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Teacher

Claire Kelly (OCT) — Assistant Head of School: Student Life at Appleby College, an independent grades 7-12 school in Oakville, Ontario

Claire Kelly (OCT) — Assistant Head of School: Student Life at Appleby College, an independent grades 7-12 school in Oakville, Ontario
About Claire Kelly

Claire Kelly (@ClearGreenDay) serves as Assistant Head of School: Student Life, at Appleby College, an independent grades 7-12 school in Oakville, Ontario. Her responsibilities include leading a portfolio of outstanding student-centric experiences in Arts, Athletics, Service, Student Leadership, and Boarding Life, supporting coaching and leadership development experiences for faculty and students, and facilitating opportunities for student growth and school culture.

Claire teaches English and AP Capstone Research, where she has supervised over 70 academic Research studies, an array of which have been published in external peer-reviewed journals. Claire earned her PhD from OISE/UT (’19), in Leadership, Higher, and Adult Education.

Her interests include leadership development and organization change, career patterns, and gender representation, and Independent school headships in Canada. Claire has co-led affinity groups for women leaders and taught the Women in Leadership module each summer since 2019 with Canadian Accredited Independent Schools (CAIS). She has written three children’s books (Rubicon) that combine her love of travel with her passion for Arts, Literature, and Social Sciences, all designed to cultivate young readers.

Claire loves to run, paddle, dance, and play sports. Her love of learning continues beyond the classroom with hobbies such as learning guitar, enjoying music, and travelling. She lives with her husband, Nicholas, also, an educator, two sons, Julian and James, and mini-Doodle, Piper, on the beautiful Appleby campus.

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

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Appleby College

Leadership, Higher, and Adult Education – OISE/UT

Canadian Accredited Independent Schools (CAIS)

Rubicon Publishing

Student Leadership – Appleby College

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. Today I’m very excited, we have a special guest, Dr. Claire Kelly. Dr. Kelly, please take a moment to introduce yourself to everyone who’s tuning in today.

Claire Kelly
Hi Sam, it’s great to be here. Please call me Claire. I am a teacher going into my 25th year of teaching, which is amazing to me. I don’t know how that happened. And I am currently an assistant head of school at Appleby College, and I’m head of student life there. So I work a lot with students and very closely with all aspects of the student experience.

Sam Demma
When did you realize in your journey as a student and young professional that you wanted to work in education?

Claire Kelly
Yeah, that’s a great question. As in like what got me into this work?

Sam Demma
Yeah, well, everyone has a very different pathway. Some people tell me they built dollhouses in their basement and taught the toys class. Some people told me that their family worked in education and they followed that pathway. What was your journey into working in schools?

Claire Kelly
Yeah, I guess, you know, ultimately, I started, I became a teacher because I love working with students, with children, with adolescents. You know, unlike many people, I love adolescents. I think they’re really amazing and they have so much to teach us. So, but yeah, going back to the start, I guess my father was a professor, my aunt was a school teacher, so I had some familial influences. However, yeah, I think, you know, teachers in high school certainly left strong impressions on me. I had some great teachers, they helped me better understand myself. I was also an athlete for much of my schooling. I spent a lot of time out of school in some ways, but a lot of time with coaches. And I loved working with people to accomplish goals, like whether it was as an athlete or as whether it was like individual athlete or on a team. I just loved being able to make those connections through sport. And I love the drama that you get from, you know, going through a game together or I was a figure skater for a long time, so like a four minute solo and all the preparation and all the people that go into making that happen. Yeah, and I think, you know, ultimately I like movement, I like variety, I love that teaching is never the same day twice. And we have this incredible ability to meet so many people, which is incredible. And I love the rhythms of the days and the years. So, yeah, I have to say I’m really happy where I am. I’m really glad I chose this. It just seemed like a natural part of – natural place I would end up.

Sam Demma
The rhythm and changes and movement as a school teacher are very vast. I’m sure it’s very similar with the role you’re in right now in student life. What does being the head of student life look like? What is the day-to-day in this position currently, what does it entail for someone who’s never been in that position or doesn’t know too much about it?

Claire Kelly
Yeah, that’s a great question. It’s an incredible role. I absolutely love it. I’ve been, this is my third year in that role. So I’m relatively new and it involves arts, athletics, service opportunities and running the co-curricular program for students, which is at our school is mandatory. So we have a very robust co-curricular program with, you know, approximately 60 different opportunities for kids. We also have a student leadership and a fantastic student leadership program with, you know, so many formalized responsibilities that are graduated really from grade 9 to grade 12. And then we have the Boarding Life program, which is, you know, our school is a day school, but it’s also a boarding school and we’re one of the only schools in North America that has mandatory boarding program for all their grade 12 students, so they move on campus and then they and then they get they stay and they live that year and understand you know a little bit more about themselves and what they need to prepare for classes and get ready in the morning and you know feed themselves and all sorts of life skills, as well as a fantastic university prep experience. So, a lot of our parents will say things like, you know, this is almost like the dress rehearsal for going off to university, which is really an incredible opportunity. So student life looks like having a sense of really getting to know students really, really well from breakfast in the morning through study in the evenings, certainly at this school, and having a good sense of what they need and what drives them to be the best they can be.

Sam Demma
I felt very honored that I was able to visit the school and tour campus when it was around Thanksgiving time and I had this beautiful potato lunch. And it was delicious. It sounds like there- I love this thing.

Claire Kelly
There’s an exo group that runs our dining hall. It’s incredible.

Sam Demma
It sounds like there are so many unique opportunities for the students, even the staff, as a part of student life on campus. One of my favorite authors is a gentleman named Jim Rohn. He talks about the seasons of life and how they can be tied to the seasons of business or just like the idea that there’s rhythms to things. And he has a phrase, he says, you know, after opportunity is always adversity in some way, shape or form. You know, with lots of opportunities, there’s also challenges. And I’m curious, what are some of the challenges that you think you’re faced with right now at school or on campus?

Claire Kelly
Yeah, that’s such a great question. How long do we have? Yeah, I mean, there are always challenges. So we could name off. There are some significant challenges that our students are facing. There’s eco-anxiety, there’s mental health, there’s DEIB, how to better integrate and have a more just world. There’s Indigenous reconciliation, especially in Canada. It’s hard not to think of that as top of mind. University admissions, that might be not as grand a scale as some of the other challenges, but it’s certainly a significant landscape for our students and it’s a very changing landscape right now and with the latest news from federal government and it will be interesting to see what that means in terms of the impact even on undergrad students and the available programming. So, kind of watching that closely. Socioeconomics, you know, it’s really hard to buy a house right now. It’s hard to buy a house anytime, but certainly it’s very challenging for any student growing up in this generation is looking at some big challenges, how to fund the life that they want to lead. You know, increasingly VUCA world every time I turn on the news. So, there are some big, big challenges.

Claire Kelly
I guess how do we deal with that? Well, you know, day by day as much as possible. We hope there’s a strategic plan of some sort. And that helps. And like ultimately, like, I guess a lot of people have seen opportunity in challenge and there is always opportunity in challenge. You know, the Dalai Lama talks about that. Whenever there’s a challenge, there’s an opportunity to face it, to demonstrate it, to develop our will and determination. I’d also say, like, as school teachers, we’re kind of right in the rhubarb. We’re dealing with some of this every day because this is the student world. And I’d say that, you know, humbly, we continue to work on these. We have time, we have space, and we have these incredible moments of dialogue that we get to sit and work with a huge collective of youth. And that’s a pretty magical place. So we learn from them, they learn from us. It’s a pretty neat thing. So and then, you know, we have these great opportunities as well, certainly at our school, where we bring in highly motivated and motivational speakers like yourself. So that was really wonderful to have. But, you know, I think, you know, I work with some really incredible people. I work with motivated, kind, talented people, and they see challenges as opportunities to do things better. That’s really the only thing we can do is try to find the opportunity in it. We think certainly for teenagers, challenge is an inherent part of being a teenager. You’re always challenging, challenging yourself, you’re challenging other people, you’re pushing boundaries, you’re trying to find that light. It’s a pretty exciting space when you think about it. It’s like that liminality, you know, you’re in the middle of something. And it’s really essential to growth. So the question is really for me is how do we tackle the challenges and how can we have impact in our school’s culture? How can we arm these kids with the skills that, you know, they have nascent within them? How do we, how do we develop those and give them to them so that they can have an impact on their larger worlds? So I don’t know if I fully answered that, but that’s kind of what we do. I try to do everything.

Sam Demma
Yeah. I love the idea of seeing opportunities within the challenges. The same author I mentioned, Jim Rohn, he always says, we can’t change the seasons, but we can change ourselves. And if we do change ourselves, everything changes. And it’s like the challenges are gonna be there, but it’s our perception of them that makes all the difference. What of the programs you ran last year, or even in the past couple of years, do you remember having a really positive impact if there are other people tuning in thinking, oh, maybe they can consider this for their school or their community as well?

Claire Kelly
Yeah, that’s a great question. Well, as I mentioned, we have a very robust co-curricular program, so that’s pretty amazing. Students can choose from, you know, participating in a sports team or joining an all-school play, or trying their hand at robotics or design or working with seniors. We have a group, or several groups, that go out actually into the community and work with seniors and work with school children and try to find time and space to work together and learn from each other. So that’s pretty neat. Other programs that were really successful, I did mention the Student Leadership Program which certainly I’m really proud of, spending a lot of time with motivated kids gives me a great deal of hope. I think, yeah, when we talk about programming, it’s really about giving students opportunities, especially I think in that early teen time, you know, that tween, pre-teens or tween time, when they don’t really know who they are, finding time, finding space, finding people who will give them something to help them think a little bit more or discover something new. So one of the things we do pretty well at our school is we have a significant breadth of opportunity and we try to offer, we offer so much. Sometimes it’s challenging to do so, but the breadth is really to really offer students an opportunity to try something new, get to know themselves, get to maybe change their mindset about things they thought they didn’t like or areas where they didn’t think they that, yeah, give them that time to really dive in. And it’s okay if you don’t like it, it’s kind of a, it’s a very low risk, very safe opportunity. But really finding those moments to, yeah, to realize that, hey, you know what, I’m not just an athlete, I really like singing, or I want to try stand-up comedy, or I want to try to see if I can plant a sustainable garden. So how are you going to spend your time? How are you going to spend your life? That’s really it in a nutshell. So we try to challenge them through opportunities to help them discover a little bit more about themselves. And it’s pretty neat to see in a teenager’s life to change from say, grade eight to grade 12. It’s sometimes it’s, well, it’s always remarkable. And sometimes it’s really, really surprising.

Sam Demma
When you think about seeing those changes in students, what does that look like? Is it a change in behavior? Is it, they start very shy or uninvolved and the time they’re graduating the school, they’re involved in everything? What does that actually tangibly look like in your experience?

Claire Kelly
Yeah, I think that’s a great question. It is all of those things. I guess it’s a change very much in confidence, and it’s that confidence to, it’s okay to be myself, it’s okay to try things, it’s okay if I’m not cool, because actually like embracing that and recognizing that you’re trying something new and there’s a chance you could fail, that makes you really brave, that makes you really cool, ironically, right? And then it’s really neat to see the shift in students, both in terms of individual but also in collectives where they’re like, oh, that is, it’s amazing what you did. It’s incredible that, you know, you want to lead the academic council. Good for you. Let’s all jump on board because you’re doing some really neat things there and I want to be part of it. And I think that’s something that comes with confidence. I think, you know, grade seven, grade eight, grade nine can be tough. Those are tough years for students. And we need to give them a lot of support. We need to remind them that they should be trying new things. They don’t know everything about the world yet and challenge them to engage. And I think as long as we can keep them engaged and keep them talking and keep them with an eye towards the future, that they can really start to thrive. Yeah, so I would say that students… I’ve seen… well, last week, let me think of an Last week I was at a karaoke show that was run by some students and we had significant participation from students in the evening, it was a fundraiser, and they had to do a little bit of preparation. And we must have had 12 acts that were coordinated, planned, choreographed, and I guess the thing that struck me, and several of the other teachers there, if I can speak on behalf of a few of us in the audience was some of the students that I saw in grade 9 who were quiet and shy and reserved and really trying to find their place. We’re up there in the middle of it all, taking the lead, feeling comfortable, really owning that stage and you know that would be, that’s a very visual example.

Claire Kelly
It doesn’t always have to be, you know, someone who seems introverted becoming an extrovert because that’s not necessarily what we want either. You know, I have a lot of time for introverts and I think being able to stand on stage and perform is not necessarily what everyone needs to do, but I do think that it was a pretty great reminder of how confidence can propel students to new heights and give them the self-awareness that hey maybe I already had that in me. I had those those really nascent performing skills or I really wanted to show off my dancing and having my friends around me doing the same thing allowed me to do that or the environment was safe and it was low risk and I could do this. And maybe it took four years to get there, but it’s a memory that they’re going to have. And I think it’s also a skill that’s going to propel them forward. So that’s really what I saw. I think about a little talent show I had when I was in elementary school and I rapped a song by Eminem with two of my friends

Sam Demma
I think about a little talent show I had when I was in elementary school and I rapped a song by Eminem with two of my friends. It was absolutely terrible but I still think about it and I remember the feeling I had personally when I walked off stage and felt so proud that I did it Knowing that I was really nervous knowing that I was really Embarrassed even a little bit about the performance, but that I still showed up anyway. And I’m sure so many students built so much confidence as a result of that event. And if you’re listening right now, thinking about doing something similar, use this as a case study. I think it provides such a unique opportunity for students and staff to introspect and reflect being a part of the experience. Something you said earlier was that students throughout school are learning so much about themselves. And I believe that all humans are consistently learning things about themselves as they go through life. And one of the greatest teachers is our own mistakes, our own learnings. And I think about myself, you know, I just organized a cross candidate trip, and I was a pretty terrible manager of others. I tried with my limited skill set managing others, and it all went well from other people’s perspectives, including the people I managed, but I learned a lot. And there’s a lot of things I would do differently if I did something like that again. I’m curious, what are some of your learnings in education as an educator that other educators tuning in might be able to learn from your experiences?

Claire Kelly
Wow, well that’s a great question, Sam. And thank you. I like your little anecdote of bringing everyone across Canada. That’s really, that sounds like an amazing trip. That was cool. I guess in terms of mistakes, I’m sure I’ve made many and probably on a daily basis. So I’m pretty comfortable with most of them, I think. I think, you know, there are always an opportunity for learning. And as educators, you know, I think we go into education because we like learning, we were lifelong learners and there’s nothing like experience. So I think like personally, yes, of course, lots of mistakes professionally. I’d say that, you know, one that comes to mind for me is in the beginning of my career, I taught English and history. I still teach English, but not history. And I teach a little bit, not as much as I used to now that I’m in an assistant head role, but in the, yeah, at the very beginning, in the first few years, I talked far too much. I just, I thought, I don’t know what I thought. I, I, I, you know, too much lecturing, too much standing in front of the class or sitting in, sitting with the class and, um, you know, too much, uh, stage on the stage behavior. And what I think I, like, I think I know why. There’s a sense, certainly when you’re starting out, you want to show these kids who you’re not that separated from age or you don’t think you are, although I think they always think, oh, she’s so old. She is as old, even though I was probably 25. I think I wanted to show that I knew what I was doing and that I belonged there. I belonged I belong there with my own classroom. And I had knowledge and yeah, I’m sure that’s where it was coming from. But certainly in the last 20 years or so, I’ve been using the Harkness method as an English teacher, certainly at our school, and it’s really changed the way I teach English. And it’s one of our certainly foundational programs at the school that we’re very proud of, but it’s really changed the way I think I do a lot of things. Harkness, I don’t know if you’re familiar with it, it’s a very constructivist and democratic sort of way of teaching, where you’re all sitting around a table and I facilitate, so I set it up, I draw maps, I keep track of who said what, and I inject things here and there just to kind of prompt and see where the conversation will go. But ultimately, it’s not about me. It’s really all about the students and how they build on each other and what they’re able to share and debate and critique and extend and all that. And I think the best conversations really happen when I’ve set the stage, but when I just sit back and listen.

Sam Demma
What a powerful lesson in teaching. I drew some parallels immediately to speaking on stage and how powerful silence is for audience members because it gives them an opportunity to digest the information you’re sharing or answer the questions you’re asking and engage with the stories. And I think there’s a cool parallel there too. I was at Crofton House in Vancouver. They had a lot of classrooms with oval shaped tables and they’d have these really cool conversations where everyone feels engaged because you’re all looking at each other. There’s a formal name for it and I’m forgetting it, but maybe you know.

Claire Kelly
Yeah, it might be like the Harkness Method. 

Sam Demma
Okay. Yeah. Yeah, so I appreciate you sharing that and I love the reflection of speaking less and allowing the students to be more involved with the content and with each other. What is something that keeps you hopeful, like keeps you motivated and keeps you showing up? 

Claire Kelly
Yeah, that’s a great question. Another great question. So, like what gets me out of bed in the morning? I think you always have to have an answer for that, right? And it’s a good reminder, especially as you get further on in your career. I think for me, this is going to sound really Pollyanna-ish, but I love my life. I love what I do. I love that, as I mentioned earlier, like every day is different. So even though I’ve been at this school, I’ve worked at two big schools in my career, and I can honestly say like every day is different. I’ve never had the same job two years in a row. Not because I keep moving around in any way, but just the job is different. It’s so dynamic to work with students and to work with children and to have, you know, we must have 150-200 interactions a day. So, what, you know, there’s the plan and then there’s the reality of the up and down and the crossfire dialogue and and all the things that happen and it’s just a, you know, it’s really an incredible experience to work in a school if you like students and I think, you know, they just have so much to offer. I love working with teenagers. Yeah, you know, also I have a family that I love. I love my husband, my kids. One of my sons goes to our school as well. He just started, so that’s been really powerful for me to see my world through his eyes and to experience a little bit more. I feel like I get the full student experience through him. And he’s new this year. He’s, I guess if our school had used those terms, he would be a freshman. He’s brand new and he’s in the first year we offer. He’s in grade seven. So he’s learning all about the rhythms of the school day, but rhythms of the year, the programming, the teachers, the other students, what to expect, what he should be striving for, what he really likes himself. So it’s been really, really, really, yeah, it’s just an incredible education for me to see that through his eyes, and I’m really looking forward to this journey together, if you will.

Sam Demma
That’s awesome. You get to hear about the impact of the structure of the school and the opportunities and the programs in student life, right in front of your own eyes with your son, which is awesome.

Claire Kelly
Absolutely, and you know he tells me if I’m wrong too, which is also really important.

Sam Demma
That’s cool. I really appreciate you taking the time just to talk a little bit about your journey, some of your beliefs around education, some of the opportunities you believe that exist right now, some of the challenges. You’re doing a phenomenal job and there’s probably educators right now listening to this thinking to themselves, wow, this, Claire’s inspiring, you know, especially those that are just starting in the journey themselves. If there is an educator listening to this thinking that and they want to reach out and ask a question or just share some gratitude after hearing this interview, what would be the best way for them to get in touch?

Claire Kelly
Oh, thanks, Sam. Those are really kind words, first of all. And yeah, I love connecting with people. So I’m always happy to answer emails or, you know, be on social media. So probably through my email is the best way, ckelly@appleby.on.ca or through LinkedIn. Yeah, those are probably my go-to’s.

Sam Demma
Awesome. Claire, Dr. Kelly, thank you so much for coming on the show. It’s been a pleasure. Keep up the amazing work and I look forward to crossing paths again soon.

Claire Kelly
Thanks so much, Sam. It was a pleasure and really nice to see you again.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Claire Kelly

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.

Charle Peck — Keynote Speaker and School Mental Health Consultant

Charle Peck — Keynote Speaker and School Mental Health Consultant
About Charle Peck

Charle Peck (@CharlePeck) is the co-creator of Thriving School Community, a revolutionary program designed for schools to improve the mental health of staff and students. She holds an MS in Education and an MS in Social Work as a 20+ year veteran in education (K-12).

As a global keynote speaker, she delivers powerful messages of hope to educators and facilitates meaningful professional development to equip adults with tools that integrate into everyday practice. Her unique lens as a high school teacher turned clinical therapist who has worked closely with adolescents and families in crisis makes her stories relevant and captivating to those struggling in today’s system.

You can purchase her book “Improving School Mental Health: The Thriving School Community Solution” on Amazon. You can also listen to Charle’s podcast “Thriving Educator” and connect with her via email charle@thrivingeducator.org, on Twitter + LinkedIn @CharlePeck.

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

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Thriving School Community Program

Graduate Programs at Niagara University

Master of Social Work (MSW) – Wilfrid Laurier University

Improving School Mental Health: The Thriving School Community Solution

Thriving Educator Podcast

TSC Virtual Summit

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma
Welcome back to another episode on the High Performing Educator podcast. Today I am so excited. I was connected to this amazing human author and speaker through a past guest named Darren. Today’s special guest is Charle Peck. Charle, please take a moment to introduce yourself to all the educators who will be tuning in today.

Charle Peck
Hi, you guys. Sam, thank you so much for having me. It’s so nice to be connected by people who are genuinely good people like Darren. And, you know, I’m just coming to everybody from a background in education, K through 12, for the past 20 years but I taught high school for 18 years, really saw my students struggling. So I got a Master of Social Work, became a clinical therapist, and I’ve been working with schools and districts across the country to help them solve this darn youth mental health problem. So I’m coming to you with that lens. I’m also a parent. I’ve got three boys, and I just want to make sure that our educators have simple tools and strategies that they can just infuse into everyday practice to manage their own mental health and well-being and then respond effectively to their student needs. That’s what they need the most.

Sam Demma
Well, something that makes you very unique is your specialization in trauma in becoming a clinical therapist. Tell me a little bit about that journey of yours.

Charle Peck
You know, I realized that understanding that brain-body connection through a trauma lens was essential to help mitigate the problems our students are having. And by the way, our educators are coming into our buildings with these same problems that are unprocessed. So once I learned what that was all about neurologically and emotionally how people are responding with that emotional charge as a result. It helped me develop the skills and tools that could actually adapt to the classroom setting. And that’s why I love doing what I’m doing, because it does work. And it works even in crisis. I worked at a crisis unit in a hospital, Sam, and I worked with teens who were really struggling and with their parents and families. And these skills and tools work with them too. So I’m excited to roll it out.

Sam Demma
Tell me more about the tools. As someone who’s excited to hear some of the things that you’re sharing, I’m sure the educators are also.

Charle Peck
Yeah, well, I developed them with Dr. Cameron Caswell. She’s an adolescent psychologist and she and I hooked up because we knew the problems were very similar with what we were each working with. And we had to come up with something that was evidence-based, so they absolutely are evidence-based, but something that would easily be able to recall and use and have visuals that can work for not only the adults, but the kids. So they can work with kids as five years old, but also 15 years old and adults. And I’ll give you an example, Sam. So one of the problems we have is dealing with anxiety, right? Anxiety and then avoidance and so in therapeutic sessions what I would do is talk with talk with people about this and they have what’s called their own narrative now We all know what narrative is right? It’s a story that we tell ourselves And there’s lots of things that are brought into that story But oftentimes they are just a bunch a bunch of lies like we’re not basing them on facts And so we’re walking around our buildings, emotionally charged with these unresolved traumas and all of these thoughts and feelings that are triggering us throughout the day. And it’s based on a story that we’re telling ourselves. So I teach them about the story spiral and how our thoughts and emotions, our responses, or really reactions, are all linked together. And then how people are responding to us can keep a spiraling into that story. Again, that’s not based on fact. We might think somebody is upset with us or mad at us or think that we’re dumb or incompetent, but they’re not actually thinking about us. They’re thinking mostly about who? Who are they thinking about, Sam?

Sam Demma
Themselves.

Charle Peck
Yes, of course, of course. But we’re all egotistical as human beings. And so helping people reframe their thoughts and feelings, emotions around those stories. And really unraveling that story can be so helpful with anxiety, which can apply to anybody. So that’s just one little tool that we use.

Sam Demma
One of many tools that you and many other educators and speakers will be sharing at your upcoming virtual conference. Can you please tell us a little bit about the summit happening on April 16th and how educators can get involved if they’re interested in learning more

Charle Peck
Yes. Okay. So Dr. Kim and I said, listen, we’ve got to provide support to people free, virtually, easily, anything that’s accessible. We’ve got to get it out there as much as we can. And so we decided that we’re going to do a virtual summit. We’ve done it several times before. It’s been great. And so we’ve got eight awesome speakers. We’ve got a speaker talking about crisis response, like how do we respond to youth in crisis? We’ve got a speaker talking about how to manage big emotions so that it will help us as educators, but also we can translate that to parents and students easily. Also leaders are a part of this too. They need to help with that as well. And they absolutely can.

Charle Peck
And so we just, we have like one of my sessions is about how to assert your authority without being mean because we do have struggles with students in that authority position, but we still have to stay connected, Sam. And if we don’t, we’re shutting them down, shutting them out and helping create that disconnect and that divide that is not working in our education system. We need to bring people together and have trust and connection. And so the expert speakers we have are there bringing their true insight and skills and tools, but briefly. So each of them have 20 minutes to talk and share resources. We’re doing giveaways. It’s fun. Dr. Kim and I engage people and people leave with real tools that they can immediately use. And so if anybody wants to register again, it’s absolutely free. You can be a parent or an educator or leader. And if you just go to thrivingschool.org forward slash TSC summit, you can just register for free. So thanks for bringing that up because we do want to support our teachers big time.

Sam Demma
And I know it’s not the first. So there’s a lot of people that are already involved. You’re building the momentum and doing such an amazing job at providing all these resources to so many educators across the country. I think everyone listening right now should pause this recording and go and check it out. It’s a amazing experience from what I’ve heard and I’m excited to hear more about how it goes this year. Tell us a little bit about why. Like why do you do this work that you do? You’ve done a great job explaining some of the things that you do and the tools. Tell me the reason behind it all.

Charle Peck
Oh my gosh, okay. So when I got to teach, I loved what I taught. I got to teach kids about their brain. I got to teach them about their development. I got to teach them about why the heck they were feeling what they were feeling and experiencing what they were feeling and experiencing based on their developmental stage of life. And also all of those influences that they got along the way. And so what that did for them is it helped them learn about who they were, and a lot of forgiveness happened with themselves. So they weren’t carrying the weight of the guilt and the shame and pain that society has put on them, and they were able to make sense of it. And so I knew that after I became a therapist, I knew that this work had to be done on a more massive scale because the youth mental health crisis is everywhere. I mean, it’s global. It’s global.

Charle Peck
And so when I realized I had some great tools that could easily infuse into everyday practice and really work well in a classroom and support staff at the same time with their own mental health, because they’re struggling too, I knew I had to step out of the classroom and just do this work. So I do get to speak around the nation about, and internationally about these tools. One of my sessions is called SOS for School Mental Health, Strategies for Staff and Students in Crisis, because we’ve got to address it. We’ve got to give relief to the whole system. So that is my why I’ve got to do this on a massive scale and help others get the relief that I was seeing in my own students.

Sam Demma
And did you struggle with mental health growing up or have you seen it in your family? Like, I would love to hear a little bit of your personal story as well that brought you into education and even brought you here.

Charle Peck
Yeah, you know, first of all, I’m the baby of six kids. So I had some interesting experiences in the position of my family. And even we had a great, I had a great childhood and a great family system, but I felt alone a lot. And I had a lot of people around me a lot And I was involved in a lot of sports Informing my identity. I wasn’t really sure like am I Only good when I’m playing well in my sport in my I didn’t think I was a good student I could have been but I thought I was dumb and there were lots of things that went on I absolutely struggled with mental health and I think adolescence is something that I always knew I would participate in, in the learning piece there to help adolescents because it’s such a tricky time of life and I think there’s such a disservice out there that they’re not involved in understanding what’s going on with themselves. So I was always compelled to work with teens, but I also have a child development background so that I understand not only as a young child, like what’s important for us to do to support them when we’re pregnant. And I’m not afraid to say that because it’s super important that people understand how impactful it is forever. Okay. And so that’s one of the things that’s a disservice I think I’m doing by not being in a classroom again with teenagers.

Charle Peck
I don’t get to teach them every day about healthy and unhealthy relationships Because we had some really important Conversations there that I wish I would have had So that’s something else that I’m trying to do on a global scale is help Adults teach kids about these healthy and unhealthy relationships and friendships And what does that look like because I don’t want anyone else getting stuck, you know, my first year of teaching. I was not only planning sessions for my students, I was planning an escape to a women’s shelter. And I did that while I was still teaching and holding it together. But I was able to do that because I felt confident about who I was and I had a ton of supports. So yes, I struggled, but the good news is, Sam, we can prevent these problems from happening in the first place. And we can also help people manage that when they’re in it and learn to step out of wherever they are if they’ve reached their limits. I mean, there’s a way to do that and still feel good about who you are. And so that’s why I’m doing this work too.

Sam Demma
There’s the speaking, there’s the summits, and then there’s the book. Tell us a little bit about the journey of the book and what you’re hoping that resource will do in the world.

Charle Peck
Well, it’s meant to be something simple that has a framework that’s easy to relate to, especially in the education world. And so there are nine skills. And the reason there are nine is because we identified nine different areas that were contributing to the youth mental health crisis. For example, insecurity, not recognizing our own strengths and getting stuck in that. Like when I was felt like I was a poor student, I got stuck there. And so that shapes how I performed in school. I mean, I later went on and did better, but that was what I wish I had is that particular skill or polarization, right? There’s so many of us who are polarized and guess what? We can actually work and engage with others, even if we don’t like each other or believe in the same things. But there’s a way to do that, to meet our own needs in that exchange. So that’s another thing. So all of the skills are in the book that explains the rationale, but also we wanted people to walk away being able to use them immediately. So it’s kind of a reference guide that way. That’s what the book is, so anybody can use it, parents, students, but we say educators, you need this. We need to start with you because I think our schools are absolutely the keys to make any kind of change, like, in the masses.

Sam Demma
What can people listening expect from you and the team in the near future?

Charle Peck
Well, we’re doing a lot of professional development in equipping our teachers across the nation with these tools. So if anybody wants that, please, please, let’s help. Like we all need to help you. There’s something for every budget. I know budget is certainly an issue, but there’s something for every budget. And in fact, we want to promote sustainability and autonomy in the schools we work with. And so we have a program for that so that we can equip school counselors, school mental health team members, so they can roll it out. And it’s not even as big as train the trainers, Sam. That’s way too much for people to handle right now. So we know what we can provide is affordable, but also sustainable. So that’s one of the things we’re doing. And I’m also doing some keynotes.

Charle Peck
And so if anybody wants that message of hope, that’s one of the things I’m doing, but I’m really excited to share, and I haven’t said it too much yet, but I’m actually working on another book with a former principal who has a trauma lens and is a foster parent and understands the system really well too. And we’re actually talking more about behavior and how to respond to behavior and where the heck it’s coming from. So I’m excited about that because people need those tangible tools and principles to kind of go by. So yeah, that’s coming up too.

Sam Demma
And if they wanna reach out, ask a question, follow your journey online, what would be the best place for them to get in touch?

Charle Peck
They can just email me charle@thrivingeducator.org or they can just go to my website thriving educator.org. I’m on social media. You can find me @CharlePeck. Just connect. The thing is, don’t let this go. Like if you need some support, let me help you.

Sam Demma
Charlie, such a pleasure to have you on the show. Thank you for taking the time. I look forward to our paths crossing at some point in real life offline. And I’m so excited for your new book, your educator summit, everything that is yet to come.

Charle Peck
Thank you so much for all you do too, Sam, thank you. Thank you so much for all you do too, Sam, thank you.

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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.

Pratima Burton  — Student Achievement Leader for Equity, Inclusion and Anti-Racism at the District School Board of Niagara

Pratima Burton — Student Achievement Leader for Equity, Inclusion and Anti-Racism at the District School Board of Niagara
About Pratima Burton

Pratima Burton is the K-12 Student Achievement Leader for Equity, Inclusion and Anti-Racism at the District School Board of Niagara. She has been with the DSBN for 26 years and has held a diverse array of roles that underscore her commitment to redefining excellence. Having dedicated 15 years as a secondary school English teacher, Pratima transitioned into pivotal roles such as instructional coach, secondary English consultant, and vice-principal. Her current role in equity is a testament to her dedication to creating safe and inclusive space for students and fostering a genuine sense of belonging for all.

Pratima’s dedication to equity is deeply rooted in her lived experiences, propelling her advocacy for students with diverse backgrounds and identities. While she thoroughly enjoys her current position as an administrator, Pratima fondly reminisces about her 15-year tenure as a classroom educator, where she found immense joy in inspiring student development, fostering learning, and witnessing growth. However, she also realizes the importance of the work the equity team does and the impact on building schools that are safe and inclusive spaces for all students, where their identities are affirmed in the curriculum and throughout the school, and where barriers for success are removed so all can achieve.

Connect with Pratima: Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

District School Board of Niagara (DSBN)

Future Black Female

Equity, Inclusion & Anti-Racism at the DSBN

National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM)

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator Podcast. This is your host, Sam Demma. And today we have a very special guest, Pratima Burton. Thank you so much for coming on the podcast. Please take a moment to introduce yourself to the listener.

Pratima Burton
Hi, Sam. Thank you for having me here. My name is Pratima Burton. I am a student achievement leader for equity, inclusion, and anti-racism for the District School Board of Niagara. So basically what that means is I’m a System Principal. So I guess what that comes down to is I’m a principal without a school. So I’m kindergarten to grade 12, but I don’t have my own school. So I think that’s probably the hardest thing about that role. I don’t get to engage with kids regularly, but that’s not my daily experience. But it is definitely a joy when I do get to work with kids.

Sam Demma
And the work you’re doing reaches so many young people and impacts all the schools. For someone who’s not familiar with the role, what does the day-to-day look like?

Pratima Burton
The day-to-day is very different every single day. We may have planned meetings where we’re collaborating with educators, with student groups around initiatives that they want to do. We may be working with teachers around resources for their classes. Sometimes we go into schools and work with students who want to start affinity groups. So it could be, you know, something different every single day. Sometimes we’re supporting administrators because something’s gone away that you don’t want it to go, and then we’re there to help with considerations and for teachers. So that’s some of the work. But it’s different every day, and I think we love it that way.

Sam Demma
Sometimes it’s challenging to show up. We are busy, we’re overwhelmed, and the thing that gets us through those difficult moments is our personal reason why. I’m curious, when you think about the work you do in education, why do you show up every single day? 

Pratima Burton
Oh, there’s so many ways we can go with this. I’ll tell you a little personal story. When I was in grade eight, it was that time of year where your teacher helps to decide where you’re going to go in grade nine. And back in my day, the options were basic, general, and advanced. And although I was a really, I was a bright student, I worked very hard, I thought I was going to go into academic, or sorry, advanced, as it was called back then. But the teacher recommended me for general. And I don’t know why I never asked. Culturally, my parents wouldn’t have asked because it would have been considered disrespectful, right? I had a friend who advocated for me and said, look, she can go to advanced, and then if she doesn’t do well, she can go down general, but it’s not easy to go up to advance. So although my self-esteem was impacted, I went into advanced and I did very well on a roll all the time, graduated, you know, near the top of the class with everybody, you know, with my peers. But it was something I never, ever forgot. And the interesting thing is that I came into this role four years ago, but this time it was her story. Same thing, very bright student, and at the time when she was going to grade 9, it was academic and applied, and the teacher recommended her for all academic, but except for math, which was ironically her favorite subject. So I just don’t want to see students experiencing things like that. I don’t want students to have the same experiences that are grounded in bias that maybe their families encountered. So I think that’s my motivator. I think that’s why I stay in the role. I just want to see some change. I don’t think change is gonna happen from my generation. I think adults sometimes, some adults are stuck in their ways. They just like things that are, that have always happened the way that they have. And we might not even be able to explain why they happen or why we keep doing some practices. But it’s the kids who are going to use their critical thinking skills and ask why do we do this, why hasn’t this changed. And I just want to support them in giving them the tools and strategies to ask those questions and look at things through an equity lens.

Sam Demma
Amplifying student voice is so important, and you’re a massive champion of doing just that. Can you think of a question a student asked or a recommendation a student brought up that sparked change within a classroom or a school board? There’s probably so many, but is there one in particular that maybe comes to mind when you think about that question?

Pratima Burton
Yeah, I could share with you something that’s very recent. At our school board, one of the learnings that we do for educators is something called an equity cafe. And an equity cafe is an opportunity for educators to come online and have casual conversations with my team about equity topics that are pertinent to their classrooms, to their schools, to their students. And this is where we share considerations and strategies around those topics. And it’s a great opportunity for them to ask questions.

Pratima Burton
Well, we just did our Equity Cafe for Black History Month. And what we did different this time was that we actually had students come and present. So, how did that come about? We have an organization, a community partner named Future Black Female. And I have an individual on my team who is the Black Youth Engagement Coach, and they go around to schools supporting students, starting affinity groups. And one of the common narratives that was coming up was that students felt that in some schools, Black History Month wasn’t being celebrated in a meaningful way. And they wanted to do something about that. So we got together, we did some brainstorming, and these were all your ideas, into a kit, you know, flags, balloons, banners, posters, a QR code that took you to a resource list of, you know, uplifting songs and daily announcements, a book list, videos about history. And the idea was that at the very least, this is what schools should use to celebrate the excellence, the joy, and the achievements of Black history. And, you know, we grappled with the idea of this being just performative, a checkbox item. But then we came to the conclusion that in spaces that maybe there isn’t much happening, this is a start. And we always get asked by educators for numerous topics, like, where do we start? So we’re saying with this Black History Month kit that this is where to start, at the very least.

Pratima Burton
Start here, put out an announcement, say, hey, any students, all students who want to come and be on a Black History Month committee, come, we’ll put our ideas together, we’re going to start with this kit and see where it goes. So back to the Equity Cafe, talk to educators, and it was like a panel and they answered four questions. Why is Black History Month important to you? Why is it important to celebrate Black excellence achievement and joy at school during Black History Month? Why is it important to celebrate Black excellence and joy and to affirm identities, Black identities, all year long? And finally, what do you as students want to see happening in your schools? And the students were absolutely fantastic. They just blew everybody’s minds. It was so impactful for educators. I mean, I can go on and say a lot of stuff, but when you hear it from the voice of students sharing their experiences, it just means so much more. I mean, I really think that sometimes as educators, we have an idea of how students move through our spaces, but it’s so different from the way that they actually move through school spaces. And I just want to elevate those voices so that students could share that. And at the end of that session, we used this Black History Month kit to challenge schools that the next Heritage Month, why don’t you create something like this? Get student voice, take it away, and share what you’re doing.

Sam Demma
There may be an educator listening to this thinking, oh my goodness, this is absolutely amazing. I want to do something similar with my schools. Is the Black History Month package a resource that is publicly accessible or is it just within the school board?

Pratima Burton
Actually, it’s within the school board. We just got together. We just Googled some things. What do we want on this kid? You know, we found a few things, put it together, and printed things, made sure they were accessible, packaged them up, and sent them away. I mean, who knows? Maybe it’s a possible retirement plan. Very huge month, kid. Obviously, that’s probably not the route that I’m going to go, but no, it’s the idea of just asking the students. I don’t think you need to have a pre-packaged kit. Just ask your students, because what students will ask for in one classroom or one school is going to be different than another.

Sam Demma
Fair. It’s so important to give students a seat at the table because it builds responsibility responsibility and ownership. And when they have responsibility over the outcomes and ownership of the ideas, they’re more excited to bring them back to their schools and take action on bringing them to life. The work that you’re doing to amplify student voice is so important. There is also right now in education, many opportunities and with opportunities are challenges. What do you think some of the challenges and opportunities are that exist in education right now?

Pratima Burton
I think one of the challenges are like all the competing priorities, right? There’s so many things that are looking for space, looking for time, and I think sometimes what happens is we focus on, you know, like literacy, numeracy, we have to get kids ready for post-secondary, and of course all of those things are important, but if kids don’t feel safe, they don’t feel they’re included, there isn’t a sense of belonging, then I don’t think they’re going to achieve as well as we want them to. They’re not going to reach their potential. So, I think one of the challenges would be time. And there’s always so much to do. Like for my team, time definitely is a challenge because we’re often asked by people to come collaborate. You look at this resource, can you come create a resource? And there’s five of us on our team. And we try to overcome that challenge with collaboration. I mean, you can’t do this important work dealing with equity, inclusion, anti-racism in a silo. And we try to be very efficient and very effective. You know, we call on our supports. If there are several schools asking for the same kind of resource, then instead of working with the schools individually, we bring them together. We do an equity cafe. We offer a workshop. And as I mentioned, we don’t do the work alone. We have wonderful community partners. We have Niagara College. We have Brock University.

Pratima Burton
I mentioned a local organization, Future Black Female. We do a lot of learning with Facing History and ourselves. And even within our school board, we have the Mental Health and Wellbeing Team, the Safe and Accepting Schools Team, the Indigenous Education Team, Spec Ed Team, Curriculum Teams. We have a wonderful seniors team that supports this work. So when you put all those people together, we’re able to overcome the challenges because we do need to elevate each other’s work, right? And when it comes to challenges and hard questions, I always remember advice that our former director gave us, and I think I heard this from him about 10 years ago, and he said, no matter how hard the challenge or how hard the decision is that you have to make, you’re going to get clarity when you frame it a certain way. And the framing question would be, what’s best for kids? So what can’t you overcome when you come together and you put it that way?

Sam Demma
On the other side of every challenge is also an opportunity. When you think about the opportunities that exist that align with what’s best for kids, like what opportunities come to mind?

Pratima Burton
Well, earlier you mentioned the idea of like the table, right? Coming to the table. So again, when I got into this role, one of the things my team and I tried to do was listen to students and see what they were asking for. And one of the things they asked for was like a student group, like a student council, but not at our schools, like us coming together, like the whole board. And so three years ago, we started the process to launch like a student alliance. And we’re doing it with secondary schools. And as you said, the idea of the table, we didn’t want to create an alliance, a group, something already structured, and then have the students come apply and join it. What we wanted was to build that table and have the students build it so they can sit at their table and to learn alongside with us. And so we started with focus groups. We had about four or five focus groups and we had students, secondary grades nine to 12, lots of representation come and let us know and share with us what they thought this group should look like.

Pratima Burton
They had ideas about who should be in it and what grades and when we would meet and what some of the focus would be and what the process, what the application process would be, how to make it equitable. So now we have this group of like the powerhouse of passionate kids, you know, real advocates who are really dedicated to reshaping and revitalizing their schools and their communities. There’s 50 students. And, you know, we are, as some graduate, we bring on new students, but this is our second full year, and they are really dedicated to creating inclusive spaces. And their vision is to be changemakers who represent and advocate for sovereignty speaking and equity deserving students. And, you know, when you give the students a voice, this is what can happen. And it’s almost like you give them a voice, they’re heard, they are affirmed, and then they come up with the next big idea. So this group then came up with an idea, we now call it the Inclusive Schools Poster, is what we call it. It was an activity that we did last year with the group, and we just basically said, like, let’s do some brainstorming. Let’s come up with what are all the criteria that you think a school needs to have so that it is safe and it is inclusive so everybody has a sense of belonging. And so, you know, 50 students, lots of chart paper, lots of markers, in groups, writing down all these ideas. I think we ended up with like over 300 points. It’s a lot.

Pratima Burton
And we weren’t sure at the time where this was going, but then they started chunking all the ideas into themes. We took all those themes, we narrowed them down to, you know, probably about 75, down to 50, and we ended up with 20 points. And we looked at it and we thought, this is incredible. These are 20 things that are telling us, through student voice, exactly what a school needs to be in order for it to be safe and inclusive, a place of belonging, so that now we can learn and achieve. We have a wonderful communications team who took all those 20 ideas and put them into this beautiful poster. And we did not want it to be decor. So now, it’s this group, the DSBN, and they call themselves DSBN IDEA. So it’s Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity Alliance of Students.

Sam Demma
Nice.

Pratima Burton
They love the acronym. So they are now wanting to create a video. And in the video, they are going to talk about the why, the importance, the process, which I think is very important, and how to use the poster. It’s not decor, it’s a teaching tool. It shares their values and it’s what we should all be aiming for. And some of the things on the posters are like, in an inclusive school, we do better when we know better. We are mindful of our words and their impact. We ensure everyone is safe and belongs. We question, we interrogate, and we take action on injustice. Like, these are student words. They’re not student words that adults recrafted. These are their words. And it’s pretty powerful. We’re hoping to launch the video in March. And we’re just so excited for administrators and teachers and parents, councils and students to see that this is what we believe in.

Sam Demma
What a beautiful testimony to student voice and case study for other school boards to involve their students in creating policy and ideas, guidelines and principles to live by. I am so excited to hear that your school board has put this together, and I hope that other school boards and educators tuning in are writing down these ideas to implement with their students. Did this alliance of the students also come up with the Rise Up Conference? And if so, tell us a little bit about that, that annual event.

Pratima Burton
Yes, it did. It did start from them. That’s why last year was our first one, because they had said, you know, like, can we do a conference? And I think it came up at our first meeting, which would have been in October. And these conferences take like so long to plan. We had 200 students at our first one last year. And although I hadn’t planned anything or my team hadn’t planned anything of that size, we knew it was going to take a long time. So we just got right to it. So the kids were like, let’s do this conference. You know, I’ve heard of conferences where kids come together and they do this learning, there’s presentations and activities, and we’re like, okay, let’s do it. So we started brainstorming ideas. Okay, what are the topics you want to learn about? And that’s where we started. After we got the topics, we started looking for workshop ideas and for presenters. We just put out all of our feelers, the people we know, you know, in the community and throughout the province, but at other boards and just friends and family just to tie in whoever we could to help us. And we offered students lots of opportunities to help us as well. But we were getting the sense that, you know what, they didn’t really want to be involved in the planning. And that’s okay, because you know what they wanted? They wanted something for them. They did not have that before them before. So we wanted to create something that was a celebration for them.

Pratima Burton
And although they did, you know, introduce the speakers and thank them and that kind of thing, we wanted them to come into a space and see that this was created for them, all of their accommodations met, and that they wouldn’t have to ask for anything. So this year, we are hosting it again. It’s our second annual. As you mentioned, the DSPN Student Equity Conference, Rise Up Students Leading the Change. rise up students leading the change. And the intent is to create a space where all students are going to feel valued and respected and supported. We’re going to work together. We’re going to share ideas. The idea is for them to also network with other students, so that when they go back to their own schools and they may have a social justice action plan in mind, the staff leaders that come with them could, you know, help them connect with other schools and work smarter as opposed to harder, right? Especially if they all have, if they have similar initiatives. So just to walk you through what that day looks like, you know, the students arrive this year, we have 240 students. They have a very special keynote speaker to this time, Sam. We’re so happy you’re joining us.

Pratima Burton
We have eight workshops, and we have lots of variety. We have someone talking about loving yourself and never giving them back. We have somebody coming and talking about having special education obstacles and the way that they’ve overcome them. We have Justice for Children and Youth coming because we have some students who are really interested in knowing what their rights are and how to advocate. We have our Indigenous Education team coming and they’re bringing a panel of their students, which is exciting for students to learn from students, especially in their first voices. We have future black female coming and the Canadian National, sorry, the National Council of Canadian Muslims coming to do a session as well. So we have lots of variety for students to choose from. So they get to attend two workshops and lunchtime is always fun. We call it our community mingling. So we have community partners that come and set up tables and offer students information on student-centered resources. And when we did that last year, we didn’t know how it was gonna go because the long table of community partners was what was standing between the kids and their lunch. So we thought the kids were gonna go right for the lunch, but when they saw all this table set up, they were so engaged and did not realize that there was so much available for them in their community. We’re also intentional in making sure that spaces are safe. So we have a youth counselor, social worker. We make sure that we have a multi-faith meditation room available for anybody who needs to take that time. This year, we have a dance group coming. We’re going to be doing a little bit of Bollywood and Afrobeat.

Pratima Burton
And we have somebody doing a mindful art activity. And of course, the food is always a big hit. We have an inclusive buffet. So regardless of your dietary accommodation needs, you can walk up to the table and there is plenty for you to choose from. We want students to know that we created this space for them so they wouldn’t have to ask. And I think one of my most memorable moments last year was just something I had the luck, the honor to overhear. A student said, I wish school could be like this every day.

Sam Demma
It is overwhelming to hear about the beauty of this event. It’s so obvious care, love, and collaboration was fostered in creating it with all the moving parts and pieces, the thoughtful accommodations for everybody to feel welcome and included. Again, I hope other educators are listening, taking some inspiration from this idea to see if they can create similar experiences or spaces in their schools and in their communities. You mentioned it takes a pretty long time to plan something like this. What is the planning process for an event of this size?

Pratima Burton
As soon as the last event was over, we contacted the facility and asked if we could book for this year, right? Because the space was ideal, it’s big, it’s lots of light, and just the movement throughout the day was so easy. They were wonderful in accommodating the spaces we needed and helping us set up. So a year in advance and then we start, you know, putting out our feelers and keeping our ears open for possible topics and speakers. And the first time that we have our meeting again with our group, as we did this year, we ask them, okay, who do you want this year? What do you want to learn more about? And we know that we have some students who are returning, but we’re also going to have new students. So we like to change it, change it up. I think we have almost all of our workshops are new this year.

Sam Demma
Thinking about experiences where students have been impacted by the conference or their experiences at school, can you tell me of a story where you heard of a student situation that was impacted by education or by an event? And if so, you don’t have to share that student’s name if it’s a serious story. But I’m curious, what example comes to mind for you?

Pratima Burton
So one of the first experiences I had in this role, we were asked, my colleague and I, to come to a school to talk to a group of students. They had been experiencing some discrimination and they felt that every time they were sharing what happened to them, they were having to almost justify their feelings. And so, you know, I’m South Asian, my colleague is a hijab wearing Muslim lady, and she’s a wonderful colleague. And we walked into the room where there were a couple of students. And there was, I believe, a South Asian student and a black student, two young ladies, and we walked into the space and we had our meeting, they did their sharing, we intently listened, and at the end of the meeting, one of the girls made the comment that, when you walked in, we knew that it was going to be okay.

Pratima Burton
And I think what she was expressing to us, and what she did go on to elaborate about is that by looking at us she knew that we had some experiences that would have been similar to hers. So all she had to do was just explain. She didn’t have to justify, she didn’t have to rationalize, she just had to say it and knew that we believed her. And that’s why I think representation is so important as well. So that is something that sticks with me.

Sam Demma
I really appreciate you sharing that story. I think it’s so important students can see themselves in their teachers, in their staff, not just the educators in the school building, in their peers, in the role models that are shared in the community. And I appreciate you sharing that story. It’s unfortunate that students even feel like they have to justify, you know, certain situations and stories, but in certain situations, it is the reality. I hope that happens less and less as we move forward as a result of having your poster in every single school, not only in the Niagara Board, but hopefully elsewhere in the future. If there is an educator listening to this podcast who’s felt inspired, motivated, energized, or curious based on our conversation and they wanna reach out to you and ask a question, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?

Pratima Burton
Well, that would be by email. It’s pratima.burton@dsbn.org. I’ll spell my name. It’s Pratima.Burton.

Sam Demma
Pratima, I look forward to seeing you in the spring. Keep up the amazing work. You’re doing a great job, and I look forward to connecting again soon.

Pratima Burton
Thank you so much for having me, Sam. And you are doing inspiring work as well, and we are so looking forward to having you join us in April.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Pratima Burton

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.

Kim O’Brien and Lori Friedman — Literacy and Match Coaches at Claremont Elementary School (NJ)

Kim O'Brien and Laurie Friedman — Literacy and Match Coaches at Claremont Elementary School (NJ)
About Kim O’Brien and Lori Friedman

Kim O’Brien is a veteran Elementary teacher of 35 years. She is currently a Math Instructional Coach in Franklin Park, New Jersey. Kim has taught in Texas, New York, and New Jersey. She has a Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Instruction. Kim is currently seeking a certificate in Dyscalculia, difficulty in performing mathematical calculations resulting from damage to the brain. She hopes to provide early interventions for students in need.

Lori Friedman (@LFriedman_FTPS) has over 40 years in education. Lori has two masters degrees, one in Creative Arts Education from Rutgers Graduate School of Education in New Jersey, and one in Reading Instruction and Supervision from Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey. Lori is a certified reading specialist. Lori began her career in 1982 as a Kindergarten Teacher in South Plainfield, New Jersey. Lori was the owner director of “Play and Grow Learning Center” in Somerset, New Jersey, for 12 years before going back to being a public school teacher in 2006. Lori has spent most of her early career as a preschool and kindergarten teacher. In 2015 Lori became an Instructional Literacy Coach in Franklin Township, New Jersey and is currently working at Claremont Elementary School. Lori takes pride in the daily work she does helping teachers be better reading and writing teachers!

Connect with Kim: Email | LinkedIn

Connect with Lori: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Instruction – University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA)

Creative Arts Education – Rutgers Graduate School of Education

Reading Instruction and Supervision – Fairleigh Dickinson University

Play and Grow Learning Center in Somerset, New Jersey

Claremont Elementary School

Franklin Park Public Schools

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and keynote speaker, Sam Demma. Today we are doing something different. We have two guests on the same episode. Tuning in today is Kim O’Brien and Lori Friedman  from New Jersey. Lori Friedman has been teaching in education for over 30 years. She has two master’s degrees, one in creative arts and education and one in reading instruction. She’s a certified reading specialist. She began her career in 1982 as a kindergarten teacher. She was also the owner of Play and Grow Learning Center in Somerset, New Jersey for 12 years before going back to being a public school teacher in 2006. She spent most of her early career as a preschool and kindergarten teacher, and in 2015 became an instructional literacy coach in Franklin Township, New Jersey, and is currently working at Claremont Elementary School. She takes pride in the daily work she does in helping teachers be better readers and humans for their students. Our second guest is Kim O’Brien. Kim is a veteran elementary teacher of 35 years, and she is currently a math instructional coach in Franklin Park, New Jersey. She has taught in Texas, New York, and New Jersey, has a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction. Kim is currently seeking a certificate in dyscalculia, difficulty in performing mathematical calculations resulting from damage to the brain. She hopes to provide early interventions for students in need. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Lori and Kim, and I will see you on the other side. From New Jersey, we have my good friend, my new friend, Kim O’Brien and Lori Friedman. Thank you so much for coming on the show today. Please take a moment to introduce yourself.

Kim O’Brien
Hello, Sam, and greetings to your lovely listeners. Thank you so much for having us on Performing Educators today. My name is Kim O’Brien, and I’ve been in elementary education for 35 years. I’ve taught grades one to six in Texas, New York, and New Jersey. I hold a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction, and I’m currently a math instructional coach for the last 17 years in New Jersey, where I currently reside. And I’m actually in a process on my own of getting a certificate as a discalculate tutor or specialist, which is when students have difficulty performing mathematical calculations resulting from brain damage. Oh wow. Coming soon and so hopefully I could like diagnose and put a plan together and do that as well.

Sam Demma
I love it, that’s amazing. And one thing that’s not on Kim’s intro is she is also a tea specialist. They have this nice tea machine in their office and any tea you want you can get. Lori, introduce yourself for everyone tuning in. 

Lori Friedman
It’s hard to follow up with Kim, but I’ve asked. So I’ve been in education for over 40 years. I’m older. I have two master’s degrees, one in creative arts education from Rutgers University and one in reading instruction and supervision from Fairleigh Dickinson University. I started teaching kindergarten in a public school in 1982. I took a break from public school for a bit and I owned my own preschool for 12 years. And then in 2006 I decided to go back to public school teaching and most of my public school career has been in pre-k and kindergarten. After getting my reading certification from Fairleigh Dickinson, I decided to get myself out of the classroom and became an instructional literacy coach in 2015. And I’ve been doing that since then and now proudly continuing to do that.

Sam Demma
I think I’m going to just leave the podcast and allow you two to interview each other if that works. I’m feeling a little bit like I can’t follow these introductions.

Kim O’Brien
Listen, we’ve been working together for a long time. So we only had like two years apart, your whole career as a coach, right, Lori? Yeah. So yeah, she’s my partner in crime.

Lori Friedman
Kim and I are, I was just sharing with somebody, we’re complete opposites. For everything that Kim is, I’m not, and for everything that I am, Kim’s not. And I think that’s why we work together very well. We’re not at the point where we complete each other’s sentences, but we probably definitely consider Kim my work wife.

Sam Demma
That’s amazing. For everyone tuning in, especially, you know, north of the States, who is unfamiliar with having literacy coaches and math coaches in some of their school buildings. Tell me a little bit more about the role of being a math coach and the role, Lori, of being a literacy coach.

Kim O’Brien
Okay, well, I mean, coaching in general is just to improve the quality of instruction, which therefore leads to student achievement, and that’s why our district has coaches. We help teachers stay fresh with the latest techniques and technologies in the classroom. We do it in three ways. We do it directly where we actually model lessons for them so they can see what’s expected. We do it indirectly by discussion, providing materials and ideas, through grade level meetings and PDs that we do on site, and collaboratively, we do it with co-teaching and planning together. And this is where we can talk to teachers and their colleagues about what we’ve noticed while we visit their classrooms, we review the curriculum and the standards that they’re currently teaching. We answer any questions or concerns they might have. We do sometimes faculty meetings, district PDs, analyze and review data. I think we kind of cover it all. We’re even counselors to the teachers when they want to have a breakdown, which just happened today, by the way. But we do family nights. And so, you know, yeah, there’s a lot going on in our roles.

Lori Friedman
Yeah, we’re definitely not, on any given day, we could be doing any one of those given things. So it keeps our job responsibilities fresh. It keeps us fresh, keeps us on our toes. I mean, as a literacy coach in our district, we’re rolling out a brand new curriculum this year that the literacy team has been fighting for for about the past 10 years. Wow. It’s pretty exciting for me to be part of that process after fighting for it for so long and then finally having it happen. So, you know, as a literacy coach, my role is to teach teachers how to teach reading, writing, and foundational skills. Can’t do anything else, math, science, social studies, without reading, right? So I take my role as a literacy coach seriously. And then this year, especially, with rolling out a new curriculum, has been extremely rewarding, but at the same time difficult. Nobody likes change. It’s always difficult at first, messy in the middle, and hopefully by the end it’s beautiful. Well, that’s another thing about instructional coaching.

Kim O’Brien
We’re not administrators. We are teachers. It’s lateral move, actually, coming out from the classroom into our position. It’s just different. And so we don’t have an authority to make anybody do anything. That’s our administration. We could just bring to the table what we’ve learned, what we’ve read, and all that, but we can’t make them do it. They closed their doors, they could do what they want. We hope that they trust us enough to listen to us and take our advice, but it’s basically a no-judgment zone, totally a collaboration, because if you have that, no one’s going to come to you.

Lori Friedman
In addition to that one of the biggest things that we have to get through as an instructional coach is that building of trust in a relationship Confidentiality. Respect all those things that make you know working partnerships Difficult but also very beneficial. I think trust is one of the biggest things that I strive for in confidentiality. I want my teachers to know that when they come to me with a concern, whether it’s professional or personal, that I’m gonna be there to listen, not to judge, and to kind of help them through the growing pains.

Sam Demma
What do you tell an educator who is struggling or having a meltdown? Because there’s so many educators that feel burnt out and overwhelmed at Different times in their careers, and I’m sure you deal with those situations a lot even today. 

Lori Friedman
Yeah, I mean, I think it’s you know take a deep breath You know it’s validating how a person is feeling whether you agree with them or not. It’s letting them share, being a good listener, validating how they’re feeling, and collaboratively coming up with a plan, collaboratively coming up with strategies that can help the teacher or staff member feel better in their own skin or better in the moment. It is, like Kim said before, I mean, our office sometimes can be a therapy session, where somebody comes in with a personal or professional problem, and they trust us enough to have those conversations. And usually, after conversations and validation and brainstorming and collaborating, it’s helpful. You know, it’s helpful for them. It’s exhausting for us, but it is helpful. It’s one of the better parts of our job is being able to be there for teachers. I mean, having just gone through the pandemic and COVID and having to transition to, you know, virtual learning and then coming back and the emotional roller coasters of students and of teachers. I mean, it’s been a it’s been a trying couple years for educators.

Kim O’Brien
I mean, you’ve seen our office, right? So, we have a nice space, but we try to make it welcoming, right? That’s why we offer, we have snacks and we have coffee and we have tea and a microwave and a refrigerator and, you know, I decorate every holiday because I’m sorry, every month. I’m thinking this holiday. It’s a living decorator. But they come and it’s just a place where you just kind of want to be. And that’s part of developing relationships with everybody. So they want to come in. They want to talk to us personally. That’s fine. Professionally, that’s even better because that’s what we’re there for, right?

Lori Friedman
every month.

Kim O’Brien
I’m sorry, every month. I’m thinking this holiday. It’s a living decorator. But they come and it’s just a place where you just kind of want to be. And that’s part of developing relationships with everybody. So they want to come in. They want to talk to us personally. That’s fine. Professionally, that’s even better because that’s what we’re there for, right?

Kim O’Brien
But when we go into classrooms, the students get to know us as well. It’s like the visiting grandparent. We get in, have a lot of fun, and then we get out. We’re the teachers, they’re all there, like the parents, like, yeah, this is great. I loved it, you know, but we don’t have to deal with the behaviors for the next six hours. And it’s just I Miss working with the students because I primarily work with this with the teachers but it’s good when we go in and model and co-teach because then we get that experience all over again and And we put ourself in the position of the teacher so we could actually say oh I did that lesson or I know what you’re talking about. It’s not that easy or you know, what did you think? Because I need big feedback too.

Lori Friedman
Also part of our role is we do something in our district for students who are struggling and teachers are struggling with strategies to help them. So it’s our job to be part of the conversation between the administrative team and the teachers and sometimes parents to kind of brainstorm strategies to help the students who are struggling prior to that special ed, you know, child study team referral where we kind of front load with the teachers who are, you know, I’ve done everything that I can to help this student and they’re still a struggling reader. What can I do to help them? So we get to know the students better by doing that too, when we’re called in to do those kinds of things, which are pretty regular, especially after COVID.

Sam Demma
Gotcha. Laurie, you said you owned a preschool for, I believe you said 12 years. Tell me a little bit more about how you think, as educators, we build relationships with students?

Lori Friedman
It’s funny because the preschool that I owned I taught at for many years before I bought it. Oh, cool. So, I was an employee and then Labor Day weekend I found out that the school was for sale. So, I purchased the school over Labor Day weekend and on Tuesday after Labor Day we came back into session. I was no longer a colleague, I was a boss. So that was kind of an interesting part of my educational tenure as far as rebuilding relationships. And I’m no longer a peer, I’m your boss. But I think that part of relationship building, I think, and Kim would probably agree with me, is that getting to know, and we do this, the teachers do this with our students too. We call it being culturally responsive. Getting to know the teacher on a personal level, so like when you have a conversation with them, you know, a teacher who might have been out because a child was sick, you know, starting off the conversation with how is your son? How is your daughter? How was your vacation? Or I know you’re you know, you just had a parent that passed away like Meeting them at where we’re what’s important for them, right? So getting to know that personally before you get to know them professionally and Then I think just building on that there is the respect and the trust is just huge in building relationships with teachers. And it’s not a straight road. There’s bumps in the road. Kim and I have both had situations where we’ve not made the right wrong choices, but might not have handled something the right way. And I can remember a situation when I first became a coach where I called a teacher out on something and she was upset with me and went right to the principal and shared the situation with her and the principal came to me and basically said, Lori, please tell me that you didn’t just tell so-and-so to put their big girl pants on. So, I mean that was a learning experience for me. I’ve never told anybody to put on their big girl pants.

Kim O’Brien
Right, so it was a shock for me just to hear that she said that, because I was like, you know, this is not you.

Lori Friedman
Right, I consider myself imperfectly perfect, even in the professional world. And I had never yet, I think we used to have a sign in our office that said something about putting your big girl pants on. But I’ve never told a teacher that since then. You know, that was, you know, a couple years ago.

Kim O’Brien
I couldn’t believe it came out of her mouth. I just couldn’t.

Sam Demma
It was a learning. We all, we all, we all make mistakes and learn from them right.

Lori Friedman
So, I mean, with every mistake or flounder that you have, you learn how to be a better coach and how to be a better colleague and be a better partner. It’s just part of the process. 

Sam Demma
I think even humanizing that is really important. You know, we’re not perfect and sometimes there’s this pressure placed on us that we have to say and do the right thing at all times and one error in our actions is gonna define our entire lives and careers. No, it’s okay if you make a mistake. You know, it’s something that will help you grow and something to learn from. It’s just not okay if you do it another 50 times, because then it becomes a choice.

Lori Friedman
I think what you do with that mistake, what you do with the learning part of that, that makes you a better person. It makes you, right? We all have flaws. We all have mistakes. If you take those mistakes and learn from them, then it makes you a better person and you hope that you don’t do it again.

Kim O’Brien
Well, teachers definitely understand that concept because they teach it to the kids all the time. But for themselves, they have higher expectations and know they can’t, you know, and that’s the hard part. They have the A-type personality usually and, you know, things have to sometimes be too much order and so they’re hard on themselves. So part of, you know, the social-emotional learning that we give to the students, we as coaches try to give that to the teachers that we meet and open a meeting with, like how are you feeling today, or what was your best accomplishment, or name something good that happened in your content area, or something to that, you know what I mean, to get them a little bit more relaxed and in tune to themselves.

Sam Demma
How do you two stay energy filled? How do you take care of yourself so that you can pour into others?

Lori Friedman
Chocolate.

Lori Friedman
I mean, I think that, you know, we’re also pretty good at taking time to have conversations within ourselves, right? So, at the start of a day or when we came back from a vacation or at the end of a day or when we know that we’ve had a difficult situation or something, even something positive, I think we are good at taking time to have those social-emotional conversations, professional-personal conversations amongst the two of us. And we’re friends outside of the building. So, you know, that helps. We kind of, like I said, we’re each other’s work wife, so we know how each other ticks. And we know when one person needs just some space and quiet, and we know when one person needs the opposite.

Kim O’Brien
We know when one person shouldn’t send an email when they’re heated? I’m pressing it! I’m pressing it!

Lori Friedman
I know to completely stay away from the decorations that go on in our room because that’s all Kim stuff and if I do something wrong or put something in the wrong place, so I’ve learned her thing. You know, it’s just, I guess, with any working relationship, we’ve had to work at it. You know, I don’t know if I’ve ever told Kim this story, but the first time I ever, I think I have, but the first time I ever met Kim in district was at a PD. And I was intimidated by her. Like, totally intimidated. Oh my God, I’m going to be working with Kim O’Brien. It wasn’t a positive or a negative. She’s not me. I’m a very quiet person, and she’s the complete opposite. She was intimidating, but we just clicked from the very beginning. Just worked.

Sam Demma
It sounds like it’s important to just recognize your strengths and the strengths of others and balance those two things, right? You’re both different personalities and it fits because you don’t try and be something you’re not. You own your strengths and other people own theirs. I think that’s really important for teachers to remember that there is no one way to be to have an impact on the students or even the teachers you’re serving. You just, you have to be yourself and lean into your strengths. What are some of the strengths that you would say about each other if you had to say, hey, you know, Laurie, I think your strength is this, and Laurie, you could say Kim’s strength is this. What would those things be?

Kim O’Brien
Okay, I’ll go first. I have to say Laurie’s strength is being a phenomenal listener. Be patient. She offers great advice. She is very accommodating. She will, she does put others way before herself. She volunteers And I mean, there’s just, it’s funny because she just had a big birthday recently. I had to write down some things, you know, about her. And then she posted, they played a game within her family to see like who said what. And she knew right away that was mine. I’m not like the best writer and explaining my emotions, but she got me right on the sheet exactly which comment was mine. But that’s what I have to say. I think those are Lori’s, and very confidential.

Lori Friedman
Yeah, I finally turned 21.

Sam Demma
Let’s go, Lori.

Kim O’Brien
That means I’m 18 because I’m younger than you.

Lori Friedman
Well, I mean, a lot of the things that Kim said about me, she is too. I mean, she’s very organized. She’s great at problem-solving. She’s also a good listener when a teacher needs her to be or when I need her to be. She’s also good at thinking out of the box. She’s a better planner when we need to plan something. It’s like all right when are we going to do this because we need this to be done by X, Y, and Z and we need to make sure it’s done. So she’s more I’m more of a procrastinator when it comes to plans And she’s more of a let’s get it done now. She’s definitely a hundred and twenty five percent better when it comes to budgeting for anything we do We had to do a whole big title one budget this week and And she was insistent on finding $10 that we were off, and I walked away from it, and she found it. That’s cool. But obviously, she’s better at math than I am. But she’s a good collaborator. I mean, a lot of the things that she sees in me, I see in her. But again, there are things that I’m a better revision and editor and writer and she’s definitely better at anything when it comes to math or budgeting or ordering. She’s the go-to when it comes to us putting orders in for anything. I love spending money.

Sam Demma
Well I got more products if you’re trying to buy. I love this little activity that we just did during this podcast because sometimes educators forget their values and their strengths and what makes them so special and unique. I think it’s so important that we spend moments each day recognizing the greatness in others because what often happens is they’ll create moments to recognize the greatness in us. And it was so cool to just watch you two recognize each other real quick and I’m sure it slightly changed the way that you feel, not that you were having a bad day, but I just think of all the educators that forget how special they are and how a word of encouragement like that could go such a long way. 

Lori Friedman
Yeah, we’ve done activities like that as a building where you either like, one activity we did was everybody had a piece of paper taped to their back, and people had to go around and write things about the person whose the paper was on the back for, and just like positive things. And then the first year or two that we were here, we had big anchor charts around the gymnasium with our names on it,

Lori Friedman
and everybody kind of did the same thing. We did a wrap around the cafeteria and just wrote down something about that person that was positive In my office because it’s probably one of the most Meaningful things that I’ve done as an instructional coach is to look back on those and see how everybody thinks of me, you know, without having to say it.

Sam Demma
Right, I love that a great idea to if educators you’re looking for things to do with your colleagues steal that idea This has been a really fun and insightful conversation Thank you both for taking the time to talk a little bit about what it means to be a coach math coach literacy coach sharing some of your beliefs around building relationships and supporting educators if There is somebody listening to this. Can I share and they reach out asking for your information. Are you okay if I share your email address so an educator could reach out to Ask some questions. Yeah, absolutely Okay, awesome. Well, keep up the great work keep decorating the office space and I look forward to seeing you both again, hopefully in March Okay, awesome. Well, keep up the great work keep decorating the office space and I look forward to seeing you both again, hopefully in March.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Kim O’Brien & Lori Friedman

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.

Lindsay Reynoldson — Leadership and Physical Education Teacher at Rutland Senior Secondary

Lindsay Reynoldson — Leadership and Physical Education Teacher at Rutland Senior Secondary
About Lindsay Reynoldson

Lindsay Reynoldson is a Leadership and Physical Education teacher at Rutland Senior Secondary School in Kelowna. She was the chairperson of the 2023 British Columbia Student Leadership Conference hosted at RSS, and she is a member of the British Columbia Association of Student Activity Advisors.

Lindsay has been teaching for 10 years in Kelowna and Fort St. John, B.C. She is a strong advocate for creating connections with students, and she believes that every student has the ability to achieve greatness. Lindsay works to create a culture in her classroom where students feel safe and heard, feel comfortable trying new things and making mistakes, and where everybody feels welcome. Lindsay also coaches rugby and volleyball at her school, is a curricular leader, and is currently in her final courses of her Master’s of Education Program at UBC O.

Connect with Lindsay: Email | Instagram

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Rutland Senior Secondary School

British Columbia Student Leadership Conference

British Columbia Association of Student Activity Advisors (BCASAA)

Bachelor of Kinesiology (BKin) – University of British Columbia

Canadian Student Leadership Association (CSLA)

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator Podcast. This is your host, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is a good friend of mine, Lindsay Renoldson. Lindsay is a leadership and physical education teacher at Rutland Senior Secondary School in Kelowna. She was the chairperson of the 2023 British Columbia Association of Student Activity Advisors. Lindsay has been teaching for 10 years in Kelowna and Fort St. John, B.C.

Sam Demma
She’s a strong advocate for creating connections with students, and she believes that every student has the ability to achieve greatness. Lindsay works to create a culture in her classroom where students feel safe and heard, feel comfortable trying new things and making mistakes and where everybody feels welcome. Lindsay also coaches rugby and volleyball at her school, is a curriculum leader, and is currently in her final courses of her Master’s of Education program at UBC. I hope you enjoy this insightful conversation with Lindsay and I will see you on the other side. Lindsay, please for everyone tuning in, take a moment to introduce yourself.

Lindsay Reynoldson
Hi, Sam. Yes, my name is Lindsay Renoldson, and I am a teacher at Rutland Senior Secondary in Kelowna, BC. I teach leadership and physical education. I’m also a volleyball and rugby coach, and super excited to be here with you today.

Sam Demma
We met at the British Columbia Student Leadership Conference, and you teach leadership. It sounds like that is a big part of your experience in education. Why do you love the work that you do in student leadership and how long have you been doing it?

Lindsay Reynoldson
So I’ve been doing student leadership since I first started teaching actually. My first job was PE in leadership in Fort St. John and I really love it because I find I get to connect with the kids in a different way than I do in academic settings. And I also love leadership because there’s a spot for everybody to contribute in the class and really just seeing the growth of students through their four-year span where I’ve had students that come in super timid not really wanting to talk to their peers and by the end of their fourth year in grade 12 they’re running a pep rally in front of 500 plus students. So it’s really awesome to see the growth that students have and just see all the opportunities that it can provide for students. 

Sam Demma
When you were a student yourself, were you in a leadership classroom?

Lindsay Reynoldson
So I was in a student council classroom, so I was really big into student council. When I was in school, I didn’t have time to take leadership in my courses because I was taking all the sciences and everything else, and I literally had no room. But we did, our leadership teacher from my school also did student council, so I was always doing student council. I was involved in like the orientation stuff. So anywhere I could get involved in my school, I did. Yeah.

Sam Demma
Okay, cool. Awesome. And when you think back to your own experience through school, was there a teacher you had that had a big impact on you? And if so, what did that teacher do that made a big difference? 

Lindsay Reynoldson
Yeah. So I actually had quite a few teachers, I would say, that made a big impact on me. I know I had one physical education teacher that was, she was also one of my coaches. She was just amazing. And I had another French teacher and rugby coach that’s just amazing. And I think the big thing about them is they just really cared about their students as individuals and not like, they weren’t just there to do their job and go home. They really took an interest in their students and just provided us with so many opportunities that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. Like our rugby coach took us to Disneyland was one of our trips and she made that possible. But she was just one of the most incredible human beings I’ve ever met in my life. And she was one of the like key contributors, I would say to want to go into education too and to have students have that person. Because I find sometimes we have students that not fall through the crack, but they don’t, maybe they don’t excel in certain places in the academics.

Lindsay Reynoldson
And finding, like a passion, finding a niche for all students is so important. And I think she was one that really made sure that all students had somewhere to belong in the school.

Sam Demma
You mentioned just now that she was a contributing factor to wanting to get into education. Did you know when you were a student, did you know when you were growing up that you wanted to be a teacher? Did you play house or where did that realization come from? When did you decide? 

Lindsay Reynoldson
So my mom was a teacher. So growing up I was just always around her and her teaching and from a young age, I always wanted to be a teacher. When I was in grade one, I would pull all my stuffed animals into the living room and have spelling tests for them and like set up my classroom and have that ready. And from the time from grade one to grade 12, I always wanted to go into education. And that was a big passion of mine. And I was super excited And then I actually did some summer camp in my grade 12 year that didn’t run as smoothly as I wanted. And after that, I was like, I don’t wanna do this. I don’t wanna go into education.

Lindsay Reynoldson
And I completely changed my career path into wanting to go into physiotherapy. And I went to school, I went and did kinesiology at UBC and was super into physiotherapy. And I was in a mentorship program and I was being mentored by a physiotherapist. And going through that process and looking into her job and going through some different job shadows, I realized that I wasn’t passionate about it and then came back to education and had some amazing university professors, got some experience in high schools, in university teaching, and realized again that that was really where my passion lied.

Sam Demma
It’s awesome to hear your journey because every person’s journey into education is very different. They’re not all a straight pathway. And there’s never a wrong time or bad time to reignite that passion if it’s something you truly want to do. I think one of the reasons most educators get into this vocation is because they want to make a positive impact on the lives of human beings, on the lives of students and even their staff members.

Sam Demma
Can you recall a story where a leadership experience or a classroom moment where something that was taught or something that was said had a very positive impact on a student? The reason I ask is because I think people love hearing those stories. Is there any that come to mind? 

Lindsay Reynoldson
I’m just thinking that’s a good question. I think, I’m trying to think of a specific story. And one thing that really sticks out to me is I have had I had a student that I taught from grade 9 to 12 that graduated last year. And at the end, she wrote. Mia Karr and in it, she was just talking about some specific experiences that I didn’t even remember, but just about how much of an impact that it had on her life. And if she hadn’t have done it, her life would have been completely different.

Lindsay Reynoldson
So I don’t know if I can think of a big thing, but I’ve heard a lot, just kind of those small things add up all the time, which is interesting. And I know one of my students just did his capstone presentation. And I heard afterwards that he said, going to leadership was one of the defining moments in his high school path. And he found somewhere that he finally felt like he could fit in, which was really interesting to hear.

Sam Demma
Oh, that’s amazing.

Sam Demma
When you think about the conferences students attend and the activities, I think what ends up happening is they build so many deep relationships, not only with the other students that are attending, but also with the advisors. How do you think, as an advisor, you build a strong relationship with a student? Like, what do you do to cultivate that?

Lindsay Reynoldson
I think a big thing for my classroom is having a safe space where students can come, and I’m really big on team building, especially at the beginning of the semester. So we do a lot of classwork, I would say, at the beginning of the semester, and it’s all about building those relationships with myself and the students and with the students and each other. And going to the different conferences and having those opportunities, I find just really solidifies that with the students. And even just before I came on this podcast, I had one student that was asking about BFLIC and CFLIC for next year, and if we had figured out when we’re registering and he was making sure I’m on that because he’s super interested, he did BFLIC this year and he’s ready to go again, he wants to go back and he had such an incredible experience. So I think for me, the biggest thing is relationships and carving out that time and understanding that if things don’t go exactly the way I want or if the lesson doesn’t work out for that day, and we just have to switch it up and just have a moment to kind of talk and breathe and go through what everybody’s going through, then that’s okay. And things need to change. And the most important thing is being able to have those talks with the students and understanding that At the end of the day, we’re all human and we need to treat each other with kindness and just providing that space to do so.

Sam Demma
How long have you been attending the conferences CSLC and be selected? I know you said you started teaching leadership right when you started teaching or getting involved But have you been attending all the conferences since then as well?

Lindsay Reynoldson
Well, when I was in Fort St. John, we didn’t go to the BSLCC or CSLCC. I was at a middle school there, and they just never had done that before, and because it was my first contract, I didn’t really know anything about it. So I didn’t get into the conferences really until I came to Rutland. I went to the CSLCC in Abbotsford, but when I was in high school, I also went to BSLCC. So I had attended them in high school, but I just hadn’t actually been able to experience a B-SLIC until this year as an educator, which is shocking because the first one we went is the one, or the first one I attended as an adult is the one that we hosted, but it was a really amazing experience. I’ve also taken students to the CADAA summer camp though. So I have had different experiences bringing students to different places, but I would say the big turning point is working with Al Hopkins and Ryan Wakefield, who are two amazing educators, when we were all at Spring Valley Middle School together, and they really got me into it, and reignited my passion, I would say, in leadership. That when a position came up at Rutland Senior for a leadership teacher, immediately I was like, I know I need to do this, this is my passion, this is where I need to go.

Sam Demma
Sometimes people assume that these student leadership conferences are exclusively for the students, although I know that the advisors also leave with so much. Not only do they have a chance to connect with all their friends that they haven’t maybe seen in a long time, but there’s advisor sessions. And I’m curious, what are some of those advisor sessions like?

Sam Demma
What are the things that you walk away from that event with? And I know that you personally were organizing it, so maybe you didn’t have as much time to sit in on them, but what have you heard?

Lindsay Reynoldson
Yeah, I would say looking back on the CFLIC one, the advisor sessions were super important to me because they took away so many different things that I could then bring back to my school, and I think it’s a really great way for advisors to also fill their cup because a lot of times we’re focusing so much on others that, and we tell the kids that they always need to make sure their cup is filled before they can fill to others. But I think as advisors, sometimes we don’t take that message to heart and we don’t focus on that. So I think the conferences are such a great place for advisors to get that refresh and to fill your own cup and to connect and network with other advisors because leadership is such a fantastic way to share ideas and going to the first piece like that’s where I was able to meet more leadership teachers in my school district that I didn’t know and now I have a really good connection so I’m constantly texting, emailing, I need to do this, what are your thoughts on this and also I know that this year we had Andy and Stu who were running our advisor program and we had so much great feedback from the advisors about things that they could practically bring back to their classes immediately, different ideas, just different events, different ideas, different things to try with their students. And I think it’s so important as advisors for us to have that professional development as well as our students.

Sam Demma
Not only are you involved in leadership, teaching, but you also coach athletics. How do you refill your own cup when you’re exhausted or things are overwhelming? What do you do to take care of yourself?

Lindsay Reynoldson
I really try to focus on my own physical health too. Teaching physical education, I feel that’s really important. And if I’m stressed out, having a bad day, go for a workout, go for a run. That was something my mom always used to tell me anytime I phoned her stress, she would just say, go for a run. And I’d be like, no mom, I don’t want to go for a run.

Lindsay Reynoldson
She’d be like, no, just go for a run. I’d be like, blah, blah, blah. And I would go for a run and then everything was better afterwards. So for me, I find the physical exercise really helps me. Another thing is just surrounding myself with people that I can count on, people that will always be there for me. I’m very fortunate about where I am that I work with a fantastic leadership partner at my school. I also work in a physical education department with amazing human beings, so I’m really fortunate that I always have somebody to connect with if I am having a bad day. Another thing too is I can be having a really bad day and I’ll show up in one of my classes. I’ll put some music on We’ll do a little dance party talk to some of my kiddos, and I’m like it’s all good. It’s all good.

Sam Demma
Okay, cool. So it sounds like physical activity is a big tool that you use in your own toolkit to improve how you mentally and physically feel Yes, I would say I’m very similar I’ve noticed that when I’m not feeling the best, if I move my body, my mindset almost follows the movement.

Lindsay Reynoldson
Exactly.

Sam Demma
And improving and lifting my spirit. So that’s really cool to hear that. Are there any resources you found really helpful or mentors that have been instrumental in your development as a teacher? And if so, you don’t have to name them all because I’m sure there’s like lots of different people who you’ve leaned on, but maybe some of the lessons they’ve taught you that you’ve found really helpful. If anything comes to mind, it’d be really cool to hear your thoughts.

Lindsay Reynoldson
I would say some of the things that have really helped me is reminding, I’m thinking of my class and my leadership class, reminding me that it’s student leadership. And like, not everything needs to be 100% all of the time. And if things don’t go 100% perfectly, that’s okay. Because that’s where we learn. And understanding too that because it’s student leadership, to really focus on the students and help guide them to do the events and it’s not, it’s not teacher leadership and really teaching the students to do that and helping to support them. I think that was a big thing to remind myself of because just in my daily life, I’m very much a perfectionist. I like everything to be 100% perfect all the time. That’s not realistic. So to remind myself about that all the time. And I all often have mentors, just if I think something doesn’t go wrong, just to kind of talk it out, and really refocus and refresh my mind on what’s important. And one thing my mom always tells me if I’m really stressed, too, she’s like, is it life threatening? I’m like, no, it’s not life threatening. She’s like, okay, then we’re good. It’s not life threatening.

Sam Demma
Yes, mom, you’re right. That is so cool. I was recently attending a conference in Quebec city and there was a speaker and he was talking about the difference between the fear of danger and the fear of uncomfort. And there are two different things. You can be afraid and it not be a legitimate fear, it’s just a fear of change. Whereas if there was a bear turning around the corner and you’re walking some path in BC, that’s real danger and you should be very uncomfortable, you know.

Lindsay Reynoldson
Exactly.

Sam Demma
And so just to ask ourselves those questions just like your mom does is such a great way to reground ourselves and move forward. Those are great pieces of advice. It is, has CSLA been instrumental? That’s like, I know a big resource for schools across Canada. Is there any books that come to mind? Is there any other resources that sometimes you lean on or pull from?

Lindsay Reynoldson
For sure, I really look for the CSLA. There’s the Google Drive with a lot of different ideas, talking to Ash and Dave there. We hosted a Horizons conference last year as well. And looking at all the resources they have on their website to help. I’ve also been reading a book, just The Culture Coach, is what I’m reading right now. And I find it really, really interesting.

Lindsay Reynoldson
And it has a lot of practical, practical lesson and practical things that I’ve been bringing into my teaching right now. So, that’s been pretty awesome too.

Sam Demma
Oh, it’s amazing. You mentioned that one of the big reminders you tell yourself is that it’s student leadership. It’s led by students and helped and organized by adults and teachers. I saw that firsthand when I was at BCSLC and how many students were helping out with the British Columbia Student Leadership Conference. How they all stayed after and arrived early and volunteered all day and were running around. Can you give an example to a teacher who is listening to this, who has no idea what a student leadership conference entails, just some of the roles and jobs that students would have filled in during that three-day conference?

Lindsay Reynoldson
Yeah, so our students had such a big role in that conference, and I give so much props and kudos to those kids because they were there for hours. And leading up to the event, we had training days on the weekend. They were there Mondays after school, setting everything up. We had our students, they were the MCs, they were in charge of their spirit groups. They ran the talent show. They got everything ready for our reflections. They organized and planned a pep rally during the conference.

Lindsay Reynoldson
Really anything at the conference that could be done by students was done by students, which was so important for us to be able to give them that opportunity to lead on a grander scale. And I know a lot of our students, that was the first time that they had those opportunities. And just talking to the students after, they really appreciated getting the opportunity to do that because sometimes we have amazing leaders in our school, but they’re not given the opportunity. And it’s so important to provide these opportunities because then you just see students flourish and do amazing things. And just understanding that they are capable of so much and giving them and providing them to do that. And I know for our MCs too, we had two amazing MCs and we had an issue at Beast Lake where and and we hadn’t even talked to them. They were like, everybody come in, we’re gonna do a dance party. Like they had already thought of things, they were already going, and Ryan and I just looked at each other and we’re like, they’re fine, they’ve got this, they’re crushing it. So that was really awesome to see. How many students were volunteering? It seemed like a pretty large group. So we had 40 from our school and we had about 10 from Spring Valley Middle School. So I would say we had about 50 students volunteering in total.

Sam Demma
I think what’s so amazing about that is that when you give a young person or a student a responsibility, an important responsibility, it shows them that you trust them because you’re placing something of importance in their hands. And I had a past guest come on the show and he was telling me that he had a student in his classroom who was challenging at times. And to help this young person realize that he was important to the teacher, the teacher one day pulled out his car keys and said, hey, to this young person, can you please take my keys, go to my car and grab something out of the passenger seat?

Sam Demma
And the kid was like, me? Like, you want me to go do this? And they had had challenges and things before and he said yep here’s my keys I trust you go grab it out of the yeah you can bring it back and he said you wouldn’t imagine how much that small decision meant to this young person in my classroom I think that’s what leadership does it gives young people this opportunity to take on responsibility and build trust in themselves and also with the people around them would you say that’s what you see happen as young students take on these roles and responsibilities at conferences?

Lindsay Reynoldson
100 percent. I think providing them these opportunities just makes them feel like you were saying, just the trust. As soon as students know you trust them and that you care for them, like things completely change. And by providing them these opportunities, just seeing them in the hall, seeing how they interact with other students now, it’s just really amazing to see and how important these conferences are for young students and how much that it can really help and change their lives. And I received, I’m just going to read it out, I received a text message from a family member of mine who had their son at the conference. things that she said to me afterward, see if I can find it, and something that just really stuck with me, sorry. 

Sam Demma
No, pull it out. These are the things that educators always look for. 

Lindsay Reynoldson
She said, “I hope it warms your heart knowing what a huge difference it makes to kids. Having my own personal child there gave me a completely different take on it. Changing the trajectory of kids’ lives, and in this case, those that carry the light in each school.” It’s a big deal. So things like that and understanding how you don’t know the little things that just make such a big difference and can really change somebody’s life. So I think that’s super important to provide these opportunities for kids. And like you were saying about your other guest who used to give his car keys to students, I do that all the time. And even today we had to bring something to the food bank.

Lindsay Reynoldson
And I was like, okay, here are my keys. Don’t judge me that I still have my golf shoes in my car. Like, can you go stick these in for me, please?

Sam Demma
For the educators listening, what this means is if there is a provincial conference, leadership conference happening in your province, send some of your students, get involved. It’s gonna be a life-changing experience for them. And students of Lindsay’s are already asking for her to re-sign up.

Lindsay Reynoldson
100% yes it’s so important if you can go go go I highly recommend it because it’s not only amazing for your students as we said it’s amazing for the advisors as well and you’ll get so much out of it and it’s amazing yes send everybody.

Sam Demma
What is something that you’re very excited about in 2024 that you’re looking forward to?

Lindsay Reynoldson
2024, there’s a few things I’m really excited about. We’re starting quite a few things. We’re starting rugby right away. I’m super excited. My students have been asking me since the first week of September when we’re starting rugby. So they’re ready to go. So I’m super excited about the teams we have this year. I’m super excited, hoping to bring some students back to the Cata Leadership Conference in the summer, bringing some students to C-Slick and B-Slick this year. Well, next year, but 2024. I’m also finishing my master’s in April, so I’m really excited about that, too. So there’s quite a few things to look forward to, yeah.

Sam Demma
Awesome. Well, I wish you the best of luck in all your adventures in 2024. It’s been such a pleasure having you on the podcast. Thank you for taking the time and yeah, keep up the great work, know that you’re making a difference and I hope that we cross paths again sometime in the new year. in the new year.

Lindsay Reynoldson
Thank you, Sam, as do I.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Lindsay Reynoldson

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

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

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

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

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

Connect with Michael: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

University of Victoria’s Education Program

Master’s in Educational Technology at UBC

St. Patrick’s Community School

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

I Love it Here – Clint Pulver

The Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

Michael Saretzky
Good, thanks. How are you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sam Demma
Oh, wow.

Sam Demma
That’s awesome.

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

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

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

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

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

Sam Demma
Oh, no way.

Sam Demma
Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sam Demma
Ah.

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

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

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

Sam Demma
Cool.

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

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

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

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

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

Michael Saretzky
Thank you for having me.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Michael Saretzky

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

Jeff Madsen — Retired teacher and veteran of high school English

Jeff Madsen — Retired teacher and veteran of high school English
About Jeff Madsen

Jeff Madsen is a veteran of high school English having taught Hamlet more times than even the old bard read it himself. However, he also energized his mind by teaching Junior High (aka. middle school) in all subjects excluding Math (thankfully, for the students’ sake). His first teaching position was outside of Wainwright, in a K-12 school situated in the “Friendly Oasis” leading eight years later to Edson, and four years after that to Red Deer, where he taught for 21 years. He retired in 2021 and while he waits for his wife, also an English teacher, to retire he works full-time at a bronze Foundry outside of Ref Deer.

Through it all, he has been an ardent believer in multiple intelligences within the classroom requiring diversity and choice. Whether it is assessment or sources used or writer approach, students don’t learn in the homogeneously nor in the same way. Critical-thinking is the perpetual goal and a skill set that’ll be used way beyond grad day. For that to work, there has to be student buy-in. Stand & deliver pedagogy is moot.

Connect with Jeff: Email | Facebook

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

blurb.ca

The Rhodes Scholarship

Small Consistent Actions | Sam Demma | TEDxYouth@Toronto

University of Alberta – Bachelor of Arts Programs

HARMAN SCULPTURE FOUNDRY LTD

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator Podcast. This is your host, keynote speaker, and author, Sam Demma. Today’s episode is a very special one. Our guest is Jeff Madsen, a veteran of high school English, having taught Hamlet more times than even the old bard read it himself. However, he also energized his mind by teaching junior high, AKA middle school, in all subjects excluding math (thankfully for the students sake). These are his words, not mine. His first teaching position was outside of Wainwright in a K through 12 school situated in the friendly oasis leading eight years later to Edson and four years after that to Red Deer where he taught for twenty-one years. He retired in 2021 and while he waits for his wife, also an English teacher, to retire, he works full-time at a bronze foundry outside of Red Deer. Through it all, he has been an ardent believer in multiple intelligences within the classroom requiring diversity and choice. Whether it is assessment or sources used or writing approaches, students don’t learn in the homogeneously nor in the same way. Critical thinking is a perpetual goal and a skill set that’ll be used way beyond graduation day. For that to work, there has to be student buy-in. He strongly believes that stand and deliver pedagogy is moot. I hope you enjoy this energizing, insightful, inspiring conversation with the one and the only Jeff Madsen. I’ll see you on the other side. Jeff, welcome to the High Performing Educator Podcast. It is a pleasure to have you on the show, especially after our previous episode was with a former student of yours. Please start, and all good things, but please start by introducing yourself to the audience tuning in.

Jeff Madsen
Certainly, I am Jeff Madsen. I call it a veteran teacher of English, high school English. But I cut my teeth in a small school outside of Wainwright. It’s called the friendly oasis. People have to look that up now. And I’ve always maintained that was Wainwright. And then I went to Edson and I’m in Red Deer, was in Red Deer. Now I’m retired. But I still have the allegiance to all the classrooms I was in. I’m a firm believer in the belief that students should not only see their writing or hear it, hear their voice, they should see it in print. That’s really where I started with creative writing and saw a lot of growth in a lot of students and man, they lit up when they can self-publish. So that to me was a, what was that, small, someone once said small, what was that? Steps, small consistent steps, someone said that to me. I forget, I forget where I got that from. But so that was a big thing to just get the creative juices going in the students. And the other one is I’m a firm believer in choice, lots of choice, like in the classroom. So that’s my philosophy. I carried it for 32 years and put that handle down after probably going through Shakespeare a few times too, like 70 times through Hamlet. And people kept saying, why? Why don’t you change play? And I’m going, because I’m Danish. It’s all about Danish. Are you kidding me? Anyways, that’s me in a nutshell.

Sam Demma
So, two firm beliefs that you shared, the one around choice and the belief that students should hear their voices and see their voices in writing. Let’s start with the hear and see their voices in writing. Why do you believe that that is so important?

Jeff Madsen
Well, I think that basically education system has to change a little bit because the student buy-in is so important. And if we gave them opportunity to see their own voice, I think it would really enhance critical thinking because they now are part of the system instead of here’s your assignment, hand it back to me, I want you to espouse what I said to you and you get check marks if you can copy me. That’s not how the world should work with them. Like I couldn’t sit, I have ADHD I know, but I could not sit for 80 minutes in an English class, even if Madison was there, I couldn’t do it. So you have to get them to buy in. And so if you can get them to see that the English experience instead of notes and questions and whatever, that buy-in will allow them to see that they’re connected to the work. But then, I mean, it all came about because, you know, I was in Red Deer and there’s some really good writing that came across my desk and it’s okay, and then I handed it back to them. So I thought, wouldn’t it be cool if we collected all these and then put it into print? And so I would collect for three years and then we published a 125-page book with the student writing and their photography and whatever. And that became like every three years until micro-publishing hit the scene and then we published every year. Because just for them to light up and see it, to me that was engaged thinking and engaged writing and that their opinion was respected. So in a nutshell, yeah, that’s what it is. And along the way, I developed the mantra shut up and write because we are so, they’re so, how can you say, conditioned that everything that hits paper has to be perfect. So I’m not going to hit, I’m going to delete all the time. So I would always say in my classroom, just shut up and write and then get some writing done.

Sam Demma
I started journaling in 2017 and was very inconsistent with it for a few years. More recently, I’ve journaled every single night before going to bed for the past couple of years. And it has brought me so many insights about my life. And when I look back at some of the entries that were almost impossible to read because it looked like chicken scratch and I was so emotional and I was just pouring it all out on a piece of paper, it gives me goosebumps. And I read about the things that I desired in life. And if some of those things came to fruition in the future years, I look back and it just makes me feel so grateful. And writing is such a powerful tool. And it’s just so cool to hear how passionate you are about it. Tell me a little bit about the publishing of books. Like what would the student reaction be when they held their own work in the form of a book in their hands?

Jeff Madsen
Oh, yeah, it can get emotional because, you know, I would ship it away. I’m not going to advertise the micro-publishing place that we have, but I’m connected and they bring it back on UPS and it’s always, it was always addressed to me. So I’d get it, staff room, and then I’d walk down the hall to wherever room they were, and it’s like Christmas, and they’d open up, or it’d be in the creative writing class, and we’d celebrate it. It was, for them, it was totally like, oh my god, like I taught the fifth grade entry level one, we call 15 and then 25 and 35. And I made it mandatory in the 35 that they had to self-publish. And sometimes that’s what, you know, they need in a sense, because you put the deadline in front of them, they go, yeah, yeah, writers are procrastinators, you know, like nothing, no, okay, whatever, I’ll do it, I’ll do it, do it. And in the case of the student you just finished talk to, it, as an example, she had to self-publish. And the Christmas present lights that went on in those people’s head when and emanating these big miles. It’s something that they still talk to. To this day, I have a tiny little anecdote. It was funny in a sense because there’s a neurologist at the Foothills Hospital in Calgary and he was a former student and he was applying for the Rhodes Scholarship. So he contacted you to verify that I’ve been published. Of course. Can you put me at the footnote? It’s crazy eh.

Jeff Madsen
So it’s part of the resume, like really you self publish that takes a lot of courage, but as overdue for some, it’s like you were talking about, you know, you have, you just put it on the paper, I bet you couldn’t even read it fast enough.

Sam Demma
I was so excited to jot the dots down. And I just, I think about my experience with English, and I struggled. That was one of the challenging subjects for me when I was going through high school. And it, my English teacher did a great job of meeting me halfway and meeting my needs. But if I had a project like the one you’re describing now, I think it would have just lit a fire in me to create my best work. And I appreciate you sharing that.

Jeff Madsen
Who says it’s too late?

Sam Demma
And I write a lot now.

Jeff Madsen
Yeah, but the publishing place that I deal with, they handle JPEGs. I’m not trying to convert you, but you can snap pictures of your cursive writing and then insert them as pages. And I’ll guarantee you that if you have 26 pages as the minimum, some of these students said, I’ll never get 26, and then they mail away 125 pages right and you taking a jpeg of each of your pages Shoving them in and it auto Populates it you probably could set up a book Inside of 20 minutes and then you yeah. Yeah, it’s really really wicked So there’s there and that’s what I wanted that Not only did they get a chance in their school. I was trying to set them up for, you know, craving that addiction again. So they keep writing and they keep writing and nothing is ever, ever useless. I followed the readings, writings of Julie Cameron. She said it’s always, never discard, always keep it. old insights even now. Therefore, I’m going to guilt you. Don’t you deserve to see those in print? Because in print, you can actually flip quicker. Going through past journals, you don’t want all this stuff, but you can select some big chunks and put it together. It’s marvellous and marvellously fast. You can make hard covers and soft covers. And you can do the design. It’s just so hands-on. And my whole course was therefore developed that yeah, that’s part of it. You are your own worst critic, which is why your writing or your insights don’t get public knowledge. Like you could go back, you could go back, Sam, and just cut lines out that you think are really good. Stick them on a page, change it up, and then put some sort of maybe an artwork that it reminds you of, or a photo that you snapped. And that’s it, that’s as easy as it is, but it just creates this zest for learning. Like I had horrible English during my high school and this was not modeled on being an E.T. ad. It just kind of like popped into me when, in my head, when I saw all this good writing. And they need to celebrate. So, that’s it.

Sam Demma
What is this software program called for all the teachers who are salivating.

Jeff Madsen
Can I say it over? Okay. It’s blurb.ca.

Sam Demma
Gotcha. Thank you for sharing.

Jeff Madsen
And yeah, and you go on to their site and you download their software program called Book Right. And it’s amazing, you can get it to just do it on its own or you can actually arrange it. And I think the greatest first victory on that was a young writer, Michael. And he had a novel that he’d been reading, writing along the way. This is in grade 12 and he said, you know, do you want to read my novel? I went, that’s kind of like, he had 460 pages, right? And he wanted to get a critical look at it. And he, he was frustrated because he kept going back in his doc. Do you see it? And he was distracted. So he accessed blurb.ca, Okay, 20 seconds? I’m not even, probably 10. It was all on the pages, all numbered. He inserted his cover, sent it away. When he got it back, he was pretty happy. 

Sam Demma
That’s cool, man.

Sam Demma
You mentioned that it would be challenging for you to sit in a classroom these days, if for 80 minutes. What did a Jeff Madsen classroom look like when you were teaching? Tell me a little bit about the experience of the student.

Jeff Madsen
Oh, you got me.

Jeff Madsen
Because I’m ADHD, I’m very visual and I need lots of artwork. So the students contributed the, we call them project-based learning, but I used that PBL derivative and I made a choice. Here’s 70 ideas. We’re studying Hamlet. Here’s the question you have to answer. Choose the format. And then you’re going to critically think through your format. So it has to be done. And you can’t just build me a CAS form, bring it in. So I had a huge proportion of artwork from students over the years. And I just, it was massive. It was like this huge display board. And it wasn’t a typical square classroom, so it’s kind of like angular. And then it also helped that one of my former students was a manager at a local theater, so I had the brave poster, it was 20 feet long and 5 feet high. It had to be colourful. And then I decided that we call it now a soft start for a classroom. I just called it common sense. You can’t get the kid coming in from the cold or just talk to their friend about something. And then they sit in class and then you start in on how this, well, so we, I always had logic quizzes. And that’s the trivial pursuit, because it’s the old me remembering the guys who put Trivial Pursuit together were Canadian. And we just have a, I’d give them 10 questions and they’d have to work at a table. There’s the interesting concept. I was teaching in classrooms, classes, with desks for the first 12 years. I came to Red Deer and they put me in front of circular tables and I went, what, like, can I get some desks? And they said no, and I went, oh, okay. And I will never teach, I’m retired, but I’d never teach again in desks because they’re so disconnected. When they’re sitting at a table, they do these logic quizzes, start the day and they’re connecting with one another very quickly. So it’s a little mini community. And I think that that’s one thing that’s really important is I was the student in my high school journey where I would come in and I wouldn’t know anyone and I wasn’t in the pack. So, you know, finding a way to sit with dignity in a classroom that you didn’t really have anybody hanging around with you. So I made it mandatory that there was a seating plan because then everyone had a place to go. And even if they didn’t know the people at the table, they were going to. And then I rotated seating plan every two weeks. So what was it like? Number one, I couldn’t mark anything in a classroom. I’m so distracted. I could hear them talking about the party plans in the back table. It’s like, ah, you know, so yeah. So it interpretation. I taught Disney unit one time. The film is a big thing. I think visual learners are overlooked. I think they’re the right brain art enthusiasts would never get Hamlet unless you give them a visual of Hamlet before. And it’s like my wife who is also an English teacher would always say, and in the theaters in Edmonton, the Citadel Theater, never says as you come in, oh, here’s a copy of Julius Caesar, you need to read it before you can see the play. Plays are to be experienced, oh, and then we have a script. So what was it like in the classroom? A lot of visuals, a lot of broken up, not stand and deliver, man, stand and deliver.

Jeff Madsen
Man, stand and deliver.

Jeff Madsen
Here you go. Here’s my voice of wisdom. Now, now, can you recite it back to me? You get the marks. Like what what is that setting up for future citizens? There’s no critical thinking there. It’s just rote. Right. And we need to engage them. We need to see and it’s small, consistent steps. I agree with you. It’s just small, consistent. So, could I convert the people around me? Well, I didn’t try. If they picked up on some of the stuff I was doing, great. But I wasn’t out to change them. I just wanted to give students a chance to look at literature through their eyes, not my eyes, because could you imagine? I am now, let’s say I’m 60 times through Hamlet. Okay, A, why would I do that? But B, what are they learning? They’re learning my 60th time through, which they haven’t read it even once. So our master teacher concept is basically over there and we should evolve to bring them to the forefront so they can teach their peers. I mean, the stats, a teacher saying something to the students, they pick up 10%. A peer talking to the students, they pick up 90. I mean, your high school experience, do you remember what subject sticks in your mind?

Sam Demma
The Most? Weight training. 

Sam Demma
Wow, was there a weight training 15, 25, 30. That was a fun class and funny enough, students are always correcting my form. But I think the subject that had the biggest impact on me was my world issues class and it was the teacher I spoke about in my TEDx talks, Small Consistent Actions, and he taught us but then gave us an opportunity to ask so many questions and he shared so many visuals and videos and we had open debates and discussions like it was a little bit well compared to my other classes it seemed it seemed to lack structure but we liked it 10 times more than any other class you walked into.

Jeff Madsen
Great, because you walked in and you felt engaged right away. Like you were salivating, you’re going, what are we going to talk about now? Instead of going, oh, we’re doing 20 questions in Act 1. Okay, well, yeah, I’m excited. But good on you, you remember that. There is no hesitation for you to say, oh, I remember that class. And good on that teacher because that’s a road less traveled.

Sam Demma
Yeah, your past student told me just recently, in fact, an hour and a half ago, take the road less traveled, it has a better view. But I enjoy the insights that you’ve shared so far with relation to writing and getting student buy-in. Like how do you think you get, how do you get student buy-in?

Jeff Madsen
They have to, you have to be mortal. You have to own up to mistakes. You have to go, no, you’re right, I was wrong there. I mean, I still remember the young lady who I was teaching to other salesmen for whatever, a gazillion times. And I always, I don’t know if you’re familiar with that play, but there was always, there was two characters. And I said, in the presentation material we’re going through, and I went, well, that the youngest son is blah, you know, blah, blah, blah, blah. And she goes, I don’t think so. And I went, okay. So it’s like, and she stayed her point. So then I’m going, oh, as usual, I learned from the students and I acknowledge I’m learning from the students. And then it becomes my next class. I’m gonna use her input or her insight into it. And to just be able to say to the students, like I had the Dean’s vacation after my first attempt at university. I mean, I came from a junior college where there’s a, you know, kind of like a lackadaisical attitude. I got to U of A and I got body slammed, like seriously body slammed. So I passed two of the eight courses. And so I got the Dean’s vacation as they call it, and I was more successful. So it wasn’t like I got out of high school and went, oh, I want to be a teacher. You know, it was like, oh, I got out of high school and I went, oh, now what? But my parents have degrees, so it’s assumed that I would. I went into sciences, Like biochemistry and inorganic, oh man, I was so lost. So unbelievably lost. So, you know, did I go, I’m going to go into education because teacher? No. Oh, I’m going to go into education because I have a Bachelor of Arts. No. I actually, ironically, packed my entire car up with all my possessions and I head out to Toronto because I was going to be in the magazine or newspaper industry and I was going to start ground up and, no, yeah. So I got to Toronto, drove all the way across Canada myself in May. Yeah, that was an experience. And I get there and I go, oh, way too big. And I came all the way back.

Jeff Madsen
So now I’m back. I remember my dad, first thing he said when he saw me roll in, why are you back? Oh, well, yeah, it didn’t fit. So it was a real circuitous route that I used, including lots of failure along the way. And I’m a believer that yeah, it’s Why do we make high school three years? Why not four? Oops. Yeah, that was Ontario. But why why four why five? because That’s part of being mortal. That’s them saying Hold it. He failed and Hold it. I guess he was wrong that’s how They need to see you so that you can connect to them human to human, not, you know, master to or Yoda to Luke, like not, you know, grasshopper, you know, like I’m not, I want them to feel like they’re coming in with something. They’re besides you, not behind you. Yes, good way of saying it. And then because they have that confidence, watch in your classroom, teachers, how it just ripples. Because now they’re going to stand up and say things, or they’re going to be at their table, which is more secure, and they’re going to not discuss, not argue, they’re going to discuss. And they’re going to find their voice. And when they find their voice, yeah, you can see where I’m going with this. When they find the voice, they’re going to unleash the voice, and they’re going to judge the characters and evaluate the characters based on how they think. And when, as a teacher, you accept that, then they’re going to go more. And that’s the confidence that they need, because 90% of writing is confidence. Just to put it down on page and walk away and say it’s done. If you shut up and write, it’s going to hit the page. And then what you do with that, I mean, yeah, we journal, but it’s like the old era, well, not old era, but we had slides. And the only way you could see slides is if you get a projector out on the screen, everyone’s there, and then we went, oh, we’re going to have phones. So now we capture all this photos on phones. It’s still hidden.

Jeff Madsen
It’s still hidden.

Jeff Madsen
It’s like writing. You write it, it’s hidden. But could they not develop the confidence, start to unleash their insights, build momentum, go, okay, I’m going to look around the world and I’m going to say on paper what I think about this character, about this play, about the writer, and then carry it forward to themselves. I think it really snowballs. But they have to have a secure environment, that’s number one, secure environment where they are respected for their opinion. So there can’t be an atmosphere where they’re worried about what they’re going to say or they’re heckled about it. It has to be the teacher saying, good point, approbation, good point. You should work with that through the play. Okay, then I will. And you couple that with choice. Here’s 25 novels. Choose which one. Instead of going, oh, everyone’s going to like Gatsby because I like it. So everyone’s going to take the Gatsby on and it’ll illuminate. No, it won’t. There’s going to be people that are going to be way ahead of you on AI through the computer or they’re going to cut and paste or they’re going to, you know, fill in the blank with their friends’ words. They’re not involved. You know, I had a student, grade 12, Joe, big, excellent football player. And at the end of it all, he said he read Gatsby, actually. And because the way that I allotted time for them to read, and it was, you know, you can read on your own pace. That’s the other thing, you flip the classroom. So if you need your lava lamp and your bean bag and you know, your reading atmosphere, then why do we make them read in class? As long as they have it read by a certain day, they can read. If they want to flip the classroom, that means they’re going to read at home. So that normally would have been when they did physics. So they’re going to do physics in the English classroom while everyone’s reading and then they go home and read because now they’re free to read and then come back. So I just remember Joe saying, it’s grade 12, Sam, grade 12. And he goes, that’s the first book I ever read. Pin drop? What do you mean? Oh, yeah, all the other ones I, you know, I got, I didn’t like, but because he had a choice, he chose Gatsby, which is right. So his buy-in, again, his buy-in is his motivator. I have all these. Yeah, you can, you pick up the novel, you don’t like it, you return it the next day, get another one, and you keep swapping that off, and I’ll just adjust your deadlines. And then when you get it, start reading. And that is an unbelievable, powerful tool of self-worth that students pick. I guess, and I have been all at the start of the course and after that, tell me what you think, brings on a whole new response.

Sam Demma
Your second belief was that students need choice. And you painted a clear picture as to why that’s so important. What other thoughts come to mind when you think of the importance of giving students choice?

Jeff Madsen
Well, you’re in a conversation on a podcast. You ask your question to the participant and they go, what do you want me to say? And you go, but I want your opinion. Oh, well, what kind of opinion do you want? Or do you give them the opportunity for choice, it comes back tenfold. It just, what is needed is the teacher to back away from being, I don’t want to use the word eagle, but they’re well-meaning, but they have an adult perspective of that novel, from all their life experiences they’ve been through, or the play, or a short story. And that will taint, if you, you know, expound that to the class, that will taint their interpretation of it. Because there will be a whole group of keeners that will give you back your answers, but they won’t have a chance to experience it by themselves and draw their own conclusion and feel worthwhile to put it down on page. So you give them choice, you’re actually giving them confidence. So choice, there’s another c word, confidence. They will take it and run with it and I think that’s what freed up a lot of right brain individuals that took my class because I was not standing to deliver and that frustrated some students, they transferred out. That’s okay. I would always say I can, if you don’t like the way I deliver the content in the first week, let me know and I will help you find another class. I’m not offended. It’s because brain, it’s neurological, it’s our brain wiring has to be recognized, and we have to. That’s how I learned. Okay. So choice, right across the board, whether you’re a physics student, or you’re you’re focused on the liberal arts. Once you got choice, you got armor. Because then you can take a, let’s say everyone dealt with Hamlet, which I don’t know why, but you would take an opinion of Hamlet and know it was worthwhile because it’s your choice that has been galvanized and therefore you can put that out there in safety and security and stand behind it. And you talk about small, consistent steps. A student has no voice, gets the choice. Oh yeah, that wasn’t supposed to rhyme. But they get the choice and then they feel like they can do more. They might not in that course, but man, you have given them a trigger mechanism. And it’s, it, it might see it. So it creates, you go ahead.

Sam Demma
No, continue.

Jeff Madsen
Well, it gives them something that you can’t tangibly see, and something that you can’t put a mark on. And isn’t that about education? I will never forget we had a scholar in one time for profession development and he asked everyone, what does education mean? What the root word, the Latin word, what is education? And you know, all of us teachers go to impart knowledge to, and he goes, you fail. All of you fail.

Jeff Madsen
And I’m going, okay, we failed. That’s what education means. And he said, it’s to pull understanding out of it.So you have to ask yourself, are we putting information in? Are we pulling understanding out? Because once you pull understanding out, you have buy-in. Once they feel good about their opinion, they abide. Once they can choose their curriculum, they abide. I mean, yeah, we’ll do a short story. I’ll show you what I’m looking for in a short story. I will teach you, you know, the strengths of what the technique is and then I want you to apply it to your novel. It’s yours. These are the things. I’d always divide the novel into four sections mathematically, regardless of the novel you have. In section one, you’re responsible for blah. And so when that, I told them in advance, okay? So when they got to the quiz or their assessment, that’s what was being assigned. There’s no surprise, they had all their notes. They can use notes, that’s the other thing. In my course was closed book. It was always open book because that rewards them for their own words. So yeah, I think that the choice gives so much because eventually they’re going to risk their critical thinking and, hey, isn’t that good citizen?

Jeff Madsen
Critical thinking. They’re out there.

Sam Demma
And to think that the choice of what book to choose connects to the way they evolve as critical citizens in society. Some people wouldn’t draw those two things together, but they are so connected, and it’s so beautiful to hear you talk about these concepts. So I appreciate you for sharing them, and I hope that a lot of teachers tuning in are shaking their head and nodding as you share some of these things the same way that I am, because you can’t see the video. Something else you can’t see is that my good friend, Jeff Madsen made a choice to wear a Habs jersey during this podcast interview, which I have no comment about.

Jeff Madsen
But, but, but, look, come on, who doesn’t like the flower? Come on.

Jeff Madsen
Come on.

Jeff Madsen
I was in the era where you’re just hoping there’s lots of penalties so the floor would get on the ice. Just give him a chance. Fight him, fight him. Okay, now it’s clear. Go ahead.

Sam Demma
I’ve been hooked on every story and every concept you’re sharing. I really appreciate your time and And just the ideas you’ve shared. I’m curious, now that you are retired from teaching formally inside of a classroom, what are you spending your time doing?

Jeff Madsen
Well, there’s a gentleman, former neighbor who has a foundry outside of Red Deer. And he is such a talented artisan. He can create his own, but right now it’s project. So there’ll be a 3D mold cut styrofoam of a large Easter Island head. It’s sent to him. His job is to make a bronze exactly like that. A bronze plate creates inch thick. So his, and his skill set, have you been to BC Place at all? Okay, there’s Terry Fox. Terry Fox running towards you.

Sam Demma
Yep, I’ve seen it.

Jeff Madsen
Yeah, that’s his.

Sam Demma
Wow. 

Jeff Madsen
And then there’s the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. That’s his and his dad. Is that Ottawa? Yeah. Yep. Yep. There’s probably two or three others that are in the heart of Ottawa that I sent to a former colleague and she said, Oh my God, yeah, I walk past them all the time. So this guy is absolutely amazing with his talent. He’s younger than me. Yeah. And so every day, a lot of people are. So every day, a lot of people are, but every day I drive out to this foundry and right now we’re making four big huge Easter Island sized heads with each head has 16 pieces. Each of those pieces has to have a box in it, has to be cast and whatever. And it’s such an incredible creative process. And it’s fun. It’s fun in the sense that, is it as intense as teaching? No. Do I have two hours of marking because I’m ADHD and can’t concentrate in the classroom every night? No. I’m out there with my headphones on, sometimes classical music, sometimes, you know, whatever, my era music, which is 70s and 80s and it’s just contentment. Wow! Okay and then you’re making things. It’s going to be there for a few hundred years because it’s all bronze. But yeah, his name is Harmon. Harmon Foundries, Sculpture Foundries. It’s a great gig. I really think about why, but I know it’s because I’ve had my own classroom for 33 years. I don’t know if I can waltz into someone else’s classroom, but because and this is my retirement gig.

Sam Demma
Yeah, and I think it needs no explanation. It’s just it’s beautiful and I appreciate you sharing a little bit about it.

Jeff Madsen
You come to Red Deer, you gotta come out and see it.

Sam Demma
Well, I’ve been many times, but I just never crossed paths with you yet. So next time I come, let’s make it happen. I was there recently, I had lunch at Cilantro and Chive and the Italian restaurant called Forno. I took some local recommendations from some folks. But I would love to see some of the work and see you working on some of the work.

Sam Demma
So that would be cool.

Jeff Madsen
And a good Danish person like me, Heritage, there are certain beverages that I will offer because they’re Danish.

Sam Demma
That sounds good to me.

Jeff Madsen
I’m holding you to it, man.

Sam Demma
I have a question, another question. You can choose to answer however you’d like.

Sam Demma
Do you think that everybody is creative?

Jeff Madsen
Yes.

Sam Demma
Yeah, I didn’t think much about that one. What has been proof of that in your experience teaching for 20, 30 years and even just everyday life?

Jeff Madsen
Okay, so if you give them opportunity to reflect their understanding in a visual. I’ve had, I forget, I know I can picture the name, but she was She was amazing in physics and math and she’s going to go into engineering. I kid you not, she made a line graph of a novel. She put the high points on and then handed in. But she had to explain what that was because that was the question. You just don’t hand in a project, you have to answer the question via your project. That proved to me that you’re creative, but you’re creative in your own realm. It doesn’t mean you have to paint. It means that a good engineer can think outside a confined box or question. You have to find if the customer comes in with a low income, they’re not wanting to have the finest caliber repair. You are going to create. You’re going to put things together. mechanics are creative. I mean, we are all creative. It’s just, what is our creative wing? And are we maximizing it? Because maximizing creativity creates the balance. Right? You’re, we have our job, but what nourishes us, what creates that, what gives us energy, and what we have for energy is what makes us tick. What makes us tick is what we like. How is that not creative? What sport were you in? I played soccer. Oh, you guys aren’t creative at all. You just run up and down. I don’t know where creative comes in soccer. How are you? Right?

Sam Demma
Yeah.

Jeff Madsen
The bicycle kick didn’t happen because he slipped on the grass. I mean, it was purposeful and it became a signature, right? I mean, good athletes are creative, like totally creative. I mean, I’m a Chiefs fan. I’m watching Mahon’s, he is amazing. Creative solutions. So what do we do with it? I mean, that’s the retort question. Why don’t we in a capitalist society, why don’t we just give ourselves time to slow down, see, and maybe write, and maybe get it published. Just saying, I’d like a copy when you do. It’s really easy. Sorry, my ADHD. But it creates balance. It’s something that nurtures us. You can be married to your work, but it doesn’t really fill you. You stand in front of an audience.

Jeff Madsen
Can’t tell me that that’s not creative you read the audience you you you connect with the audience So it might not go to game plan but you are you are connecting with the audience and and you’re going to steer it this way because That’s where it needs to be so Okay Creative yes you are I’m creative.

Sam Demma
If you could share one habit that you think every single human being would benefit from practicing in their day-to-day life, I have an idea of what I think it might be. Well, what do you think is the habit that you would share with others? 

Jeff Madsen
That’s a hard one to answer. You know, Julie Cameron said that she wrote three pages longhand, cursive, every morning. And she’s a professional writer, granted, but why do we say it has to be, okay, cursive handwriting, great. and create. But I also remember the novelist who wrote his novel on his notepad going to work every morning on the subway. So you can’t tell me that in our age of, you know, time where we’re traveling or downtime or you’re waiting for a call, that there’s not opportunity to write what you think. It could be a reaction to war, because we always have war somewhere in the world on a daily experience. Or, I hate the price of gas. Okay, put it on there. I think that we would have our opinion validated personally. And it would flush out like we carry concrete cisterns in our head of all the stuff that has gone We carry concrete cisterns in our head of all the stuff that has gone wrong. You do a hundred things, you remember the one thing that went wrong. We put all of that into our cistern and it overflows, but we just keep pushing it down. And then we go, cool. have to go if you just continually shut up and write. If you just put it on page, if you take your notepad, and just I’m a one finger text or some of these people are like, well, you could write probably 400 words in a minute with some of those thumbs going. And it’s about why it might be our frustration might be our celebration. It’s our brain. And we only know 10% of it. But here’s the part we do know, you need to think and you can’t think and clutter. And you declutter by getting rid of some stuff. The stuff you can’t control. Okay, great. Put it to the side. But here’s what frustrates me. I’m going to write down. And when I have a collection of it, I’m Oh, I don’t know. I’m, I’m going to, I’m going to take my journals out and dust them off this hypothetical now. I’m going to take pictures of them. And I heard that you can import those JPEGs. And I’m going to design the cover. It’s going to have me on the TED talk with a great backdrop of black and I’m silhouetted and I’m gonna say I’m gonna have a clever title and I’m gonna put that on a hard copy and I’m gonna give it to mom and dad for Christmas or and by the way that the cost of something like that is like seven bucks. That’s crazy. That kid who sent them all the way, that’s 460 pages, that was $7.95.

Sam Demma
Wow.

Jeff Madsen
Okay, it’s not a book. They’re called, if anyone’s listening, they’re called trade books, but they’re 5×8. So let’s say hypothetically you do put all those JPEGs in, you print it, you hand off your insights to someone and they now know more about you by what you thought and what you’re thinking and what matters to you. So create, create, create. Maybe it’ll land on as a book. Maybe it’ll be like my dad who went to preach for 50 years. When he passed away, I have all of his sermons. They’re so creative. Like he was, he’s an amazing orator, you know, and yet very practical because when it was Grey Cup Sunday, the service was short. It was like, there’s 40 minutes, kickoff is at noon, guys, okay? We are going to get going.

Sam Demma
That’s beautiful, man. If someone is listening to this and has enjoyed the conversation as much as I have, and they want to reach out to you and ask a question or publish their book and send you a copy of it, what would be the best way to get in contact? 

Jeff Madsen
Yeah, that’s a good question. Probably my email. Well, no, probably Facebook, I guess. I just got on Facebook a year ago, so I’m not really like, you can tell. You asked on your forum, Twitter? I went, nope.

Sam Demma
If it’s okay with you, can I share your Facebook link in the description of the podcast?

Jeff Madsen
Yeah, I hope it connects. Again, I was a newbie, so I went, I think that’s the link I’m supposed to if it doesn’t work let me know and I’ll get you to get the link. Sounds good. Awesome talking to you. Yeah this is you do marvelous things you do you you are you’re rejuvenating the process of matter. The students will go and the people that you touch with your TED Talks and your thinking, they will remember. And then if you say, you know, a slide mantra, you say, shut up and talk, shut up and write. I mean, either way, they’re going to be moving forward too. I was thinking that might be the title of the JPEG collection of mine.

Sam Demma
I was thinking that might be the title of the JPEG collection of mine.

Jeff Madsen
Yes! Make it shut up and write and then the subtitles it shut up and talk. 

Sam Demma
This has been so much fun, Jeff. Thank you again for making the time and I look forward to burning your jersey when I come to Red Deer.

Jeff Madsen
I have an extra one for you.

Jeff Madsen
That’s awesome. Keep up the great work, my friend.

Sam Demma
That’s awesome. Keep up the great work, my friend. I’ll talk to you soon.

Jeff Madsen
Yes, thank you. Okay, you as well. Okay, bye.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Jeff Madsen

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

Ireland Black — Success Coach in Bowden and Spruce View

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

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

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

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

Connect with Ireland: Email | Instagram

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Youth Empowerment & Support (YES) program

Muriel Summers – Leader in ME

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

Red Deer Polytechnic

The Bubble Gum Brain by Julia Cook

Royal Canadian Mounted Police

The Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ireland Black
Absolutely.

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

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

Sam Demma
Nice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ireland Black
Of course.

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

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

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Ireland Black

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

Lynne Jenkinson — Executive Director of Flagstaff Family and Community Services

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

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

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

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

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

Connect with Lynne: Email | Facebook

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Flagstaff Website

YESS (Youth Employment & Skills Strategy) Program

The Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sam Demma
Oh, wow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sam Demma
That’s what they always say.

Sam Demma
Yeah, I’m sorry.

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

Sam Demma
No. Hopefully not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sam Demma
Such a good reminder.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sam Demma
Thank you.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Lynne Jenkinson

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

Shane Chisholm — Principal of Father Henri Voisin School in Red Deer, Alberta

Shane Chisholm — Principal of Father Henri Voisin School in Red Deer, Alberta
About Shane Chisholm

Shane Chisholm (@ShaneChisholm1) is the Principal of Father Henri Voisin School in Red Deer, AB. He began his teaching career in 1997 after graduating from St. Francis Xavier University with a Bachelor of Science in Physical Education. For ten years, he taught Grades 7-12 Physical Education and Social Studies. In 2007, he completed his Masters of Education Degree in Educational Leadership from the University of Calgary. In 2007, he became vice principal and he was in that position for 4 years. Then he transitioned to principal where he led 4 schools over the past 12 years. 

Through those years he has witnessed the joy, compassion and empathy that each of his colleagues bring to their classroom each and every day. Finding a balance between personal and professional life has been a work in progress for Shane. He holds out hope that someday his Calgary Flames will hold up the Stanley Cup!

Connect with Shane: Email | Twitter | Facebook

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Bachelor of Science in Human Kinetics – St. Francis Xavier University

Masters of Education Degree in Educational Leadership – University of Calgary

Denzel Washington Commencement Speech at Dillard University

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma
Welcome back to another episode of the High-Performing Educator. This is your host, keynote speaker and author, Sam Demma. Today we are joined by a special guest, Shane Chisholm, who is the Principal of Father Henry Vosin School in Red Deer, Alberta. He began his teaching career in 1997 after graduating from St. Francis Xavier University with a Bachelor of Science in Physical Education. For 10 years, he taught grade 7 through 12 physical education and social studies. In 2007, he completed his Master’s of Education degree in Educational Leadership from the University of Calgary and became Vice Principal and remained in that position for four years. He then transitioned to Principal where he led four schools over the past 12 years. Throughout those years, he has witnessed the joy, compassion, and empathy that each of his colleagues bring to their classroom each and every day. Finding a balance between personal and professional life has been a work in progress for Shane. He holds out hope that someday his Calgary Flames will hold up the Stanley Cup. Keep on dreaming Shane. I’ll see you on the other side of this episode and I hope you enjoy this conversation. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator Podcast. This is your host, author, and keynote speaker, Sam Demma. Today, joined by Shane Chisholm. Shane, so excited to have you on the show today. Thanks for being here.

Shane Chisholm
Thanks so much, Sam, really appreciate it.

Sam Demma
I see a Detroit Red Wing in the background over there. I guess we’ll just not talk about it.

Shane Chisholm
Yeah, we’ll leave that be, that’s okay. Yeah, I’m not a Flamie’s fan, but Detroit’s a different story, yeah.

Sam Demma
So, one of the questions I always love to ask, starting these conversations is, did you know you always wanted to be in education? And if yes, tell me why, and if no, explain the journey that brought you to where you are today.

Shane Chisholm
Whoa, Sam, that’s kind of a really loaded question because it actually reminds me of your story. I wasn’t as gifted as an athlete as you and when I heard your story, it actually hit me hard knowing about your story about soccer and your knee injuries. And I graduated from high school. I wasn’t really leaning towards education at the time in the 90s. I wanted to be an RCMP officer. I played hockey, I played softball at a very high level. So, and I was, my education was quite decent. So I was felt and was getting coached towards that in high school that that was a possible stream for me. So I went into a Bachelor of Science Phys Ed degree at my university, which is one of the areas where the RCMP came to recruit from. Because we did some of the fitness testing that the RCMP does. So in our first and second year university, we do fitness testing. So I think it’s a part you test that they used to do. And we would do that. Unfortunately, every Friday morning at 8:15 class, so it was a it was not the best time for some of my colleagues in school to test. Yeah, but my second year university, unfortunately, hockey got in the way. And what happened was I had a check from behind. And I can tell you, it was three days before Christmas I can remember it and it was eight seconds into the game after O Canada just popped on my chin strap and puck went towards our bench and I went towards it and I don’t know if I caught a rut or I didn’t turn properly but the guy in behind me caught me square from behind and all I heard was a crunch and I knew that wasn’t the door opening and that was my shoulder. And so I just skated I didn’t even wait for the whistle I just skated right to the end boards to get taken in the dressing room and at that time we had hockey sticks not what Stories from aging myself, but my trainer knew what was up and he Took a piece of the end of the hockey stick of his cut and he stuck it right in my mouth right away to chew on Wow, and I got in the dress room and from there I had a significant separated shoulder and that took me away from, I had to get reconstructive surgery on my shoulder, rebuilt again and I mean it’s brand new, it works great now, but that time period for that year or two, I lost that opportunity to go into RCMP because physically I was unable to do the fitness testing and because of the rehab I had to go through and realized I had to shift gears. And it wasn’t such a bad one. I was still in the phys ed program and getting my degree and realized that I had still a potential to do something else in education. Fifth as well, really impactful teachers in my middle school and high school years that I really thought highly of and I thought, okay, this can be a plan B and 26 years later, here’s plan B.

Sam Demma
That’s awesome. And I’m wondering, you mentioned you had middle school and some high school teachers that had a really big impact. What did those teachers do for you that stuck out in your mind?

Shane Chisholm
Boy, my English teacher in grade nine just took an interest in me. Actually, just took a genuine interest in me. I had a math teacher in grade eight and math was my worst subject ever. I could not do math. And in Nova Scotia, they streamed math even in middle school. So, we kind of got separated into high and low classes. And I was in the high class and unfortunately, got streamed into the lower class. And very thankful because my parents moved me into that class, seeing my struggles, but this teacher in that lower level took an interest in my… sat down with me and helped me re-engage with math. So they actually just sat down, find out who I was, and said of me, you’re that student that is not doing well in my class. And so I kind of felt brushed aside, and I was a quiet student at that time. Yeah, no, I just found that two teachers really just took an interest and took the time to get to know me as well. And so I find that important here in my job is to find out who the kid is

Sam Demma
before even what they do in school. It sounds like sitting down with the student and making time for them is like one of the things to figure out who the kid is. Like what other things do you think a teacher can do to show genuine interest in the student in their classroom?

Shane Chisholm
I think that’s that is probably the biggest thing I know. I’ve gone to student events and and that means a lot to kiddos to go to go to those events. However, I also recognize the balance of being with my own family too. So that you know the teachers do a lot and I’ve seen in the past I’ve done a lot too where in school and so it’s just finding those opportunities not even just in class even at lunchtime. Like and I see it here in my building like my vice principal and my counselor are modeling beautifully they set up lunch dates every day voluntarily with students and students now come down the office and book lunch dates with my VP and counselor And the kids just love it and it’s not about school It’s just what happened on the weekend and they’re the kids just find it so nice to see that and I guess it’s just good for kids to see us in a different light that we that we do sit to eat lunch and we just like the chat like they do in their classroom and I don’t think they see enough of us as a person. They see us as a teacher and we are people too that do neat things, right?

Sam Demma
Yeah, they see you in the grocery store in the town and they go, oh my goodness, you’re here? You’re outside the school buildings?

Shane Chisholm
Yeah.

Shane Chisholm
The principal let you out, yeah, exactly. And I think that’s it. Like the kids love to hear about our holiday or what we did or how terrible a golfer I am. They want to talk about the hockey on the weekend. So I think that’s just, they just want to talk to us because they look, they certainly look up to us as models, but they also, you know, that positive relationship and discussing with kids, just anything with them, I think helps break down barriers as well in the class as far as teaching them.

Sam Demma
You mentioned, you know, education was at first your plan B. And for me, I didn’t even have, I felt like I didn’t even have a plan B. It was like sports and sports ended and this venture, speaking and podcasting and writing, became plan B for me. But the more I leaned into plan B, I realized I actually think I like plan B more than I would have maybe liked plan A had it worked out, do you feel similarly about the way that things have played out for you? And like, yeah, tell me a little bit more about the 26 year journey in education so far.

Shane Chisholm
So, Plan A kind of came up out of really the big plan like you say. I thought I was going to be going somewhere in hockey until about Bantam and at that time I learned, I realized that I wasn’t being watched and and my parents were beautiful about it. They were very humble about it and I think it was just switching gears and I was still good at school at that time but I was just realizing, okay I am not going to the show. But there’s always different opportunities so I shifted gears and started focusing still on my school to get to university and then like I said I had the injury and then I shifted to plan B. And plan B really took me out of Nova Scotia all the way up to a little town in northern Alberta. So plan B took me on my first plane ride. Plan B took me my first, because I lived at home when I was in university. So plan B took me totally out of my comfort zone, being away from home on a plane, no vehicle, in a little northern Alberta town. And plan B didn’t look so good the first day because I got my keys and my box of chalk. So that would really date how old I am. What’s chalk? Yeah, sidewalk chalk. I got my box of color, my box of white and my brush.

Shane Chisholm
And I was like, what is this? And I was a phys ed teacher.

Shane Chisholm
And so I was teaching social studies and phys ed up north for three years. And I was up there and I guess one of the beautiful things about being in a rural area was I learned so much about myself and I learned a lot about education because you have to. You don’t have the resources that a city has but it was a very tight-knit community up there and it was weird because plan B I thought, okay, I’ll be up north forever and the principal pulled me aside after my three years up there and he said, you need to move. And I said, why? And he said, well, either you move or you’re going to be up north for the rest of your life. So either you want to stay up here or now is the time. And the north is beautiful. It’s like, it was incredible up north. A lot of learning, beautiful people. But he said, if you want to move down to southern regions or into more of the city area, it’s time for you to move. And it was this sage advice I received in that third year in February. And so then I came down to Southern Alberta and I was about year two or three here in Rocky Mountain House. At that time, I kind of got tapped by one of the principals there and he said, hey, have you thought of administration? And I was like, no, okay, let’s give that a try. And I guess I ought to look back at it and I kind of just kind of like that continuous learning. And so I signed up for my master’s degree and while still teaching and learned the hard way though. I thought, oh, I’m getting my master’s degree and the principals tapped me, maybe I’ll have a chance at administration. And in our division here at the time, we had what we call the admin pool. So you have to apply to get into this administrative pool, and you have to interview and go through questions, and then you have to get interviewed, and then you have to go in front of a panel of five to nine people to get in. I never made it past a phone call in two years in a row. I actually failed the initial interview twice in a row. And then the third year, I actually wrote a letter to the superintendent saying, I’m not ready for this interview to get to the next level. I’m going to focus on my master’s and becoming a better teacher and a better person. Because at that time, Sam, I was cocky. I was strutting around. I thought I knew what I, because the principal tapped me and because I was doing my master’s. And I wasn’t very reflective at that time. I had a little bit of a ego kind of about me about year 8 to 10 in education there and I always look back and go why was I like that but I was and I think humbling was just learning more about what teachers do and watching the teachers those excellent teachers and how they relate to kids and how they speak to kids with relationships and how they deal with staff as well. That took a lot of, I did a lot of watching and reflecting. So it actually took me four years to get into the admin pool even though I had my master’s completed within that time. So I always tell principals and vice principals, I failed three times basically to get in. The third time was me saying to the superintendent, I’m not doing it this year. So it was almost a fourth time to get into the pool to say, hey, I can do this and want to do this, but I’m a different person. And so I tell, now that I’m older, I hopefully, wiser, I tell young principals, there are times you’re going to fall. And I said, I fell before I even became one. And, you know, I picked myself back up again and that was okay. I fell three times and I learned from that.

Sam Demma
There’s a commencement speech with Denzel Washington and he always talks about fail fast, fail forward, fail often. And I just thought of that when you were explaining your story and it made me reflect on all the times where I have fallen or lacked reflection in my actions and thought I knew everything and I’ve had moments like that, you know? And it takes a lot of self-awareness to zoom out from that current experience you’re going through and look at yourself objectively and change behavior and change the path you’re taking. And so I think that’s really cool to share because there might be a teacher listening to this who’s wanted to be an administrator for a long time and faced similar challenges and hurdles. You said that after those first two years, you kind of refocused on becoming a better teacher and learning more and even like shadowing those excellent teachers and looking at them. And like, what are some of the things that you saw in those excellent teachers? 

Shane Chisholm
Well, one of the things I saw is what I saw first in myself and was I was doing the same thing over and over again and I was not doing a good job of my teaching. So the definition of insanity, right? So, you know, I kind of compare it to my story Calgary playing fans But my Calgary flames have done the same thing over and over again for the same years and they’re getting worse Yeah, so that’s the definition of insanity So and I seen that that kind of a quote like that you continue to do the same thing over and over again you’re not going to get better and I realized I was Traditional in my teachings. I was teaching high school and I was very lecture bound, Charlie Brown type teaching and I wasn’t engaging my students. And so those were some of the things I was looking for elsewhere. And I had a very wise math teacher and he pulled me aside and he just said, Shane, you’re working too hard. You must be exhausted every day standing all day talking. And I said, What do you mean? He said, you’re not allowing the kids to co-create their own learning. He said, you’re not allowing the kids to develop or make mistakes. You’re just lecturing 80 minutes and then another class. And he said, yeah. I said, yeah, I’m exhausted. And he had taught for a number of years and he said, I teach for 10 to 15 minutes and then I allow the kids to… I teach with them and then they teach together themselves and it can be done. Like, you’re allowing, allow that trust to the kids. The kids know how to regulate themselves. If there’s good learning and good framework in the classroom. And he was so right. And in that, because I would safely say I was getting, I was marking like crazy, I was teaching like crazy, and I was like, oh boy, this is all burnout, this is crazy. And then I found a rejuvenation in that, watching the kids create learning out of my teaching instead of just listening to me. That was the biggest.

Sam Demma
And what about some learnings on managing people? Like as an administrator, you know, I’m assuming that that’s also one of the big challenges for new principals, you do a lot of learning on how to manage others. And when you’re a teacher yourself, you manage your classroom and you manage yourself, but you’re not responsible for managing all the other teachers in the school and trying to support everybody so everyone can succeed. What have you learned in managing people?

Shane Chisholm
The tricky part about principal is the actual management piece. There’s so much management, the building and they’re almost like little things on the side that kind of nitpick at you. So it takes away from the real working with students and the staff and the teachers. And so it’s finding the balance of those managerial pieces and setting them aside so that you can be with your teachers and your students. Because those managerial things on the side can really actually impact your day and take you away from what you really want to do. And so the struggle even for me day to day is making sure that I’m not getting caught in the managerial of the building and working with students and staff and getting out in the building to do say walk-throughs or even just a visibility and having conversations with the kids even at lunch break or going out and just volunteering, going out for supervision. Like, I love doing that. It’s just that the minutiae, the managerial stuff of the day can get in the way. Because we’re still a teacher, right? I mean, I’m a teacher, I’m just a teacher. I look at it as, I’m a teacher with a different title.

Sam Demma
Mmmm.

Sam Demma
I love that.

Sam Demma
And there’s also lots of schools where the principal even teaches classes, right? Like depending on who’s available in the school or if there’s a shortage that day or there’s a gap that needs to be filled, you know, it seems like principals wear lots of different hats.

Shane Chisholm
And sometimes I think you’re absolutely, I love those hats and that piece covering classes. I mean, I’m a more middle school, high school trained, so doing kindergarten is quite an adventure for me and I guess you know what it’s kind of a different boost right you get the little ones in kindergarten grade one and two they’re just absolutely love your presence and enjoy your time it’s the it’s the balance of those hats they’re there for the right reason and wearing the proper hat to be there for teachers and students and being a teacher yourself in the school.

Sam Demma
You mentioned a little earlier, making sure that you balance the amount of time you spend getting to know the students in school as you do spending time with your family at home. Because I assume in education, and I see it, it’s like you could be on 24-7. There’s always another assignment to mark and thing to do, but you are also a human being that goes grocery shopping in the community after the school hours and has a family. How do you make sure that your cup stays full and you balance your time? What do you do to make sure that Shane’s taken care of? Well, to be honest, there have been times I’ve not.

Shane Chisholm
There’s just times that it’s unfortunate that I’ve not made, like the cup has overflowed and into another cup. You know, it just seems like a quite overwhelming. I think the bigger thing is, as I gotten older in the past couple years is, you know, I get I’m several years away from retirement. You know, and I want to be happy and healthy going into retirement. Loving the jobs I’m currently in. And part of that is looking after my personal health. So you know I haven’t been in the gym in years and so I got back in the gym. I still play a little bit of golf but nothing nothing is taken seriously. It’s for fun, it’s for enjoyment, it’s for what we call maintenance and I think that’s a big piece. You know it Friday nights and Saturdays the phones put away. I know the school will still be here and I still even though I’ve been doing this for a couple of years, there are times that I wonder what’s happening. But you know what, most often, 99% of the time, there’s nothing happening on Friday and Saturday night that I have to check out. So that’s taken a long while for me to figure out Sam was that balance piece, right? And giving myself time, grace in the weekends where other people have. And you’re kind of like, I have it too. It’s just that maybe I felt guilty and wanted to get things done. And I guess looking at my practice as a principal or as a teacher, what are some good efficient ways to get my job done through week two? So I was looking at where I was getting caught in managerial things, Sam, and I wasn’t getting my principal, teacher, or principal with student work done. And I was starting to prioritize that. The managerial work will take care of itself. And it was also learning how to balance the work within the office suites here as well. So a good flow of communication between my office admin team, my vice principal, has taken, has balanced the work out, and as well ensuring their opinion on it as well. And how can we balance this all out because the whole office actually feels the weight of what’s going on in the principal’s office. The counselor and even the office admin team, the administrative team, they get the whole weight because they’re all moving pieces within the the way I look at it. It’s like the big heart it’s like if one half of the heart is aching the whole hearts experiencing it you know.

Sam Demma
Yeah, absolutely. Maybe that’s what the admin office is the heart of the school. Yeah. So I’m curious, I see a bookshelf behind you and I’m not going to put you on the spot, but like over the years, have you found any resources that have been really helpful in your own personal development? Obviously your master’s degree is a massive educational journey that is invaluable and learning it provides to you and everyone who goes through it. But have you found any other resources that have been really instrumental in your beliefs and philosophies around education or any individuals who have really deeply contributed?

Shane Chisholm
Well, some of the books on the back of my bookshelf there, I’ll be honest, those are about NHL players.

Sam Demma
Nice, that’s fair.

Shane Chisholm
I’m intrigued about their biographies. So Theo Fleury, Sheldon Kennedy, Mark Messier, Bob Iorre. So those are kind of some guys I’ve read about. Just kind of from a Mark Messier, obviously his leadership. Theo Fleury, his life and some of Sheldon Kennedy and Bob Iorre again, kind of the type of player he was. So I can’t, and as well Bob Kroeberg. So I just, and then I guess some of that was just looking at that scene you made it to the pinnacle of the top and Even they struggled Mmm, all of them. Oh, you’ve heard messy like even his struggles in New York with the New York Rangers It just it was in Bobby or I mean obviously when he got traded Chicago after he played the book with the Bruins with his knees, right we have most beautiful skater in NHL and so I think it was just listening and reading their books and seeing that even the people at the top also struggle. And they admitted their struggles and they still wanted to be the best too. And they were still learners. Those are just unique stories. And so to be honest, Sam, I read more of those books to get away from education. Because you can get really caught into it. And again, that’s why I appreciate your book as well, because it’s not necessarily about education, it’s about just growth, and mindset. And I think that’s what I appreciate reading stories about sports and athletes and similar to yours, because it talks about growth and mindset and just how to continue that. And that and that applies in education.

Sam Demma
And it applies to life, right? Whether you’re a teacher or any profession. I read a autobiography of Muhammad Ali over the summer months. And for a while I was so burnt out of reading books. And then I picked up this one and I couldn’t put it down. And it just like reignited in me a passion for reading books again. And I’ve loved reading since I was about 16 years old and I started choosing the books I wanted to read. And that one was a game changer for me. And I remember one specific part of the book that sticks out in my mind is when Muhammad Ali was gifted a bike and he didn’t grow up in the most financially stable household. So getting a bike as a kid was a big deal. And he got a bicycle and he’s driving it or riding it up and down the streets. And one day he stops to grab something at a store and comes outside and the bike’s gone. And he’s losing his mind, his brother’s losing his mind because how’s his bike? And so they start walking around the neighborhood and he stumbles into a boxing gym, or right outside a boxing gym. And at the time he was a young kid, but built like a big dude, like six feet tall, 13 years old, and this boxing coach says, hey man, do you box? And Muhammad’s like, no, I don’t. And he’s like, come on inside. And he taught him the basic foundations of a jab and some of the punches. And Muhammad ended up going back multiple times to this gym over the summer months and started developing what would be his initial start of his career. And the author of the book said, you know, destiny is a function of both chance and choice. Like, the chance was that he would stumble into the boxing gym, but the choice was that he would return back multiple times. And, you know, maybe in your career, what happened by chance was you’d get injured in hockey and be introduced to education, but your choice was to keep showing up and keep learning. Even when you got into principalship and administration, you know, you had some challenges the first two years, first four years, but you kept, you decided, you made a choice to keep showing up. And if there’s an educator listening to this right now who’s struggling or who’s burnt out and they’re feeling defeated and you could kind of share some encouragement with them, what would you say? One, I guess it took a lot for me to ask for help.

Shane Chisholm
One of the things I sense, and I hope it’s not the case for others, but I sense in education it’s very isolated in a sense, because you are given that degree, you’re a teacher, and they say you’re a teacher, and then you get your license from the province, and they say you’re certified, and then you feel the need to be that teacher, and you don’t want to, or I didn’t want to tell someone I need your help asking a colleague for that and and it’s very much the other way around I think we need to lean on each other right away as soon as we come out of university for our brand new teachers and even I see it still our young teachers come out and they don’t want to ask for help because it’s a fear that they don’t know what they’re doing. And I’m still 26 years in, I’m still learning. I’m still learning new ways to do what I’m doing. And so I still ask for help from teachers, senior administration, you know, reading your book, kind of those little tidbits, right? Those, those things always help. So I think that’s the biggest pieces to not necessarily avoid burnout, but just to recognize that there’s always someone there that’s more than willing to give a lending hand or listen to you on the rough days or to help you with resources. And we all, I guess, it’s strange, but education is very neat at paying it forward. And I think a lot of our teachers and principals and vice principals, counselors, and even educational assistants, we all pay it forward. We want to help someone be successful. And I think, and very similar to our students. And I think we miss that piece is as adults, we do the same thing with our own adults helping each other as much as we do with the kids. So lean in on those people that are there and don’t look at it as a sign of weakness, look at it as a sign of strength and joining the team.

Sam Demma
That’s awesome. Shane, this has been a awesome conversation. 30 minutes flew by. Thank you so much for taking the time to chat on the podcast. Keep up the great work, and I hope we cross paths again very soon.

Shane Chisholm
Will do. Thanks, Sam. I appreciate your time. This was awesome.

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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.