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Student Success

Paolo Morrone – Principal at St Andrew Catholic School

Paolo Morrone - Principal at St Andrew Catholic School
About Paolo Morrone

Paolo Morrone (@StAndrewStormP) is currently the Principal at St Andrew Catholic School. He started his career as a teacher at St. Jude Catholic School on a short contract as a grade six teacher 20 years ago. The following school year marked the beginning of his high school career as a Physical Education and Social Science teacher. Seven years later, he moved into his first placement and was appointed as vice principal of Don Bosco Catholic Secondary School. He is currently in his 14th year as an administrator within the TCDSB and has had the pleasure and honour to have served eight schools as both a vice principal and principal. During his career, he has been also been able to serve as both a teacher and administrator in both elementary panels.

He cares deeply for and works with ALL students in the school. Paolo enjoys all aspects of school life but also feels very strongly that every school should be able to provide a variety of experiences and co-curricular activities for students. This helps students become not only well-rounded students and individuals but responsible citizens. As a servant leader, he is looking forward to returning to coaching this year as he coaches the school intermediate boys’ basketball team. He is an avid supporter and cheerleader of all extra-curricular events at his school. Paolo is a leader who truly values his colleagues and their views and always ensures he does everything possible to serve both staff and students with caring, empathy, and compassion. He has a real love for education and sports and always seeks to be a servant leader. He is always seeking opportunities to improve the student experience at his school and ensure that all students are treated equally and with respect.

Connect with Paolo: Email | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

St Andrew Catholic School

St. Jude Catholic School

Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB)

Ontario Colleges Athletic Association (OCAA)

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 (00:55):

Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator.

Sam Demma (00:59):

Today’s special guest is Paulo Morrone. Paolo is currently the Principal at St. Andrew Catholic School. He started his career as a teacher at St. Jude Catholic School on a short contract as a grade six teacher 20 years ago. The following school year marked the beginning of his high school career as a physical education and social science teacher. Seven years later, he moved into his first placement and was appointed as vice principal of Don Bosco Catholic Secondary School. He is currently in his 14th year as an administrator within the Toronto Catholic District School Board, and has had the pleasure and honor to have served eight schools as both a Vice Principal and Principal. During his career, he has also been able to serve as both a teacher and an administrator in both elementary panels. He cares deeply for and works with all students in the school.

Sam Demma (01:51):

Paulo enjoys all aspects of school life, but also feels very strongly that every school should be able to provide a variety of experiences and co-curricular activities for students. This helps students become not only well rounded students and individuals, but more importantly, responsible citizens. As a servant leader, he is looking forward to returning to coaching this year as he coaches the school Intermediate Boys basketball team. He is an avid supporter and cheerleader of all extracurricular events at his school. Paulo is a leader who truly values his colleagues and their views, and always ensures he does everything possible to serve both staff and students with caring, empathy, and compassion. He has a real love for education and sports, which you’ll hear about in our podcast, and always seeks to be that servant leader. He’s also always seeking opportunities to improve the student experience at his school and ensure that all students are treated equally and with respect. I hope you enjoy this amazing conversation with Paulo and I will see you on the other side. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. Today’s special guest is Paulo Paulo. I’m gonna allow you to introduce yourself and please share a little bit about your journey through education.

Paolo Morrone (03:08):

Hey, Sam, first of all, thanks for having me. well, as you said, my name’s Paulo Morone. I’m currently the principal at St. Andrew Catholic School in Rexdale Ontario, or proud at Togo North at Togo, as we say. my journey, my journey is an interesting one, but I started actually in the secondary panel and in high school actually I lied. Excuse me. I came out, this is what’s what’s interesting when it comes to me with education was I started in elementary. I got a little call right outta teacher’s college. Nice. saying, Hey, do you are you interested in a grade six position as a teacher? right outta teacher’s college, just as well, <laugh>. Yeah. I don’t really have the, the experience to teach grades. I don’t even have the qualifications. I didn’t have my junior, it doesn’t matter.

Paolo Morrone (04:02):

We need, they, they were in a, in a, in a bind and they needed somebody quick. And it was quite the experience that I never thought I would end up back in elementary. Nice. it was you know, you look at experiences good and bad, but that was one at the time that probably scarred me from the elementary panel in general. And then I, I, you kind of, when I got, when I got into education or the way I feel is that you’re either one or the other elementary or high school. And I was always geared more towards the high school secondary. I just loved to coach and I just found that I always related better with, with the older kids. Nice. so I spent the first what, 10 years roughly of my my educational career in secondary.

Paolo Morrone (04:50):

And then I made a jump to elementary again, which was quite shocking for me. it was a lot of personal reflection and, and discernment in terms of making that move. and I made the move. And at first it was quite the challenge for me mentally and not physically of course, but mentally it was a, it was, it was quite a change. And now six years later three schools in three schools of under my belt in elementary between a vice principal and principal role. And here we we’re. And I’m enjoy enjoying it much more than I thought I would you know, almost 20 years ago when I stepped in fresh faced and, you know, green under the ears into into that little elementary school.

Sam Demma (05:33):

That’s awesome. Did you know growing up as a student yourself that you really wanted to work in education? Or how did you find this pathway in the first place?

Paolo Morrone (05:43):

 I always tell people this. It was I can date my, my, my realm or my, sorry, my my wish to be an education back to grade eight. Wow. I can, yeah. I had a, I can tie actually being a principal back to being great. I always said I wanted to be a teacher and coach. I kind of started, I volunteered from grade nine in my, at my old elementary school. Okay. Nice. As much as I could, of course. and I kind of did that all throughout high school to get as much experience as I could, knowing that I was gonna get into teaching or that’s where I wanted to land, wanted to go. Yeah. And thankfully it worked out for me.

Sam Demma (06:22):

And tell me more about the coaching aspect of your role. Are you still coaching now? And what are you, what are you

Paolo Morrone (06:28):

Coaching? No, I, I, you know what, I don’t, but I I’m gonna be helping out with the basketball team this year a bit just cause the coach is one of my younger teachers and he found out that I coached back in the day, so he kind of approached me and said, Hey, would you be willing to help? And I said, absolutely. Like it’s actually a big passion of mine. I loved it when I did it. Nice. coaching, coaching was, they say kids kids sports gets kids to school in many cases. And coaching got me to school, not that I didn’t wanna work, but coaching was a, was a big part of the early, early part of my career. I really, really loved connecting with kids inside and outside the classroom. The outside piece, people don’t give it enough credit.

Paolo Morrone (07:09):

People don’t understand that building relationships in that capacity, like outside of the traditional classroom walls it can, it, it does amazing things for you as an educator in a school. Students you just build that trust. You can’t, I can’t put a, I can’t really articulate it, but when you build that relationship and trust with them outside of, you know, the book, the books and the pens and the papers and the iPads, it, it’s another layer. it’s another layer that if you haven’t been in education or you don’t do it while you’re an educator, you don’t really understand it. Sometimes people didn’t, even, colleagues didn’t understand like, why are you doing so much coaching? So first off, I was in, partially in PhysEd as a phed teacher, and I always felt that that was part of what we should do realistically, why else are you in a physical education program?

Paolo Morrone (08:00):

Right? Yeah. and the other part was just, I love working with kids in that capacity period, and I love sports. So you put all that together and I had the dream job. That’s awesome. and here I am sitting as a principal and I always say like, how did I give that up? Yeah. So did I, did I like the coaching? What was the, it was the huge part of my, the early part of my career, and I do miss it. I’m gonna be helping out with the ball team this year. Nice. And last year I ran a little bit of intramurals for the kids when things opened up after a lot of the, the restrictions were laid or taken off. we got some awesome intramurals for the kids at lunch, which kept them engaged. We were having a lot of issues at lunch as well. So that really helped turn things around.

Sam Demma (08:45):

It sounds like relationship building has been a key part of your belief around education, and you’ve done it a lot through extracurricular activities like coaching and sports. Can you think of a a student who maybe was struggling with school that you were able to build a relationship with through sport that had a positive impact on their, I guess, their school experience? Or maybe even maybe it’s not a, a student that you specifically coach, but a story you’ve heard before? I’m just curious.

Paolo Morrone (09:14):

Yeah. I mean I, I can honestly say that I’ve, I, I think I’ve had quite a bit of an impact, or I had quite a bit of an impact in my early, the earlier part of my career with that. I would coach about six teams a year. Wow. Either in a, either, not just in a head coaching, like I would either help as an assistant Yeah. Or I was the head coach, but basketball sort of was my thing. which it wasn’t. I didn’t, didn’t even, basketball was one of the only sports I did to play. I didn’t play as a kid growing up in terms of any type of, you know, you play a little, a little bit on the street or at the park or whatever, but not in a league in any way. So I kind of got thrown into it and fell in love with it. And along the way there was a lot of, there’s a lot of kids. I mean basketball, it can be a challenging sport to coach in many ways. just the game itself is, is fantastic and, and it comes with some challenges in that sense. But the school that I was at at the time where I was really into the, the basketball coaching, there were a lot of kids. They needed a little bit of direction and guidance and one particular kid stood out. obviously I’ll, I’ll name,

Sam Demma (10:27):

You don’t have to say his name. Yeah.

Paolo Morrone (10:28):

But it he was almost your storybook kind of story. It was his, he came from a single pa single family, sorry, single parent family. there was a lot of social issues that he was dealing with and family issues. and that translated onto what basketball was his outlet, first of all, however, this is a kid that would light up the scoreboard. You’re talking 30 points, 35 points without blinking. And I, he was a, he, I still believe to this day, this boy should have been in the NCAA at minimum. Wow. But Canada as you may know, firsthand you know, you don’t get the same type of exposure here. And at that time for basketball, it wasn’t as big as now. Now it’s exploded. Had that exposure been around back then I, I still feel he would’ve, he would’ve had a better opportunity to get a, a free education in the us.

Paolo Morrone (11:25):

 but anyway, the boy, the boy had some issues with anger at times. And with that translated onto the court, off the court there was a lot of friction off them with colleagues that would say, you know, why is this kid playing? And they didn’t understand that if you didn’t have that kid playing, it wasn’t, you know, I needed the superstar on the court is I needed, I did. Yeah. Obviously you wanted the, the, the kid to play basketball. Yeah. But that was his outlet. You take that away from the, the kid. Yeah. Yeah. Did I take him off? Did I suspend him a game or two if the behavior wasn’t appropriate? Absolutely. If it was necessary academically that he wasn’t meeting his, you know, his goals, we would sit down and talk about it. It wasn’t just, you know, arbitrarily, you know, you were coming off the team because you just can’t do that and

Sam Demma (12:11):

Solve anything.

Paolo Morrone (12:12):

Yeah. No you can do that and you have a responsibility as a coach and an educator, but and there’s more to it. You gotta be able to talk to these kids and, and peel the layers off. And this is a guy that mom would call me when he had a little bit of a, an anger episode and would she would take off like she didn’t know. He didn’t know where he was. So mom would call me and say, Hey, can you, I would be drive over to the, the local mall and kind of take a loop around looking for him to find out what was going on. Cause I knew at that point he had a he had an episode, he was angry and something had upset him. And, you know, kind of talk him, talk him back into a proper mindset.

Paolo Morrone (12:56):

 he, I’ve lost touch with him more recently, but last I had heard he was doing really well. He ended up at the University of Windsor. Wow. He did continue to play university ball, but at a Canadian level at CS or U Sport now, whatever they call it. and at the college and at the OCAA, the Ontario College ranks Nice. and he was doing accounting last I heard. But this is a kid that honestly a lot of people had written off. And I had a great relationship with him and a good belief in him, not just as a ball player, but as a student and as a person. He just needed that guidance. He needed a little bit more that, that fatherly character as well because he had some tragedy with his father passing at a young age.

Paolo Morrone (13:40):

Ah, and, and the stepfather actually. So it was you know, that’s a lot of trauma for a young kid at 16, 17 years old to have dealt with prior to even that, you know, as he was a little guy. so yeah, I, I take great pride in that cuz you know, I, I, I wish I, I’m sure I will connect with him again soon, but that was that was one, that one that really stands out for me. But there’s, there’s quite a few stories in my, in my own head that I, I like to think I made quite a bit of a difference at that time. Nice. and it all came down to the relationships truthfully. That’s the truth between, you know, how you, how you treat the kids and they see you here as human. Yeah. Right. Yeah. You don’t wanna be, it’s funny, in an elementary school, the kids think you go home when you plug yourself into a closet. So when they see you out in like the real world, they’re like, totally get out. You’re alive. You’re alive. You know, like, you don’t go home. You don’t just stay in the school all night.

Sam Demma (14:35):

Yeah. They have your top, their purse on the shoulder and they’re like, it’s Mr. Moroni, he’s over there. You see him like <laugh>, he’s in the grocery store buying vegetables,

Paolo Morrone (14:44):

<laugh>, why is he buying food? <laugh>? Yeah. It’s that kind of it’s, it’s funny. It’s a great it’s a great line of work, I tell you. It’s a great revocation.

Sam Demma (14:55):

That’s awesome. So what do you think allows you to build the relationships with young people? Is it like time spent? Is it being curious about their lives? Like what do you think it is about the interaction that allows you to build the relationship and build the trust?

Paolo Morrone (15:12):

 honestly, it’s always hard to talk about yourself. Cause I’m finding it like difficult to say things. Oh yeah. Maybe I wanna come across like from

Sam Demma (15:20):

The, from the perspective of like teachers and students in general. How do you think

Paolo Morrone (15:24):

You gotta have heart man? You gotta have heart and you gotta care about who’s in front of you. And it’s not just, you know it’s not about the summers. It’s not, you sure not you sure as how ain’t getting rich in this, in this job. And it’s not about the money. And you hear that a thousand times, and obviously in the current climate you hear that even more so in the news more recently. you gotta come in with the right mindset and heart. And if you are going to do this, you gotta put the kids first. But you gotta find a healthy balance between building that relationship, the academic side of what as well. And, and the people side, people, young teachers have a difficulty, difficulty like that sometimes lines get blurred. they’re nervous, they don’t know how to interact. They’re, they’re focused more just simply on curriculum. I’m of the belief that curriculum of course is important, but it’s not about just curriculum. It’s about the whole person and educating the whole person, meeting the character of the person. you know, the math lessons will come not for me, but they will come. and you got, you gotta educate the whole, the whole mind, body and soul. That’s, that’s my feeling on it.

Sam Demma (16:36):

That’s awesome. I think back to my experiences as a student in school and I had some amazing experiences with extracurricular activities. Soccer was a big part of my life. Spent almost every minute outside of a classroom on a soccer field or in a gym, working and training and getting, getting better. I was, yeah. Were were you a soccer player as well?

Paolo Morrone (16:56):

 not soccer. Well, I did play, I was a goalie. but I was kinda one of those kids that played a little bit of everything. I played soccer, I played hockey, I played football in high school softball, baseball. But I wouldn’t say I was a a rock star in any one, any one particular sport. I just loved sports. Yeah. And that’s really what drew me. Probably what drew you, you know, in the realm of education as well, is I had that one connection, not one connection I have. I still go out with some of the teachers that, going back to the relationship piece. Oh

Sam Demma (17:25):

No way. That

Paolo Morrone (17:26):

Impact on you. Right. I still talk to you know, one of my good, one of my, one of my good friends lives down the street from here. He was my teacher in high school. No way. I ended up becoming his vice principal down the road and my first placement. So it, it is about that. and connecting, right. yeah, prime example. And sports. So he was my coach and my teacher. So it’s, you know, pay it forward kind of thing. And you see things come full circle and you have that good, those good people in front of you. Like I’m sure you had some good coaches and some mentors along the way in high school and maybe in elementary or high school. I don’t know that set you a foot in the right direction or if you had a setback you know, they kind of picked you up. That’s what I always strive to be when I was teaching. That’s the biggest part of, I miss that con that connection piece in the classroom. But I try to do that as much as I can as a principal by being visible and being active with the kids at recess or whatever I can, wherever I can. Just, you know, even if that means a high five in the hallway.

Sam Demma (18:28):

Yeah. Let’s talk about that for a second. Visibility in your role as a principal now how do you try and make sure that, that you still have that type of contribution? Of course, it’s a different role with different responsibilities, but what are, what are some of the things that you practice or try and do to, to not just be visible but be impactful?

Paolo Morrone (18:47):

It’s a fine balance between the paper, paper aspect and being visible. you can very easily get wrapped up being, I can get trapped in my office all day and there are days that I am. Yep. Those are the days I feel guilty. but my, my general rule of thumb for me is I try to get out at least two recesses a day, whether it’s lunch or at the end of the day. Cuz the kids need to see you out there. not just from a, you know, you know, here’s the big bad principal disciplinarian. No. Like, they, you know, you walk out and you’re, it’s a, it’s awesome. you’re getting tackled. You got, I got one on each, one kid on each limb. they’re, they’re elementary is a, it’s an awesome experience. The kids they really, they need to see you.

Paolo Morrone (19:31):

They need to see you out there. I’m a big sort of burly guy, so they they come running up and <laugh> literally like, you know, two or three of them. They’re tackling Yeah, they’re tackling you out there. But I think the important thing as a, as an administrator is in any school, elementary, secondary, whatever the case may be, you gotta be visible. You gotta be visible, you gotta be accessible. my office happens to be literally in the middle of the hallway, so I am accessible. I get kids knocking on my door all day every day. a little difficult when you’re trying to get something done or you’re in a room meeting or a, a podcast or whatever it is that you’re doing. But you you gotta be there. That’s the bottom line. You gotta be out there and be visible.

Paolo Morrone (20:16):

And again, if that means just, you know, a little dab in the hallway, say, Hey, hey buddy, how you doing today? that’s how I try to be impactful. And then the other piece is when there are activities, when there are things happening in, in the school, again, it’s don’t just be there, be part of it. you know, we did the Terry Fox run a couple weeks ago within the school. You know, the, if we hit our goal, we had a jello weeding contest. I, I, for the first time, I, I kind of felt what a rockstar was like. It was, it was crazy being on top of that, on top of the stage. And just the kids were the, the energy and the vibe coming off just being not having that stuff for the last couple years. It was awesome to see the kids just enjoying it. And again, it goes back to, you know, you’re not plugging yourself in a closet. Yep. And they see you as real. I was on the stage with four other teachers full of whipped cream and jello all over my face. And they, they loved every of it. Right. And I make the the the kids love my I call it bad jokes, but my hair jokes or my lack there of,

Paolo Morrone (21:25):

I think it, I think it just comes down to honestly just being, just being real with them. And they, they know that, they know that you’re, you know, you’re the principal. You’re you’re the disciplinarian in the school. You run the school in that sense, but at the same time, they wanna know that you’re real and you’ve got a big heart and you’re there for them. That’s what I think

Sam Demma (21:46):

I try to do that. It sounds like it. And I think that’s really, it’s really awesome. I think there are also like everything, there’s people who work in different industries that their heart’s not in it. And you can tell right away the, the difference, you know? and I think the students can tell right away too. Like they can sense it sometimes.

Paolo Morrone (22:08):

Not sometimes all the time. they, they, they can pick off a fraud from a mile away. They really can. it’s the energy and the vibe that you give off. Honestly, sometimes it’s not even anything that you say or do, it’s just how you, how you carry yourself in the school. again, I I honestly everything, I relate everything back to building relationships with people, relational leadership, relational educat. Like just being that educator that can connect with people. Right?

Sam Demma (22:37):

Yeah. So how if you don’t have energy and if you don’t have your own your hell health, you know, it’s hard to, you know, try and be the best you can be. Especially at work. One of my one of my cousins she just started teaching and they don’t have kids. And she says to me one time at dinner, I spend, I spend eight hours with kids at school. There’s no way I’m coming home and raising kids of my own <laugh>. I don’t know how people do this. <laugh> and you know, parenting, having a family, beautiful thing. you have kids of your own little ones mm-hmm. <affirmative> among balancing, raising your kids, helping other, you know, people’s kids all day. How do you fill up your own cup so that you can show up and give a hundred percent of your efforts?

Paolo Morrone (23:31):

 I always, I, I, I laugh cuz you say this. I always say I split my day in two. my energy, I try to give the same energy to both. Nice. but it’s a, I psych myself up on the way home in the car because, you know, I do have two little ones. I kind of did things a little different or backwards as I say in my career path where I kind of got into being an administrator very young into my career. you know, I’m, we’re, I’m in year 13 here. Nice. As an administrator. Nice As an administrator. So I, when I started as a vice principal, I didn’t have kids. so it was a totally different <laugh>, totally different experience, totally different energy level. And now I’ve got two little ones under five, five and under.

Paolo Morrone (24:21):

so when I come home, I gotta be on my a game. Nice. I gotta be on ma game in the morning and I gotta be on ma game in the afternoon. How do I do it? I don’t know how I do it, but I do it. you just kind of you know, you’ve gotta be there. And the other piece is health. From a health perspective, that’s hard balance. Finding a good balance and I’m one that I’ve always thought, you know, working out and, and sports in general is important. so, you know, we, I don’t do the gym anymore, but I’ve set up a gym at home. So that, that was the trade off, you know, losing up. I don’t have that extra hour to go back and forth from the gym, but you know, what if I cut off that hour and I got half an hour, I can do that at home. And that’s how I keep my own sort of mental sanity between both both rolls and hats that I, I have on all every day between my personal and family life. It’s, it’s a, it’s a tough balance sometimes, especially as a, a principal these days, there’s a lot of different you know, this, these disconnect policies don’t often work as well for us <laugh> when we come home and you gotta answer, you’re get, you know, you’re

Sam Demma (25:28):

Looking your life right center

Paolo Morrone (25:30):

<laugh>. Yeah. Do I answer this email or do I wait till the morning and then, you know, no, I’m gonna cut. I’m gonna cut it off, but then still gonna be there in the morning. So its it’s tough. It is a fine balance between between home life and, and work life. and a lot of people, it’s, it’s not hard to get totally overwhelmed with work where you, you start letting the other stuff slip a bit. So you gotta bring yourself back to reality and get a reality check and say no. Like, my priority is my family. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. I love my job and my vocation, but my number one priority is my family. but I’ve gotta also be able to be there for, for the school, for the kids. They know when you’re not, when you’re not. And I don’t mean just physic, they actually do know. Cause I’m not on the, if I’m not on the pa, they know I’m not there <laugh>. but they know, they know if you’re off, they sense it, they can feel it.

Sam Demma (26:19):

Ah, cool. that’s awesome. Thanks for sharing some of the behind the scenes. When, when you think of your different roles, if you could take the experience you have now, travel back in time and speak to Apollo in his first year of teaching, knowing what you know now with the experiences you’ve had, like what would you have told your younger self? Not because you wanted to change your pathway, but you thought it would’ve been helpful to hear when you were just getting into this vocation?

Paolo Morrone (26:46):

 truthfully, I probably would have gone into administration a little bit later on in my career. I don’t regret it. I joke around with people and say like, you know, I gave up the dream job as a, as a PhysEd teacher. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> which is something, again, going back to I can trace back to grade eight in terms of me. That’s what I wanted to do. but as I told you, I also said that I wanted to be a principal. I just, I got in a little early and you know out of potentially a 30 year career, 20, 20 plus years of it will be an administration that’s a long time to be a principal and vice principal. I look, I take the positive in it and say, you know what? That that’ll by the time I’m, I’m done and ready to move on to the next stage of my life, I’m hoping that I’ve made quite a bit of an impact in all the schools I’ve, I’ve been at in some way, shape or form.

Paolo Morrone (27:38):

 in terms of my career trajectory, that would be the only thing. I’m not saying I regretted in any way, but I probably would’ve done it a little bit later. so when you get, when you get the tap on the shoulder, you get the tap. And as my mentor at the time said you know, if you got the, if you get the tap on the shoulder now there’s a reason for it and, and you don’t know if it’s gonna come afterwards. So you’re, you’re lined up. There’s a reason for it and, you know, take, take the leap and go kind of thing.

Sam Demma (28:05):

Oh, awesome. I appreciate that advice because I’m sure there’s some people on the edge with that decision who might be listening right now. So, yeah. Thanks for sharing and Paulo, thanks so much for coming on the show. I really appreciate your time and energy. I hope you have an amazing rest of the school year. If, if another educator is listening to this and wants to reach out, ask you a question, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?

Paolo Morrone (28:28):

They can reach out to me either through LinkedIn, email through my board email’s fine. LinkedIn. I’m on LinkedIn quite a bit or even Twitter. I’m not as active as I was on Twitter, but I do I do check it.

Sam Demma (28:41):

Perfect. Awesome. Thank you so much for again coming on the show. Enjoy the rest of your.I’m glad you enjoyed it And keep up with the great work.

Paolo Morrone (28:50):

<laugh>. Thanks man.

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Tracy Beaulieu - Administrative Support Leader
About Tracy Beaulieu

Tracy Beaulieu is an Administrative Support Leader for the Public Schools Branch in Prince Edward Island. She has a passion for teaching and learning and brings 19 years of experience as a school administrator to her current role. This background has allowed her to render advice, guidance, and professional training to help administrators succeed in their complex roles – as instructional leaders and operational managers.

In addition to working with those directly in the role, she teaches the province preparatory course for aspiring leaders. Providing a safe, welcoming, and caring learning environment has always been a priority for Tracy. In 2012, her school received national recognition for welcoming new students and families to kindergarten.

Two years later, she received Canada’s Outstanding Principal’s Award after being nominated by the staff for her commitment and focus on character education. She believes neither of these would have been possible without an amazing staff who believed in students.

Connect with Tracy: Email | Instagram | Facebook

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Public Schools Branch – Prince Edward Island

Canada’s Outstanding Principal’s Award

Dr. Seuss Books

Who was Terry Fox?

Empty Your Backpack by Sam Demma

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 (00:54):

Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator Podcast.

Sam Demma (00:58):

Today’s special guest is Tracy Beaulieu. Tracy Beaulieu is an Administrative Support Leader for the Public Schools Branch in Prince Edward Island. She has a passion for teaching and learning and brings 19 years of experience as a school administrator to her current role. This background has allowed her to render advice, guidance, and professional training to help administrators succeed in their complex roles – as instructional leaders and operational managers.In addition to working with those directly in the role, she teaches the province preparatory course for aspiring leaders. Providing a safe, welcoming, and caring learning environment has always been a priority for Tracy. In 2012, her school received national recognition for welcoming new students and families to kindergarten.Two years later, she received Canada’s Outstanding Principal’s Award after being nominated by the staff for her commitment and focus on character education. She truly believes neither of these would have been possible without an amazing staff who believed in students. I hope you enjoy this insightful conversation with Tracy and I will see you on the other side.

Sam Demma (02:01):

Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator Podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. I’m here with a very special guest today. She was introduced to me by a past guest. Her name is Tracy Beaulieu. I’m gonna give her an opportunity to introduce herself as well. Tracy, welcome to the show. Please, share a little bit about your yourself.

Tracy Beaulieu (02:23):

Hi. Thank you Sam. I appreciate you having me. As you said, my name is Tracy Beaulieu and my role is an admin support leader on Prince Edward Island. So basically what I do is I’m the contact for a number of schools. I have 20 of them. Typically the elementary schools. The contact for any of the administrators if they have any questions or need support helping their teachers or helping students, I’m kind of their go-to person.

Tracy Beaulieu (02:55):

That is a very special role. <laugh>.

Tracy Beaulieu (03:00):

Interesting.

Tracy Beaulieu (03:01):

It’s a lot of support. What got you into education? Did you know growing up that you wanted to work in this industry?

Tracy Beaulieu (03:09):

Absolutely. I actually knew since I was a little kid, that was kind of the same, the thing that was in the books that your parents keep that say, What do you wanna be when you’re in grade one and two? And teacher was always it for me. Ironically, I never wanted to be an administrator and I found myself in that role at a fairly young age. I was only 27 when I became a vice principal. And really only then did I become a vice principal because I had the administrator’s course as part of my upgrading my education. And I was in a small rural school and they needed help and I was asked, I didn’t want to take it on because that would mean that I would be the vice principal of some of the teachers who had actually taught me when I was in school.

Tracy Beaulieu (04:03):

So it was a little awkward, but they were fantastic and gave me a lot of support. So then I never wanted to be a principal. And ironically people then started reaching out and encouraging me to take on the role, but it was actually a student that made me finally make the decision to become a principal. It’s a neat little story. I was just driving down the road, I was going to pick up a sub for my kids and I saw a sign and it basically had said, the signs are there, you just need to listen. And I was like, Oh yeah, sure. And then I get to the place where the sub is and it’s a student and he came over and was happy to see me and said, Are you gonna be the new principal? And I said, No, I don’t think so. I love teaching kids too much. And he said, But you still teach me. You teach me when I’m in the office to make better choices. And I thought, Wow, okay, there’s a bit of a sign. So that’s how I got into administration. But basically my journey has been because other people were tapping me on the shoulder and saw something in me that I may not have seen in myself. And I’m grateful for them for doing that and I hope that I can do that for others as well.

Sam Demma (05:28):

Did you say your first role in admin was at 27?

Tracy Beaulieu (05:31):

Yes.

Sam Demma (05:32):

What was that experience like? Did you ever find it as a young person? I’m 23 and sometimes I have these situations where I’m dealing with individuals who are older than me twice my age. <laugh>, yes, have. How was that experience? Did you ever have any weird situations being so young in that role or what was it like for you?

Tracy Beaulieu (05:54):

Do you know? I anticipated that it would be really awkward for me. I honestly did the first staff meeting where I knew it was gonna be announced that I was the vice principal. I was quite nervous because as I said, I had a couple of people on staff. It wasn’t a very big staff either who had taught me, but they were actually quite remarkable. They were happy for me and I was very lucky because as awkward as it was for me, they made it easy, impossible for me. They were my support and they all shaped me into who I was as an administrator and I was very grateful. The biggest challenge I think for me sometimes would’ve been with the parents, if there was an issue with that, with a student, they would look at me and think, Well, I’m older than her and what does she know?

Tracy Beaulieu (06:55):

Kind of thing. But I’ve always been about making connections with kids. I preached from that time on that it’s okay to make mistakes. That’s part of our learning. And just because you’ve made a mistake doesn’t mean you’re a bad kid. And that’s what some of them would take it as. So I was lucky that I had a lot of the parent support with that as well. But I think it’s a lot because you start off telling them that their kid’s a good kid and that you actually really like their kid. We’re just gonna work together to help them make better choices next time.

Tracy Beaulieu (07:32):

Let’s talk about making connections with kids. When you were in the classroom and even in the administration roles and even in the roles you’re in today, how do you make and build a connection with a young person? How do you think that actually happens?

Tracy Beaulieu (07:48):

Well, first off, I think they have to know that you like them and it has to be genuine. Kids are very good at a very young age at picking up if you don’t really mean it. And kids are really good at knowing how they can control you if you let them <laugh>, ask a two year old as well. So it’s about giving them some of those boundaries that they do need, but having fun with them, it’s about being interested in them beyond the classroom as well. So I would go to some of their sporting events and watch them there and they would be excited to see you at their sporting events. I would go to their music festivals when I was able to and just being part of their life beyond the school. And then to laugh and joke with them as well and to have fun, then they want to do good for you.

Tracy Beaulieu (08:50):

And that’s the biggest thing. Kids, I guess I’ll say that I was at a conference and it was out at B and Chief Cadmus had actually made this comment and it resonated me because I believe it so heartedly it’s show people your heart before you expect their hand. And that really resonated with me and it’s about the connection piece. Kids won’t learn unless they know you like them. So making those relationships is so, so important and letting them know that they are valued and they mean something and they have all kinds of potential. And part of that learning is it’s about making mistakes because you want them to know that they can trust you and they can be safe to make some mistakes with you and you’ll guide them through.

Tracy Beaulieu (09:47):

I think in education, our mistakes are amazing learning opportunities and in life in general, if we choose to reflect on them and learn from them, they can be these amazing professional development moments in our professional journeys and also in our personal lives. And I’m wondering, in your journey throughout education, if there are any mistakes, but we’ll call them learning lessons that you found really impactful personally that you think other educators could benefit from hearing cuz they might be going through something similar.

Tracy Beaulieu (10:22):

I think one of the ones that kinda stands out for me, as I mentioned, I was in a small rural school when I first started and the school was actually in the community I grew up in. So that was my kind of discourse. And then I went to another school eventually that was a larger school and it had more complex needs in that school and those students and that environment actually kind of awakened me to a mistake that I was holding in my head and that’s that everybody kind of had a similar background and experience to myself. We talk a lot about diversity, but I think to that point, my mind on diversity was more about okay, if it’s a different culture, a different language or that type of thing. But they taught me that we are diverse even with the same socioeconomic background, even the same gender and race.

Tracy Beaulieu (11:28):

So that was a big learning for me and it was kind of an eye opening thing. So I learned that I had to talk to even my whole staff about the fact that we have these invisible backpacks that we carry and we don’t hang those up on a hook when we get into this school. They stay with us all day long and it’s not to make assumptions that people’s stories and what they’ve been through based on what you have experienced and been through. So that was a big kind of mistake or learning for me is and making assumptions that really weren’t accurate.

Tracy Beaulieu (12:08):

I often tell people just because you can’t see someone’s backpack doesn’t mean they’re not carrying something that nothing about.

Sam Demma (12:16):

Absolutely.

Sam Demma (12:17):

It’s funny, I actually, I just wrote a book called Your Backpack <laugh>.

Tracy Beaulieu (12:23):

That is so cool.

Sam Demma (12:25):

So the connection is so immediate and visceral for me with that in mind that every student and every human being walks through life with these invisible backpacks. How do we get to know what’s in a student’s backpack? Is it by asking them questions or how have you got to know what your students were carrying when you were in their classrooms?

Tracy Beaulieu (12:51):

Yeah, it was about asking questions. I was usually at the elementary level, so sometimes it was making connections actually with their parents as well. So many people find it difficult to come into a school environment if they didn’t have a positive experience growing up. So it it’s about making your building a welcoming and safe place for parents as well as students and really listening to their story. So we can always ask questions, but if we’re not genuinely listening, it’s not going to amount to any sort of understanding of what they’re bringing with them. And it’s about building that trust and letting them know that they can come and talk to you and share things with you. It’s the basis of everything. And then it’s starting to really understand for me, if kids were making choices that weren’t the right choices, it was really staying in tune to the fact that there’s an underlying reason why this is happening right now and they deserve to have me help them get through that in any way that I can.

Tracy Beaulieu (14:11):

So it is about building the trust and making connections and making a safe environment and then truly listening to what their story is because those little ones may not even know what is beneath that emotion that they’re feeling. And it’s our job to help them support that growth in learning because they’re not gonna learn, they won’t learn the ABC’s if they can’t control those emotions that they have. If they’re worried about what’s happening at home, if they’re coming to school with some sort of trauma that’s going to trump all of their ability to learn. So we are educators, It’s our job to unpack that backpack with them and with their families the best that we can so that we can help them become the best that they can be because that’s the end goal, making them be the best version of themselves.

Tracy Beaulieu (15:09):

It sounds like listening has been a really impactful aspect of your journey as an educator, but I would assume that it’s just a big part of living life. It becomes more interesting when we listen genuinely and be curious about other people’s journeys. When you transition from teaching to administration, who are you listening to or who was in your life in your corner helping you and showing you the ropes and mentoring you? Did you have some other educators who played a big role and if so, who were they and what did they teach you or do for you?

Tracy Beaulieu (15:42):

Yes, I always had, I was very fortunate to have the support, not just in the school but in my family as well. So I was lucky there, but in school I would’ve had different teachers and on my staff as I mentioned, who were kind of aware that they saw something in me, they saw the potential and they were willing to help nurture that potential as I was learning, which I think makes great teachers in general. And then as I got going through, actually there was one gentleman who probably had the biggest impact for me and his name was Doug McDougal. And Doug had this ability to make everybody feel that they were valued and that they were worth something. And Doug would take the time to write little cards and send them to people telling them what he thought was great about either their style or about themselves.

Tracy Beaulieu (16:47):

So it could be the educational style or them personally. And he had that ability to laugh and have fun with you as well. Oh wow. So he was probably my biggest inspiration. He was the person that I thought, if I can be like you, I want to be like you. And he set the bar high for a lot of us and I actually, unfortunately a year ago, a little over a year ago, he passed suddenly. And to see the impact he had on so many people was so heartwarming and I felt I needed to keep his memory alive. So I created the Doug McDougal Inspire Award and just presented that to administrators last weekend, I believe it was, or two weeks ago. And it’s my way of keeping his legacy alive. And we’re going to have that award be presented to anybody in the education system that is making school better for staff and students. So it could be a custodian, it could be the bus driver, it could be a teacher, it could be anybody that is making life better for kids. And that award will travel from school to school just like Doug did. So he was probably my biggest inspiration and motivator.

Sam Demma (18:22):

That’s awesome. I love that you pinpointed some of the actions he took that made a big difference, like the writing of cards, I think that’s sometimes a lost art. I’m 23. I learned how to send a handwritten note in the mail at 18 <laugh> because there was no real reason to send a handwritten note at growing up cuz we had emails and all these. That’s right. Donald mentioned Doug as well on the island. Is Doug very well known as a impactful educator?

Tracy Beaulieu (18:58):

Yes, yes. Impactful educator and impactful community member as well. Interesting story that someone had shared because with his passing you got to hear stories, but he was the type of person that they needed a hockey coach in his community and nobody was able or volunteered to do it and Doug did and Doug couldn’t even skate, but he knew those kids needed somebody and he didn’t look at his inability to skate as a barrier. He still took the opportunity because he wanted those kids to have something and he continued to demonstrate that a lot. He didn’t let his quote limitations that some people would say prevent him from doing something that would help others. So he was quite a remarkable person.

Sam Demma (19:57):

Yeah, that’s so cool. I think what’s also amazing about the story is that you mentioned how after his passing you heard about all these stories of impact and sometimes in education we don’t know the impact that our actions are having. Sometimes we have to wait, sometimes we never know and other people get to see it, which is really, really cool. In terms of impact, are there any stories that come to mind for you of students who you’ve seen transformed due to education? And it could be as a direct result of your activities or someone in your school or the community as a whole helping a young person. And the reason I ask is because I think the reason most people get into education is because they wanna make a positive difference in the lives of young people. And when they get burnt out or overwhelmed, I think it’s these stories of impact that really remind them why the work they’re doing is so important. So do any of those stories come to mind? And if it’s a serious one, you could definitely change the name of the student if you’d like <laugh>.

Tracy Beaulieu (21:05):

A couple of things come to mind. One is when I did first start in my administrative role, there was a student and it was, as I said, a small rural school. So there was one grade per grade level and there was one particular student who his choices weren’t always seen as very positive and made other staff members sometimes struggle when this child would be exhibiting some of the behaviors I guess. And I believed in him and I started listening again when he was acting out he would be getting into other people’s business so to speak. But I started realizing, wow, this boy is actually being an advocate for other people, other students, but he’s just not doing it appropriately. His way of doing it is very disrespectful and kind of clouding people’s opinions. So I started working with him a lot and letting him know that, you know, are a good kid, you are making a good choice.

Tracy Beaulieu (22:23):

Even when he was up in junior high, I would take him to work with some of my grade three students and he was quite remarkable at that. And he was a student who we all worried about would he get through school. And he did. He graduated and he actually became a bodybuilder and was on the cover of one of the, I don’t know if it’s a Canadian magazine or whatever, but he made the cover of a magazine and this is a kid that even in high school we stayed connected and I got an invitation to his wedding this summer and he’s a dad, he has two kids, he’s successful and he actually found his way. And I think that just comes from people believing in him. So he actually had a big impact on me because he showed me that it is true that if we just work, if you get past those challenging behaviors and try to see the person within, they can teach us a lot.

Tracy Beaulieu (23:32):

And so he shaped me to always let kids know that again, it’s okay to make mistakes. So I started a program when I was at the other school that I went to and it was really around Carol Wes work with growth Mindset. Nice. And I had a book and it was called Not Yet. And I went to each class and I read it and it was talking about the fact that Terry Fox may not have actually finished his journey. He would’ve had a difficult time even when he was doing his run. He saw challenges, but he didn’t give up and he just kept saying, I’m not done, not yet. And share with them of all the successful people who tried to do things and failed but didn’t give up and they looked at the mistakes that they had and they turned them into opportunities to dig deeper and find more.

Tracy Beaulieu (24:31):

Dr. Suess was always a big person that I would have his quotes around. Kids knew that I loved him, but I shared that he was rejected 27 times before he got to actually write his book. So it was sharing that those mistakes are part of it. And with the not yet I started, I had little neck laces and bracelets that teachers would be able to give to kids whenever they saw them trying things, but not yet succeeding, but given them praise and highlighting the power of them trying to persevere and get through. So that was a way that we were trying to motivate kids. But when I knew it was working is when I was in walking in the hallways or on the playground and I would hear kids talking to each other and saying, No, you don’t have that yet, but you will <affirmative>. And I thought that’s that seemingly small action of repeating with kids that it’s okay to make mistakes, you just don’t have it yet to keep trying. It will sink in. And that’s what I want for all students is to have that ability to believe in themselves that even when you try and you don’t succeed, there’s still opportunities there for success if you just keep trying.

Tracy Beaulieu (25:56):

I love the idea of not yet, I think so often we hit barriers and it ultimately is up to us to decide when we continue pushing forward or when we stop. There’s no such thing as a failure if you don’t quit <laugh>. Exactly. You never reach that point. So that’s such a powerful thing to remind young people, and again, not just students but human beings, we all face challenges, not just the kids. So I love that analogy and I appreciate you sharing it. When you field phone calls from the principals and the administration of the 20 different elementary schools in PEI that you help and support, what is the most common thing they’re reaching out about? I’m sure every school is very different and unique, but are there any commonalities or things that you think a lot of them need support with right now?

Tracy Beaulieu (26:47):

Right now, I believe the biggest commonality that comes from schools is the kind of challenges that kids are experiencing right now with regulating their emotions, <affirmative>, and also some of them just not having the skills that they may have had in the past coming into school. So we’re already starting behind that benchmark and trying to meet their needs. One of the things, and the other layer is those high conflict personalities of people calling and trying to figure out how do we navigate through this kind of tumultuous time where people are wanting things and they’re wanting it now and they don’t see the challenges beyond their own challenges and it is their story and that’s all they know. So you don’t expect them to always understand that there’s a whole lot of other things that are limiting. I think that’s the biggest challenge and the biggest underlying common theme that is coming with all of the phone calls is how can I help this student? My teachers are burning out because of the needs and this parent is upset and I don’t know how to calm them and help them understand. And yeah, those would be the two main things. Right now

Tracy Beaulieu (28:28):

It sounds like the students are at the forefront of some of the best things that happen in the school and then some of the learning moments. <laugh>. Yes. So true. The center of education. And what do you think for those educators that are burning out, because I think it’s a common theme, especially before the pandemic, it was starting a little bit and then the pandemic just exasperated it and it became a real big challenge. What do you think the teachers who are a little bit burnt out need to hear right now? If you could say something out of your window and it would just reach the ear of every educator across pei, what would you tell <laugh>

Tracy Beaulieu (29:11):

That they are making a difference <affirmative>. And they may not always feel it. They see sometimes the challenges that they’re ahead of them and they feel like they’re not meeting the needs of the kids, but they absolutely are. And really trying to help them understand that it may be five to 10% of your class or of the school community that are struggling and don’t lose sight of the 90 to 95% of the amazing things that are done all the time. And it’s really, again, trying to shift our mindset to acknowledging the positives. If we only talk about the challenges and if we only look at the challenges, that’s all we are going to see. And that begins to shape what we believe the reality is in our building where when I get to go to schools, I get to see all of the amazing things that are happening. So it’s to try to always take time to focus on what went well, what is going well, what are the successes and what are we accomplishing to make these kids be the best that they can be and not only talk about what I can’t do and what I can’t get at. So I think that would be my biggest message. You’re doing a great job. Just try to remember to think of the positives.

Tracy Beaulieu (30:47):

We gotta empty our backpacks of those negative beliefs.

Tracy Beaulieu (30:50):

<laugh>. Yes. Yes. They’re there. If you wanna look for them, they’re there, but so are the positives, so

Tracy Beaulieu (30:56):

That’s awesome. Tracy, if someone wants to have a conversation with you or reach out, what would be the most efficient way for them to get in touch with you?

Tracy Beaulieu (31:06):

Probably email would be the easiest way for them to connect with me and you have my email address. Do you want me to say it?

Tracy Beaulieu (31:18):

Yeah, you can say it out loud right now and I’ll also put it in the show notes of the episode so people can find it.

Tracy Beaulieu (31:23):

Okay. So it’s txbeaulieu@edu.pe.ca.

Tracy Beaulieu (31:33):

Awesome. Tracy, this has been such an insightful conversation. Thank you so much for taking some time out of your morning to come on the podcast and share some of your insights and experiences in education. I really appreciate your efforts and if anyone hasn’t told you recently, just know that you’re making a massive difference as well in so many educators lives and which are ultimately affecting the lives of so many families and students. So keep up the great work and I look forward to seeing you soon.

Tracy Beaulieu (32:02):

Thank you so much Sam for having me, and thank you for all you’re doing as well. That’s pretty remarkable what you’re taking on and it’s very appreciated. So thank you.

Tracy Beaulieu (32:11):

You’re welcome.

Sam Demma (32:13):

I believe that educators deserve way more recognition, which is why I’ve created the High Performing Educator Awards. In 2022, 20 educator recipients will be shortlisted, each of whom will be featured in local press. invited to record an episode on the podcast, and spotlighted on our platform. In addition, the one handpicked winner will be presented with an engraved plaque by myself. I will fly to the winner’s city to present this to them and ask that they participate in a quick photo shoot and interview on location. The coolest part, nominations are open right now, and they close October 1st, 2022. So please take a moment to apply or nominate someone you know or work with that deserves this recognition. You can do so by going to www.highperformingeducator.com/award. We can never recognize educators enough.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Tracy Beaulieu

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

Chris Andrew – Teacher, Administrator and Coach with the Red Deer Catholic Regional School Division for Over 30 years

Chris Andrew - Teacher, Administrator and Coach with the Red Deer Catholic Regional School Division for Over 30 years
About Chris Andrew

Chris has been a teacher/administrator/coach with the Red Deer Catholic Regional School Division for over 30 years. He began his career as an High School English teacher in 1988. Since then, he went on to teach at middle school and elementary. In his teaching career he has taught every grade from Pre-KIndergarten to Grade 12. He began his administrative career as a Curriculum Coordinator in the areas of Language Arts, Social Studies, and Early Education. He has been Vice Principal at the Middle and High School level and a Principal at the Elementary, Middle and High School levels.

Chris obtained his Bachelor of Education degree from the University of Saskatchewan majoring in HIstory and English and received a Master of Arts Degree Majoring in Special Education from San Diego State University. He is a proud parent of three children Jack (15), Geordan (24), and Amy (27) and is happily married to his wife, Charlene for over 30 years.

Connect with Chris: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Red Deer Catholic Regional School Division

Bachelor of Education – University of Saskatchewan

Master of Arts Degree Majoring in Special Education – San Diego State University

Understanding Response to Intervention

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 (00:55):

Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator Podcast.

Sam Demma (00:59):

This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is a good friend of mine named Chris Andrew. Chris has been a teacher, administrator, and coach with the Red Deer Catholic Regional School Division for over 30 years. He began his career as a high school English teacher in 1988. Since then, he went on to teach at middle school and elementary. In his teaching career, he has taught every grade from pre-kindergarten to grade 12. He began his administrative career as a curriculum coordinator in the areas of language arts, social studies, and early education. He has been vice principal at the middle and high school level, and a principal at the elementary, middle, and high school levels. Chris obtained his Bachelor of education degree from the University of Saskatchewan, majoring in history and English, and received a masters of Arts degree majoring in special education from San Diego State University. He is a proud parent of three children, Jack 15, Jordan 34, and Amy 27, and is happily married to his wife, Charlene for over 30 years. I hope you enjoy this conversation and I will see you on the other side. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator Podcast. Today we have a very special guest. His name is Chris Andrew. Chris, please start by introducing yourself.

Chris Andrew (02:20):

Well, hi Sam. Thanks very much for having me on the show. I am a administrator in the Red Year Catholic School Division. I’ve been teaching and administration for 34 years. This is my 35th year, and I’ve been in every level of school from pre-kindergarten to grade 12. So both as an administrator, and as a teacher.

Sam Demma (02:45):

Did as a student growing up that you wanted to work in education, did anyone in your family work in education? What directed you down this path?

Chris Andrew (02:54):

No, no one worked in education. My family, I grew up on a small family farm but I had a pretty great educational experience In grade 10, I left home to attend a boarding school and met some incredible teachers there that were big influences in my life. They had fun every day. They joked around and had fun every day and they made the learning fun for us. And so we’d come to tests and I’m having a test on what and all the information there and just going like, Man, I know all this stuff. And it was hard to like we were learning. So a lot of great mentors at that school.

Sam Demma (03:36):

You mentioned you had a lot of great teachers. What is it, I guess having fun was one aspect of it, but what is it that they did in your life as a teacher and you being a student that really inspired you and uplifted you?

Chris Andrew (03:52):

The relationship that they had with the students, they knew us well actually one of the tricks that they used or that they did to learn about us, I used in my classes, and that was because I became a high school English teacher to start with. One of my favorite teachers was a as English teacher, and they gave us these autobiographies to write every year. Well, because kids at a boarding school come from a lot of different communities, a lot of different places. In order to connect your lessons to them, they had to find out where people were from. And I took that lesson from them so that I knew what my students were about. And when they taught their lessons, just like I taught mine, it was all about relationships. Who had pats? What was their biggest life experience so far? What kinds of things did they enjoy? And so when they thought about structuring the lessons that they had, they keyed in on the things that would make people excuse the

Chris Andrew (04:56):

Interruption.

Sam Demma (04:59):

It’s part of the everyday life of an educator. It makes it more real <laugh>.

Chris Andrew (05:05):

They connected things in their lessons to the things that were important to the people in their class. And I did exactly the same thing in mind.

Sam Demma (05:15):

Would you finish the day of school, go home and work on the farm?

Chris Andrew (05:20):

If you can come to you said to

Chris Andrew (05:23):

The office When I was living at home, for sure. Yeah, we had chores every night. The boarding school that I went to though I actually stayed over. We went on that Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, so we became super independent and then also to our teachers were our dorm teachers, so they would actually supervise us at night too. So we got to see all sides of them. We got to see them in their classroom and we got to see them personally as well.

Sam Demma (05:52):

Oh, that’s amazing. Did you finish your high school experience in the boarding school or was it just for one or two years?

Chris Andrew (06:00):

No, I went from grade 10 to grade 12, so I had all kinds of rules. I was a senior student my second year, meaning that I had new students to the school, kind of guiding them through the different things of would happen, answering questions as roommates. And then in my senior year, I was a house leader, so I was in charge of an entire floor with another teacher, which meant we made schedules for jobs and supervised, making sure that everybody was in bed at night and those kinds of things, making sure that students were in bed and lights out at a certain time. So it was kind of a military style school at night, so it was kind of fun.

Sam Demma (06:42):

When you finished high school what did the rest of your journey look like and was there a defining moment as a high school student where you decided, Wow, this teacher had such an impact on me, I want to do this when I grow up, or did you still go to university or college and we’re still exploring your options at that point?

Chris Andrew (07:00):

Yeah, yeah, for sure. My high school teachers that I was speaking about earlier really set a great example for me. I came from a small community school. Teachers changed every year, so bar as far as teachers and their experience was pretty low before I went to this school. Then I saw these outstanding high connection teachers and I said, Man, that’s what I want to be. And so when I went to university, I went to the University of Saskatchewan and combined my education degree with three years of cis or university level football at the same time. So they were all super athletic. It was an athletic school that I went to. So it was a natural transition both to go into education and also to continue as a student athlete at university.

Sam Demma (07:56):

Do you think you pulled any principles from athletics or just disciplines from sport that have really helped you as a teacher and generally in life?

Chris Andrew (08:08):

Yeah, for sure. Always taking a look at your class as your team. These are the people on my team and looking at their skills. I taught with another teacher by the name of Lee Kane when I was at school and we had a cooperative learning class and we would divide the students into groupings for a unit and we would divide them based on different skills that they had so that each person relied on the other for their skills, just kind of like a team. And then taking it into about year 2000 or so, I started to get into administration. I started looking at the teachers in my school as my team and then looking at their individual skills and how they could help one another grow it to be effective teachers in their classroom.

Sam Demma (08:59):

That’s awesome. I think sport teaches so much and especially when you have a coach that unifies the team, aka a really great teacher in a classroom, <laugh> some of my coaches had really big impacts on my development as a young person and taught me principals as well. That stuck with me for a long time. So you finish high school. Tell me about the next steps in your journey that brought you to your first role in education. As I think you said, an English teacher.

Chris Andrew (09:27):

That’s right. If I first job interview with Red Deer Catholic they were actually looking for a high school football coach. Oh wow. They could teach. So I remember sitting in the interview room beforehand and the guy before me or a guy after me was an offensive lineman. I could tell for sure <laugh> and the guy coming out he definitely was something to do with defense cause guy too. And I went in, I remembered that the interview they asked me to, What was wrong with this sentence and a tragedy is when the character falls down. And I said, Well, there’s two things wrong with that sentence. First of all, that’s not the definition of a tragedy. And the one guy set up really quickly and he’s said, Okay, well is there anything else Ronen? I said, That’s not proper English. Should never have his. And when in a sentence together, <laugh> said, ok, we’re gonna go on question number two now. And they started looking at other characteristics, more traditional interview, but it was pretty fun to send in that interview and go, Oh my gosh, I definitely, they’re looking for an offense line coach. I’m definitely out.

Sam Demma (10:38):

That’s awesome. <laugh>. So you became an English teacher. How many years did you stay in that role and what were the different roles in education you worked until you moved into administration and even into the role you’re in today?

Chris Andrew (10:54):

For sure. It was probably about my first five years I was in that role. I went from a high school English teacher to an elementary generalist for a year. And it was at that time I said, Wow, you know what? I can see the impact I have in a class. If I could possibly get into administration or somebody felt I had the skills to be a decent administrator, I wonder what kind of impact I could have on a school community. So at that point I kind of started to look at different opportunities that would help me grow my experience. So I spent a year in elementary as an elementary general teacher at grade five level then transferred back to high school. I spent two years as a special education teacher in a program called Integration Occupation program for students that weren’t able to get a high school diploma through kind of traditional routes but needed some academic support and as well as some job experience.

Chris Andrew (11:56):

And that’s how they got their certificate of completion. From there, I went to a junior high At the time, we now have middle schools, but it was a junior high to try all those things out. And it was at that point I started to go into my master’s work. So I studied at San Diego State University, a cohort that was centered out of Central Alberta, and we did summer classes in different places. One summer it was in ASFA with a whole group from across the province. Our second year was actually down at San Diego State where we spent a month with classes down there and we graduated in 2001 with my master’s from San Diego State University.

Sam Demma (12:38):

I’m sure you didn’t mind the warm weather down there, did you? <laugh>

Chris Andrew (12:41):

Beautiful weather, same weather every day. Crazy how great it is there.

Sam Demma (12:46):

That’s awesome. Well, did you have some mentors or administrators in your life to tap you on the shoulder and said, Hey Chris, you should consider administration or what did your journey into administration look like?

Chris Andrew (12:58):

Yeah, yeah, for sure. There were some key people. My first principal was really a very organized guy and I learned a lot about organization from that particular person. Our superintendent at the time I made that transition from high school to junior high was a guy by the name of Don Dolan and he was super influential in saying what, you’ve got a lot of different experience, you’ve got lots to offer our school division, we like how you are so student centered in your classes and if you could convert that into being teacher centered as administrator we would really like to see you grow in that direction. So those were two big influences for

Sam Demma (13:53):

At what point in your educational career did you start getting involved in helping out with extracurricular activities?

Chris Andrew (14:02):

From the very beginning, Sam I remember in my first year of teaching, I was as a first year teacher, head coach of a football team. And my roommate at the time became the head coach of the senior basketball team. So I went from being really involved in the football program to going to every basketball game. And then in the spring one of the teachers at the school convinced me to be his assistant rugby coach. So I enjoyed it so much that watching basketball and I had some back background in basketball the next year I coached football in the fall and then as soon as that was over, he had about two weeks off and then the basketball program started and then about three weeks off and then it was right into rugby. So the relationships we formed with kids in the classroom were great but the ones we formed with them after school as school, at school coaches, and in school sports really carried us. I think that young teacher, when we started out, it really carried us in the classroom because kids just had us so much respect for us and they also were so gracious to us when we made mistakes too. They just said, It’s okay, just like we did in practice, they just do better tomorrow Mr. Andrew. It’s okay.

Chris Andrew (15:32):

It was fantastic. Sports are a big part of our teaching.

Sam Demma (15:38):

How do you think it allows you to build such a deep relationship? Is it the extended amount of time spent with the young person or what do you think about sports and those extra cookers? What is it about them that allows you to build these super deep relationships with the students?

Chris Andrew (15:56):

They get a chance to see a different side of you. You’re spend that extra time with them. It gives them that opportunity to ask you those one-on-one questions, whether they be school related or not school related. If they guide and make sure that they go in the right direction, that they’re not going too far into your personal life <laugh>. But also too, if you just take that opportunity to listen to what’s going on in their lives and ask them questions back. Or even better yet when you’re driving home from a late night game, just listen to the conversations. You really get an idea what’s topical with the kids and what’s important in their life. And I love the relationships that I made with all my students in the class. Any of the conversations that you had but you just got on such a deeper level with the kids that you worked with from four o’clock to six o’clock or four o’clock to 11 o’clock when you’re on a road trip with them or on a weekend with them. It’s a special relationship you have as a coach and it’s truly one of the benefits of being a teacher.

Sam Demma (17:10):

You also volunteer and help out with the Middle Years Council conference. Was that an event that you also began attending almost the moment you started teaching or when did you start attending conferences for your own professional development and relationship building amongst other colleagues?

Chris Andrew (17:27):

Yeah, that that’s been all along. That’s attending conferences. It’s really a matter of good, better, best, never let it rest until your good becomes better and your better becomes best. And conferences, those sessions are great and you get some great ideas and definitely help you grow. But even more so after the session or the person that you’re sitting beside at the session saying, How do you do this? And what are some great ideas that you have? I’ve learned a ton from conferences and other professionals. The milli years conference that you’re talking about, that’s an interesting one. <laugh> I was actually, a couple of my friends are high up in the leadership of that and convinced me to join it. And really we organize a great conference, but it’s a great group of people to organize a conference with. So we have a lot of fun doing it. And as a result, the conference is a lot of fun and we advanced the education of the middle years teachers in the prophets of Alberta through the Middle Years conference.

Sam Demma (18:34):

Word on the street is that you had a different name at that conference. Is that true?

Chris Andrew (18:39):

There is a rumor going around that I might have a name when I go in I I’m thinking of we get special clothing each year with our names on the back that signify that we’re helpers at the conference and if you have any questions. So they always put our names on the back so people can feel like they can connect with us. And my name will be Jamar next year. We’ll see how that goes.

Sam Demma (19:05):

That’s awesome, man. What resources, if any, in specific or particular have you found really helpful in developing your mindset around education and the importance of relationships? It could be specific individuals, it could be books, courses you mentioned a conference already, but maybe there’s some other ones that you’ve attended that you found really helpful. It could be certain people you follow. Yeah. Is there anything in specific that has been foundational in your creation around your educational beliefs?

Chris Andrew (19:38):

Yeah, probably one of the most fundamental experiences I had as a leader in a school was to take a group of teachers to a solution tree conference around response to intervention and just the Cole’s notes on response to intervention it. It’s the ability to have either a group of teachers through several grades concentrating on the same outcomes so that students are, if we concentrate on all the outcomes in our curriculum with the same amount, everything if everything gets the same amount of emphasis, nothing’s important. So I took this group of teachers to this conference. They weren’t very sure about what their goal or their role was but when we listened to it, it made so much sense to where our school was at. It was about teaching a small number of outcomes so that every kid could do the most important outcomes. Teachers were still responsible for the entire curriculum, but emphasizing that the same time.

Chris Andrew (20:50):

And when students didn’t get the material, that opportunity for a individual teacher to go back and reteach it to a group of students that didn’t get that content because this is fundamental for a student to be successful in high school and beyond. So we were super successful. I took this group and they weren’t sure and by the end of the first morning they were saying, How do we do this in our school? And I said, Chris, you have to bring this back and you have to do this in our school. And I said it, it’s not the power of me, it’s the power of, I said, I can’t introduce this as a school leader. You’re the authentic people. And they brought it back and did all the in servicing at teachers and sold the teachers on our staff. And I said, The only thing I wanna do is I want to be able to, they just do the question session at the end.

Chris Andrew (21:47):

And they did such a great job of selling it and I rolling it out so teachers could understand it and believe it and our school went to it. But we got to the question session and one teacher asked, they said, Yeah, that’s great. This is your new idea. You’re gonna break it to school. What’s gonna say as soon as you leave, this doesn’t die. And I said to them, I just said like, You know what you guys, I’ll tell you from my aspect as a leader, if I came to a school and I saw something that’s as good as what this could be and how passionate you guys are about it my job as a leader is to be able to fuel that fire in the people that are running it. It’s not the power of me, it’s the power of we will do a great job on this.

Chris Andrew (22:37):

And if I came in and you guys were doing a great job on something, all I tried to do is just get outta your way so you could do a great job and learn as much as I could so that I could help support you with whatever challenges came in year two, year three, year four, whatever year you are in with this. So if I’m thinking of one conference that changed my career, it would absolutely be that. It would because I learned a lot about teaching and instruction. Nice. But I learned an awful lot about leadership and it’s about what make it the teacher’s decision to do something, point them in the right direction, make it their decision, help them support them, and you have a much stronger product when you’re done and when people believe in it it will happen.

Sam Demma (23:22):

What was the resulting impact on the school community? It sounds like the teachers really bought into this, which probably had a big impact on all the classrooms and the students, but what did you see going on in the school?

Chris Andrew (23:35):

We created this program, it was called deal. It was called Drop Everything and Learn. And two time we changed our schedules on Tuesdays and Thursdays so that we had a 25 minute block of time where students could be assigned to a reteach, which would be, here’s a concept that we’re not sure you’ve got, but it’s an opportunity for you to go to. Again, they could either be assigned to it or students could sign them up themselves up for it. I’d just some more practice at it. They could go to an enrichment session, which would be taking that concept a little higher. And we would challenge students to be involved in that. If they got that information, they could sign up for a homework working session. So basically it would just be an opportunity where they could do homework. We created a lunchroom will hour. It was something that I ran and basically it was a homework room where kids could come and do homework.

Chris Andrew (24:30):

They had a practice, they had a game they wouldn’t have time to do their homework at night. They could get their morning homework done or we said, We gave you time to do it in class. You chose to do it at home so you didn’t get it done at home. You will get it done and you’ll get it done with Mr. Andrew at will hour. So we’d give ’em time to eat and then they would have time so they could get assignments done, change. It changed the mentality of the school kids at first thought it was punitive. Then kids were starting to go like, No, I need extra time to work on this. So I’m gonna go into Mr. Andrew’s Willow and do, I’d have 50 kids in a classroom working. I go, You guys, it’s gotta be quiet. If you’re working with a group, it’s gotta be quiet.

Chris Andrew (25:12):

If it’s not what we’ll find a spot for you outside to work. And assignments were coming in, teachers were like, they were getting to teach the stuff they had to teach or was most important. They recognized the next year that the skills that the students brought forward to the next class, they were so much better prepared for their next year of what they were supposed to learn. Teachers were on board teaching the same thing at the same time. So if we go back to that conference conversation we had, they were talking about the same topics at the same time and they were using the energy of the ideas that we’re getting to really build great and engaging lessons. Kids were comfortable going to other teachers and saying, You know what? I like the way you taught this. Could you please reteach it to me? Because I heard from my friend who’s learning at the same time as me that you did a really great job.

Chris Andrew (26:09):

I’d like to hear how it was everybody learning together and moving together. And teachers went. They couldn’t believe the difference. Not only in the student’s attitude towards learning, but also towards their knowledge that they brought forward the hooks that they could, if they said certain words, kids would go, I remember this from last year. And they were ready to learn. And other students would say, Remember when we did this in Mr. So-and-so’s class? And then automatically everybody was ready to learn and then they could put that new information on top and we could struggle with it for a while. We could get some help with it. And then we moved on and it was truly amazing to watch teachers say, I can’t believe how good these students are at these particular skills. This is the best group of students I’ve ever had. And the best thing I could say as administrator was, this is now the worst group that you’re gonna have because the other group’s gonna have this for two years. This other group gonna have it for three years. And it was unbelievable. I mean it’s one tool for measuring it but our provincial achievement test scores went crazy. They were the best they ever were under this. That was the third reason for doing it. <affirmative>, the first reason for doing it was kids were so much more confident. And the second reason was teachers were just so much more enthusiastic about the topics they were teaching because the students were so much ready, more ready and engaged to learn.

Sam Demma (27:41):

That sounds amazing. It sounds like it had a significant impact and the students and staff loved it. And it sounds like you were passionate about it. So the whole school sounds like metaphorically it was on fire, everyone wanted to be there, everyone is super excited. Can you think of a story maybe even during that time or any time throughout your educational journey where an individual student was really struggling and was supported by an adult and even just through education and had a serious transformation? And the reason I ask is because I think most adults and most people get into education because they wanna help and impact young minds and help change their lives or help them make better decisions. And sometimes when things get difficult, educators might forget their personal reason why they started or why they even got into education in the first place. And I think it’s stories of transformation and change in young people that remind them that the work they’re doing matters and is really important. So do you have any stories that come to mind of students who you’ve seen transform

Chris Andrew (28:52):

<laugh>? Yeah, yeah, for sure. I had this student, I learned a little bit more about his story by being his coach. He came from a small northern community to move to Red Deer, which is a little bit larger community. It was a big change for him. He moved from a farm into the city and he had, basketball was his big hook and he made a lot of friends through basketball and that certainly helped in his transition. It was pretty difficult though because one of his parents that was a teacher in our school division and really had high expectations. So he was trying his hardest and doing his best and he was one of my basketball players and he was gaining in confidence and his mom came in for parent-teacher interviews and I just finished marking one of his assignments and I brought it out and I showed it to to her and I just said, You gotta know that he is really working hard and he’s had all this growth.

Chris Andrew (29:55):

And it was a great interview. The mom was really super happy and I remember this student’s name, his name, staff staff He comes in the next day and he just gives me high five. He goes, You know what? Thank you Mr. Andrew. He goes, That helped a ton. My mom, mom’s been on my case and saying, Basketball’s taking too much of my time and thanks for acknowledging the hard work I did on this. And while what I’m totally your fan, whatever you ask, I’m gonna totally do. Steph went in to become a teacher. Steph taught in the same integrated occupation program that I had once taught in. So he really worked with some challenging learners. Went on to get his doctorate. He studied at Goza and finished his doctorate. And last year Steph got his first principalship.

Sam Demma (30:54):

Wow. A cool full, Are you still in touch with Steph?

Chris Andrew (30:59):

Steph? Yeah. Steph’s principal in my school division. So really, really excited. I sent him an email right away. I said, Welcome to a place at the table, brother. Great job, great journey. He’s in his home community now. It’s a smaller community outside of ours, but I just can’t wait to watch that school explode cuz it’s just gonna be an awesome experience having him as their school leader.

Sam Demma (31:21):

That’s an amazing story. What a cool full circle moment. If you could take your experiences in education, travel back in time to your first teaching role in that English class knowing what now, what advice would you have given your younger self or any other people who are just starting their first year as an educator?

Chris Andrew (31:45):

You know what I mean? I really think it’s important that you take that time regardless of what role you’re in, education to listen. You listen to what your, learn as much as you can about your students so that you can relate the content back to them in a form that means something to them. And I think that they really appreciate it. And I would go back and say, Just learn even more than you already are trying to learn about your kids because they are not only going to be the best way that you can teach them, but they will help you become the best teacher you can be.

Sam Demma (32:29):

That’s awesome. I love it. Chris, thank you so much for taking the time to come on the show, man. I really appreciate you and your insights and ideas. If an educator or anyone’s listening to this interview wants to reach out to you, ask a question, send you an email, what would be the most efficient way for them to reach out?

Chris Andrew (32:47):

What, if any educator has any in any way I could help ’em out, please don’t hesitate to send me an email. You can send it to my school email address. I check that one every day. It’s chris.andrew@rdcrs.ca.

Sam Demma (33:14):

Awesome. Chris, thank you so much. Keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon.

Chris Andrew (33:19):

Same to you, Sam. Take care.

Sam Demma (33:21):

I believe that educators deserve way more recognition, which is why I’ve created the High Performing Educator Awards. In 2022, 20 educator recipients will be shortlisted, each of whom will be featured in local press. invited to record an episode on the podcast, and spotlighted on our platform. In addition, the one handpicked winner will be presented with an engraved plaque by myself. I will fly to the winner’s city to present this to them and ask that they participate in a quick photo shoot and interview on location. The coolest part, nominations are open right now, and they close October 1st, 2022. So please take a moment to apply or nominate someone you know or work with that deserves this recognition. You can do so by going to www.highperformingeducator.com/award. We can never recognize educators enough.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Chris Andrew

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.

Brent Dickson – A masterclass on events, engagement ideas and becoming the least popular teacher in your school (It’s not what you think…)

Brent Dickson – A masterclass on events, engagement ideas and becoming the least popular teacher in your school (It’s not what you think…)
About Brent Dickson

Brent Dickson (@brent_dickson) is a leadership & physical education teacher at Centennial High School. In 2005 Centennial High School started with one leadership class of 25 students.  Now Centennial has six leadership classes per year with around 200 students total. 

Brent has been teaching student leadership in BC and Alberta for over 20 years. He has presented in schools and conferences across Canada and is the Director of the Canadian Student Leadership Association. Previously, he served as President of the Alberta Association of Student Councils and Advisers. His previous schools have also hosted the Jr. High and the Adviser Alberta conferences.

Currently teaching leadership and P.E., he is the Department Head of Student Leadership at Centennial High School in Calgary, Alberta. He also coaches rugby there as well, and he is the certified Link Crew coordinator there. Brent was awarded the Canadian Student Leadership Association Leader of Distinction Award in September 2012 and an Alberta Excellence in Teaching Award Finalist in 2004.

Connect with Brent: Email | Instagram | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Brent Dickson’s Personal Website

Canadian Student Leadership Association (CSLA)

Alberta Association of Student Councils and Advisers (AASCA)

The Boomerang Project

Centennial High School Website

Kahoot

What is a Walkathon?

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 episode is a little bit different. Firstly, we don’t have the normal intro playing. You may have already noticed that. Secondly, we have a repeat guest. Our repeat guest today is Brent Dixon. Brent is a leadership and physical education teacher at Centennial High School in Alberta. In 2005, the high school started with one leadership class of 25 students, and it now has six leadership classes per year with around 200 students total. I’m so grateful that Brent took the time to come back on the show. We used today’s conversation to talk about so many amazing ideas that he has implemented in his school, in his classrooms, with the help of his student leaders that have created massive impact and generated awesome results in the hope that you can steal and borrow some of these and his ideas. We talk about everything from the power of colouring to running a rock athon, to using candy <laugh> to generate some very meaningful conversation and ideas, to having a special appreciation for students on their birthdays. Like there are so many amazing ideas in today’s conversation, and I hope you really enjoy it and take something away. I will see you on the other side of this conversation with Brent. Today’s special guest is a good friend of mine, Brent Dixon. Brent, welcome back to the show. Please take a moment to introduce yourself.

Brent Dickson (01:41):

Well, hello, my name is Brent Dixon and I’m a teacher in Calgary at Centennial High School. We’re a 10-12 school and for the most part I teach student leadership, and then I occasionally have a phys ed class. Also, in the spring I coach junior boys rugby. So I’m a man of many efforts, I guess. Not talents. <laugh>,

Sam Demma (02:03):

You’re a man of many both. And I can say that from personal experience. There are tons of teachers listening to this, some of which are always looking for new ideas. They can’t see that. Behind you. During this interview is a collage of colored superheroes and cars and unicorns and just beautiful pictures that your students colored behind you on the wall. Can you explain what those pictures are, why they’re up there, and how a teacher could use something similar to engage their students in a leadership perspective?

Brent Dickson (02:36):

Sure. So it was actually as Covid forced us to get a lot more creative. when I was doing leadership classes, we didn’t run near as many activities and sometimes we weren’t even doing any. So I really had to find stuff to engage them. And so I, I can’t credit where I got the original idea. I saw it somewhere, but the idea to let kids color in class. So once a semester when they come in, I have four different designs out specifically Spider-Man and cars and a unicorn, and of course SpongeBob squarepants, but it could be whatever, nice. And a whole bunch of crayons. And then they come in and I say, it’s just time to color. And so they’ll start coloring one thing and they are very into it. And then on the instruction it says that we’ll put them up around the classroom once you’ve shown it to me.

Brent Dickson (03:24):

And so I kind of talk about how it’s kind of like a fridge door at home where you know you color something great and your mom puts it up nice. So they, the first time I did it, I couldn’t believe how into it they were. And then I realized I really gotta limit this to once a semester. And so I chose a Friday where our, our Fridays are shorter class. And even that day we had a modified schedule, so it was a little shorter. We never actually got to doing any leadership work. Cause kids would come up and they’re like can I color a second one? I’m like, well, it has to be different. Okay, so now I’m doing SpongeBob. Can I color a third one? Sure. by the end of halfway through the second class, I had to run down to the photocopy room and make more copies cuz I realized I wasn’t gonna have enough for the day.

Brent Dickson (04:04):

And then they show you very proudly and they put ’em up around the room and we just use like some green painters tape and I’ll leave them up until the, well, until the end of the semester. And there’s actually three I can’t really show you, but they’re up behind a screen. This was last spring. These three kids said, we want ours to last longer, <laugh>. So they’re behind the screen we pull down so you can sort of see ’em sometimes. I’m looking at ’em right now and so they might just be there a long time. But oh, one little tip though. Don’t put green tape on your windows cuz I discovered if I left them up too long, the sun would make it leave residue. Ah, we were scraping tape off of those windows. It was not good. So

Sam Demma (04:47):

Do you stick to the walls?

Brent Dickson (04:49):

Stick to the walls? That’s right. Otherwise it’s awesome. And so actually we did that last Friday and so now it’s Tuesday. I still have kids. They’re all coming in. They, they’re checking out each other’s, they actually take their friends to show them their drawing. And then there’s one that’s that my grade tens thought was amazing. They all had to look at and find out what kid in grade 11 had made that post or colored that thing. So it’s, it’s a simple little thing, but they just need a break and they need something a little different and something that, that they can feel good about and be engaged. So

Sam Demma (05:22):

I think it’s the simple little things that make the biggest impact. Sometimes the small ways in which we appreciate other people engage our students leaves the biggest impression. I remember being in your classroom, facilitating some workshops, speaking in the school, and there was something that you do for every single student’s birthday that I think is priceless. And it’s one of those simple little things that really makes them feel appreciated and included in a part of the community. Can you explain your little birthday hack and where it came from? <laugh>?

Brent Dickson (05:55):

Yeah. Well it, most of my ideas, I either copy from someone else or they’re by accident. And so I had some ring pops left over this a few years ago, just kind of little, the cheap candy you put on your finger and then you suck on the ring pop. I had a few left over in from some activity and then it was a kid’s birthday and I said, well, why don’t you have a ring pop? And they got like all excited and then the other kids are, can have a ring pop. And I’m like, well, it’s not your birthday <laugh>. And so then it became a tradition and so I, I was hitting I think it was superstore to get ring pops and then there was a real crisis because they weren’t carrying them anymore. And you can tell my generation, it didn’t occur to me that I could just go on Amazon and order buckets.

Brent Dickson (06:39):

So once I figured that out, started bringing them in. So what happens is I’m, I’m lucky on my attendance program, it tells me two weeks out every kid’s birthday. Nice. And so when it’s their birthday, the very first time we practice, there’s a very specific song. So it’s happy birthday to you. And then they have to point their fingers and they go Cha Chacha. They do that a few times. And then at the end we say, happy birthday Dear Sam, and we draw your name out and happy birthday to you. And then they have to show jazz hands and we say, and many more <laugh> and it’s super cheesy, but they all know how to do it and they expect it. And then sometimes they’re writing their names on the calendar that the birthday’s coming up, the kid comes up and they choose their ring pop and I take a picture of them with it.

Brent Dickson (07:26):

And and then some of the kids they like, they’re asking, well, can I get a ring pop? It’s not your birthday. oh it is. Well show me your id. You know, they have <laugh>. And then the kids like, well what if it’s not my birthday this semester? I’m like, well, you come on your birthday or close to it and I’ll get you one. Well what if my birthday’s in the summer? You come last day of classes in June and we’ll take care of you <laugh>. Several kids will come in looking for their ring pop for sure. So wow, it’s a little thing. But if you make the ring pop a big deal, then it becomes a big deal to them. They can’t get one. I mean, they can obviously go to the store and buy their own, but I will never give a kid a ring pop for anything other than their birthday. I got other treats and stuff for other things, but it’s just the event and making a big deal of it that I think and, and letting ’em know that, that we know and that we care about ’em.

Sam Demma (08:13):

You could use any object, but if you hype it up and make it significant, the students will also hype it up and believe it’s significant. And I think that’s such an important reminder, not only for physical gifts and little objects, but for teaching. When you’re passionate about what you’re teaching, you’re passionate and enthusiasm about the subject will hopefully rub off on the students. your Ring pop idea made me think back to a conversation I had with Josh Sable, and you might know the name Josh is from Tanem Bomb Chat. It’s not a west A school in the west. He’s, he’s here in Toronto, but they do this thing at the end of the year that they call the Golden Bagels. And it’s like the Oscars, but they hand out these shelac bagels <laugh> on a golden piece of string. And it’s like the school’s big end of the year celebration.

Sam Demma (09:08):

And I, I was at the school recently and they gave me one as a parting gift and it’s, it is ugly, it’s a bagel with sesame seeds on it, glued on. And you, you would think to yourself, who the heck would want this? But it’s what’s attached to it, the meaning that’s attached to it. And I think there’s so many things that you do that have such good important meanings in your classroom and outside of it, one of the things that I loved was the wall of cell phones. Can you talk about what inspired that decision? And I, I just think that in a world that’s always glued to their phones, it’s such a cool idea and one that I think other educators could benefit from trying in their own classrooms if done correctly at the start of the semester, <laugh>.

Brent Dickson (09:52):

So this is how you can become the least popular teacher in your school,

Sam Demma (09:56):

<laugh>.

Brent Dickson (09:57):

 so I had a couple years ago, I had a semester that put me over the edge with a class that the phones were such a problem and they were just getting worse and worse. They just couldn’t leave ’em alone. And so they were addicted to ’em all the time. They’re on top of that. They weren’t engaging with each other, they would, I even had like a guest speaker in one time and third of the class is on their phone. And so it just kind of had decided that’s enough, but you can’t, you can’t really do it mid-semester. You have to kick it off at the beginning. So some friends of mine at SKO High School in Edmonton had been doing this, so I copied their idea and I found out that there are phone caddies you can order off of Amazon. I had no idea.

Brent Dickson (10:37):

 and then when I went and searched it, like there are tons and tons of them. So apparently this is a market, I shouldn’t be surprised that this is a big market for teachers. So it’s a thing you kind of can hang over your blackboard. And so I ordered one that’s got 42 slots in it. You wanna order the bigger one if you got bigger classes. And then when the kids come in, they have to put their cell phone in their designated slot. And so I write down the number for each kid, so in case one gets left behind, I know who it belongs to, they have to put it in right away. And then on the screen I have what’s called a do now activity running. So it could be almost anything. It might, so for example, today I had these cards you hand out that were pre-made and they had to ask someone else what’s big question number one?

Brent Dickson (11:21):

So like one, and then I have the kids report after. So one kid asked someone else, who would you invite to dinner if you could invite anyone? Another question was what countries have you traveled to and which was your favorite? So it, you know, simple basic stuff like that. Yeah. So they, so I’m taking away their phone, but I’m giving them something to do right away. And so I have a whole PowerPoint set with a whole bunch of these slides that I go to and I just recycle each semester. And then the other thing I do is the kids are not allowed to have their cell phone until the last 10 minutes of class. Mm. And so unless they come to me and they have a very specific reason they’re posting something or looking for something. And the funny thing that happened when I first started was I’d put up these times on a piece of paper and I said, it’s exactly this time.

Brent Dickson (12:08):

So you don’t get the phone until three twenty four, not 3 23, not 3 22 or whatever it is. Right. And then this one kid says grade 12 student, well Mr. Dixon, how are we gonna know what time it is if we don’t have our phone? And I’m like, that is an excellent point, <laugh>. But then I went to Walmart and I bought a little digital phone and I, it’s right beside the phone caddy. And now all the kids know, and I actually ran into him just a week ago. He, he graduated last spring and he was back at the school and I said, Hey, your your clock is still there. He’s like, no way. And I said, yeah, I, I’ll tell teachers how sometimes you don’t think of everything and you gotta listen to students. And so the clock is there and they know that they can’t touch their phone until it touches that spot.

Brent Dickson (12:58):

Now the real bonus for that is it actually frees them from the phone. It allows them to engage with each other if I, and then I can be the bad guy, right? Like, oh, I wish I had my phone. But most part they really don’t. Yeah. And so we, when they’re working on their projects and stuff, we’ll play music. Like a kid can be DJ for the day with a Bluetooth speaker and whatever, but they’re talking to each other. So even if they’re sitting and making a poster or they’re planning something or whatever, they’re also talking about what happened on the weekend. They’re talking about that science test they hated or whatever it is. But they’re connecting, which we know more than ever is super important as they’re having that face to face conversation. I, I will never go back to cell phones and kids’ hands. I, I, I thought it would work and I was really impressed with how great it really has made a difference in the class.

Sam Demma (13:52):

Speaking about listening to students, what are some of the ideas that have been student generated in the school over the past couple of months? Is there anything that students in your class have suggested you try or as a school that you do? Is there initiatives or ideas or anything that’s going on right now that you think this was, you know, co-created with the help of the students in front of me?

Brent Dickson (14:17):

Well, there’s one little one that it’s not hard to do either that we’d been talking about before is we called them kind of our dinosaur posts on Instagram. And so it kind of had 2, 2, 2 names. It was the dinosaurs of the school or it was the day so you can decide what you, so Centennial opened in 2004 and I came to the school in 2005 and the kids were starting to talk about what was different. I was telling ’em some stories about how the gym wasn’t ready the first time and oh, what the cafeteria looked like. They were fascinated by this stuff. It was like I could have gone an hour of old school centennial story time. So then I said, well, why don’t we, or do you wanna explore this further? So they came up with the idea that we would identify, so they picked five teachers that I kind of told ’em who had been around a long time.

Brent Dickson (15:08):

So they interviewed them all and they asked them, they asked them what was one of their favorite stories from back in the day, and then something about why they, I’m trying to remember now why do they why they’re still at Centennial now and what do they love about Centennial cause cuz a lot of people have taught here for, you know, 18, 20 years. And so they came up with these stories and they took a picture of each of them and to promote it, they put some of these dinosaur posters up around the school and just said, coming soon. And then for five days they just posted them on Instagram and it got a lot of conversation. I think kids were like, no way. That’s what it was. Like that wing was closed. You had to wear hard hats at the beginning or whatever it was that that they thought was great.

Brent Dickson (15:51):

So it was, it wasn’t very hard and it kind of showed a little shout out or respect to those teachers that had been around a while. And it wouldn’t have to be from the beginning of the school, but you know, just in your building who’s been here maybe 10 or 15 years, cuz they’ll have, even if the physical building hasn’t changed Mm. They’ll have stories of stuff that was different. We used to do this, or this time this thing happened, or, or whatever. It’s, you know, so it, it wasn’t very hard and it worked really well.

Sam Demma (16:19):

There are, it sounds like there are a couple of things you do annually, the birthdays, the phones, the coloring, the different activities you mentioned previously. What are some of the other things that you, you do on a non-negotiable basis? Every single year, like this is an absolute hit and every single time we do it, students love it and you’ve continued to do it or intend to continue doing it because you think, gosh this always has such a positive response.

Brent Dickson  (16:54):

I, I’ll go from really small to really big. Okay. I would say that one of our biggest that has the biggest impact is our rock athon.

Sam Demma (17:02):

Ah, nice.

Brent Dickson  (17:03):

To every spring. And so we had done it before Covid for a few years and then of course it got blown up like everything else. And then we brought it back this last spring. And so I’m sure a lot of people listening have had this similar experience where we’ve got these traditions, but there’s no kid in the building that’s done them <laugh> kinda like starting over again, right? Yeah. So rock athon, what we do is we raise money for the Alberta Children’s Hospital, but it really doesn’t matter what you choose. Nice. And kids will form a team of, of six to 10 kids and they have to fundraise as a team, $750 to qualify to come to Rocka. And then they also pay a ticket fee for the, for the event, for the expenses of the event. So right now it’s been $25 though it may have to go up a little bit with inflation here in the future.

Brent Dickson  (17:56):

Nice. The kids have to, so the first thing they do is they register as a team. They pay their, their $25 per person fee, and then we have them in as a group and then they start their fundraising. And it can be from soliciting people to bottle drives, to bake sales. Like there’s all sorts of creative stuff that goes on. And if they raise that amount of money, then on the day of rock athon, we always do it on a Friday one or they have to bring in a rocking chair. So that’s the idea of rock athon. It’s not like rocking and rolling. And so at one, so for 15 hours straight, one kid or another has to be in the rocking chair and rocking. Ok. And so that’s kinda the thing that they’re getting sponsored to do. So during this, and we set them up in little groups in the main cafeteria area, we kind of map it out with tape on the floor.

Brent Dickson  (18:46):

And so that’s kind of their little living room or their camp. And so during class some of them get excused and they’re rocking and they get to miss school while they’re doing it. So that’s not a bad thing. And and then what we do is if they fundraise $1,500, then they get power at their station. so I have like several electric cords stacked away for Walkathon. So the idea there is they can plug in like an Xbox or a, a blender for smoothies or whatever they want. And some kids say, well, I’ll just bring my own. And I’m like, and then I’ll cut it up because my wall <laugh>, but they’re good with, so usually about a third of the groups will fundraise that extra money. And so it’s like Call of Duty all day with them and they’re loving it. Right.

Brent Dickson (19:32):

And so that goes during the day and then we actually bring in a whole bunch of food trucks and the food trucks will give us a percentage of their profits in our parking lot. And all the kids in the building get to participate in that. But if you’re part of Rock Aon, you’re wearing a t-shirt that says rock athon on it and kind like a v i p we walk you to the front of the line and those lines are pretty long, so it’s nice to be able to get your fries or tacos or whatever else it is. Right. I give a taco shout <laugh>. And then after school, once the building’s cleared, we have a full on party. Okay. So we have, we actually bring in some bikes and trikes and skateboards and then go up, down, up, down, or they’re allowed to actually ride the bike in the building.

Brent Dickson (20:14):

Nice. we’ll set up treat tables. We have a photo booth going at one point. We bring in a professional improv company. This year we’re looking at maybe doing a hypnotist. we’ll do like cahoot games and then there’s times we just let ’em sit and visit and chill and we bring in dinner for them as well. And then we go till about 1130 at night. And it’s, it’s an awesome experience because I, the key things you gotta do, if you’re gonna try to fundraise for something that’s significant, you need to have a great cause and then you need need to have a social experience for kids just said, Hey, donate money to Children’s Hospital. We’re not gonna get much if we just said, Hey, why don’t you come hang out with all your friends on a Friday night at Centennial. They’re not coming when you put the two together, that’s the magic where they have those things and then you’re gonna have success.

Brent Dickson (21:06):

And we had, I can’t tell you how many kids I heard after, either anecdotally or personally talking about, oh, I should have signed up for Rock Athon. I didn’t know what it was nice. We’re anticipating we’ll have at least 50% or twice as many teams next year. Now the kids have seen it and they kind of know what it is. It’ll top out at some point, but you just kind of have to see it and experience like, oh, I should have done that. So that it’s, it’s a big huge event. It takes a lot of practice and, and work to get ready for. But the other real payoff too is your kids running the event. Oh man. Like the, how happy they are and how good they’re feeling about what they did and that it was their thing that they ran. So

Sam Demma (21:45):

That’s a massive idea. Give us a medium size idea and then a small idea.

Brent Dickson  (21:53):

Play bingo in the cafeteria at lunch.

Sam Demma (21:56):

Hmm.

Brent Dickson  (21:57):

So I would strongly recommend buy yourself a smaller bingo drum.

Brent Dickson  (22:02):

Is so easy. You just go in at lunch and you can go on the the worldwide web and they have plenty of printable bingo cards.

Sam Demma (22:10):

What’s that?

Brent Dickson (22:10):

Just yeah,

Sam Demma (22:12):

<laugh>,

Brent Dickson (22:13):

Just get just get goofy prizes. Like go to the dollar store, get like a two liter bottle of pop, get a thing of chips, get, get a thing of Princess Tiaras or Wagon wheels, it doesn’t really matter. And, and you just play bingo at lunch and Nice. And so we’re about 1500 kids in our school and every time we do bingo, we’ll have two to 300 kids. All their playing bingo. Nice. And when they call it, they come up, they get their prize, they’re super happy, it doesn’t take very much and it’s, it’s a win. Right. And the nice thing about it is, you know, if you’re doing the pie eating contest or something like that, that’s a few kids that participate and launch the watch. We do a lot of that kinda stuff, but this is one where they can come up and they can, whoever wants, can be a part of it and have a chance to win. Right. And then if you’re really ambitious, take their pictures of the winners, post it on Instagram so they’ll have glory forever as they won these, this pair of two sweatpants from the smart shop that who knows <laugh>, how they’ll ever be able to wear it. But, but it’s glory forever. Right.

Sam Demma (23:17):

<laugh>. Okay. Medium size idea. What if someone orders a small leadership idea? What are you telling them?

Brent Dickson  (23:23):

Small leadership idea.

Sam Demma (23:25):

I mean you already shared a few at the beginning of this call, but anything else come to mind?

Brent Dickson (23:30):

Oh I think just, well I’ll give you a couple lollipops in the classroom. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> I discovered this one by accident and it works really well. we had some, some kids, we have an opening orientation with our link crew program where we bring candies in for these tours and stuff and there was a bunch left over and so a kid comes up and says, Hey, can I have a lollipop? And I’m like, sure. Then another kid, Hey, can I have a lollipop? And so I realized this was popping. These are the cheapest type that you get when you go to the doctor when you get a shot. Lollipops or not fancy schmanzy lollipops. Yeah. And I started putting them in this bowl and there was a run on lollipops real quick. So then I discovered I can only put out one bag a week or I’m gonna go broke <laugh> issue Now I went to the dollar store and they’re not carrying them right now.

Brent Dickson (24:21):

Okay. I had to turn to Amazon at a slightly larger expense. I need to find a new supplier of my chief load cups. Nice. But it’s just a little thing that’s really easy. And then I think the other thing is, is little things is just recognizing kids in your school. So we do things like we’ll have the coyote the month display and we just picked four random kids that have done not academic or athletic, but just have done cool things. Like a teacher just told me a half hour ago, Hey, I got a kid for carry of the month and it was a kid who has been helping out with a special needs kid, ah, and just kind of helping them at lunch and some things like that, that kind of just stepping out and, and that, I don’t know this kid very well. They may not be an athlete at all. They may not be an academic all star, but that’s pretty amazing what they’re doing. So that’s a, that’s a way to recognize,

Sam Demma (25:07):

I won’t forget the young man who held the door open when I walked through the front doors of your school. And then you told me that he holds the door open every day for everybody. And I think I had three or four students after I was making a big deal about it. Tell me that they walked through the door every day and he’s holding it for them. And most times they have their hands full and they’re so grateful for it. So I think recognizing your population once a month, once a week in your classroom, I think that’s a great idea.

Brent Dickson (25:36):

Here’s another little bonus idea along that lines. We, we do Walmart greeters on Friday mornings. Nice. You have kids go, we have two doors that kids come in, you have to kind of figure out your building. Maybe there’s just one place or maybe there’s a couple. So we split ’em up and I’ve got two Bluetooth speakers. So they go to each door and they play whatever music they want, long as it’s appropriate. And they just say good morning. They kinda wave, say Good morning, welcome to Centennial. Kind of like a Walmart greet. And you, I’ve watched when kids come in, some, some will be stone faced all the way through. but some you see they get a smile on their face or Oh hey, how are you? That kind of thing. Right. And so we made some t-shirts that kind of ripped off the Walmart logo. We changed it to Centennial. But you don’t even need anything like that. You can go to the Dollar Star and get Walmart greeter hats or, I mean, who cares? You call it. Yeah. It’s, it’s, it’s nothing. But and actually the kids have found the music that works the best is old school like playing Abba or Elvis or something like that. Cause cause no one really has an opinion on it, whether they love it or not.

Sam Demma (26:38):

<laugh>,

Brent Dickson  (26:39):

It’s just a little easy thing to do. And oh, and then when my, my kids come back as Walmart greeters they get a two pack of dad’s cookies and a superstore juice box.

Sam Demma (26:49):

Nice.

Brent Dickson  (26:50):

Not a big deal, but like that’s how you earn those is you’re a Walmart greeter. Right. And it’s mostly just thanks for coming in early and, and doing that for other kids. Right.

Sam Demma (26:58):

Yeah. I think the incentives are great ideas, whether it’s a ring pop lollipop, a dad’s cookies, some chocolates. I know you have assorted candies that you hand out for certain things too.

Brent Dickson (27:10):

This seems like the most unhealthy leadership program ever. We we’re really not all about just handing out candies of bribing kids. There’s a lot more going on. But

Sam Demma (27:18):

We talked about candy, crayons, social media ideas, recognizing students. We talked about the rock athon. This was a full on masterclass for student leaders and student leadership ideas. So Brent, thank you so much for coming on the, the podcast today to share all of your wisdom and insights. If someone wants to learn more, you have a blog filled with ideas where should they go to read and and check those out?

Brent Dickson (27:46):

It’s easy to remember; brentdickson.net. So you go on there and I try to faithfully periodically I put down stuff, just different ideas, things have been working out. usually try to start with a story about something that kind of inspired me. Usually something that a kid did. And then here’s an idea for your school. Here’s an idea you can do in your class. And when you go on there, you can either like it and follow it or you can actually click a click a spot where the post comes directly to you in an email so you can check it out and hopefully it helps you out.

Sam Demma (28:15):

Awesome. Brian, thank you so much. I’m gonna title this podcast episode, how to Become the Most Unpopular Teacher in Your School, <laugh>

Brent Dickson (28:25):

Perfect

Sam Demma (28:26):

With the phone case id. I love it. no, seriously, thank you so much for coming on the show. Keep up the great work, keep up the great writing, and I look forward to crossing paths again soon.

Brent Dickson  (28:35):

All right. Thank you brother.

Sam Demma (28:38):

I believe that educators deserve way more recognition, which is why I’ve created the High Performing Educator Awards. In 2022, 20 educator recipients will be shortlisted, each of whom will be featured in local press. invited to record an episode on the podcast, and spotlighted on our platform. In addition, the one handpicked winner will be presented with an engraved plaque by myself. I will fly to the winner’s city to present this to them and ask that they participate in a quick photo shoot and interview on location. The coolest part, nominations are open right now, and they close October 1st, 2022. So please take a moment to apply or nominate someone you know or work with that deserves this recognition. You can do so by going to www.highperformingeducator.com/award. We can never recognize educators enough.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Brent Dickson

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.

Empty Your Backpack (Spoken Word Poem)

Small Consistent Actions Sam Demma - TEDxYouth@Toronto
About Empty Your Backpack

Here is the link to watch the animation on Youtube:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JwlHs-Mkvnc

Empty Your Backpack is a spoken word poem created by Sam Demma that encourages you to realize that people’s words don’t define your self-worth. It is a video filled with emotion, hope and perseverance. It was directed and animated by Ben Clarkson, a Juno-nominated illustrator, artist and animator.

If you enjoyed this poem, you can check out the entire project, book and poem at www.emptyyourbackpack.ca

Connect with Sam: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Empty Your Backpack Animation

Empty Your Backpack Project

The Story that Inspired the Project

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):

Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator Podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today we have a different type of podcast interview, one that will leave you feeling very emotional in a very hopeful and inspiring way. Over a year ago now, I hosted an Instagram live call with a student. If you don’t know what that means, think of a video call, but with a live audience with 50-100 students watching on Instagram who can comment live while you have a video call and bring individuals up on screen to have a conversation. A student joined who I had never spoken to before and after we started talking, he told me very quickly that his biggest goal in life was to be an actor, and his second goal was to have 50,000 followers on social media. Slightly confused, I challenged this young man who we’re gonna call Josh for the sake of today’s podcast, to explain to me what in his life would change if I snapped my fingers and instantly he had 50,000 followers.

Sam Demma (01:10):

What this young student said, I will never forget. “Sam, if I had 50,000 followers, kids at school would stop bullying me and calling me a loser. My life is filled with bullies. I hate myself. I hate going to school, and I’m turning off the camera on my phone because I’m ugly.” Josh remained silent for a few moments while every student watching started filling the chat box with the most positive stuff, the most amazing comments. We connected him with his guidance counselors to make sure he felt supported, sent him merch in the mail to make sure he felt like he was a part of a community. But after the call ended, I couldn’t get this question outta my mind. How is it that this young man who has such a bright future is allowing the words and opinions of a select few individuals who don’t even care about him to affect the way that he sees himself every single day and the choices he’s making?

Sam Demma (02:14):

You know when you have a conversation and five minutes after it ends, you remember what you were really trying to say? I was sitting in my basement at my office desk on my rolling chair. When the call ended, I got up. I started walking to the first floor of my house up the staircase, and as I got midway, halfway up the staircase, what I was really trying to say to this young man, Josh finally came to mind. What I wished I could have helped him realize live on that call is that people’s words don’t define your self worth, that you don’t have to carry around the thoughts, expectations, and opinions that other people or society, places on your shoulders. What I wished I could have helped Josh realize was that he had the possibility, the potential to empty his backpack. I believe every one of us, yourself included, carry a giant invisible backpack on your shoulders and in your backpack.

Sam Demma (03:18):

You have your own personal beliefs that you have built and picked up based on your unique life experiences. But as you went through life, you also started picking up the thoughts, expectations, and opinions that other people gave to you, whether you asked for them or not. Things like, you’re not good enough, you’re too fat. Who do you think you are? What makes you believe you’re credible for this? This is never gonna work. Any of these sound familiar? If you and I never take the time to empty our backpacks of these lies, these negative beliefs that other people have given to us, we end up starting to believe them and we tell ourselves these lies, which become our internal dialogue and stories and ends up holding us back.

Sam Demma (04:12):

Imagine that the one thing holding you back is a belief that was never even yours to begin with. After the call with Josh, I started reflecting on my own experience, dealing with the words and opinions that other people placed on me. Growing up, I got extremely emotional and I started working on something minutes after that call that has finally come to life and I am so excited to share it with you right now on this podcast. It’s something I have quietly worked with Ben Clarkson, a Juno nominated illustrator, artist and designer. He took a spoken word poem that I put together titled Empty Your Backpack and turned it into a beautiful animated video. Here on the podcast, I’m going to play the audio portion of that three minute spoken word poem, and if you enjoy it, there’s going to be a link to the YouTube video where you can watch the animation and hopefully share it with the young people in your life who might benefit from hearing a message just like this one. Okay, here it is. Grab some popcorn and enjoy.

Sam Demma (05:31):

Yo, you gotta stop carrying around the thoughts and opinions of everyone else. You gotta stop. They put the world on my shoulders. I couldn’t carry it. With each appointment, doctors words getting scarier, those walls became my second home. I mean a barrier that put my heart in my hands where they were tearing it. They say, you gotta love the game. That’s why I married it. But by 17 divorced a dream and buried it six feet underneath my skin. I was embarrassed that life was black and white when I didn’t wear my jersey. Words cut like knives when they’re aimed at insecurities. Yeah, thank you, coach. I’ll never forget what you said. Your words still went through my mind while I try to make amend, I wish someone would’ve told me that my words define my journey, not the name on my back or the number on my jersey. So hear me out people’s words. Don’t define your route. You bet on you since day one. You define yourself. It’s time you grab your backpack and empty it out and stop carrying the opinions of everyone else. Grab your backpack and let it all out. This is your life. Ain’t nobody else.

Sam Demma (06:41):

It’s been five years since I stopped playing, but someone grabbed the piper cuz I’m still paying. I passed gold 22 times that I was collecting, but my boardwalk is not what you’re expecting. You see my mind is like a broken record. It keeps repeating. I mean, why do I still dream about when he was speaking? I feel five years of new journals. I feel five years with new hurdles, but this one I can’t seem to jump. Call me Jeffrey Drum swear you could search it up. This is nonfiction and whoever said words will never hurt me must have been burdened by insecurity. Cuz I can tell you firsthand that sometimes people’s words can feel like quick sand that gets you stuck. So when you find yourself sink, and let me lift you up cause people’s words don’t define your route, you bet on you since day one. You define yourself. It’s time you grab your backpack and empty it out and stop carrying the opinions of everyone else. Grab your backpack and let it all out. This is your life. Ain’t nobody else.

Sam Demma (07:43):

It’s time someone gave you your permission to forget what they said and focus on your vision. You only got one life to make it happen. So quit carrying the comments and all their reactions. You see, people are gonna say what they say, but unlike Nintendo life is a game that you can’t replace. So stop searching for the button, and I know it’s hard when their words put you outside and people these days seem to speak more boldy when they’re on line. That’s why I’m taking this moment to rewind and remind you that what matters most is how you see yourself in your mind. You see people’s words. Were never define your route. You bet on you since day one. You define yourself. It’s time you grab your back pack and empty it out and stop carrying the opinions of everyone else. Grab your back pack and let it all out. This is your life, ain’t nobody else.

Sam Demma (08:42):

If you enjoyed the poem, it would mean the world to me if you sent me a message at sam@samdemma.com via email, I would love to hear from you. There is also a book titled Empty or or Backpack that goes along with this project. And April 3rd, we will be traveling across Canada with the giant four foot backpack of beliefs bringing these messages into schools in front of students all around the country. If any of this sounds interesting, send me an email or check out the official tour website that includes the book, the Backpack, and all the information. emptyyourbackpack.ca. Again, that’s emptyyourbackpack.ca. I will see you very soon for the next episode and I hope you have a fantastic week ahead.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Sam Demma

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.

Alexis Epp – 3rd Year Student at the University of Regina (Bachelor of Social Work)

About Alexis Epp

Alexis Epp helped develop and launch the Mental Wellness 30L program through the Sunwest School Division. She is finishing her 3rd year of her Bachelor of Social Work degree through the University of Regina and is a certified peer support.

Alexis has used her lived experience to help youth throughout the province and create resources for students and teachers. When she isn’t doing school work or creating mental wellness resources, Alexis loves spending time with family and friends.

Alexis is extremely passionate about youth mental health and helping people. As someone who has experienced the mental health system, she hopes to one day work in policy, changing policies to center around consumers rather than policymakers.

Connect with Alexis: Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Mental Wellness 30L program

Sunwest School Division

Bachelor of Social Work – University of Regina

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 (00:55):

Welcome back to the show.

Sam Demma (00:56):

Today’s special guest is Alexis Epp. Alexis help develop and launch the Mental Wellness 30 program through the Sunwest School division. She’s currently finishing her third year of her Bachelor of Social Work through the University of Regina, and is a certified peer support. Alexis has used her lived experience to help youth throughout the province, as well as to create resources for students and teachers. When she isn’t doing schoolwork or creating mental wellness resources, Alexis loves spending time with family and friends. Alexis is extremely passionate about youth mental health and helping people. As someone who has experienced the mental health system, she hopes to one day work in policy, changing policies so that they can center around consumers rather than the policy makers themselves. I hope you enjoy this interview with Alexis and I will see you on the other side. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma, and today we are joined by a very special guest, Alexis Epp. Alexis was connected to me through a past guest, Elena, and I’m so excited to have her on the show today. Alexis, welcome.

Alexis Epp (02:02):

Thanks for having me.

Sam Demma (02:03):

Please start by introducing yourself.

Alexis Epp (02:05):

Yeah, my name is Alexis Epp. I’m 25. I am currently just finishing up my third year of social work. It’s a four year program, so one more year and I get my degree. I was born and raised in a small town and yeah, I helped Elena make the Mental Wellness 30 program and now we’re here.

Sam Demma (02:24):

What was your experience like growing up in a small town? Whereabouts are you from?

Alexis Epp (02:30):

It’s called Bigger Saskatchewan, if you’ve ever heard of it. The slogan is New York is big, but this is bigger. Nice <laugh>. Yeah, it’s great. It was really difficult for me, honestly small towns, very limited resources, so when you’re struggling with mental health, there’s not much that can be done. I was extremely lucky that the family I came from had the financial resources where they could take me into Saskatoon to get me the help I needed. But I know lots of people aren’t that fortunate, so I was extremely lucky that way.

Sam Demma (03:12):

When you say you struggled with mental health, was it something that started when you were in school or when do you think you started struggling?

Alexis Epp (03:22):

I think I’ve struggled my whole life honestly with anxiety but it’s not really, When I was growing up, it wasn’t really something that was talked about, so I didn’t know I was struggling. I just got it. It was kind of that, Oh, you’re nervous. I competed in pianos. So it was always just, Oh, that’s just the nerves. And I mean, I would cry before I went on stage and it just got chalked up to, Oh, those are just nerves. So I thought that was normal. And then when I was around 14 or 15 I really started to notice it. Then I was having trouble with my motivation. I had trouble getting up for school. I was missing a lot of school at that point. I always had stomach pain physical pain, and I was like, This just doesn’t make sense. And so my mom took me to my family doctor and that’s where I first heard the word depression. And I wasn’t really told much about it. I was just kinda, Oh, I think you have depression. Here’s a pill, take it every day. And sent me on my way. And so as a 14, 15 year old, I kind of took it when I took it if I felt like it. And so it didn’t really help me. <laugh>

Sam Demma (04:45):

<affirmative>. At what point did you start building the habits and the practices to really cope with what you were experiencing and grow into the person you are today? <laugh>?

Alexis Epp (04:58):

Honestly, not until I was around 20. It took me a really long time and a lot of traumatic experiences and just, I hit rock bottom and that’s when I was like, Okay, something needs to change. Cause obviously this is not working. And so in high school I had missed so much school, I had fallen so far behind. So I actually got my adult 12 instead of my full grade 12. So I had gotten that and that really, there’s a lot of stigma behind that. I thought I was a failure because I didn’t get my full 24 credits in high school. So I was very ashamed, felt super guilty. It was really hard for me. And then after I had graduated with my adult 12, there was some really bad accidents in bigger and three of my friends passed away within three days. And I mean, I wasn’t taught how to breathe as an 18 year old.

Alexis Epp (06:03):

I didn’t know what it was like to lose someone at such a young age and three people within three days. It was a lot for me to handle. So I decided I couldn’t be in that town anymore where I was constantly reminded of all of my law. And so I moved to Saskatoon shortly after I graduated and kind of was like, Okay, new city, fresh start, everything’s gonna be perfect. And unfortunately running away from your problems doesn’t work <laugh>. So when I moved to the city I originally was a nanny and for a while things were really good. I had thought things cause I had moved, everything was better <affirmative>, it solved my problems. But then I faced more trauma and I ended up losing my uncle who I was very close to and then my grandpa. And then I had a cousin pass away from an overdose and then my parents got divorced and it was just one thing after another and I started to spiral again cause I didn’t have those coping tools, <affirmative>.

Alexis Epp (07:18):

So I didn’t know what to do. And I had actually made a plan to take my life and my mom had found out about it. And so she took me to the emergency room. And in there it was not a great experience. I was put in a kind of closet. It was technically a room, but it was a storage closet with a bed. And so I was in there for around 10 hours total. And no one really checked on me while I was in there. And so I just started, we spiraling even more and I was texting my mom cause she had to go back to work and I said, I can’t do this. Can’t when I get out I can’t do this anymore. So my mom came back and showed the nurses my text messages and the nurse straight up said to my mom, she wasn’t just looking for pension.

Alexis Epp (08:22):

So yeah, it was a really bad experience. And from there I got admitted to the hospital where I spent around two months there. And while I was there Elena, I reached out to Elena cause I was taking classes again cause I was in a good place at the time. And then it happened really fast. So I called her and kind of told her what was going on and why I wasn’t handing an assignment. And she was like, Can I come visit you? And I was like, It’s not fun here. It’s like a jail, honestly, you have to buzz in and out. But I was like, If you want. So she came to visit me and said, Do you wanna build this mental wellness class with me? Like I said, I thought she was absolutely crazy at the time. I was like, mm-hmm <affirmative>, okay, whatever. But it kind of just really exploded from there and after I had gotten the help I needed from there.

Sam Demma (09:24):

That’s awesome. What was the experience like? First of all, thank you for sharing such vulnerable parts of your journey and your story. And I know there are people that can relate to certain parts of it and I appreciate you for being open and sharing that. What was the experience like building a curriculum with your teacher <laugh>? Like what did that even look like?

Alexis Epp (09:48):

It was honestly wild at the beginning. It was a lot of late nights cuz we were doing this just as volunteers at the beginning late nights over coffee, just kind of hanging out, really getting to know one another. And Elena actually through the journey, became one of my best friends. And it’s really cool the course because it came from a youth perspective. So I mean now that I’m a little bit older, it’s not necessarily the same, but back then I could really relate to what youth were going through cuz I was a youth. And when I went to my parents and I was like, I need help, their reaction was we don’t know how to help you because when we were your age, mental health wasn’t talked about. It was pushed under the rug. So when I went to them, there was, we don’t know what to do. So it was kind of a lot of just learning together and taking the resources that I had gotten from my therapist and doctors and nurses and social workers and everyone and just making these resources accessible to those who need it. Cause it shouldn’t be hard to get help for your mental health. And right now it still is unfortunately.

Sam Demma (11:12):

What are the avenues of help that you found most helpful that you think if another student is struggling they should look into?

Alexis Epp (11:22):

First and foremost, I definitely recommend if you are in crisis or just need someone to talk to you, kids help. Phone is absolutely amazing. I’ve used them a lot and even as a 25 year old, I know you can still use them as an adult. So that’s definitely a good place to start if you’re struggling. I don’t know about other places, but I know in Saskatchewan we have something called mobile crisis. If you are struggling they can help you out as well. And I believe it’s two 11 now in Saskatchewan where you can text them and they can give you resources where you are, which is awesome. So yeah, there’s lots of resources that are coming forward. But I would say my saving grace was honestly my psychiatrist, which is unfortunate in a way because they are quite inaccessible and there’s very long wait lists and not very many. But that really truly made the difference for me.

Sam Demma (12:28):

What did they do for you that you think really helped or Yeah, what was it about that relationship that you think really assisted you?

Alexis Epp (12:43):

It’s hard to explain, but I guess the relationship was, she just validated how I was feeling instead of offering me opinions or telling me to just be happy, she really validated how I was feeling and didn’t try and explain it, but she said, It’s okay, you feel this way. And I think that was one of the biggest things, but she just listened to me and it’s hard to find that lots of people are trying to help but give unsolicited opinions and that can be really hard when you’re struggling,

Sam Demma (13:16):

Especially if you make it seem like you know what they’re going through and you might have no idea. It’s like

Alexis Epp (13:23):

Absolutely, I think it’s very frustrating and I know people come from a good place, but when you’re in that position, especially me with my depression, I know what I need to do. I’m just stuck in that freeze mode where I just can’t bring myself to do it, but I know what I need to do, I just can’t do it. So when other people are constantly telling you and reminding you what you need to do, it gets really overwhelming.

Sam Demma (13:50):

When a student approaches a teacher and is struggling with their mental health, what would you recommend a teacher or an educator do? Who wants to support?

Alexis Epp (14:00):

First of all just listen. Don’t try and diminish it or say, I got this a lot in high school, but that’s just normal teenage problems. And I’m like, no it’s not. So definitely just listen, keep an open ear. And I would say safety is number one. As a future social worker even that’s one of the first things we’re taught. If someone talks about suicide, they need help and that’s a crisis. So you can’t really wait and see if that one’s gonna get better. Take that as an emergency and get the emergency help, whether that’s police or a social worker or the parent that needs help. But yeah, I would definitely just say listen. And in our school division we have something called Teacher resource base and we have so many mental health resources in there for students and teachers. So that’s definitely a really great thing to provide the students with. I would say yeah, just listen and if they ask for, help them, but kinda follow their lead, see what they need, not what you think they need, but find out what they actually need.

Sam Demma (15:28):

That’s great advice. Thanks for sharing that. I appreciate it. I know there’s so many teachers who can relate to that experience and who have had students approach them before and maybe felt a little handicapped as if they weren’t sure what the best route of action was to help that individual even though they really wanted to.

Alexis Epp (15:47):

And that’s the thing, I know so many teachers who want to help but they don’t know how. And just remember that when a student comes to you, that’s a very vulnerable position to be asking for help that that’s a lot of trust. So definitely just make sure you’re taking that seriously with the trust and maintain that trust.

Sam Demma (16:08):

Awesome. So you ended up helping with the building of the curriculum? Yes. Tell me more about that experience. So once it was finished, after all the long nights and the coffee chats and getting to know each other and becoming best friends, what has happened since? Or did you help teach it? Tell me more about it.

Alexis Epp (16:31):

Yeah, so I’ve gotten a lot of cool experiences from it actually. I did get the chance to help out at school in Saskatoon here, one of our pilot programs. And so Elena and I would go there and I actually got trained as a peer support through the program. So I’m a peer support through the program so students can talk to me and I can kinda just listen and be a friend. And then I was given the opportunity to work with Cmha National and be on their youth advisory council. And so I got to do that, which was really cool. Brought a lot of cool opportunities, just giving my opinion as a youth trying to advocate for youth across Canada. And then I was also given the opportunity to be on the Saskatchewan advocate for children and their youth council. Nice. And with that, I was actually asked to, they just released a report I believe back in March called Desperately Waiting and they gave some recommendations to the government about some changes that can be made for youth with mental health and within school systems. And so I actually got to go to the legislative building in Regina and speak to some officials about that report. So that was a really neat opportunity.

Sam Demma (18:01):

And where has your journey taken you now? So you finished the building of the course got back on your feet per se, and where do you see yourself in the next couple of years? What are you pursuing now?

Alexis Epp (18:17):

Yeah, so I am just about done my social work program. So then I will have my bachelor social work nice. And my plan is to work for a few years and then go back and get my masters and then eventually I really wanna go into policy and make a difference because I’ve been in the system, I know how hard it is for both the consumers, the people are using the system as well as people working within the system. It’s super frustrating for everyone involved. And so I feel like policy needs to be created around the people who actually are in need of the policy and in need of the system. So that’s kind of the end goal.

Sam Demma (19:03):

I love that. Something you mentioned earlier that caught my attention was coping tools. You know, mentioned that when you first were starting your own journey, navigating through mental health, you felt like you didn’t really have the tools you needed and I’m sure many young people and even adults can relate. What are some of the things that you continuously go back to try and maintain positive mental health and to I guess help yourself when you’re not feeling the best?

Alexis Epp (19:35):

So I actually have three things that I use consistently. For me, the biggest thing was just starting things. So I use something called the five minute Rule. And when I’m having bad days, which I still do and that’s okay, I did a five minute rule where no matter how badly you don’t wanna do something, just start it and do it for five minutes. And if after five minutes you still are really down, really not wanting to do it, that’s okay, you don’t have to do it. But usually those five minutes you kind of just forget that you didn’t wanna do it in the first place and you get over that hump. So that’s one of my biggest things. My second one is the five senses, if you’ve heard of that

Sam Demma (20:28):

I have

Alexis Epp (20:29):

Is it’s cause I still have anxiety. So what it is, you can do it quietly, you can do it out loud, doesn’t matter. You look around and find five things you can see and then you list those off. And when I’m having really bad anxiety attacks I think about the textures, the colors I go into details. And then, so it’s five things you can see, four things you can touch three things you can hear, two things you can smell and one thing you can taste. And when you’re focusing on your senses, you can’t think about two things at once. So it’s very grounding and it takes you away from what you are anxious about and really just grounds you and makes you focus on the presence.

Sam Demma (21:25):

I love that one.

Alexis Epp (21:26):

<laugh>. Yeah. And then my last one is based on scenarios. So when I’m anxious about something or overthinking something, I’ll take a piece of paper and I write the best case scenario, worst case scenario and the most likely case scenario. And then I’ll write each of those out. And then I will also write kind of a game plan. If the worst case scenario happens, what am I gonna do? And so after I’ve written those all out, it kind of just makes you look at it from a different perspective. And sometimes I’m like, that’s so unlikely that that’s not gonna happen. But then even if it does happen, you have a game plan. So it takes away some of those worries.

Sam Demma (22:09):

That’s awesome. I love that. Do you crumple the page and throw it out after <laugh>

Alexis Epp (22:14):

Do actually. Okay. Sometimes I’ll rip it up and yeah, I usually wait until the scenario plays out and then I’m like, okay, I don’t need to, It helped me and now it’s done.

Sam Demma (22:26):

Cool. I’m curious, it sounds like the relationship you had with Elena, with your psychiatrist really helped you turn into your own success story. And I’m curious to know if the mental wellness study program has had students go through it who at first were really struggling and came out the other side feeling like they were in a much better place mentally. And if so, are there any specific examples or stories of students that come to mind when you think about those individuals? And if you could share one and you could change their name if it’s a serious one. I just think it’s important to remind people that influence work with or impact youth of stories like these positive transformations to remind them why the work they’re doing is so important.

Alexis Epp (23:13):

<affirmative> honestly, I think every single student who has gone through the program has had that significant change whether or not they were struggling. Everyone knows someone who is struggling with mental health. So even if you’re not someone who is, Yeah. So I think that’s been a really big impact. And just within the course we have a lot of lived experiences and I’ve heard so much feedback on that and I’ve had students tell me I thought I was the only one who went through that. So just knowing there are other people out there who they can relate to has been a really big thing. And I’ve had students tell me when they started this program, they were just kind of lost and didn’t know where to turn, what to do, and just kind of stuck in that fight or flight or freeze mode and they just didn’t know what to do. And going through the program just gave them the tools to get out of that and be able to think more clearly I guess. So yeah, I, I’ve had students who have struggled really bad with their family lives, with their schools, with bullying and this program gave them the tools to get the help they needed whether it was professional help or not. Cause this is not professional help in the course, but it does direct them to the helps that they need.

Sam Demma (24:50):

Awesome. That’s so cool. And who’s the course available to, if someone wanted to check it out, could someone search it online or how would someone find it?

Alexis Epp (25:00):

Yeah, for sure you can. Right now it counts as a credit but only in Saskatchewan. Cool. It’s available to all the Sun School Vision students, but if people are interested they can, I believe Elena gave her email during the last Yeah. When she was on here. Yeah. So if there’s anyone interested in the program, whether they’re students or teachers, they can reach out to her or just Google the Mental Wellness 30 program through Sun West School division and they can kind of check it out that way. And if they email Elena directly, she is able to give them a bit more access and help them out that way.

Sam Demma (25:46):

Okay. Awesome. And if you could take your experiences throughout school and education and wrap them all up into a form of advice and go back in time and give your younger self some words of wisdom and support. Knowing what you know now, what would you have told your younger self when you were just starting high school?

Alexis Epp (26:08):

Knowing what I know now, I would probably tell myself that you’re not alone. No matter how isolated you feel. There are other people struggling, there are other people who can maybe not exactly relate, but they’re going through something similar and you just kind of gotta find your people. Like you’re not stuck in the same spot forever. Even if it feels like a crisis now you’ll, you’ll have good days and bad days, but things get better and you do find your people

Sam Demma (26:43):

People. Awesome. Alexis, thank you so much for taking half an hour out of your day to come on the podcast and share some of your experiences and insights relating to mental health and just education. If someone wants to reach out to you and ask you a question, what would be the best way for them to get in touch?

Alexis Epp (27:02):

They can email me and my email is alexis.epp@outlook.com.

Sam Demma (27:09):

Awesome. Alexis, thank you so much. Keep up the great work. Best of luck with the social work and the policy making and the feature, and I look forward to staying in touch.

Alexis Epp (27:18):

Thank you so much.

Sam Demma (27:21):

I believe that educators deserve way more recognition, which is why I’ve created the High Performing Educator Awards. In 2022, 20 educator recipients will be shortlisted, each of whom will be featured in local press. invited to record an episode on the podcast, and spotlighted on our platform. In addition, the one handpicked winner will be presented with an engraved plaque by myself. I will fly to the winner’s city to present this to them and ask that they participate in a quick photo shoot and interview on location. The coolest part, nominations are open right now, and they close October 1st, 2022. So please take a moment to apply or nominate someone you know or work with that deserves this recognition. You can do so by going to www.highperformingeducator.com/award. We can never recognize educators enough.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Alexis Epp

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.

James Trodden – Assistant Superintendent of Learning at Buffalo Trail Public School

James Trodden - Assistant Superintendent of Learning at Buffalo Trail Public School
About James Trodden

James is the Assistant Superintendent of Learning at Buffalo Trail Public Schools. Having spent over 27 years as an educator, James has a variety of experiences as both a teacher, school leader, and central office leader. He appreciates his years spent in rural education in Alberta, as the rural context is familiar and allows for the development of close connections and responsive schools.

Connect with James: Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Buffalo Trail Public Schools

The Principals’ Center – Harvard Graduate School of Education

Improving Schools From Within by Roland Barth

Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment by Eckhart Tolle

Mbaraká Pu – The Alchemist

A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

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 (00:54):

Welcome back to the show.

Sam Demma (00:56):

Today’s special guest is James Trodden. James is the Assistant Superintendent of Learning at Buffalo Trail Public Schools. Having spent over 27 years as an educator, James has a variety of experiences as both a teacher, school leader, and central office leader. He appreciates his years spent in rural education in Alberta, as the rural context is familiar and allows for the development of close connections and responsive schools. I hope you enjoyed this conversation with James and I will see you on the other side. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today we have a special guest from the Buffalo Trail Public Schools. His name is James Trodden. James, please start by introducing yourself.

James Trodden (01:44):

Hello Sam. Thank you for having me on this. I am working in Wainright, Alberta and I’m the assistant superintendent of learning with the amazing team that we have here.

Sam Demma (01:56):

When did you realize in your own life as a student, or maybe even it didn’t happen as a student, but as you grew up, that one day in your future you wanted to work in education?

James Trodden (02:07):

Oh, I like that question, Sam. You know what, I look back on my years in school and some of the greatest mentors and some of the most passionate people and the people that kinda reached into my life and changed the course of my history, they were all teachers. And so I went off to do a couple of different things in the world and I kept coming back to why am I not teaching? And that led me to that path.

Sam Demma (02:36):

Two questions, part one, what did your teachers do for you that you think made it a very significant impact on your development as a young person?

James Trodden (02:49):

I think they recognized where I was at and I think in seeing me, the child, the person in front of them they recognize that bit of time that they spent talking to me would make all the difference in the world. So I think back to a couple of the great teachers and they took the time to help me learn how to and me learn how to and that all thence for.

Sam Demma (03:18):

Ah, that’s awesome. And what were the things that you did in the world where you would question why you weren’t spending that same amount of time or that exact moment teaching in a classroom, <laugh>.

James Trodden (03:32):

Oh, what other things did I do,

Sam Demma (03:34):

Sam? Yeah, you mentioned you went off and did some things.

James Trodden (03:39):

I went off to university and I was taking a degree in science and I joined a program with the Canadian forces. Nice. And I joined a training program with them that paid for my university, but I also had to spend time as the in the army. So I did that and then I finished up as a teacher and I kinda had that choice to continue in the army or become a teacher and no doubt becoming a teacher, best choice.

Sam Demma (04:10):

Oh, that’s amazing. Did you have other people in your family or around you pave the weight for that decision? Were there other teachers in your household or your entire family?

James Trodden (04:22):

No, you know, often have that story, right. Teacher breed teachers, I come from come a very low educated family. My parents didn’t get out. Elementary school we’re very low social economic class. And so the idea that I would graduate or even go to university was beyond anything that they experienced or expected or would’ve considered.

Sam Demma (04:47):

Wow. Someone told me recently there’s no story without a struggle. And I think that’s true. I think a lot of the people that I look to as role models have been through their own journeys and their own challenges. And it sounds like you’ve had yours as well. Tell me a little bit more about the journey that brought you to the position you’re in right now. What are the different roles that you’ve been a part of in education and where did you first start? Tell me more about the journey.

James Trodden (05:21):

And it’s almost like a continuation of that journey from childhood <affirmative> where those mentors, those people that looked at my life, they’re all teachers and as a kid they were reaching out and giving me that second, third and sometimes 10th chats <laugh>. And then as a young teacher, I ran into just some amazing mentors. And my first vice principal he had this idea that you had to teach something new outside of your training or repertoire. And so each year I’m teaching a course that I don’t have a clue on, but it forced you to dig deeper into your practice. And then I had another amazing leader whose sole purpose was to build other leaders. So he would take us and expose us to thought leaders experiences. He’d help us out. He would get us reading, get us connected, get us connected to authors. And so along the way I had all these amazing opportunities when I became a young vice principal.

James Trodden (06:22):

My first principal was just a veteran and at different times he would step back from opportunities that presented itself so that I would have the opportunity. So that same theme and motif. And so it’s how teachers, no matter where we are or what we do, I always say you can tell teachers in the shopping market, right, <affirmative>. Cause there’s two kids and if a kid falls down and hurts themselves and there’s 10 people around, two teachers out, the 10 will be the ones moving to help a kid <laugh>. And to down a host ofs, there’s a teacher moving there, even if it’s there. And you know what, there’s just that sense of think applies in when of, And so brought me to hear the superintendent of the schools here is a mentor of mine. I knew her in the awe when we both worked in the Alberta government. And when she had the opportunity here, I jumped at it and it’s been a gift in my life. The same sort of thing. Teachers help out. And so she’s, she’s pushed me and it’s been a great working with her.

Sam Demma (07:39):

You mentioned that principal who exposed you to authors and thought leaders and experiences out of the diverse amount of experiences that he exposed you to. Is there anything maybe a resource, a book, an author, a conference, or anything that you remember vividly because it really left an impact on you or it changed the way that you think or provided you with some new perspectives and tools to bring back to your practice?

James Trodden (08:10):

There’s so many beautiful experiences, but he had me go to dinner one night, me show up to a conference and British Columbia had me go for dinner and there’s a group of us and there’s this incredible elderly man next to me and he was like, the man was asking me, What are you doing here? And I said, Well, I’m a teacher but my principal said I should come to this leadership conference. He goes, Oh, so you wanna be a principal? I said, No, not really, but you know what, I got the chance to go to the conference and it looks great and I’m always great to learn. And he says, Why wouldn’t you wanna be a principal? I said, I love teaching. I love just that beautiful moment where you work with kids and you get to see just them learn and grow and I don’t think there’s a greater experience.

James Trodden (08:57):

And so we spent the whole night convincing me principals do this and principals do that. So he’s another person that’s a principal. And I’m like, That’s great. Go to this conference. There’s like people, Wow. And introduced the keynote. The keynote is the head of the principal, the Harvard Principal Center for Leadership. And on the stage rock walks the old man I had dinner with, his name was Roland Barth, right? And so he wrote this incredible foundational book, actually it’s out of print now. So I helped use copies that I give to new administrators and it’s called Improving Schools From Within. And he talks about the strength and the secret to improving schools is the strength of people right next to you within the building and when you can tap into the power of people. And that fundamentally changed how I still see leadership. And I think when the old guys in the restaurant next to you and then he is walking on stage and he actually is the top instructional leader for Harvard, you should probably wake up and pay what he said.

Sam Demma (10:02):

That’s really cool, man. That’s a really unique, one of the odds out of the 4,000 people that you would be seated beside him at the table, right?

James Trodden (10:12):

Oh, make no mistake. My mentor did that on purpose.

Sam Demma (10:15):

Wow.

James Trodden (10:16):

<laugh>. So he would come in, he’d do amazing things. He’d be like, James, I think you need to learn about this. Here’s a couple tickets to Nashville. There’s this and this going on. I want you to go to this conference. And you’d go down and you’d work with somebody and it would just be these amazing experiences. But that was his passion is that leadership comes through experiences and he can create experiences. So I mean he’d send us in a bunch of to see different people if we liked the book or something, he would figure out how to call. Just an incredible way of,

Sam Demma (10:55):

With the role you’re working in now, I’m sure there’s lots of opportunities to make student impact. Is there also opportunities for you to be like that principal and try and put teachers in similar positions or what does the majority of your time and days focus on now?

James Trodden (11:16):

I think that lesson from Roland Barum left me that improving schools from within. And so what is the value that we can provide to the people? I mean, people have strengths, people have weaknesses. So let’s pick on you for a bit, Sam. What was your biggest strength on the soccer field?

Sam Demma (11:35):

My biggest strength on the soccer field was probably my endurance. I wasn’t gonna be outrun by anybody.

James Trodden (11:41):

<laugh>. Okay, so you got endurance. What was one of your biggest challenges on the soccer field?

Sam Demma (11:46):

Using my left foot

James Trodden (11:48):

<laugh>. Okay, so I’m not gonna put you on the, you probably played right side, correct? Yeah. <laugh>, I’m not gonna put you on the left side because I’m gonna get you to do better with your left foot. Yeah. What I’m gonna do is I can put Sam in there for endless periods of time cause no one can beat his endurance and I’ll put him on the right side. Cause I know he is gonna struggle with his foot if that in soccer, but let’s pretend it does.

Sam Demma (12:13):

Yeah,

James Trodden (12:13):

<laugh>. So when you look at that, I think that’s what role and taught is that I don’t have to make you a better player if I’m your coach, Sam, I just have to recognize that you’re great and create the conditions for you to be great. So it’s what we try and do what nobody has it all I had, I could list to you the number of left feet I have <laugh>, the number of challenges I have, but you know what? I got a couple things down good. And I play towards those strengths. And so I try and do that when we work with principals, we have a learning team here of innovation coaches and they’re all different people and every one of them has a strength. And they probably all have challenges <affirmative>, but I’m not gonna get them played left side. I’m play to their strength. And so I think that’s what roll wanted is that the people are there, that you need ’em, how give ’em, create the conditions for them to play to their greatness.

Sam Demma (13:09):

There’s a phenomenal analogy. First and foremost, thanks for sharing that. I think I wish I had you as my coach growing up <laugh>. There’s a book called The Power of Now, which is all about mindfulness and living life in the present and

James Trodden (13:26):

That Coley.

Sam Demma (13:27):

Yeah. And the book opens with a little parable or analogy of a fictional character walking up to a man on the street asking for money, sitting on a box. And the person he asks for money from as you would know says, Well why don’t you open your box? And he goes, No, there’s nothing in the box. And he convinces the man asking for money to open the box and he opens it and lo and behold, there’s the pile of gold. And the analogy was that sometimes the gold is inside you. My question to you is how do we help teachers and how do we help students actually recognize their strengths if they don’t even realize that they have them or maybe even a student? How do we create the conditions where those things shine and we’re able to appreciate them and celebrate them and encourage them to keep using that skill or so that we can identify what their strengths are and then put them in the right positions.

James Trodden (14:30):

And so I mean you hit the point is how do we meet people? How do we intersect with them? And how do we intersect not with people or the class, but how do I know Sam <affirmative>? How do I take those moments as a teacher, as a human being in life? How do those to know Sam? And there’s something beautiful that one of my great teachers taught me and she had said, What? Meet that and you see here and understand them. I’ll say that again Sam. If see them, if hear them and you take the to understand them. I see you, you’ve shared your personal journey, I’ve listened to it. Do I understand it? Maybe on the surface, but I’ve never got the chance to sit down with you and ask the why and why now and why tomorrow. So I’m beginning to understand who you are because as we talk we have more intersections.

James Trodden (15:31):

So when I see that child come in late where I see that child struggling with reading or I see that child that’s having a great time on the playground or he owns up here, we play soccer and so owns snow soccer, can’t even say it. What do I take the time to go there and the ball with him? Do I take the time to understand why can’t read? Do I take the time? Cause when I see him and I hear him, I generally ask kids, how often do little kids get asked, What do you feel about this? What could I do better? <affirmative>, do you wanna see a kids go crazy, ask them a couple things that they wanna do better about the playground and their ideas are, but do you understand, take the time to understand of right. So I think that’s when you at how do get to do of ’em? And do you understand

Sam Demma (16:33):

What was the gap between dinner in BC to James first role as a principal?

James Trodden (16:43):

My first admin role as a vice principal, What was the gap? It was a couple years in there. There’s nothing more beautiful than being a classroom teacher.

James Trodden (16:55):

And so how do you make that choice to leave that what you love most? And so it was a couple years of training. I started my master’s degree, took a bunch of courses, and then it was just the idea that maybe we could multiply where we do, teacher has a beautiful impact in the classroom, but can we multiply what we do and have an impact in the school? <affirmative>, can we multiply what we do and have impact in multiple schools? And can you use that philosophy of meeting people where they’re at and hearing and understanding ’em? Can you change your little corner of the world with that?

Sam Demma (17:38):

Sometimes educators have a mentor who walks into their life and almost randomly out of their control and is the most helpful and guiding person they could have asked for. I think on other occasions, sometimes educators don’t know who to turn to or where to go. I wonder what your advice is on potentially finding a mentor. And I think that most people in education are so excited to help especially if you just ask. But from the educators listening who aspires to learn more and improve themselves and they think a mentor would help, how would they go about finding one?

James Trodden (18:25):

Sam, you hit both the key point and the paradox of the key point teachers help. It’s sure there’s a extra chromosome somewhere and some genetic code that <laugh>, but what’s really unique about a profession, especially at the beginning is we’re the profession that kinda works and lives for the most part in isolation. So you take a new teacher, a new teacher, they took all their courses with their professors and their classmates and they go off and do a practicum and they teach with a supervising teacher and the university mentor comes in and evaluates and maybe the principal comes in and they do that the four weeks and then maybe the 10, 12 weeks depending on the program. And they do a practicum and then they get their own classroom, they walk in and the door shuts

Sam Demma (19:21):

<affirmative>.

James Trodden (19:22):

And those great leaders and great systems find ways to open up that door. But you hit the ground running so fast, you’re young, you’re new to the profession and it can become very isolating. So what we talk about when we had the new teachers here is we introduce all the people that will help. It starts with the person sitting next to them and it starts with our superintendent is there to help out, they superintendents there to help ’em. We start by pointing out all the people that will help and we say, You know what? The difference between your success and not your success isn’t your ability and skills. It’s not what And don know the fundamental difference between the success that you have will be based upon on do you ask for help at the right time and the wrong time?

James Trodden (20:16):

<affirmative>. And we start to break down of the closed classroom. So as a profession, s a lot different. Remember my first here’s list, there’s classroom shut and make principal doesn’t know your name. Welcome to B <laugh>. So why systems have done so much better breaking that down and seeing them and doing that. So yeah, I think we ought to continue to push that. So what advice would I have is that you need to go and ask when things are good and you need to go and ask when things are bad. And you need to take the time to see other professionals at practice and you need to not worry about what you know or don’t know. Because a year veteran will know more who hasn’t taught that long, but it doesn’t mean that you don’t have value to them and they have value to you.

Sam Demma (21:11):

When you say see another teacher at practice, do you mean physically sitting in the back of their classroom with a notepad and watching them teach? What could that look like in a hypothetical situation?

James Trodden (21:26):

It could be that simple. It could be asking ’em to come into your classroom. It could be you going into their classroom. It could be saying, Hey, you know what, we’re both teaching social studies. What’s the chance that we can both it and see how it <affirmative> taking those time and your prep time? And teachers are so they work so hard, <laugh>, so, and they have that time, they’re often pressured to things. But can you take the time to and sit Sam’s 15, he kind of heard that he’s really at talking kids and watch you in your practice.

Sam Demma (22:10):

You asked me before the podcast started, Hey Sam, you doing okay? Your eyes look low, your tone of voice because it’s getting close to my early bedtime here, <laugh>, while we record this, but you took a very intentional moment to actually ask me how I’m doing. And I think it’s so important that we don’t brush over that when we’re speaking to anybody especially educators who are always filling up the cups of others. I’m curious to know how does James fill his cup to make sure that he can show up every day excited to try and pour into others and do good work?

James Trodden (22:50):

I live at absolutely gifted life, Sam. I get to spend time with people I respect and <affirmative>. I get to work at a job that Ive spent decades doing the best I can to what I can. But you’re right, balance. How do you find balance in 12, 13, 14 hour days? What you find it by making sure that you’re taking care of yourself? Are you eating when you can? I think a lot of young teachers, they get caught up. So squirrel snacks here, hours. But I think at i’s that physical health I meditate twice a day at I do long retreats on the weekend and hours meditating. So that’s kind of my personal piece.

Sam Demma (23:46):

Now, do you meditate in silence? Do you use an app? If there’s an educator who has heard about meditation so many times but has no idea where to start and thinks it’s about crossing your legs and saying what would your advice be? <laugh>?

James Trodden (24:03):

I think there’s so many different entry points into meditation nowadays. There are apps in that, but I do something at times with a or I teach where if you were to stop for one and just close your eyes and to every sound around you and just say, I hear the beep of my phone, I hear the wind on the window, I hear the creaking of my as I back and forth, the of my shirt as if you sit for one, just focus on the, that’s just an meditation and that one, all the stuff that was in your head just stays to the side for a bit. So there are many ways and into meditation, so I won’t won’t it here to you’re in town.

Sam Demma (24:56):

Cool. If you could travel back in time with the experience and all the opportunities that you’ve been exposed to throughout your entire career and tap James on the shoulder in his first year of teaching, knowing what now, what advice would you impart on your younger self? Not because you wanna change anything about your journey, but because you think it may have been helpful to hear that when you were just starting.

James Trodden (25:29):

Yeah, yeah. Such a good question. To admire them, I think what every young teacher, I think what needed to hear and remember. And if at time during my career I struggled, it’s this key thing. And that is what we do matters. What we do. I talk about this and I want you to think about with all the superhero movies and all that, there’s always a question, what superpower do you want? Do you wanna run or have amazing endurance or you know, fly? I think that teachers don’t recognize that what they do matters. And what they do is they take that child in front of’em and they span out the timeline of their entire life, that child’s life, and they change the course of their history. So when you look at that little kid who’s struggling to read, you can do stuff in that moment that matters. And when they’re a 30 year old reading a book,

James Trodden (26:35):

That’s

James Trodden (26:35):

A pretty darn good superpower to affect history into the future. So it matters. What would I tell myself? Keep going. What you’re doing matters.

Sam Demma (26:47):

That sounds like a really good snapshot of a future movie that Marvel should be working on creating <laugh> like a superhero teacher that can see 25 years in the future and watch live the impact of their actions in their classroom. And every day they have a new experience with a new kid and see how it plays out in 25 years. <laugh>

James Trodden (27:13):

I mean, there’s a bit of faith involved in that, but that’s what a teacher does. It’s sharing half their lunch because a kid’s hungry and at the dark point of that kid’s life, they remember, Oh my goodness, my teacher Sam fed me and someone actually cared about me. The tough part is we don’t always see the years into the future, but there is no doubt that that is a superpower beyond comparison.

Sam Demma (27:39):

Oh, I love the analogy. If an educator is listening to this, feels inspired, curious about something that you mentioned or wants to bounce some ideas around or ask a question, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?

James Trodden (27:55):

You know what? Email’s always the best ’cause we’re moving, right? So I think my email is my work email, james.trodden@btps.ca. That’s for Buffalo Trail Public Schools. So james.trodden@btps.ca

Sam Demma (28:19):

Thank you so much for making the time.

James Trodden (28:21):

A hold of pick on him. He’ll give it to you.

Sam Demma (28:23):

Yeah, yeah. Reach out to me whenever and I will spam James’s inbox with all of your requests. There you go. And James, again, thank you so much for taking the time to

James Trodden (28:34):

Well, I’ll slow down. Slow down a second, Sam. I know it’s close to your bedtime and

Sam Demma (28:38):

<laugh>,

James Trodden (28:39):

But you know what? You don’t get out this a couple of things. You’re talking to teachers, so there’s gonna be some homework step two. So we’ll start with a question for you. You’re doing this podcast about educators, high performance educators. Yeah. Why would you choose in your life at your age, why are you choosing to put your energies towards this?

Sam Demma (29:04):

Yeah, great question. When I was in my senior year, I had a very clear picture built in my mind of what my life was gonna look like. <laugh>. My jersey was number 10 and it read demo and everyone in my school knew me as soccer Sam. That was also the start of my Hotmail email address that I carried with me through life until the end of high school. And I was very serious about it, not only from the athletic perspective, but also the academic aspect of my life as well. And when things came crashing down after two major knee injuries and two surgeries that I wasn’t prepared for, I lost a full ride. Soccer scholarship mentally felt like I lost my identity. And it was interactions that I had with Mr. Loud Foot. My grade 12 world issues teacher who is now retired, who initially just saw me as the quote Jock <laugh>, who was passing through his class to move on to his next athletic pursuit with kindness.

Sam Demma (30:13):

Of course his words really changed my trajectory and more importantly, my perspective of my own potential. I always thought subconsciously that without soccer, Sam was worthless as a person and didn’t have much else to provide because for 17 years, that’s all I did, 24/7 and every decision I made hinged around that identity. He was one of the first people outside of my parents and my family who I always would expect them to share these things with me. But hearing it from someone outside the household really made it made an impact. And he taught me that soccer was just one game in life, but life is filled with thousands of games. And the same emotions that I got from sport, I could get from so many other pursuits. And for him it was pursuits that had a positive impact on others. So why did I start the podcast?

Sam Demma (31:08):

This is a full circle moment when Covid hit, some of the educators that I knew about in my life were extremely burnt out. I would read their posts on Twitter, I would talk to them. I stayed in touch with a lot of the teachers that made an impact on me. I still actually every once in a while sit on Mr. L’s porch in front of his farm and we have a one two hour conversation. And I thought educators are really struggling right now just as much as students and students are being placed at the forefront of the support. But we’re all human beings and we all need support. Maybe I can somehow build a network where all these educators can get introduced to people that normally they might not have access to. And if they’re intrigued by something they say or share, it gives them a unique excuse to reach out and make a new relationship, share a resource, build a connection. And so it started with the educators in my life who I personally knew and very quickly just grew to people that I wouldn’t have a chance to talk to otherwise. And the hope that it would help build a stronger network and just share resources all with the hope that again a teacher might remember their purpose, why they started in the first place, and hopefully make another difference on a kid just like me in their grade 12 world issues class who is going through a difficult time.

James Trodden (32:30):

Yeah. Well thank you for sharing that. Think when you look at all the things and what should new teachers know, it’s that story and that story’s told a thousand times. Like Mr. Loud sees into the future, <laugh> your future and is able to impact it. And so think just about pieces. I think that’s what teachers have remember, is that story Homework time. You’re ready? Yeah. So you mentioned the Power Now by Eckley. Yeah. And you mentioned the opening story there. Have you read The Alchemist by Pu?

Sam Demma (33:05):

I don’t carry rocks in my pocket, but I love the story <laugh>.

James Trodden (33:11):

So it’s the same story that Eck tells. Right. And then the next one, have you read The New Earth by

Sam Demma (33:18):

The New Earth? I have not.

James Trodden (33:21):

So the power now is good. The new Earth totally is <affirmative>. There’s homework. I’ll be check, I’ll be checking.

Sam Demma (33:30):

I’ll it soon. Stay tuned.

James Trodden (33:34):

Anyway, I appreciate your time. Know it’s late in the night for you’re tired, but that’s good. You’re alive. That’s

Sam Demma (33:41):

Good. No, I appreciate your time, James. Thanks so much for making this possible and keep up the great work that you’re doing and we’ll talk soon.

James Trodden (33:50):

Thanks Sam. You will.

Sam Demma (33:53):

I believe that educators deserve way more recognition, which is why I’ve created the High Performing Educator Awards in 2022. 20 educator recipients will be shortlisted, each of whom will be featured in local press. Invited to record an episode on the podcast and spotlighted on our platform. In addition, the one handpicked winner will be presented with an engraved plaque by myself. I will fly to the winners city to present this to them and ask that they participate in a quick photo shoot and interview on location. The coolest part nominations are opened right now and they close October 1st, 2022. So please take a moment to apply or nominate someone or work with that deserves this recognition. You can do so by going to www.highperformingeducator.com/award. We can never recognize educators enough.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with James Trodden

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.

Donald Mulligan – Principal at Kensington Intermediate Senior High School and President of the Prince Edward Island Association of School Administrators

About Donald Mulligan

Donald Mulligan (@donaldmulligan2) is principal at Kensington Intermediate Senior High School. He previously work as Principal at Kinkora Regional High School and Amherst Cove Consolidated School. Donald is currently the President of the Prince Edward Island Association of School Administrators and Vice-President of the Canadian Association of Principals. He also serves as the Chair of PEI  Teachers’ Federation Group Insurance Committee.

Donald believes in making K.I.S.H. a safe and welcoming school for all students and staff. He coaches the senior women’s soccer team and enjoys supervising school activities. Donald has been part of the creating and instructing the PEI Administrative Leadership Program. This program is required for teachers who are interested in becoming administrators here on P.E.I. He is proud watching his students grow and mature to become productive members of society.

Donald realizes that it is only through the efforts of great teachers and a strong administrative team can schools become successful.

Connect with Donald: Email | Instagram | Twitter

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Resources Mentioned

Kensington Intermediate Senior High School

Kinkora Regional High School

Amherst Cove Consolidated School

Prince Edward Island Association of School Administrators

Canadian Association of Principals

PEI Administrative Leadership Program

Prince Edward Island Teachers’ Federation Special Associations

Leadership Through the Ages: A Collection of Favorite Quotations by Rudy Giuliani

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 (00:55):

Hey, welcome back to the show.

Sam Demma (00:56):

Today’s special guest is Donald Mulligan. Donald is Principal at Kensington Intermediate Senior High School. He previously worked as Principal at Kenkora Regional High School and Amherst Cove Consolidated School. Donald is currently the President of the Prince Edward Island Association of School Administrators and Vice President of the Canadian Association of Principals. He also serves as the chair of the PEI Teachers Federation Group Insurance Committee. Donald believes in making KISH safe and welcoming school for all students and staff. He coaches the senior woman’s soccer team and enjoys supervising school activities. Donald has been part of the creating and instructing of the PEI Administrative Leadership Program. This program is required for teachers who are interested in becoming administrators on the island of PEI. Donald is proud watching his students grow and mature to become productive members of society and he realizes that it is only through the efforts of great teachers and a strong administrative team that schools can become successful. I hope you enjoyed this conversation with Donald and I will see you on the other side. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today we have a very special guest. His name is Donald Milligan. Donald, please start by introducing yourself.

Donald Mulligan (02:20):

Well, I’m Donald Mulligan and I’m Principal right now Kensington and Intermediate Senior High here in Prince Edward Island. This is my 10th year here and I’ve previously been at four other schools. Three as Principal over my career. So I still coach, still coach, a girl’s soccer team. I’ve coached many of the sports and enjoy being involved with student life. So yeah, that’s it in a nutshell.

Sam Demma (02:45):

When did you realize growing up as a young person, that one day you wanted to work in education?

Donald Mulligan (02:52):

It took me a while. I grew up on a family firm potato firm and as years went along I realized I was really much better dealing with the staff and the employees than I was actually fixing the equipment and operating the equipment. So probably when I was in university, because I went to agriculture college for a bit and then I came back, took a bachelor of Arts, realized I enjoyed writing and took, got my ba, b e d decided to become a teacher. And in hindsight, I shouldn’t been shocked because my mom was a teacher for 35 years and I have an aunt that was a teacher for 35 years. So that’s in the family genes for sure. My sister’s a teacher but it wasn’t something I planned to do my whole life. And even at that point I was taking courses after university and I was amazed when I would take courses with a couple of guys or friends of mine from the first year teacher. They wanted to become an administrator and that was not something I had planned on either. It just sort of evolved as time went on.

Sam Demma (04:01):

Oh, that’s awesome. Did you realize when you were going through university okay, this is the path I’m pursuing was there a defining moment? Did your parents sit you down and Donald, you should be a teacher <laugh>?

Donald Mulligan (04:17):

No. Well, as I mentioned, I went to agriculture college, but I get there for two weeks. I was taking chemistry and biology and calculus and physics and I realized pretty early on that two weeks that I don’t think I’m gonna be overly successful in these courses. So I get out when I could still get my money back. So what happened was though I went home and I firmed that fall. And so it was interesting because I enjoyed working on the firm, but we got to operate the tractors. The harvest is sort of a fun time when you’re harvesting the potatoes cuz you’re in tractors and trucks and it’s good. But after that it was into a warehouse. So I worked at the neighbors from 8:00 AM to five at PM every day. And then many days our own family farm wheat graded in the evenings from six 30 to nine 30.

Donald Mulligan (05:10):

So I went days without seeing the sun. So it was like, I don’t see this being a career for me right now. So that few months when I took a semester off at that point in those few months, it’s like, okay, I think I need to go in a different direction. And then the next semester I took an education 1 0 1 or something along those lines and we had to do a little practicum. So an hour in the classroom a week and when I still remember some of the kids that I was in with that. So that one course was the one that really hooked me. It’s like, okay, I enjoy the kids and I sort of feel I’m good at it.

Sam Demma (05:46):

That’s awesome. You mentioned you still coach. Is coaching a big part of your life? When did you start coaching athletics?

Donald Mulligan (05:55):

When I started my career, well, I couldn’t get a job, ironically, yeah, head of university, I had a job, I worked as an employment counselor with Canadian Mental Health Association. Oh cool. And I really enjoyed that, helping individuals mental illness get back into the workforce. But it was a tough time to get a teaching job in our province. So I had many interviews and the first position that I could get was at the alternative education program. So I worked there for four years and I really enjoyed it. But to answer your question my first year in the regular system when I got the school called Somerset Elementary in my community, I helped coach the soccer team. So I helped coach that for a couple years with a friend who grew up my commu in our community. He was a volunteer, I learned some tricks from him. And then I started coaching on my own. So that was probably 1999. And I’d been coaching guys soccer and then girls soccer. Once my daughter started coming through the system, I switched over and coached the girls. And I, I’m still doing it to this day, but I’m lucky because I’ve always had great people with me that can look after the practices when I can’t get outta the school to go to practice after school during the day. But I’m more of a game coach now. The teachers here to tease me kinda

Sam Demma (07:15):

Shows up when it matters

Donald Mulligan (07:16):

<laugh>. Exactly. But when my kids were growing up, same as many adults. I coached them in soccer, I coached them in baseball. I’ve coached hockey. So just whoever needed to coach, I enjoy doing that and I feel that keeps me young.

Sam Demma (07:33):

That’s awesome. You mentioned that some of your buddies who were also in education at the time wanted and had this ambition and goal to become administrators right away and you know, weren’t dead set on that you just wanted to enjoy the journey and see where it takes you. What did your journey actually look like? What was your first role in education outside of the mental health job that you just mentioned to me in a formal school setting? What was your first role and take me through the journey that brought you to where you are right now.

Donald Mulligan (08:04):

Well, we did alternative education and it was only with junior high students and we were an off campus, an offsite building. And our classroom was in part of an old hanger at the CFB summer side where we were housed. And so doing that, there was 24 kids and two teachers. And so we essentially were our own administrators as well. We had to decide what the discipline was going to be. We had decide the rules or regulations, how to get kids to buy in. So right from my first year, there was a lot of administrivia that we had to do and we also had to learn that you need a backbone if you’re gonna survive doing that particular job. And then when I moved to my first school, I was only there a year when our vice principal left and I applied, ended up getting that job and been in administration ever since. I think I was a VP for five years at that particular school with a colleague who’s still a principal in the system now. She’s still someone that I work with. We’re on committees together still. And our neighboring school down the road, Amherst Cove Consolidated, had an opening as a principal and I decided I’m ready to take the leap. And so that was 18 years ago I think now. So took the leap down the road and it worked out pretty well.

Sam Demma (09:36):

That’s awesome. You mentioned that you’re on some committees. What does your involvement look like when you’re not in the principal’s office? <laugh>?

Donald Mulligan (09:47):

Well one of my mom, as I said, was a teacher and her best friend growing up became the, as a teacher as well. And Joyce Mcar, she taught me and she’s a great teacher, great person. She became the president of the P E I Teachers Federation just in my first couple of years. So I had a bit of an at the Teacher’s Federation, so she nominated me for took one, the pension committee, which is a little ironic when you’re in your first year or two of schooling, they’d be on the pension committee. But it was a foot in the door and I really learned the value of meeting people and from different parts of the island on these committees. I also you know, learn a great deal about our pension. And then eventually that led to being involved in other committees negotiating committee with the government doing that, you need to memorize basically the memorandum of agreement that we have and that helps you immensely as an administrator if you know all of the memorandum of agreement, what we can all do and what we should not be doing.

Donald Mulligan (10:56):

So that helped. And presently I’m president of the group Insurance trustees, so we look after our group insurance for all the teachers from Prince Edward Island. So I have that. And so that’s through our union. But then as part of the administrator’s association, I’ve been on the Canadian Association of Principals for the last four years. My term’s just about up here in a couple weeks time. So I’ve been vice president of the Canadian Association Principal. So I look after the CAP Journal. It’s lots of articles mid three times a year in that. And so my term is President’s, p e i, School of Association of School Administrators. And as part of that we’re hosting the Canadian Association of Principals Conference. Nice. So we have a big conference coming down the road here in May of 2023. So I’m with KJ White, so we’re actually looking for some keynote speakers for that right now and some speakers for the conference. So I’ve been pretty involved, but it’s been a great learning experience and it’s a great way to meet people throughout your province.

Sam Demma (12:10):

That’s awesome. It sounds like you’ve been very involved <laugh> in many different ways, which is great. You mentioned your mom’s best friend was a great teacher who also taught you, I’m curious to know, what do you think makes a great teacher? What is it that a great teacher does in the life of a young person that from your perspective growing up, your mom’s friend obviously had an impact on you. What do you think that she did that made you believe she made a big impact?

Donald Mulligan (12:39):

For me, I think the biggest thing is they have to show that they care In education, we have to show the students that we care about them and that we want to help them. We want to teach them, but we want them to be good down good people as well. And as an administrator, I think it’s exactly same with the staff that I’m dealing with. I have to show them that I care and follow through ’em in those steps that I do care and support them. So in my role now, I support teachers, support students, and I feel the way we show them that we care is doing the extra things. Because I personally, I can’t remember too many life changing moments in the classroom. I hate to say that, but I do remember lots of memories of extracurricular activities and sports teams and groups that I’ve been on over the years that have made a change in my life. So I think if we show we care, kids are gonna learn.

Sam Demma (13:37):

How do you show that you care? Is it through listening, getting to know the students on a personal level? Yeah, I’m just curious.

Donald Mulligan (13:47):

Well, for me, throughout my career, I’ve always tried to do outdoor duty in the morning. So I greet kids coming in off of the bus. I’m a pretty laid back guy though, so I’m not high fiving and fist pumping everybody. But I make my point of saying hello, trying to say their name, everybody coming in, ask them how the sport event went the night before. Or try and make some connection with kids every day in the morning before 8 25. Our school starts early, so they get off the bus between 8 25, 8 0 5, and 8 25. So touch base with the kids. And I touch base with teachers too, cuz you see many of them walking in at that during that time. So that’s one way and another way, as any administrator I’m in and of the classes trying to ask them how they’re getting along, what do they need help with?

Donald Mulligan (14:40):

But the student council, I’m meeting with them saying, How can we be better? What can the school do to make things better? What are some of your opinions? And we’ve had students on representatives of our district advisory councils that we’ve had in PEI the last few years. So they’re offering information that hopefully make positive changes in the school as well. But as we already talked about, you really make connections when you either teach them A or B, you’re volunteering and you’re working with them after school. So when you’re giving up your own time, you show them that you really do care. And so I find that’s the key as well. I still teach 25% of the day, so those kids that I teach, I really get to know those kids on a personal level. So by the time they get through grade 10, I’ve pretty much had half of the school pretty much that I’ve taught. So that makes an enormous difference I feel, for me anyway.

Sam Demma (15:36):

So you teach right now? Actually

Donald Mulligan (15:38):

At one 15 here I’m gonna be going, I’m teaching for the first time, math four two K. So this has been a learning curve this semester for me as well. But it’s been great. I mean, I’ve been learning, September was a learning curve for me for sure, but I feel I’m fine in my groove and I think the students that I have are starting to enjoy it as well. I’ve always been an English guy, but the last year I hired a teacher from the Department of Education who is an all star. She’s a superstar. Nice. She created the program that I was teaching, so it was pretty hard for me to continue teaching it when she created it. So she requested, can I take this course style? And I said, certainly you can have it because she’s a rockstar and we’re lucky to have her.

Sam Demma (16:24):

That’s awesome. I haven’t met many administrators that also teach. Is that something that’s common in PEI or is it something that you are trying to do because it’s something that you love?

Donald Mulligan (16:38):

Well, I’ve always been in midsize schools. We have today 357 kids in our school, so it’s not a huge school. So we we’re given an allocation to make our schedule work nice. And I find it certainly for some years it’s only manageable if I’m teaching and some years depending on how it looks like it’s a benefit if I’m teaching. But I’ve always taught, so I’m gonna keep on teaching because it’s usually the best 75 minutes of my day because I get to interact with the kids and the only thing I have to do is teach for that 75 minutes. So it’s awesome.

Sam Demma (17:14):

That’s amazing. I heard one time someone told me the best administrators are the ones that don’t wanna leave the classroom and the best superintendents are those that don’t wanna leave the school building. And it’s really cool that you’ve taught every single year, even though you’re in administration. I think that’s really unique and yeah, it’s really cool. I would’ve loved to have my principal teach me a class <laugh>.

Donald Mulligan (17:39):

Well Sam, it’s difficult to go and have a meeting and go over learning strategies or talking. I mean, we had the big three for a few years learning strategy. So if I can’t tell ’em and share what I’m doing in my classroom, it’s hard for them to take me seriously when I’m standing in front of the school or the staff, I feel personally and I’m able to do that because I’m not a huge school so I can do that. So I feel like it gives me a little more street cred that they know I’m in it with them. The same last year, my geography 4 21 class, we had 32 kids. So nobody was claim complaining about having too many kids in their classroom when they knew I had more than they had. So in some ways it makes it easier.

Sam Demma (18:23):

Your boots are on the ground, you’re planting the seeds with them in the farm <laugh>. So when you think about all the different transformations that you’ve seen happen in the lives of students, and one of the reasons educators get into education is because they wanna make a positive difference. And I feel like if you’ve been in the industry or the industry’s wrong word about the, you’ve been in the vocation long enough, you’ve seen certain students come through it, maybe struggling and then had some sort of personal transformation because of a caring adult or because of the way their teacher taught them. I’m curious if there are any stories that come to mind of students that you’ve worked with who were really struggling and had a breakthrough or a transformation.

Donald Mulligan (19:12):

Well, we have lots of students probably over the years that have had that.

Donald Mulligan (19:21):

I think probably there’s one kid in particular that I was thinking about and I taught him in our Bridging English program, which you may call a general English program. We have a bridging program that allows them to go to a academic if they’re, they’re successful student in there who he was with us for the full six years, we’re seven to 12 schools. So again, we’re unique and we’re the only one in the province that’s just seven to 12. He struggled in junior high. We actually referred him to the alternative education program in junior high and he come back and I taught him each year of high school and school really wasn’t for him, but through many of our programs like the English program. But the co-op program especially helped him so much cuz he got to a business in our community and the employer really took him under his wing.

Donald Mulligan (20:17):

And so he offered him, he was successful, the kid was a great worker, great worker, and he was a great kid. He just needed someone to give him a little bit of a chance. And then this employer did, and he hired him for the summer that particular summer. And he came back to school and got his grade 12. But he is more engaged because he could see he had a goal in mind then. And now he graduated from us still working with the same company. And he would be a real success story I think for all of us in the school that were involved while working with him.

Sam Demma (20:51):

That sounds like a phenomenal story. And is he working now? Is he graduating? He’s moved on.

Donald Mulligan (20:58):

He graduated probably three years ago now. And yeah, he’s been working full time with this company now. They put steel roofs on, so after the hurricane he’s working video. He’ll be working time solid for the next couple years

Sam Demma (21:09):

<laugh>. Awesome. Very cool. When you think about your experiences in education, all the different places, yeah, you’ve worked to the different roles. If you could travel back in time, tap Donald on the shoulder in his first year of teaching, not because you would change anything about your path, but if you could go back in time, tap yourself on the shoulder and give yourself some advice, what would you say to your younger self?

Donald Mulligan (21:37):

Yeah, that’s a difficult question. I guess when I think about that, I think about my first year that I was here at Kensington. So I was pretty well into my career when I came here nine years ago. And I already had eight years experience as a principal. But when I came here, what maybe took me back a little bit is that the first couple schools I went to, I felt the teachers appreciated just my leadership style. They appreciated that I supported them, but at the same time also made people accountable because we all have to teach to the outcomes, we have to follow the pacing guides. And I did that in my class and I expected others to do that. And when I came here this school’s in a little, I dunno if disarray would be the right thing, but the principal here got dismissed, which has never really happened that I can remember.

Donald Mulligan (22:34):

And so there was some controversy before I came and I came in assuming that everyone would appreciate having my form of leadership. And I learned over time that I really had to work. It took me a couple years to really get people to buy in because what I learned is some people, I guess all of us enjoy doing what you wanna do and instead of what you’re supposed to do. And when I started putting pressure on that, we all had to follow the curriculum, follow the outcomes, we all had to row in the same direction and it didn’t take quite as easily as I thought it would. And I think I probably could did a better job relating to the folks that weren’t on board at that particular time. And it was probably just more listening, maybe a little more talk. I felt that time I was doing enough, but you can really never communicate enough. And I think I learned that I needed to listen to their side and I probably needed to do a little more homework on what went on before I stepped in the door here because there was a lot of, well, I don’t know what the best word, but there was still some controversy and some friction among staff at that time. So there’s a lot of healing that had to go on and probably more communication should’ve happened. So that’s probably what I would say

Sam Demma (23:59):

To communicate more, to do a little bit more research before entering a new space. Listen, I think listening’s a big one. Sometimes we listen in an effort to respond right away instead of trying to understand <laugh> what the person’s saying. Right,

Donald Mulligan (24:18):

Exactly. It’s difficult to, because as an administrator, we all have so many things to do each and every day, but we have to remember that the teacher comes through our door. They probably worked up the courage for probably days. For some of them, it’d be days and maybe more that they came to us with a problem and they wanna be heard and usually they have the correct answer. They just need someone to listen to them, encouraging them, encourag them and reinforcing them that they’re doing the right thing.

Sam Demma (24:50):

Yeah. Oh, that’s so great. Well, throughout your whole journey have there been any resources groups committees, books, courses, anything at all that you found really helpful in your own professional development as a teacher? And that again, could also be conferences and things of this nature, but is there anything that you’ve returned to that’s given you a lot of insight into how to teach or just building your own professional practice?

Donald Mulligan (25:20):

Well, I think the same with any administrator. We all have mentors, we all have role models. And I have a couple that a lot of their courses, a lot of their leadership style I tried to take a little bit from, and in our system, we were very lucky. We had the gentleman by the name of Doug McDougal and Doug was just so positive. He was positive with all of us, but he all always made us accountable. So I remember my very first year as principal before I started, after I got hired, he said, We’re gonna talk in September and I wanna know, we’re gonna talk about the leadership books that you’ve read over the summer. And it was like, Oh, okay. Leadership books over the summer. So he gave me my homework assignment in a gentle way. And for that first year we talked about how the school was going, but b, more importantly what I was learning from the readings that I did.

Donald Mulligan (26:17):

And so one of the books that I read was from Rudy Juliana. He was mayor of New York at the time. Nice. And when he became mayor, New York was not a safe city to be in. And so one of the things that sort stuck with me was they started cleaning up graffiti as soon as it happened. And over time, graffiti stopped being a thing. But more importantly, or just as importantly, they started enforcing all of the laws. So jaywalking, which is a pretty minuscule offense I guess. But they really cracked down on that. And what they learned was many of the people at Jaywalk and they started to ticket them, also had many other offenses they were, and they were wanted some of them. So just by following through on all of the little tiny things, they were able to manage the get a hold of quite a few of the people that were causing the city to not be safe and make it a better city and cleaner city and a safe city.

Donald Mulligan (27:25):

And it, New York City’s amazing. We were down five years ago and my wife and I got off the subway and people could tell we weren’t sure we were going and we had four or five people offer to help us and put us in the right direction. We couldn’t have felt any safer or welcome than we were. So he did a good job. And so from that, I took, okay, in school I’m gonna focus on the little things as well. And we did, we started doing a discipline system back and we enforced the rules that we had set each and every day. And by doing that, we really didn’t have too many of the big issues. Very rarely, if ever, would you have a fight in the schools because we enforce the little things. So that stuck with me for sure. And one of the other things like that, Doug McDougal, Doug always was writing a positive note, thank you. Note he was giving a teachers giving it to administrators. So that’s something that not just me, but my whole peer group that grew up together, we all do that because we know it made us feel good. So we wanna make our staff feel appreciated as well. So we write little notes, put our teacher’s mailbox or give them them personally, and it makes you feel good when you win the classroom and see them up on a bulletin board on the wall so they feel appreciated as well.

Sam Demma (28:48):

That’s awesome. It sounds like Doug’s made an impact on you. Do you stay in touch? Is he still someone that you chat with?

Donald Mulligan (28:56):

Well he made an impact on a lot of us. And actually we just said an administrator’s retreat this past Thursday and Friday, and they unveiled a memorial award because unfortunately a couple years ago during Covid Doug had a sudden heart attack and passed away. So yeah, it was a tragedy for all of us, but now we still remembering I am and there’s going to be an award in his memory. But even when he did retire, I’d call him, I’d text him and get some advice from him or give him a hard time and go to Toronto Maple Leafs because he’s a huge Leaf fan.

Sam Demma (29:35):

<laugh>. Hey, me too. <laugh>.

Donald Mulligan (29:38):

Sorry to hear

Sam Demma (29:38):

That. Does that mean we’re not friends? No more <laugh>.

Donald Mulligan (29:41):

We can be good. That’s awesome. I’m a Montreal Canadians fan. I don’t know if you can see, I got some paraphernalia behind me here a little bit, but it’s gonna be a couple painful years for us, so I can’t really say too much right now, but I like the journey we’re on anyway.

Sam Demma (29:56):

It can’t be any worse than the Toronto Maple Leafs, so enjoy <laugh>. That’s awesome. Well, thanks for sharing that story about Doug. I love the analogy with the graffiti. That’s a great way to position the importance of the little things, not only in school but also in life. I think once you let one thing slip, it’s a lot easier for 10 other things to slip. But if you crack down on all the small things, you can manage the big things as well. If someone wants to reach out to you, ask you a question, send you an email about this conversation, what would be the best way for them to get in touch?

Donald Mulligan (30:31):

Well, my email address is damulligan@edu.pe.ca. Or you can just go to our school website and our email contact lists are there as well at Kensington intermediate Senior High.

Sam Demma (30:47):

Awesome. Donald, thank you so much for taking the time to call on the podcast. I really appreciate it. Keep up the amazing work and I’ll see you in a few weeks.

Donald Mulligan (30:54):

Thanks, Sam. Can’t wait to see you. Take care. Best of luck.

Sam Demma (30:59):

I believe that educators deserve way more recognition, which is why I’ve created the High Performing Educator Awards. In 2022, 20 educator recipients will be shortlisted, each of whom will be featured in local press. invited to record an episode on the podcast, and spotlighted on our platform. In addition, the one handpicked winner will be presented with an engraved plaque by myself. I will fly to the winner’s city to present this to them and ask that they participate in a quick photo shoot and interview on location. The coolest part, nominations are open right now, and they close October 1st, 2022. So please take a moment to apply or nominate someone you know or work with that deserves this recognition. You can do so by going to www.highperformingeducator.com/award. We can never recognize educators enough.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Donald Mulligan

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

Jennifer Bradbury – Executive Director of the Taco Bell Foundation

Jennifer Bradbury - Executive Director of the Taco Bell Foundation
About Jennifer Bradbury

Jennifer (Jen) Bradbury is the Executive Director of the Taco Bell Foundation. Jen studied Sociology and Anthropology at UCLA and followed it up with an MBA at the UC Irvine Paul Merage School of Business. She worked in events right after college and, from there, managed the Anaheim Ducks Foundation working with the owners, players and their families on charity work in Southern California. She then moved to Oakley and worked specifically on running their global cause marketing efforts. She produced charity events tied to sporting events.

Jen began her Taco Bell career in 2016 as the Senior Manager, Marketing & Business Development. She then worked her way up to Director, Strategic Development and was then promoted to the Executive Director of the Taco Bell Foundation in 2021. In her position, she oversees the daily management of the Taco Bell Foundation as well as Taco Bell’s philanthropic efforts.

Connect with Jennifer: Email | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Sociology at UCLA

Anthropology at UCLA

Masters of Business Administration (MBA) at the UC Irvine Paul Merage School of Business

Anaheim Ducks Foundation

Oakley

Taco Bell Foundation

Live Mas Scholarship Renewal Program – Taco Bell Foundation

Ambition Accelerator – Taco Bell Foundation

Summer of Inspiration – Taco Bell Foundation

Taco Bell RoundUp Program

Boys and Girls Club of America

Junior Achievement Worldwide

Ashoka

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 (00:55):

Today’s guest is Jennifer Bradbury.

Sam Demma (00:59):

Jen Bradbury is the Executive Director of the Taco Bell Foundation. Jen studied sociology and anthropology at UCLA and followed it up with an MBA at the Uc Irvine Paul Merage School of Business. She worked in events right after college, and from there managed the Anaheim Ducks Foundation, working with the owners, players, and their families on charity work in Southern California. She then moved to Oakley and worked specifically on running their global cause marketing efforts. She produced charity events tied to sporting events. Jen began her Taco Bell career in 2016 as the Senior Manager, Marketing & Business Development. She then worked her way up to Director, Strategic Development and was then promoted to the Executive Director of the Taco Bell Foundation in 2021. In her position, she oversees the daily management of the Taco Bell Foundation as well as Taco Bell’s philanthropic efforts. I hope you enjoy this exciting conversation with Jen and I will see you on the other side. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today we have a very special guest. Her name is Jennifer Bradbury. Jen, please start by introducing yourself.

Jennifer Bradbury (02:12):

Hi Sam. I’m so excited to be here with you today. Thanks for having me. I’m Jennifer Bradbury. I’m the Executive Director of the Taco Bell Foundation and we do a lot of amazing work with young people today, and we’re really trying to inspire the next generation of leaders and break down barriers to their education. So I’m excited to chat.

Sam Demma (02:32):

Let’s talk about it. I mean, <laugh>, tell me about when you got involved with the foundation, because I know it’s not your first philanthropic effort. tell me when you got involved with them and what initially even inspired your desire to be in a position to try and make a positive impact.

Jennifer Bradbury (02:49):

Yeah, Okay. Well, that, that’s a lot to unpack <laugh>. So let’s, let’s get started. I have been at Taco Bell for almost seven years now, but I have been doing corporate philanthropy for almost my entire career. It was something I fell into when I was out of undergrad. I did my undergrad at ucla. I majored in sociology and anthropology. really broad. Didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do even coming out of undergrad, but I started working in sports entertainment. and that after a couple of years of working on events at our arena here in Southern California, I pivoted just because of an opportunity really to do community relations with the Anaheim Ducks Hockey Club. So I helped start the foundation that the Anaheim Ducks ran. Nice. And we worked with tons of nonprofits across Southern California. We worked very closely with our players wives to help, help do good in the community.

Sam Demma (03:53):

Yes. we worked very closely with our players. So that’s really where I got my start in this work. It I went to business school at uc, Irvine while I was there, and I quickly moved over to Oakley, which is sunglass company. They are they’re a division of Leica based in Italy, but with Oakley, they had a nonprofit called One Site, and we delivered global vision care to underserved communities across the world. And then we did really cool charity activations with global sporting events. So it was, it was fun. It was interesting. I was in my late twenties and I got to travel the world. It was really all I ever thought a job could be until Taco Bell came along and I thought, Wow, this, this just keeps getting better and better. So the thing about Taco Bell and the Taco Bell Foundation is when we talk about our why and why we want to do work and why we go to work every day.

Sam Demma (04:49):

Cause it’d be easy to sometimes just not wanna do that. Right. Yeah. My why is I love connecting people. I think connecting people together is one of the coolest things. I think if I could build strategies and connect people, which is what I do at Taco Bell, I’d be very happy. And I am very happy. So here we, here we’re. but yeah, it took me a while to figure that out and the fact that some corporate philanthropy, which is really the feel good side of business, and when your business is successful, it allows you to do it in a really cool, meaningful way. It’s just, it’s such a win. I just, I feel so lucky to wake up and do what I do every day.

Sam Demma (05:28):

There’s so many programs running the Talk Bell Foundation that have a huge impact on youth and young people. what are some of the programs you’re really passionate about and sometimes involved in where you get to see young people Yeah. flourishing and making an impact?

Jennifer Bradbury (05:45):

Yeah. So we, we actually run three different programs at Taco Bell, at the Taco Bell Foundation. but I have to do a quick shout out to how we get to really run those programs. So if you go to Taco Bell and you’re asked to round up, please say yes because I’m about to tell you about three of the amazing programs. It helps, I have to tell you change. I like to say change changes lives. We have an average donation of about 46 cents, and that has turned into millions and millions of dollars. So our first program I wanna tell you about is our Mont Scholarship. And we are giving, we’ve given away more than $30 million to young people through scholarship support. And we call ’em be beyond the money resources as well. This year we’re going to give away, or next year in 2023, Sam, we’re gonna give away 10 million that’s gone.

Jennifer Bradbury (06:36):

So it’s growing so fast you’ve gotten to meet some of our scholars, but Lima Scholarship is really a program. young people receive between five and $25,000 in funding. It’s renewable for up to four years. So up to a hundred thousand dollars paying for school is really great. A lot of people need that help. so we asked students to tell us in a two minute video what they’re uniquely passionate about and how they’re gonna use it to make a difference in the world. The money’s awesome, like I said. But what I really love is our beyond the money resources. So we run conferences, we have an online portal, we set up mentorship opportunities, You need help writing your resume, or you wanna find a group of like-minded peers. We connect our young people with all of that. So we have about 1900 students in our program. Now,

Sam Demma (07:26):

Some of the most amazing young people I’ve met, they’re, they’re so talented. I think what’s really unique and awesome about the program is that it also supports the individuals who might be taking pathways that are not classified as the typical paths that you might take following post-secondary or during post-secondary. And as someone who has taken a very artistic path path, myself, I really resonate with that idea and think it’s so important.

Jennifer Bradbury (07:51):

A hundred percent. We love students that are going to trade school, two year school trade, vocational, pursuing the arts, whatever passion you have, and if it’s something that’s gonna make this world a somewhat better place, we wanna hear about it.

Sam Demma (08:08):

That’s awesome. So that’s one of three. I’m already getting excited. Tell me about the other thing. Okay,

Jennifer Bradbury (08:12):

<laugh>. So then we have our we called our community grants program. So we were in our 30th year as the Taco Bell Foundation. This year we gave away over 7 million to 400 nonprofits, but we’re gonna more than double that in 2023. And we’re gonna be giving away 15 million to nonprofits across the country that are supporting young people, get their education and break down barriers that they face in getting that education. So it’s organizations like Boys and Girls Clubs of America, City Year Junior Achievement College advising Core, and many, many more. There’s so many incredible non-profits that help young people today pursue their passions and get their education. So that’s our committee grants program. Nice. And then this year we’ve launched a pilot program called Ambition Accelerator. This is in partnership with Ashoka, which is one of the leading change making organizations in youth change making organizations in the world.

Jennifer Bradbury (09:12):

They are working with us to find, we call it Shark Tank for good <laugh>, but basically it’s stemmed out of Lima’s scholarship too. So a lot of our students are graduating, They have really cool, unique passions. They’re starting nonprofits and social enterprises, and we wanna be able to fund them and invest in them. So we have we opened an application period earlier this year for young people to apply through a video telling us what, what business are they starting, what nonprofit are they starting, and what funding do they need? So we now, next week, have 20 teams coming to Taco Bell headquarters to do a pitch competition meet all sorts of people to help them along their path, whether it’s with their business plan or public speaking, and tell us about their ideas and win money. So we’re looking forward to really taking our investing in young people to the next level.

Sam Demma (10:13):

Are, are you gonna be sitting on the judges’ panel being like, Here’s 10,000 <laugh>.

Jennifer Bradbury (10:17):

Right. I, I can have, like, I dunno if anyone, a few people know who Oprah is anymore, but I feel like I get my Oprah moments where I’m like, You get 10,000 and you get 10,000 <laugh>.

Sam Demma (10:28):

What, what keeps you personally excited about this work every single day? I’m sure there’s some difficult moments, but what is continuously driving you and motivating you?

Jennifer Bradbury (10:38):

Yeah, again, I think it’s just re it’s this next generation. Our, this is a hard, this is a hard world we’re all living in. I don’t think any day goes by that people don’t, aren’t stressed by something that’s happening in the world. It’s, it’s constant and it’s, it can be very overwhelming, but I’m really excited about this generation coming up. I think they have such a unique opportunity and so many tools and resources that I didn’t have, my parents didn’t have, my grandparents didn’t have. And I just want them to be set up for success and to be able to fix some of these crazy problems we’re dealing with. whether it’s issues with climate or issues with mental, mental health. You know, there’s just so many things they can, they can fix for us and fix for them. So I, that is what gets me excited is that there’s hope.

Sam Demma (11:34):

I love it. One thing that a lot of young people often tell me is, I don’t know what I wanna do with my life. And they, they struggle with, you know, figuring out the career they wanna get into. And I wanna backtrack for just a second, cuz you mentioned that after, you know, ucla, you, you kind of stumbled into the, the role you were in when you were going through school. Did you have this idea in your mind that you were gonna work in philanthropy and, you know, be working with the Taco Bell right now? And if no what do you think in terms of the actions you took is responsible for kind of bringing you to where you are today?

Jennifer Bradbury (12:10):

Oh, I love this question, Sam. I know is the answer. I did not think this is what I was gonna do. I didn’t even know this was a job, to be honest. and I think that’s what’s really amazing about what a lot of young people are going to be doing. Those jobs don’t exist right now. You’re really preparing yourself for a job that you don’t even know what it is today, and in 20 years it’s going to be a job. So you have to try new things. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, that’s my number one. I tried all sorts of things. I thought I wanted to be a news anchor. So I went and did an internship with our local CBS affiliate. I thought I wanted to be a talent agent. So I got an internship with a talent agency. Nice. I thought I wanted to potentially do something in retail.

Jennifer Bradbury (12:52):

So I went and worked at a local retail store. So you have to try different things, Try ’em on, It’s the time to try on Right. And see what you like doing. And then you have to be open. You really have to just be open to try to trying those things. and then when opportunities come, you have to not only be open to trying ’em, but you have to be okay failing. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Because if we’re not failing, we didn’t try hard enough. We didn’t, we didn’t push the boundary far enough. We didn’t, we didn’t reach high enough because failing is, failing is actually what happens when you try hard and you’re gonna fail. Not everything’s gonna work, it just doesn’t. But when you fail and you fail fast and you’ve learn from it, you’re gonna be so much better the next time around.

Jennifer Bradbury (13:40):

So I just think it’s, it’s you, you’ve gotta be, be open to new things, being willing to fail, fail fast, and move on, and looking for connections and people, people to, to talk to and, and, because you just don’t know what’s out there. So yeah, I didn’t, I didn’t know this was what I was gonna be doing. If someone had told my younger self this was it, I would’ve been like, That’s a thing. <laugh>, that’s a job. but I’m happy I’m doing it. I’ve, I’m really, Taco Bell did a, a job series not that long ago, called, or a couple years ago I guess now, called Best Job in the World. Nice. When I did it, I was like, Yeah, well, no one else can do this anymore. Cause I actually have it. <laugh>.

Sam Demma (14:25):

That’s amazing. One of my favorite musicians, rappers has a quote and he says, You know, I saw all my failures is Stepping Stones. And he released like 94 songs that caught no one’s attention before releasing a debut album that took the world by storm. And I really resonate with that idea that if we’re not failing, we’re really not pushing hard enough. And all of our mistakes, all of our failures, if we reflect on them, can be these amazing learning moments. And I’m curious, when you think about the times in your journey where you reached really high and pushed really hard and learn something through a failure or a mistake are there any stories like that, that come to mind of challenging moments that you think you learn from that other people who work with youth or who are reaching big could benefit from hearing?

Jennifer Bradbury (15:20):

I, I think you can ask anyone that works at the Taco Bell Foundation. I, I talk about this constantly. If we’re not failing, we, like you said, we haven’t tried hard enough. Yeah. So yes, I fail all the time. I think there’s things that are missteps or things we could have done differently regularly, but there’s amazing things that come out of that. So, you know, just talking about Roundup and where we are with Roundup and how we raise money to run the really cool programs that we put on at the Taco Bell Foundation, you’re not that long ago pre pandemic, we were raising five, five to $7 million in our restaurants each year, which is great. That’s, there’s something wrong with that. That’s a, that’s a lot of money to raise and give back. But fast forward to this year, we’re, because we try do things because we were willing to fail and not have it work. We’re gonna go from raising five, $5 million a year to raising more than $30 million this year. Damn. But that wouldn’t have happened if we kept doing the same thing that we had been doing. Right. You don’t, you don’t get different results doing the same things, so you have to try new things. I think that’s, so everyone could take that away.

Sam Demma (16:31):

Love that.

Jennifer Bradbury (16:32):

It, we’re all better off.

Sam Demma (16:34):

What we don’t have to dive deep into strategy, but from a, from a big picture, what changed that you think really enabled that much growth? That’s almost like six times as much <laugh>.

Jennifer Bradbury (16:46):

Yeah, it’s insane growth. It’s really, it’s really crazy. I mean, and that’s even just year over year is we, were, we raised $18 million last year, so it’s almost, it’s almost doubled. I, to be really candid, I was really sick of how we were fundraising. I was bored with it. I knew if I was bored with it, I knew our franchisees were bored with it. I knew our team members and our restaurants were bored with it. I knew our customers were bored with it. So I didn’t wanna do it anymore. It wasn’t not fun. Like, that’s the other thing is you gotta be having fun. We get one shot at this life, and if we’re not having fun doing it, what, what’s the point? And like, I use fun loosely, right? I’m using some air quotes here. What everything can’t be fun at every minute because yeah, life is hard and it takes work, but we’ve gotta have outlets that allow us to have fun and enjoy stuff. Because life is short, life is precious, and we’ve got to, we, we get one chance of doing it. So I was not having fun doing it, and I knew everyone else wasn’t. And so we had to try new, new things. And I honestly think to some extent, if you’re trying, you’re trying new things, you’re pushing yourself, you’re taking a risk, you’re having fun while you’re doing it, those are starting the, those are a lot of recipes or a lot of ingredients to put together a really good recipe. So

Sam Demma (18:07):

It’s so true. I think that is such a good reminder. Boredom could be a signal for change. You know, if, if you’re starting to feel bored about the things you’re doing, it’s not okay to just continue doing them. <laugh>, you gotta reflect on why. And, you know, maybe start charting a new path or pursuing something else, or changing the whole system and making it more enjoyable and having fun in the process. it’s such a good, Yeah, it’s such a good way to put it. And I appreciate you sharing that. I think a lot of educators over the past couple of years have probably struggled with burnout as well. And I’m curious to know, how do you personally fill up your cup so that you can show up every single day and give so much and manage so many different things? Like what is Jennifer Bradbury’s self care routine look like?

Jennifer Bradbury (18:58):

<laugh>, I, I feel like it should be better than it really is, to be honest. I think that’s somewhat something that everyone, like I was saying, we’re all struggling these days. I think that’s something that I probably struggle with too. But I, a big part of, of my self care routine is who I surround myself with. Nice. I’m an incredible husband. I have two amazing, they’re technically my step kids, but they’re my kids. and then I have a awesome dog. Nice. I have great siblings, I have fantastic parents. So I really feel like I’m so lucky with who I get to surround myself with and spend my free time with. I reading, I like to read all sorts of things. getting a good walk in I think is really good for clearing the mind. And then the other thing I’d add is I, which is I’ve not had with the pandemic as much as I had before, but traveling, I think being able to be fortunate enough to experience other cultures and other countries and other cities is just such a wonderful experience. And that really fills my bucket when I get a chance to do that.

Sam Demma (20:07):

I love that. Well, what kind of dog do you have?

Jennifer Bradbury (20:10):

I have a golden retriever. He is a English cream and he’s two years old in two days.

Sam Demma (20:17):

Awesome. Very cool. Well, happy early birthday dog.

Jennifer Bradbury (20:20):

<laugh>. Happy early birthday to Cabo.

Sam Demma (20:22):

Love it. Oh, nice. that’s so cool. I think when things get difficult we can’t lean on ourselves. We have to lean on each other. So it sounds like you have a really great support system which is amazing. And I would assume that your colleagues at work, probably also when things get difficult, are super supportive and, you know, help you along the journey as well. I’m curious in education, you know, an educator will hear about the impact that their program or their class is having on a kid. Do you also hear about the stories of how programs are impacting certain individuals with the Taco Bell Foundation programs? And if so, is there any specific stories, maybe one or two that come to mind that you often think of when you might be feeling burnt out to remind yourself why this work is so important?

Jennifer Bradbury (21:12):

Sam, I don’t have, you don’t have enough time for me to go through all the stories that I have of young people that are just incredible. Like I, you know, you said we, you got to meet a number of them, A number of our Lima scholars, they are, they, they’re the reason our world is gonna be okay and it, things are going to get better and gonna work out because of these young people. We all need to invest in them. We all need to build them up and give them the tools and resources they need to, to make this world better. One of the coolest stories that is happening at this moment is we have a Lima Scholar who was one of our original scholarship recipients. Okay. Back when we started the program about seven years ago. His name’s Jonathan. He was in, he’s into filmmaking.

Jennifer Bradbury (21:58):

Nice. He did a really cool listen, your video does not have to be good that you submit for our scholarship, like talk, talk to your phone. But he did do a pretty amazing application video. We ended up filming a, a mini little docu series with him about his journey and about what he was pursuing. He graduated, he got his master’s degree. Fast forward now, he is actually filming content for us to use in term to promote the scholarship and the work we’re doing at the Taco Bell Foundation. So talk about his journey coming for full circle. It’s just, it’s so inspiring to see. so I’ve been able to support him when he was, you know, 18 and starting to, to right now he’s, he’s running his company and building his business and we’re using him as one of our production efforts. So it’s so cool. Oh,

Sam Demma (22:56):

So cool. What a cool full circle moment. Yeah. And I, I’m sure there’s so many other young people who have such amazing stories and journeys. I met a few animators, I’ve reme, if I remember it correctly, and there was a lot of artists. There’s a lot of people Yes. That’s super interested in technology and, and tech. what are the different types of interests of students that apply for the scholarship? Like give us a quick example.

Jennifer Bradbury (23:20):

Yeah. Oh, Sam, you say an interest. We have someone, So one of our young people, she is developing a you know, obviously there’s a crisis with bees. Yeah. Right. In this world, we’re, we’re running out of bees. There’s not enough bees to, for the, for food. So I’m gonna butcher how she sheen should be on here telling you her spiel. That’s okay. But she’s so cool. She’s developed this very easy kit to basically start a beehive in your backyard. And so it’s so cool. It’s so simple to make. She has the such a cool sales pitch for how she, she does it. but she’s helping the honey bee population. Like, ah, she can have a passion for bees. So we have students who are of passion for food insecurity for cooking. You know, you could be on, on one, one side of the spectrum and the other having to do with food. We have people that are in the medical field, We have people that are in the teach. We have lots of teachers. it’s a huge group of, of people that are applying for our scholarship. Everything in between. So whatever you are passionate about, demonstrate that. And how are you making a difference? Listen, there’s, we have a duct tape artist.

Sam Demma (24:42):

Wow. <laugh>. Yeah.

Jennifer Bradbury (24:45):

So everything goes.

Sam Demma (24:47):

Okay, cool. I, I was super inspired. The event that I attended was the, or spoke at was the summer of inspiration. for people wondering what is it like to be on the ground? That one was virtual, but I’m sure you’ve done events in person as well. What is it like to be on the ground at a Taco Bell Foundation event

Jennifer Bradbury (25:05):

When the, our young people, it’s very humbling because as we’ve said, they’re all ridiculously smart and cool. so you, it just was, I’m like, Wow, I just, this is so cool to be, you leave, you leave. So talk about a bucket filling moment. Your bucket is filled after being at a Taco Bell foundation event, and we do it in a Taco Bell way. So it’s really fun. there’s really cool speakers. There’s lots swag, we love ourselves, Taco Bell t-shirts and hats and bags and all of that stuff. There’s lots of good music. We have all sorts of performers performing and good food. Obviously the taco truck always makes the parents so

Sam Demma (25:49):

Very cool. That’s awesome. I, if you could, we’ve talked a lot about the foundation Yeah. As a whole in your career. If you could bundle up all of your experiences, travel back in time, and speak to yourself when you were just starting your first role in philanthropy knowing what you know now and with the experiences you, you have, what would you tell your younger self in the form of advice? Not because you would change anything about your path, but because you think it would be helpful to hear at the start of that journey.

Jennifer Bradbury (26:18):

Yeah. I don’t know that my younger self would’ve listened knowing how stubborn I am, but I wish he would’ve known to believe in herself more and to have confidence that like, she’s got this, She’s got it. And don’t let people try and take you from your path. Don’t let you know, drown that. Drown the haters out, Right. Because you have to have confidence in yourself. You have to believe in it yourself. You have to advocate for yourself. You have to be your biggest cheerleader. I think that’s stuff I probably knew to some extent back then, but I didn’t know it the way I know it now. And it would’ve probably made things a little easier to have known it. So,

Sam Demma (27:03):

Love that. Thank you so much for sharing. It’s been an honour and pleasure chatting with you on the podcast. Thank you for sharing, you know, your experiences and good luck with the Ambition Accelerator event. By the time this airs, it may have already happened with thousands of dollars being given away on the project, so I’m so excited about it. if someone wants to get in touch with the Taco Bell Foundation, ask a question, or even reach out to you, what would be the most efficient way for them to send a message?

Jennifer Bradbury (27:29):

Yeah, so if you wanna chat with me, I’m on LinkedIn, feel free to connect. And then we have a, our website is taco bell foundation.org. You can learn all about our programs, you can get our Live Mont Scholarship application when Ambition Accelerator opens. Again, you can find it there. So check us out online.

Sam Demma (27:46):

Awesome. Jen, thank you so much. I so appreciate the time and energy. Keep up with the great work.

Jennifer Bradbury (27:52):

This was so fun. Thank you.

Sam Demma (27:53):

You’re welcome. You’re welcome. And we’ll talk soon.

Jennifer Bradbury (27:55):

Okay, sounds good.

Sam Demma (27:58):

I believe that educators deserve way more recognition, which is why I’ve created the High Performing Educator Awards. In 2022, 20 educator recipients will be shortlisted, each of whom will be featured in local press. invited to record an episode on the podcast, and spotlighted on our platform. In addition, the one handpicked winner will be presented with an engraved plaque by myself. I will fly to the winner’s city to present this to them and ask that they participate in a quick photo shoot and interview on location. The coolest part, nominations are open right now, and they close October 1st, 2022. So please take a moment to apply or nominate someone you know or work with that deserves this recognition. You can do so by going to www.highperformingeducator.com/award. We can never recognize educators enough.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Jennifer Bradbury

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.

Vickie Morgado – Elementary Guidance Experiential Learning Teacher

Vickie Morgado - Elementary Guidance Experiential Learning Teacher
About Vickie Morgado

Vickie (@vickiemorgado1) has been an elementary educator in Ontario, Canada, for over 20 years. She has taught multiple grades and is currently an EGELT (Elementary Guidance Experiential Learning Teacher). Vickie believes in empowering her students to take charge of their learning to create positive change in the world, becoming agents of change.

She holds a Master of Education in Curriculum Studies and has presented throughout southern Ontario at various conferences, including BIT and Connect and internationally at ISTE. Vickie is a Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert (MIEE), Global Mentor, Nearpod PioNear, Global Goals Ambassador, National Geographic Certified Educator and Micro:bit Champion.

Connect with Vickie: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Master of Education, Curriculum Studies – Brock University

English BA – York University

Connect Conference

ISTE

Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert (MIEE)

Global Mentor

Nearpod PioNear

Global Goals Ambassadors – United Nations Association

National Geographic Educator Certification

Micro:bit Champion

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 (00:56):

Today’s special guest is Vickie Morgado.

Sam Demma (00:59):

Vickie has been an elementary educator in Ontario, Canada for over 20 years. She has taught multiple grades and is currently an EGELT (Elementary Guidance experiential learning teacher). Vickie believes in empowering her students to take charge of their learning to create positive change in the world, becoming agents of change. She holds a Masters of Education and Curriculum studies and is presented throughout Southern Ontario at various conferences, including BITand Connect, as well as internationally at ISTE. Vickie is a Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert (MIEE), Global Mentor, Nearpod PioNear, Global Goals Ambassador, National Geographic Certified Educator and Micro:bit Champion. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Vickiw and I will see you on the other side. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator Podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today we are joined by a very special guest. Her name is Vickiw Morgado. Vickie, please start by introducing yourself.

Vickie Morgado (02:00):

Hi everybody. My name is Vickie Morgado. This is my, I think, 22nd, 21st year in education. I’m currently a elementary guidance experiential learning teacher. I support 11 schools working more with middle, middle school students, and I’m really excited to be here.

Sam Demma (02:21):

When did you realize growing up as a student yourself that you wanted to work in education?

Vickie Morgado (02:28):

 I think I was, early on I was kind of that kid that would like, organize all the games and you know, I see get everybody <laugh> doing something fun. But then in high school I was, I was this woman instructor and I really, really loved that. And then I volunteered in an elementary school around York University when I was there and I applied to the concurrent program and I didn’t get in the first year, but I applied again and I got in and and it’s been awesome. It, it just felt very natural. It’s definitely my vocation, it’s my calling. So it’s challenging. Every day is very different, but it’s a very fulfilling career. so it’s definitely, I think what I was meant to do.

Sam Demma (03:12):

It sounds like you’re working at the systems level overlooking lots of different schools. Would you call it the systems level or

Vickie Morgado (03:19):

Yeah, it’s, you know mm-hmm. <affirmative>? No, that’s a really good question. So what I love about it is I’m in classrooms every day teaching. Okay. But I get to do fun stuff every day. so the kids really look forward to it and I put a lot of thought and passion into the different activities that I’m working with. So they can range from, you know, like with my grade eight, I’m picking courses and talking about all the opportunities beyond high school, not just in high school, but helping them transition. But then I do a lot of work with technology and coding and STEM and trying to promote that with young women especially. so, but I’m really there to support teachers and, and just like our students or teachers are at all different levels. so I’m really there as, you know, I’m just trying to make learning fun ignite a passion and just be there to support not just our, our our our students, but our educators in learning and learn alongside them. So it’s, it’s, I love it. It’s, it’s a great, it’s been the best job that I’ve ever had in the 21 years, so I love it.

Sam Demma (04:18):

Within the 21 years, what are the different roles you’ve played in education? Tell me about some of the different responsibilities and positions if we were to use a sports analogy.

Vickie Morgado (04:29):

<laugh>. Yeah. No, I, I definitely have done a lot of different things. I like moving around and I love challenging myself. So I started off teaching like grade six junior grades. I moved into intermediate and took my intermediate qualifications. Then I got tired of that. So I went down to primary taught primary. I was a technology coach for about six months or so. so I was supporting PRI elementary and secondary, so that was awesome. And then went back to the classroom and now I’m doing this and like, I’m sure I’ll do something else in a couple years <laugh>. Cause that’s the way I rule. I like to keep learning and keep challenging myself and trying new things. So

Sam Demma (05:07):

You mentioned that every day in the current role you’re in is very fun and you’re very intentional about the games you choose to play and the activities. What are some of the things you’ve done recently that you think students really enjoyed or staff really enjoyed and you had a lot of fun facilitating

Vickie Morgado (05:24):

<laugh>? So right now I’ve been, I have one more school to work with. I’m doing a breakout edu. So it’s an escape room style activity. so it’s having the students kind of solve puzzles and they’re related to like graduation and high school credits and what you need, but also digital citizenship and also you know art, like, you know, basically questions to do with teamwork. And it’s just it’s just been great and they love it. and I love, like every experience is totally different. Every team is different. And I just love seeing how they interact and get frustrated and move beyond that and kind of learn. And then we consolidate that at the end and we talk about like, what went well, who could give a shout out to on your team, what did you see working well and relate that to like, you know, you’re gonna be in teams no matter what you do in life, and you know, what worked well and what didn’t and get them thinking about that and how to choose groups and looking for, you know, when you choose a group, I always say you want, you know, people with different strengths.

Vickie Morgado (06:22):

You don’t wanna pick everybody that’s like you. so, and how to navigate challenges and how to speak up when you don’t agree. And so I, it’s been, it’s been a really positive experience. So yeah, it’s been fun watching.

Sam Demma (06:34):

That sounds amazing. Where do you, where do you gather ideas from? I’m, I’m assuming some of them come from your own thinking, but is there a way or is there like a place you also gain inspiration from?

Vickie Morgado (06:47):

 absolutely. So I’ve been really lucky and I, I go to a lot of conferences. I talk to a lot of educators on social not just in my like, you know, school board, but like in other parts of the world. I see. I just saw something cool on Twitter that I saw somebody doing with coding and he’s in another board and I was like, messaged Tim Sep privately was like, I love this. I wanna bring this to my classes. Can we like talk and meet? and so we’re gonna meet on you know, teams or whatnot virtually, and he’s gonna kind of walk me through what he did. So I’m really big on like, you, the learning isn’t just in your walls of your school. Like there’s amazing educators out there doing amazing things globally. and when I was a classroom teacher, I used to co-teach with them.

Vickie Morgado (07:34):

So like in grade two we had this really cool, like solid to liquid to gas experiment where you feel like a balloon up with water and you know, so, and then, you know, becomes a snowman and you watch it through the states of matter. But to make it cooler, I was paired up with a class in Texas and we throughout the day we’re like messaging and tweeting and sharing like our snowman’s melting faster. And so Atlanta, we’ve done, we’ve done a lot of stuff like that. And, and that’s really helped me keep motivated through my career, but also kept me learning and also kept me growing and being able to really stay on top of my game and try new things. Cause students will get bored of, you know, the breakout and then you need something else to engage them. So yeah.

Sam Demma (08:16):

You mentioned you were a technology coach at one point. I also noticed you have a beautiful headset on that sounds amazing. So you must love technology to some degree, <laugh>. yeah. What was your experience like through the pandemic and how did your teaching style have to change as a result?

Vickie Morgado (08:34):

<laugh>? So that’s a really good question because prior to the pandemic Yeah, I, I’m, I’m a big person with tech. Like I, okay. I go to huge tech conferences, I present at tech conferences. So when the pandemic hit, I wasn’t afraid. I was like, this is my forte. Yeah. However, it was too much tech and I started to hate technology <laugh>, and that’s when I realized, I used to talk about this pre pandemic, but creating that digital balance with students was so important. And I got to a point where I literally wanted to throw my computer across the room and smash it into a million pieces. And I think we all felt that like, as wonderful as technology is it doesn’t replace that, you know, face to face contact, that connection. and while it was awesome that we had the tools, it most definitely cannot replace, you know, you know, being with people, no matter what anybody says, it really cannot. And so for me, it taught me to create more balance with technology and made me passionate about that. So in getting outside and, and just, you know, doing other things. So

Sam Demma (09:37):

You mentioned conferences. Is there any conference you are a regular at that you are like, Oh, this one’s happening again this year? Or are there any conferences that have occurred in the past that really equipped you with new tools and ideas and amazing connections that you think are really informed you of some new ideas?

Vickie Morgado (09:57):

There’s a lot of great conferences. I’ve been really lucky and I’ve gone to like, STA science conference and reading for the love of it is awesome for literacy. if you are into technology you know, Canada has the Connect conference in the Bring It Together conference. But you know, the Disney World, I guess, of technology for me has been isti, which is the International Society for Technology Educators. And I think I went back in 2015 for the first time, and it was pretty cool cause I actually ended up presenting with somebody that I had never met in person. We put in a proposal together and we kind of met there and we kind of presented together. We put everything virtually. And back then, this was pre pandemic. It, I, it was, we were doing some really cool things. Okay. But when I went there, I was like, literally there’s like 10,000 people there.

Vickie Morgado (10:47):

It’s like absolute like big huge conference. And there was all these people that I’d seen again online, but I actually got to talk to them in person. And so the sessions were amazing and all that, but it was just being able to connect with people. And when I saw what was going on on an international level, more North American, but definitely international and saw students from all over the world, I was like, Wow, I need to step up my game. Like this is, this is awesome. So I’ve tried to go back to that because to me that’s always been sort of the big, the big one for technology. But yeah, any, any, there’s some fabulous educational conferences out there and they’re a great way to just keep you learning. So,

Sam Demma (11:25):

Yeah. Are there any tech tools that although the pandemic has passed you continue to use now that you find extremely valuable in your classroom or with your students?

Vickie Morgado (11:36):

 yeah, there’s, there’s a lot of them. it depends what I’m doing. So definitely like video conferencing is huge. you know, just to stay in touch with like, educators that I work with internationally. But near Pod is awesome. I’ve worked with them since they came and I was looking for something that was like, you could do cross platform and Nearpod. I mean, it was, it was amazing during the pandemic because especially with middle school students, you often don’t know if they’re listening or if they’re on like Discord or doing something else <laugh>. So you can like ask a question and you can see who’s doing what and also you can share out their answers. And it’s anonymous. So where you’ll get like the same four students that talk, you get 30 responses. And so there’s a lot of power in that.

Vickie Morgado (12:26):

 yeah, that, that one is, has always been my one of my go-tos for sure. but if we’re talking like creation apps, there’s so many great ones out there right now we’re using, We video, we’re having a film festival that we’re working on, and the students are going to be creating their own movies that we just started. Yes, we did this last year. And so we, video is works well on, you know, Chrome browser and it’s just our students have Chromebooks, so that one is huge. but like, there’s so many amazing products out there that depending on what you’re doing, lend themselves really nicely to student voice and differentiation and all the things that we’re supposed to be doing as educators. So

Sam Demma (13:07):

One of the resources that I think are most valuable are other people. And I’m sure there, there’s other people in your life as well who have played an impact on you, maybe in the role of mentorship or colleagues who you lean on when things get difficult and they lean on you, vice versa. When you think about the mentors in your life, is there anyone that comes to mind that you think really helped you develop as a teacher, as an educator? Or was it a collection of individuals?

Vickie Morgado (13:34):

Definitely a collection. Like I had a really great elementary school experience where they valued my ethnicity and that they brought that into the, the schooling system. I had teachers that made me love learning that made me feel like I belonged, I was important. and that love early on, I think carried on to later in life. And then even in university, I had so many great people, like even my practicum leader my last year who was there for me. you know, there’s, there’s, there’s it, it always seems like when you need somebody, there’s somebody there for different reasons that kind of pushes you along. So there’s so many. And of course, like the team I work on now, there’s 14 of us. they’re amazing. My partner that I work with is amazing on my team and she just takes my list, like my ideas and I’ll take her ideas and I think we make them come out better. and what I love about Connie is that when we met she was like, you know, I just to warn you, my ideas are like really big. They’re out there and you gotta bring me down. And I thought, I said to her, We are in big trouble because

Sam Demma (14:47):

I didn’t say this. I’m

Vickie Morgado (14:48):

The same way. We’re gonna, like, we’re gonna have so much, much work on our hands and so many, cuz you know, it’s like, well, like I have an idea and then it ups it, it just keeps going and going. And I love being on teams like that where people are, you know, collaborators and they’re hard working and they push you and they question you. I think they just challenge you to become that much better every day. And, and that’s like I’ve been fortunate. Those have been the mentors and the people that, you know, keep me going. So yeah.

Sam Demma (15:14):

The idea of questioning ideas, is that something that happens often? Like you challenge each other?

Vickie Morgado (15:20):

 you know, it depends. Like I think in education sometimes we’re, but maybe elementary a little more than secondary, we try and we’re like really polite with each other. We don’t wanna step on each other’s toes. But I keep telling students, especially with the equity work that I’m doing, that we need to be okay to say the wrong things and challenge each other and know how to dis. And I think that’s a skill we had to teach more is teach kids how to disagree with each other in respectful ways. because especially on social, there seems to be more of this like silo happening where it’s like you’re just listening to everybody that believes everything you’re saying. And it’s like, these people are, you know, they’re way out there. But like, if we don’t actually listen to each other, nothing’s gonna change. you don’t have to agree with other people, but let’s have a dialogue and a discussion as opposed to just behaving each other, which is what I’m seeing on social a lot, especially when it comes to politics.

Vickie Morgado (16:12):

<laugh>. Yeah. So, you know, I want my students to be like, it’s okay to challenge me. And I’ve had students say that and I say that like, I’m gonna get it wrong. you know, one of the best lessons I did was critical literacy lesson where and I got this idea from a conference. There’s this website about the Pacific what is it? there’s this, this basically it’s a fake animal that they, we claim, oh, it’s a, a octopus that lives in a, in a Christmas tree, basically a trick <laugh>. And I told the kids that I was really passionate about saving this animal. And you know, I was looking for fundraising, you know, and we were gonna write a letter to their parents to ask for donations. And like, nobody really questioned me. I mean, they’re grade three and I get that and I’m in a position of authority, but yeah, like, doesn’t it kind of sound ridiculous that there’s an octopus in a Christmas tree? Like, and then after some of them were like, Well, I didn’t wanna be mean to you. And I’m like, But it’s not being mean. It’s asking questions. Right? Yeah. So we, you know, trying to teach them to like, and I get that traditionally the education system has not been like that, but I think we do need to to, and they need to advocate for themselves, right? so yeah, it, it, I think that’s a skill we should be teaching more.

Sam Demma (17:25):

That’s a phenomenal idea and concept. <laugh>, I think it could be used at older ages too. <laugh> to a degree.

Vickie Morgado (17:32):

Yeah. Like spot the fake news. Like I’ll get stuff from friends and not, or relatives and I’ll be like and then I have to like check it out cuz it like looks, the image looks legit, but then when you look it up and there’s different websites that will tell you and you trace the image, it’s fake. And then I have to come back and say, well that isn’t true. Right? So especially now, I think that’s really important to teach students like how to tell between fake and real. Right.

Sam Demma (17:58):

Yeah. That’s awesome. So how does you, how do you balance your day to day if you’re teaching in the classroom, but then also supporting other schools? Like how does it actually work?

Vickie Morgado (18:08):

 so basically you have to be very, very organized. Okay, <laugh>. it’s all about relationship building. Like, here’s this person coming into your room. I’m not there to judge you. I’m there to work with you. and get where people are at and what they need. So you can’t come in with like your own agenda. You have to really get to know the students and get to know the teacher. It’s all about relationship building, getting that trust going and you know, hooking them. So my first lesson was outside with the students doing cooperative games and I hooked a lot of them because they, they were like, this was so much fun, when are you coming back? Right? So you know, and sometimes it’s, you know, during pandemic it was being there for people, listening to people you know, doing what they needed in that moment to support them. So no it is a pretty good balance. I love it cuz every day is different and there’s so many different students and teachers and administrators and people that I work with that it’s it’s, it’s really exciting every day and every school is very different and so it’s, yeah, it’s, it’s, but organization for sure. and yeah, just trying to create that balance for sure is important.

Sam Demma (19:27):

Do you use Google Calendar and have like, color coded events on it? <laugh>

Vickie Morgado (19:33):

 actually, so me and my colleague we just use a doc cuz we’ll talk to each other and tell each other where we’re at. But I do, it’s funny, I have like my Google calendar, but I have my home family calendar still on like old school paper. Yeah. So it depends like, yeah, like for my personal stuff I use my Google calendar and then but yeah, definitely I have a combo of, I’m a kind of, I I’m kind of a hybrid digital and paper pencil. I still like writing

Sam Demma (20:00):

<laugh>. I’m with you. I’m with

Vickie Morgado (20:01):

You. Yeah. Okay. <laugh>

Sam Demma (20:02):

That, that’s awesome. okay. This, this is so unique. I think your role is one that is so important and different from a lot of the past guests that I’ve spoken to, which is why I was so excited to chat with you today. when you think about your experiences in education, can you recall a story where you may have met a student or a young person who was struggling and through education was transformed and how to breakthrough or really got over a struggle they were faced with? And the reason I ask is because I think a lot of educators get into this work because at the core they really just wanna make a positive impact in the lives of young people. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And I’m wondering if a story comes to mind and you know, if it, if there isn’t one specific one, that’s okay too, but if you have one, I would love to hear it.

Vickie Morgado (20:52):

There’s so many and it, what’s neat is in my role, because there are so many students sometimes, and I live in the areas that I work in, Yeah. People will stop me and talk to me and I honestly don’t remember their names. <laugh>. Yeah. Cause there’s so many of them. But one time I was at this red light and there was a police car next to me and I was like, Oh man, what did I do? And I, the, the police officers like waving at me. So I rolled down my window, I’m like, hello? And it was one of my students that I had taught in grade seven and I, I was like, Oh my God. I’m like, you know, you always kind of worry sometimes about some students and you’re like, ugh, like am I doing enough or, and we’re such a small part of their lives, right? Like, because really every year we get different groups of students are gonna have the teachers. but it was so nice to see, he’s like, Yeah, I became a police officer and then we joked and like, so you’re not gonna gimme a ticket

Sam Demma (21:48):

<laugh>.

Vickie Morgado (21:48):

And you know, it was really nice to see like where they’ve, they’ve gone and I’ve heard a lot of stories because I move around sometimes I don’t get as many people like, you know, you know, like I don’t see people coming back cuz I’ll move on, but I’ll be out and about and then people will stop me and then my kids are always like, How do you know everybody? And I’m like, I don’t know who that was necessarily <laugh>, but, and you know, like they’ll say something and I’ll be like, I don’t even remember saying that. Like, you sure that was me? So you never quite know how, what little tiny interactions. And when I think about even the teachers that I have an effect on me. It’s like the little tiny comments sometimes it’s not this big grandiose thing, but just that little like, you know, that that person believed in.

Vickie Morgado (22:32):

You know, that that person like had your back. That makes all the difference. and when I look at my journey, that’s true. Like I said, there was somebody, you know, it wasn’t this big person that made a difference, but like my kindergarten teacher, she let me play piano in front of the class. I felt like a leader. I felt empowered. My grade seven teacher, like made like learning so much fun and really made like English fun. And I went to on to be, become an English major because like I loved and I saw that literacy was everywhere and I loved reading. So like all along there’s been these little journeys and now I think actually the kids are my greatest teachers because if you really stop and listen to, you wanna talk about mentors, these students are phenomenal. And you know, they are, they can be your, everybody has something to teach you. I truly believe that if you’re willing to just like listen and just be open to learning from them and you know that, that is true, I think of all students regardless of their abilities and needs. Like they’re, I think we’re all here to kind of teach each each other something. So

Sam Demma (23:35):

If you could teach yourself something by taking all the experiences you’ve had in education, traveling back, I think you said 21 years or 22 years, and tapping Vicki on the shoulder in her first year teaching, what would you have relayed in terms of advice to your younger self when you were just starting to get into this work? Not because you would’ve changed anything about your journey or the way it unfolded, but because you think it would’ve been beneficial to hear at the start of the whole career.

Vickie Morgado (24:07):

 it’s funny, I, I work, I do do a lot of presentations. I work with faculty students and you know, it’s, it’s like running a marathon almost. And I have run a marathon so I can tell you it’s not always fun, <laugh>,

Vickie Morgado (24:20):

I did it once and I’ll never do it again and I finish it. But you know, there’s times where you’re gonna wanna quit and, but you’ve done the training and you just gotta like keep going. there’s those people on the side cheering you on when you’re running a marathon that are strangers, <laugh> and you’re like, Thank God <laugh>. Cause you just wanna quit. But you hear that, that stranger and you, they’re like, and they can see your name and, and just hearing it gives you that little edge. And so find those. I think it was Fred Rogers said, Find the helpers, find the people stay inspired. Don’t let the politics drag you down. you’re more than enough. You’ve got this, you’re gonna mess up. be compassionate towards yourself and you know, you know, know that you’re trying your best, but the system isn’t perfect.

Vickie Morgado (25:08):

And always advocate for the the students that the system is, you know, the underserved in the system. That should be your goal. And you know, the relationships and, and those students are important. Yes, curriculum’s important, but the end of the day it’s about, you know, making those students love learning, recognize their awesomeness and their people and you know, they’re at a stage in their journey that they, they just need somebody that believes in them. And you know, you can’t, you know, the other thing I would say is you never know what’s going on in a student’s life. So don’t assume anything and try to really listen, listen with an open heart and you know, recognize the privilege that you have in your job and the power that you have.

Sam Demma (25:54):

Such an awesome, insightful answer. Thank you so much for that, and for sharing some of your ideas, the resources you found helpful, a little bit about your journey and education. If an educator is listening to this and wants to reach out, have a conversation, bounce some ideas around, what would be the best way for them to reach out and get in touch with you?

Vickie Morgado (26:11):

Definitely on Twitter, ’causeI’m a little addicted. <laugh>. Ok. yeah, social is great. You can also, I am on Instagram, but it’s more like, that’s more for fun. So yeah, probably Twitter would be the best place to find me, and it’s @vickiemorgato1 My name was taken <laugh>, so I had to add a one.

Sam Demma (26:31):

I was like, are you the only.

Vickie Morgado (26:33):

<laugh>? Yeah, no, there was somebody from Brazil with my name at the time, so I had to add a one. So. Nice.

Sam Demma (26:38):

Yeah. Okay. Awesome. Thank you Morgato. Thank you so much for coming on the podcast. I appreciate it. Keep up the amazing work you’re doing and we’ll talk soon.

Vickie Morgado (26:47):

Thanks. Thanks so much, Sam.

Sam Demma (26:49):

I believe that educators deserve way more recognition, which is why I’ve created the High Performing Educator Awards. In 2022, 20 educator recipients will be shortlisted, each of whom will be featured in local press. invited to record an episode on the podcast, and spotlighted on our platform. In addition, the one handpicked winner will be presented with an engraved plaque by myself. I will fly to the winner’s city to present this to them and ask that they participate in a quick photo shoot and interview on location. The coolest part, nominations are open right now, and they close October 1st, 2022. So please take a moment to apply or nominate someone you know or work with that deserves this recognition. You can do so by going to www.highperformingeducator.com/award. We can never recognize educators enough.

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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.