Teaching Tips

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

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

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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

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.

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

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

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

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

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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


The Rhodes Scholarship

Small Consistent Actions | Sam Demma | TEDxYouth@Toronto

University of Alberta – Bachelor of Arts Programs


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

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

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

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

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.

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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

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

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.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Shane Chisholm

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

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

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

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

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

Connect with Jeevan: Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Panorama Ridge Secondary School

Simon Fraser University – Criminology Major (Bachelor of Arts)

Simon Fraser University – History Major (Bachelor of Arts)

Simon Fraser University – Bachelor of Education

Canadian Student Leadership Association (CSLA)

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):

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

Sam Demma (01:28):

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

Jeevan Dhami (02:00):

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

Sam Demma (02:41):

15 years. Where were you before the 15?

Jeevan Dhami (02:45):

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

Sam Demma (03:11):

Are you speaking experienced?

Jeevan Dhami (03:13):

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

Sam Demma (04:33):

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

Jeevan Dhami (04:48):

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

Jeevan Dhami (05:37):

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

Jeevan Dhami (06:21):

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

Jeevan Dhami (07:19):

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

Sam Demma (08:25):


Jeevan Dhami (08:27):

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

Jeevan Dhami (09:27):

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

Jeevan Dhami (10:21):

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

Jeevan Dhami (11:24):

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

Jeevan Dhami (12:22):

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

Jeevan Dhami (13:13):

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

Jeevan Dhami (14:08):

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

Jeevan Dhami (15:34):

Exactly, yeah.

Jeevan Dhami (15:35):

You’re like, ah, shut up, <laugh>.

Jeevan Dhami (15:38):

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

Jeevan Dhami (16:31):

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

Jeevan Dhami (17:37):

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

Sam Demma (18:54):

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

Jeevan Dhami (19:47):

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

Sam Demma (20:19):


Jeevan Dhami (20:20):

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

Jeevan Dhami (21:13):

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

Jeevan Dhami (22:06):

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

Jeevan Dhami (22:55):

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

Jeevan Dhami (23:41):

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

Jeevan Dhami (24:21):

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

Sam Demma (25:39):

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

Jeevan Dhami (26:12):

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

Jeevan Dhami (27:59):

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

Sam Demma (28:14):

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

Jeevan Dhami (28:57):

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

Jeevan Dhami (29:59):

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

Jeevan Dhami (30:50):

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

Jeevan Dhami (31:45):

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

Jeevan Dhami (32:47):

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

Jeevan Dhami (33:41):

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

Sam Demma (34:32):

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

Jeevan Dhami (35:01):

Yeah. But going on five, no officially,

Sam Demma (35:04):

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

Jeevan Dhami (35:32):

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

Jeevan Dhami (36:28):

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

Jeevan Dhami (37:22):

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

Jeevan Dhami (38:15):

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

Jeevan Dhami (39:09):

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

Jeevan Dhami (40:05):

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

Jeevan Dhami (40:50):

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

Jeevan Dhami (41:58):

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

Jeevan Dhami (42:46):

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

Sam Demma (43:53):

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

Jeevan Dhami (44:33):

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

Jeevan Dhami (45:28):

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

Sam Demma (46:40):

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

Jeevan Dhami (46:51):

Awesome. Thanks a lot Sam.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Jeevan Dhami

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

Connie Shepherd – Ontario Educator of over 20 years

Connie Shepherd - Ontario Educator of over 20 years
About Connie Shepherd

Connie Shepherd (@Connie2Educ8) is an Ontario educator who has worked in the education system for over 20 years. She began her journey as an educational assistant working with students with diverse needs, which played an important role in her belief that all children can be successful and providing opportunities for all students to shine is essential to a strong education system.

Connie is a graduate of York University and completed her Bachelor of Education at Brock. She is a lifelong learner who has continued her learning through many additional qualification courses, including leadership. Connie is currently an Elementary Guidance and Experiential Learning Teacher which provides her with the opportunity to support students to explore the many possible pathways available to them through experiential learning.

Connie is passionate about fostering a learning environment that supports the development of transferable skills and empowers every student to see themselves as important and successful.

Connect with Connie: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

York University

Bachelor of Education – Brock University

Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies

Working as an Educational Assistant – Ontario College Application Service



Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford Commencement Address

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):

Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Connie Shepherd. Connie Shepherd is an Ontario educator who has worked in the education system for over 20 years. She began her journey as an educational assistant working with students with diverse needs, which played an important role in her belief that all children can be successful, and providing opportunities for all students to shine is essential to a strong education system. Connie is a graduate of York University and completed her Bachelor of Education at Brock. She’s a lifelong learner who has continued her learning through many additional qualifications courses, including leadership. Connie is currently an elementary guidance and experiential learning teacher, which provides her with the opportunity to support students to explore the many possible pathways available to them through experiential learning. Connie is passionate about fostering a learning environment that supports the development of transferable skills and empowers every student to see themselves as important and successful. I hope you enjoy this conversation on the podcast with Connie, 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 have a very special guest, a high energy guest, an impactful educator. Her name is Connie Shepherd. Connie, please introduce yourself so everyone tuning in knows a little bit about who you are and what you do.

Connie Shepherd (01:30):

Amazing. Well, good morning, Sam. My name is Connie Shepherd and I’m an elementary guidance and experiential learning teacher. So I serve for the most part grade sevens and eight, so middle school ages. We do have some grade sixes and yeah, we do a lot of experiential learning. We do a lot of exploration of career pathways and opportunities so that students really have an understanding that, you know, there’s not one pathway. So the focus is really not what do I wanna become, but more of a who do I wanna become, and then looking for what fits with that.

Sam Demma (02:11):

Where did your passion develop in terms of helping students realize there isn’t just one pathway that exists for them?

Connie Shepherd (02:20):

 I think a little bit. I think a lot of it has to do with my journey. you know, I didn’t I didn’t graduate high school and go directly to university. I went to college and I worked as I worked for the Children’s Aid Society for a little while, and then I worked as an educational assistant for several years. And then as I just kind of experienced more opportunities, I said, you know what, I’m gonna go back to school and I’m gonna do my bachelor’s, and then I’m gonna do my Bachelor’s of education and become a teacher.

Sam Demma (02:54):

Yes. That’s so cool. Was there, I mean, the stigma around different pathways in d streaming Yes. Is something that’s really big today. What was that like when you were going through the system?

Connie Shepherd (03:08):

 so we had advanced general and basic Okay. As opposed to applied an academic. I think d streaming is amazing. I don’t know that, I think that at 13 years old, you should be making decisions that could have a long-term impact. I taught grade eight for about 10 years, and you would see students who at 13 are, they’re just not there yet. Mm-hmm. And then they’d come back and visit in grade, in grade 11 and they’d be like, miss, guess what I’m doing? And you could see their growth and they kind of found their pathway and they found their passion. And I mean, I see to students all the time think about the subjects that you really excel in. It’s because you love them. Hmm. Right. And so sometimes students just need a little more time to map that out.

Sam Demma (03:57):

Hmm. And you, you’ve obviously had a different pathway to education when you were a student 13 years old and someone asked you, Hey Connie, what do you wanna view when you grow up? What’d you tell them? A teacher? Or like, <laugh>, how did you land on it?

Connie Shepherd (04:10):

So I I, I was very interested in law.

Sam Demma (04:13):


Connie Shepherd (04:14):

The con, the concept of borrowing that much money to go to school. cuz I had to pay for my education and borrow, borrow, borrow for my education. I couldn’t wrap my head around that. And at that time in the education system, no one really said to you, the best investment you can make is in yourself. Right. And I think students really need to understand that. And that’s where, you know, embedding financial literacy into what we do helps them see that bigger picture. Right. yeah. Investing in yourself. I think that’s huge. At the end of the day, I think I landed where I was meant to land. I go to work every day and just love what I do. I wake up energized every morning. And that’s what we want for our, our students in the future. Right. Happiness is not necessarily how much you make. Right? I mean, you could be making a ton of money and wake up every morning dreading going to your, to your job. That’s, that’s not happiness.

Sam Demma (05:13):

Hmm. It’s obvious that you’re passionate about what you do. The first time I talk to you so much energy is overflowing, <laugh>. where does your, where does your energy come from? Are there any things that you do to make sure that you can show up and be a hundred percent of yourself when you’re not at school?

Connie Shepherd (05:32):

Yeah. I, I just, I believe in being an authentic person. I, I am who I am. Right. yeah. I’m a mom to three kids and every day I walk into the classroom and I just, I wanna be the kind of teacher that I am hoping my children, my children have. Right. And I want to provide students with the opportunities that I hope my children have. I’m a huge advocate of public education. I think we have an incredible education system and I think if we really want this education system to shine, we need to be all in and in everything I do inside, outside school, I’m always all in

Sam Demma (06:10):

<laugh>. That’s awesome. <laugh>. it’s funny when you’re saying that I think back to a role model of mine. His name was Nipsey Hussle and he is a rapper and one of his phrases was All money in. And his whole philosophy was, everything we make, we’re putting back into this. We’re putting back, we’re gonna put it back into the community. And that’s different, different way, different life, but definitely a similar philosophy. for someone who’s listening, maybe a person who’s contemplating getting into education and doesn’t really know much about what your day-to-day job looks like, they might know what, you know, one teacher in a classroom’s job looks like. What exactly are you doing? and yeah. What does a day in the life look like or a week in the life look like?

Connie Shepherd (06:55):

So I serve a lot of schools. Some of my schools are very small, so sometimes I’m between two schools during the day. Like during the day of school in the morning, a school in the afternoon. just recently we’ve been doing some activities with coding. Nice. and so for some schools and I really try to see where teachers are at and see how can I best support them. Right. So coding is new in both the math and science curriculums. So I’m in the Catholic School Board, so we are preparing for Christmas. And so working with students on coding animated gifs.

Sam Demma (07:32):

Nice. <laugh>.

Connie Shepherd (07:33):

Right. You like that. and then teaching them how to send it as an email to a family member, a loved one, and teaching them how to schedule their send. So it goes out Christmas morning. so that kind of ties into our Catholic graduate expectation of being a ca a caring family member. Right. and just adding that creativity. And I think some of the highlights of, you know, just in the last week is, oh miss I got it. I figured it out. Which was amazing. But also watching the teachers learning and, and coding their own Christmas gifts and them celebrating that, oh, I got it. Right. But then I’ll have other schools that really wanna focus maybe a little bit more on equity or indigenous education. So with a school in the afternoon this week, we really kind of explored the land acknowledgement mm-hmm. And what the land acknowledgement really means and why it’s so important that we say it every day and we acknowledge it every day. so that was that. That’s, that’s the last week

Sam Demma (08:39):

<laugh>. Yeah. It it sounds like every week is very different from the previous one. Absolutely. what are some of the projects or initiatives you have worked on in school communities throughout the span of your career and experiential learning that when you think back on it brings you so much joy because one, you had so much fun working on it, and two, the students just got so much out of it.

Connie Shepherd (09:07):

So my partner and I, cuz I do have a partner and she’s amazing. And so my partner and I put together a Power Me Up conference, which empowers students to lead. so we work with our intermediate students and train them to lead sessions and they could be wellbeing, they could be STEM related. And so it’s, it’s a lot of work to put it together and work out all the logistics like transportation and getting all the different students to the location. But when the event takes place and you see students shine Right. And you see students who, who see themselves as leaders, that is incredible. Yeah. We have a large guest behind me. I’m so sorry. <laugh>.

Sam Demma (09:54):

We love large guests. <laugh>. This is awesome. one more family member entering the podcast, <laugh>.

Connie Shepherd (10:01):

That’s it.

Sam Demma (10:02):

That’s so cool. So the power, what, when did the concept for the Power Me Up conference come to life?

Connie Shepherd (10:08):

So the concept for the conference was my partner Vicky’s concept. Right. Her and her team. And at that point we were not partners as elementary guidance teachers cuz our role didn’t exist mm-hmm. <affirmative>. and so the first year we, we did it together, which was amazing. Right? So I had so much learning that I experienced, which was amazing. The second year, well that was 2020 and we were really excited to make it bigger and better. And then, I don’t know if you’ve heard, but there was like this pandemic thing. What’s that? And so, yeah, exactly. so that didn’t happen the next year. We were still in that situation where we couldn’t really travel or bring people together. So Vicki and I decided to go virtual things happen for a reason. and it was pretty incredible because we did the Power Me Up conference on a virtual level.

Connie Shepherd (11:06):

And rather than impacting let’s say 250 students, we were able to have over 1800 students participate. Right. Wow. Pro pros and cons. So no, it wasn’t in person. and we just took the different materials to different schools and teachers were in their classrooms. They were led through the stem or art activities. and they just did it in their classrooms and, you know, blew it up on Twitter with sharing all their pictures. Right. We had, we had a science activity where students were kind of exploring mold with Brett. And so we would drive by schools and all you could see in the schools in the windows was all this bread hanging <laugh>. And it was just, it was kind of awesome to drive by one school. Oh, there’s their bread. Oh, there’s another window full of bread <laugh>. It was, it was fantastic. So Right. We learned from experience, right. Which is what we, we do as experiential learning teachers. And so what we learned through that experience was we were able to have such a larger impact. So this year we are doing both virtual and in person Nice. so that we can again just share the joy, share the opportunities.

Sam Demma (12:23):

Is it a two day event? Three day event, one afternoon? What does it look like?

Connie Shepherd (12:27):

So the in-person event is one day this year we are going to do it four times. Cause our schools feed into four different high schools. Mm. So each high school is go going to be hosting a one day event for their feeder schools. which is great because we’re gonna get the kids into the high schools and they can, they can see themselves in that environment, see what that environment looks like. And then last year our virtual conference was over two weeks. This year it’s going to be over one week. So we’ll have four one day in persons and one one week virtual.

Sam Demma (12:59):

When you think about your entire journey through education, were there mentors that you had that, it sounds like collaboration has been a big part of your own learning, especially with Vicky and other people that you’ve worked with. Have there been any educators or teachers who, that you’ve learned a lot from or that you think kind of took you under their wing and mentored you when you were just getting started?

Connie Shepherd (13:22):

Abs Absolutely right. I mean, I think I, I was really blessed to work in a school where, and I, I was there for my entire career until I took on this role. Hmm. and it was just a sense of community in that school amongst all the staff. Everyone was there for each other. Everyone would, you know, if I would be like, I have an idea. okay, let’s sit and talk about it. Sometimes when I say I have an idea, people get a little nervous <laugh>. Right.

Sam Demma (13:48):

That’s good.

Connie Shepherd (13:49):

Or, or, or I’ll have, or I’ll have an administrator go, okay, how much is that gonna cost me? Right. But I’m like, no, no, no, but hear me out. Right. so at my school for a few years there, we did a whole school musical production.

Sam Demma (14:02):


Connie Shepherd (14:03):

Which was amazing. So every educator came together. So we had educators working with students on the backdrop, educators working with students on sewing costumes. Every class had a song to participate in. Right. Students throughout the school were actors to bring something like that together, whole school level and to have the performance happen and have families there watching their children. Right. These are the things students remember. Right. If, if, if you said to one of my students who taught you py, in theory <laugh>, they’re gonna be like, I dunno. Right. but what do you remember about, you know, your year in grade seven or eight? Well I remember we had this huge school production, or I remember we went and did this. These are the things that students remember. Right. This is what makes their educational experience beautiful.

Sam Demma (15:05):

Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Yeah. I think back to when I was in grade seven, in grade eight, and some of my biggest memories are field trips or some of the dances <laugh>.

Connie Shepherd (15:16):


Sam Demma (15:17):

And all, all the extracurricular activities and the learning in the classroom, you know, teaches you how to learn, I believe. But some of the stuff we don’t actually even remember years later and might not even be a big part of our life. But yeah. The memories last a lifetime. So that’s

Connie Shepherd (15:33):

A Right. And, and the learning how to learn.

Sam Demma (15:35):


Connie Shepherd (15:36):

Right. Like, so I, I really I really focus, I try to focus a lot on our transferrable skills. Right. So the idea of collaboration, right. So you’re gonna collaborate in your entire life. Yeah. Right. In different formats. Right. The idea of being innovative and creative in your thinking and problem solving in any environment you’re in, we need to be using these skills all the time. So ensuring that we’re providing students with opportunities to work on and develop and strengthen those, that skillset, it doesn’t matter where they land, those skills will be like key for their success.

Sam Demma (16:14):

I know with experiential learning, there’s really no boundaries. Like, you come up with some cool ideas and if people are on board, you give it a try and learn from the experience. have there been any unique tools or resources technologies or anything at all that you’ve found really helpful or really unique that you think even educators in a classroom could benefit from looking into or exploring?

Connie Shepherd (16:39):

Absolutely. So I use my blueprint a great deal. I don’t know if my blueprint was around when you were in school. It wasn’t around when I was in school. I think it’s an incredible tool. So I do an activity with students, I do it twice, right? So first is planning forward. So where they, they pop in, okay, well you know what, what, what do I have to take in grade nine? Right? Because you only have so many electives in grade nine. Yeah. Right. and then what do I have to take in grade 10? But then I’m like, well what are my options in grade 10? Right? Like, what is hospitality? And I’ll say, well, it means you get to eat your homework, which is awesome, <laugh>. Right. And, and if you like eating well, learning how to cook is kind of important. Right. and then we look at, you know, they’re like, why don’t I have to take science after grade 10?

Connie Shepherd (17:26):

Great question. Let’s talk about that. Right. Well, because now you get to kind of explore the sciences you’re super passionate about, oh my goodness, miss I can take law. Yeah. You could totally take law. That’s so having them just open those doors and see what those options are. But even having our teachers see, see them, we, we need to see ourselves as kindergarten to grade 12 educators. Right. So seeing like after they leave, after they move on, what are the, what are their opportunities? What’s available to them? Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And then we do another time in the spring where we do planning backward, where I choose a career. I’m kind of curious about, I explore that career and then I look at what’s the post-secondary pathway to get me there. Okay. So let’s say I have to take a college, a college course. So maybe I wanna do like computer animation of some sort, right?

Sam Demma (18:18):

Yes. so let’s say that’s what I wanna study in college cuz that’s my passion. Great. What are the requirements in grade 12? And then we work our way backwards all the way to grade nine so that they can see there’s a bit of a map to it. and if I don’t come back and do planning backward with students, they actually get upset with me. <laugh>, they’re like, miss remember you said we were gonna do this, but when that happens, what does that tell me as an educator? That this is important to them. Yeah. That they enjoy it. Right. Tinkercad is what I was using for coding the gifts. Kids were coding for two hours and then I say to them, you realize we’ve been doing math for two hours. Right. They’re like, no we haven’t. I go, absolutely. We have <laugh>. Right. We’ve been doing, like, we’ve been playing with Radius and and and size and we’ve been translating and rotating. Oh my gosh. We’ve been doing math for two hours. Yeah. You’re you’re learning. It’s insane. Right. <laugh> like, wow. Yeah. we use we videos. So we’re also doing a film festival in our area of schools. so allowing students to be creators. Right. So that’s a great opportunity for them.

Sam Demma (19:25):

The film festival is something you’ve done a few times now, right? Is

Connie Shepherd (19:29):

This is our, this is our second year

Sam Demma (19:31):

And last year I remember you were telling me some of the videos students created were just mind blowing. The

Connie Shepherd (19:36):

Mind blowing. Right. some students were doing animation, some students hand drew everything Hmm. but student voice came out. Hmm. Right. What they were passionate about. And again, just like when you, when you learn what you, what you en enjoy learning about and you, you take that pathway when you can share your voice and when you can share your story, students are all in mm-hmm. Right. Especially our adolescent learners because, you know, life is really all about me right now.

Sam Demma (20:10):

I think back to, there was a Steve Jobs commencement speech and he says the only way to do great work is to love what you do. And I think it’s so important to love the work that you’re doing. And if you haven’t found the thing yet, then keep looking in such an exploratory period of time when you’re in grade seven, grade eight and elementary school, even in high school. Trying to figure out, I was lucky enough that I had the access to my blueprint when I was a high school student and really enjoyed using it as well. And I would imagine that even back when I used it to what’s capable on the app now or the pathway opportunities that exist are very different. <laugh>. absolutely. Because there are so many unique opportunities now that didn’t even exist when I was in high school.

Connie Shepherd (20:53):

Well and we share that with students, right? Like 50% of these students are gonna be working career pathways that don’t exist. Hmm. Right. And when I try to explain that, cuz they look at me Right. With confusion on their face. Yeah. And I’ll be like, let’s just talk about Facebook. I know Facebook is for the old people, right. <laugh>. And of course they laugh, right? Because they’re like, my mom has Facebook mis, I’m like, of course they do. Right. I go, but it’s only 25 years old.

Sam Demma (21:15):


Connie Shepherd (21:15):

Like, it, it’s really, it’s it’s quite young. And now we think about the fact that there are people whose literal career is to manage a social media account for a company. I don’t even think that existed. Yeah. 15 years ago. Yeah. Right. So the idea of what’s to come, right? So this is why it’s the, it’s the who do I wanna become? Because we don’t know what the, what is <laugh>.

Sam Demma (21:42):


Connie Shepherd (21:42):

Right. We don’t know what’s coming.

Sam Demma (21:44):

Yeah. I I saw a post on LinkedIn the other day of a friend of mine who every year sets goals. And this year she said, I’m setting learning learnings, like things that I wanna learn as opposed to goals that I want to achieve. And I thought that was a really cool mindset shift a little bit away from the what do I wanna do to who do I wanna become? Right. Like what do I wanna learn? and then the the what kind of figures itself out based on your skillsets.

Connie Shepherd (22:10):


Sam Demma (22:12):

So yeah, I thought that was kind of cool connection. When you think about your journey through education you’ve obviously been in the industry now or in the space for a while, if you can Oh,

Connie Shepherd (22:24):

While we’ll go with a while. I like, thank

Sam Demma (22:26):

You <laugh>. You have lots of wisdom is what I’m trying to say. <laugh>. if you could, if you could like take all your experience, all the wisdom, travel back in time tap Connie on the shoulder in her first year of working in education, but with the experiences you’ve had now, not that you would change your path or anything, but what would you tell yourself cuz you thought it would’ve been helpful to hear when you were just jumping in and getting started?

Connie Shepherd (22:54):

Hmm. That’s a really good question. I, I think I think when I went to the faculty of education, right, like you walk out and you walk in and you wanna, you have all these great big ideas Hmm. Which you should always have. Don’t let go of those great big ideas cuz that’s, it’s incredible. Right. I think I’d tell myself to be kinder to myself. Right. I, I guess I didn’t have enough time and I wasn’t doing everything that I thought I was, was gonna be able to accomplish my first year teaching. Right. So, and, and I, when I talk to new educators now, I I I just, did you do your very best today of yeah, of course I did. Okay. Would you look at a student and say, you need to do better than your best? Well, no, I would never say that. But then why are we saying it to ourselves?

Sam Demma (23:53):


Connie Shepherd (23:54):

Right. Did I give my best today? Did I give a hundred percent today? Right. I’m gonna make mistakes along the way. That’s part of learning. Right. That’s part of that learning journey. So I, I would’ve probably told myself to be a little kinder to myself and not so hard on myself.

Sam Demma (24:09):

Hmm. Wh where do you think the, I think we’re all our biggest critics, but

Connie Shepherd (24:13):

A hundred percent

Sam Demma (24:14):

Did you play sports growing up? Where did that competition with yourself come from?

Connie Shepherd (24:18):

<laugh>? Yeah, so I did, I played, I played soccer for a really long time. where did I, I just, I’ve always been competitive with myself. I, I said, Hmm. One of my greatest strengths and one of my greatest weaknesses. I set very, very high expectations of myself.

Sam Demma (24:36):


Connie Shepherd (24:36):


Sam Demma (24:38):


Connie Shepherd (24:38):

I don’t, I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I don’t think that’s a terrible thing, but I think that I need to just be like, okay, so I didn’t achieve that yet. Right. The that power of yet. Right. I’ll, I’ll get there.

Sam Demma (24:52):

Yeah. And that’s funny. Like sometimes I have an idea of how something’s gonna play out in my mind and in, in, in real time. It doesn’t play out the same way it does in my mind and I have to remind myself it’s okay. Like it’s it’s okay if it doesn’t play out exactly as I envisioned it too. We just gotta continue moving forward and learning and iterating and rolling with the punches and

Connie Shepherd (25:15):

Yeah. And taking a detour and that’s okay. Yeah.

Sam Demma (25:18):

<laugh>. Yep. Taking a different road. I was saying exactly. I interviewed educator one time and she was telling me that a lot of her students feel this pressure, like you mentioned earlier, to figure out what they need to do or want to do at such an early age. And she would share this analogy about getting to a party and she, she framed this question. She said, Sam, if I told you your friend was having a house party, what are all the various ways you could get there? And I started listening out all the options. You know, I could ride my scooter, I could ride a bike, I could call an Uber, I could ask my mom, I could pay the pizza guy to pick me up. I could walk there, I could get a helicopter, <laugh> you know, like all these outrageous options. And she’s like, the reality is every one of those options will get you to the party at a different time.

Sam Demma (26:06):

Some will take you 10 times as long, but you will arrive at a party. And the reality is, it might not be the same party is that all your friends are everybody else, but the method of transportation that you choose is what makes your life interesting and, and a fun and unique adventure and journey. And I just thought, wow, what a powerful, what a powerful analogy. I gotta throw a house party now and get all my friends to walk, ride their bikes and <laugh>, scooter <laugh>. but yeah, that’s kind of what I think about when I think of encouraging young people to realize your path will look different and unique. And that’s not a, a bad thing. It just means you’re being true to yourself.

Connie Shepherd (26:45):

 and I think it’s awesome that the paths look different.

Sam Demma (26:48):


Connie Shepherd (26:48):

Right. I mean, the fact that we are individuals, we need to celebrate that. Why, why does my path need to look like someone else’s path? Yeah. It doesn’t.

Sam Demma (26:56):


Connie Shepherd (26:57):

That’s so true. Right. My path is me.

Sam Demma (26:59):

Amen. <laugh>. Yeah. I love it. <laugh>. Connie, thanks so much for coming on the show. This was a really fun conversation. If anyone wants to reach out, ask you a question, or share some ideas or collaborate on a big idea that might get them in trouble <laugh> <laugh>, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?

Connie Shepherd (27:18):

Yeah, people can email me or they can get hold of me on Twitter. Right? I am @Connie2Educ8. Yeah. <laugh>.

Sam Demma (27:34):

Thanks. Okay. Awesome. Connie, thanks for coming out the show. Keep up the great work and I look forward to chatting with you again soon.

Connie Shepherd (27:41):

Me too, Sam. Have a great weekend.

Sam Demma (27:44):

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Connie Shepherd

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.

Alison Fantin – Principal of Kirkland Lake District Composite School

Alison Fantin - Principal of Kirkland Lake District Composite School
About Alison Fantin

Alison Fantin (@alisonjfantin) is the proud principal of Kirkland Lake District Composite School in the District School Board Ontario North East. She is passionate about equity, student voice and helping young people reach their full potential. 

Connect with Alison: Email | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Kirkland Lake District Composite School

District School Board Ontario North East

Undergraduate Programs – Lakehead University

Faculty of Education – Lakehead 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 (00:01):

Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Alison Fanton. Allson is the very proud Principal of Kirkland Lake District Composite School that is in the District School Board of Ontario Northeast. As we come up to the holidays, I am super excited to take a quick pause on episodes with Alison’s being the last one before our little break. I hope you enjoy this insightful conversation with Alison, and I will see you on the other side. Alison, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show. Please start by introducing yourself.

Alison Fantin (00:46):

Well, thanks for having me. My name is Alison Fantin and I am the principal of Kirkland Lake District Composite School, which is a grade 7-12 school in Kirkland Lake Ontario.

Sam Demma (00:56):

When did you realize as a student yourself that education was the career you wanted to pursue?

Alison Fantin (01:03):

So, I actually had an epiphany in grade 11. Mm-hmm. I I had a, a classmate that I didn’t know very well who missed a, a few days of work. My geography teacher told me, cuz I was ahead on this one particular unit, could you please work with her out in the hallway just to kind of try and catch her up. He was kind of using that peer tutoring model and I did that and I realized that I understood the work myself a million times better by teaching it that she was really happy cuz she understood it and it was really fun. And I went home and I said to my mom, I think I wanna be a teacher. And my mom was a teacher is, was a, worked for 35 years in education, was a grade one teacher. And she said, oh, are you sure <laugh>? Yeah. And I said, I’m sure. And she said, oh, but you’ve seen me at nights and weekends working. And I said, yeah, but you know what, mom, I really think I do want to be. And, and I’ve never regretted it.

Sam Demma (02:03):

That’s amazing. That student that you first taught officially <laugh> back in grade 11 is that someone you’ve stayed in touch with? Is that like

Alison Fantin (02:12):

A I have, I have, yeah. Yep. She’s very successful. she’s become a lawyer and you know, we’ve both, yeah, we’ve both done good things with our lives, so, yeah.

Sam Demma (02:23):

So take me to the grade 11 moment and then project the future forward. So you had the epiphany in grade 11. What did that look like as it unfolded over the next couple of years before you got into education?

Alison Fantin (02:34):

Yeah, so I continued to, you know, kind of take the classes that I wanted to take. I, I was always sort of more of an art student than a science or math student. and continued to take courses that, that interested me. Always kind of seized any opportunity I had though to be a peer tutor or to be someone who could you know, help others learn as much as possible. Always try to organize study groups and, and that actually served me really well post-secondary. So and then, yeah, it, it took my my honors Bachelor of Arts at Lakehead University and my teaching degree there as well. And then went to work and haven’t looked back.

Sam Demma (03:14):

That’s amazing. what was your first role, and take us through the various roles you’ve worked and just give us the snapshot of the journey.

Alison Fantin (03:24):

Okay. This is buckle in.

Sam Demma (03:27):

Yeah, I’m ready. I’m ready. <laugh>.

Alison Fantin (03:29):

So I started teaching in 1987. This is year 35 for me. I started working in terrace transcriber at Lake Superior High School. I was an English and geography teacher. Okay. got married, moved back to my hometown of managed wad where I was a high school and elementary supply teacher, and then a high school teacher. we moved again to a little tiny town called Go Gamma, where I had my kids and I was able to do some adult night school. then we moved to gain my husband’s a forester and we kind of went all over Northeastern Ontario. we’ve been in Engelhart since 1996 and I’ve worked at so many schools in the board here in all sorts of roles. most recently high school principal, but I have been an elementary principal, elementary vice principal, secondary vice principal. And a role that was really near and dear to my heart. I was a special education resource teacher for a number of years.

Sam Demma (04:27):

Hmm. Each role provides its own unique set of opportunities and challenges. Yeah. and pros and cons. And tell us a little bit about the role you’re in right now and what you think some of the opportunities are and challenges in the role but also why you enjoy it.

Alison Fantin (04:43):

So the role I’m in right now is principal of a high school. I work really closely with my vice principal. the two of us manage a seven to 12 school. the opportunities in this school are just phenomenal because we have so many outstanding staff who, who really are leaders in their own areas. and we’re big believers in letting people shine and do what they wanna do and giving them the freedom to fail and, and not worry about that and try to kind of regroup if they do. and that extends its well to students. and, you know, giving students a chance to take on leadership roles if they can and, and really try new things. And, and because of that our school has had, you know, tremendous success in all kinds of areas. We’re really proud of our work with our makerspace.

Alison Fantin (05:37):

We’re proud of our work with indigenous studies. we’re proud of our work supporting LGBTQ plus students. but more than anything else, I would say we’re proud of the relationships that we build with our students. it’s a very, very rare time when a student ends up in my office that I say to them, well, who’s your person here? Mm-hmm. And they can’t tell me who that is. So that’s that, you know, those opportunities have been a little bit squelched because of the situation the last couple years. But it so that, and that comes to the challenge part of your question and, and, and how do we kind of connect, you know, when sometimes we’re virtual, how do we continue those growth opportunities when sometimes we literally can’t be in the same space? That’s been challenging, but it feels like there might be light at the end of the tunnel. So I’m, I’m, I’m holding onto that right now.

Sam Demma (06:29):

Ah, I love it. I love it. W what has this year been like? it sounds like the covid has still been a challenge, but we’re getting to the point where it, it hopefully is gonna be in our rear view mirror sooner than later. What has this year been like so far?

Alison Fantin (06:45):

It, it’s, it’s been challenging. You know, I think people are very covid weary. it’s, you know, it’s hard for students to stay engaged when you know, a lot of the things that, that, that many kids love most about high school just isn’t available to them. Extracurriculars and that sort of thing. So, you know, the fact that we’re able to do that again, we have our first tournament here in the gym today. We’re super excited about that. Ah-huh. Yeah. And I, I’ve just really kind of tried to shepherd everybody through this you know, tried to be available to support them. people are tired and people are stressed and people are anxious and worried about their vulnerable family members. And but, you know, the weather gets nicer. We get to get outside. Life gets better immediately. So

Sam Demma (07:35):

What does the shepherding look like? Tell me a little bit about that. When, when you’re in a role where you’re trying your best to provide hope to everyone how do you do that? Like when your perspective, like, what does that look like day to day?

Alison Fantin (07:48):

Well, and, and you know, sometimes it’s not that it, it, it often is, but sometimes it’s not providing hope because I try not to ever tell anybody something that’s not true. Yep. and so I’m, I’m, and then sometimes things do, they’re just awful. And, and, you know, and people are overwhelmed and tired and exhausted and they have family issues. And sometimes it’s, it’s just allowing people to kind of get it all out and just share what they have. That’s, that’s an, that’s making them feel anxious or worried or tired or, and, and kind of give them support. Sometimes it’s trying to take things off people’s plates. often we will as a, as an admin team, ensure that there aren’t additional demands put on our staff if we possibly can avoid it. Hmm. Really try to let teachers just focus on their classrooms and their students in these weird times because that’s where your energy’s best spent. Right. you know, other initiatives are great and we wanna do them, but maybe just not right this minute. So it’s being very protective of staff and of students and of parents. you know, we have a lot of parent phone calls, a lot of parent concerns worried and legitimately so, but we can reassure them most times, so.

Sam Demma (08:59):

Got it. Ah, makes sense. Makes sense. what do you think some of the opportunities are in education? there’s definitely challenges, but when you look at education as a whole, what do you think some of the areas where there are opportunities?

Alison Fantin (09:11):

I, I’m a, like such an optimist and, and the reason I am an optimist is because I see the kids that we have mm-hmm. <affirmative> and I just, I, I am amazed every year at what they can do and what they do do and what they are hoping to do. You know, the fact that they’ll take on these leadership roles and come with these wild ideas and, you know, share the, the compassion that they have for each other, the cheerleading that they have for each other, the support that they have for each other. It gives me such a, you know, lots of people are worried about the future. I’m not worried about the future. Cause when I look at the, the people that we’re leaving it in the hands of, I just think they’re gonna be just fine. These kids are smart. They, they know so much more about the world than we did when we were young be, and I, I think that’s just the connected internet world that we live in.

Alison Fantin (09:58):

Mm-hmm. <affirmative> you know, you, in the old days, you used to be one person sitting in a room and you didn’t know anybody like you now, even if you are that one person in your whole town, there’s 50 people in the next town over or in the next country, over whatever. So I, I think the opportunities through technology especially have just opened the doors for kids. But I also think because of that, kids are, are willing to dream bigger and, you know, we try to really encourage that as much as possible. And, and because we are a school in a small town, that’s an active part of what we do. You know, don’t think, you know, there’s nothing wrong with staying here and working here, and if you choose to come back, that’s great, but you should know what your options are because, you know, there are tremendous opportunities here in town for our students, but there are also tremendous opportunities in other places. We just want them to be aware of everything. And I think that the one thing that, that always ties kids back again, and I’m gonna sound a little bit like a broken record, but is the relationships that they establish. And they tend to establish relationships with teachers who share their interests or share their passions. And so they’re able to explore those more as well. So those are opportunities as well for kids.

Sam Demma (11:06):

Hmm. I love that. When you think about your journey throughout education, I’m sure you’ve had many people that have helped you along the way. when you think about resources, whether that’s people, books, courses or, or like anything at all that you think has informed the way you show up today what are the things that come to mind that you think are worth mentioning or sharing?

Alison Fantin (11:28):

Our board has done like a ton of work around many kind of ways that we can support students who have different needs. But the one thing that’s been particularly helpful for me in the, in the role that I’m in is the work we’ve done around trauma informed instruction. Nice. and Gene Clinton is a leader in that and, and we’ve had the opportunity to receive some professional development development from her. Hmm. she’s the one who’s most like directly changed my practice. Cool. it makes me think about when I have a student in crisis, is this, is this actually them acting out or are they reacting to something that’s happened to them in the past? how can I connect with the students so that they feel like they can approach me? One thing she talks about is the power of, of greeting students in the morning.

Alison Fantin (12:20):

And Bec ever since she talked about that, I’ve done it literally every day. We’re at the front door, we’re greeting every kid that comes in gets a good morning. If we know their name, we say their name. Little easier now, you know, we we’re recognizing them. Even with a mask on you, you get about two inches of, of eye, but you start to recognize the eyes. but you know, it’s, it that is powerful and, and the number of problems that get solved in those 10, 15, 20 minutes in the morning as kids are coming in is phenomenal. So she talks a lot about recognizing that that adverse childhood events can really impact a student’s journey through life. And we really are trying to honour that and recognize that and work with that and not judge kids when they react in a way that seems disproportional because that’s probably not disproportional for them. It’s probably completely logical. So we really are trying to work with our mental health ne team and all of our staff to kind of support students.

Sam Demma (13:13):

I love it. Very cool. when you think about your journey through education, I think you mentioned 35 years. Yeah. Thank you for your service. <laugh> <laugh>. you’re doing an amazing job. when you think about all the different roles and experiences, if you could bundle it all up into some advice that you would give your younger self when you were just starting to teach, like knowing what you know now, what advice would you give to your younger self or to anyone else who’s just getting into this vocation?

Alison Fantin (13:43):

So, so this is the advice that I give to our new teachers and, and, and I tell them the temptation is to feel like you need to know it all. The temptation is to feel that you need to do it all. The temptation is to try to pile in as much curriculum as you possibly can into every lesson. None of those things are realistic and none of those things will make you happy or your students happy. So, you know, be don’t be afraid to say, I don’t know, don’t be afraid to to feel like you have to be the, the guru of everything. And don’t worry if a lesson goes awry and takes you in a whole new different direction because there’s rich learning that can be had there as well. And I’ll tell you, if I’d had that advice and actually listened to it in my first year, it would’ve been really helpful for me because, you know, when you’re a new teacher, you, you almost can’t help yourself. You, you work and work and everything’s perfect and it’s aligned and you try to stay within the walls and make sure that you’re meeting ticking off all those boxes and the hours you work are stupid. But I really, really try to talk about and model work-life balance if I possibly can because it’s such an important piece of making a teacher first of all successful. And secondly, for them to stay in the profession because we don’t want them burning out and leaving cuz they’re exhausted.

Sam Demma (15:01):

Yeah, that’s so, so true. If someone is listening to this conversation, has enjoyed something you shared or something that was mentioned, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?

Alison Fantin (15:12):

I’m on social media sort of sporadically, so I’m gonna suggest they email me. That would probably be the most effective way. I don’t know if you’ve put that in your show notes or not, but I it’s Alison.Fantin@dsb1.ca. It’s probably the, the most direct. And I, I welcome anybody who has a question or a concern or wants to tell me that you’re wrong about this, I’d love to chat about that too, so.

Sam Demma (15:35):

Awesome. All right, Allison. Well thank you so much for taking the time to come on the podcast. I really, really appreciate it. Keep up the amazing work and yeah, we’ll talk soon.

Alison Fantin (15:44):

Thanks Sam. I’ve really enjoyed this. Thank you.

Sam Demma (15:48):

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Alison Fantin

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.

Karl Fernandes – Teacher, Presenter and Life-long Learner

Karl Fernandes – Teacher, Coach, Writer, Guest Speaker and Life Long Learner
About Karl Fernandes

Teacher, coach, writer, guest speaker, life long learner: Karl Fernandes wears many hats as an educator. Blessed beyond measure in his career, Karl has taught in each academic division for the Toronto Catholic District School Board. Karl believes strongly in experiential learning and has an extensive history of engaging his students in local and international service projects. He is actively involved in mental health and natural health initiatives and has worked with numerous organizations to develop well-being resources for students and teachers.

Karl has also instructed at the post-secondary level, and currently serves as a course instructor and professional development facilitator at the provincial level for the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association. He has presented to OCTs and teacher candidates at conferences and workshops across Ontario.

Connect with Karl: Email | LinkedIn

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Toronto Catholic District School Board

Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:01):

Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Karl Fernandes. Karl is a teacher, coach, writer, guest speaker, and lifelong learner. He wears many hats as an educator. Blessed beyond measure in his career, Karl has taught in each academic division for the Toronto Catholic District School Board. Karl believes strongly in experiential learning and has an extensive history of engaging his students in local and international service projects. He’s actively involved in mental health and natural health initiatives and has worked with numerous organizations to develop well-being resources for students and teachers. I’m so grateful that a past guest that we had on the show, John Linhares, introduced me to Karl. Karl has also instructed at the post-secondary level and currently serves as a course instructor and professional development facilitator at the provincial level for the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association.

He has presented to OCTs and teacher candidates at conferences and workshops across Ontario. I hope you enjoy this insightful conversation with my friend Karl, and I will see you on the other side. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator Podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today, we have a very special guest. We connected a few times before this podcast, and I’m so excited to finally have him on the show. Karl Fernandes. Karl, please start by introducing yourself so everyone listening knows a little bit about who you are and what it is that you do.

Karl Fernandes  (01:39):

Thanks, Sam. It’s my pleasure to be here with you this afternoon and to share a bit of my background. I guess I describe myself as both an educator and a lifelong learner. I am a teacher with Toronto Catholic, and I’ve taught in different communities in the city for years. All the grades, like from the little ones right up through high school, and I’ve also had the opportunity in recent years to teach post-secondary and to work with teacher candidates, and now I also work with the, at the provincial level with the Catholic Teachers Association. And I’m doing a lot of teacher training there. It’s just a terrific way to continue my own learning. As I said, lifelong learning is, it’s real.

Sam Demma (02:19):

Where did this passion for lifelong learning develop or stem from?

Karl Fernandes (02:25):

You know what? I think it, it, it comes just from the realization that you, there’s so much you don’t know. Hmm. And, you know, your mistakes inform you. So you, it’s tough because, you know, it’s your pride sometimes, but then you have to recognize well about all the things you maybe didn’t think of or didn’t know. And so it’s, it’s something you learn along as you go along the way. It’s really about the questions you asked, right? That’s what leads to better understanding and better thinking. So that’s something that comes from your work with students. But I think it also comes from just being intentional about how you live your life and how you have your interactions and your experiences. And if you allow yourself some space to be still and not to feel like it’s always about, like you have to look ahead, but sometimes you need to look back.

Karl Fernandes (03:18):

You need to be right here, and then you get a better perception and perspective on things. So I think that’s something life’s taught me a bit. And I don’t think you start off recognizing your lifelong learner, but it’s just that we’re all on this journey, you know, to try and make meaning of this time we have. And I think that’s where I started recognizing. I, I went back to grad school years after I’d got my teaching certification and all that. And I was, I was probably the most excited person in, in the rooms at times because I knew I was doing it because I just wanted to continue my education. It wasn’t about I need this to get that. And I did meet some people that were doing that and, and that’s fine. But I felt that for me it was more about, let me take this at this stage of my life.

Karl Fernandes (04:05):

And I didn’t wanna be thinking, oh I could have done it. I just decided not to. I, I knew it mattered to me. So I had a great support network. And in the end, I think it kind of reinforced at that stage in my life, a lot of things that you know, I was intuitively leading towards, you know, the idea of how knowledge is. It’s a reward in and of itself, right? To, to work through a problem, to think about different perspectives, to gain a better understanding, to hear someone else’s point of view. All those things are part of just being willing to learn. And hey, you know, we learn things when we get in the kitchen. We learn things, you know, in so many different aspects of our lives that I think it’s there for everybody. Just, you know, and when you see other people that are inspired to go back and learn something or take a course on the side, you celebrate that. Cuz I just think it’s, it’s such a pathway to their thinking and, and maybe something that becomes a passion project or whatever. Right. So yeah, I see it as natural

Sam Demma (05:02):

Stillness is something that’s very familiar to you. You’ve written about it in a few online teacher articles and magazines. You mean it both in a physical sense of sitting down and not moving, but also in a, I guess a metaphorical sense of not living in the future, but living here and now. but let’s talk about it from a physical standpoint. I know that being still and meditating or finding that pause is something that you practice often. Why do you do that? And do you advise other educators to explore trying that themselves?

Karl Fernandes (05:39):

Yeah, it, it’s something where you have to keep putting yourself in a position, you know, to, to learn and grow and to help your students do the same, right? So even pre pandemic this is something that, you know, the whole idea of mindfulness and meditation, we have to resist this thing that it’s the flavor of the day. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> as if it’s kind of like a trend or like a new way, right? Because it’s actually ancient in, its in, its in its wisdom and in its methods. So we, we need to sort of put that aside cuz that’s one of my, my cautions right now. I do a lot of real work in this area. And this has happened organically and authentically as someone that, you know, you have to be thinking about how you’re managing you know, your sense of wellbeing.

Karl Fernandes (06:28):

If you’re gonna lead others, you know, you’re gonna lead your students. And, you know, equally important, you have to think about your students and recognize that if they’re not feeling well, if they’re not feeling good the math lesson doesn’t matter, right? So what can you do? Right? Of course, you wanna be a present and a welcoming figure, and you wanna create a classroom that’s inclusive and dynamic. And, and those things are things that we take pride in, right? And you build through the year, but then you have these other, you know, I don’t wanna, like, it’s sometimes we use an analogy of a toolbox, right? Mm-hmm. And you pull things out and you know, you know what to use and all that. And I actually did a pilot, I was involved with a pilot project some years ago that involved bringing wellbeing practices to students.

Karl Fernandes (07:11):

And you know, through that I had a chance, I had already was committed to a lot of these practices, including the idea of meditating. But to be able to have my, you know, guide my students through these and learn some new things because the people leading it were really top rates. So it gives you a chance just to expand again, to expand your learning. But I saw firsthand, you know, I mean, we, I, if you’ve created an environment that’s safe and welcoming, it’s amazing where students will, you know, where like, they’ll, they’ll come along, you know? So they were, I, I had a, a beautiful group of grade eights that year. A lot of ’em, huge kids, you know, athletes, scholars, the whole, the whole nine. But they didn’t hesitate, you know, if I said, look at, this is what I like to try.

Karl Fernandes (07:54):

They, you know, they already, you had gained their trust and they, they, they also understood that you were putting them in a place where they had an opportunity to try something that could benefit them. It wasn’t something that would, was meant to make them feel self-conscious or, you know, put in a spot. So I, I witnessed it firsthand that they were willing to, to try these things. We did, you know, some of the elements of of breathing exercises and, and physical exercises that are connected to yoga that just would help them with their the relaxation and it, you know, then they’d write about it a bit and how they felt about it. So then you get that sense, and then you do other things, you know, that help them build a sense of community and their appreciation for each other in life.

Karl Fernandes (08:37):

You do things like gratitude circles and it just, you know, builds. And so what was fascinating is from there you know, we, we changed grades and assignments as the years unfold. And I was in with a younger group of students who maybe were a bit more challenged by issues around self-regulation. And this was just pre pandemic. So we started on this journey too, in the fall. And at the beginning, I know for some of ’em, it was really challenging because, you know, I would try to create the right environment, you know, dim the lights, close the door and all that. But then, you know, meditation really teaches you, it’s just like life. Like it’s, you can’t write it up the way you want it to be an expected to happen. So I’d leave the door open a couple times. Someone would walk in already talking to me before they actually saw what was going on.

Karl Fernandes (09:21):

And I just like, you know what, we’re present in this moment, so we’re just gonna stay with this. And it was something where I’ll catch up with that person later. But the priority right now is, you know, we’re gonna continue our breathing. And, you know, the thing I loved about ASAM is that was unfortunately the year where we had to transition to online learning. Mm-hmm. And these these habits that we had developed in person, we extended to our online sessions. And so we would have it as part of our, you know, I would always be throwing new things into the mix to keep the kids feeling connected and that, you know, that, that this matters. And that was one of the things we did. And it absolutely was a, a joyful thing. And I mean, it, it, it, the science is all there, but I can also speak to it from like, from the heart, from an emotional level, just to see your students to look up and see that they’re completely engaged in this.

Karl Fernandes (10:13):

At the beginning you got the kids that are eyes open looking around, you know, wanting to see if any of their friends are maybe looking around too. But, you know, little by little they kind of come to it. And it’s not for you to, to judge or to scold or whatever it is. You just keep the in imitation open. And it’s tough because our minds are just used to overprocessing and racing and, and jumping around and all that. So, you know, wanna go back to your original thought stillness, right? It just, it, it, it allows you to be just a little more aware and when you’re done. ‘Cause the kids at the beginning thought maybe they’d get sleepy. And I said, it’s the opposite that happens, right? Like, you can talk to ’em a bit about the science of your alpha waves and just help them understand a bit that this actually benefits you. You become more alert and more present. So I, I would en I would encourage it. I, I would think, you know, you need to sort of find out a bit, especially if it’s not something you’ve done yourself. And you can always, there’s so many great resources online and apps and really legitimate websites, platforms that are developed by people that are in this field, so that if you wanna get started, there’s always a, a pathway for you.

Sam Demma (11:19):

It’s such a cool thing to hear about that you’re doing in a classroom with students. I’ve benefited greatly from meditation, from silence, from nature. And I think it’s just awesome to hear that you’re creating those spaces with young students. I didn’t stumble into that when I was in high school. I stumbled into it listening to podcasts, and I would’ve loved to have a teacher introduce me to those things at a younger age. You mentioned you create these safe spaces, and I’m curious to know, how do you think an educator creates a safe space? Like, how do you create a space where students feel like they can be themselves, feel like it’s okay to fail?

Karl Fernandes (12:01):

Yeah, that’s important, isn’t it? Because if you don’t make it clear that we’re inherently gonna make our mistakes and we’re not always gonna have the result we want mm-hmm. <affirmative>, you’re creating a climate that isn’t really welcoming and isn’t really gonna, you know, reach the students. So I think, you know, it starts with just that idea that, you know, when you’re in education, you generally are guided by compassion and a and, and an interest in your students. And, and that comes out in many ways. Sometimes it’s just the being that stable, welcoming presence for them, because they may not have enough of that in their lives. And sometimes it’s just the, you know, the little conversations you can have if it’s in line or, you know, as you’re going out, extracurriculars, field trips, all that. I think what you’re trying to tell the student is that as much as their their homework, it sure it matters.

Karl Fernandes (12:54):

And, you know, all these other things matter. It’s the person that matters the most. And kids have this innate ability to sense when they’re in the presence of someone that welcomes them and will, you know, kind of encourage them. So if, if, if you’re just worried about the rule or the, the way it’s done, you could lose sight of the bigger picture. Whereas here’s someone who’s not that different from us, right? Who’s maybe messed it up a bit today or maybe forgot the thing they should have brought. And maybe, yeah, it is the third time, and that could be trying, but if the child understands that what you’re trying to address is the the actual action of the behavior, not the person, you know, there’s the real opportunity for them to, to reflect and, and children of all ages, like they, they, they, they can come to this place, right?

Karl Fernandes (13:46):

One of the fascinating things that you often, that, that I find I, I enjoy doing with students is when it comes to evaluating a piece of work ask them to evaluate themselves, including with the grade, it’s amazing how hard they’ll be on themselves. Mm-hmm. Right Now you get the occasional kid that’s gonna give themselves the flying a plus <laugh>, but, and you know, that’s all good. But you know, when you, when you’re, when you ask them a little further, they’ll, they’ll come down from that too. But so many, I mean, that’s our human nature, right? And I think there are all these studies out there that talk about how many negative comments we tend to absorb in the course of a day. And even the talk we do with ourselves tends to be a little bit more critical. And so I think as a teacher, you’ve gotta check that sometimes, you know, and you’ve gotta remind yourself that, you know, you can put a lot of positive energy.

Karl Fernandes (14:32):

You don’t have to be like singing songs and clapping hands and all that to show that you’re happy, right? Yeah. Sometimes it’s this calm and peaceful environment you create. I mean, gosh, remember with my younger students years ago, I’d played classical music while we were working, and that was one of those years of the EQAO tests where, you know, scores were like such a big concern and the province and all that. And you know, when your students are asking, can they have, can they listen to Mozart while they’re doing their math work or whatever, I mean, something’s happened, right? And it’s not always classical, but it’s just the fact that we can go there. And so you can just create these little dynamics and you also instill trust, right? So for me, like there are a lot of policies without getting too much into teacher speak, you know, the idea of needing to use the bathroom or get a drink.

Karl Fernandes (15:15):

Like that’s, to me, that’s, it’s automatic, but the only condition I place on that is you’re not going for walks around the school, right? Like, there are things you can do in the classroom if you need to get up, and you have to know when you’re, you know, you need to leave. But if I’m if I’m teaching a split grade, let’s say, and I’m teaching the other side, my students that are currently in independent work, they understand like they’re allowed to get up and go, but it’s a trust thing. If even once I find they’re roaming around or they’re, you know, there’s something that’s, you know, a bit of a disappointing choice they’ve made, they have to answer for it. So, you know, I think when you put all these things in place, it’s for everybody. It’s not just for the student that’s easy to trust.

Karl Fernandes (15:53):

Hmm. Right? It has to be for an invitation for all of them to reach a standard. And I think putting expectations forward, I, I’ve, I’ve talked to people over the years to try and understand this better, and I, I really feel it’s true because sometimes you have a group where you recognize they’re struggling, you know, maybe they’re struggling with expectations or with their academics or whatever. And the question is, well, do you lower the standard and just, you know, make sure everyone can jump right over the fence and get these high grades that may be inflated or whatever. Or are there other ways that you need to think about this? How do we, how kind of scaffold it so that they can, you know, see progress and start reaching. And I tend to prefer that. So I think when students are in a room where they understand their expectations, but there’s also, you know, acceptance and forgiveness and understanding all these things that kind of come part of saying, Hey, we’re all human. So I like that you mentioned failure, because if we’re afraid of it, there’s all this stuff about fear failure. And I think you’ve worked in that space as well about encouraging people to overcome that. It, it, it’s important because then we shift our mindset. There’s a whole thinking around the growth mindset, and that can only come if we see these things that don’t work out as opportunities as opposed to complete failures. Right.

Sam Demma (17:05):

I, I couldn’t agree more. I love that you mentioned this idea that you’re not addressing the person you’re addressing the action or the behavior. And that was a big thing for me as a student because I attached my self worth to my success as an athlete. And I thought subconsciously, if Sam wasn’t seen as a great soccer player, he’d be worth nothing as a person. Whereas in reality, soccer was just a game I chose to play outside of Sam Demma human being. and when I was able to identify that it was a lot easier to overcome the challenges, the mental barriers that I had to moving on and starting something new and continuing to build my life mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And I feel like you kind of addressing students by saying, you chose to make this choice. that doesn’t, that’s not necessarily a great reflection of you as a human being. It’s just a choice you made. I’m not addressing you. I’m addressing the choice. Let’s talk about the choice together, not you as a person. I think that’s a great way to have difficult conversations and it’s a lot more disarming. so yeah, I thought that was really, that was really great distinction and I appreciate you making it. Did you know when you were a student walking the hallways of the schools you attended that you wanted to work in education as a teacher?

Karl Fernandes (18:22):

Absolutely not. No <laugh>, I didn’t see it. I, I, I knew, I guess there were probably, it’s, it’s, you know, life is such a mystery, right? Like, where we go and the people we come across and all the things that we’re gonna do, it’s, it’s, you gotta love that, that it’s so unscripted. But I know some people say that they, they figured it out. They knew from time. And I, I just wasn’t in that camp. I, I think the things that probably I could occlude into us, I, I enjoyed presenting and I was pretty good at explaining things to my classmates. if, you know, we were working out certain problems, not in all subjects and not in everything, but, you know, oftentimes I could, could lend a bit that way. And I did get a chance to work with youth a co I took, you know, I was always, you know, on the move picking up a job wherever I could, you know, growing up just to sort of, you know, take care of things and, you know, self put myself through university, the whole nine.

Karl Fernandes (19:14):

So I had to I just, and I also wanted to try everything, you know, I thought, hey, life is about this. It’s not just, you know, one thin line to walk. So I did get a chance to work with students a couple times, including at a sports camp actually. And you know, that was an absolute blast. You know, I just found how much I loved being in that space and you know, all the things that come with it. Cuz when you’re with them all day, it’s a little bit like school, right? Except it’s all about sports, <laugh>, this whole, whole whole you have to learn a lot about your, I mean, know we, we refer to as classroom management, but people misunderstand that thinking. It’s about like managing kids and rules and expectations and it’s really about creating environment, you know?

Karl Fernandes (19:54):

So anyways, I think those things helped inform me, but really and truly, I didn’t sort of listen to that voice properly until I was into my university years. And it wasn’t a sort of a fallback or something. It was literally like, well, which path am I gonna take now? I was really interested in international relations and I had done some you know, like a number of studies and things and I was feeling strongly drawn to that, you know, cause I had an interest in politics and, and, and global issues environment. And so I felt that there was something there that was really calling me. And then there was this thing about, boy, you get to do so many amazing things in, in school and I wasn’t the model that you’d expect to become the teacher, you know? So it was something I had to reflect on a bit.

Karl Fernandes (20:43):

But I realized that, you know, there were certain things that were aligning for me that suggested, you know, even when I’d be in university and I was presenting or I was doing other things, I thought there that space is, is, is fascinating, so I should stay open to it. And then I kind of was, I I I was doing the two degrees concurrently, so I was pursuing my international relations and I was pursuing my work through teachers college. And I think if I was gonna be quite honest with myself, my international relations work was, was really lighting up. I was loving it. And I felt like, you know, my mind was alive and sometimes in, in, in teachers programs, I was a little bit more, you know, we’d be having debates about phonics and I wasn’t particularly excited <laugh> about stuff like that sometimes.

Karl Fernandes (21:27):

So I wondered, you know, even as I was going through it, I didn’t know where I was gonna land. But I kind of ended up lending both because I did some international development projects as a volunteer. And that took me into countries in the developing world where I really got to, you know, do the work and meet people and see things and, and, and reflect on them. And what it’s done is it’s kind of informed my practice because one of the things that I am, I’m homely proud of as an educator is that I’ve connected my students to service projects throughout the years mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And, you know, it, it is a bit of a leap. You don’t, it’s not a scripted thing. You figure out, okay, what are we gonna do about this situation? Or how can we get involved? And, and then you have to just have the courage to say, well, may not be perfect, but let’s, let’s put this together.

Karl Fernandes (22:11):

And, you know, so I think in a way, now that I look back at it, all the pieces were there for me. I just didn’t know, you know, what the puzzle was supposed to look like. And in a, in a unique way, I’ve kind of blended these different parts of who I am. So environmental work and international work and, and, and social justice work have all kind of combined. And of course I love the material I get to teach, but you know, your, your, your teaching extends so far beyond the lesson, right? And ideally you’re connecting students to the world in whatever form, and you take kids outside and they just, they just, they’re overjoyed. It’s like, wow, we get to go and do something. Right? So you don’t want to just think of it as a static, you gotta check off. Cuz that’s the thing. There’s this weight, you know, you gotta check off all these objectives and lessons and there’s so much more than that. So I guess that’s a wandering answer, but I guess that’s kind of reflective of my path in education. I don’t think it was something I, I recognized until it just aligned and I realized, yeah, this is, this is right for me.

Sam Demma (23:15):

I’ve had a diverse representation of answers when it came to this question. Some being, I used to play school with my, with my family members growing up and acted like I was the teacher to, I totally just fell into it randomly to, I like an answer like you shared. I liked certain aspects of education like presenting and realized I was passionate about it and, you know, during my university degree got into it. So I think it’s cool to hear that everyone has a very different journey to education because someone might feel overwhelmed or like they missed the boat if they’re a little bit later in their education and have started pursuing something differently. So thank you for sharing that. Your path was a little bit different. Steve Jobs always says you can’t connect. Well, he did say you can’t connect the dots looking forwards. You can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that at some point in your future, the dots will connect. And it’s a part of his commencement speech and it gives me the goosebumps whenever I’m really discerning a tough decision. And I try and remind myself that, ah, this seems very challenging right now, but I’m sure a year from now looking back, it will all make sense even if I can’t make sense of it in the moment. And that kind of sounds like your journey to getting into education <laugh>. So

Karl Fernandes (24:33):

Yeah. Yeah,

Sam Demma (24:34):

Yeah. Yeah. I appreciate you sharing that. At what point in your educational journey did you start presenting to other teachers and educators? it sounds like you always had a passion for presenting.

Karl Fernandes (24:47):

I think it’s more I was, you know, willing to step forward. I think that’s part of where you, you try to lead in whatever way you can. Cuz in the end, you know, in a school, you’re part of a community and you, you want to contribute in a meaningful way. And it’s tricky because, you know, it’s, it’s one of the tensions that sometimes can exist in schools where you can feel that things are being pulled in all kind of different directions. And so my initiative isn’t more important than another initiative, but perhaps, you know, it’s been in place, it’s been formed and it’s ready to be rolled out and then along comes something else. And sometimes you have to just, you know, move with it. So I say that because I guess sometimes it’s just you’re, you’re asked to do it.

Karl Fernandes (25:34):

I remember years ago, I have to think about this really, but I, I think in one of my first couple years of teaching I was asked to, it was more like, oh, just, I was the new guy, right? So I was like a year or two in, and we, we were at some kind of event and I think I was supposed to either do the welcome or the thank you to somebody and I was just, it was literally like, Hey, can you do this in two minutes, <laugh>? Yeah. So I thought, sure, you know, but it wasn’t exactly something that I knew. It was more like, well, we need someone to do it, let’s ask you kind of thing. And, which was fine. I but I was also, you know, asked by people that were friendly enough that I thought, sure, if I can help out I will.

Karl Fernandes (26:13):

But I remember after that some people came after me and says like, wow, do you do that stuff all the time? Like, no, I just did that cuz you asked me to. But I think, you know, ultimately what it is Sam, is that if you, if, if you’re trying to be purposeful, and I, I think thoughtful about things and that doesn’t mean you’re, it’s rehearsed and you’ve got it all right. But just you think about it, I think that just lends for more opportunities. But the rest of this is unfolded over time. Like sometimes it was school events where, you know, we’d put on, we’d put on some amazing presentations for parents, you know, where the students were, obviously the, the, the, the focus Nice. But you’d need to have it stitched together. And sometimes it was coming together, so, you know, last minute and like with different pieces, like, I’d be working, I, I also work with music in the school, so with one, some of my partners are like, okay, so which one we’re doing next?

Karl Fernandes (27:06):

And all that stuff. And then it would just, you know, I would, I would always wanna give students the mic wherever it’s possible, but where the, where situations are unfolding and it’s not maybe you know, like people can rehearse. That’s possible. Yeah. Yeah. And then, you know, sometimes it’s just like, Hey, this is just live to, so you’ve gotta be ready. Yeah, I’ll take it at those stages. And you know, when you have graduation ceremonies and stuff, one of the things that I felt was so important was to address the grads as a teacher and just thank them and wish them the best. And you try to do it in a poignant, meaningful way because, you know, not all of them gonna get called up for these awards and things like that. And I always think about those other kids that, you know, this is a big piece of their life, you know, this is the foundational piece, and they need to know that they mattered and this whole journey mattered.

Karl Fernandes (27:47):

And it’s not about, well, you know, who got the whatever award. So I kind of, I guess more and more would step forward in those lights. And then as you unfold in your career, you think again about what matters and where you can contribute. And part of that’s also finding the things that you are passionate about and that you know, where you can authentically discuss. Because if it’s something that, like, I, I can, I, I really enjoy teaching math and language and all that, but I, I don’t think I could get really jazzed up to do a presentation on some of that. I can help, you know, and, and, and learn with others and all that. That’s all good. But if I get to talk about, you know, mental wellbeing, if I get to talk about the environment or social justice or classroom management, I’m all in.

Karl Fernandes (28:32):

You know. So I think when I, when I went back to grad school, that kind of unfolded a series of interesting pathways where it went from being in class to, you know, I met someone who worked in I think it was the international education department there. And then I got a call from students asking, could I present at a conference? And then I said, sure. And so I did that. This is for university students. And then from there I was asked to teach a, a certificate course. And then, you know, it just one thing, I guess in the end, you get an opportunity and then it’s what do you do with that opportunity? And, you know, in, in recent years, I’ve been really enjoying my work with the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association. You know, it’s the provincial level for Catholic teachers in the pro in, in Ontario.

Karl Fernandes (29:13):

I see. And the, the professional development work they do is just fantastic. So, you know, when I came into this some years ago, you just apply and you know, at the beginning you’re in with a lot of really well established people. And so I was just like, I was, again, the new kid, so to speak, but I’m just happy to, you know, learn from others and talk. And then eventually you get tapped and I, I did a presentation and that led to something else. And then I think about within a year, I’m delivering the keynote at a, a conference for educators in Eastern Ontario. And I thought I was doing a workshop when I put my <laugh>, my, my work forward. And they said, no, it’s a keynote. And I was like, okay. And then I thought, well, that’s, that’s fine then, you know, I mean, I believe in what I was gonna talk about, and it was about a teacher’s journey and how we have to think about, you know, how we restore ourselves and how that in turn helps us to create these climates for our students.

Karl Fernandes (30:02):

So I believed in what I was gonna talk about, but they did select it. And then from there, I guess it’s, it’s rolled on. So I, I’m, I’m very, very grateful that I’ve had these opportunities, but I also take each one as, you know, extremely important that it matters. And I, I value the time of my audiences. And oftentimes it’s the conversations you have after the session’s done where you feel so good because you’ve reached someone and they come up specifically to tell you that, or they want to talk more about your ideas. And I’m sure you’ve had plenty of those moments, cuz I know how inspiring your talks are, but this is what we try to do. It’s just about taking what we know and then maybe passing it forward or helping people move along. And then we reflect too. So no two presentations are the same mm-hmm. <affirmative>

Karl Fernandes (30:44):

And each group, I’ve, I’ve spoken to teacher candidates, I’ve spoken to teacher groups, you know where they may be getting a PD session and I’ve done an online in person, it just, you know, you just, you just adapt to whatever the environment is and just try and figure out how can I contribute something here that’s, that’s meaningful. And what can you say, you feel so fortunate when you hear the feedback afterwards that people have benefited in some way. Right? But you don’t rest on that. You know probably, I suspect you have this too, as a presenter, you’re never satisfied. You keep thinking, oh, you know what, here’s a little something I wanna try and do a little differently for the next one. Or, this audience is a little different. I always wanna know a bit about my audience. I don’t wanna take anything for granted.

Karl Fernandes (31:24):

So I’ll be doing a presentation this week to some teacher candidates, and I wanted to know a bit more. And it turns out they’re graduate students, so that means that they’ve had a little bit more time with their program, and perhaps they’re coming at this from different lenses. They wanna look at things at. So that’s important to me to consider when I do the presentation. So, you know, I think it’s opportunities they come and I think it’s just that slow patient work where you put yourself in a situation, but I was never the one to sort of say like, like it’s, it’s, how do I say? Like, I need to get to the front of the line. I think I’d rather be tapped on merit than sort of try too hard to say, you know, me. And now I think I feel, you know, that I, I have a, a lot that I can contribute. And so if I am asked, I, I like to say yes. And so I think that’s a lot about life too. You know, just try and say yes and then invite the opportunities to come.

Sam Demma (32:19):

That’s awesome. You mentioned teacher coming up to you afterwards and how they often tell you how it made them feel and they wanna talk about your ideas further or how it connected with them. And it made me think about success because oftentimes we, well, in the presentation world, you feel like your presentation was a success. When someone walks up to you and says, oh my goodness, Carl, that was amazing. It really connected. I have these new tools to bring into my school. And I’m curious to know how you define success as an educator, not as a presenter, but as an educator. And the reason I ask is because

Sam Demma (32:56):

I think a lot of educators wanna make a positive difference in the lives of the students in their classrooms or the teachers they’re leading. If they’re the principal or the principals, if they’re the superintendent, it, it all comes down to helping mm-hmm. <affirmative> and changing people. But sometimes after a presentation, people won’t walk up to you and tell you how great it was, even though it was, and they still have the connections, but maybe they didn’t feel confident enough to come and tell you, or you changed the student’s life, by the way you talked to them in class for a semester. But they tell you about it 20 years later. And you’re left wondering, well, did I make a difference? and Tom, I’m curious to know, like, how do you define success as an educator? So you don’t, you don’t mislead yourself to believe you’re not making a change or a difference in those moments where people don’t rush up and tell you.

Karl Fernandes (33:51):

Yeah. That’s, that’s that’s a really thoughtful thing to, to ask. And I guess to reflect on, you know, that’s one of the dilemmas about being a teacher, right? Like every, most people think they’re doing it really well, and some people are very hard on themselves and maybe they are trying well, but they’re just, you know, presented with challenging circumstances. And, you know, we’re an egalitarian workforce in a way, right? A teacher is, you know, we’re presented with, you know, more or less the same conditions no matter where, I mean, there are variances of course, but by the nature of our employment, this is what it is. We’re not, you know, vice president of teaching and <laugh>, you know, like something like that, right? It’s just you, you, so what you try to do is, you know, learn to be effective, you know, learn to really succeed with your curriculum.

Karl Fernandes (34:42):

Like you need to know your stuff. And on that, I’m, I’m, that’s where I’m uncompromising, you know, like, you can’t teach something you don’t understand and you know, so you have to put the time in to know your material, to understand, you know, the nuances of it, the, the, the traps that students will maybe get stuck with and all that you need to consider changing grades to sort of see how the building blocks form. Like, that’s one of the things I really loved about going down to primary after years up with the older students and just sort of seeing how things come together at that age. And then I was like, oh, you know, I remember sometimes when my intermediate students would struggle with a concept and I’d be working with them at that level trying to figure out how to plug in for them.

Karl Fernandes (35:21):

And then what it probably turns out is this concept wasn’t fully grasped at a younger grade. They didn’t see it, and then they think they can’t do it. And then it just becomes something, whenever it comes up, it’s like, oh, not that like, you know, like, I’m not good at that. And so when you can sort of see it from all these different levels, you can plug in a little differently and you try to just reinforce it in a way that you hope they’ll carry enough forward, that they’ll feel, I can do this. You know, I’ve got this and that’s what you want to help them feel. But you’re right, it’s, success is abstract in a lot of ways. You know, it’s not performance based. It’s, it’s really a, an intuitive and a a reactive kind of thing, right? How do you feel when you walk out each day, right?

Karl Fernandes (36:08):

Or when you walk in each day at the end of the year. To me that’s an emotional time, you know, like it really is, as much as your birthday and a calendar year are times to take stock and to think about things the end of a school year, oof. When you get to June, I mean, I love my break, but that’s a tough month because, you know, you’re all sensing it, right? It’s kind of like a, a joy and also the bittersweetness of knowing this is gonna end and the students feel it too, you know, no matter what grade they’re in, they recognize this comfort, this, this, these dynamics that are in the room, these jokes that you share, these little routines that you’ve created. So when a student walks up to you in the schoolyard and you know, are waiting till they get to be in your class again, you gotta take that and, you know, just sort of just feel that you reached, you know, yeah.

Karl Fernandes (37:00):

That, that, that, that, that mattered there. And when they remind you, even if it’s repeatedly, do you remember when we did whatever it is mm-hmm. <affirmative> and including the online piece, right? Like, I’ve got students that talk about that. We used to go on these walks into the forest cuz we couldn’t really go very far. <laugh> you know, everything was for prohibited, so, yeah. You know, so it’s like, okay, so I’d make up reasons to take the students out and do science, you know, in front of the school. Like, Hey, we’re gonna look at these trees and we’re gonna look at whatever it is and just let’s get outside. Right? And so we’d go to the forest for these walks and then when we went online in whatever that was, January of that year, I told them, listen I, I searched this up when I found these online like ritual nature walks where someone go put, I guess puts a GoPro on and then goes for it and then you can walk along with them in a sense, right?

Karl Fernandes (37:45):

So I asked my students, would you like to try this cuz there’s some amazing places to go. And they were so enthused about it. And then of course, being these enthusiastic kids, it happened to be the first one I showed them as a winter walk in this forest, and they’re convinced it’s our forest. I’m like, that’s not our forest. Like there’s, there’s <laugh>, there’s almost a river running through it, right? <laugh> then, then they’re convinced it’s me. And like I went out there that morning, like I’m in my kitchen, like <laugh>. So, but you laugh about it together, right? And so I think if I know that those little things mattered, then you feel a sense of, okay, so when I, when when fully grown adults who were my former students, reach out, reach back need to come in and just wanna be in, you know, in your company, how can you not just be overwhelmed with gratitude that like, you know, they don’t have to, right?

Karl Fernandes (38:36):

Like they can be well on their way in this world, they can think back or not. And you can’t measure that. You can’t know, right? The, the test of time is what it is that you just have to trust that you’ve done what you can. And if you’re sincere as a teacher, you do your best and you also recognize that you, you weren’t perfect, you know, you did make mistakes and you hope that there weren’t ones that, you know, maybe you can’t get it back. So you just hope that, you know, they, they don’t take the wrong thing from you. But there’s that old expression I won’t say it properly, but it’s, you know, people may forget what you did and you know all that, but they’ll never forget how you made them feel. And so I think, you know, I, I’ve, for whatever it’s worth, like I’ve been invited to former student’s weddings and you know, like now some of ’em are playing in bands like, sir, you gotta come hear me play.

Karl Fernandes (39:19):

And I’m like, sure. You know? So I think those are the, those are some of the markers, right? And I think you, you know, when you get to talk about, they come back and they want to talk about how we won the football championship or the soccer championship way back or you did house league with them. And for some kids, like you see them score their first goal, right? <laugh> because they haven’t really played a much outside of the opportunity to have a House league or something like that. So I think if you were to somehow find a way to quantify all that and put it together, that’s probably a bit about what success would feel like. But ultimately I think you, you know, in your heart, if you’re, if you’re, if you’re being guided by principals and if you don’t stop seeing the students, you know, in front of you is who matters. I think that’s where you can sort of, you know, feel really good. Cuz I really appreciate all the other things I get to do, but none of that would matter very much if I was shorting it out on the, in the classroom side, right? Mm-hmm.

Sam Demma (40:18):

<affirmative>, I love that. Thanks for sharing. this has been a very insightful conversation. It’s already been almost 50 minutes. Before we wrap it up, I got some random rapid fire questions for you. Are you ready?

Karl Fernandes (40:31):

Oh, let me try. Okay.

Sam Demma (40:32):

What’s your favourite sport?

Karl Fernandeas (40:34):

Ooh, gotta be soccer.

Sam Demma (40:36):

What’s the last song you listen to?

Karl Fernandes (40:39):

Ooh, probably whatever my son’s made me listen to <laugh>. He’s always putting earbuds in my ear and says, dad, check this out.

Sam Demma (40:46):

<laugh>. That’s awesome. That’s awesome. what was the first grade that you taught?

Karl Fernandes (40:55):

As a professional? It would’ve been grade seven.

Sam Demma (40:58):

Nice. who are you cheering for the World Cup?

Karl Fernandes (41:04):

Sam, now I I, I gotta be careful with this one, right? Because I don’t know who you’re back in, but I’ll tell you what I mean, Canada was, I was so hopeful for them, you know, I went down and get a chance to watch them play at BMO last year before like everyone was in on the bandwagon and it was just a special night watching these guys just light it up. And so I, I think, you know, they, the moment may have been a bit much, I felt they had a really great opportunity in that first match and it just got away. And then from there, you’re looking uphill, right? Like, you know, the math of World Cup, if you get the first one, you’re in a good spot. If you get a tie or a draw, you still are in the conversation, you lose and suddenly the pressure’s on, right?

Karl Fernandes (41:40):

And they didn’t go from a difficulty easy, right? They went from difficult to more difficult <laugh>. So I think that was regrettable and I, it did kind of feel in the end they didn’t have their best showing. They didn’t look, they were kind of exposed at times. So that was tough because I was all up on Team Canada. I was ready to, I wanted for this city too. I really think I’ve said this to a few friends and family members, but I think what Toronto needs to see happen, they needed to see can’s team go for it, you know, have a little bit of a run and get excited about that. I think the city would’ve just been, you know, would’ve let it up. Yeah, exactly. And if, if this, you know, this beloved Toronto Maple Leafs team of ours ever <laugh> succeeds here. I’m telling you it’s gonna be unreal.

Karl Fernandes (42:23):

So I hope, but to answer your question honestly, I think the Final eight are really like, there are some powerhouse teams there. I would put in the top tier, I’ve gotta believe the way Brazil and France are playing. They’re the class of the, the tournament and right underneath that you’ve got a solid group of about three teams. And there, there are very few that I’d say, I don’t wanna say the wrong team and maybe have someone say wait, <laugh>, but there are a couple that I think are probably longer shots to, you know, get to the semis. But how about I gotta ask you too then, like who are you looking at?

Sam Demma (42:51):

You, you just never know. Right? Okay.

Karl Fernandes (42:54):

My, that’s safe. <laugh>,

Sam Demma (42:55):

My, my team was definitely, I was training for Canada. I didn’t yeah, think they were gonna win the World Cup, but I wanted to see them win some games. Yeah. next would’ve been Italy, but they’re not in it and Greek, which are both of my half, half and half my ethnicities and neither of them are in it. So <laugh> yeah, those are cut short. So now I’m just watching for the beautiful game, but I’m not exactly really cheering on anyone and it sounds like you’re in the same boat. So that’s I, I like you said, you know, you appreciate it. It is such a beautiful game and if you’ve, if you played it as you have it, you know your level and you just, you, you can appreciate it, you know, it is, it is such an intricate sport and all the little skills that go into the buildup, that’s what, you know, just makes it so special. Cuz you know, you can watch a basketball game and there can be 200 points scored <laugh>, you know, easily between the two teams and, you know, with soccer they can, they can 120 minutes and Yeah, exactly. Right. And yet the drama and the tension and all that is so, you know, so strong that if you, you have to just sort of appreciate it for, you know, it’s all the, all the things and make it up. So yeah, I’m, I’m all in for good soccer.

Sam Demma (44:03):

Last question for you.

Karl Fernandes (44:04):


Sam Demma (44:06):

Educators tuning in, listening, if they wanna reach out to you, ask you a question, what would be the best way for them to get ahold of you or ask, ask a question?

Karl Fernandes (44:16):

Fair. Let me think. I guess if they’re, if they’re with the any Catholic school board, you can reach me through OECTA because I am part of the professional development network. I’m also with Toronto Catholic, so all teachers know how teacher email works, where, where it’s your name and then the name of the board. So there’s there. I’m really light on the social stamp to be honest. I think it’s one of those things that, it just didn’t really connect for me very much and I just felt that I’m, I’m happier in person and all the opportunities I could ask for have so many have come my way but a couple years ago I was encouraged to start a a LinkedIn profile. So I, it’s lightly used, but it’s there too if anyone, you know, needed to reach me that way too.

Sam Demma (44:55):

Awesome. Karl, thank you so much for taking the time to come on the show. It’s been a pleasure chatting with you. I hope we can do a part two maybe a year from now when we all have different, different perspectives and are on different parts of our journey. Enjoy the indoor workouts as it gets cold, and I look, look forward to staying in touch.

Karl Fernandes (45:15):

Sam, I’ve gotta thank you not only for the opportunity of being so great as a host and guiding this, but I think, you know, the work that you’re doing for young people and also just to recognize teachers because, you know, we’re, we’re in a really unique stage right now. You know, in society and there, there, there is a lot of frustration and, and, and, and everything else, and we see it at ground level, you know, with in schools. So for you to actually make a point of giving teachers a chance to talk about, you know, what we love doing and all that, that’s that’s a rare opportunity and it’s, it’s greatly appreciated. So I hope as well for you that, you know, your path continues to lead to all these really meaningful projects and so it’s appreciated.

Sam Demma (45:57):

Thanks, Karl. Appreciate it a lot. And again, we’ll, we’ll talk soon. Maybe I’ll bump into you in the forest <laugh>.

Karl Fernandes (46:03):

Love, love it, love it. But we’ll both be still at that time anyways. Right. So <laugh>, thanks Sam, appreciate it.

Sam Demma (46:11):

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Karl Fernandes

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.

Hoi Leung – Principal of Pickering High School

Hoi Leung – Principal of Pickering High School
About Hoi Leung

Hoi Leung is the principal of Pickering High School in the Durham District School Board. He has been teaching for over 25 years and determined he wanted to work in education during his last year of University. While helping to tutor his friends at University, Hoi uncovered his passion for teaching, and the rest is history.

Connect with Hoi: Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Pickering High School

Durham District School Board

Science and Business – University of Waterloo

Faculty of Education – Queens 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 (00:00):

Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Hoi Leung. Hoi is the Principal of Pickering High School in the Durham District School Board. He has been teaching for over 25 years and determined he wanted to work in education during his last year of University. He has a background in engineering before in his second year, switching into a slightly different career path which brought him to where he is today in education. It started while tutoring and helping to tutor his friends in University where Hoi uncovered his passion for teaching, and the rest became his history. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Hoi, and I will see you on the other side. Hoi, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Pleasure to have you on the show here today. Please start by introducing yourself.

Hoi Leung (00:51):

Hi, my name is Hoi Leung. I am the Principal of Pickering High School in the Durham District School Board. I’ve been teaching for about 25 years, and yeah, that’s about, that’s about it.

Sam Demma (01:02):

When did you realize growing up as a student yourself, that education was the, the career for you, the thing you wanted to pursue?

Hoi Leung (01:10):

Well, actually I didn’t realize education as a career until going into my last year of university. So my university journey was actually, I started with engineering, mechanical engineering at Waterloo. And it didn’t really play out for me. I guess it didn’t like me as opposed to me not liking it. And I switched programs after second year into a program called Science of Business. And so when I was in science of business, I was, I guess trained to become a, either a laboratory manager or a pharmaceutical rep. And then going into my last year my friends asked me if I ever thought of teacher’s college, and I said, no, I didn’t. And then, so I looked into it and took a few courses and, and got into a program at Queens University. And then, and then the rest is history. I became a teacher.

Sam Demma (01:58):

Take me back to the moment you decided in fourth year university, this is something I wanna pursue wherever you at, at that stage in your life. what helped you make that decision? And then also what did the journey look like that brought you to where you are today?

Hoi Leung (02:14):

Yeah, so when I was in going to fourth year, I obviously I set switch programs already and and a lot of friends what was happening was I was helping a lot of friends out in terms of tutoring them in terms of the program that we’re in. And then I looked back into my in my childhood and what happened was, in high school I was actually tutoring a lot of friends in math and sciences and didn’t realize I was just pretty much doing what I was doing in, in in teaching. And so when somebody said to said to me, well, what, what about teachers college? I never thought about it as a profession. And and then went into it and just decided that’s where I was gonna go. And and ever since then I started coaching. I coach a lot of volleyball. I’ve been coaching volleyball since 1996. Oh, and and so coaching and teaching are pretty much the same, same type of style in terms of, of of a career.

Sam Demma (03:08):

Tell me about the similarities. When you think about coaching and you think about teaching, what are the similarities you draw from the two? And how has sport kind of impacted your educational journey as well?

Hoi Leung (03:20):

Well the similarities are actually very much the same. Not even similar, they’re the same. you know, you, you have to assess the students to see where they, they start from. I mean, so when I coach volleyball you know, everybody starts at a different level. it is just like in a classroom. There, there, there, there’s students that are, are high achievers students that are starting at a, at a beginning point. So when I, when I do practices, I have to obviously tailor to different entry points for everybody. So somebody to like may, may not even know how to handle volleyball versus somebody that knows how to handle volleyball. So I have to do the drills where everybody’s successful. And then of course from there we, we try to make everybody successful and not bored.

Hoi Leung (04:00):

And then always active. teaching’s pretty much the same. in terms of when I first started my career, I was in elementary school. now I’m in high school, but I, I’m one of the few teachers that have done elementary and high school. So I’ve taught both. And elementary school is I’d be honest, is a lot tougher because again, when the students are coming in, they’re all at different levels or different ranges. high school is a bit more I guess more I guess they’re more, they’re different levels in high school, you know, grade nine, there is a grade nine level, there’s a grade. Well, in elementary school there’s a, a varied level in terms of things. So, so elementary school, you, you have to, like I said do a diagnostic. I mean, I’m using terms obviously, sorry, but it’s, you kinda assess students where they are, and then hopefully you challenge the ones that are, that get it.

Hoi Leung (04:51):

And you, you, you help the ones that don’t get it and, and then get ’em to a medium point. A high school, a high school level is a bit easier because you, if you take grade nine math, you know, everybody, there’s a curriculum that everybody has to maintain in order to get a credit. So it’s credit based in high school while elementary school it isn’t credit based. So, so that’s the difference I find. And with coaching, it’s the same thing. You, you find you know, you’ve got house league volleyball, you got rep volleyball you’ve got club volleyball, you’ve got regional program, provincial program, university program. So, so I tailor, I guess my teaching, my coaching based on what level I’m, I’m I’m, I’m at. So I’ve I’ve done all that. I’ve, I’ve done university, I was a university level coach provincial level coach, regional level coach, club level coach. And even I, I even coach elementary school, which is kind of funny, <laugh>. So I’ve done the whole gamut from grade four to university level.

Sam Demma (05:43):

Did you also play volleyball growing up? Was that a sport that you loved or what got you into volleyball?

Hoi Leung (05:48):

Yes. so volleyball was one of the first sports that I played. so going way back I wasn’t born in Canada. I was born in Hong Kong. Okay. so I, I came to Canada in 1976. I was about six years old. And you know, back then, you know, my family was a typical immigrant family. my, my parents worked long hours, 12 hours a day. you know, I used to come home I used to call the latchkey kid if, if you, I don’t know if you know that term Sam, but it’s called Latch Key Kid, where we’d get a key, my brothers and I would go home on our own. And I mean, obviously back then it was accepted. Nowadays I’m, I’m sure you know, it’s not accepted in terms of having kids under 12, going home by themselves and starting all that.

Hoi Leung (06:29):

So, so I’m sure, I mean, you ask your parents, I don’t know what your background is, but I’m pretty sure it’s the same kind of routine. But so I was a latchkey kid. I used to come home and and my parents made sure that we came home right away. So so starting with sports I have to give credit to my older brother who, who did a lot of sports but wasn’t allowed to participate in any teams. Cause again, back in those days, you know the family rules where you come home right after school, you don’t, you don’t go, you don’t stick, stick around after school. So, so really, I had to, to figure out a way to, to join a team. And with my parents, I had to flip it where instead of telling them that I was trying to join a team, I had to tell them that the school had chosen me to be on this team <laugh>.

Hoi Leung (07:14):

So as soon as they were like, oh, well, the school chose to be on this team, then you better go and go for this team. Cause they don’t realize I had to volunteer to be chosen. But <laugh> was when I started in elementary school grade seven, eight. And then after that I played in high school and I played a lot in high school. And then and then during high school, I also played rugby. And so those were my, my two main sports was volleyball and rugby. And then when I went to Waterloo the joke I have is when I went to Waterloo, I was too small to play volleyball, but I was big enough to play varsity rugby. Ah. So I switched sports and I, and I played varsity rugby back in the early nineties when rugby wasn’t very popular. Now it’s now as popular as you know, a lot.

Hoi Leung (07:54):

But, so when I came outta university, I was a teacher. And and then back then in 95, 96, there was very little, very few jobs and we had to supply, and I started coaching volleyball and rugby at different schools. And and then then I went to a volleyball camp, started coaching there, and then pretty much it just went off from there from 96 onwards. And found early success in terms of coaching, club volleyball, you know, won won a national title then went on to provincial team won Canada Games went to University of Toronto, became assistant coach to Women’s Women’s Program, and won four Oua championships in a row as an assistant coach with that program. And then yeah, so that’s pretty much my journey with volleyball.

Sam Demma (08:39):

That’s amazing. And tell me more about the journey from where you started in education to where you are today. What are the different schools you worked in, school boards, positions? Give us a little insight into that journey as well.

Hoi Leung (08:52):

So I grew up in Toronto downtown Toronto, around Paper Danforth. So a lot of my friends were immigrants Greeks, Italians you name it. It was all a big mix back then. And so when I went to University, I went to a school called Danforth Tech, which is by Dan and Greenwood Avenue. So when I got outta university I decided to go to Durham believe it or not. so I went to Durham and started supplying there. And back in 95, 96 in Durham there was very, there was very little diversity in, in the, in the area. So I was one of the few teachers that were non-white. And, and it was a bit of a challenge for me. I mean, a lot of people, you know, you know, here, here I am, you know, my, my background is Chinese and they, they, you know, I, I was supplying down in South Oua, never seen a Chinese person before, kind of thing.

Hoi Leung (09:46):

It, it was kind rare. And so my journey was I started teaching there, supplying the people around me liked me. I started applying for jobs. unfortunately I wasn’t getting interviews, and I was getting very frustrated. And and I went back to my old high school, Danforth, and I was helping out coaching rugby there. And one of my coaches his name is John Juga. He, he said to me, have you ever thought of changing your name? And I thought to myself, I don’t understand what you mean by changing my name. I mean, it’s ho right? And they said, well, you know so my, my my, my teacher friend John Juga, his, his, he said, when he first started back in the eighties, his name was Giovanni, so his name was Giovanni. So he actually changed to John, and once he changed it to John, he started getting more interviews.

Hoi Leung (10:33):

So he said to me, have you ever thought of changing a name to like or adding a name like Henry or something like that? So instead of ho because unfortunately when people aren’t used to ethnic names, they, they look at the name Ho Liang, and they’re thinking, does, does he speak English? Does he not speak English? my my younger brother who’s born here, his name is Kevin Leon. So when you look at a resume you know, look at Hoy Young, Kevin Young, who would you, who would you interview, right? So, so he said that to me, and I said, you know, I, I thought to myself, no, I don’t wanna go down that road. So I, I stuck with, with Hoi Young, because I started supplying people obviously start to know who I was. And but unfortunately with, with, with teaching there is a lot of nepotism in teaching where, you know people, you know, hire their own cousins and their own siblings and all that kinda stuff.

Hoi Leung (11:22):

And with my background, my, you know, obviously my parents were, were blue, blue collar workers. They, they, they, we had no background. I have no friends or, or family that were teaching back then. So it took me quite a few, few years in order to get onto the board. And luckily what happened was you know, one of my principals, his name is Mel Barkwell, and he was a great guy. He took a chance on me and said, you know what, you know, he asked me what high school I looked up a resume. He goes, he goes for, yes. And he goes, goes, goes, you have two degrees. I go, go, yes. And he goes, wow, if you went to Dan for tech and you have two degrees, you can teach out here. No, no problem. Because cause he knew the school and he knew pretty tough school.

Hoi Leung (12:01):

And yeah. So that’s how I got started. And and then since then I was I went through the ranks and then, and then as I went through teaching, I I went to the board office as a, as a facilitator helping out other teachers in math programs. And then somebody asked, you know, are you, you have you looking into administration? I said, no, I haven’t. Didn’t they go, do you wanna try it? It was the same same principal that hired me Mel, he said to me you should look into it. So I went into it in 2008, became a vice principal. And even that journey was pretty tough because at that time, I was only, the only, I guess the only East Asian administrator in the board. Wow. For high school. actually, sorry, there was two others.

Hoi Leung (12:45):

There was Phil Massada and Keong Cho, there was three of us. but back in 2008, they, they talked about equity and, and they wanted to do a lot of equity hiring because the diversity became the board became more diverse. So I thought, okay, well, no problem. I should be at the cusp of it. And so 2008 I was a vice vice principal, and then after five years, I, I applied to be principalship in 2013. didn’t get on, you know, it wasn’t you know, wasn’t two disappointing. Cause my first try and I, I kept on trying and then, and then it became apparent that there was obviously a lot of political in, in any job. There’s a lot of politics involved. And and I didn’t get to become principal until 2019 when, I mean, 2019 that was when I put, was put on a short list. And then then I got, finally got placed at Pickton High School in thousand 20, 20 21. So it took me 13 years from VP to to principal, which is quite a long time because usually most people get, get on after five or six years. And and so I persevered, I got continued doing my job, and and now I’m the first and only Chinese high school principal in Durham District School Board. So that’s my

Hoi Leung (14:07):


Sam Demma (14:08):

I, I’m, so, I’m so happy here that you didn’t use a different name. and I, I could only imagine how difficult it would’ve been when you were going through that situation, just personally thinking that you have to even change something about yourself to be accepted or given a better opportunity. And it’s so true that being a white person with a common name gives you this privilege or has in the past, and hopefully things are starting to change and shift with all the movements that are going on. but I’m so happy to hear that you didn’t change for anybody. And you, you remained who you were and pursued and are now here. And although it’s taken a long time, your, your, your story is hopefully one that’s gonna inspire more change and inspire other people to stand firm in who they are. thinking about diversity and inclusion and all the movements that are going on right now, how do you kind of see that changing the culture of the school you are in, or, you know, education as a whole? Are you, are you seeing a shift and what are your thoughts on

Hoi Leung (15:10):

Yeah, yeah, I do see a shift. I mean, the, the issue with education is once you get hired, pretty much, most teachers stay for about 30 years. So, so that’s why the change is very slow. So ah, I, I know as a principal, I am the position of hiring now. So I, I do recognize that when you’re looking at resumes, you’re looking at at different names and, and different backgrounds, and you’re looking at the resume. And I think when I first started teaching, a lot of people use the name as a, as a, as a, as a gatekeeper, the name, right? So, so for me, when I grew up, I grew up with a lot of people with different names in terms of Greek names, Italian names, you name it Indian names. So, so I look at resumes, the names don’t really scare me off.

Hoi Leung (15:56):

So, so I look at in fact, I just hired a teacher and and she went by the name of, of Jenna, which is kind of, so I looked at Jenna and I, and I try to look, and I looked at her I went to O C T, which is the Ontario College of Teachers, looked her up for qualifications just to double check, to verify. But her name wasn’t Jenna on the system, it was her name, the name was Janani. And I said to her, why did you put Jenna? And she goes, well, you know, people, you know, Janani. And so she pretty much, even to this day, I mean, she’s a young teacher probably around your age, she did the same thing. She, instead of janani, she, she changed the Jenna. I said, oh, no, just, just go by Janani.

Hoi Leung (16:32):

Don’t, don’t go by Jenna. I mean, this is, do that, right? And and I think it, it’s, it’s still pervasive where people are still doing that to try to Anglo size their names that were, were that were given to them. And but for me, like I said, when I look at resumes and so my hiring, I, I, I hired about 10 teachers last summer, and I would honestly say at least five of them with not more, were visible minorities. Mm. So, so the lens i I come with is, is different from from a, from a person that is not I guess that is, is considered white. Yeah. So my lens is different. So when I look at qualifications and names, the names don’t scare me or look at qualifications, look at background, and look at you know, where they taught, you know, that, that sort of thing. So, so I think with me in my position, I, I do have as a, as a duty bearer, I do have responsibilities in trying to diversify the teaching staff, because at, in high school, we do have a very diverse student population. And and so I can start off by hiring people that are more like the, the students. And, and I think students appreciate that.

Sam Demma (17:39):

Not to mention

Hoi Leung (17:40):

So does community too. Sorry.

Sam Demma (17:41):

Yeah. Not to mention the fact that you have a diverse staff gives you more diverse perspectives, makes the learning more rich for the students. Like you’re not just hearing one side of history, <laugh>. I think it’s so important that you have a diverse staff, not only for representation, but for authentic learning purposes. and I, it’s so cool to hear that you’re looking at it from that lens as well. I think it’s amazing. when you think about your journey throughout education, what are some resources that you personally found helpful? Maybe it’s people that have had a massive impact on you or books or courses or programs, things that maybe you experience that you think inform the beliefs you have around education and the way that you try and show up and teach and make a difference?

Hoi Leung (18:27):

I think the resources I have, and believe it or not, it’s, it’s interesting how some of the mentors I’ve had, and when I call them mentors, they’re, they’re, they’re older, obviously older educators, they were, they were actually older white men that you would think that were not as diverse in thinking, but they actually were. And I think, I think they were more instrumental because although they were older white men, they were actually more forward thinking than some, some teachers that are are, or some administrators that talk about you know, diversity and all these programs, they were actually doers as opposed to just talking about it. So for example you know, the, the principal that first hired me, Mel Barkwell, he hired a, a whole bunch of diverse staff just because he felt that’s the way he was going.

Hoi Leung (19:16):

And but when you look at him, you would think that he was some kind of, you know, old old hick kinda, kinda guy. But, but one mentor that that that, that spoke to me that was very clear was the fact that I think some, some people are going into, into the teaching profession as a job and not a career. And what I mean by a job, I mean, teaching is more than just, you know, just teaching. I mean he actually made it a situa, he actually called it a calling. And I, and when I said, of calling, what does that mean? He says, it’s almost like going into the priesthood. He goes, or, or the convent, right? Like, you know, when you go to the priesthood or the convent, it’s a calling. You don’t just go into it just because you know it’s a job, right?

Hoi Leung (19:58):

So he did say that teaching is, is like a calling where people coming into teaching should look into it like a, a as like more than just a job, a career. So, for example, social workers don’t go into it just like a job. Social workers care about the stu or care about the, the people they work for, and they try to help the society. And I think some teachers, not all, I mean, most teachers are, are great, let, lemme get through that. But some teachers come into it and I see that where they come in and it’s like nine to nine to five job. They don’t coach, they don’t do anything with the school, and they just kind of you know, they expect students to be perfectly sitting, still putting up their hand, yes, sir. No, sir. And they don’t realize that nowadays, as, as teachers, we are social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists we even considered medical staff because we have to, you know, help students with medication sometimes.

Hoi Leung (20:49):

And so there’s a lot more to the job than just teaching. And I think some, I, I think with, with that in mind, if people are going to teaching, they have to realize it’s just more than just trying to impart knowledge to students. It’s actually all those things because in the education Act, we are actually, it’s actually, there’s a line that says we’re, we’re considered local parentis, which means in Latin we act as parents. And so as teachers, we act as parents at the school in, in lieu of the parents. So, so that’s something that we have to keep in mind as teachers.

Sam Demma (21:22):

I love that. When, when you think about the, you know, the roles that you’ve played and all the experience you’ve gained from them, if you could bundle it all up, you know, go back in time, speak to ho in his first year of teaching, tap yourself on the shoulder and give yourself some advice. Knowing what you know now and with the experiences you have had, what would you have told your younger self that you thought would’ve been helpful to hear early on in your career? Or should I say calling

Hoi Leung (21:50):

<laugh>? Yeah, it’s a calling. I, I think, I mean, I think the advice I give to any teacher, including myself, would be to have open mindedness growth mindset, a growth mindset, meaning you know, that people are coming from, from different experiences, lived experiences. I mean, I mean, my lived experience, I, I, I guess, is different from somebody else’s, and we have to be be cognizant of that and be open-minded of that. when you come with open mind, I mean, I’ll be honest with you, when I first started teaching, I mean, I used to be the, the teacher that used to give zeros. You didn’t hand in stuff on time or, or late marks and all that kind. And as, as the years go by, I mean, you understand why, you know, some people are, are not handing in stuff or are not doing well, and you have to look into that and, and try to help those students.

Hoi Leung (22:36):

I mean, 90% of the students are gonna do well, regardless of what you do, doesn’t matter who’s in, it’s the 10% or, or five or 10% of the students that you need to work on. So as a teacher, if there’s 30 students in my class, you know, I do a lesson, you know, I mean, you know, 27, those kids will get it. It’s those three kids that you have to look at and try to help them directly to, to help them through. Because the other 27 don’t, they don’t really need your help. They’ll, they’ll do fine no matter what. And I think I think when I first started, I didn’t tell you this background. So when I first started, I taught for 10 years in a program called Section 19. section 19 is is a program. Every board has it.

Hoi Leung (23:14):

And what it is, is non-mainstream students. So for example, I taught group home kids, foster home kids, and young offenders. So tho that’s my first experience as, as a teacher. So, so so I know you’re from the Pickering area, so I used to teach a lot of students that were in group homes in the curriculum area, and my job was to reintegrate them back into the, into the mainstream system. So, so I think with that background, I, I was helping a lot of at risk students already. And when I talked I guess quote unquote regular students, it was easy. I mean, obviously when you teach at-risk students you know, and you teach ’em something teaching regular students is easy because, you know, the, the behaviors are, are not there anymore. Yeah. You know, they have good solid families, you know, family background supports and, and, and those things are easy.

Hoi Leung (24:00):

But you know, one of the, the things I, I tell students a lot when they’re when they’re struggling, I say, you know, education is something that can’t be taken away from you. So once you get that diploma, that degree, they can’t take that away from you no matter what you do. So, for example, a driver’s license, so you get a driver’s license, you don’t, you know, you do, you don’t do well, they’ll, they’ll take that away from you. You get caught for drunk driving in education, no matter what you do, you can’t, they can’t be taken away from you. I mean, not, not to say I want, I wanna tell people to do, do criminal acts, but you know, even if you do something criminal, yeah. I mean, you go to jail, you still have your education behind with you, right? They can’t take that degree away from you. So that’s something I always tell students. Once you get, once you earn that degree or the diploma nobody can take that away from you.

Sam Demma (24:46):

I love it. If someone is listening to this, wants to reach out, ask you a question, bounce an idea around, or was inspired in any way and just wants to send you a note, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?

Hoi Leung (24:59):

Oh, through the board. My email is hoi.leung@ddsb.ca, and you know, you can always find me at the board. I’m, like I said, I mean, I’m the <laugh>. I’m one of the few principals. There’s only 20 principals, so I, you can definitely find me at the board or google me. I’m, you google my name, I’m, I’m there for, for volleyball coaching and for, for Principal.

Sam Demma (25:26):

Awesome. Hoi, thank you so much for taking the time to do this. It means the world to me and lots of other people in education. Keep doing the great work you’re doing, and we’ll talk soon.

Hoi Leung (25:35):

Thank you.

Sam Demma (25:37):

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

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