youth was, was a way to, to know that I was making a difference and I felt like I had a lot to give in that area. I felt like I, you know, I inherently enjoyed it. I was good at teaching people, things I was excited about learning myself. And I felt like that could have a contagious effect with students.


Lisa Galay (03:04):
And I think, you know, over my years in the various roles that I’ve had, I saw the impact that caring could, could do, whether it was caring about the quality of the lessons and, and opportunities I was creating for students, whether it was caring for student as their guidance counselor, when they came to you with a serious mental health issue, or now whether it’s supporting a teacher to allow them to do an amazing experience or support their students in a, in a really engaging way. I can see the impact of the work that I do. And I think that’s what keeps me going, because I know that it’s making a difference. And and it’s something that I love doing. And it doesn’t feel like I’m working.


Sam Demma (03:47):
Speaking about creating, engaging experiences during a time. Like COVID, have you worked with any teachers this far to maybe implement some ideas that you thought knocked it out of the park or that the other teacher gave you some great feedback on that you think might be valuable for another educator to hear?


Lisa Galay (04:06):
Yeah, absolutely. So like many educators when COVID struck in March and the school shut down and we were all working from home, it was definitely something none of us were prepared for. And, you know, at that point in the year, in my role as leader of experiential learning, I had tons of initiatives planned for March, April, may, and June that were bringing hundreds of students together, bringing community partners into schools and, and all kinds of initiatives and they all got canceled. And you know, initially it felt pretty devastating thinking about all the work and time and, and the excitement that had been built up around those opportunities. And, you know, I had to scratch my head for a little bit and say, as someone who was directing and supporting these engaging experiential learning opportunities, what does that look like when students are not actually doing any of these things in person anymore?


Lisa Galay (04:58):
So it was a lot of re-imagining to be honest of what experiential learning could look like in a virtual environment. And even now, you know, my school board right now has some students that are totally virtual, some that are partially virtual and partially in class, it’s still a lot of re-imagining. And I think, you know, all of the things that, that I created and did during that time really came back to, you know, we, we can’t just say because it’s, COVID because we’re at home because this is difficult and requires some out of the box thinking, I guess we’re just not doing anything anymore. That’s, that’s interesting or hands-on. So we found ways for students to do things while they were at home in a safe way. So just as an example, one of the initiatives that I helped to support was purchasing these little model home kits for construction students that were using materials and tools that could safely be used without parental supervision in the home, so that when they couldn’t be with their construction teacher, they could still be building something and getting the support of their teacher virtually.


Lisa Galay (06:07):
That’s one example, when I thought about, you know, the massive event for, you know, thousands of grade sevens that, that wasn’t going to happen in, in may, as I had planned, you know, instead we looked at how we could bring the, the virtual or, sorry, I should say how we could have brought community partners to students in a virtual way. So I created a series of what is now almost 40 different community partner videos, where I interviewed partners kind of like what you’re doing now and ask them a number of questions about their educational journey, their career pathway, the impact of COVID on their career and, you know, picked those partners so that they represented a wide range of various career sectors, and also touched a wide range of, of subject areas. So students can see, oh, I’m in math right now. And those are careers that use math on a daily basis. And you know, those, those things, did they take time and, you know, was it something I’d ever done? Absolutely not. But it was, it was a resource that became highly valued as teachers thought, how am I going to help students make these real world connections? So those are just two examples, but I think it really just required an attitude of, you know, this is not an insurmountable obstacle. This is just a challenge. And I need to be creative and flexible and look for the opportunities that I may not have even considered before.


Sam Demma (07:29):
I love that it goes back to changing the story we tell ourselves, right? If we tell ourselves that something’s terrible and not possible, then that result is going to manifest in our life in a short period of time physically. And when we think outside of the box and overcome a challenge, we can impact the student’s life forever. They may never forget it. And I’m, I’m certain in your years of teaching, you’ve had students write you letters and reach out and tell you how much of an impact you’ve had on them. How do we continue to, like you said earlier care for our students during this time, even when they’re not in the classroom like w what do we have to do to show them that we appreciate them during these times?


Lisa Galay (08:15):
Yeah. That’s a great question. So a big part of my role coming into the start of this school year and even last year, when we so quickly switched to distance learning was all about community building, right? Which, which would have been important in normal times as well, but in a virtual environment or in a situation where teachers, aren’t seeing their students every day, because of these different adaptive models that that schools have taken on building relationships is still key. So even though there might be screens between us and we might not be seeing someone face to face, if we want to have a successful classroom where people feel open to communicate to work together, they want to log on. They want to be, you know, engaged in what’s happening in the classroom. And also even in, when we’re in person, we’ve got to invest the time and energy up front.


Lisa Galay (09:05):
And I know in the times that we’re in right now, a lot of teachers feel really pressed for time. They feel like with the new models that we’re working under, you know, gosh, it’s already going to be so tough to fit in all this curriculum, and I’m not even seeing them that often. I don’t have time to, you know, as one teacher said to me, hold hands and sing kumbaya at the start of every, every session with new students. But again, I think it’s that investment of time getting to know our students getting to tell them a little bit about who we are you know, expanding their mind about the possibilities of what the course can offer, giving them opportunities to get to know each other and, and build trust and feel safe in that classroom environment that we’re going to see the biggest return.


Lisa Galay (09:48):
And that’s where students again, feel appreciated. So again, Sam, when I think back to being a guidance counselor, and when students would come down and talk about challenges that they might’ve had with teachers, it was always about relationships. And it was still often, you know, that they felt like someone wasn’t seeing them or someone didn’t care or someone hadn’t put the time in. And it’s those teachers that just remember that, oh yeah, you play soccer. I’m going to ask how your game was this weekend, or that’s right. You said you were getting a new dog. Well, how’s the new family member. It’s all those little pieces, those little attempts to, to make an outreach and get to know your students that I think makes a difference. And it’s a huge difference now because we’re not even seeing each other face-to-face as much as we normally would.


Sam Demma (10:35):
It’s those small, consistent actions as Mike Loudfoot would say.


Sam Demma (10:43):
That’s awesome. Thinking back to your guidance counselor days, can you think of a story where maybe a student wasn’t feeling heard and maybe even had problems outside of the classroom at home or in the community? I’m sure you had students break down in your office. I broke down in my guidance counselor’s office a couple of times, and I was in high school. Can you think of a story though, where the narrative was flipped and that student got appreciated by a staff member, and there was a huge transformation in that student’s life, and you can change the student’s name for privacy reasons, but I want you to share the real authentic story. So another educator listening might think to themselves, wow. I do hold the power to shape a young person’s life. Yeah.


Lisa Galay (11:25):
Yeah. I’ve actually got a great story for this. And, and this happened a couple of years ago when I was still in my guidance counselor role, and that was a student I had worked with her for many years. She was in grade 11 at the time. You know, there had been challenges with her family situation for many years and she had, you know, she would come and see me and then I wouldn’t see her for awhile and she’d come back again. And at that point in the year, you know, I I’d seen her casually, but hadn’t really come in for a big discussion in my office. And that was okay. But another teacher, someone who taught her just notice that she seemed off one day and it had sort of been a bit of a pattern, but the teacher noticed that it was getting progressively more inconsistent with her normal demeanor.


Lisa Galay (12:12):
And so it was literally that teacher just taking a moment at the end of class to pull her aside and say something something’s going on. I feel like something’s up with you. What can I do to help? And it just melted the ice walls that were around her. She ended up coming down to see me and shared some major life altering events that she was ready to share that had really been behind a lot of the pain and difficulty that she’d been facing for years. And also revealed a really serious mental health situation that needed support. So all of the supports and next steps and things that came out of that you know, in the moment I just thought I need to do what I need to do to make sure that she’s safe and protected, but ultimately the student came back and said that those actions from that teacher, and then the follow-up support I was able to offer literally saved her life.


Lisa Galay (13:14):
Because she was starting to think about doing things that, that could have really altered her path. And so again, it’s sometimes just those little connections, those little things we notice, and rather than just letting that student leave and not saying anything, you know, sometimes we’re bogged down with our own challenges and we think, oh, am I really ready to take on another, another possible, you know situation that’s gonna, you know, maybe take up more of my time today and you’re thinking about everything else you have to fit in. And I would always encourage teachers that you just never know what’s really going on for someone. And so that little moment of outreach can make all the difference.


Sam Demma (13:53):
Asking a student, how can I help is a simple question, not do this or do that, but how can I help you? I think it’s a, I think it’s a game-changer and I appreciate you sharing that. Are you seeing, you’re almost like a bird’s eye view of the school board when it comes to who you work with and the scope of students that are under your wings, if you were an Eagle are you seeing any mistakes in education right now, or things that we could improve upon or things that we might want to consider doing differently for the second quad master of education?


Lisa Galay (14:29):
Right. You know what, that’s a great question. And I, I guess I, I never want to think of it like a mistake. I always think of it as us trying things and, you know, learning and when we know better, we’ll do better. So I think I honestly, I’ve been blown away by the things that the teachers have tried to do. And I think if anything, they’ve tried to come right out of the gate being as incredible as they’ve always been and sometimes compromising their own mental and physical health in order to feel like they’re doing everything they can for their students. And, you know, it’s such a tough balancing act. You know, whether you’re a parent or you’re being a good friend to someone, or you’re an educator, you want to give everything, you have to know that you’ve really done the best you can for those people you care about, but you also need to balance that with your own needs.


Lisa Galay (15:19):
And if you can’t, you know, if you can’t take care of yourself, then what good will you ultimately be to those that you’re trying to take care of? So I think if anything, the only, you know, the only challenge that I would say, I hope we all get better at moving forward in these unusual times is that we just give ourselves a little bit of grace and give ourselves a bit of a break that this is new and unfounded territory. We’re all navigating this for the first time. And this is going to be a year of making mistakes and thinking, oh, I should have done it like that. Or looking back and thinking, gosh, like, that seems so obvious now, why didn’t I do it this way? But it’s not so obvious right now because we’re, we’re in the thick of it. So I think we just need to give ourselves a break, do the very best work we can and make sure we’re taking care of ourselves in the process.


Sam Demma (16:11):
You mentioned, we’re all going through this together for the first time. And I think it’s so true. It’s a new experience for everybody. What I want you to think about for a second is the educator who is navigating this for the first time and as also an educator for the first time, maybe this is their first year teaching. And if you could go speak to that person with your years of wisdom, who’s listening, what would you share with them? Because right now they’re getting a picture of education painted totally different than what it used to be a few years ago, or a few months ago, this person might think what the heck that I sign up for a year. I’m so confused, but what would you want to share with that person?


Lisa Galay (16:56):
Yeah. Well, one thing I, I wish I could do and I can’t do is to reassure them that it’s going to go back to normal and that, you know, what they might’ve been used to as a student themselves or what they saw the role of a teacher being, or what schools look like that it, that it will return to that. But no one really knows the answer to that. I think we’re all hopeful that it will, but it’s so hard to say. So I think my biggest advice would be to just remember why you wanted to be in education in the first place and that no matter what circumstances you’re in, you can still accomplish those goals. So if you love your subject area and you’re so excited to impart that knowledge and understanding to other students, you can still do that. If you love connecting with youth, if you enjoy you know, helping them cultivate their gifts, supporting them through challenging times, connecting them to community partners, helping to expand their world, to see the possibilities that are there.


Lisa Galay (17:56):
You can do all of these things, even in these strange times, again, with a little bit of creativity and, and relying on those that have been here before, in the sense that you know, this, this well, again, new for all of us, you know, those who have a little bit more experienced in education will know that there have been different shifts and changes over time. It might’ve been different curriculum. It might’ve been different philosophies around education or, you know, assessment and evaluation. There’s so many different changes that happen. And this is a big change, no doubt. But again, I think if, if teachers stay centered in why they’re doing this there’s always a way to do it. And again, I don’t think it’s going to be quite like the way it is now forever. And so if we can just ride out the challenging times, we’re going to all come through it stronger and with some awesome ideas that we never would have had if this hadn’t happened, right. It’s one of the silver linings of this pandemic experience.


Sam Demma (18:55):
Yeah. Tony Robbins always says, it’s not about having resources. It’s about being resourceful with what you have, and you do a great example, exemplifying that with coming up with ideas, staying positive, looking at the good side of things and not the negative. And I think it’ll rub off on everyone listening. So I want to say, we said, thank you so much for coming on the show. If another educator is listening and wants to reach out to you, bounce some ideas around or Uber eats, or your favorite chocolate ice cream, how can they reach out to you to do so?


Lisa Galay (19:27):
They can absolutely reach out to me at my email address, galayl@hdsb.ca. That stands for the Halton district school board. I’d be happy to, to share ideas, share some ice cream, virtually whatever it might take. I I think anyone who’s been in education for, you know, 20 plus years, like I have, we remember the colleagues that made a difference when we were starting out and the ones that made a difference along the way, even when we hadn’t been starting out for awhile. And we always want to give back. So if I can help in any way, I’m, I’m definitely glad to do that.


Sam Demma (20:06):
Awesome. Thanks so much, Lisa.


Lisa Galay (20:08):
Thank you, Sam


Sam Demma (20:10):
And another interview in the books with yet again, a high performing educator, Lisa had so many ideas to share that blew my mind on our first phone call and on this podcast, if you enjoyed this and got something of value from it, please consider taking two seconds to leave a rating and review on the podcast. So more educators like you who want to hear these things can find this podcast and benefit from the conversations. And of course, if you are someone who has ideas or know somebody who has ideas, please reach out by emailing info@samdemma.com. So we can bring you or your friends and colleagues on the show to share those ideas and expand this network. I’ll talk to you soon. See you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Lisa Galay

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.

Jana Fisher – Teacher and Student Council Advisor of the year in 2020

Jana Fisher Student Leadership
About Jana Fisher

Jana Fisher (@Fisher_Jana) is a teacher, mother, and student leadership advisor at Wynard Composite Secondary School. As a member of the Saskatchewan Association of Student Council Advisors, she is always striving to provide her students with unforgettable experiences. In 2020, Jana was recognized as the student representative council (SRC) advisor of the year and was named by the Canadian Student Leadership Association, as the Leader of Distinction.

During the pandemic, Jana decided that student leadership was more important than ever. To take that belief and bring it to life, she partnered with Sam Demma to facilitate a virtual program for her leadership students.

Connect with Jana: Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Saskatchewan Association of Student Council Advisors

Canadian Student Leadership Association

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. Jana reached out to me back in May after I shared a graduation video with her. And since then we have worked together. We did a seven-week virtual program together for her student leadership council. And she’s just an all round amazing mom, parent and educator. Jana is a teacher, a student leadership advisor at winery composite secondary school. As a member of the Saskatchewan association of school council advisors. She is always striving to provide her students with unforgettable experiences and during the pandemic, she decided that student leadership was more important now than ever. And to make that a reality, she partnered with myself to run a seven week virtual program for our leadership students. She has so much to offer and so much to share. I hope you enjoyed this episode. I’ll see you on the other side, Jana, thank you so much for coming on the high-performing educator podcast. I love the backdrop with the chemistry. Can you please share with the audience who you are, what work you do and why you do the work you do with youth today?


Jana Fisher (01:11):
Definitely. Thanks, Sam. I am from Wynyard, Saskatchewan. We’re a very small school of about 200 students. Grades seven to 12 and community is about 2000 people and I’m teach mostly senior science, but I also am the SRC advisor and I’ve been an SRC advisor. This is the third school that I’ve worked with with student leaders and why I do what I do the youth they’re our future. And if we don’t have somebody giving these students some guidance we’ve got fantastic students, but they do need some guidance from some adults about how to be effective leaders and how to be positive role models. And so I think that’s, that’s probably why I do what I do.


Sam Demma (02:00):
When did you know, in your journey towards education that you were going to be a teacher?


Jana Fisher (02:06):
I was bossy from about the time I was six years old. And so I think I just always knew I’ve got some teachers in my family, but I think that I would consider myself lucky because it’s really hard at for, for students to, to try and figure out what they are going to be when they grow up. Right. And so I was, I think I’m lucky, but I think I’m in the minority and I, I, I always consider myself lucky that I’ve known that I wanted to be a teacher. And then along the way I taught swimming lessons and that’s what told me that I wanted to teach older students and rather than be in the elementary school. Cause they’re cute. But I have more patience for older, older kids than I do for, for little kids.


Sam Demma (02:46):
You should also know Jana’s a mother. So that’s why our patients is running a little low these days. How, how are things going for you? I know every teacher and educator I speak to has a totally different experience right now with COVID. It’s like we’re all in the same lake, but in a different boat is through always says, do you know what is your experience? And do you have any hopeful stories to share with other educators about overcoming challenges or continuing to do things despite the current reality? I know you put on a killer grad last year. Maybe you can talk about that a little bit or any other story where you’ve overcoming COVID related obstacles?


Jana Fisher (03:27):
Right? Sure. So I think March 16th was one of the most frustrating days of our lives and not just frustrating, but unknown. And I think if we could go back to March 16th and live that day again, we would’ve all hugged each other and, you know, made some, had some closure with our classes, right. Because we were kind of left with, well, maybe we’ll be back in a couple of weeks or maybe this’ll be a short term and little did we know that, that we weren’t going to return back to school? So yeah, so being that there were definite challenges and, you know, as far as, as mental health goes, I would say my mental health is pretty strong, but some of those times through April, as we’re trying to, you know, encourage students to get online and, and to try and learn some chemistry it’s got to be a little bit frustrating, but talking about successes, I think first year, right, our grad was, it was a huge success.


Jana Fisher (04:22):
We had to figure out we had 34 graduates and we had to figure out how to celebrate those 34 graduate, say they needed some closure, they needed a way to, to end this chapter of their life. So one of the things that we did as a staff was we got together and we traveled in separate vehicles from one house to another. We showed up honking horns and, and playing loud music. And, and of course we’re all trying to social distance as we’re meeting with each of the graduating families at their house. And with those, with with the graduate will also with their families. And, you know, we had so many comments about that saying that that was far more personal than, you know, a student wash walking across the stage and that type of thing. So I think we had a, I was exhausted by the end of that day, just because every house we went to there were tears, but they were tears of joy and tears of gratitude.


Jana Fisher (05:17):
And thanks for, for making that a fantastic day, that could’ve just been, you know, it was June the 12th and could have just come and gone. And I know that certainly was a success we did then go ahead and plan a big ceremony as well, a more formal ceremony that we did in August. And that was just a little bit different of a celebration, but I would not June 12th day for us, that was a huge highlight in this sort of dooms time of COVID. Because by that time we’d had quite a few students check out of our, of our you know, our programs and that type of thing. So I think that was really important that, that we did that day. And, and we could put stars beside that day, cause we’ll always remember 2020, but we’ll always talk very positively about June 12th, 2020 in the, in the COVID times.


Sam Demma (06:05):
That’s awesome. And speaking about the fall as well, the grad was a huge success. I know the fall brought its own. I don’t want to say problems. It just brought some challenges that we had to creatively leap over and figure things out as anyone in the school, including yourself, done something a little different this year that you think is a sharing with another school. Maybe there’s some cool ideas that have been executed. And maybe you can say Sam, it’s a little too early to talk about that, but I’m curious to know.


Jana Fisher (06:36):
We’ve we basically were told that our SRC or our leadership team were not, we weren’t, we’re not allowed to go ahead. And so we thought, well, we’re not okay with that. So not that we’re going against what, you know, what the people above us are saying, but we decided how could we do this and still fit in with right ideas. So we, I mean, we’ve been having bi-weekly meetings, but then we did, we partnered in with a young motivational speaker, which is you. And, and it just, it’s funny how the times work out that, you know, you had reached out to us with sharing a graduation video and that’s kind of how we got connected. And then, you know, we really, we were appreciative of your, I think that’s probably where I came from was I was appreciative of your response saying, no problem.


Jana Fisher (07:20):
You saw, however you see fit and then looking more into you and your high-performance program and that type of thing. That has been a fantastic opportunity for our students keeping us together. We have a really strong leadership team, but it’s hard to continue being a strong leadership team when people are saying we can’t meet and we can’t plan activities and we can’t, and we can’t, and we can’t. So we just said, well, yes, we can. We just have to do it in a different way. So, you know, we’ve partnered up with you. We also are looking ahead to seeing the, what can we do? So Halloween’s coming up. We usually have a fantastic, you know, couple of hours or hour to two hours of things throughout the day. So we’ve decided we’ve got a committee. Our students are going to come together and make a Cahoot, which if you’re not familiar with that, it’s kind of a quiz, something they’re thinking about, you know, dressing up all the teachers in which costumes taking years have contests and saying, you know, which, which is which, and so students can guess, you know, who’s Mrs.


Jana Fisher (08:22):
Fisher, who’s Mr. Oates? That type of thing. So we are doing some virtual games and that type of thing, our administration’s really supportive and they, they know the importance of molding these students and teaching them leadership skills through these activities. We’re also in charge of remembrance day. So we’re thinking about having some of the veterans in town, getting some videos of them and then virtually showing that as part of our remembrance day ceremony. So we are going to have to put that together. We’ll do videos of students. We, we have some musical students. So in the past we’ve have had steps. We have had students sing songs of remembrance, recite poetry of remembrance, do those kinds of things. So we’re not going to stop doing those things. We have to, we have to recognize the importance of leadership recognize our veterans, recognize that we do still need to do all of this just in a different way,


Sam Demma (09:18):
Just connecting students right now and giving them a community makes such a big difference. And I know in your years of teaching, you’ve seen that difference firsthand. You’ve definitely had students reach out, write Mrs. Fisher letters and let you know how much of an impact you’ve had on them. I’m curious to know if you can think of a story that sticks out in your mind of a young person whose life has been touched by education, who had been touched by leadership. Maybe they were struggling with something outside of school and maybe just caring for them or doing small thing for them made a huge impact. And the reason I’m asking you to share this is because there might be an educator listening. Who’s thinking what is going on this year? They’re feeling burnt out. They’re, they’re lacking hope and your story could reignite that fire within them. And by all means change the name of the student for the sake of privacy for the story. But the more vulnerable, it isn’t honest, the more of an impact it will have on others.


Jana Fisher (10:18):
I know that that student leadership, we always there saying, okay, we, we want volunteers, right? We’re asking at the beginning of the year, who wants to be on SRC, put up your hand. If we have a certain number of students while we need to kind of have representatives from their particular classrooms. And so we get these room wraps and quite often, you know, it’s not us that are running, it sits, it’s different teachers that don’t necessarily totally understand leadership, right? So it might be a vote. Lots of times that’s a popularity thing. So what, we’ve, what we’ve decided that we need to do as students that we see that are sitting somewhere that are, you know, not involved. We think it’s important that we go to those students and we say, Hey, you know what? We have this really cool thing we meet once a week or twice a week, would you like to join us?


Jana Fisher (11:06):
And of course their answer, all, always this, you know, they’re struggling or, or it’s not for me. And, you know, if we can just get those students to come to one meeting, we quite often, we quite often will, you know, we’ll, we’ll save those, not save those students, but give them kind of a, a purpose and a, and a thing. Right? So in my opinion, every student needs a thing, right? We’ve got some kids have basketball, that’s their thing. Some kids have sports. That’s their thing. Some kids, you know, they have dance, that sort of thing. But if we have a student who doesn’t have a thing, I think as educators that said, this is a really good opportunity to just have them be involved with something within our school. So, you know, we do, I can think of a couple of students that, that are like that, but one in particular.


Jana Fisher (11:53):
And I think I won’t use the name, but one in particular, in grades, I partnered in with the grades sixes because they coming over from the other school. So we quite often have these kinds of conversations, you know, do we have a student who really doesn’t have a thing? So, so we kind of shoulder tap this, this one girl shy, you know, if you asked her to speak out in class, she would just wouldn’t do that. And so, you know, they said this girl, I think she needs a thing. They didn’t use that, that actual terminology. But that was my understanding. I talked to this girl and she just, she wasn’t going to do it. But I said, I said a few things about, you know, being a bound partner, it has to be part of a team, not necessarily a sports team. I’m a big sports person that my kids play lots of sports.


Jana Fisher (12:38):
I played lots, but being part of a bigger idea, I talked lots and this girl showed up in grade seven and she handed me this, this page. And here, it was a list of things that, that list of goals that she had and these goals that she had quite a few of them were things that I had said aloud to her. And I thought, wow, like if I had not talked to these grade six teachers and had this fading and said, you know, what could we, what could we do to make this work? What kind of students do you have with who should we do? You know, if we wouldn’t, we wouldn’t have gone ahead and had that kind of conversation she would have existed through she’s now in grade 11 she would have just existed through and gone out of high school, kind of as one of those students that you just don’t really know this, an unknown student that just try to blend, she tries to blend in. And I think that was a, that was a real success story. So that would be one example that comes to my mind.


Sam Demma (13:34):
That’s awesome. And how do we make students feel appreciated and heard and valued even when school is a little different, maybe things are virtual. Do you have any ideas?


Jana Fisher (13:47):
We have, we have some different ways that we communicate. We do have some chat groups on that kind of thing, and that’s extremely important to us right now because we can’t get together in a room. And when you can’t get together in a room, well, what happens is the grade 12 students take over right here. We let them, they’re going to be the bosses. They’re going to say remembrance day is going to be like this. And the Halloween is going to be like this, but so we’ve got these chat groups that we we meet with and it might be, you know, I might be at five o’clock at night. We started, we have, you know, we’re not doing this at midnight, please don’t send me a message at midnight. But, but I mean, we kind of have office hours and, and we say, Hey, let’s, let’s have these conversations today.


Jana Fisher (14:34):
We’re going to have these conversations, you know, sometime around five, or I’ll send a message at work to talk about this right now. I think that’s, that’s really important. There is a fine line there, right? Because we’re, we’re dealing with some communications through this, through social media. There’s few challenges. As far as parents go grade seven students, grade eight students, for example, maybe aren’t allowed to use that particular type of social media then that involves educating parents and talking about, you know, the idea that phones and technology like that is not going to go away. So we, our responsibility is to educate those students how to properly use those, right? Because parents come and say, well, we’ve heard these horror stories about how so-and-so took this picture and ends up cyber bullying and that type of thing. And we have to teach kids how to use this technology. And I, and that’s what works for us is we do, we do have an, and this is, we used to do that before, but now it’s, you know, it’s, it’s times a times a hundred of what we did, you know, say a year ago just because it’s the only way that we can actually have discussion.


Sam Demma (15:43):
That’s awesome. And I don’t know if you remember your first year in education, but there are, there are a bunch of teachers who are tuning in educators who maybe it’s their first year in school. If you could give advice to your younger self, not that much younger, you’re still very young, but if you could give advice to your younger self, when you started in your first year of education, imagine this was your first year. Like most teachers starting this year, I thinking, what the heck is this? I did not sign up for this job. What advice would you have to, to share with them?


Jana Fisher (16:21):
I, first of all would say, congratulations on being part of this awesome profession. It, it really is, you know, there’s lots of negativity that goes on, but I think the first thing that we need to know is that it really doesn’t get much worse than this. They’re there on top of all of the things that they ask us to teach, we now are also trying to, you know, sanitize and make sure kids are wearing them and make sure they’re staying six feet apart. And add-ons right. So, so one, the best advice that somebody ever said to me was, as long as you are continually saying, how could I have done that better? That means that you actually are caring and you’re thinking about, and you’re, and you’re going to grow. If it, if you say that’s as good as I can do, this is the best I can do.


Jana Fisher (17:08):
That it isn’t true. You, everything that you do, you can do better at, but you can’t beat yourself up over something that you would consider a failure. You’re going to have classes. I’ve been, this is my 24th year of teaching. I sometimes have classes at the end. I go, whoa. And what was, what was going on there? Do we, you know, do we need to reteach that? I, I’m not sure what happened there, but as long as in my head at 24, you know, my 24th year, I’m still saying, what can I do differently? What do I need to do now? We can’t beat ourselves up. We can’t back up. We don’t have a DeLorean to go back to the future. We just need to be okay with what we did, but what can we change and, and moving forward, but it won’t get any more challenging than this year.


Jana Fisher (17:51):
You’re if it’s if you’re in your first year, it’s challenge, it’s the most challenging year you can possibly have to start with. And now we’ve, we’ve multiplied that by 10. So survived through this year B be an hour or two ahead of the kids, right? Don’t run out of material. So if you’re teaching something, make sure you’ve got an hour more than you actually think that you need. And then you live from one day to the next. And in soon enough, it’ll be, you’ll be 23 years into this. And you’ll say, how the heck did that happen?


Sam Demma (18:21):
That’s awesome, Jana, this has been a really fun interview. If someone’s listening and wants to reach out and share some cool ideas and talk to you, what’s the best way for them to do so.


Jana Fisher (18:32):
The best way to start off would be just to email me that’s how that’s, where we can start out. And then we can decide if we want to, you know, do a zoom call or something like that. But my email is jana.fisher@horizonsd.ca


Sam Demma (18:53):
Awesome. Perfect. Thank you so much for taking some time to record this interview with me. It’s been a pleasure and I can’t wait to stay in touch, continue the sessions we’re doing and see what other unique things you come up with during the year. Right.


Jana Fisher (19:05):
Great. Okay. Thank you so much.


Sam Demma (19:07):
And just like that, another interview on the high-performing educator podcast is complete. If you took something of value away from this conversation with Jana and myself, please leave a rating and review so that other educators just like you can find this podcast benefit from the ideas and feel motivated by the inspiring stories. And if you are somebody who has something to share, or, you know, somebody who has some inspiration and ideas to share, please email is info@samdemma.com. Should we can get your story and get you on the podcast and how hopefully connected with other educators around the world. Anyways, I’ll see you on the next episode. Talk soon.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Jana Fisher

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.