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Jairek Robbins – Performance Coach, Best-Selling Author, International Speaker

Jairek Robbins – Performance Coach, Best-Selling Author, International Speaker
About Jairek Robbins

Jairek Robbins (@jairekrobbins) is one of the worlds leading business and life strategists. He is a Best-Selling author. FastCompany calls him inspiring and says he’ll make your life less ordinary. Forbes says Jairek will teach you how to succeed. Deepak Chopra will advise you to go to Jairek to help create meaning and fulfillment in your life.

Brian Tracy applauds Jairek’s ability to teach people how to develop meaning and purpose in life and then to make a difference in the lives of others. Looking for ways to level up in life and business? Jairek is your guy. You can connect with Jairek here: https://www.instagram.com/jairekrobbins/

Connect with Jairek: Email | Instagram | Twitter | Facebook

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

jairekrobbins.com

Ideal Day Exercise – Jairek Robbins

Live It!: Achieve Success by Living with Purpose by Jairek Robbins

The Complete Guide to Activating High Performance by Jairek Robbins

Learn It Live It Give It with Jairek Robbins Podcast

FastCompany

Forbes

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. A few years ago, I had a podcast called The High Performing Student. I did about 250 episodes on the show, and every episode was geared towards helping students become the best versions of themselves. There were a few episodes and interviews in particular that I found so valuable, that I thought I would share them on this podcast as well. And you heard the first two earlier this week, one with Dr. Ivan Joseph, another one was Sarah Wells. And I’m just as excited for today’s interview with Jairek Robbins. Jairek Robbins is one of the world’s leading business and life strategists. He is a bestselling author. Fast company calls him inspiring and says he’ll make your life less ordinary. Forbes says Jairek will teach you how to succeed. Deepak Chopra will advise you to go to Jairek for help for creating meaning and fulfillment in your life.

Sam Demma (01:02):

Brian Tracy applauds Jairek’s ability to teach people how to develop meaning and purpose in life, and then to make a difference in the lives of others. Jairek Robbins is Anthony Robbins, Tony Robbin’s son, and is doing such amazing work in the world with businesses, individuals and philanthropically. So I hope you enjoy this very meaningful conversation with Jairek, and I will see you on the other side. Jairek, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Student podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show. I actually want you to start by reciting to the audience what your ideal day would look like and you don’t have to get it word for word, but let the audience know what your ideal day would look like and give us a peek into who you are and, and what you appreciate and love in life.

Jairek Robbins (01:49):

Sure. So are they familiar with the Ideal Day concept?

Sam Demma (01:54):

That’s a great question. They should be if they’ve been listening to this show for a long time, but you can give ’em a little refresher as well.

Jairek Robbins (02:00):

Okay. So I, I remember I was living in Africa. I was teaching organic farming. I was in a village just outside of Jinja. It’s this little farming village. It was a pineapple village is where I was. And I got malaria twice. At one point, the doctor sat me down and told me I had six days left to live. And I remember thinking at 20, what, 22 years old, 21 years old. Like, that was not the plan. And, and there were so many other things I wanted to do and, and I, I wanted to get married. I wanted to travel. I wanted to finish school. I wanted to have a business. I wanted to have a child. I wanted to, to help more. I wanted so many things just flash before my eyes. And I remember sitting down and thinking, wow, number one, I hope he’s not correct.

Jairek Robbins (02:49):

I hope I have more than just six days, but if I only did have six days, how would I need to live my life so that on day six, I could high five myself on the way out and be thrilled to do so? And I remember thinking about that, and j j just wondering like, what would I, how would I wanna live? How would I want to treat people? How would I wanna be remembered? How would I want to remember the people around me? And, and I started to think about this day, and it was more about creating little memories each day, soaking in the magnificence of life, just being able to see the wind blow through the leaves and talk to someone and, and say something that might put a smile on their face. And as all of this started to come together, I realized that my ideal day was just being able to reach people, you know, and, and bring a little light into their world.

Jairek Robbins (03:59):

And I was like, that. If I could just do that, that would be amazing. Now, I also realized that without a vision, people perish. And so I thought about that and I was like, well, maybe I should have a vision beyond the sixth day, otherwise I’m kind of in trouble <laugh>. So, so I thought about it and it’s like, well, all those things I just flashed before my eyes that I said I wanted to do. I better write ’em down and, and not just hope they happened, but actually have a plan that they were gonna happen. So I I, I literally had a little journal with me and I started writing down like the specific things I would do and, and finishing school and finding someone to get married with, that we love each other, and, and falling head over heels in love and, and having a family and traveling the world more and making a difference, and building a school and building a hospital.

Jairek Robbins (04:48):

And, and like all these things started to come out. And then it seemed a little overwhelming. I was like, how in the heck am I gonna do all of that <laugh>? And so I was bouncing between like, just observing the wind in the leave, in the leaves to like, oh my God, there’s so much I want to do. How in the heck am I gonna do it all? And what I figured out was if I could just summarize in the future what just one day would look like, maybe, maybe I could just make that one day happen. Hmm. And then my thought is like, well, wait a second. If I could make the one day happen, I could probably make the whole vision happen. Yeah. But let me just figure out the one day. And so for me, that’s where that one day, the ideal day process came from.

Jairek Robbins (05:40):

 and at the time, I don’t remember the exact one I created back then, but I remember when I got home and I got a little bit healthy, and I, I finished school and I was going into business. I remember I was working really hard one year, and I sat down and I said, you know, if I could have, and this is a great phrase to start with, if I could have it all my way, mm, if I could have it all my way, I probably won’t get it all my way. But if I could have it all my way, here’s what I’d put in my ideal day. And, and so I just wrote it all down as if I could have it all my way. And so I just thought about it. If I could have it on my way, here’s what life would look like.

Jairek Robbins (06:17):

And I’d wake up in the morning, I would work out, I, I would be with someone that I’m head over heels in love with. we, we would, you know, meditate and journal and mentally, emotionally, physically, spiritually prepare for our day. We’d go get a vigorous workout in. We, we would do something together around, you know, connecting and deepening our relationship, filling each other’s buckets and cups so we feel full and overwhelmed, deepening our connection to each other. fast forward, you know, have some great breakfast, and then get into the day. And, and in the day, I’d be part of creating things that help people. That’s something that’s really important to me. I, I, I seem to like humans a a lot and, and I like to help ’em, you know, how can I help these people live a better life, be a little bit more happy, be a little bit more healthy, be a little bit more fulfilled in all that they’re doing?

Jairek Robbins (07:09):

And so, over the years, we’ve learned how to specialize in three spaces, which is how to help people discover and create lasting love. How to help people have, you know, increased personal performance mentally, emotionally, physically, and how to help people you know, to grow their businesses and, and create a, a profit center that can fund the life they wanna live. And, and so as we’ve done these things, that was part of my vision back then is creating elements, creating content, creating experiences, creating tools that would help people make this kind of stuff happen. Fast forward throughout the day be able to take time for lunch and, and go spend time laughing and communicating with someone I really love. Fast forward even more. when it came time to the sunset, one of my favorite things my wife and my son and I go do every single day as we go out to the beach here and we watch the sunset for 15, 20 minutes, and, and being able to just soak in the magnificence of life every day and observe just the miracles of nature happening before your eyes fast forward into the evening I’d probably be either laughing, so watching something or doing something that, that brings laughter and joy or learning, doing something that, that we could learn and, and, and deepen our knowledge or experience around something.

Jairek Robbins (08:26):

And so my wife and I right now we’re taking accounting at, at Harvard online. So we do our accounting course every night. And, and we’re just learning more about you know, the books of accounts and how to use ’em and, and how to track ’em and all that jazz. So, so we’re, we’re doing all these things, but that was kind of the vision. And then before bed, just reflecting and reviewing, if this was my last day, what are the things I’m truly, truly grateful for? Before wrapping it all up, I love that

Sam Demma (08:54):

There’s so much to unpack. And you hit on so many major buckets, things that you would call the majors versus the minors. You talk about it in chapter two. You hit on health when it comes to working out. you hit on professional, you know, when it came to working and creating products that help others. Jim Ron always used to say, we have to stop majoring in minor things. And I think you’re someone who believes in that as well. What are the major categories of life and why is it important that we focus on those big buckets before we address all the other sometimes trivial stuff?

Jairek Robbins (09:30):

Sure. Great question. If you look at majors, how, and I believe they’re different for different people, there’s some that are gonna be the same across the board, but, but people have their priorities in life and, and they’re gonna figure out what’s most important to them. That the key with a major, if you look at it, you gotta ask yourself, by investing a significant period of effort, thought, energy, resources into this part of my life. Hmm. Number one, is it good for me? Now, people like to try to argue this and, and, and debate. There’s certain things that are good for you, and there’s certain things that are not. Period. And, and you, you, you know, if you go to the doctor, there’s certain things that are good for you. There’s certain things that are not, some things will put you into the hospital. Some things will get you out of the hospital.

Jairek Robbins (10:22):

And, and just think of it that way. So, so when you think of kind of where you’re gonna focus, are these things good for you? Number two, life isn’t just about you. That’s why when I was saying, Hey, as much as if I could have it all my way, that’d be great. Well, the truth is, life isn’t just about me. Life is about all of us. So the second part is not only is it good for you, but is it good for other people? Hmm. Is it good for other people? Number three, does it feel good? You know, you can find something that’s good for you, good for others, but my gut, it, it feels like crap. It’s horrible. Yeah. But, but number three is, is it, does it feel good? And then number four, is it good for the greater good of humanity? The whole, not just people alive now, but people alive. You know, when we’re dead in the future, is it something that’ll serve much longer than us? And so if you think about that and you just kind of analyze all the major categories of your life, if you analyze all the things you spend the most time doing, just ask, is it good for you? Is it good for others? Does it serve? And do I enjoy doing it? And, and if there’s a sweet spot where it hits all four, my goodness, it’s probably pretty smart thing to keep doing.

Jairek Robbins (11:39):

But if it doesn’t feel good, it’s not good for you, it’s not good for others, and it doesn’t serve, it’s probably a distraction. It’s probably something that you’re using to numb or avoid the things you really need to be focused on. And so I use that kind of framework to think about this and then look at the categories and say, you know, is being healthy as a human, mentally, emotionally, physically, spiritually healthy? I don’t know. Do you think that’s a good idea or bad idea? I’ve yet to meet a person who goes, yeah, it’s a bunch of crap. You don’t need help. <laugh>. That’s a major, that’s a big one. What about, you know, there’s a big uprising right now over the, the horrors and, and how horrible capitalism ish. Okay? But at this point in history, you’re going to either need a trade, which a tradesman or a tradeswoman was someone who knew how to make horseshoes or knew how to you know, sew things into garments or knew how to go and source food.

Jairek Robbins (12:53):

so you’re either gonna need a trade, some value you can add to society, that society would trade you a place to live supplies and things you need to survive and live a life, or you’re gonna need a job, you’re gonna need something you can do as a job or a business that’ll provide you income. And, and you can use the money to then trade for the supplies and stuff you need. So either you’re gonna need to have some value within you that you can trade for it, or you’re gonna need to have some type of income or job or business to get there. So that’s kind of a major, you know, I was teasing my little cousin. I was like, I don’t know if the pizza guy is gonna give you a pizza if you just give ’em four high fives <laugh>. Like, it doesn’t generally work that way nowadays.

Jairek Robbins (13:40):

You, you’re gonna need something to offer, you’re gonna need some value to bring the life. And the most predominant value in the world right now is some sort of currency. And a currency is nothing more than agreed upon element of life that people have agreed, ah, this is valuable. I always thought about this. If you, if you take a dollar and look at the physical form of it, and you’re like, what is the tactical value of a dollar? Hmm, not much. Like if, I mean, you can’t do much with the actual thing. Like you could kind of eat it, but that’s not gonna work out well long term. You might be able to light it on fire, but that’ll last like 42 seconds. <laugh>, what do you, what can you do with it? Nothing. Yeah. But we carry this stuff around, or the digital version because society as a whole, this community or group or, or or tribe of people has come up with the concept and agreed that this is worth a certain amount of value.

Jairek Robbins (14:42):

Hmm. If people stopped agreeing that it was worth that, there’s no use for it. I remember I was flying to go see a client in London and I landed, ran to the train station, got to the, you know, central London, ran, hopped in a taxi, took off, got to the meeting a few minutes late, and I went to go pay the guy and I said, Hey, can I just pay with a credit card or Venmo or pay? Like, what do you got? And he goes, no, I only take cash. And I was like, can I pay you with US dollars? He went, no, how much is it? He goes, 66. You know, it was like 66 or 67 pounds, which is British currency. I was like, how about I’ll give you a hundred dollars, it’s worth more. Or I I 150. Like, I offered him significantly more than just a different currency. And he went, no, I don’t want that. What am I gonna do with it? <laugh>, I like to take it to the bank. They’ll give you pounds. You’ll have more pounds from this than I than if I just gave you pounds. She was like, no.

Jairek Robbins (15:40):

I was like, okay, gimme a minute. So I went inside, I went to the bar, I’m like, maybe this person’s smart. I’ll give you a hundred dollars if you give me 50 pounds or 60 pounds, whatever it was, like, you will make money on the transaction. Bartender looked at me and said, what am I supposed to do with that? I was like, you gotta be kidding me, <laugh>. So I went to my client at the table and I said, here, I’m in a weird predicament. Can I give you a hundred dollars or $200 in return for 66 pounds? And he is like, dude, here’s the money. Don’t even worry about it. And I started laughing. I’m like, no, no, I’ll pay for dinner. He’s like, no, no, you’re good. And I’m like, come on. And, and so I finally went and paid the guy pounds. And I just realized in the moment, they didn’t agree to the value of the bill.

Jairek Robbins (16:26):

That’s it. And when someone stops agreeing to the value of the bill, it’s not worth anything. Now, it’s interesting is that’s not true with your life. Someone else doesn’t have to see value for you to be valuable, but you have to be able to look in the mirror and see value for you to be valuable. So if you don’t see value in you, there’s no value there, no matter how much the rest of the world sees it. And so that there, there’s factors in here that are important of perception. Now we all agree that certain things are valuable. And so that’s kind of a major, you know, we have to agree on some type of value exchange in order to gather the resources in, in life you wanna live. So that, that would consider that a major, being able to add value of some way or some sort to be able to exchange for the things that you’re looking for.

Jairek Robbins (17:21):

 relationships, I’ve, I’ve met a lot of people and no matter how much value you add, and no matter how much you’re loved by society, and no matter how big of of a car you can get, or house you can buy or trips you can take, when you add all this stuff up, if you don’t find someone to share it all with, it doesn’t feel like it’s worth much. And so that’s kind of a major one. Can you find someone to share life with? Like, first, can you figure it out? But then second, once you kind of figured it out, can you find someone to share it with? Otherwise it gets pretty lonely. other categories that exist in there how are you gonna manage your resources every day? How are you gonna manage your time? How are you gonna manage your focus? You know, no matter how great your life is, if you sat there and focused on the one thing that was wrong with it all day long, you’re not gonna have a pretty great life.

Jairek Robbins (18:13):

You’re gonna have a horrible life cuz you’re focused on the one thing that’s wrong with your whole life versus no matter how challenging your life is, if you focused on the two things that are good about it, you’re gonna feel pretty good regardless of the circumstance. So I think focus is probably a, a pretty big major where you focus your time, effort, and resources. So there’s lots of these, but you can sort through ’em and just make pe you know, if, if you make yourself think, you’ll start to realize there’s a pattern in the pattern is if it’s not good for you, it’s not good for others and it doesn’t serve the greater good, you probably shouldn’t be doing it. But if it’s good for you, good for others and serves the greater good. Sounds like a pretty good idea.

Sam Demma (18:52):

<laugh>. I love it. I love the qualifying criteria. You mentioned earlier that maybe a last point could even be if it, if you enjoy it, if it feels good. And I know there’s young people that argue that playing Fortnite feels great <laugh> and playing video games. But, but you talk about the difference between, you talk about the difference between fulfillment and just taking actions or the difference between Yeah. Like what is the difference between fulfillment and just taking everyday actions?

Jairek Robbins (19:22):

Sure. So I, I would say the difference between pleasure and fulfillment. Pleasure is something that feels good in the moment, but quickly goes away. something that’s joy-filled is, or, or something that is, I’m trying to think of the right word. So fulfilling would be the other word is it’s something that not only feels good now, but if you look back 10 years from the future, it still feels good to think about. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, give you an example. pleasurable might be someone going to a party and deciding to just make it a rager. They drink alcohol, they eat a whole bunch of junk food. They, they stay up way too late. They, they just trash their body. Now in the moment they might, it might feel good. They’re like, yeah, that was great. The next day it feels horrible, but a week later they’re like, Hey, I’m the fun one.

Jairek Robbins (20:18):

And then they, it feels good. It’s exciting. People laugh, but 12 years later when they look back they go, I don’t know if that was so smart. And the reason it doesn’t feel so smart is because they’re in their hospital and the kidney stopped working. Hmm. And they go, yeah, I don’t know if that was such a great idea. I mean, I was screaming Yolo at the time, but now that I’m in dialysis, spending four hours a day plugged into a machine to filter my kidney just to stay alive, I don’t know if that was the smartest thing in the world. Now the hard part is you only realize that when you’re in the situation. Cuz most people say, well, I’ll never land up like that. And you don’t think it will until you’re there. And then you go, wow, I should have maybe taken a little bit better care of myself.

Jairek Robbins (21:10):

And so some of these things we’re talking about, you just have to learn how to decipher between pleasure and fulfillment. And again, that’s saying, Hey, will this feel good right now? Yeah. Do I think this will be a great idea 25 years from now? probably not, but who cares? No, no, no, no. Probably not. You said, okay, good. So if it’s, if it’s okay now, but horrible, then why don’t we just find something else to do that’s great now and great then that’s not that hard. You’re creative, you’re smart, you’re, I mean, use your imagination. Come up with something that qualifies for it feels good now and it’s gonna feel great then.

Sam Demma (21:53):

I love that. That’s such a great, that’s such a great difference or a differentiation and something great to think about because I think a lot of young people, and I’m not just, and I’m also young <laugh>, but we fall into this trap and you know, one of the reasons is because the five people you spend the most time with might pressure you into doing certain things. Now at the end of the day, it’s always your choice, but people are always gonna push their opinions, thoughts, and beliefs onto you. and I’m curious to know how you personally have defended yourself in those situations. And one, one against the opinions of others, even when it was family. you know, in your book you talk about how you wanted to travel and, and volunteer right out of your schooling and even your family were against it. I, I’m in a similar situation. I took a fifth year and a gap year, and both times my parents were like, Sam, what the heck are you doing with your life? And I’m like, no. Like, I know what I’m doing. so my question is, how do you go against other people’s opinions when it’s people you love the most or your best buddies and friends?

Jairek Robbins (22:58):

Sure. so in the book we have a little acronym we use on how to, how to navigate this and what to do to fortify your mind and emotions. but, but let me give you some bonus on top of that just to think about where I would start is, ah, I just saw this quote the other, let me see if I can find it real

Sam Demma (23:20):

Quick. Yeah, go for it.

Jairek Robbins (23:21):

It was a beautiful quote and it had, it was spot on with this. It might have deleted.

Sam Demma (23:29):

Ah, that’s okay.

Jairek Robbins (23:36):

oh, it’s gone. it was a great quote. It was talking about, I’m trying to remember what it was. It was something along the lines of the magic of life is how quickly you can align with what your soul’s calling you to do. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And I remember reading that and just thinking, wow, that’s so true. Can you, can you quiet the chatter? Can you quiet the noise? Can you quiet the opinions? And can you deeply listen to what you’re genuinely called to do? I think it was Jim Carey who said, depression is nothing more than your avatar, getting tired of wearing the mask. And I was like, oh, this guy says some cool stuff from time to time, <laugh>. And I was like, you know, when you see people who feel depressed, when you see people who have anxiety, when you see people who are are, are caught most of the time it’s because they’re spending so much effort and energy trying to be something they’re not.

Jairek Robbins (24:33):

And it’s just, they’re trying, they’re trying so hard to, to fit into something when that’s not their way of life. That’s not how they were made to be. Hmm. And so when I look at that, I always ask the question of the foundation of any human, which is kind of three buckets. And each bucket has a label and the label of bucket one would say, I am enough. And I always ask the question, like, for you, what does it mean to be enough? Have you ever sat down with a pen and paper and said, top of the paper, I am enough, dot, dot, dot. And then filled in the paper, what makes you enough in your own mind? Not what society says, but what, what do you think makes you enough? What has to happen for you to feel like you are enough? Just you just breathing.

Jairek Robbins (25:20):

Not a human doing, but a human being, just being you. What has to happen for you to feel like you’re enough Second bucket? I have enough. It is an interesting one for people. I’ve lived in places with no running water, no electricity, no toilets. It’s rural farmland. You take a bucket. I mean, you walk a quarter mile down the road, you fill a little jerry can of water, you drag this thing home like a strong man competition. You boil it for 30 minutes just to get a glass of drinking water when it finally cools. As long as a bug doesn’t land in it, cuz if it does, it could possibly kill you. So, and if a bug lands in it, you gotta boil it again and then you gotta wait another 30 minutes for it to cool. So I’ve lived in these places and I’ve lived like that for a significant period of time.

Jairek Robbins (26:07):

And I can tell you it doesn’t take a lot of stuff for people to have a beautiful life. But that’s not what we’re told. That’s not what we’re shown. That’s not how, what we’re fed over and over and over again. We’re, we’re shown that if we don’t get in line and wait for 17 hours to just get the new merch drop that, my goodness, we’re certainly not gonna have a good life. And it’s like, really? I mean, I met kids there who have literally one outfit, like this is their school outfit, their play outfit, their church outfit. This was the one outfit they own. And they were just glowing with joy and they enjoyed every heck moment of their life. And they were out talking with their friends and hanging out and doing cool stuff. And I was like, man, they don’t have anything telling them that the one outfit they wear every day is good or bad.

Jairek Robbins (27:06):

Therefore they literally don’t care <laugh> because they haven’t been taught to care about that. Now they watched me, I had a book with me and I was highlighting a few lines in the book that I thought were interesting and they went, oh, you can’t write in the book. I was like, it’s my book, why can’t I write in it? And they’re like, no. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, that’s not allowed. And I was like, why? And I, I talked to some of the other kids and I asked them and they said, oh, because oftentimes we only have one of those books for the entire village. We have to share. Hmm. You, you can’t write in it because it ruins it for everybody else. I went, what a difference. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, what a difference that is. They value certain things that they’ve been taught to value, they value knowledge there. Where I’m sitting and watching people line up for 12 hours outside of a certain store in New York City to get a merch drop cuz they value a brick that says Supreme.

Jairek Robbins (28:07):

Think about that. Yeah. One group of kids is thrilled to get a new book. Another group of kids can’t wait to spend all their resources to get a brick that has a logo on it. <laugh>, now the brick is actually worth 30 cents or maybe 60 cents at Home Depot, but because they smack their logo on it, they’re gonna try to sell it to you for $300. And then some kid sits outside and feels like he finally has enough in life, or she finally has enough in life. I haven’t seen a lot of girls buy the brick. So I’m gonna say like he, he for some reason feels so fulfilled in life because he finally has enough, because he’s bought a brick with someone’s logo on it. Now I’m not mad at him. If that’s what finally feels like enough in life, that’s awesome. But for you, what does it take to have enough for these kids that I met when I was living in a village in Uganda?

Jairek Robbins (29:00):

It was just waking up with a breath in your body was more than enough. As a matter of fact, I met a young lady. I was, I don’t know if you’ve ever done this. You, you ever flipped through Instagram and like you, you see a girl that just catches your eye and you’re like, whoa, whoa. So I had that experience. I was flipping through and this young woman caught my eye and I was like, wow, holy Moses. And I’ll never, lemme see if I can find the picture real quick. I literally kept it cause it was so good. And I remember seeing this young lady and just being blown away at what was going on. And I was like, I have to know more about this human. So I did some research and I, I, I figured out who she was. I read her story, unbelievable story.

Jairek Robbins (29:51):

Hmm. And the more I learned about her, the more impressed I was. I was like, this is an unbelievable human. I need to talk to her. And so I reach out and I interviewed her, and then I also interviewed her husband. And I was like, I have to know more about this. And as I was interviewing her and her husband, they shared one of the most unbelievable stories I had ever heard. And I’ll, I’ll, I’ll tell you just a little snippet of it here the whole thing’s over on our podcast. But as I’m scrolling for this photo, I’ll, I’ll just share a little bit about what she shared. She was born with cystic fibrosis, which means after so long her lungs have a chance of literally just stopping, just stopping. Like one day she’s okay and can breathe. And the next day her lungs just stop.

Jairek Robbins (30:50):

Hmm. And that happened to her. She was rushed to the hospital and, and put on machines to be kept alive and, you know, waited and waited and waited. And at some point they found a match, or they call it a donor match. And they brought it in and they hooked, hooked her up to a machine. And, and literally they cut her open straight down the middle of her body, opened her up, cracked her ribs open, pulled out the lungs that were in there, put in a new set of lungs, sewed them in, put her back together and sewed her shut straight down the middle of her chest. Wow. And I paused right there and went, holy Moses, that is incredible. And that wasn’t it. Like she got done. And they said, okay, you know, hopefully these work, and if they do, you’re gonna live a great life.

Jairek Robbins (31:47):

 you know, you’re on your way. She left, met a, went out, lived a great life, met a guy, fell in love, got married. Fast forward. She, she told him, she’s like, Hey, just so you know, <laugh>, we fall in love. There’s a chance I might just cease to exist one day. Like my lungs just stop and I’m out. And he, he’s like, I love you. It doesn’t matter. We’ll do this together. So they got married and then one day she just had a seizure outta nowhere. And so she had a seizure. They rushed to the hospital, see what it was, and her lungs stopped working again second time. And they sat there, analyzed everything, reviewed everything, checked everything. And they came, the doctors came back and said, listen, here’s the deal. The likelihood that a second double lung transplant is gonna work is so low that it does not make sense for us to do this. It makes more sense for you to just go on hospice and slowly live out the rest of your days until you can live no longer and you die. Hmm.

Jairek Robbins (32:54):

PS our team can’t help you. And we’ve also notified the other hospitals nearby of what the situation is. And they said they can’t help either. And she went home crying and she told her husband, I didn’t fight this long to stay alive, just to give up now. So they wrote a hundred letters to a hundred hospitals asking for help. Can you help me? Four wrote back and said, we might be able to try. One of them accepted her in and said, come here, we’ll hook you up and help you. We’ll figure this out. Hmm. Good work, ucla. They brought her in, they took care of her, kept her alive on machines. One night, two in the morning, she gets a call. We found a match, meaning a donor. They bring her in, cut her straight, open down the middle again, the ribs, open her up, pull out the old lungs, put in the new lungs, sew everything together, close her back up, sew her shut, put her on machines to stay alive and see if it works.

Jairek Robbins (33:53):

The next morning, her husband said, I interviewed him. And he said, the next morning when my wife woke up, I saw the biggest smile I’ve ever seen on her face in our entire life. He said, I wish I could tell you that our wedding day, she had a bigger smile, but I would be lying if I said that I saw the biggest smile I’ve ever seen on my wife’s face. And he said she had this tube down her throat to, to breathe. So she couldn’t say anything, but she, she asked for a board and they were asking her questions, who are you? What day is it? What time is it? What year is it? And she scribbled something and had the biggest smile on her face. And as she turned the board around, it just said, I can breathe. And she said, the greatest feeling I’ve ever had in my entire life is the ability to take a breath on my own free will and fill my own lungs without needing assistance or machines to do so.

Jairek Robbins (34:50):

Greatest feeling in her entire life. I went, wow. Wow. And I, I, I can’t seem to find the picture, but the picture was the day after that surgery, she was sitting in a, in a wheelchair. She had the biggest smile I’ve ever seen on a person’s face. She had two thumbs up and she had her glasses on. Oh, here it’s, let me, let me throw this up on the screen so you could see it. It’s a little graphic if someone’s watching, but let me throw this up so you could see it. This was the picture that caught my attention. Wow. And I just saw her and thought, wow, what a great human. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And not only did she add stitches straight down the middle of her chest, but there was a tube coming straight outta the middle of her body. That tube was because after they did the double lung transplant, there was some type of hiccup and her heart started to fill with fluid. And so they had to do an open heart surgery to drain the fluid back out of her heart directly after the double lung transplant. And so her name is Kayla Haber. She’s a wonderful, wonderful, inspirational human. I highly recommend following her on Instagram and online. She has so much good news to share. Hmm. And the thing that stood out to me was circling back to the bucket that says, I have enough.

Jairek Robbins (36:32):

Realizing that if you can breathe on your own free will, you have more than enough to have a great life. And someone like Kayla’s fighting for the ability to breathe every single day. And she fights for something that so often we take for granted. And it’s just thinking about that. And it’s not saying, oh, my life is okay and I get it if I compare it to someone else. It’s not about comparison. It’s just the realization that if you can breathe on your own, you have everything it takes to have an unbelievably beautiful life.

Jairek Robbins (37:08):

Final part is, I’m loved enough so I am enough. I have enough. Final one is, I’m loved enough. This is an inside game. There’s not a person on this world that can make you love yourself and not love yourself in egotistical way, but truly appreciate who you are. You know, I always ask people, when’s the last time you turned your phone into selfie mode? And they always go, oh. And I’m like, no, no. Listen to the rest of it. <laugh>, when’s the last time you turned it in? Selfie mode. And the important part, look yourself straight in the eye. I’ve heard that the eyes or the windows of the soul. When’s the last time you looked yourself deep in the eyes, all the way deep into your own soul and told yourself three things you actually appreciated about yourself? When’s the last time you looked deep into your own soul through the window of your eyes and, and identified two things that you’re really proud of, of how you’ve shown up today? When’s the last time you’ve looked deep into your own soul through the window of your eyes and identified one thing that you really think you’re excited to go experience in life in the future?

Jairek Robbins (38:20):

For most people, the answer is, I’ve never done that. And how do you think you can pour love the people around you if you’ve never poured love into yourself? You can’t pour from an empty cup. You gotta fill your own cup every day. And I say, screw, screw a cup. Go for a bucket. Let’s go big

Sam Demma (38:41):

<laugh>. I love that

Jairek Robbins (38:43):

<laugh> fill, fill the bucket. Fill that bucket. And I think if you had a routine every day that talked about filling the three buckets, I am enough. I have enough. I’m loved enough. And if you were overflowing from first thing in the morning, my goodness. As you move throughout the day, imagine how you could pour into all the people around you. And what I’ve noticed is if you see peculiar behavior outta people, stuff that doesn’t seem healthy, doesn’t seem happy, doesn’t seem good. It’s usually because one of these three buckets has a hole in it and it it, there’s a deficit. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, they’re feeling like they’re not enough. They’re feeling like they’re not loved enough, or they’re feeling like they don’t have enough and therefore they’re behaving in a way to try to compensate for it. Because when someone feels like they are enough, they have enough, and they loved enough, all they want to do is help others and share it.

Sam Demma (39:31):

I love that. And

Jairek Robbins (39:34):

Wow,

Sam Demma (39:34):

So much. There’s just so much great nuggets, <laugh>, and not a whole story. and I hope that if you’re listening right now, you’re taking notes and writing this stuff down so you can ask yourself these same questions, whether it’s tonight in the mirror, tomorrow morning, when you wake up, depending on when you’re listening to this. Yeah. How do you, how do you find purpose? Something that a lot of young people always ask me is, Sam, I don’t know what my purpose in life is. And I don’t know that you find it. I think you create it. I think you explore. Sure. And I think you have a, a phenomenal story in Uganda with a man you came across who, who created his purpose. And it was one of the most beautiful things. And I’m, I’m hoping you can share the story about the leaves. Sure.

Jairek Robbins (40:14):

So when I was living in that village there, you know, my thought is, how often am I gonna be able to wake up in a village in the middle of Uganda? Like, I don’t know, at least the months I was there. But besides that, I’m not sure how many times I’d get the chance to do it. So I was like, Ooh, I’m gonna squeeze the juice out of this. And so one of the things I promised myself I would do is wake up every morning and watch the sunrise. I was like, that’d be so cool. And so I woke, I set my alarm, figured out the time. Every morning I wake up to watch the sunrise. And I started noticing there was this little old man that every morning would come out of the, the kind of village clinic or hospital that was nearby. And he would just do the same thing every freaking day.

Jairek Robbins (41:02):

And he would do it every day at sunrise on the dot. Never missed. I was like, this dude is wildly consistent. Like he must have a really good alarm clock or something like he doesn’t miss. And, and like every day he come out and get this long fetched broom and he’d kind of stretch his back a little, and then he’d step down the couple steps and he’d work his way from the steps of the clinic all the way down the path to the, to the main road. And he’d just, you know, step, step, sweep, sweep, step, step, sweep, sweep. He’d sweep this whole road. And then he’d get to the, get to the main road, turn around, step, step, sweep, sweep all the way back and clear the leaves off this path. And I remember the first day just being like, oh, cool. It’s a dude sweeping leaves. <laugh>,

Jairek Robbins (41:48):

You know, 10th day, like, man, he’s pretty consistent. 30th, 40th day. Like, this dude has not missed the whole time I’ve been here. This is crazy. But by like month three, I was like, I gotta talk to this guy. Like what in the world? How did he learn such discipline? Like this guy doesn’t miss. I’m like, this is amazing. It’s like Steph Curry with three points. Like this dude just drains him every day. How does he do that? And so we, we, I went and interviewed him. I, he didn’t speak English and I didn’t speak lu ganden, which was his language. So I found an interpreter, a friend of mine who was like, Hey, can you translate? She’s like, sure. So he went over and I asked him, you know, why do you do what you do? And he was, he looked at me and he kind of shrugged and she said something and he kind like tilted his head.

Jairek Robbins (42:34):

And he is like, cuz I’m supposed to is what she said. And I was like, no man. Like, why do you do what you do? Like why? What’s the purpose? What’s the reason? What’s, and she’s like, she looked at me, she’s like, I speak English stupid. Give me a second. Like, I know what you’re saying. Let me ask him in a different way. Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever done that. You’re traveling in a place that, that isn’t English isn’t the main language and, and you just, you know, say it over and over again. Think you’re just finally gonna land. It’s like they have no clue what you’re saying. <laugh> try a different word. So I was like, no, why? And she’s like, shut up stupid, gimme a second. So she turned around when and talked to him again and said something different. And then she was talking to him.

Jairek Robbins (43:14):

All of a sudden this guy turned around and got like the biggest smile on his face that I’ve ever seen. And I, I was looking at this guy, I’m like, yeah, yeah, ta ta. She’s like, okay, hold on. And I was like, what did he say? And she said, wow, that was cool. Like that was beautiful. And I was like, no, no. What did he say? And she says, you know, he said, the reason I sweeped the leaves is I, because I believe every human being, whether it a small baby about to enter this world or a sicker elderly person about to leave this world, I believe they deserve a clear path to do so. And I remember thinking, wow, wow man, this guy found so much purpose in sweeping a dirt path every day. Hmm. Just clearing leaves off the path. And like you said, there’s millions of young people all over the world who can’t figure out what their purpose is, who can’t figure out why they’re here, who can’t figure out what they’re supposed to be doing.

Jairek Robbins (44:21):

What if it’s as simple as finding deep joy and purpose in just living your life every day. Now we live in a society that says, that’s it, that’s all my purpose is. But this guy found immense joy, unbelievable fulfillment in living life every day. And I watch people who own a brick with a label on it. <laugh> not happy. Yeah. And not fulfilled. That guy didn’t own anything like that. He lived in a broom closet. The most proud thing he owned was the fact that in his broom closet there was an electricity panel hooked to a hooked up to the one wire in the whole town that had electricity so he could charge a cell phone. He, he was so proud of that. The only other thing he had was a hat collection, which included three hats. So I gifted him my hat before I left and he thought it was cool. He had four hats by the time I left. That’s it. That was his whole life collection right there. And he was so proud of it.

Jairek Robbins (45:31):

And people like to say like, oh, finding joy in the little things. I was like, I don’t think that’s little. Finding your purpose in life is a big deal. And if this gentleman was able to find so much joy and so much purpose in something so simple, I think that’s unbelievably beautiful. And I think to challenge more of us to say, Hey, can you find your purpose in something so simple yet profound of your daily life? Can you find purpose in loving on the people you care about? Can you find purpose in doing simple chores throughout the day? Can you find purpose in meaning in supporting your family and community? Can you find purpose in meaning in, in doing something that brings you joy in sharing that joy with others? Hmm. It doesn’t have to be complicated, but we live in a society that’s been built to generate revenue from us.

Jairek Robbins (46:31):

I remember I was in Ecuador and I, I was on a tour and I looked up and I saw a billboard and I went, huh, that’s interesting. And I asked the lady who’s guiding the tourist, I said, Hey, is the lady on the billboard? Is she from here? And he, she was like, I don’t know n n not like from this city, but like, is she Ecuadorian? Like is she from Ecuador? And she looked there and she’s like, no, no, she’s not from here. And I was like, where is she from? And she’s like, maybe Mexico. Maybe Brazil. But like, she’s not from Ecuador, we don’t look like that. I went, that’s interesting. I wonder why they’d use a person not from there to advertise what beauty looks like. And then I started walking around in the US cities and looking at billboards and watching TV commercials and realizing that in the United States we use models, quote unquote is what they call ’em from Europe, central and South America. We use models from other parts of the world to show young people what beauty looks like.

Jairek Robbins (47:38):

And then I went to Europe and realized they used models from America to show people what beauty look like. Then I went to Asia and when you’re in one part of Asia, they use models from other parts of Asia. And I’m like, why would they keep doing this? And I realized, cuz when I asked the lady from Ecuador, why would they use a model that’s not from here to represent beauty? And then it clicked. I said, how do you know she’s not from here? And he says, she said, cuz our bone structure doesn’t look like that. Our cheeks don’t look like that. Our jaw line doesn’t look like that. The shape of our face doesn’t look like that. And I said, then why would they use that as the epitome of beauty, the aspiration of beauty, the thing you have to try to become. And it clicked. And I realized, because no matter how many times you buy their product and put it on, you’ll never get there, but you’ll feel a little bit closer. And I was like, no wonder people don’t feel like they’re enough. Hmm. An industry makes billions of dollars telling you you’re not enough. And if you just buy a little more of their crap, eventually you might be a little closer than you were. Wow.

Sam Demma (48:51):

It’s wow. <laugh>, I’m speechless. Like, there’s, there’s so many examples I could think of when you talked about that even in, you know, friend groups that I have and, and people that are my age and my life.

Jairek Robbins (49:06):

What

Sam Demma (49:06):

Our crazy realization, thank you for sharing that story and, and all the stories you shared were, we’re almost outta time here, <laugh> and I, I that I had a ton of questions that we didn’t even get a chance to touch upon but this is a beautiful conversation and I’m, I’m curious to know where can people reach out to you? Where can people learn more about you? Where can they buy your book? I just read it, live it. It’s a phenomenal book. And it’s not only a book you read, it’s, it’s a, it’s an exercise, it’s a workshop. If you follow along with the steps and, and you actually do them as you read, it’s a phenomenal exercise. Where can they find your book? Where can they connect with you? Where can they learn more about you and maybe even work with you if they wanted to?

Jairek Robbins (49:45):

Sure. Our books on Amazon, easiest place to find it. It’s worldwide. If you want to check out one of our programs, if you want to go through a program to help be happy, healthy, strong, fulfilled, stuff like that, you can go to Udemy I think the code is highperformancekw.com and it’ll, it’s like $129 program. I’ll give it to you for like 10 bucks or 12 bucks on Udemy. We have students, 5000 plus students in 119 countries around the world actively in that program right now. So it’s a great program. People love it. They’re people all over the world are, are just raving about it and really enjoying it. And then if you want to just connect and, and stay in touch, I mean find me on Instagram. I’m weary to use social media as a connection point just ’cause I know there, there the, again, the algorithm is built to keep you on there, not necessarily to make you healthy. So yeah, you can find me on there, and, and we just try to push out good thoughts every single day to support people in, in being happy, healthy, strong, and fulfilled.

Sam Demma (50:50):

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 Jairek Robbins

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, Coach, Writer, Guest Speaker 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 Fernandeas. 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 wellbeing resources for students and teachers. I’m so grateful that a past guest that we had on the show, John Laenaris, 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.

Karl Fernandeas (01:02):

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 Fernandez. 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 Fernandeas  (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 level with the Catholic Teachers Association. And I’m doing a lot with teacher training there. It’s just a terrific way to continue my own learning. Like I said, lifelong learning is, it’s, it’s real.

Sam Demma (02:19):

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

Karl Fernandeas (02:25):

<laugh>? You know what? I think it, it, it comes just from 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 Fernandeas (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 Fernandeas (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 Fernandeas (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 Fernandeas (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. <affirmative>, 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 Fernandeas (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 Fernandeas (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 Fernandeas (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 Fernandeas (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 Fernandeas (10:13):

At the beginning you got the kids that are eyes open looking around, you know, <laugh> 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 Fernandeas (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 Fernandeas (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 Fernandeas (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 Fernandeas (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 E Q AO 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 Fernandeas (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 Fernandeas (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 Fernandeas (18:22):

<laugh>? 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 Fernandeas (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 Fernandeas (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 Fernandeas (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 Fernandeas (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 Fernandeas (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 Fernandeas (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 Fernandeas (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 Fernandeas (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 Fernandeas (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 Fernandeas (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 Fernandeas (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 Fernandeas (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 Fernandeas (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 Fernandeas (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 Fernandeas (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 Fernandeas (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 Fernandeas (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 Fernandeas (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 Fernandeas (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 Fernandeas (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 Fernandeas (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 Fernandeas (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 Fernandeas (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 Fernandeas (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 Fernandeas (40:31):

Oh, let me try. Okay.

Sam Demma (40:32):

What’s your favorite sport?

Karl Fernandeas (40:34):

Ooh, gotta be soccer.

Sam Demma (40:36):

What’s the last song you listen to?

Karl Fernandeas (40:39):

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

Sam Demma (40:46):

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

Karl Fernandeas (40:55):

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

Sam Demma (40:58):

Nice. who are you cheering for for the World Cup?

Karl Fernandeas (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 Fernandeas (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 Fernandeas (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 Fernandeas (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 Fernandeas (44:04):

Sure.

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 Fernandeas (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 Fernandeas (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 Fernandeas (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.

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Suzanne Imhoff – Art Teacher at St. Croix Falls High School and Student Leadership Advisor

Suzanne Imhoff – Art Teacher at St. Croix Falls High School and Student Leadership Advisor
About Suzanne Imhoff

Suzanne Imhoff, is a 7-12 Art Teacher at St. Croix Falls High School in St. Croix Falls Wisconsin. She is a Nationally Board Certified teacher with 27 years of teaching, coaching and advising experience. She started her career at Siren Schools then moved to St. Croix Falls High School after 4 years and has been there since working as an advisor for the SCFHS Student Council, CLOWNS(elementary student with high school student mentoring club), basketball and softball coach.

Her work with student leaders began back in 1995 with the Wisconsin Association of School Councils and has developed into a passion for helping student leaders reach their full potential. She guides students in her own school and throughout the state of Wisconsin on their own leadership journey. She truly enjoys seeing students move out of their comfort zone and seeing them grow as people.

She keeps her personal creativity going by creating edible cake masterpieces breaking from that only to make decorated sugar cookies at Christmas time. Sweets Creative Confections is an ode to her mentor and father who, even though gone physically, inspires her every day to be the best educator and person she can be.

Connect with Suzanne: Email | Instagram | LinkedIn | Facebook

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

St. Croix Falls High School

Siren Schools

Wisconsin Association of School Councils

It’s All in Your Head: Get Out of Your Way by Russ

CADA State Convention

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 Suzanne Imhoff. She is a 7-12 Art Teacher at St. Croix Falls High School, and St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin. She’s a nationally board certified teacher with 27 years of teaching, coaching and advising experience. She started her career at Siren Schools and then moved to St. Croix Falls High School after four years and has been there since working as an advisor for the SCFHS Student Councul, the CLOWNS(elementary student with high school student mentoring club) basketball and softball coach. Her work with student leaders began back in 1995 with the Wisconsin Association of School Councils and has developed into a passion for helping student leaders reach their full potential. She guides students in her own school and throughout the state of Wisconsin on their own leadership journeys.

Sam Demma (00:57):

She truly enjoys seeing students move out of their comfort zone and seeing them grow as people. She keeps her personal creativity going by creating edible cake masterpieces, which you’ll hear about on the show today, breaking from that only to make decorated sugar cookies at Christmas time. Sweet’s creative confections is an ode to her mentor and father who, even though gone physically inspires her every day to be the best educator and person she can be. I hope you enjoy this energizing conversation with Suzanne and I will see you on the other side. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today we are a joined by a very special guest that I met when I was in Turtle Lake, not in Canada, but in the US of A <laugh>, and her name is Suzanne Moff. She was a part of a, a conference that I was a part of and she came up to me after the presentation and showed me a picture of a beautiful cake she designed <laugh> along with letting me know that she was involved with state leadership and her school’s leadership. And it got me really excited to, to invite her on the show and she’s here with us today. So, Suzanne, please introduce yourself and let everyone know a little bit about what it is that you do.

Suzanne Imhoff (02:16):

Hi. Yeah. I met Sam first virtually a couple years ago when the pandemic happened, and then in person. I’ve been teaching for 27 years now and been with student leadership for that long. Started out in Siren, Wisconsin, but stayed there for four years and I’ve been with my current district for the next 24. I, well, truth be told, was never going into education and was never going to deal with students, with kids ’cause that’s what my parents told me I was gonna do <laugh> and so I was gonna do something completely different. Yes. And then I found myself and everything I was doing for fun outside of what I had to do and going to school was teaching, and so finally I got on my own way and went into education and I, I’d love it.

Suzanne Imhoff (03:11):

There’s just nothing else I’d rather do. I, I think about it and with everything that’s gone on in Wisconsin with education and I guess the United States for that matter I like, oh, I could open, like key said, open my own bakery, and then I’m like, oh yeah. And then I could have a side room where I could have people come in and I could teach ’em how to do things. Oh, so you’re back to teaching. So why get out of teaching to go back into teaching <laugh>? so it’s just in my blood. It’s just what I love to do. I, I can’t really see myself doing anything else. I, I love coaching, I love teaching art. I love the student leadership portion of it, which I’ve been doing since 1995. Probably Sammy weren’t even born, but you know, there’s that

Sam Demma (03:54):

<laugh> you mentioned you’ve been teaching for 27 years and in, you know, in student leadership for that long as well. Does that mean year one you started with student council and helping out with extra cooker activities where you could

Suzanne Imhoff (04:09):

Actually I was involved with the state student council organization that I belonged to Scott Association of School Councils even before I got my first job. Oh, wow. I graduated in May and got a call and said, Hey, we need some help at this leadership camp. I’m like okay. Don’t know what that is. They’re like, okay, we’ll be in Stevens point at one o’clock on a Friday. And I’m like, okay. And I did, and I was hooked saw what it did for kids in one week. the difference that that camp made, I thought, oh, this is something I need to be involved with. And so when I got my first teaching job, I coached basketball. I had been coaching basketball all through high school and through in college, played basketball in college. And then I, I just knew that the classroom isn’t where everything is learned.

Suzanne Imhoff (04:59):

And to me, you can learn just as much on the sports field or in a club if not more of what you need to take out of, you can teach the X’s and o’s you know, addition, subtraction and all that kind of stuff. But truly a student, a kid learns, develops, becomes who they are in these other things. And that’s why I feel it’s so important that they are happening and that I’m able to guide students with that, I guess. Hmm. I, I feel like I do more of my teaching outside of my actual classroom than I do within my classroom.

Sam Demma (05:34):

Hmm. You mentioned that that first, you know, student leadership camp that you went to, it just really opened your eyes to how important those types of activities were because it has the potential to change a young person’s life. You’ve been involved in teaching for 27 years and student leadership, and I’m sure you’ve seen so many like student transformations. can you think of a student who at the start of a new year was really timid and shy or was struggling and by the end of a leadership experience or just, you know, a full year of school really butterflied and just really grew per personally as a, as a, as a human being? And if so, what was that story like? Share it with us. And the reason I ask is because I think educators, that’s why they got into teaching in the first place cuz they wanted to make a difference, you know?

Suzanne Imhoff (06:26):

Yeah. it’s, it’s funny the two stories come to mind. well the first one was a girl who Shai wouldn’t say anything. She was actually she would in small groups would be fine, but was never, she’s like, I’m gonna lead behind the scenes. I’m gonna do this. We had an assembly. I knew she could be that person and I knew she could go out but would never put herself out there. had an assembly. All the kids are in a homecoming assembly needs to start. And I handed the microphone. She’s like, what am I supposed to do with us, Michael? We gotta get this party started. And she’s like, yeah, but, but I go, they’re all way to go. She’s like, what? What? And she stuttered and she, but she went out and she did it. And to this day she will still come back and say, I will never forget that day.

Suzanne Imhoff (07:12):

I didn’t think I could do it, but I knew that you would never tell, put me in a situation cuz it’s something I’ve always told my students, but that you would never put me in a situation that you didn’t think I could do. Mm-hmm. I would never, I, and I, I tell ’em, I’m not gonna ask you to, you may not think you could do it, but I’m gonna put you out there cuz I think you could do it. And she’s like, I, I knew I could do that. Wasn’t comfortable with it, didn’t wanna continue to do it, but I did it and I lived and was able to take that experience and into her adult life. And now she’s married and has her own children and she still comes back and tells that story. The other one I have it was a of a, a boy who as a freshman you couldn’t get two words out of him. Mm-hmm. His end result was becoming the state student council president and then going on to Yale University and graduating from there.

Sam Demma (08:09):

Damn.

Suzanne Imhoff (08:11):

I never thought anything of it other than I was doing my job. I’m like, I saw something in him. And again, I, like I said, I’ve always told the kids, I’m not gonna put you in a situation that I don’t think you can do. And I had him doing things. I’m like, oh, Matt, why don’t you try this? Oh, Matt, why don’t you try this? Why don’t you do this here, go do this. I need you to do this. And each year I just pushed him a little farther. He was my student council president and had him run for the regional officer and then as the regional president, he ran for the state president and became that. And I, and it never really dawned on me, I guess and thought about it until his graduation party and his parents came up to me and they’re like, thank you.

Suzanne Imhoff (08:53):

I’m like, for what? And they’re like Matt’s going to Yale because of you. And I’m like, no, he’s not. Matt’s going to Yale because Matt’s smart. Matt’s got a lot going for him. He’s done a lot of great things. They’re like, no, you put him in situations where he could be successful and make himself better and that we thank you for that. And I never looked at it like that. I just looked at it like, oh, I need to help this kid get to his full potential. I need to get him into positions. Putting him, taking him places, taking him to those, you know, leadership things that where we met. and that’s why I do what I do. And that to me is that’s the pinnacle. That’s, that’s my driving force behind things is, oh, that made, you know, those are like what I call my career makers <laugh>.

Suzanne Imhoff (09:42):

Mm-hmm. <affirmative> sometimes I’m just like, why am I doing this job? And then I’ll get a text or I’ll get an email or I’ll get, you know thank you from a parent. And I was like, oh, okay. Well that’s why, that’s why cuz I touched that person’s life and I was able to help them move forward in a positive direction. So Yep. Okay. Worth it. Check. And then I can con that fills my bucket and I can continue to move on. And if it’s only one student a year, that’s one more student than I would’ve done had I not been in that position or not kids in those positions. So, Hmm. That’s why I do it. But those are two of the stories that really come to mind when I think about did it work? Do am I doing the right thing? And so, yeah.

Sam Demma (10:21):

Did did you have an educator in your life when you were growing up, tap you on the shoulder and help you try and reach your full potential? Like it was, is there a full circle story

Suzanne Imhoff (10:31):

<laugh>? There is. Well, it’s kind of funny because I just didn’t realize it until after the fact, but my dad was an educator. Mm. well he was a teacher and then became a business manager and then became a superintendent. I hated every minute of that <laugh> thought, oh God, never would I ever do that to my children. I will never be an educator, they’ll never go to school with in the same school. They’re like, I’ll never do that. Both my children will graduate from the same high school I teaching. So never say and ever. but I did have a a teacher who I’m still in contact with that is the person that I could go to for whatever. And she taught health class of all things. and, but she was just somebody I could talk to. And I look back at having that one person made a huge difference in my life.

Suzanne Imhoff (11:23):

And if I’m that one person, whether I have ’em as a student or not, meaning if they’re come to my art class and wanna take art class, they’re all my students. They’re all my kids. I really call ’em my kids. but having that means that I’m there for that person and didn’t realize how much the mental health part of it was a big deal back then that I needed, that isn’t, you know, it wasn’t put out there as mental health like it is today, thank goodness. but yeah, so I’m still, still in contact with that person. Still have a great relationship with them and see him all the time when I can when I go back to the hometown. And so yeah, I guess I did. But my dad was also that person that, you know, he saw it, he knew it, he told me wish he wouldn’t have, would’ve saved me a lot of time in college, but I had to figure it out for myself. I might have that little stubborn streak in me. I like to call it determined streak. I like it. <laugh>, <laugh>. But I did, I had to get outta my own way and see it for myself before I could actually achieve it. So I loved that my students to see that as well.

Sam Demma (12:33):

The, there’s a book I really love called it’s All in Your Head and the subtitle, the book is Get Out of your Way and the Every Time You Say It, that Book’s Confidence in my Mind. <laugh> one of the things I admire about you is that you’ve continuously pursued your other passions along with your teaching and your education work. And sometimes people that get involved in education get so consumed by it that the things that they also love doing. Take a backseat. One of the things I know you love doing is designing cakes and <laugh>, not only maybe baking in general, but not only do you like designing cakes, but you’re pretty damn good at it. <laugh>, <laugh>. The cakes are freaking awesome. thank you. Can you tell me a little bit about how you manage the time? Like, of balancing both losing yourself in education and service of, of young people, but also making sure that you, you spend some time on things that bring you joy personally as well?

Suzanne Imhoff (13:34):

Well, yeah, it’s, there’s times where I’m like, oh, why did I say yes to make this cake? Cause you have a full-time job, do that. And then I start making it and it’s creativity and that it, as much as it, I’m like, oh, I don’t really have time, but it de-stresses me. So I actually doing that forces me to do something that makes me happy. I working with fondant or modeling clay or gum paste, it’s just edible clay, it’s what I do. It’s, you know, people like, oh, did you, you know, go to a class? I’m like, no. Well, maybe I guess college when I worked with clay, but that’s all it was. It’s, it’s, you know, it’s edible clay. People are like, oh, it’s too pretty to eat. I’m like, well eat it because it’s cake. And if you don’t eat cake, that’s just dumb <laugh> cake.

Suzanne Imhoff (14:20):

I mean, so yeah, it’s, you know, I, I like the sculpting aspect of it. I, and it’s my release and I work late at night. I’m a night owl. Yeah, I’d like to be able to sleep. I’m not a morning person. I get up when I do it and I, for myself that extra cup of coffee the next day sometimes. And and obviously more you practice the, the better you get. I am by no means a perfect cake decorator or sculptor, but it’s gotten easier. I’m able to do things faster, so that helps. and it’s funny cuz I do involve my family cause they’re my daughter, she’s an artist, but my husband and my son, no, not at all. <laugh>. I love them dearly, but it’s just not their thing. Yeah. But I ask them, what do you think of this? And they’ll be like, you know, if they’re like, here’s something or if there’s like something they have something’s off on it then I know that the person, cuz I’ve been staring at it for so long that, you know, can’t see.

Suzanne Imhoff (15:19):

If they see it, then there is something that needs to be, or if I’m just being over critical of myself. but it really is a stress really for me. I can actually physically feel myself less stressed after making something, creating something, be it out of cake or decorating cookies or whatever it is. so it might be more time. I might get a little less sleep, but in the end it’s worth the de-stressing that it does for me. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> and the family doesn’t mind cake scraps that I cut off to level the cake or sculpting <laugh>. That’s never an issue. Always having frosting in the fridge, never an issue

Sam Demma (15:58):

<laugh>.

Suzanne Imhoff (15:59):

So it, it benefits them as well sometimes.

Sam Demma (16:02):

Just to give context to the listener, this is not a box of cake you buy from the grocery store mix with eggs and 30 minutes later, voila. this is a cake that you would buy at a charity event for $2,800 <laugh>. These are cakes that look identical to a dinosaur. Cakes that have Rapunzel with her hair coming down the cake and going all the way around the base. how long does it take to bake one of these and design one of these cakes?

Suzanne Imhoff (16:39):

Roughly takes, well it depends upon how, you know, if I’m sculpting or whatever on average I would say the least amount of time I’d spend on a cake would be seven hours. And I have spent probably 24 to 30 hours on cakes. It depends upon what the amount of sculpting that I’m doing. and if like for a wedding cake you know, if I’m making cupcakes then I’m at it. I’m making the toppers that go along with all of those those kinds of things. So it all depends upon the amount of sculpting that I’m doing with it. I absolutely love making sugar roses. Those are very time consuming, but they’re so therapeutic. I absolutely love, love, love making them and that my goal is always to make them look as realistic as possible. People are like, oh my gosh, that was made outta sugar. So yeah. But you can eat it

Sam Demma (17:28):

<laugh>. What, what was your introduction to baking? Was it something that you were introduced to in school or how did you get into it?

Suzanne Imhoff (17:37):

Really, I had seen stuff on TV and my son was having a jungle birthday party. cuz I’m that mom who goes overboard on birthday parties. <laugh> always have it’s hard baby. And so I decided, oh well you know what? Let’s just try this. And that was my first cake and he was eight, he’s now 18, so 10 years ago I guess. and I’m like, oh well that wasn’t too bad. And then my daughter had her birthday, well his was in November and hers was in February. So then I’m like, oh, let’s try her. So she had a pink poodle. So I just started sculpting out of the spawn stuff and just kind of blossomed from there. I didn’t, I didn’t really have a, I dunno, I’ve always lud to bake, so that was never an issue. but the whole cake part of it was, oh well I used to watch Cake Boss a lot and then Ace of Cakes. I absolutely love the fact that he would be like, wow the wack and do different things and try different things and stuff. So I haven’t convinced my husband that I need a wood shop in my son’s spare bedroom when he leaves and goes to college next year. So I’m working on that. But

Sam Demma (18:44):

<laugh> That’s awesome. baking teaching, you mentioned that coaching has also been a part of your educational journey in your life. Tell me a little bit about that.

Suzanne Imhoff (18:55):

Yeah, I coaching is just to me is an extension of the classroom. it’s just another place to teach students how to be them, be their best selves and it takes it one step farther because they have to do that and also be a teammate and help others be their best selves. so I find that as a challenge in a different level of it’s a different level of commitment. it’s not necessarily, yes, you have your exes and nos and you’ve got your plays and you’ve gotta do all that stuff, but I’ve always taught, taught my student, my student athletes that you guys have to work as one. Cuz I coach basketball and softball. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, those are the two sports that I have coached. and you have to work as one and you’re only as strong as your weakest link.

Suzanne Imhoff (19:48):

Not Michael, but it’s something that I, I think is true because you can have all parts going and one part doesn’t go it, the play’s not gonna work. And then what are you gonna do? I mean, there’s a lot to be said with that. So either you’re gonna just fall apart or you’re gonna adapt and figure out how to make that part work. Or you’re gonna figure out, okay, if this isn’t gonna work with that part of that’s not, that teammate’s not gonna do what we’re gonna ask him to do, then how are we gonna work around that? How are we gonna adapt to the situation? How are we gonna, you know, basketball, you adapt to the defense and all of a sudden one time down on the floor, they’re playing zone. The next time they’re playing, man, you gotta change your def your offense.

Suzanne Imhoff (20:26):

And can you react to that? How do you react to that? Do you just give up? Do you just panic? Do you, you know, so there’s just so many life lessons that can happen on the court and getting to know kids on a different level. it’s a win-win because then it comes back to my classroom and they see me in a different light and I see them in a different light. you know, sometimes they come in and they’re like, you can just tell that they need some space. It’s like, okay, you’re gonna take this, we gotta come back to it. But, you know, take this time, take the same thing on the court. You know, they can come into practice and I coach girls and there’s drama, always drama hate. It drives me crazy. What are my girls? You have to be the best teammates when you are on this court.

Suzanne Imhoff (21:12):

I don’t care if if your teammate just kissed your boyfriend right before you walked into practice. It’s doesn’t matter on this court. Yeah. Because on this court, you guys are the best friends, you’re the best teammates. Now when you go outta here, you have to sell that whatever way. But when you’re on this court, you are together as one and outside of here has to go away. So you have to kind of separate that and how it’s just like going to a job. You know, there’s people you, you have to deal with at your job that you don’t have to deal with outside. And you have to figure out how you’re gonna manage that within that timeframe and make things successful for you and your teammates. And how are you gonna build them up even if it’s somebody you don’t like that happens. That’s life.

Suzanne Imhoff (21:53):

So, and that’s the one thing about it. I just love that you’re able to, to teach them the life skills that they can have going forward and translate that into every other part of their lives. and getting to know them. Just some of my, the students that I come back in I see all the time are the ones that not necessarily were in my classroom, they were on my court or they were in my student council, or they were in our clowns mentoring group. I mean, those are the ones that you kinda get to know at a different level versus here’s my subject matter, learn that and then we’ll, I’ll give you a grade and then we’ll move forward. So it’s learning and meeting kids where they are and meeting ’em on a different level. and being a human to ’em, you know, it’s like, it’s kinda like being their friend but not, but it’s a respect, like, I’m still your teacher, I’m still your coach.

Suzanne Imhoff (22:43):

Mm-hmm. <affirmative> I’m here for you. But we aren’t gonna cross, you know, there’s that line of respect of I’m gonna respect you, you have to respect me, there’s boundaries. but I’ve, I’ve got you, you know, I’m here for you. I will do what I can to help you get through whatever it is you need to get through or meet the needs, your needs at that at that moment. And coaching allows me to do that, which I really, really enjoy. It’s tough this year cause I’m not coaching cause my son’s a senior. so I’m missing that. And I’ve had some of the middle school kids who I coached last year. They’re like, what do you mean you’re not coaching? I’m like, I can’t give you everything that I need to give you because I want to be able to be there for my son and I don’t think it’s fair. Let’s just leave practice early. I’m like, well that doesn’t put you as a priority and as a coach, if I’m coaching you, you are a priority to me. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And if I can’t give you that full priority, then it’s then I’m not going to be that person there for you. So I just love the relationships. I, I, I kind of thrive on those relationships. I guess they mean a lot to me.

Sam Demma (23:49):

What is the clowns mentoring program? The name caught my attention, but I’m sure it’s amazing. <laugh>.

Suzanne Imhoff (23:56):

Well, I have 35 high school students who choose to dress up as different clowns. scary. And what they do is, I know four times, it’s four times a year. We go here at the high school. We will plan they get, they have the, they have their their rings is what we call them. We have a ring leader and then there’s three or four column to work together. They plan a half hour lesson that they’re going to teach elementary students in grades 4K through fourth grade. Nice. they had to come up with their icebreakers, the activities, the, how are they gonna wrap it up. they give ’em a treat, but they plan the lesson, they execute the lesson. They just happen to dress up as clowns. a different persona for them to, it helps the high school student kind of release like, oh, I have this call makeup of and I look like this.

Suzanne Imhoff (24:50):

So, and then they’re going in front of these elementary kids who just absolutely adore them. And anything that they say comes out of them, you know, is, is golden. but I do see the high school students learn just as much as these elementary kids. They the lessons are all based on, we have a program called Saints Cares for St. Falls Saints. so each month has a different target. one is manners or gratitude or empathy. And so the students will base their lessons that they’re gonna teach the kids on whatever month it is that we are going to, to make the visit. each group visits two to three different classes through that day. We get, we hit every classroom in those grade 4K through fourth grade. and we have four classrooms per grade level. So it’s, it’s, it’s something that, it’s funny cause I don’t really have to work hard to get kids to wanna do it.

Suzanne Imhoff (25:42):

Cause these kids had the clowns come and visit them. And every time I ask ’em, why do you guys wanna be a com? They’re like, oh, it was so, it was awesome when they came, they taught us so much. And I wanna give that back to, I wanna give that experience to these kids right there as a, as a mom, as a teacher, as an advisor. That’s why we do what we do. If we can teach our children to want to give back for what they got out of something, that to me is makes it all worth it.

Sam Demma (26:13):

That’s so, cause

Suzanne Imhoff (26:14):

It was a program that was, yeah, it was a program that was gonna die. And I’m like, no, this can’t die. I have had my children go through it and I see what it does for these kids. So I took it on because I had nothing else to do, which is not true. But

Sam Demma (26:27):

<laugh> you know, earlier, a couple minutes ago you said that you turned down coaching because you knew that you wouldn’t be able to give it the time it deserves. You wouldn’t be able to prioritize the students, the athletes. And then you’re just telling me now that you said yes to doing the clown thing and, and you were busy like you already had other things going on. I think it’s so rare to have an educator that like truly wants to say yes and finds it very hard to say no. Because I think there’s also the reverse that want to say no and try and avoid saying yes to things. And yeah, I just think it’s really cool to hear your perspectives and, and to have you on the show. the clown program. My follow up question was gonna be, have you had a student who was impacted by the clowns and then became one? but you answered that, that that’s so cool that it’s, it’s been around for that long and the impact is now transforming into the teachers of the program. You said it was about to die. How did, how did you resuscitate it? <laugh> the, the program.

Suzanne Imhoff (27:30):

Nobody wanted to do it. And so I’m just like, Nope, I’m gonna do it and we’re gonna kind of restructure it and we’re gonna make it. It kind of was starting to get be the, the previous advisor wasn’t really having the kids stay focused. They were kind of just the high school kids, not Mm. it and wasn’t really putting the effort was kind of just there to, to do it and was like, yeah, I’m done and nobody was gonna step up. I’m like, they’re like, well if nobody’s gonna do it, then we’re not gonna have the program anymore. And I’m like, this just means too much for both the elementary kids and the high school kids. Like I said, I see these high school kids, they’re putting themselves out there. Yeah. I got kids who don’t say boo to high schoolers, don’t say anything and they’re willing to go and stand in, in front of a room of 20 little kids, elementary kids and teach them about good morals and values.

Suzanne Imhoff (28:27):

I mean, if we don’t want that as a program, I don’t know what we want <laugh>. I mean, if we would and to have high school students want to teach that and model that. I mean, it’s a mentoring group. We call it that because they have to follow the behavior that they’re teaching. And I have to turn kids away cuz I can only take so many. and they know that there’s, there’s high expectations and if they don’t follow, I’ve had to head kids, you know, I’m like, guys, your grades matter. You have to be a student first. you have to carry a c or above. It’s, you have, these are expectations. These kids they may not know of, but they know how you are behaving and acting. And you have to be that role model with or without the kind of, the story behind it is they’re like, so for some of the kids are like, we know who you are.

Suzanne Imhoff (29:20):

You’re a high school student. They’re like, no, every clown has a doppel, ganger human <laugh>. So they have a twin in the human world. <laugh>. So anytime a human is born, a clown is born as well. And the clowns are like 472 years old and they’re their age is their, their lunch number actually <laugh>. and so that’s how they get it. And they’re like, well why aren’t you? Why is it just your face that’s white? So they paint their face white and, and a symbol on there because the older they get the more the whiteness spreads as a clown. And they’re pretty young so they’re not, they’re not old enough to have their whole body coming in. White makeup <laugh>, there’s a whole story behind it. You know, it goes with that whole Santa Claus Easter bunny, that kinda thing. And

Sam Demma (30:09):

Is this totally created, like the whole story is created by you and and the group of people. That’s so cool. Yeah.

Suzanne Imhoff (30:16):

Yeah. And they, like I say, the kids, the, all of my clowns, I have all but two cuz two have moved in and our clowns have gone through it. They saw them, they and they’re like, we totally thought that was, they were, that was a real, real thing. <laugh>. and, and like I said, but they’re like, it was so cool that would, they would come and that they would spend time with us cuz they go out to recess with them. So they teach ’em these lessons. They eat lunch with them, they go out to recess, they play games with them. and there are, you know, they just remember that again, it goes back to that time outside the classroom that makes a difference in a kid’s life that I, I have had a student tell me, they’re like, you know, the clowns cup came and that was the only day I felt special.

Suzanne Imhoff (31:05):

Mm-hmm. Because they would sit with me and they would talk with me and they would play with me. And I really truly felt special on the days that clown came to visit. So that’s why I wanna do this. I want, if I can help one person, so what I do and the reason I do it is the same reasons they do it. And so that to me is why I’m like, oh yeah, can’t, and we don’t, we’re self-funded. The kids have a a fee. They buy their own makeup, they come up with their own costumes. They’re all themed costumes. It’s not like your traditional clowns. like my, my daughter is currently one and she’s strawberry shark cake. She doesn’t like you call, she just like calling strawberry. So she wears course,

Sam Demma (31:46):

Of course. The

Suzanne Imhoff (31:46):

Strawberry sweater. Yeah. No, I’m like, ah, strawberry shortcake.

Sam Demma (31:49):

Of course there’s a cake in there. Strawberry

Suzanne Imhoff (31:51):

Leggings, strawberry earrings. She puts the white makeup and then puts strawberries on her face. Strawberry headband. So they’re kind of, each one has a theme. Mitz he’s a baseball clone. and then we have qb, he’s the football clown. Yes. So yeah, they’re all different kind of themes and the kids love getting dressed up. I mean, who doesn’t? Cause I do

Sam Demma (32:14):

<laugh>. This is, this, this program sounds amazing. <laugh>. it’s funny, I was talking to an educator the other day from, it would’ve been British Columbia, one of the provinces like far far west in Canada. And he was like, every year I go to California to this conference called Kata. And it’s like the, it’s a big leadership conference in California. And have you been before by any chance?

Suzanne Imhoff (32:37):

I’ve heard of it. I’ve wanted to go. Go. I’ve heard of it.

Sam Demma (32:39):

Yeah. So, so ba basically what he told me was like, leadership in Canada is like a cookie leadership in the US is like, Suzanne m h’s $2,800 cake <laugh>. He’s like, he’s like, it’s a, it’s just a different, it’s just a different experience. Like it’s so, it’s such a big part of the culture and such a big part of the education system. And for someone who’s not familiar with like a statewide conference, like what does that look like? What does a statewide leadership conference look like?

Suzanne Imhoff (33:12):

It’s funny you asked because I’m hosting the one our school is hosting, the one we’re having this year. so you’ll have kids from all over the state come in. We have a keynote speaker. It’s a two day conference, usually a Sunday, Monday. they come in and we have a keynote speaker and then we have regional business meetings where we elect officers, state officers. Nice. talk about things that hit on the regional levels. The state of Wisconsin’s divided into six regions. and then opposite that they have what we call super sectionals cuz they’re a little bit longer. So they’re our sectionals where we have presenters who will present on anything from mental health to how to lead after high school, how to lead in high school, how to any aspect, servant leadership fundraising, I mean, you name it, we, any topic that the kids would want to potentially hear about.

Suzanne Imhoff (34:15):

So we have those. we have banquet, we award like regional administrators of the year, state administrators of the year. Oh wow. also advisors give different leadership roles. And then we have some entertainment of course dances and fun things like that. And then on Monday we have another keynote speaker, but then we have other sectional breakouts as well. The ones on Sunday are typically led by adults, but the ones on Monday are led by students. Oh, wow. So different groups will put together some, like maybe presenting on a service project that they do or different organizations that they work with or different ways that they lead in their school or how they can get students involved. how do they run their homecomings? How do they run different community service opportunities different things. So whatever they want to, how to run a meeting, how to I know this year we’re gonna be bringing in some kids who have graduated.

Suzanne Imhoff (35:21):

Matt, the student I talked to you about earlier, he’s gonna come back and, and sit on the panel and say, okay, how did you take your leadership from high school level to the college level? Mm. And then from college, how do you take it beyond there? So there’s gonna be sectionals based for like freshman and sophomores and then once for juniors and seniors. Like, how can I continue this? I’m here, I’m in this small and a fishbowl of my school. How do I take it to the next level of college if I’m going to, you know, say UW Madison or a big school or even if I’m going to a private school, how do I stay involved and how do I use what I’ve learned going forward? So those will be there’ll be four, three different opportunities, but there’ll be probably 15 to 1220 different sessions.

Suzanne Imhoff (36:04):

Wow. And then we have a closing thing and they, then they go home. So that’s our, the state cover. So it’s a, we have big speakers come in, but then we also, I like the breakout sessions where students can go and, and learn different things that maybe interest them. So, nice. But that’s, yeah, on Sunday it’s usually adults. It doesn’t have to be. but then student led breakouts, which again, it’s putting kids in leadership situations, they have to lead the group, they have to lead these, you know, presentations. So they’re learning skills just as much as the person attending the students that are attending. So

Sam Demma (36:40):

That’s awesome. Yeah, I was gonna say, when you mentioned awards for administrators of the year and stuff like that, that’s, that’s really cool because it’s part, it’s partly for the educators and the adults as well, not just the, not just the students. So, oh yeah. That’s cool. I’m, I’m assuming there’s a big community around it, like each, each year is it held at a different school and all of you come together and it’s like, oh my gosh, Jane, I haven’t seen you since last year. Yeah.

Suzanne Imhoff (37:06):

<laugh>. Yep. Oh yeah. It’s, it’s, it’s kinda like old home week whenever we get together and be able to, you feel like you just pick up where you left off the last time. You know, it’s a nice network. it that you can build as an advisor. I’ve, you know, I’ve relied on these people, some of these other advisors that I’ve met through this, you know, and through the state conference and through other activities that we’ve done that I’m like, oh, guy sitting on the email, okay, this is my situation. Have you guys ever experienced this? Some have, some haven’t. Hey, gimme some tips. Check. I mean, you, you can’t, can’t live in a bubble and think you’re going to, you know, get it all solved yourself. Learn from others’ experiences, steal ideas, you know, share what you’ve done with, you know, oh yeah, you’re gonna run this at homecoming.

Suzanne Imhoff (37:52):

Oh, we did that. Just know that, you know, this is the issues that we ran into or this is what was so successful. You know, why reinvent the wheel? Let’s take it and make it better. And sharing, I, I think you have to know, you have to work together. You have to give ownership to, you know, or give away the ownership. It’s not mine, it’s ours. Let’s make it all better and let me learn from you and you learn from me. And again, the end result is making students better and whether up here in northern Wisconsin or they’re in the southern part of the state. So that’s the important part.

Sam Demma (38:25):

Yeah, that’s a beautiful perspective. I was recently at a professional development conference to learn in Calgary, which is about a four hour flight from where I am now. and while I was sitting in the crowd, there was a slide that came up on one of the presenter’s presentations and the slide said something along the lines of, when a group of people get lost together in developing and building a worthy cause and none of them care about who gets the credit for it, that’s when real change gets made. And it sounds like this statewide type of a conference is, is similar. It’s like everyone’s coming together with the goal of hoping to make students’ lives better and help them reach their full potential. And to also help, you know, appreciate some of the staff that played a role in their lives. I just think it’s a really beautiful thing.

Sam Demma (39:11):

It, switching gears for a second, if you could travel back in time, tap yourself on the shoulder the first year you started teaching, but maintain all of the experiences you had now, kind of like getting in the back to the future car, but not going to the future. But going back if you could like walk into that first classroom you taught, tap yourself on the shoulder and say, Hey Suzanne, this is the advice I think you need to hear. not because you would change anything about your path, but knowing what you know now and what the experiences you’ve had, what would you have told your younger self?

Suzanne Imhoff (39:44):

I guess the one thing I would say would be it’s okay to the, to let my students fail. Hmm. I know that, and we’ve always said it, but to truly let them fail in what is happening. and not worry if it is a reflection on whether I failed or not. Hmm. and that’s, that was, that’s probably been the hardest lesson for me to learn. Cuz I’m like, okay, so alright, you’ve gotta do this. Oh, they’re not doing it, I’ll just do it. Hmm. No, I need to like let them not do it. if they were supposed to have a poster out and advertise it and then we don’t get as many people, well guys, we didn’t get as many people why what the reflection and evaluation of anything that I’ve done. That would be the one thing is looking at, you know, the failure as okay.

Suzanne Imhoff (40:40):

And it’s kind of cliche, but it’s a learning experience and I didn’t truly embrace that until I was into, well into my teaching and advising. And that would be the one thing that would be like, okay, no, you need to truly realize that it doesn’t make you a bad person because the event wasn’t as successful as you’d hoped. Mm. Or the lesson didn’t quite go as you had planned. That’s okay. What are you gonna do next time? What are we gonna, where, how are we gonna move forward from it? and know that it’s okay, that’s gonna happen. And if it doesn’t happen, that’s when you aren’t moving anybody forward because you don’t really truly learn or get better. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> if you don’t go outta your comfort zone. Hmm. And I, that was, I knew it. I’ve had had people tell me that, but I didn’t truly embrace it. And that would be the one thing I would go back and cuz there’s like times where I’m like, you know, if you had to let that kind of not go and not have done all the things for the kids, we would’ve gotten to the better place that we are now sooner. Hmm.

Suzanne Imhoff (41:52):

If that makes sense. It does. This took a little longer, kind of like when my parents, if I were to <laugh> listen to them going out, out of the box, I would’ve gotten into education a little sooner. But

Sam Demma (42:03):

Yeah. Hindsight’s 2020, right. <laugh> right

Suzanne Imhoff (42:06):

Own way. That’s what I I i that you just need to get outta your own and realize that you can do this and you will make mistakes, but you’ll get there and you’ll get there sooner if you stop telling yourself that you can’t do it.

Sam Demma (42:22):

Hmm. I love that. I think it applies for educators as well. You know, you’ll become the educator you always want to be when you stop telling yourself that you can’t or that that you don’t have the skills required or whatever the story might be. But yeah, I appreciate you for sharing a lot of your wisdom and insights today on the show. If someone’s, it’s already been almost like 45 minutes. If, if someone I know we, it’s a great episode. If someone wants to reach out, ask you questions, buy cake <laugh> <laugh>, well, what would be the best way for them to reach out and get in touch with you?

Suzanne Imhoff (42:55):

Oh yeah, sure. Emailing me is probably the, the, the best way that I check that constantly, but that’s imhofsu@scfschools.com

Sam Demma (43:14):

Awesome. Suzanne, thank you again for coming on the show. Keep up the great work, and keep baking those cakes and we’ll talk soon.

Suzanne Imhoff (43:20):

Oh, you’re welcome. Thank you for having me. I really appreciate it. It was great. It was fun.

Sam Demma (43:24):

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 Suzanne Imhoff

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.

Dr. Ivan Joseph – TED talk (21 million views), Speaker, Author and Self-Confidence Expert

Dr. Ivan Joseph – TED talk (21 million views), Speaker, Author and Self-Confidence Expert
About Dr. Ivan Joseph

Dr. Ivan Joseph (@DrIvanJoseph) is a six-time Coach of the Year recipient and Director of Athletics at Ryerson University. He is a sought-after speaker on developing personal and organizational leadership. He has a BA in Physical Education and Health, an MS in Higher Education Administration and a Ph.D. in Sports Psychology. His popular Tedx talk on the skill of self-confidence has garnered over 21 million views. For more information on Dr. Joseph, please visit, www.drivanjoseph.com

Connect with Ivan: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

www.drivanjoseph.com

Ryerson University

BA in Physical Education and Health – Graceland University

Graduate Programs – Drake University

PhD in Psychology – Capella University

You Got This: Mastering the Skill of Self-Confidence by Dr. Ivan Joseph

Positive Affirmations

Expert Secrets by Russel Brunson

Workshops by Dr. Ivan Joseph

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 someone I have really wanted to interview on my podcast for a very long time. His name is Dr.Ivan Joseph. Dr.Ivan Joseph is a sixth time Coach of the year recipient and Director of athletics at Ryerson University. He is a sought after speaker on developing personal and organizational leadership. He has his BA in Physical Education and Health, and Masters in Higher Education Administration, and a PhD in Sports Psychology. His popular TEDex talk on the skill of self-confidence has garnered over 21 million views. Dr. Ivan Joseph is also an actor, a father, and a very amazing human being. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Ivan, and I will see you on the other side. Ivan, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast.

Sam Demma (01:02):

Huge pleasure to have you on the show after reading your book, watching your, your TEDx talk that has over 21 million views, I want to start this off in a different fashion. I’ve, I’ve listened to a lot of your interviews. I want to get vulnerable right from the start so you can have the chance to introduce yourself, but I want to ask you personally, what is an aspect of your life where you lacked personal confidence and you followed your own tactics and tools, systems and strategies, to change that situation and, and, and let us know how that happened?

Dr. Ivan Joseph (01:35):

Well, well, thank you for having me first of all, Sam, and, and I’ll say this, your question I can answer it at 10, 12, 15 different ways. You know, the, the situation with confidence is, is that you, you acquire it, but then once you achieve success, you move on or you get promoted that struggle comes back because you’ll feel imposter syndrome seep in, and then you’ll manage it, you’ll master it, because we’re hard workers. Then you’ll get to the next level, and again, you’ll feel like you don’t belong. You’ll feel like, oh my goodness, they’re gonna, they’re gonna catch me. And, and so there’s not one situation, I’ll give you one situation, but recognize that this is one of many. So I’ll give you the first example. When I became the Director of Athletics at Ryerson University, recognize that I came from a town of 1200 students from a school that only had 1200 people in it.

Dr. Ivan Joseph (02:29):

So to combine the school and the town, you had 2,500 people, no Walmart, no McDonald’s, no stop signs, no stop lights. And they plumped me into this director of athletics job where I went from managing one person and a budget of 30,000 to bud, to managing a budget that ended in millions, and having to wor work an administrative assistant, lead people, manage people. I didn’t know how to do any of that. And so here I was in this big city of Toronto, millions of people in charge of a budget rebuilding a hundred million maple leaf gardens, and I felt like I was an imposter. And so I did what I know and what I know worked well as a soccer coach, really, which was, I was first there, I was last to leave. Mm. I read everything I could. I found myself a mentor when I didn’t know. I didn’t pretend. I didn’t know, which is that instead of fake it till you make it, I said, I don’t know. Let me get back to you. I asked for help. And most importantly, and this is the criti critical piece, is when I, when I wanted to run away and push the easy button and quit, I just talked to myself out of it. Hmm. And that allowed me to grow into the job.

Sam Demma (03:47):

What did that self-talk look like? When, when we’re in situations where there’s a negative voice, one, how do you create that space to realize, like snap out of the initial moment and realize I’m having negative thoughts right now? And then what course of action do you take to reverse that?

Dr. Ivan Joseph (04:05):

Well, I’ll tell you, I remember it as Claire as day, right? Seeing myself walking down young street off the go train, and here I am, like in my briefcase, in my suit, a guy who never ever wore a suit. I was a tra, I was a soccer coach. I wore, I wore track pants and shorts, and I’m like, who is that guy? That’s not me seeing the reflection off the building. And I was like, stop it. Right? Stop it. I remember sitting in meetings and people are like, oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God, I don’t know what I’m doing. Stop it. Stop it. And so, I d I use what athletes use what I teach my students, which is sports psychology techniques, physical actions, right? These are called thought stopping or centering actions. You use those actions to say, stop.

Dr. Ivan Joseph (04:50):

Right, stop the negative thought and then replace it with the positive affirmation. And you’ll hear me talk about that later on. But with, you can’t stop that negative thinking. What had happens is it influences your beliefs. And soon when you start to believe something about yourself, then it influences your actions. And soon as your actions start acting out, then people, your peers, your bosses, your friends, they will start seeing you and treating you differently based on those actions. And when they see and treat you differently, Sam, it starts that cycle over again. Well, they don’t think I’m good enough. Well, I mustn’t be good enough. Oh, man, I made a mistake. Why is that guy making so many mistakes? I’m not gonna put him in that position. And this vicious self-defeating cycle starts over and over again that it’s hard to break out of.

Sam Demma (05:40):

And when you realize you’re having a negative belief, I understand the physical action, the changing of the rubber band onto your other wrist was something that you read about, you wrote about in your book for your athletes on the soccer pitch or any pitch. Once you realize it and you stop it, how do you replace it? do you use affirmations? Like what’s the next step to build the new confidence that should take that negative beliefs place?

Dr. Ivan Joseph (06:04):

Yeah. And you have to replace it with something, right? You, you can’t just say, stop. And that’s when these automatic affirmations need to come like that. Mm. And so the time isn’t when you’re having a negative thought to think about your affirmation. You prepare your affirmation, so it’s ready to go, and it comes just like that. And so my three are, nobody outworks me. I can learn anything. And I am the captain of my ship and the master of my fate. I use that one. I am the captain of my ship and the master of my fate. When I feel overwhelmed, when I’m like, I’m not in control. I use, nobody outworks me. When things don’t come easy, I’m like, I’m gonna, I’m gonna show up first. I’m gonna, it doesn’t matter how long it takes and when it’s, things are hard when I’m not getting it, oh my gosh, this is complicated. I can learn anything. These are reminders for me that just say, okay, get me in the right spot again. Recognize that my affirmation isn’t I’m gonna make a million dollars. Maybe some people wanna do that, but I subscribe to genuine, authentic affirmations that are about behavior.

Sam Demma (07:11):

I love that. I’ve been walking every morning after my buddy Nick comes over and works out in our backyard, you know, trying to stay covid friendly. So we do it outside on a little bar gym that I built, and I walk after he leaves every morning, and I listen to a three minute YouTube video. And I know you’re a big fan of Muhammad Ali. Oh, yes. And there’s a whole section in the video, and every time I hear it, I just get goosebumps. and it puts me in this mindset that just, it just forces me to take a hold of my day. And when he’s saying, you know, I am the greatest in this YouTube video, and he’s talking about how all these people are gonna doubt him you know, I’m trying to think of the exact words that he uses in the video. He goes, all you chumps are gonna bow when I whoop him, all of you, I know you got him. I know you got him picked. I’m gonna show you how great I am. And every time I hear it, I just imagine myself in that moment. And so I’m curious to know, in your own personal development of self-confidence in studying, does visualization play a huge part in this process as well? Affirmations are awesome and amazing. Do you also visualize

Dr. Ivan Joseph (08:17):

A hundred percent? I’m a, as a sports psychologist, I’m a big believer in visualization. Hmm. Let me teach you, let me talk to you a little bit about a study that what I teach my students. They, they went in and they tested downhill skiers. They put these electrodes onto their busts so that they could see when they were going through the gates and down a mountain, how would the muscles fire? And they were in their lab, and they could see, okay, the, this one fires at this amplitude. Oh, when he’s turning this quad fires, this arm goes, here’s where they relax when they go on the straightaway. And it was amazing, right? This was like, wow. Then they said, okay. Then they took those same skiers, and they said, now, just watch yourself going down. Right? And as they were watching themselves going down, they hooked up their muscles, and they found that their muscles still fired.

Dr. Ivan Joseph (09:01):

Not at the same level, of course mm-hmm. <affirmative>, but they were still firing significantly less, but in the same pattern, in the same racial as they were watching themselves go down that mountain. Then they said, close your eyes and imagine yourself going down the mountain as they close their eyes and imagine themselves going down the mountain again, their muscles still fired in that same pattern, that same frequency, not the same level of amplitude as when they were watching it, but in the same place. So what that was saying is that we are rehearsing that our mind could transfer that energy and that pattern of learning to our muscles, even just by imagining it. The power of visualization is a strong piece. I like to visualize, visualize everything that I’m doing, every little scenario, what I’m coaching, when I’m teaching, when I’m leading, I want to know what I’m going to do. I want to imagine what success looks like. I also wanna imagine what an adversity or a roadblock would look like, so that I have my plan in place so that I’m ready. And I’m not, I’m not panicked. I’m not frozen. Right? I don’t imagine just the great things. I do try to spend some time not imagining when things go wrong, but imagining what my plan of action will be in case things go wrong, so that I can see my way still to victory.

Sam Demma (10:17):

So powerful. When I think back to my own soccer days and the athletes that I had four of my teammates now play in the mls mm-hmm. <affirmative>, the ones who succeeded all had a, a super drive. Like they just all wanted to, you know, play soccer every single day. But I found really interesting was they all watched hours upon hours of soccer. They were obsessed with following every different league that exists in Europe and in Canada and the us. Does watching somebody else kick a ball also fire the same pathways in your brain that you would fire if you were kicking a ball? Like, does visualization also work when you watch somebody else do it?

Dr. Ivan Joseph (10:58):

I will say this the psychology behind is what you’re asking is the social learning theory by a gentleman by the name of Bandura. Right? And so what they will say is that you can learn through observation. This is what, like, you think about this whole YouTube world. Everybody watches YouTube and they learn how to do things before, back in the day. You have to go and watch somebody apprentice with them, learn all those things. So for sure, I, I can’t speak to whether the muscles are firing the same way, but I can say that you can learn through observation, especially if somebody is telling you what to look for. Look at the angle of the leg, look at the, look at the way the angle is locked. Look at how they land on their plant foot. And so you’re saying now you’re watching the things to look for, and now you can go back and mimic those same behaviors and model them in a way that will ensure success.

Sam Demma (11:48):

Hmm. No, I like that. And you just even alluded to some points in your TED talk, by the way, when you talked about planting the foot and leaning forward knee over the ankle, you talk about the importance of catching people while they’re good. This can be used from a management perspective. It can be used from a coaching perspective. You know, the importance of encouraging someone’s positive actions instead of coaching their negative ones. Yeah. That idea. Do you also use it for yourself? So in moments where you maybe didn’t have the performance that you expected, instead of focusing on all the things that went wrong, you focus on the one or two things that went right. Is that something you could also use personally?

Dr. Ivan Joseph (12:25):

Absolutely. I, I think it’s really important. What I use even more than that though, is about focusing on the positives, which is nice. I also say, what am I here to learn? Hmm. When things go south, when they don’t go where I want them to do, I wanna focus on what did it teach me? What are the teachable moments? Because as well as focusing on what went wrong, right? Or what went right, that’s great. Okay, what went right? I also need to think about the gap. Hmm. And, and that gap is, okay, what am I here to learn? And I’m not focusing on the negatives. I’m focusing on the teachable moments when I’m looking at myself. And if I can think of everything as a learning opportunity that prepares me for the next one, and that prepares me for the next one, then I don’t get caught up on the negativity. I get caught up on the teachable moments of that failure. And that’s, for me, key to moving forward.

Sam Demma (13:14):

And you have to stay open-minded, right? Yeah. That op, being someone who’s open-minded will give you opportunity to look at yourself objectively and take that feedback and use it to, to grow. Sometimes we get feedback and it, it, it hurts our ego because, you know, everyone has an ego. They care what people think. is there a difference between ego and confidence? Can you explain the difference? and especially for like young people that use a ton of social media and feel the need to validate themselves. Like, I just wanna know if there’s a bit a difference between ego and, and real confidence.

Dr. Ivan Joseph (13:52):

For sure. And let me go back, because the piece that will feed this is that feedback part when you said, sometimes we get negative feedback and it impacts our, our ego. So recognize that there’s two types of feedback. One is negative and one is critical. Hmm. Negative feedback. What’s wrong? Why it didn’t work? This idea is not good. You didn’t do this, you didn’t do this. You need to come back. Negative critical feedback. Here’s why I don’t think it’s gonna work. have you tried this? This is not good. Have you tried this, this, and this? Hey, I think you missed it. Here’s what I was looking for. Hmm. And so the difference is what’s wrong, but opportunities or avenues for you to go in a different direction. They’re giving you advice. And so that’s really, that’s really key for you to recognize that if somebody’s giving you critical feedback, they’re invested in you.

Dr. Ivan Joseph (14:41):

As I used to tell all my people when I’m coaching you and I’m giving you critical feedback, the willingness of me to expend energy on you means that I believe that, that you can deliver more, and that you’re capable and you have the potential to excel. When I’m not giving you any feedback, you should be worried because I don’t think you’ve got any more to give, and you’ve reached your ceiling. So that’s the first part. The second part is how does it not affect your ego? And when, what’s the difference between ego and confidence? Ego? Is this me telling everybody else how great I am? Mm-hmm. Look at me, look at me, folks. I’m a champion. I’m good. Think about it. When you’re in grade school, Sam, and you’re in the playground, or, or it was that track and field day, and you gotta do the three-legged race or the ball toss or high jump, or the hundred meter sprint.

Dr. Ivan Joseph (15:28):

And you win your first, your second, your third, whatever your ribbons are they used to give you. And do you put them on? And do you walk around the schools like, look at me. Look, I won the first place in the ball toss. I’m a three-legged race champion. Yeah. Ooh, no. The confident person doesn’t need anybody to know how good they are. All right. You put those ribbons in your bag and you go home at night, you put ’em on and in front of the mirror, you say, yes, I’m awesome. That is okay. Cuz you still should tell yourself you’re awesome. You should still remind yourself of how great you are, just egotistically. You don’t need to shout it to everybody else.

Sam Demma (16:06):

Sometimes you’ll have a belief in yourself that other people don’t see. And I know you’ve had firsthand experience with this, with a player on your team when you were coaching, who at first it seemed like this player was not gonna fit in and not going to excel, but that person’s self-belief propelled them forward. And if I’m not mistaken, became the captain of your team and went to a national championship with you guys. Yes. Yes. how do you cultivate that amount of belief in yourself when other people might not agree with you?

Dr. Ivan Joseph (16:40):

That’s a really good piece. So part of it is you’ve gotta make sure when other people don’t believe in you. And so you’re getting it from the left on all, you know, you gotta make sure you’re having other places where you’re getting the opposite, right? Because if you’re bombarded with your mom telling you you’re no good, and your brother and sister telling you’re no good, and at work they’re telling you no good and your boyfriend or girlfriend are telling you good, no good and all the media’s telling, then it’s gonna beat you up. And so you’ve gotta make sure that, let’s say it’s the coach, then you’re surrounding yourself with other people who are able to counter that voice, that you’re also making sure that you’ve written your letter to yourself, where you’re reading your confident thoughts, that you’re also using your affirmations, but most importantly, that you’re also working towards the goal diligently with great effort to close the gap.

Dr. Ivan Joseph (17:31):

Cuz it’s no magic button. You can’t just show up. A coach says I’m no good, and then the next day I just show up and expect a different result. He also gotta put in the work. And if you’ve put in the work and the repetition and the effort, good things will happen. They always do. But at the same time, Sam, you never know, just like you just didn’t make it as a professional athlete because of injury or whatever. Hopefully you’ve got the right people around you that will tell you when it’s the opportunity is right for you to pivot and go in a different direction.

Sam Demma (18:02):

No, I love that. And I think it’s so important. Who we surround ourselves with matters greatly. I think it was Jim Rowan who said, you become the average of the five people you spend the most time with. Yes.

Sam Demma (18:12):

Why is that important? You know, I remember when I was a soccer player, my coach always used to tell me before I asked for the ball, Sam, make sure you check your shoulders <laugh>. And I remember in the middle of the game, and you probably preach this to your players all the time, I played in the midfield. And so I’m looking behind me to check my shoulders and I don’t check. And as I turn around, someone comes and sly tackles me and my left leg. And that’s when I tore my meniscus in my left knee the second time. And I remember after, you know, years went by, I realized what a great analogy check your shoulders is for life. You know, how often do we turn around and say, who am I surrounding myself with? and if you don’t do it, you know, in life, just like in sports, if you don’t check and you turn around randomly one day, there’s, there might be some people there that shouldn’t be there and it might be causing you problems. So why do you think it’s so important to be aware of who we surround ourselves with?

Dr. Ivan Joseph (19:01):

Well, we know that in sport and in psychology, that emotion is contagious. Hmm. And so think about that. When you’re in a, when you’re in a dressing room, I could walk into a dressing room and I know when a team is on, you could feel it in the air. Hmm. You can feel it, you can cut it with a knife. Also, I can tell when one person gets angry, how that can just run through the entire room or panic or whatever that might be, or excitement or energy. We don’t know. Whatever that’s pheros, whether that’s hormones, what that is. But this science is, is irrefutable that, that we can catch the mood of other people. Hmm. And so when I think about that, I think about the group that I’m speaking with or hanging out with. Do they push me? Are they good for me?

Dr. Ivan Joseph (19:46):

Are they good to me? Are they drivers? Are they, are they ones? Like, yeah, yeah, yeah. You know what? You’re right. When somebody comes and gives you hard news, yeah, I can’t believe that coach doesn’t believe in me. I can’t that believe that boss didn’t gimme the opportunity. And they’ll say, yeah, you’re right Sam, you deserve it. I can’t believe it. You were robbed. Or do they say, Sam, you didn’t do what you were supposed to do. You know what? You should have delivered it like this. You need to go back. Do they push you up or do they tear you down? Hmm. Do they allow you to live in that self-belief of I’m a victim? Or do they say, no, we could do better? And you think about those kinds of people and how do you separate the weak from the chaff?

Sam Demma (20:28):

I think, I think catching other people’s emotions could be even more dangerous than catching the flu

Dr. Ivan Joseph (20:35):

<laugh>. Oh, a hundred percent. They will, it will limit you

Sam Demma (20:39):

And it holds you back because like you explained, you know, your beliefs lead to your emotions, emotions to actions, actions to results. And if those, if those beliefs change because of the people you’re hanging out with, it changes literally everything else. It’s like a domino effect. Yes. I spend a lot of time hanging around people who don’t take no for an answer. <laugh>. And I know you’re one of those people and I remember you watching your TED talk as well, and you know, you asked out your, your wife for the first time you know, and she said no. And then her friend came back and told you, you know, there’s a small chance that if the world was falling apart and <laugh> and you know, we need to recreate to save humanity, then, then, you know, maybe we could, you know, maybe it would work. And, and you said, well, there’s a chance <laugh> and you kept going. Right. now maybe you could, you could share a little bit about where that beliefs was built for you. Cause I believe all of our beliefs come from past experiences, like where that belief came from that you didn’t take no for an answer. and maybe even how I reached out to you and what you thought

Dr. Ivan Joseph (21:44):

<laugh>. Oh my gosh. You know, it’s interesting. You know, first off, I’m an immigrant, right? I was born in, in Guyana, south America. My parents came to Canada when they’re 27 years old. Hmm. And so, you know, and immigrants have a very common theme that run through them, meaning work twice as hard, be twice as good. Yeah. Right. You know, like that, that your parents have drilled that into you, your grandparents have drilled that into you. And so you know that the opportunities that you have that will come your way, you gotta fight for. And I saw it in my mother and I saw it in my father. And so those were two, two role models for me that really helped put that behavior of twice as hard, twice as good, twice as like always mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And so, you know, after a while people are gonna say no.

Dr. Ivan Joseph (22:28):

And so you gotta just decide what are you gonna do. You can either feel sorry for yourself or you can try again. You can try. And then when you get a little bit of success, then it creates this pattern of belief in yourself that allows you to keep going. Right. And again, I wasn’t stalking my wife, so I don’t want anybody out there to think, oh my gosh, this guy’s a creepy old man. Right? Yeah. It’s like, oh, let me try again. Right. She, you know, if she let me see. Right. And there’s nothing wrong with thinking that there’s another opportunity to try something different perhaps, whatever that might look like. You know, I, you know, you are a perfect example, Sam. I was not, you know, there’s a certain level of podcast that my partner sends me on Sonny’s like, okay, how many followers do they have?

Dr. Ivan Joseph (23:05):

Will it elevate the brand? All these things? Is this the message they want to go on? Right. And here you are a young whipper snipper, and you were persistent, right? You were, you didn’t take no financial, you came back and you didn’t come back the same way, which is an important piece. You came back with some, you did your homework, you were creative, you sent this message, this video that you were compelling. How could we not say yes to somebody who cared and was so intentional and put so much effort and time into preparing his pitch? We had no intention of saying yes, but you compelled us so that we could not say, no,

Sam Demma (23:45):

I’m writing a chapter in a book right now, it’s gonna be called Dear High School Me. And it’s like, it’s like lessons from my younger self from someone not far removed from high school. And your reach out is gonna be one of the chapters <laugh>. And you know, the whole lesson is that when we’re all little kids, I think it was before the age of four, we hear the word no a couple thousand times and it gets ingrained in our body. You know, we, we fall off the counter and you know, or hopefully you don’t fall off the counter, but <laugh>, you know, something happens and your parents say, oh no, don’t do that. And we associate no with never again. Yeah. No means never. And I’m trying to help people understand that. No, doesn’t mean never when you hear the word no. Although, like you said, there are some situations where no means no and don’t cross that boundary. Yes.

Dr. Ivan Joseph (24:31):

Thank you. Thank

Sam Demma (24:32):

You. Outside of those situations, <laugh> no, doesn’t mean never. It actually means how can you show this person that you care, build trust, and be more creative in your reach out? Yes. And every time that I’ve changed my approach whether it’s with you or other situations I’ve gotten, you know, great responses and, and great results. do you have any examples in your life aside from, from the relationship that you discuss in your TEDx talk where someone initially told you no and things thereafter maybe slightly changed?

Dr. Ivan Joseph (25:05):

Yeah, I think, and I think your point is really strong and make sure your audience knows we’re not talking about consent. Yeah. So let’s put that over there. Yeah. We’re talking in the business world that there’s always an opportunity to get your foot in the door. And so when I was, when I wanted to be a coach, I didn’t get the job. They said no a bunch of times. So you know what I did? I volunteered, I worked for free. And a month before or two weeks before the season started, the coach left and they were stuck. They didn’t have anybody else. They paid me less than the scholarship of my athletes. So as the head coach, I was the lowest paid person on that team, but I didn’t care. Yeah. All I wanted was an opportunity. And when I got the opportunity, I took the most of it.

Dr. Ivan Joseph (25:51):

I worked like a dog. We won the conference championship that year. We were 13 and one first ever championship they ever won. I was the conference coach of the year. Right. So recognized that, you know, no meant not yet. But what did I do while they said no? I went and got the coaching courses, I went and got the coaching license. I read this book about coaching. I spent an and learned this about coaching. I watched games on TV to learn and do everything I could. So when the opportunity gave me a small crack, I was ready to take advantage of it.

Sam Demma (26:25):

I love that. So powerful. And you talk about this in your summit, the speech you did, I think it was for jack.org back in May 5th, 2020. A young lady asked you the question, you know, how do you, how do you find what you love doing? There’s so many different, you know, opportunities available and there’s so many different options and you gave some awesome advice about, you know, maybe you volunteer and you know, that’s how it started. For you, what is your advice around helping, you know, maybe students or young people find what they’re good at or what they love doing?

Dr. Ivan Joseph (26:56):

I say we all know what we love because it’s the thing that we do. And all of a sudden time flies. Mm. In sports psychology, we call it flow. When have you ever done something, it’s like, oh my gosh, I can’t believe that. Like, where did the hour go? Yeah. Whether that’s reading a book, whether that’s playing your hockey, playing your game, like, my gosh, what are those activities that put you in the state of flow that you look forward to doing and you can’t wait? You know what they are? Put a make a list of them. When I, when that was asked for me, what do I volunteer to do? And I couldn’t believe it was soccer. You can’t make a living as a soccer coach. This is 25 years ago. I tell you that, that soccer coach led to me being and making a ton of money, which I never wanted to do. That wasn’t the reason I was driven towards it. But what happens is, when you do what you love, excellence happens. And when you become the best at what you do, people are willing to pay for the, for that service. And so, I I just remind you that even though you think, well, I can’t make a living doing what you love, there’s always a way.

Sam Demma (28:03):

I think it’s Russell Brunson, this guy who does a lot of internet marketing, he started a company called ClickFunnels. He, he started a business teaching people how to make potato launchers <laugh>. And this is the first thing he did. And, and I remember just reading it in one of his books, expert Secrets, him talking about there’s almost some market or an opportunity in every single field. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> what matters is how much you’re willing to give of your time, your effort, your energy towards becoming a master in that thing. Because there’s no, there’s no, there’s no job position just waiting for you. Sure there’s jobs out there, but I think you create it through your actions that you take every single day, day in and day out. Yes. and you’ve created a wonderful career for yourself. And I want to take this interview down a professional route for a second.

Sam Demma (28:53):

Yeah. Over the, over the past four years, I’ve been obsessed with helping students become real world ready, trying to figure out what makes a high performing young person. And based on my own personal success and conversations that I’m having with, you know, phenomenal humans like yourself, I’m taking this assumption and I’m putting it to the test. and so I wanna test this assumption here with you today. There’s six characteristics. All I wanna know is, do you think this thing was foundational to your success? And how did you develop it over the past couple of years? so here’s the first one, and you’re already someone who does this day in and day out for your job, but it’s professional and persuasive communication. So I believe that a high performing student, performer, athlete, whoever it is, has to have the ability to effectively share ideas with others that not only inform them, but inspire them to move into action. And you speak all around the world. So is professional communication something that has been foundational to your success? And how did you develop it as a skill?

Dr. Ivan Joseph (29:52):

A hundred percent. Right. Persuasive communication. And I will say it this way, I would put the other side of that as well. And maybe you have it in one of your six. It’s not just persuasive communication, it’s also empathetic communication. Hmm. Persuasive and empathetic because empathetic in insinuates that I’m listening and I’m hearing and I’m able to speak to the things that matter and resonate with the people. Hmm. And that is really key. Right. Because you can’t be persuasive if you don’t know what matters to the other person. I love that. Okay. So how did I put, how did I get when I was a teacher, when I was a professor, I probably did four or five different one hour lectures a day for 10 years.

Sam Demma (30:34):

Yep.

Dr. Ivan Joseph (30:35):

So I got to be really good repetition, repetition, repetition, <affirmative> repetition.

Sam Demma (30:40):

Mm-hmm. <affirmative> and variation. I’m sure you’re giving different lectures all the time, which helps you

Dr. Ivan Joseph (30:45):

All the time. All the time. And I never wrote ’em down. I’ve studied them, but I wanted them to be authentic and novel. And so, and I evaluated that didn’t work. That was no good. Okay. This was really good. Let me, let me do this part again.

Sam Demma (30:59):

Love that. Okay. That’s phenomenal. And thank you for the the additional feedback. If anything that I mentioned sparks a new idea or an extended version of the principle, please share. the second assumption is that these people have the trait of taking care of their mental and physical health, meaning they exercise their mind and their body. Yeah. Has that been something that’s been foundational to your success? And how did you develop the habit of exercising, meditating, and all these amazing actions that we should all take?

Dr. Ivan Joseph (31:29):

Yeah, and I like that you said meditating because that’s that mental, that’s the physical, it’s the spiritual. And so work-life balance is really important. I think that we recognize that, you know, we must work hard, we must work hard. That’s the only way to get ahead. But if you don’t shut it down, if you don’t restore, you don’t get the great ideas. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And so that’s a really important piece. And so I haven’t gone out to say, I love to exercise. I don’t work out for the sake of working out. I play, I get my workout through play. Love it. Whether that’s playing on a soccer league, whether that’s whitewater canoeing, that’s, whether that’s playing squash, that’s my jam. But that’s my space for flow. Recognize that your workout might be something completely different. Don’t think that if you’re not doing physical exercise, you’re not good. Your workout might be mental. Just you’re the puzzle person. You’re the crossword person. What it is, is a thing that allows you to get to that stage where you restore and regenerate your soul and your spirit. So I really believe that’s a key principle.

Sam Demma (32:26):

I love that. I love that analogy too, that everyone gets it a little bit differently from different sources. One of the criticisms I had of a lot of self-help books were that they tell you that you have to wake up at a specific hour in the morning and do these three specific exercises in this row, and you’ll have a successful life. And I think it’s so false, right? We all have a goal in a morning routine to feel a specific type of emotion Yeah. Or to cultivate a specific type of belief. And there’s so many different activities that you could do to help you attain that goal. and I think it also applies like you’re saying to mental and physical wellbeing. So I love that. The third the third assumption is emotional intelligence. So these are, these are performers. These are people who are aware of how they feel and can give themselves a little bit of space to recognize the emotion and take action to support that emotion or despite the emotion. So you know how to say no properly, how to say yes. how to understand how other people are feeling in relation to a situation. I think there’s a ton of different definitions of emotional intelligence, but we’ll just define it as being self-aware. has that been foundational? And how did you develop that awareness?

Dr. Ivan Joseph (33:38):

Well, that’s a, you know, I don’t know how I developed it, but I, I think what I call is emotional awareness or intelligence. I call it insights. Mm. right. The ability to read the room, the ability to pick up when you’re being too much or too little, or when to walk away, when to push, when to just let this person have their moment because it’ll avoid a conflict. And that’s time for another conversation. You know, I think one of the things is in order to have insight, you have to be reflective. You have to really evaluate, well, that went wrong, or, I did really well there, what happened? Because I don’t know if you can read a book and say, this is who I am. But I think if you’re really insightful, you start to reflect on where you screwed up, where you hit it out of the park, ah, I didn’t get what I needed. Let me try it this way next time. And that’s how you acquire that level of emotional intelligence.

Sam Demma (34:30):

Hmm. I love that you talk about it in your book, or was it the interview with Louis? Hows the, the gut feelings, right? Yes. and you mentioned that when you shy away from those or act despite those little, you know, those little voices in your head or those gut feelings, that things typically go wrong

Dr. Ivan Joseph (34:48):

Every time,

Sam Demma (34:49):

Still holds true.

Dr. Ivan Joseph (34:50):

Every, every single time. It usually ends up costing me more money. Makes me unhappier gives me great frustration. Yeah.

Sam Demma (34:58):

Cool. Very cool. <laugh> love that. fourth assumption is that these, these students are grounded in the present moment, meaning they take lots of action daily mm-hmm. <affirmative>, but they do have goals and a vision that they’re working towards. So they have a future focus. I’m, I’m assuming from day one you wrote things down on paper and, you know, had goals and visions for yourself before anyone else even believed in you. but is that something that you think has been foundational to your progress and success And, and what, what made you from day one, grab a pen and paper and start writing things down that you wanted to happen in the future, if you can remember?

Dr. Ivan Joseph (35:33):

Well, yeah, I’ll say it wasn’t from day one. It was after I flunked out and was embarrassed and was ashamed and he was humiliated and I needed to start over. And when I needed to start over, I said, well, what am I gonna change? What am I gonna move and how am I gonna respond and react to this? So hitting rock bottom and reacting to failure, put me in this path. And then I started writing one year goals, three to five year goals and 10 year goals. I always do my, my goals in those three buckets, right. Because I want to have a long-term plan so I know where I’m going. You know, if I want to be a college university president, I better sit on a university panel that searches what they look like now. So in 10 years I can see what they’re looking for. I have time to start prepping myself. Mm. When I wanted to be a L’Oreal vice president, you know what I needed to get certain skills, I better start getting those skills now. So three years from now, I’m ready for when the opportunity comes. And so I’m a big believer in writing down your goals and not just your long-term ones and, but your short-term ones, but here’s the key, Sam, not too many. Mm-hmm. Because then you won’t become an expert in anything.

Sam Demma (36:41):

Yeah. It’s like the whole idea of don’t go a mile wide. Go a mile deep. Yes. and ah, it’s so true. And I hear it so much over and over again, and I love it. It’s such an important thing to remind yourself of. perfect. The fifth characteristic is building strong habits. Right? Excellence comes not from what we do once, but what we do day in and day out, even when we don’t feel like it. Do you think that habits have played a huge part in your life? Or do you act more sporadically? and has that been foundational to your success?

Dr. Ivan Joseph (37:15):

Well, I’ll say it this way, I wouldn’t say it’s habits. Okay. Right. I would say it’s values. Hmm. The values drive my consistent response and behavior to things. Cool. And so, because you know how they, I’ve tried 30 days to find a habit, 30 days to be, I like I, I tried to work out or be a vegetarian for 30 days. They’re they 31, thank God that’s over. Yeah. Right. I work out, I work out, I work out. I did 30 days of pushup, 40 days of pushup. Soon as I missed three days in a row, that habit’s gone. Yeah. Right. And so that is the one I’ll say that I struggle with. And it doesn’t mean it’s right, but I will say that habits are typically something that are about behavior. Mm. And what drives behavior for me isn’t habits, it’s values. Mm. And that is the key. And what I mean by values is you’re the core beliefs about who I am, what I’m about.

Sam Demma (38:06):

I love that. So key, so important. And I think, I think back to a situation that didn’t align with my values, that forced me to make a decision out of a couple things. I think of a relationship that I had that I, that I recently ended. I think about a speaker agent who, a speaker agency who at first I had written down, you know, I’m gonna be represented by these people and I’m super excited. And then they approached me with the contract and the terms totally did not, not align with my values or the vision I created for myself. And there was this internal conflict that just stirred up in me. And right away I was questioning everything <laugh>. And I had everyone in my life telling me, you have to do this and you have to do that, and you should do this. And then I couldn’t sleep at night knowing that it, I was about to go against that gut voice that I had. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. so I think knowing what your values are and taking actions based on those and in alignment with those is what’s really important. Is what you’re saying. Yeah.

Dr. Ivan Joseph (39:04):

For

Sam Demma (39:05):

Me. Okay. Yeah. No, I totally agree. I love that the, the fifth, the fifth, the sixth, the sixth characteristic that I believe is super important is being a perpetual learner. So someone who is one, always open to feedback, cuz you’re gonna learn from feedback, but two, reading consuming information, whether it’s podcasts, books, speeches you know, even something like this kind of sparked the idea at the, at the end of your book, you have a list of your favorite reads, and I think there’s six or seven books listed there. I think perpetual learners are people who read one book and then have six more that get added to their list, <laugh> Yes. That they wanna read in the future. do you think that that’s been foundational in your success? And how did you cultivate that desire to want to learn? It’s a lot easier to grab a b a bag of Lay’s chips and watch Netflix all day. <laugh>

Dr. Ivan Joseph (39:54):

No, you’re still, I, I’m glad this one is last because this is the one that needs to stick. Hmm. Right. you, I say often when I coach soccer, sometimes I win. Most times I learn. Hmm. Right. And, and this is the key, right? Learning helps sets you up for success if you’re willing to approach it really in a student-centric perspective. Meaning I’m here to learn not just from reading a book, not just from watching a podcast, but in every single aspect and interaction that you have. I remember watching a Disney movie, oh, I love the way he said this about Simba and leadership. How can I employ that to my soccer game? I remember watching and reading Graham Henry’s book on legacy from the New Zealand, all Blacks. How am I gonna use this about how I build culture? We can’t learn enough and learning should never stop. I think about all my great mentors, some of them are 70, 80 years old and all the work they’re doing, and you know, in the old days it used to be just reading books. But in today’s world, it’s YouTube, it’s podcast, it’s Instagram, wherever it is. But make it an f make it a a thing for you to do and make it a part of your routine.

Sam Demma (41:07):

Hmm. I love that. And was that desire cultivated in you because you came to a realization that you wanted to know more, you wanted to learn more. Was it, was it a teacher that prompted you to it or was it because you failed? Like, because like, I tell students this all the time, but sometimes the switch doesn’t go off. And I’m curious to know what the trigger is to help someone understand like, learning is, is, is necessary <laugh>, you know, it’s needed.

Dr. Ivan Joseph (41:32):

Well, I’ve got intrinsic motivation, meaning I always want to be the best. Cool. And in order to be the best, I I don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Yeah. Who else has done this and what can I learn in order to expedite my learning, my advancement, my progress? Because I could still do it, but what might take 10 years of me trial and error. I could shorten the one year by somebody’s teachable moments. And I think that’s really important. And if you’re not a book reader, then find a mentor and apprentice because that learning can happen the same way, maybe even better.

Sam Demma (42:06):

I often say mentorship is probably the, the lost form of teaching. Maybe watch it in movies, whether it’s Star Wars with OB one Kenobi or the Karate Kid, Mr. Miyagi. Right. so that’s awesome that you’re, you’re enthusiastic about that. Yeah. Those are the six As, those are my six principles, six assumptions. I’m curious to know, and I’m not gonna put you on the spot if one doesn’t come to mind, but is there anything that you would instantly add to that list?

Dr. Ivan Joseph (42:32):

Yeah, I think the, for me it’s that whole thing about you are steeped in grit and resilience. Hmm. Meaning how you respond to f failure setbacks, you know, that’s my jam. Whether you call it confidence, whether you call it mental toughness, resiliency, grit, hardiness. But that is a key piece that should be part of your mantra because whether you like it or not, you could be as, as insightful and as persuasive as you want. You will experience failure as you progress through life. And your response to that, your coping mechanism will really determine whether you continue on your path or you jump off and you give up.

Sam Demma (43:11):

I love it. No, that’s awesome. And you have a course coming out for students? I think, I believe it’s coming out in the spring or sometime in the future. Yeah. what, what is it all about? Tell us more. if you’re listening, tell the listener where they could find it as well.

Dr. Ivan Joseph (43:26):

Sure. the Skill of Self-Confidence masterclass, if you go on my website, dr ivan joseph.com, you can go ahead and there’ll be a time where you’ll sign up for that. And I think it’s coming out this spring, I should know that sort of stuff. <laugh> or you, if you were just saying, you know what, I’d just rather learn about this confidence. I don’t wanna join and pay money for a class go to dr ivan joseph.com front slash confidence and you could download a a workbook, 15 steps to self-confidence free workbook for you.

Sam Demma (43:54):

And if you’re wondering, I’ve downloaded it as well for the, for the listener, and it’s phenomenal. So definitely check it out. Ton of great gold in there. Yeah. It’s, it’s, it’s good stuff. And if someone just wants to connect with you or maybe even ask a question what would be the best way for them to do so?

Dr. Ivan Joseph (44:09):

You know, you can find me in all the socials. @DrIvanJoseph is my handle on Instagram. @DrIvanJoseph is my handle on Twitter, so I’m out there LinkedIn, anyone. And I’m happy to respond and, and give any feedback that you folks might want.

Sam Demma (44:24):

You talk about an Apple video that was featured, I believe it was 1966 and 97 97. That’s my, that’s my dad’s birthday. I shouldn’t forget that one. <laugh>. <laugh>, you know, here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the troublemakers. I just wanna say I hold you to that regard and yeah. This was phenomenal. Thank you so much for taking the time to do this, and I look forward to continue reading your books as you publish them and taking some of your courses in the future.

Dr. Ivan Joseph (44:52):

Thanks, Sam, appreciate it. You did a great job. Thanks for having me.

Sam Demma (44:55):

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 Dr. Ivan Joseph

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.

Sarah Wells – Olympic Athlete, Speaker and Founder of the Believe Initiative

Sarah Wells - Olympic Athlete, Speaker and Founder of the Believe Initiative
About Sarah Wells

Obstacles don’t scare Sarah Wells (@SarahWells400mh). As a 400m hurdler, this Olympian’s reputation was forged through overcoming challenges and achieving the incredible. Take her debut at the London Olympics in 2012, which came despite an injury that had her sidelined her for months just the year before.

Outside of competitive sports, this athlete is coaching people to pursue excellence through the Believe Initiative, an organization founded on—fittingly—a message of resilience. Most recently you would have seen Sarah pushing her limits on the latest season of The Amazing Race Canada.

Evidently someone who understands the importance of building resilience and self-belief, along with the power of purpose, you’ll want to listen-up when this Olympic semi-finalist and Pan Am Games silver medallist takes the stage.

Connect with Sarah: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter | Facebook

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

sarahwells.ca

London Olympics

The Believe Initiative

Become a Chapter Head – Believe Initiative

The Amazing Race Canada

Pan Am Games

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 is a very special interview with a very special educator. She is not one that works directly in the classroom every day as a teacher or a principal or support staff, but she works with thousands of young people every single year with an amazing program called The Believe Initiative. I’m so honored to call this individual a very close friend of mine. Her name is Sarah Wells; might ring a bell. Obstacles don’t scare Sarah Wells. As a 400 meter hurdler, this Olympian’s reputation was forged through overcoming challenges and achieving the incredible. She debuted at the London Olympics in 2012, which happened despite an injury that had her sidelined for months, just the year before. Outside of competitive sports, she’s coaching people to pursue excellence through the Believe initiative, which you’ll hear about today. An organization founded on a message of resilience. Most recently, you would’ve seen Sarah pushing her limits on the latest season of the Amazing Race Canada. She is a phenomenal speaker to youth and organizations and has so many amazing stories to share. I hope you enjoy this conversation with my good friend Sarah, and I will see you on the other side. Sarah, why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about what it is that you do.

Sarah Wells (01:32):

So, my name is Sarah Wells. I am an Olympic 400 meter hurdler. I am a adoring fan of Mr. Sam Demma <laugh>. No, I’m honored to be here really. Excited to share a bit of my story, who, where I got started, honestly, in track and field. I wasn’t good at any sports and I had a high school teacher see me in gym class and he was like, you need to do track and field. And at that point, it was early into my high school experience, like it was like near the end of grade nine. And I had already been cut from every single high school team, like basketball, volleyball, soccer, badminton, cut from every team. So when the teacher is like, you should, you should come to the track team, I was like, no dude, I already got cut from every team at this school. <laugh>

Sarah Wells (02:16):

Like, you don’t want me on your team. And he was like, no, no, no. I just saw you run to the ball, do nothing with it, <laugh>, but then run away like really fast again so you can accelerate. I I wanna teach you how to hurdle. Hmm. And so I was like, okay, sure. So I go out and I end up finding hurdles and falling in love with the sport and end up setting my sights eventually on the Olympic games. And that high school teacher and I, we stayed coach athlete for the next nine years until we made the Olympics together, which is pretty unheard of and not, you know, your classic story. But yeah, it was a wild ride. I was convinced I wasn’t athletic and then suddenly I was <laugh>.

Sam Demma (02:56):

And at what point did you turn back and decide it’s time for, for me to share these experiences and stories with other people? You speak for clients like r BBC and huge schools and you start your own initiatives that we’ll talk about later as well. At what point did you turn back around and say it’s time to share and give back in speaking?

Sarah Wells (03:12):

So I was kind of head down into sport once I realized that I had some potential. But once I made the Olympics, I had a story to tell of what had gone on. And you know, the <laugh> short form of that is really, I had an injury. I sat out for what was supposed to be three months and turned into nine months. Wow. And I had never touched Olympic standard before. And so everyone was telling me like, you’ve just sat out for nearly a whole year, like you’re not gonna make it. And on my first day back to training, I got the word believe tattooed on my wrist. And I said, when I make the Olympic Games, I’m gonna put the Olympic rings underneath here. And six months later, <laugh> you know, shockingly even to myself, I make the Olympic games. And I finished that tattoo and I put the Olympic rings underneath exactly where I said I would.

Sarah Wells (03:59):

And so I’m like, holy mo, believing in yourself works. And my parents, they were really proud and so they were te telling their friends what I had done. And my parents’ friends were like, come talk to my kids’ school. And so I was like, okay. And so I walk into a gymnasium, I’m like, this is what happened. And like, I got a tattoo. Don’t get a tattoo though. Don’t tell your parents. I told you that <laugh> and like, just believe in yourself because if you believe in yourself, you achieve your goals. Look, I did it and I started sharing that story. And for four years while I was still training cuz I wanted to make a second Olympic games I was getting to speak and share that and inspire others and realize, you know, how powerful this what had happened to me could be used for good to help inspire other people. And so it was so exciting and it helped me fund my training and training camps and, and competitions and helped me continue to develop and get faster and stronger. And, you know, right before my next Olympics at it was the 2015 PanAm games, I ended up winning a silver medal and only losing to the number one ranker in the world. And so it really set me up to be like, okay, the next Olympics, 2016 Rio Olympics, I plan to go win a medal and call it a career and speak all I can <laugh>.

Sam Demma (05:12):

That’s so cool. I gotta be honest with you, when I think about any running athlete, like the first thing that comes to mind is like, fors, Gump, <laugh>. I’m just like running for hours. And I’m curious to know because as a soccer player myself, like training is fundamental to the game. Like, if you don’t train, if you don’t go to a track and you don’t run, you don’t become a faster sprinter. You know, you have to go to the track and you have to run. But I have to imagine that there’s, there’s certain days where like the running just became so melodic and you just, you know, it was like, it was like you didn’t wanna do it. Like I have to imagine there was times where you just didn’t wanna do it. And how did you get yourself through those moments and continue to push yourself past your limits every training session to get to where you were when you competed in the games?

Sarah Wells (05:55):

Oh yeah. There was a thousand moments I could probably think of, of days. I was just like, dang, why do I do this? Like this sucks. Like I laugh at the shirt that one like Nike made that shirt for runners that said, running sucks. <laugh>, <laugh>. Cause it does, it sucks. It’s so hard. Like, and it’s like a bunch of other teachers that say like, my sport is your sports punishment. Like that is what track and field is. Yeah. And even though I just joked about how I wasn’t good at sports and then I just said like, eventually I found track and field, it’s like I wasn’t good at sports, I was good at exercising <laugh>, I was good at just running, you know, and being able to put in work. And it wasn’t always fun. Like you said, there was many days I wanted to give up and just say like, ugh.

Sarah Wells (06:36):

So it’d be so much better if I could just like stretch for the whole practice, you know? Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, like, I don’t wanna push my body hard. But the ways I was able to rise above that in moments you just really didn’t want to was I think kind of twofold. Like one, there’s a little bit a around the like remembering your goal and like picturing yourself, like vividly picturing yourself what it’s gonna feel like and look like when you do get that goal. Mm-hmm. And there was moments in workouts where like I would show up kind of like a soggy cracker, like, ugh, am my coach, I wanna cracker <laugh>. Yeah. That’s saving a lot. and I would just be like, I don’t wanna be here today. Like I’d be cranky for whatever reason, maybe I had a bad work at the previous day or I didn’t get a good sleep and my coach would be like, you know what?

Sarah Wells (07:28):

Like get to it. Like I don’t care. Like this is what it’s gonna take. And what he would do sometimes is mid interval, like we’re approaching the end, this is where I’m, I’m wearing thin on grit and motivation and energy and I remember specifically this one workout we were doing hills and you are basically walking by the time you get to the top of this hill, like it is so challenging. We had done a bunch of figure eights, like you run diagonally all the way across and all the way up and then you jog down and you run diagonally all the way across and all the way up to draw figure eight. And we had to do like six sets of this and it was terrible. And I had already thrown up, I think at this point once <laugh>. And so I had to keep going.

Sarah Wells (08:06):

And my coach, I remember this like second last interval, which is one of the hardest intervals because you’re not done, you still have one more, but you’re so beat by that point. And so it’s like one of, it’s the second last interval, I’m running up this hill and as I like am getting to the top, I wanna give up, he can see I’m slowing down and he just yells to me 55 seconds, which is the time I needed to run in order to make the Olympic games. And it’s just like, just hearing him yell that in the moment, I was like, I’m tired, I’m exhausted, I don’t wanna keep going. But the second he yelled 55 seconds, it just anchored it all back to like, why am I doing this? What is this gonna help me? What brick does this help lay? And finished that workout and was like so pleased with myself of like, because he said that I didn’t give up because he said that I crushed the last workout or the last run.

Sarah Wells (08:56):

And like, I think a big part of how you push forward on any day, you don’t feel like doing your homework. You don’t feel like going to school, you don’t feel like doing the job that you signed up to do, you know, is by remembering like vividly what is the thing that this lays a brick for, whether it’s in a week from now, a month from now, a year from now, whatever that is. so that’s one thing. The, the second thing is a bit more anchored, less big picture and long term and more tangible on like a daily, weekly practice is I would keep a workout journal that would have, what was my workout? What times did I run, how was I feeling during the workout? And what I could do is every training season is cyclical. Like you have a base season where you do a long, like a bunch of hard long intervals.

Sarah Wells (09:44):

Then you have specific season where you’re doing, it’s kind of long and it’s really fast. And then you have kind of race season where you’re doing less volume but really high intensity and you follow these cycles every year. And so the workouts might be mildly different, but they’re a little bit the same at each time of year. And so I would keep a log and I could look back years and years worth of my, of my log and say, look, at this time of year last year I was only at this point and I don’t feel like running today, but look how much further ahead I am. Where else can I go? What other new heights can I reach? Or it holds you accountable of like, ugh, I was faster at this point last year. I need to keep going as much as I don’t wanna work out today.

Sarah Wells (10:25):

If I have this big goal then I, I need to push today. Like regardless of whether I wanna be here or not. And it just is a little bit of an accountability partner being held to that log. And you know, it might not be a daily practice for you if you’re doing this like with school or anything like that, but I would encourage you to keep a log of like things you were working on, what went well, what were the practices you were doing like character building practices, not like athletic sport practices that were enabling you to become the best version of yourself that were enabling you to take a step forward in your goals. And when you can see that and look back of like, oh, last fall in September I was so organized and I was committed to blocking time to work on school and I was committed to networking and reaching out to organizations I could volunteer at so that I was building my brand and my volunteer opportunities, then you can suddenly motivate yourself to be like, shoot, I better be doing that again. And you can push on the days you don’t want to because you’re held accountable to what you know works cuz you have tangible qualitative science to show that it does. So that’s really the kind of the two ways I would push beyond motivation is one remembering and anchoring to that big goal vividly. And the second thing would be keeping a log so you can hold yourself accountable to things that work and things that don’t.

Sam Demma (11:43):

Sorry. Do you have a second tattoo that says 55 seconds somewhere <laugh>?

Sarah Wells (11:49):

No, not yet. Not

Sam Demma (11:50):

Yet. That’s awesome. So cool. I love that.

Sarah Wells (11:52):

Love my believe tattoo. I’ll share this like quick story by I got the tattoo and I had been injured and my parents knew I wanted to make the Olympic games, but they really didn’t believe it was possible. They really didn’t like, not that they don’t love me, but I don’t really don’t think that they believed that it was possible. And I, I got the tattoo secretly. I finished my very first after the doctor cleared me to run, I finished my first workout and I was like, you know what I’m doing? I took my friend and I was like, let’s go. And I walked right from the practice to the tattoo parlor. I didn’t have an appointment. I literally walked in and I’m like, I need a tattoo blue, I believe on my wrist. So I get it. I didn’t tell anyone. And then I was at school so my parents didn’t see me. And I went home at Thanksgiving and I showed my dad and I got this believed tattoo and my dad said, you ruined Thanksgiving. <laugh> <laugh>. It was amazing. It was like kind of hilarious because yeah, he did not believe that was necessary. No pun fan. He’s a fan of the tattoo. Yeah, right. Yeah. Yeah. He’s a big fan now though. He’s like, that’s awesome. Great job. Love that. You made the Olympics good work.

Sam Demma (12:56):

Yeah. Now, now it all makes sense, right? It’s funny, I, when I was 18 after my first knee surgery, I got this tattoo and it’s a, it’s a Latin phrase. Yeah. and it says Vinke keur, which means he who endures, conquers, you know, if you can endure pain, suffering, hardship training, now you can conquer and <laugh>. Well, did I know that I was gonna stop playing soccer after two more injuries, but <laugh> But I applied to all areas in life. Like I think it’s a, it’s a mindset Yeah. More than anything. Totally. But I’m curious, like from your perspective, what do you think makes up the mindset of an Olympic athlete? Like if I was to take some surgical equipment and like poke your brain and like figure out like what makes up Sarah’s mindset what do you think, what do you think the things are that would be included?

Sarah Wells (13:42):

So I think there’s, there’s people really put Olympic athletes on a pedestal Yeah. And think that they’re these like special humans that they must ha like you just ask me, can you get into my brain and look around and say our brains are gonna look very similar. Yeah. Like anyone, like while Olympic athletes, yes, it is a, is a unique thing that we are one of the best in the world at one specific thing. But so many of us, we had opportunities presented to us that we were able to, to take advantage of. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And there’s a professor, a Canadian professor that studies resilience that talks about how we admire the rugged individual, but we should be admiring the resourced individual. And really it’s about resilience and grit and all of that. Like there there’s some nature aspect of it of like, yes, someone might be willing to to harness or take advantage of an opportunity that’s presented them.

Sarah Wells (14:45):

They might be more inclined to do so. But it’s more about are those resources presented to the person? Like that’s how you can be resilient is when you have more opportunity, when you have resources in front of you. Now someone might say then, okay, so am I screwed? I’m in an underprivileged neighborhood and my school system doesn’t have a lot of things in front of me. Like, am I screwed? Then it’s like, well no, because there are, there are resources that like now it’s just like unfortunate that you have to take more of a role in choosing to go find those resources. Mm. But don’t blame yourself of like, I’m not resilient because like clearly I don’t know how to push past challenges clearly I don’t know what to do. Like, instead it’s like, okay, get, just acknowledge that it’s not, it’s not you, you’re not the person who’s not resilient.

Sarah Wells (15:35):

You’re not the person that’s not rugged, you’re not the person that’s not gritty. There’s not enough resources. And so ask for help in that moment. Like, I had a year where after having a very successful high school career, when I went to university, I got hurt right away. Like within the first few months I got injured and it was one of my first like really big injuries and I didn’t perform provincial on that provincial level. I like barely performed well on the national level. And I was so convinced, like, okay, it was the end of the road. I was a good high school athlete, this is it for me. And I had coaching staff and in a support system around me that never stopped believing in me. Mm-hmm. And they kept pouring resources into me. They kept providing the opportunities, they kept putting me on the track because one of my coaches said, talent doesn’t go away.

Sarah Wells (16:27):

And he said that to me. Did I believe it in that moment? No way. If you looked in my brain then, oh, let’s look for the grit in here. It wasn’t there. <laugh>. Yeah. It wasn’t there. What I had was, I had this amazing coach around me that said, talent doesn’t go away, Sarah, go get back on the track, try again, do it again. Do it again. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> until suddenly I realized myself like, oh shoot, he’s right. <laugh>, here it is. I found it. It took a while though. And so I think asking for help, like I I, when my coach said, look, what do you need? When I said I I just don’t know if I can make it. And he was like, Sarah, tell lets go away. What do you need? I said, I just need reminders. I just need you to keep telling me that this is possible then.

Sarah Wells (17:07):

And by doing that, I was able to open a door to find, to have him understand what I needed and then I got the resources I needed to then be resilient and be gritty and become an Olympic athlete. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And so as we are all struggling with how do we be gritty? How do we become more resilient? How do we become more resourced? It’s like ask for help. And it, you know, ask for help has become quite trend right now on, on the like mental health space. And, and I think it’s so important there, but it doesn’t have to be like asking for help. Cuz I’m like, I’m so struggling that I’m like in the deep end over here, but asking for help for like literally simple things like, oh, you know what? I ha you, I could come into practice one day and be like, I’m having a rough day today.

Sarah Wells (17:49):

So in the last interval, remind me my big goal mm-hmm. <affirmative>, because you know what? I’m gonna start to let go of it then I’m just gonna, it’s gonna start slipping. And so I could at the beginning of practice, just tell my coach, Hey, I’m gonna need you to remind me why we’re here today. And because having him there, because he would remind me of that, like those external resources is like really what helped me get to the place I’m in. And even what I’m doing now, and I know we’re gonna get to that in a bit. Like, I’ve now built a youth organization and we help others build resilience and self-belief. Even what I’m doing now and how I’ve been able to build this organization and impact 120,000 youth and get on stages and do all these incredible things, it’s not because of me, it’s because of amazing people.

Sarah Wells (18:32):

I’ve like said, Hey, this is the mission I’m on. This is what I’d like to do. I don’t know how I’m gonna get there. But just so you know, <laugh>, that’s what I’m planning on doing <laugh>. And because I say that out loud because I’m brave enough to believe in myself and just put it out there, even though it might not come true, well suddenly that person who hears it is like, oh, I know someone you should talk to that might be able to help you with X. Oh, actually you wanna do that? I specialize in that. No way. Crazy. Yeah. And then I’m like, leapfrogging forward has nothing to do. Like, I won’t say nothing. My mom would be so mad at me, Sarah, you should be more. She would be like, want to. Yeah, exactly. You gotta believe in yourself isn’t your whole thing. Yeah, exactly. and I do like, I do believe in myself. I, I constantly say like, I believe I, if anyone can do this, I believe it’s me, but I believe I can do it because I’m willing to put the goal out there to ask for help and find the resources necessary. And I think, you know, if you looked inside of the, the mindset of an Olympic athlete, I think you would find an incredible incredible ability to ask and receive help.

Sam Demma (19:41):

Hmm. That’s such an interesting play on the idea. And I, I love that you went that way with it. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, it, it even got me thinking about this idea that like, you could be so prepared, right? Like the fastest runner in the world may have never mm-hmm. <affirmative> ran on a track and we just don’t know it yet. Like there could be someone who’s faster than Ussein Bolt who is better at swimming than Michael Phelps and Yeah. And, and we just don’t know it. Why? Because maybe they’ve never been presented with the opportunity to swim or run or mm-hmm. <affirmative>, they didn’t even know it was a thing and they haven’t asked for help. Right. You know what I mean? Like, I think it’s oh hundred percent. That’s such an interesting perspective. So asking for help and the mindset piece aside, what does your schedule look like back when you’re like full out training for the Olympics? Like, what does the work look like? Because I’m, I wanna make sure everyone listening knows, like despite the fact that you asked for help when you had opportunities, you still had to show up and like give your heart out to the training process every day.

Sarah Wells (20:40):

Yeah, absolutely. It was a ton of work and, and you have to be putting in, you have to be willing to put in that work. and I certainly was, my coach would probably tell you that there was workouts. I would come cause I would be so like if I had a bad workout the previous day or I had a bad race, then to me, like the only way to get better is like, you just push your body like crazy. Like I just wanna give it everything tomorrow, <laugh>. And so like there was days I showed up to the track and I would be like, I wanna run today till I throw up. I was just so committed to the thing. He’s like, okay, you crazy person. and of course we had a program and the way that program was lined out is we trained like five or six days of, of the week depending on time of year.

Sarah Wells (21:20):

So if it was base training season, we might, we trained six days a week with one day off. If it was closer to race time, we would, we would take two days off because you wanna have even more recovery to be ready for your race. So in, in the fall, I’ll paint, I’ll paint you kind of that picture, but so Mondays would be like speed. We would be doing like fast, like 60 meter sprints, 40 meter sprints, like block starts, like super, super speed. and that’s really about pushing the glass ceiling of your ability to go fast. You’re recruiting more muscles. you’re learning how to connect your nervous system to develop power and be like quick outta the blocks, kind of that stuff. So that day is speed and it includes weights and stuff. Tuesday would be lactic threshold. So if you’ve ever tried to run as hard as you can and your muscles start feeling like goopy full of like a burning sensation that’s lactic acid <laugh>.

Sarah Wells (22:15):

It’s like a milky kind of substance that goes all over your muscles that prevents oxygen from being able to like get inside of the muscles. And so as you run your hardest and fastest, your body develops, lactic it, it produces lactic acid, it starts making your muscles kind of milky and you have to train the system to then say, as it gets milky, take that milk and then turn it into energy. <laugh> learning that system is a it, you have to train your body to learn how to do that. So Tuesdays are brutal because all I’m trying to do is teach my body how to deal with that misery and pain and uncomfort and like discomfort. And like, my goodness, it’s a rough day tho those days I would hang out in your garbage cans over top of ’em a lot. So Tuesdays was terrible. Wednesdays would be like weights, like it would be pretty light, really focused on strength.

Sarah Wells (23:01):

Thursdays would be speed based, but this time it would be long speed. And so it wouldn’t be about 60 meters. It wouldn’t be about 40 meters, it would be about 220 meters. So it would be half my race, but all out. And so, you know, it would be a a rough, you’d, like, you’d still be put in a lot of work. You’d, your nervous system would be exhausted by the end. Friday, again a very like kind of light day because we wanna prepare for Saturday, which is another day, like Tuesday, which is the muscle milky, get to a garbage can and throw up at the end like, and not <laugh>. Now I’m making a picture like as if like two times a week I’m constantly running, but like certain times of the season that was the case. but yeah, you followed this, this and then Sunday off recover.

Sarah Wells (23:48):

You know, and for me, anyone who knows me knows I’m a treats fanatic and so I’d be like eating chocolate chip pancakes or breakfast on Sunday and <laugh>, you know, eating dessert at dinner and like ice cream galore and you know, it wasn’t the best fuel ever, but I, I couldn’t eat garbage on the day I had to do a workout because I would feel worse and, or I would throw it up <laugh> and so it would be Sunday I was like a yeah sleep, do schoolwork and try to like eat the food that I wanted. so that’s what a, a overarching week would look like. Now in a four hour practice, five hour practice, it would be my warmup alone takes like an hour where you’re doing jogging and drills and ankle mobility stuff and just getting ready, primed to go. And then once you’ve done that hour long warmup, well now you do a few biometrics to work on recruiting muscles and, and fast off the ground kind of stuff.

Sarah Wells (24:46):

Then you would do sprint drills so that you start training your body because when you’re running really fast, it’s hard to rewire the way you move your body. So we’d do sprint drills before we’d even sprint to try to like anchor in the way you should be sprinting. And then I would do hurdle technique drills because I’m a hurdler, so there’s a whole technique side around that. And so then I would have to do those drills. Then I might start doing reaction time stuff out of the blocks. I’ve just done my plyometrics. I’ve just rewired my brain of like, this is how you should be sprinting so that I do my out of the block stuff. Now I might actually start my runs. And so I would do things that we call strides, which would be at a certain pace. Cause whatever workout we’re about to do, we wanna start priming our body to prepare to run at a certain pace.

Sarah Wells (25:29):

So we do strides at a certain, like, okay, if I wanna be running 13 second one hundreds or cuz I’m about to run a 300 that I, I wanna be able to run 42, 41 seconds with like, and I need to be doing that. So I would do strides. Then we’d take like five to eight minutes recovery to like, almost just reset that your heart rate kind of come back to normal. And then after that five to eight minutes, now you start the actual interval training. And now the interval training is the like, you know, run milky body, you wanna die curl up in a corner. So like, depending on what the workout is like that can take, it could take an hour, take an hour and a half, like who knows how long that ends up taking depending on what the workout is. and you’re not running for the whole hour, an hour and a half, but the faster you run, the more recovery time you need.

Sarah Wells (26:17):

But that recovery time isn’t spent like just chilling on the sidelines because if you ran really fast, you’re, you’re in cheetah mode, right? So you run super hard, you throw up, you curl up in a corner, you feel like you’re gonna die, you’re waiting for your heart rate to come down before you have to walk to the start line and do it again. And I’m painting a very like dr. Dramatic picture and it’s not like that all the time, but I wanted to like give you the, the a day that we would go through more than one time a week.

Sam Demma (26:41):

I love that. It’s awesome.

Sarah Wells (26:43):

<laugh>. Then we’d finish the intervals and now we would do our like cool down jogs. We’d do med ball circuits. You’re throwing around that really heavy medicine ball. And then you go down to the weight room, finish your weights, then you get into a cold tub where you go above your belly button, full tub of like ice, icy covered water. Stay in there for 10 minutes and then you try to warm up, like get back, get your muscles back to like normal temperature and go fuel protein, carbohydrates. Like get ready for your next session.

Sam Demma (27:14):

<laugh>.

Sarah Wells (27:14):

That’s crazy.

Sam Demma (27:16):

<laugh>. You can write a whole book on it <laugh>. That’s so cool. what would you tell someone listening right now who has been told that what they wanna do with their life isn’t possible? Like I’m sure that, you know, when you don’t believe in yourself, you have little chance but mm-hmm. <affirmative>, you know, when you don’t believe in yourself and other people are telling you it’s not possible, but you know, there’s a student listening who still wants to do something. Like what, what would you tell them? What pieces of advice could you share?

Sarah Wells (27:44):

I would say find someone to show you what’s possible. Hmm. And what I say, what I mean by that is I had this perception in my brain. I wasn’t good at sports, right? I wasn’t good at sports. So how am I ever gonna be an Olympian? Like Olympians, they’re superheroes, they’re people that have perfect seasons and they never get injured and they’re, they win every race and they’re the best in the world. You know, they, they can’t have a bad day. They’re the best in the world. If you’re the best in the world, you don’t lose to Sally on your team because Sally on your team isn’t making the Olympics. And if you lose to Sally, you’re not going to the Olympics. And guess what, Sarah, you’ve been sitting out for a year so there’s no way you’re going to the Olympics and all of that.

Sarah Wells (28:24):

I believed all of that had to be perfect, had to be flawless Olympians pedestal. And then in 2008, four years before I made the Olympics, I had a teammate who I trained with day in, day out. I saw him get injured, I saw him miss training. Sometimes I saw him lose races. Guess what happened? He made the Beijing Olympics on a not flawless season on a you know, moments of defeat, moments of whatever. And he still made it. And he showed me what’s possible. Hmm. He helped me realize that you don’t have to be perfect and it’s, you have to work hard. You have to like want it, you have to do the thing, the things that you can do, but doesn’t have to be perfect. And as impossible as it may seem, cuz halfway through the season, I don’t think people thought he was gonna make it either.

Sarah Wells (29:13):

And then he did. And so it was like he showed me what’s possible. And so the next four years it was like, head down, let’s do this. And then when I got rocked <laugh> the year before, it was like absolutely. People told me it was impossible. I thought it was impossible at times. But I also just like tried to keep reminding myself of this thing of like, what he had shown me, how much like you did not have to be flawless. And of course like that, that sense of self-belief, like, okay, and mom, I don’t need you to believe in me. I believe in myself right now, you know, <laugh>. Yeah. And so while it’s hard to see and people are telling you it’s impossible and you yourself might feel it’s impossible, I would encourage you to just like, you know, we, we have such privilege and opportunity to have access to so many resources online through social media like YouTube, like podcasts that show you what’s possible. And so if you feel right now your goal is impossible, like go research someone who’s done what you wanna do, because I bet you there’s someone out there that maybe hasn’t done the exact thing you wanna do, but has done something in that ballpark, has done something in that arena or has reached the same height in a different industry or capacity in some way. And it’s just like by, by fostering a bit of that, that spark, you remind yourself what’s possible.

Sam Demma (30:30):

Hmm. I think what’s so unique is that you’ve now created an entire organization that gives that feeling to thousands of young people like <laugh>, like if they don’t believe in themselves, like you come in and you like, you like shove the belief in them <laugh> if that’s the right way to put it. But like, tell me about the Belief Initiative and what it looked like when it started, what it looks like, what it looks like right now mm-hmm. <affirmative> and why you’re super passionate about it.

Sarah Wells (30:59):

Cool. So I mean, yeah, the Believe Initiative came about for, for a few reasons. Like one I, that high school teacher that saw me in gym Classon told me to do track and field. That teacher believed in me before I ever believed in myself. And so the Believe Initiative can really play a role in being that coach for as many people as possible because of what we talked about. Resources are important, having access to opportunities are important and not everyone’s gonna have that coach or teacher in their high school. So how can I come into as many high schools as possible and be that teacher for them and say, Hey, try out for that thing. Go do that thing, pursue that passion. Show yourself what’s possible kind of thing. So it, it really, it has like an spark in an essence way back from the first time I ever even explored the support of check meal.

Sarah Wells (31:44):

It also comes from, I told you the story here and now about how I made the Olympics. but there’s another story of how I, four years later don’t make the Olympics. Hmm. And it was shocking to me because I was in the best shape of my life and as I had mentioned previously, I had just come off winning a PanAm game silver medal. And so I was supposed to, and I’m using air quotes right now for the audio listeners, I was supposed to win a medal. And so when I didn’t even make the Olympics <laugh>, it was, it was I don’t know, like I felt completely defeated and I felt I had failed and I thought I had lied to people because previously I had been telling people, if you believe in yourself, you achieve your goals. Hmm. And now I believed in myself and I did not achieve my goal.

Sarah Wells (32:27):

And so when this happened, I actually took a whole year off sport. I quit sport for a year. And in that year off I did a ton of reflection and thinking and I realized you don’t build self-belief through achievements. You build self-belief through action. Mm. Because I actually believed myself more strongly after not making the Olympics even more so than when I did <laugh>. And I think that’s cuz you build it through, you build self-belief through action. And I was willing to go to the Olympic trials a like in the 2016 year when I ended up not qualifying. I was willing to not let my circumstances define my outcome to go for it anyways. And so I was like, oh, okay, like you build self-belief through action. How can I help other people build self-belief through action? And that’s when the Belief Initiative was founded and I was like, I wanna help students connect a passion they have and a problem they wanna solve and they can use that passion to solve that problem and build self-belief through action.

Sarah Wells (33:23):

Hmm. And so we started this out by just going into schools and doing like one-off assemblies. Like, okay, this is how I believed in myself, this is how you can believe in yourself here. Let’s talk about ideas that you have that how you can build self-belief through action. And it started like that and then it grew and it grew and we signed a corporate partner that allowed us to do cross country tours. And we’ve been in like most provinces in Canada and a handful of states. And we went way up in Northwest Territories in like, you know, 40 degrees north of the Arctic Circle. We did authentic Dogsledding. It was so cool <laugh>. but you know, it’s been so, I’ve been so fortunate to travel all over and get to inspire young people everywhere. And when Covid hit, we couldn’t go into schools and we couldn’t do what I had been doing, which was more of these like tour based summit experiences.

Sarah Wells (34:13):

And teachers were also completely overwhelmed and did not want to, nothing did not have time or energy or resources to be able to deliver this program with their students. And so I totally get that <laugh>, I completely understand. It’s like been a wonky year. And so what we’ve decided to do is actually say, okay, if teachers are overwhelmed, well there’s some pretty awesome students out there that they can, they can lead this. Like why do we need the teachers? We don’t need them. And so, you know, if you’re listening to this and you are a student and you are a student leader looking for a leadership opportunity, like we want you, because the way that this works now is we have students apply to become a Believe chapter head. And you lead that chapter and we give you the training and resources and everything you possibly need to run a successful chapter.

Sarah Wells (35:03):

You have other peers, you get access to chapter heads from all across the country, actually all across North America. Cause we have some US chapters as well. Nice. And you can run this belief chapter at your school, you get a leadership opportunity. We actually provide you different training and access to mentors and things like that. And then you get to empower your chapter members to build these believe passion projects, which helps them connect that passion. They have problem they wanna solve and they use the passion to solve the problem. So the chapter heads, they really become the champions because while we enable them and equip them, they really are the the ones that help gather these members and then empower them to do really great things in the community. And it’s a great story for them to tell as a leader to say, Hey, university applicant application.

Sarah Wells (35:48):

Like, here’s what I’ve done and here’s how many students I’ve inspired as a young person. And it’s been so cool to see on my end because I used to be limited by how many planes I could get on and days I could be in a school and how many, you know, days I could spend overnight in an airport. But now it’s like with being able to empower these other, these amazing student leaders and I’ve no doubt, whoever you are listening on the other end of this you student leader. Yes. You, I would like you to apply <laugh> to become a chapter head because it’s this incredible group and it’s been so cool to watch the chapter Heads from All Over, connect and support each other and share best practices. And so you know, personal plug here, you can go to believe in aship.com and if you hit the Believe leadership tab, you’ll find where you can apply and become a belief chapter at your school or in your community.

Sam Demma (36:40):

I love that. And I just wanna plug you times too <laugh> you know, not only will you be able to have awesome stuff on your resume and you know, build an awesome initiative in your school, but like your peers will look at you like a freaking hero for <laugh> for bringing something together during a time where everyone is so far apart, you know Right. Physically and emotionally. yeah. So I feel like this is needed now more than ever. And so if you’re listening to this, like take it as a sign, take it as a signal to go to Believe initiative.com, sign up become a chapter ahead, spearhead an initiative at your school and also meet Sarah Wells, the freaking Olympian <laugh>, you know, it’d be pretty cool. so I love that. That’s amazing. And you’ve impacted 120,000 students so far, is that, is that right?

Sarah Wells (37:32):

Yeah, 120,000 students. we’ve had like approaching 10,000 students who have initiated projects. Yes. we haven’t been able to track impact of projects on everything, but we just started tracking it in the fall. And so just, you know, 2020 fall we had projects that impacted 19,000 people. And so that’s, that’s only tracking the projects we had in the fall <laugh>. And so I know it’s gonna go far and wide from there and we’re gonna start tracking and reporting that more so bigger numbers to come

Sam Demma (38:03):

<laugh>. All right, cool. Sounds good. Believe initiative.com Leadership tab?

Sarah Wells (38:07):

Yep. The Believe leadership tab.

Sam Demma (38:09):

Okay, cool. Sounds good. And if anyone wants to reach out to you, send you a, a note or a comment or a message, what would be the best way for them to do so as well?

Sarah Wells (38:18):

So I’m on Instagram and Twitter @SarahWells400mh, which is like Sarah Well’s 400 meter hurdles, which is a really big regret and I really should just change my social media handle, but I don’t think is that bad, like <laugh>, will you change your social media handles? Does everyone just be like you’re gone? But yeah, @SarahWells400mh on Instagram and Twitter and then you, you can contact me through the website as well, so.

Sam Demma (38:42):

All right. Awesome. Sarah, thank you so much for taking the time to come on here and share a little bit behind the scenes about yourself, your story, your initiative. I really appreciate it and I wish you all the best in the future.

Sarah Wells (38:53):

Thanks, Sam.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Sarah Wells

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.

Chapter One: Empty Your Backpack (Read Along)

Chapter One: Empty Your Backpack (Read Along)
About Empty Your Backpack

In Empty Your Backpack, Sam Demma demonstrates that your dreams are within reach, and it’s the beliefs you carry and the actions you take that determine whether you will achieve them.

Demma guides how to move closer to your dreams faster than you ever imagined. He shows that by cultivating empowering beliefs while committing to consistent actions that fuel your creativity and growth, you can make things happen in your life the way you envision.

Are you weighed down by people dismissing your dreams as unrealistic? You have big dreams. There are things you want to accomplish, but maybe they feel out of reach-especially when people tell you they’re impossible. That heavy feeling of doubt is your backpack. It’s full of limiting beliefs and dreams crushed by the opinions of others. It’s time to empty your backpack and release that weight from your shoulders.

Demma’s guide offers actionable ideas to help young people keep faith in their dreams even when those around them lose theirs. He reveals pathways that can help bring dreams to life and empower you to be the best version of yourself.

Empty Your Backpack is an easy-to-follow guide filled with tried-and-tested principles and inspiring stories from Demma’s remarkable life that will help you optimize your beliefs and actions to get you where you want to be.

Connect with Sam: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Empty Your Backpack on Amazon

Empty Your Backpack (Signed by Sam Demma)

Empty Your Backpack Animation

Empty Your Backpack Project

The Story that Inspired the Project

The Backpack of Beliefs

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):

Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s episode is a special one. It is not a normal interview. It is a read along from my most recently debut published book; “Empty Your Backpack.” It was released on November 18th with an in-person book launch in Pickering, Ontario. There was just under 300 people in attendance and the book has started to make its way into classrooms. We had our first class set ordered from a school in the Toronto Catholic District School Board and have sold just over 400 copies. If you enjoy reading along with me in this chapter, number one, Empty Your Backpack, please reach out and we’ll make sure to get you some books as well. Without further ado, I’m gonna go ahead and read to you chapter one, Empty Your Backpack, Belief: You Define You.

Sam Demma (00:59):

It was an ordinary evening and I wasn’t prepared for what was about to unfold. After eating supper with my family, I returned to my office in the basement to prepare for an Instagram live. That night I was being interviewed by a young leader and we’d be talking about leadership, the importance of service, and helpful ideas for young dreamers. In the first 40 minutes of the interview, there was great conversation and lots of laughs. Then we invited viewers to ask questions or share a little bit about themselves. One viewer jumped on and explained that they had two goals in life to become an actor and to get 50,000 followers on social media. I politely challenged the person to explain what gaining followers would help them accomplish. What they shared blew me away. If I became an actor and had thousands of followers on social media, people at school would stop bullying me and calling me a loser.

Sam Demma (01:55):

This person explained that their life was filled with bullies, that they spent most of their time crying and that they had considered ending their life on many occasions. They then turned off their camera and went silent. The hairs on my arms stood tall. I could feel their pain through my screen and my eyes welled with tears. I found myself at a loss for words. This bright young individual had considered ending their life because of other people’s hurtful words. Those words repeated over and over became personal beliefs, beliefs that they carried with them. The interviewer and I reassured this individual that everyone watching loved them and wanted to see them do well, and then we shared some resources that would allow them to find the help they needed that was beyond what we could provide. After the call ended, I couldn’t get this situation outta my mind.

Sam Demma (02:47):

I felt compelled to reflect on my experiences dealing with words that other people used to define me. What I wish I could have helped that viewer believe in that moment is that other people’s words don’t define your worth. Words are meaningless jumbles of letters until you the person hearing them give them power. Often the negative things people say about you are a reflection of their own internal battles and have little or nothing to do with you. How would your life change if you truly believe that and allowed others words to slip off your back like books in an open upside down backpack, your invisible backpack? Each of us walk around with an invisible backpack strapped to our shoulders. In this bag, we carry our experiences which inform our beliefs. We also carry the beliefs, expectations, and opinions that other people give to us, some good and some bad.

Sam Demma (03:45):

These also inform our own beliefs. Other people’s words can hold real weight. If you let them, they can become bricks that you carry on your back and they can occupy space in your mind. They can stop you from acting or they can propel you forward. Words can unify a divided nation or cause mass destruction. Unfortunately, as humans, we tend to give more energy and attention to the negative things people say about us rather than the positive things. This is the negativity bias. It explains why you can forget hundreds of compliments but not the one terrible thing someone said about you. Like most humans, you probably spend a disproportionate amount of time focused on the one negative comment wondering what’s wrong with you, rather than feeling grateful for all the positive ones. After I speak at conferences in schools, attendees often fill out feedback forms to rate my performance.

Sam Demma (04:40):

I’ll never forget the feedback from one event I did in Alberta. It was all extremely positive except for one comment, typical motivational speaker. The last thing I aim to be is typical, so I took this comment to heart. It made me feel sad and frustrated. It wasn’t extremely negative and the event organizer still hired me to speak the following year, but I spent over an hour thinking about that comment and allowing it to bother me before I shifted my focus. Maybe you can relate. Maybe you got a fantastic grade on a test but couldn’t get over that one stupid mistake you made. Maybe you’ve allowed the negativity in your life to overshadow all the spectacular things that make you you. Maybe you’ve been carrying around hurtful words in your invisible backpack and they’re weighing you down. Can you recall something negative someone said to you that had a lasting impact on your confidence and self-belief?

Sam Demma (05:38):

If you’re like me, you not only remember what the person said, but you can rebuild the entire situation in your mind. You remember the name of the person where and when it happened, and most importantly, how it made you feel. Left unaddressed. Thoughtless comments from careless people can take root your mind and over time become your limiting beliefs. Imagine that a belief that was never yours to begin with ends up being the thing holding you back and weighing you down. Even a comment someone made to you when you were a child can inform the decisions you make for the rest of your life. You might believe you’re not good at music because your parents told you that at the dinner table. You might believe you can’t play basketball because your high school coach said you are too short. You might believe you can’t build a new skill after the university because someone told you it’s too late and you should stick to what you know.

Sam Demma (06:34):

Over time, your backpack fills up and if you don’t stop to remove the beliefs that aren’t yours, you may end up living a life that’s not yours and fall short of your true potential. Shortly after my second knee surgery, my soccer coach jokingly yelled at me from the sideline in front of the entire team. Hey bud, are you going to get up off the bench and play or are you going to retire soon? At that point in my athletic career, I was routinely breaking down in tears in front of my family and friends. I’d limp around school on crutches with a bag of frozen peas strapped to my swollen knee at home, I’d perform every exercise possible to speed up my recovery so I could get back on the field to play the game. I loved the mental and physical stress of rehab. Doing an internship at a gym and driving an hour and a half to attend practice only to sit on the bench and spectate was overwhelming to say the least while on earth with the coach, the person I’m supposed to look up to and learn from, say something so needlessly hurtful.

Sam Demma (07:40):

It was comments like this along with my own mental battles that created my resentment toward the sport. My backpack became so heavy that after I decided to stop playing soccer, I unfollowed all of my former teammates on social media and block the coach. Seeing or hearing anything about that part of my life stirred up deep sadness and anger. I hope that some of my teammates read this book and realize it had nothing to do with them and everything to do with my insecurities and internal battles. It took me over two years to find my peace and rebuild myself. My grandma was the one who taught me that if you have nothing nice to say, you shouldn’t say anything at all. Now I understand what she meant. Words cut like knives when they’re aimed at insecurities and you never know what someone is going through. Just because you can’t see someone’s backpack doesn’t mean they’re not carrying it.

Sam Demma (08:33):

It’s obvious that my coach didn’t understand the impact of his words, but the negative thoughts they created stuck with me for a long time. There are still nights when I wake up in a panic from a dream about playing professional soccer. My coach’s comment isn’t the only one I’ve needed to remove from my backpack. Teachers who never taught me approached me at school reunions to offer unsolicited lectures on why I should be in school because they want what’s best for me. Relatives at picnics have tried to convince my father to encourage me back into formal education suggesting that I’m wasting my time in life. Luckily, I regularly take the time to empty my backpack and my parents continue to witness the 10 to 12 hour days that I work in my basement studio and support me without hesitation. Find peace knowing that people rarely see the full picture of your life. Let everyone share their thoughts and nod vaguely If you don’t feel like arguing, but don’t internalize or hold onto the things that stop you from following your path. It’s important to respect others, but you don’t need to consume their beliefs and opinions. You are your own best advisor. No person on this planet has gone through.

Sam Demma (09:59):

No person on this planet has gone through and experienced exactly what you have. Your experience matters. Don’t buy into the limiting belief. That experience comes from age. That’s probably a message someone put in your backpack a long time ago. Sure, time gives you an advantage because it gives you the chance to try different things, but time can also be wasted. I know 20 year olds who have had more experiences than some adults in their forties or fifties experience comes from experience, so be confident in your decisions and stop discounting the power of your beliefs and choices. Whose beliefs are you carrying? Your backpack accumulates beliefs from many sources including family, friends, school, media, religion, and most importantly, past experiences. The latter includes others’. Past experiences, often close family and friends will project their beliefs onto you, so be careful which beliefs you place in your backpack.

Sam Demma (11:00):

Let’s say your dream is to open a restaurant and you have a cousin who failed attempting something similar. Ask them if you should open a a restaurant and they’ll tell you absolutely not simply because their past experience involved failure. Find someone who runs a successful restaurant and they’ll likely tell you it’s the best business in the world. In both cases, the other people are projecting their past experiences on you in the form of their positive or limiting beliefs. Be aware that you may also come across successful people who will tell you not to pursue the thing they’re doing carefully consider their opinions as they may help you avoid a future disaster, but ultimately make your own choice. Even if they seem successful, they may not find the life they’re living meaningful. Remember, your definition of success is personal and someone else’s dissatisfaction with their work has nothing to do with you.

Sam Demma (11:54):

In this example, however, you should give the successful restaurant owner’s perspective and advice more attention than your cousins because the restaurant owner is currently doing what you wanna do. Fill in your backpack with the thoughts of people who’ve never done what you wanna do is pointless. A pilot would never ask a passenger how to fly the plane. When someone gives you unsolicited advice or tells you why you can’t do something, ask yourself, what past experience did this person have that resulted in this belief? And remember, people who are hurting often hurt others. Someone you know might be trying to tell you how to live your life because they’re dissatisfied with their own. Sometimes when a person can’t do something themself, their ego wants to believe that you can’t do it either. Don’t listen to their words or place them in your backpack. Instead, find someone successful who is doing exactly what you wanna do and ask for their advice.

Sam Demma (12:50):

The rapper La Russel said it best during our interview. Impossible is the opinion of the incapable. Start repacking. After taking other people’s negative beliefs, comments, and opinions out of your backpack, it’s time to fill it with things that will support you along your journey. The first things to repack are people who push you to grow personally and professionally. As a soccer player, I was a midfielder. My main responsibility was to receive the ball from the defense and successfully pass it forward to the offensive player so we could score goals. My coach would always yell at me, Sam, check your shoulders. He wanted to ensure I was aware of who was around me so I wouldn’t receive the ball and then turn toward an opposing player. Similarly, it’s important to constantly evaluate who’s surrounding you in your life. The people you invest time in will rub off on you whether you like it or not.

Sam Demma (13:47):

You’ll assume some of their beliefs and habits. This doesn’t mean you need to cut off all of your friends and become a lone wolf. Just take note of how your friends’ actions influence you. You want friends who will keep it real with you while also being your biggest supporters. My best friend Lucas is one of those people for me. When I decided to drop outta university, he consistently reminded me to bet on myself. He believed in my abilities more than I believed in myself, and we would make time to meet up and talk about our dreams. I’m so grateful for our friendship. You don’t need a large circle, but you need at least one person who will hold you accountable and believe in you. Next, fill your backpack with the beliefs and opinions of people who’ve achieved greatness. Their beliefs are the blueprint for success.

Sam Demma (14:36):

These can be individuals who inspire you even if you’ve never met them. Weeks after I got my driver’s license, I started driving to and from soccer practice on my own. The drive was 45 minutes each way, so every day I spent an extra hour and a half in the car. That quiet time alone inspired me to begin listening to podcasts. One of my favorites was the Sports Motivation Podcast, hosted by a former professional football player, Niho Bo. In each episode, he’d break down the mindset and habits you need to dominate your sport and reach high level performance. I made a habit of arriving at practice 15 to 30 minutes early so I could jot down notes from the podcast in a Dollar store notebook. I still have those notes and eventually Nee became a personal mentor. He’s responsible for a large part of my belief system in early business success.

Sam Demma (15:26):

On average, I consumed two to three hours of music and interviews daily, and I encourage you to listen to and watch content that reinforces powerful thoughts and helps you dream bigger, find role models you relate to, and listen to their content on repeat. Emptying and refilling your backpack starts with awareness over the next few days, weeks and months, try to catch yourself. When a negative belief enters your mind, write it down and spend some time figuring out where it came from. Once you see that it’s not yours, let it go. Remove it from your backpack. Set aside time to do this again and again until you reach your goals and find peace of mind, life becomes more meaningful when you stop carrying around and acting on other people’s thoughts and opinions. The fact is, no one cares about your life as much as you do, and along your journey people will say negative things.

Sam Demma (16:20):

People might tell you that your dreams are stupid. They might call you ugly or a loser. What you do with their words is up to you. Be selective about which ones go into your backpack. Their words do not and never will. Define your worth. From this day forward, whenever you feel your backpack getting heavy, flip it upside down, allowing the unsupportive words and beliefs to quickly slide out and onto the pavement behind you. Emptying your backpack is a lifelong process. Chapter one, takeaways other people’s words, don’t define your worth. The negative things people say about you are a reflection of their own internal battles and have little to do with you. You have an invisible backpack strapped to your shoulders. Check it often to see what beliefs you’re carrying along your journey. Take out the ones that are weighing you down. Other people’s beliefs are often a projection of their own past experiences. Not all opinions are equal. Repack your backpack with supportive friends, inspiring media, and the beliefs and opinions of people who are currently living your definition of success. In the next chapter, we’ll explore a belief that will help you navigate another reality that can be very uncomfortable. Your journey will look different from everyone else’s

Sam Demma (17:46):

<laugh>. I did not just clap for myself on my own podcast <laugh>. I hope you enjoyed listening to me read chapter one of Empty Your Backpack. Feel free to share this episode with your class to listen to it all together to have a meaningful discussion about what it means to empty your backpack and what it actually means to have a backpack at all strapped to your shoulders in the first place. If you’re looking for some follow up activities that can go along with this audio recording, please send me a message, and if you’re at all interested in buying some copies of the book, you can do so on Amazon and by searching Empty Your Backpack, or if you’d like a class set or signed versions, you can go to shop.samdemma.com. Again, that’s shop.samdemma.com and buy them directly from me or send me an email at sam@samdemma.com. Have an amazing rest of your day. I hope it’s a very productive one, and wherever your journey in life takes you next, make sure that your backpack remains empty. I will see you next week on another episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Sam Demma

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

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):

<laugh>.

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.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Hoi Leung

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.

Jeremy and Lynn Hayes – Two Incredible Humans Pioneering the Allie Sunshine Project

Jeremy and Lynn Hayes - Two Incredible Humans Pioneering the Allie Sunshine Project
About the Allie Sunshine Project

The Allie Sunshine Project is a not-for-profit organization, and its core purpose is to ignite learning and wellness. They create events and initiatives within Windsor-Essex County that provide a nurturing and educational experience for the body, mind, and spirit, within the self and with others. Their organization is energized by the living legacies of every one of our Rays of Sunshine, who are dedicated volunteers. They make their work possible and embody the spirit of our organization’s core values as wellness explorers. For more information: https://thealliesunshineproject.com/ 

Connect with Jeremy and Lynn: Email | Instagram | Facebook

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Habitat for Humanity Windsor-Essex

How to Build a Healing Garden – PennState Extension

SelfDesign Learning Foundation

Brent Cameron’s “WonderTree” and Virtual High

Margaret J. Wheatley Books

Empty Your Backpack by Sam Demma

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):

Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator Podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s interview is a very special one because it is the first time, the first time ever that I’m interviewing a mom and a son on the podcast at the same time. Jeremy Hayes and Lynn Hayes are two of the amazing humans, two of the visionaries behind the Allie Sunshine Project. The Allie Sunshine Project is inspired by educator and wellness pioneer Allison Hayes, known as Allie Sunshine, for her unique ability to share her light and positive energy with everyone she met while she was still on this planet. The Allie Sunshine Project is a not-for-profit organization, and their core purpose is to ignite learning and wellness. They do this by creating events and initiatives within the Windsor Essex County that provide a nurturing and educational experience for the body, mind, and spirit within the self, and with others.

Sam Demma (01:09):

Their goal, their mission statement, is to inspire a network of wellness explorers through creating and participating in projects in the community that nurture self-healing and capture learning opportunities again, for the body, mind, and spirit. They do this through nature, shared wisdom, and living legacies. Three things which we’ll talk about today. And through those three things, they empower humanity to choose personal wellness. I was so inspired after my conversation with Jeremy and Lynn that I put on my boots and I went for a hike through the forest. I hope and know that you will have a similar experience after listening to this amazing conversation. I will see you on the other side. Put on some headphones and enjoy. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator. Today we have two very special guests that were recommended by a past guest; Anita Bondi. Their names are Jeremy Hayes and Lynn Hayes. Jeremy, Lynn, please introduce yourselves and share a little bit about the work that you do with your amazing organization.

Jeremy Hayes (02:18):

Awesome. Thank you so much, Sam. Thanks for having us. And thanks to Anita for recognizing us as educators. We’re not traditional educators currently, but yeah, we’re definitely working in education and it’s great to be recognized. My name’s Jeremy Hayes and I’m the visionary Director of the Allie Sunshine Project, and by day I’m a salesperson in the greenhouse industry out in Lemington. So to introduce myself and how I got into education, I, after high school, I was working as a machinery operator and not really feeling it, and I was facing winter layoffs and decided to go back to school, and I went to St.Clair College and really caught the bug. I, as, as soon as I sat in those classes where, you know, I was able to choose my own major, I, I just felt a vibe and knew that I wanted to teach at the post-secondary level or some, in some applied way in the future.

Jeremy Hayes (03:30):

and so fast forward from 1999 to 2013, and my great-aunt who is a enthusiastic educator and lifelong learner, she she had always been coaching me, kind of prodding me, grooming me for something something that she saw in me. And so she had recently started on the board of the Self Design Graduate Institute, which was founded based on the principles of Brent Cameron’s Wonder Tree and Virtual High, which were learner directed K to eight and nine to 12 bricks and mortar schools that he founded in Vancouver, British Columbia. And they realized that those learners, after finishing their undergrad, wouldn’t have anywhere to go that was learner directed. So they said, let’s set up a, a graduate institute that is completely learner directed. And so she said, Jeremy, I think you’d be perfect for this. And that was in 2013 at the time.

Jeremy Hayes (04:41):

so I had completed a college diploma and a, and an undergrad, so it was kind of perfect timing for me. I was, I was married Toran at the time, who was a educator. And so we looked at doing that doing that together mm-hmm. <affirmative>. but she you know, she had been living really vibrantly with an ongoing illness for a number of years, for almost a decade at that point. but it progressed. And in 2015, she passed away and almost immediately after she passed the family flanged up, and her brother said, you know, what are we gonna do? are we gonna collect donations at the funeral and give them to a charity? Or he, he suggested that we actually start an organization. And so, at that, at that time, in that moment the Ali Sunshine Project was born and it was born largely because we had been the family and the friends had been so impacted by Allison and her spirit and energy that she, she brought to every situation that she was in and the way that she educated in the classroom and beyond in all of her relationships.

Jeremy Hayes (06:06):

She really had a vested interest in, in everybody that she connected with. And it was as her husband, I got to see her do that over and over and over again. And she just really believed in, people believed in their goals, and she would, you know, ask you what, what your dreams were, and she’d follow up with you. And so that was where the Ali Sunshine Project was born. And in the days and months following, as we were trying to figure out what to do I decided to enroll in the Self Design Graduate Institute and dedicate my Masters of Arts in Education to exploring how we built the Sunshine Project and what that meant. And so it wasn’t long after that I got role in my great Aunt Flore and I cooked up a plan to rope my mom into the mix <laugh>. Cause she, being, she being a retired grade school teacher, was perfect for some continuing education. And I knew that she would love it. And so I put the full court press on and had aunt Flore worked the back channels. And I’ll hand it, I’ll hand it over to Lynn to, to talk a little bit about her experience.

Lynn Hayes (07:25):

Hi. Well, teaching for me is a lifelong calling. I loved school as a child, and role played my favorite teachers at every opportunity I had. Right out of high school I went to teachers college and became an elementary school teacher, and worked in that field for 40 years. During that time, I taught all ages from kindergarten through to grade seven, and were also worked in adult education through our local University, teaching a program called Education Through Music, which really explored how children learn in a dynamic, vibrant way. In retirement, I continue this journey of learning and teaching in all my relationships, and especially as grandmother of my four grandsons. And in my role, my current role as the education team lead of the Allie Sunshine Project. When Jeremy suggested I join him in this Self Design Graduate Institute program, it was the perfect opportunity to fulfill my goal of completing a master’s degree, and to explore what would be next in my learning journey. The research question that motivated our study was how have we inspired a community of explorers to choose wellness with nature, emergent learning, shared wisdom, and living legacy. Today, we will share with you some highlights of how we answered this and continue how we continue to explore the answers to our questions along the way. I think I could go on, I don’t know what we want. I can do talk about learning what a learning community is, or Jeremy,

Sam Demma (08:58):

That’s, that’s a perfect introduction to yourself and your background, and I appreciate you sharing that. one, you mentioned four things there that kind of peak my interests. can you both speak maybe a little bit on the importance of nature and how that has become one of the big pillars of your research question? And maybe we can go through all four of them very, very briefly.

Jeremy Hayes (09:22):

Perfect. Yeah, for sure. I’ll, I’ll I’ll jump in and, and tackle that one. nature was something that we were personally, personally I was always kind of interested in, but never never had a a really close relationship with nature. And so it was something that I wanted to develop, you know, a little bit more personally. And I had an interest in agriculture. I was interested in agriculture from an early age. And so, but I, I was coming at nature from more of a scientific understanding rather than more of a spiritual connection. And so that was something that I was trying to develop for myself at the same time as sharing that passion with the, the rest of the team in the Ali Sunshine Project and the people, our, you know, our, our members and anybody that we engaged with patrons that came to our events or participated in our projects.

Jeremy Hayes (10:27):

One of our first one of our first events that we put together was called The Planting Wellness. we, we initially called it the, the plant giveaway, and be that I had some connections in Lemington. we rounded up some some seeds and got some plants growing. And we were yeah, just set up an event kind of like a nursery style with tomatoes, carrots, peppers, everything under the sun. different stuff that we had never seen or grown before. to give people an experience that they could take home with them and and, and start that relationship with nature on their own to, you know, just break down those walls of our, our Western perception in nature is so, it’s so, so sterile, and it’s so mechanistic, and it’s black and white, and we really objectify nature the way that our language you know, names all of the, the different animals, like they’re a thing.

Jeremy Hayes (11:37):

where what we’ve come to learn is that some, some other cultures, they, they don’t objectify. those they treat them as sentient beings, and they, they, they treat them as an equal and opposite other the tree has a life. the, the plant is, is alive and is a living, being a creature, not a thing. and so we’ve, we’ve come to understand some of the barriers to developing that relationship. And then along that path, we’re we’re doing through our events and our projects we’re looking to break down those barriers. And one of the experiences that really punctuated that for me was you know, this was largely a, a grieving journey, was a grief project. Not that it’s come to be so much more than that. But in the beginning, we were you know, building a community and largely sharing in the grief of missing Allison in the garden.

Jeremy Hayes (12:47):

you know, as the, as the leader of the organization we were planting a vegetable garden and had been doing this for a number of years. When I just realized there was a lot of stress, the plants would all come in, we’d distribute them at the event, and then we would try and plant, you know, as many of ’em as we could before they died. And whatever didn’t make it, we’d throw on the compost pile. And that particular spring our kale plants were having a rough go. And they were malnourished and eaten the bits by the, by by some bugs. And so we had to take the kale plants outta the garden and throw ’em on the compost heap. And I, I really took that on the chin because I felt like it was a bit of my disorganization that maybe planted a month too late and didn’t water ’em on time.

Jeremy Hayes (13:40):

so I was a little saddened by that. But then I took ’em over to the compost pile, and their growing wonderfully fruitfully was kale plant that we had thrown away a month earlier and not even looked at and didn’t water. It didn’t fertilize, it didn’t do anything to it, but nature had shown us the way that nature provides everything that we need if we’re if the conditions are perfect. And for me, it was such a metaphor that I don’t need to be scared of nature, nature’s not the boogeyman. Everything that we need is there, not just for our sustenance, but for our, for our spiritual growth and for our inspiration. there are so many lessons that were there for me in that compost pile because it’s, it’s ironic that it’s a pile of dead bodies. It’s a pile of dead plants, Sam, and it’s being decomposed actively by bugs and microbes that are transforming that death into new life, and providing the nutrients that were those old bodies of those plants in an available form to that new kale plant.

Jeremy Hayes (14:58):

And that was all happening and has been happening for millennia on this planet without me and my watering can, and all my wishes and hopes and dreams. So I’ve just, I’ve really come to, it was like a, a breakthrough moment for me to be able to relax into my relationship with nature and trust that I am a part of nature. And that you know, this life is so much, so much of this life. The Art of living is about knowing what to conserve and what to release to the compost heap. And so I was able to really process a lot of my grief in that moment. And nature helped me with that. And I was also able to gain a lot of insights about just, you know, loosening up on how hard I press to control things in the garden and in my life in general, that everything’s gonna, everything’s gonna work out.

Sam Demma (16:02):

Wow. Who knew a ka plant in the compost bin could bring so much thoughts. <laugh>, it’s such a cool reflection, and I’m so grateful that you shared that. Lynn, what about yourself with, with, with the connection to nature? Has that been something that you’ve had your whole life, or did you find it

Lynn Hayes (16:20):

Recently? Well, it, it is something I had as a child. I think children do that naturally. Yeah. But over the years, it got pushed aside. And, you know, I wasn’t outside that much. My job was indoors. You come home, you work in your house. and part of our studies, we took a eco psychology course with Hillary Layton, and that experience brought us to a deeper connection with nature and experience ourselves. one of her requirements, part of the course was to do site sitting. We had to choose a spot in nature and sit there for 30 minutes a day, every day, no matter what the weather for 30 days in a row, and just be there and see what happens. So for me, this was when the importance of being connected to nature moved from my head to my heart. I chose a spot on the bank of a creek that’s in my backyard, and I had lived there for 25 years, but had probably never done this. Never sat. So I sat on the ground with my back against the trunk of a tree, and the tree that beck and me come sit here. And it was so powerful. I was overcome with a deep sadness as all that surrounded me in that space, whispered to my soul, welcome back. We missed you.

Sam Demma (17:41):

Mm, there’s a continue.

Lynn Hayes (17:46):

 so that was just where it, it I understood it at a deep level that it wasn’t, we, I didn’t feel it was lip surface. It was a deep conviction to the power, the healing power of nature, nature, what it has to teach us. And now this awareness allowed us to be different in how we were leading our organization.

Sam Demma (18:10):

That’s awesome. There’s a really beautiful, yeah, there’s a, a really great book called The Seasons by a man named Jim Roan, and he talks about how the changing of the seasons is such a big analogy for life as well. And what you plant in the spring or in the, in the fall, you harvest in the spring. And anyway, there’s just so many cool little things that you can learn from nature, and both of you are really highlighting that right now we back onto a little ravine. And this conversation has inspired me to put my boots on afterwards and go for a walk, because I used to do it all the time, <laugh>. And I, I hope it’s inspiring the listeners as well, because for me, whenever I’d walk through nature, my nostrils would clear up. And I, I’m not, I don’t have allergies or anything, but the moment I get in there and start walking, it’s like, my body just feels alive.

Sam Demma (19:04):

 so I, yeah, I appreciate this reminder, and I think so many educators will also, the last point you raised was, and you, you said it, living, living legacy. and it immediately brought to mind a friend of mine named Cody Sheen, who wrote a book called Everyday Legacy. He worked in the funeral industry, and for years would listen to people talk about the regrets at the table after their loved ones had passed away, and they would write their eulogies and be, their eulogies would be read. And his whole philosophy after hearing this so many times was, why do we wait to create a legacy instead of living it right now? And that’s what his book is all about. And when you said Living your legacy, I immediately thought of that, but I’m curious to know what, what drove that section to be a part of your research question and how does it relate to the whole project?

Jeremy Hayes (20:00):

Yeah, Sam, thanks for asking. And I think we’re on the same wave there with Cody. I was always of the same frame of mind that it’s interesting to see how we reflect on the lives of people after they’re gone, rather than celebrate them while they’re here. And, you know, this was something that I witnessed often doing. she had yeah, she had a real gift in that way to be able to celebrate and bring her awareness to her own life as she lived it, and and live in a real conscious way. And, you know, I, I, I knew that all along, but then after she passed away, I read some of her journals and I’m like, man, this, this woman was really reflecting consciously on her day to day and and crafting her, her legacy as it unfolded.

Jeremy Hayes (21:12):

 so I, I didn’t realize at the time but well, I guess I intuitively I realized it, but it, it really sunk in once I had a chance to, to see how deeply she was reflecting. And so we, we took that we took that tip from, from Ally and wanted to make that central to the central theme in our organization and the education that we bring to our, to our members, and to the people we engage with that you have legacy that you are living currently mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And given the chance to bring your awareness to that and shape it it can be very powerful. And so we’ve also twisted that a little bit because you know, keeping in line with the, the funment of our organization, we we are a wellness organization, and so we are encouraging people to live their wellness legacy. Nice. And so we’ve, we’ve sprinkled that wellness component in there to say, you know, you know, you can develop a self-awareness that encourages yourself to have greater self worth and to continue to do that work in developing your legacy and living it on the daily.

Sam Demma (22:41):

Nice. Love that. Lynn, any additional thoughts or you think, Jim?

Lynn Hayes (22:46):

I actually, I think we, we coined a phrase called the Ripple effect because there were so many people that had been touched by Allison’s life, and it, it helped us to realize we all have a ripple effect. It’s impossible to throw a stone in a pond without seeing a ripple. And we’re, we’re a stone dropped into our spot on Earth, and just by being here, we, we are creating a legacy, and we have a ripple effect. And yeah. So

Sam Demma (23:16):

I love that. That’s such a cool idea. And sometimes, sometimes you, you know, you actually don’t see who your ripple is impacting, and it gets a little overwhelming because sometimes you might wonder, well, are the actions I’m taking right now making a difference? I, I, I think about this one time I was sitting at our family cottage on the dock, and it was pitch black outside. It was nighttime. You could see the stars and the moon, and you could hear in the distance a boat just like zooming across the lake, and the all you could hear was the boat faintly, but nothing else. And everything else was super calm. And like five minutes later, all these waves start to hit the shore. And it was just this really cool realization to me that this boat has no idea. His waves are hitting my shore while I’m sitting on the edge of my dock 10 minutes after his boat’s gone.

Sam Demma (24:15):

And it’s a cool reflection to think about how our actions every day are affecting people that we may never meet, we may never touch. And it sounds so clear that Allison did that, and I love that that’s a really central theme of your work and your organization. Jeremy, you mentioned that you slightly modified it for the organization, the phrase living your everyday wellness legacy. What does it mean to live with wellness? Or like, how do, how do we ensure we’re taking care of our wellness? are there things that you kind of recommend people do or explore? I’m just curious.

Jeremy Hayes (24:54):

Yeah, I’m gonna back that up a little bit. I appreciate the question. And it actually sparks some work that we’ve done which is, you know, really central to my passion of organizational development. And so I’ll get, I’ll get your, I’ll get your question about how we came to how, how we came to that term wellness. But one of the first courses that Mom and I co-created in exploring the Masters together was a course in conscious business. And we had been operating for almost two years at that point. And we had a mission statement right away, but we really didn’t have the essence of the organization distilled. And so we reached out to so Renee Poindexter, who is an author and educator, and she is just a, a, a dynamic educator.

Jeremy Hayes (26:00):

And so she was our faculty advisor in that exploration and conscious business. And so we, as for that course, we designed and implemented three workshop style meetings with our, with our leadership team to do that work of closely observing what we had, the projects and the events that we had undertaken to date, and how we had shown up in in doing that work to distill who we were as an organization, what it was that we were really focused on doing, and where we would end up when it all came to fruition. And it was some very careful work that that we, I mean, we had a lot of fun with it. And we put our, we put our team through some real fun paces. We did some great team building exercises along the way, and we had a lot of laughs.

Jeremy Hayes (27:01):

We had some tears and in the end, we got real clear on who we are as an organization. And we took our pretty wordy beautiful, but pretty wordy mission statement and distilled it into our core purpose to ignite learning and wellness. And to get to your question, like we debated on whether that word should be wellness or should it be wellbeing or should it be health? And we looked at all those definitions. We looked at different definitions for each word, and we put it to consensus. because in that, in that same in that same timeframe, we were developing how we communicate as well as getting clear on, on who we’re as an organization. And so we chose that word wellness very specifically because of the of the underpinning of that word to be well, and to promote greater wellness, and so that we interpret to be a wellness of body, mind, and spirit.

Jeremy Hayes (28:12):

Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And so in order to, you know, to answer your question to, to move down that path you know, we are I think that the biggest component of wellness is that self-awareness and self-worth. And when you can bring your awareness to yourself and your choices and your habits, and you can pay careful attention to how you feel in relation to your habits and your choices, and what makes you feel good and what doesn’t make you feel good. When do you have more, more energy? When do you feel like your mind is sharp? When do you feel like your head and your heart are connected? you know, what relationships in your life give you energy and what relationships drain you? Just that simple just that simple act of caring for yourself enough to be self-aware and to encourage yourself to make choices that lead to you increasing your wellness is is the work that we’re doing in this organization.

Jeremy Hayes (29:27):

that’s to answer your question, but I, I’m on a roll here because that work that we did we didn’t just distill our core purpose to ignite learning and wellness. we took that one step further. And in one of our fi in our, in our third workshop, we we bought a bunch of crazy big sunglasses, and we had our whole leadership team put on, put on the big, and we called them Glasses of Possibilities, <laugh>. one of the, one of the things that our team was having a challenge with was because we weren’t, we, we weren’t skilled leaders none of us had previous board of director’s experience mm-hmm. <affirmative> this was, this was more than we had bargained for. And for a lot of us we were bringing a lot of fears into this conversation.

Jeremy Hayes (30:21):

And so with Renee’s guidance, mom and I put this exercise together and we prefaced it with, you know, we need to really put our individual fears and hesitations to the side, and we need to ground ourselves as you know, what is best for this organization, because we may not be here tomorrow, and we need to leave this organization as a, as a gift for, for those who come in the future to lead it. And so we had our team put under glass of possibility and with eyes to the future of 30 years and beyond write down what they felt we could accomplish if everything that we were doing and had planned came to fruition. And so that that led to us distilling a vision statement that through nature, shared wisdom and living legacies, we empower humanity to choose personal wellness.

Sam Demma (31:26):

Mm.

Sam Demma (31:27):

I love it. We, we talked about the living legacy. We talked about the connection to nature. We didn’t touch on the shared wisdom piece, but before we do I loved that you put on these massive glasses during your meeting. <laugh>, I, there’s something about oversized objects I <laugh> like, it’s just, it catches the attention and it becomes like a fun thing. There’s I have a new speech that I do for students in schools, and it’s called Empty Your Backpack. And it’s a challenge to have students reflect on the beliefs they’re caring about themselves, their potential, what’s possible for them, where some of those beliefs came from. And if it’s time to let go, and I have a giant four foot red backpack that’s like the backpack of beliefs. So I resonate with like the visual and calling it the glasses of possibility, because you see through them and there’s so many bright things in the future. And I just thought that was really cool. So I wanted to make a, a note to mention that. tell me a little bit about Shared wisdom. how do we tap into that and, and what is it exactly?

Lynn Hayes (32:39):

You

Jeremy Hayes (32:40):

Jump in on that, mom? Because I remember when you didn’t even think you had wisdom <laugh>.

Lynn Hayes (32:44):

That’s, that’s right. Early on in our, our course I had submitted this reflection and the, the mentor who read it, his comments were, oh, lots of wisdom. Your wisdom is duh, da, da da. And I, I came to realize that, yeah, I’ve lived 60 some years. I do have, I’ve learned some stuff and found my voice to be able to share it. So that was, you know, when you are aware of it yourself, then you know how to lead others to find it and or to be aware of it also. So and it, it just is woven through by our studies and what we were doing, and they just came together in this beautiful affirmation of, of what we had to offer and that we were doing important work here. a couple of the things that came out of our conscious business was a quote from Fred Kaufman, that, right, right.

Lynn Hayes (33:41):

Leadership is how being rather than doing is the ultimate source of excellence. Mm. And so we, we let go of that. Like, oh, did we do enough? Did we accomplish enough the checklist thing to how are we being Mm, how are we being? And we came to understand more duly what we mean by a learning community. in the words of Margaret Mead, never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has. And in developing how we would be together, we decided to do a all our decisions by consensus. I see. And this consensus decision process is powerful. And to have new people who joined us to understand the benefit of consensus, rather than taking a vote in a vote, there’s always some losers who didn’t get heard. Because the majority, it makes the decision.

Lynn Hayes (34:39):

So we believe that we are truly stronger together, and we’ll not process progress over the learning that takes place during the process of coming to deci consensus decisions. It’s really our forum to draw out the wisdom of each person around that table. So cool, because it’s like, there’s no, being silent at a meeting leaves a big gap. It it, it disconnects the group. And so consensus decision, every voice is heard. It’s a requirement of consensus decision to say where you’re at with it and to understand, I’ve been present where the whole decision switched by one voice saying, but I’m not sure I see this. I wonder this. And it’s comes to a better spot. And we’ve operated on if you can live with it, if it makes sense to you, it goes on. If not, the decision isn’t made that day. That’s, that’s wisdom in action to like, let’s wait.

Lynn Hayes (35:37):

Let’s gather more, let’s grow in this. Let’s sit with it for a while. and in understanding the depth of what we mean by learning in community and allowing that emergent learning to happen, like emergent learning and doing it together is really, really brings out that, that wisdom. we followed the work of Margaret Wheatley who asked a really important question, how do we persevere in creating the changes we want to see in the world? And her, she offered a couple of guideposts, and the one guidepost was, learn from what you do after everything you do. Ask yourself, what did we learn? What worked, what didn’t work? Live life as a sci scientist, learning from the data that evolves. And we realized that is really what we had been doing. We cause we, we had freed ourselves to not have to have the answers, but just to be open hearted to asking the questions that were arising and doing it together just is a form for sharing your wisdom.

Sam Demma (36:45):

And I think even if you’re not a part of a organization that’s making consensus decisions and being able to put that reflection instantly into practice in a business sense, the idea you mentioned earlier, Jeremy, of journaling, like there’s one way to start collecting your wisdom or reflecting on your own experiences, even if you don’t have a board of directors. I think every educator could benefit from keeping a journal and writing down their reflections. I think about how cool it would’ve been if my grandfather kept a journal and, you know, was able to hand me 50 books and say, this is my life. If you’re interested, <laugh>. you know, not, I mean, that’s selfishly from my curiosity, but how cool it would’ve been for himself as well to just constantly reflect and tap into the wisdom of his experiences and those around him. this has been such a insightful conversation from a bird’s eye view, what are the ways in which the Ali Sun, the Ali Sunshine Project helps to ignite wellness? like is it event, is it events mainly fundraisers? Like what are the things that you guys do? Do you run programs? Like just give people an idea of the couple different things that you do?

Jeremy Hayes (38:10):

For sure. projects and events are the ones, everything that we do. we’ve got our central project is healing Garden, a one acre space on West Pike Creek Road in Lake Shore that we’ve converted into a healing garden under the guidance of Dan Binet at Windsor Essex Habitat Naturalization Network. Yes. he led a course in Build A Healing Gardens, and that’s been our home base, our outdoor classroom, our community hub. and we continue to gather there on Saturday mornings. and we connect as a, as a community. And we garden, we grow flowers, we grow plant we grow veggie plants. The veggie plants are donated to the Windsor Youth Center. and yeah, we’re market gardening, selling the, selling the flowers, and just really enjoying the space. So we’ve got a whole bunch of different garden installs and we’ve been exploring there together for years.

Jeremy Hayes (39:18):

We’re putting in an outdoor kitchen, so that’s a big one for us. Lots of fun. Nice. and then we have a, a long list of events that we host in the Healing Garden and throughout the community, we have a blood drive coming up November 26th. so if you’re interested in donating blood look us up. You can email us through the website, the ali sunshine project.com. And we have an education team, which Lin leads, and they put together a series of wellness events that have been hosted in the Healing Garden. So more to come on that front. we have a a school outreach team and they install Buddy benches at local schools. I think we’ve got seven Buddy benches installed. And those are a nonverbal bridge to Friendship for children that don’t have the social skills as developed as they need to, to be able to reach out when they are in search of belongingness. so they can sit on the bench and it’s they, the children in school know that if somebody’s sitting on the bench, they’re looking for a friend. So that’s a program that Terry and Sue Sharan have been pioneering. And they host a trivia event every fall at fo or fur in order to raise funds for that for thees. and

Sam Demma (40:55):

Yeah’s a lot. Yeah.

Lynn Hayes (40:57):

<laugh>, I, I

Jeremy Hayes (40:58):

Can, I also, I, I mentioned our planting wellness event. What, what else

Lynn Hayes (41:01):

Mom? I’d like to add to that, that along with our planting wellness, we have had a wellness fair Okay. Which invited local health practitioners and wellness people who have, some are, and people can come in and experience a mini reiki a minute, many just to know what’s available for wellness. Like, cause it’s fine to say, I wanna explore wellness, but where do I go? Who do I choose? So we bring together the local practitioners and our, our community is invited to come and see if something fits for them, give something a try. chair yoga as opposed to yoga. We offered connecting to Nature is a Garden wondering program, which was a really key thing for we felt it was parents and children coming together to explore and to answer their, their questions of wonderment and to have them do it together. so that, that is an ongoing thing. And it has life. It has changed some people’s way of parenting by seeing how what nature has to offer and to step back into your own natural learning through the eyes of your child and the wonder they explore the world with. yeah. So

Jeremy Hayes (42:13):

That’s, so you tell ’em not to get, not to get dirty. Yeah. <laugh> outta the mud.

Sam Demma (42:18):

That’s

Lynn Hayes (42:18):

Awesome. And, and you, you know, you start out thinking you’re going teach the children things, and they teach us so much, and that’s just opening that forum is is a whole world of wellness potential, right? In your own low family,

Sam Demma (42:33):

The, the work you’re doing is so important, and I hope you continue it forever, even when you guys are no longer running it and somebody else is. I’ve been inspired by this conversation so thank you so much for your time. I’m gonna put my boots on, like I said, and go for a hike. <laugh>. If someone wants to reach out, ask a question, share an idea, collaborate, what would be the email address they could send a message to?

Jeremy Hayes (43:02):

I’ve got a, one closing comment here. One of the things that really stuck with me from our, from our research and our thesis was Author and Educator Sam Crowley. He said he’s a teacher and in his Earth Day address in 2020 he said “when my students come to me and ask what can I as one person do to change the world,” he tells them, you as one person can’t not make a difference. What you think, and even the energy that flows through you is always making an impact on the world around you. And so our call to action for anybody listening is to be that change. And this is the essence of what it means to be a rare sunshine, and it’s simple to join us in being a ray of sunshine. As much as it’s powerful to do this work as an individual, it’s much more powerful when we connect as community to do this work of harnessing that positive energy and sending out those, those positive actions into the world.

Jeremy Hayes (44:18):

And so you can follow us on Facebook or Instagram. Go to the website at the alliesunshineproject.com. Sign up to be a member, sign up to donate your time to be an occasional volunteer or a dedicated volunteer. We’re currently looking for people to assist with fundraising human resources on our recruitment team. We also are looking for somebody to lead our events team, and a number of other fun and vibrant opportunities in an organization, which really is the central project. Like building this team has gone from being overwhelming to a source of great enjoyment in my life because we actually have a really well-rounded group of people that are supporting each other and doing this work, and we’re putting people in positions where we’re leveraging their unique ability and we’re giving them an experience that’s challenging and, and fulfilling. And this is it’s a, it’s a real opportunity for growth. So if anybody’s looking for volunteering experience, by all means you can reach out to me personally. My email is visionarydirector@thealliesunshineproject.com. Thanks for your time, Sam. It’s been great conversation.

Sam Demma (45:49):

Yeah. Jeremy Lynn, thank you both again for the work you’re doing. Keep it up. If I’m in the Windsor area, I will definitely be giving you a call and would love to connect. I look forward to continuing to watch the journey unfold and hopefully eating some food from the outdoor kitchen next spring. <laugh>,

Lynn Hayes (46:08):

That was wonderful, Sam. Thank you so much for having us today.

Sam Demma (46:11):

Awesome. Thank you both.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Jeremy and Lynn Hayes

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.

Jason Kupery – Director of Learning for the Palliser School Division

Jason Kupery - Director of Learning for the Palliser School Division
About Jason Kupery

Jason Kupery (@jkupery) is a Director of Learning for the Palliser School Division which serves students and families in both Southern Alberta and the city of Calgary. Jason is in his 23rd year in education and has worked as a teacher, vice principal, principal and director in his years in education. Beyond his teaching role, Jason has been heavily involved in coaching, both in the school and community, as developing and encouraging young athletes is one of his passions.

Jason believes strongly that a strengths based approach is the key to developing young people into their future potential. Students need positive influences in their lives that will not only teach them, but shape them into who they have the potential to be. Jason is dedicated to helping students find where their “deep joy and the world’s deep need meet.”

Connect with Jason: Email | Instagram | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Palliser School Division (PSD)

University of Victoria – Teacher Education Programs

University of Calgary

Mentorship for New Teachers – PSD

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 (00:03):

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 Jason Kupery. Jason is the Director of learning for the Palliser School Division, which serves students and families in both southern Alberta and the city of Calgary. Jason is in his 23rd year in education and has worked as a teacher, Vice Principal, Principal and Director in his years in education. Beyond his teaching role, Jason has been heavily involved in coaching; both in the school and community, as developing and encouraging young athletes is one of his passions. Jason believes strongly that a strength based approach is the key to developing young people into their future potential. Students need positive influences in their lives that will not only teach them, but shape them into who they have the potential to be. Jason is dedicated to helping students find where their deep joy and the world’s deep need meet and intersect. I hope you enjoy this insightful conversation with Jason and I will see you on the other side. Today we are joined by a very special guest virtually, who was recommended by another past guest; Joyce Sonata. Today’s special guest is Jason Kupery. Jason, thank you so much for coming on the show. Please start by introducing yourself and telling everyone a little bit about who you are.

Jason Kupery (01:22):

Hey Sam. Thanks for having me. Appreciate it. Happy to be here. Yeah, so as Sam said, my name is Jason Kupery and I’m a director of learning with the Palliser school division in southern Alberta. We have some schools in Calgary, and we have lots of schools in southern Alberta as well. And yeah, I just, I’ve been an educator for 23 years now. All of my time has been spent in high school. In high schools I was a teacher. I’ve been a Vice Principal, Principal, and now a director. And a large part of my responsibility is looking after high school programming, and another big rock in my portfolio would be health and wellness as well. I shared that responsibility with another colleague in my school division. And so it’s inspiring young people and seeing them grow and seeing them do that in a healthy way is definitely a passion of mine.

Sam Demma (02:20):

What got you interested in education? Did you know when you were a student, when your teachers would ask you, what do you wanna be when you grew up that you wanted to work in education?

Jason Kupery (02:32):

Yeah, that’s a good question. I always knew that I wanted to be I’m one of those weird people that is <laugh>, identifies as introverted. Okay. do like the, do like the idea of being around people and being of influence. And so when I went to school I was big into sports like yourself. and I went to, I, I grew up in Ontario and so I went to university to play football. Nice. and essentially that’s the only reason I went to university. other than, you know, there wasn’t a real academic pursuit at that time in my life. and I heard somebody else the other day say you know, I wasn’t always the greatest student and I did get myself into a bit of trouble. and, you know, those, those skills I honed around that sort of shenanigans in my life certainly made me a better educator cuz, you know, down the line you’d have kids trying to use things on you. I’m like,

Sam Demma (03:23):

I know this <laugh>,

Jason Kupery (03:24):

I don’t think, I’m not sure that’s original. I know you’re, and here’s how I know. Cause I used that once. Yeah. and so, yeah, I think it did prepare me to be a better educator. So I went, played football didn’t get a whole didn’t get a far away with that. cuz I wasn’t going for the right reasons. and so I sort of hunkered down and went to transferred schools. I stopped playing football and I got a little more serious about my my studies. I actually became a financial advisor for a while given an opportunity I had at the time of my life. But again, still knowing that I wanted to do something different. And I eventually moved to Victoria and the University of Victoria had an awesome teaching program, and I knew at that point that I needed to apply, and I was lucky enough to get into the program and had a wonderful experience there. And the rest, as I say, is history the last 23 years, I guess, have been going, going well ups and downs. And but I do love the idea, or sorry. I love being an educator and the idea of speaking to kids lives.

Sam Demma (04:38):

Victoria’s a beautiful place. I, I was there in August and behind one of the residents buildings at Vancouver Island University. There’s a bunch of wild black berries that grow. I don’t know if it was the same at Victoria University, like near or around campus, but I was just losing my mind. You can go to school and then fill a bucket of blackberries for free <laugh>, it’s,

Jason Kupery (05:02):

Yeah. No, they’re everywhere on the island for sure. Yeah. It’s a, it’s a beautiful place. I, I met my wife there and she grew up there her entire life, and she wanted to get off the island. So that was I’m, I’m now in southern Alberta in the beautiful rock. So no complaints.

Sam Demma (05:18):

So from your transition from Victoria to here, tell me about the different roles you’ve worked in education at different stages of your careers.

Jason Kupery (05:28):

Yeah, so I started out as a, as a junior teacher of course. And my first job in teaching, I had you know, you have eight blocks in a four by four traditional schedule. Nice. I had seven different preps, so I taught everything from English 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 to and so it was it was a good year. it was a busy year but it helped refine me because you have to you have to learn how to multitask no question when you’re in the classroom, of course. and it keeps you on your toes when you’re preparing for so many different subjects and things like that. So it was a wonderful time in terms of the education that I received and, and the lifelong learning that it instilled in me. but it was a lot. And of course, I also coached volleyball, basketball they had a, they had a, a floor hockey team I coached there you know, led some trips and, and those kinds of things.

Jason Kupery (06:23):

And it was wonderful because again, it’s one of those things you mentioned earlier about, you know, your vocation and your passion and that coming together. And I, that certainly solidified that. And I know for a lot of teachers it has a high turnover rate in the first few years because again, that’s a lot of work. And if you’re not totally committed it it may knock you right out of the, out of teaching altogether. Right. Mm. and I found, for me, that was refining that for me, that was, yes, this is where I need to be. this is a great deal of fun and it’s amazing interacting with young people who are learning and they’re awkward and they’re silly, and they do some really dumb things, to be honest. And you get to be Yeah, I, I can help you with that because I did those exact same things. So it’s kind a neat thing for sure.

Sam Demma (07:11):

What is, sorry, continue.

Jason Kupery (07:14):

Oh, I was just gonna say, and then after that, I, I, we moved here to I, I’m in Calgary. we moved here and just progressing through the you know, continuing to do that. You, you find a new space, you’ve grown more, you’ve teach different subjects. And I just always had it in my heart that I wanted to lead. Yeah. and I had I, that, those giftings were identified in me. I was very fortunate to have some wonderful mentors and people in my life who identified those gifts and said, Hey, you need to think about this. and so I went into to administration and then eventually to a principal role. I completed my masters at the University of Calgary, I think in 2012. I was finished. and then was, was administrator in high school. And then of course, now I’m director of learning for last seven years. So that is my progression.

Sam Demma (08:03):

When you think about the mentors in your life, I’m sure there’s so many, but are there any that had a really significant impact on you that you still stay in touch with and are in communication with? And if so, what did some of those mentors in your life do for you that had a big difference?

Jason Kupery (08:21):

Yeah. So for me that, that goes quite quite a ways back. And so I was raised in a single parent home with my mother and we didn’t have a whole lot and I didn’t have a lot of positive male influence my life at the time. And so somebody my mother worked with one of her friends at work was, she was just mentioning that to her at work, and she said, oh, my husband can come by and, and take him out and, you know, hang out with him for a bit. That’d be, and, and so that was arranged, and I think that was back in, I’m dating myself here, but that was probably back in 1986, 87, oh, sooner three maybe. anyways. And so he, that mentor is still in my life. He is grandpa to my kids.

Jason Kupery (09:04):

 he helped he helped me along the way. and so that was a very significant obviously mentor in my life and now like a father. so that was the real blessing. And along the way he’s helped me on a number of occasions. so that’s the major one. But in terms of my, my career there have been so many people that have just been, you know, when you, when you see people that have something you don’t whether that be wow. Wisdom when you’re young, right? yeah, yeah. Or just the way of dealing with people or like a, like a sober second thought, like, hang on a second, have you thought about this? Because my personality is one that, hey, we gotta get this done and I’m just gonna, you know, put my head down and charge through the plate glass window kind of deal.

Jason Kupery (09:50):

Right? And we’re gonna get it done. and there’s been so many wise people in my life that have said, hang on a sec, what if, what if we did this way? Or, or, why don’t you try and just slow this thing down a little bit so that you can help other people catch up? Right? Mm. or, you know, you proceeded too quickly and now look at what happened. You created a massive mess, and now we’ve gotta go clean it up. So what did you learn from that? Right. Which is the big thing. And so the most, the most positive people in my life have, have been the ones that, cuz I’ve made plenty of mistakes haven’t, you know, pointed a finger and screamed and, or shouted or abandoned me or whatever. They’ve said, Hey, look, that didn’t go well. So what did you learn from that? And if there’s anything that I can try and help other people with in that regard, it’s that same thing. It’s like let’s get out of the guilt and shame kind of cycles here and say, yeah, everybody screws up and it’s an important lesson for you to learn, whether you’re one of my students or whether you’re a colleague or whether you’re a friend yeah. That, that didn’t go well. So what can we learn from it and how can we how can we move on in a positive way? So,

Sam Demma (10:49):

Hmm. That’s such a good reminder. I feel like sometimes when we make a mistake, we beat ourselves up for it for way too long. I, as you were explaining, that situation reflected back on one of the biggest mistakes I made in my career, speaking <laugh>. And it was when I was just starting, I was 17, and at the time, I wasn’t using a calendar to keep track of what I had committed to. And you might be able to guess her, this is going, but I basically booked a presentation with about 300 people. Some of them were in the school board that I grew up in, and it, it was at a local, a local arena. And they called me the day of the event, Sam, we’re so excited. We know that you’re starting in about 10 minutes. we just wanted to make sure that you’re nearby.

Sam Demma (11:39):

And I had totally forgot six months ago that I had booked this engagement. I didn’t put it on my calendar. And I was like, an hour and a half drive away. I instantly started bawling my eyes out, and for about two months I would walk down from my bedroom in the morning and look at my parents and go, I can’t believe I did that. And it got to the point where my parents were like, Sam, shut up. Like, you know, we’ve heard about this 60 times now, you’re not gonna make the mistake again. And it took me so long to get out of the guilt and shame period, and into the, let me learn from this, reflect on it, and build new systems so it doesn’t happen again. And I don’t think, there was like a defining moment for me where I was like, I’m gonna stop thinking about this. And I’m curious to know, like when you’ve made a mistake or when someone that you know, in the education world’s made a mistake, how do you quickly, or maybe not quickly, but how do you transition from the beating myself up to the, let’s now learn from this and move on?

Jason Kupery (12:39):

Yeah, that’s a good question. And I’ll tell you, I wish I could tell you no, none of the, I, you know, when I make a mistake, I just let it go and I, it’s gone.

Sam Demma (12:46):

Yeah. <laugh>,

Jason Kupery (12:47):

I dwell, I’m a dweller for sure. And and everybody close to me knows that you don’t have to worry about beating up on me because I’m gonna do a better job than anybody else can, right? Yeah. and so what I do, my strategy for it is to talk to people that I trust and love, right? So that’s, that’s the biggest thing. I I, yeah, it, it’s, it’s important to have people in your life that you can, that you can chat with that you can speak openly to and transparently with. and you know, it’s super important because they understand you. And, and, and none of those people say, well, here’s what you need to do, right? Mm. that’s the biggest thing. it’s not about advice. It just, it, it’s that they understand me, they know who I am.

Jason Kupery (13:28):

So, yeah. Oh, yeah, Cooper’s gonna beat himself to death on this one, so we’re just gonna stand, we’re gonna walk beside him, we’re gonna chat with ’em, we’re gonna let ’em talk. Right? And a lot of times that’s cathartic enough to be able to just to talk to somebody, talk it through, and then real, eventually when you talk it through either with the same person or with enough people, you eventually draw your own conclusions, right? Yeah. You know what, I am being kind of silly. This is, this is not as big a deal as I think it’s right. and, you know, even when it’s a big deal, you have people that you know you can love and trust that will stand beside you and, and help you through it and just, and just be there. I mean, you can use the example, your parents. I have an incredibly supportive spouse. I have some awesome kids. I have some really, really, really close friends. and I’m, so, I’m very blessed that I have that network of people in my life that I can you know, talk to when I screw up. So

Sam Demma (14:18):

I love that. And in the school building, I’m assuming that would be other people in the office as well. If you’re a teacher in, in a school, it’d be other teachers kinda leaning on your supports.

Jason Kupery (14:32):

Yeah, a hundred percent. a lot of times that’s what really makes a really tight knit school community. Like I’ve had the privilege of working on some wonderful steps where it’s just people get along they can trust each other, they can, they got each other’s backs. you know, principals got teachers backs, and we’ll help you even when you make mistakes. I’m not gonna totally, you know, I can’t defend some of those things, but I can certainly walk beside you and help you out with those kinds of things, right? you know, and, and for people who, who go into administration, those gaps tend to widen a little bit and it becomes a little bit lonelier. So finding those external sources that you can talk to and you can trust, right, is very important. And yes, of course, in the role I’m in now, you know, you have to have the right colleagues and, and they’re not all in the same school division, right? You have some great colleagues in other school divisions that can relate and empathize with some of the things that happen and, and just great people to be able to share with, and chat with and, and may have advice because they’ve been through it themselves, right? So those are important things

Sam Demma (15:28):

You, you can tell, just listening to you speak and share your ideas that you really care about this and you care about education. what about education makes you excited? Like, what gets you outta bed every single day to show up to work and put your best foot forward and try to do meaningful things?

Jason Kupery (15:47):

Yes, Tim, I’ll tell you, there’s not many careers, and I know there’s, there’s a lot of great careers and there’s a lot of great people doing a lot of wonderful things, but there are not many careers that you can actually speak directly into the lives of a lot of young people, right? Mm-hmm. <affirmative> as, as challenging and as tiring as it can be, it can also be super inspiring and super wonderful. And it’s not that you know, the times that I’ve had in my career that I’ve found the most inspiration hasn’t been drummed up by me, by any stretch of the imagination. It’s been drummed up by amazing young people that have incredible ideas and that are thinking about the future as opposed to what was, what’s happened in the past and those types of things, right? and to see people grow and to see people learn is just an incredible gift.

Jason Kupery (16:38):

 and so what excites me now in this current role, because there are some degrees of separation for me is providing the structures for students to succeed, right? Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. So my job now is to develop programming and develop programs and systems and things like that, that will either help students find their passion and ignite that spark through different kinds of programs or leadership kinds of opportunities we offer. or it’s ways of finding that sort of self-actualization ways for them to you know find the rhythm be mentally well understand what it is to be healthy. These are difficult times, right? I mean, I know I’m getting old now, so it’s been a long time. But I have had, I do have teenage children, and I do, I can understand and empathize with, with what it means to grow up in those worlds, those, those vicious middle school years and the tough high school years, and you’re trying to figure out your life.

Jason Kupery (17:38):

You’re trying to figure out where you fit, who you fit in with what your future may hold. Those are extremely formative but stressful times for students. And to be able to do everything from helping somebody read and learn how to arithmetic and to make sense of the world at a young age, to guide them all the way up through adolescence and into their, you know, adulthood you know, that transition into post-secondary life. it’s such a massive undertaking and what a privilege to be able to be a part of that. so that’s what gets me up in the morning.

Sam Demma (18:14):

You mention, you mentioned at such a cool perspective. Thanks for sharing. You mentioned that some of the coolest experiences, things that got you the most excited were not drummed up by yourself, but by students. And I’m curious, can you give us some insight into what some of those things might be? On our last call, we talked a little bit about an event that you would host and that was created and co-created with kids, and I would love to hear about that, or any other ideas that come to mind.

Jason Kupery (18:44):

Yeah, there, there’s just so much inspiration out there, but we’ve, we’ve had, you know the one we were speaking about, Sam was we had a young a student in our school community that sadly passed away the year after she graduated this from some complications with the medication. and one of her big things when she was in high school, and one of the things she advocated for was organ donation. and she donated all our organs, which was an incredible gift to a bunch of different families. And, you know, we you know, sat as a staff and as administration afterwards, brokenhearted trying to figure out how to make sense of this. and you know, the one thing that I, I mentioned my affinity for sports, and some other people had some affinity for sports too. So we decided let’s do a, like a charity hockey game, and we’re gonna raise some money and give it away to the to the organ foundation around here.

Jason Kupery (19:39):

 and also raise awareness. I mean, I think that’s a big deal. And we mobilized the troops. We were really inspired by this young lady and by honoring her. and so, you know, we had some professional landing McDonald came out and played with us, and, and, you know, it was just great. We had the whole school come. We had, we raised all kinds of money. It was a wonderful event. and over the years and, and we raised a lot of awareness around organ donation and those kinds of things. And over the years we started getting letters from people. And one we had I think the next year we had somebody that had this young lady’s kidneys. Oh. And he was alive and he was thriving because he had her kidneys. So he played with us in the hockey game, which was

Sam Demma (20:23):

Super cool, crazy.

Jason Kupery (20:24):

And then the year after that, a young man from Newfoundland received her heart. Wow. And he, he reached out to us. He reached out through through the David Foster Foundation and he reached out to us and said, Hey, I’d like to come. I’m a golia. I’d like to come play. and in the mean, in, in the meanwhile, he also got to meet this young lady’s family. And I mean, it was a very emotional, you can imagine what a gift. And, and so what a gift both ways. Obviously this young lady’s heart is literally in somebody else. And is, is helping somebody live to a point where he can come out and play a game of hockey with us. and of course, the gift that he brought to the family by saying, I’m alive and well because of your daughter’s sacrifice.

Jason Kupery (21:10):

What, like, incredible. So that was, you know, those moments are are something that helped you as an adult. It puts you in awe of what young people are capable of. and again, as a teacher and as an administrator, and as a director, my, my modus operandi was always put kids in those positions to succeed. They’re not always gonna do it. They’re not always gonna take it up. Some are just gonna go through and that’s fine, and they’ll live their lives. But some really just need that extra little push or that extra little program or that extra little spark to ignite something in a passion in them. And when those types of things happen it’s just incredible what students are capable of.

Sam Demma (21:54):

You told me the same story last time, which is why I was teasing it out of you. It gave me goosebumps, and it’s given me goosebumps again. What a remarkable story of impact and what a great reminder to check the box on the paper we get in the mail when we pass away, if that’s a decision we wanna make, knowing that it could save so many people’s lives.

Jason Kupery (22:14):

And I’m sure that decision she made has. and I just wanna, I, I just wanna share one more with you. yeah, please. We can talk about for sure. But we had a young man whose whose father passed away from cancer. unfortunately, and these guys for some reason were super into unicycles, right? Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, like, who, like how many people are <laugh>? There was like four of them. And they all just, they rode around, they ate their sandwiches at lunch in the parking lot, and they would try little jumps and things like that. and so this young man was, was sharing a story about his father passed away from cancer, and these guys come up with this brilliant idea, and I say brilliant sort of sarcastically, but it was brilliant to unicycle from B to Calgary, which is about 130, maybe 125 on a unicycle, <laugh> and to raise money.

Jason Kupery (23:01):

So they raised money for cancer research and those kinds of things. I think they raised something like 15 or $18,000. Like it was a lot. But these poor guy, they did it two days cuz it was way too much during a day. But these poor guys, and I, I drove the van behind them with the blinkers on <laugh> Road, and they rode their unicycles from BMP all the way to Calgary. and it was kind of cool in Calgary for anybody’s around here. Edward Worthy Park is just down the road. so they rode in Deady Park and their parents and their families that all had this huge celebration in the park, and they had a check presentation. you know, stuff like that. It just, like, that stuff happens more routinely than you think because young people have such inspiration and such drive, and they don’t understand quite yet what no means.

Jason Kupery (23:44):

You know what I mean? Because we, we, we get a little beaten down over the years about, oh, that can’t happen and that can’t happen. And young people just, they have great ideas. And so again, I’ve tried to be very cognizant of the fact that it’s not about saying, well, here’s what’s gonna go wrong, or here’s what could happen, or here’s this or that, or it’s, Hey, there might be some barriers. How can I help you remove those? and how can we help them? It might, it might happen differently because of certain things that we can’t do, but I’m sure we can, if we just think creatively and, and my job as a, as an trusted adult in their life would be, okay, let’s get rid of those things so you can succeed.

Sam Demma (24:16):

That’s awesome. I’m sure when you were in the schools, you dealt with a lot of those on a face to face basis because they would walk up to you and say, Hey, hey sir, I have an idea. Can I tell you about it? and now from a systems perspective, you probably hear about a lot of those things. One of the things that I think is really special about education, and you alluded to it earlier, you said, there are so many careers, but there aren’t many where you can speak directly into the lives of young people. I think one of the coolest things about education that lures most educators is the idea that they can make a positive difference in the life of a young person. What’s funny is that everything you’ve shared with me makes me believe that the young people have all made a massive difference in your life.

Sam Demma (25:03):

And I don’t think that aspect of it is, is talked about enough. and, and you just shared two inspiring stories and how it had a big impact on you. But I am curious to know in all your years working in a school, working in a classroom, has there been students who, when they first walked through your door or into the school, were really struggling and by the end of the couple years, or by the end of this semester had a real big breakthrough or transformation and yeah. Are there any stories like that that come to mind?

Jason Kupery (25:39):

Yeah, well, there’s, there, there’s plenty for sure. I think that helping students <affirmative> you know, I’m not a big fan of the idea of streaming, like saying, you know, you’re not, you’re not smart enough to do this, so don’t, don’t try. Yeah. and I’ve seen a, I’ve seen a lot and, and sometimes, you know, it is, some things are, are a deep enough level. You don’t wanna set kids up for failure, but you certainly don’t wanna say, well, don’t bother trying, because then, you know, you’re just gonna, you’re gonna end up failing, right? Yeah. So it’s a, it’s a distinction, if you will. and I’ve seen so many kids over the years flourish because you know, well, I can’t do that. I’m no good at math. That’s, that’s the easiest thing to say in, in education is I suck at math, right?

Jason Kupery (26:21):

Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And then, okay, well, okay, I guess that’s it for you then, then we’ll, we’ll put you into something else. and I’ve always tried, I’ve used this match with my own kids too, but it’s just, no, you don’t suck at it. You just haven’t done it enough. You just have to, you need more practice, right? and, you know, trying to sort of present that mindset to students to say, try it. If it doesn’t work out, what’s the biggest, you know, fail forward, what’s the biggest thing that can happen? Right? and, you know, you gotta convince students of that, but you also have to convince their parents of course, too, right? Like, we’re gonna do this. It may not go super well, but that’s okay, right? We’ve got other room, we’ve got other spaces, we can, we, there’s other pathways. and so I’ve seen a lot of students succeed because they under, either they’ve, they’ve gone way beyond what they thought they could which is a wonderful thing.

Jason Kupery (27:08):

And we’ve also seen kids succeed because they’ve made a wise choice, I need to go on a different direction. And there’s another path, right? And one of the things I’ve seen you know, that even, even the most driven of students and the straight A students don’t realize is there are so many different paths in life, and there are so many different ways you can take. but I think that young people and families and, you know, people in general just think that there’s a linear straight, like, I have to get here, I have to get that 95, or I’m not getting into this program. And so part of, part of what I’ve tried to do is in helping people through that journey is to say, look, there’s, there’s a ton of paths, and just because you can’t take this math or take this biology or take this whatever there are other ways to do it, and we can get you there.

Jason Kupery (27:51):

And, you know, in, in a, in a world of instant gratification, it’s hard to understand, Hey, maybe you should take another year of high school, or maybe you need to take another course. Well, and I need this to happen now. It, it doesn’t need to happen now. But I know that’s a hard message for some people to hear. But in order to succeed, you may need to try a little bit, you know, a different way or, or it may take a little bit longer, but that there’s nothing wrong with that. There’s no shame in that, right? to be able to take a different path in life to succeed. and the other piece is helping students identify you know, the traditional classroom or the book learning or the, those kinds of things aren’t what I love to do. That doesn’t mean you’re not smart, it means you’re brilliant in other ways.

Jason Kupery (28:30):

Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And so trying to provide students an opportunity to, whether it’s work with their hands or build something or problem solve in a different way you know, helping students understand their own aptitudes and their own, you know, brilliance is, it’s one thing to tell them, it’s another for them to discover for themselves, right? And so, again, as educators we try to create the conditions for students to do that. You know, if you, if you allow for different modalities of teaching in your classroom, and the student says, ah, I, now I can see because I, because I made it up with my hands, now I can see why it’s important, or now I can make the connection with the learning. quite often education is learn this regurgitate it, and now you know it without that real life connection and without that, without that sort of cementing or anchoring the learning it’s very difficult.

Jason Kupery (29:21):

It’s why most times when you, I mean, you’ve done it, I’ve done it a thousand times, where you, you, you study you and then you, you drill everything into your head for eight hours before the test or whatever, and then you forget 60% of it by the time you walk out the door, right? Because it’s like, I got what I needed to do, I accomplished, I got the mark. and so I’ve accomplished that. but have I really learned, so anyways, sorry, I’m rambling. I’m just saying that allowing students different ways to learn helps ’em flourish. And I’ve seen that so many times where students have had that aha moment, like, ah, now I know this is what I’m good at. and I mentioned to you earlier as well, the idea of post-secondary is frightening to a lot of people. It was frightening for you.

Jason Kupery (29:58):

It was frightening for me. Yeah. it’s a huge transition. And so I just had this conversation earlier today with some, some educators around students feel too much pressure. We have to stop asking them what they’re going to do. And I a hundred percent agree what I, what we need to ask. And the question I’m trying to change within our school division here is what do you love to do? Yeah. Because if we, if you can tell me what you love to do or what really gets what gets you up in the morning, you asked me that question earlier, what gets you up in the morning? And then we could connect it to a different career. but if you think that you can only be a teacher, a doctor, a lawyer, an engineer, or whatever, then those opportunities don’t blossom for you because, oh, I’m not good at that, so I’m never gonna be an engineer, and I just, I can’t do this kind of math, so I won’t go on to do sciences. Well, there’s a thousand other things you could do out there that would bring you joy and would meet the world’s needs. So we just have to figure out what that is for you.

Sam Demma (30:47):

I got goosebumps like five times while you were just, just sharing those ideas because one, I was the student who took the fifth year and the gap year and thought I was falling behind. And I was, I was interviewing another educator Sarah daddario from a school in California, and I try and talk to diverse, you know, amount of educators, and she was sharing something similar that her students were going through, putting so much expectations on pressure on themselves to start the next step right when they finished high school, even though they weren’t sure what they were doing. And she shared this beautiful analogy about going to parties, and she said, this is the analogy that I give my students. She and she, she asked me a question, if you were going to one of your friend’s parties, what are all the different ways you could get there?

Sam Demma (31:36):

And I started listing off all these random ideas, ride my bike, ask my mom for a drive, hit your ride with the, with the taxi guy, called a pizza delivery person and ask him to pick me up. I could walk there, I could roller blade, I could scooter, I could get a helicopter and fly. Like I started giving some funny answers. And she’s like, well, all of those are valid options and they’ll all get you to the final destination, but every single one of them takes a different amount of time and a different set of steps. And that’s how I try and encourage, she, she was explaining that’s how she encourages their students to think about their pathways. That you will all end up at a party. It might not be the same party based on your different interests, but you’ll all end up somewhere.

Sam Demma (32:16):

Your choice of transportation is what will make your life unique and interesting. And I just keep thinking about that whenever I think about pathways and adding so much pressure on ourselves. and then the other thing you mentioned in your second point was this idea that students have five options, an engineer, doctor, lawyer, you know, what we think we, we wanna do. and what we really should try and do is figure out what they love. And I, I thought about an artist who I really look up to, his name’s Russ, and he makes music, and he grew up thinking that he lacked discipline and wasn’t a hard worker, but later in life realized that it was actually the work that made him not very disciplined and not work hard because he just didn’t enjoy it. But when he found the thing that he loved, he was in the studio every day making music, and now he’s one of the largest independent artists on, on the planet.

Sam Demma (33:12):

And I think it’s really important that we don’t judge students based off of the things they don’t like doing. And I’m sure there’s a lot of things that we have to do, even if we don’t like it, and that’s a part of the journey as well. But I really like that you’re trying to help students figure out what they love and then craft the pathway from there. do you have any examples of and I’m putting it on the spot here, but of like a student who came to you and said this is what we’re, we’re, we’re passionate about and you helped kind of create a different pathway or brainstormed ideas around it?

Jason Kupery (33:49):

Yeah. well, I think that the most, when I, when I, I don’t about a specific example per se of one that’s jumping in my head and right at this moment, I’m, I’m, I’m sure I’ll think about 20 when I get, when I, that’s

Sam Demma (34:01):

OK <laugh>.

Jason Kupery (34:05):

 but I think that it’s, it’s more around helping students understand there’s a stigma that exists with certain careers, right? Mm-hmm. and, and so, you know, the trades are things that people that, that aren’t good at school do, which is ah which is seriously flawed. Obviously. I don’t want somebody who doesn’t know what they’re doing, building my house or <laugh>

Sam Demma (34:28):

Putting,

Jason Kupery (34:29):

Renovating my kitchen or whatever, right? and you know, there’s that, that sort of, these are lesser than skills, which is so not true. you know you know, the saying is, I’m educated, but I’m all that smart. And and that’s the same, goes like, I have a master’s degree, but you put a hammer in my hand, I’m gonna end up hurting somebody, right? <laugh>, most <inaudible>, I’m sure before anybody else <laugh>. and, and so I really wish, that was one thing that I developed more as a skill, right? Yeah. so just, just helping students understand that, that their gifts are extremely valuable no matter what they are, and they can be used for something. Again, it’s that the biggest thing was is that, that the world’s deep need and, and your deep joy intersecting, right? That’s where it’s at. Like Russ, you know, Hey, I found a medium that I am passionate about and that I want to pursue.

Jason Kupery (35:24):

So I’ve seen more of, of that I should say, in in, you know, where kids are so driven to, to get onto this, and they’ve fallen out of that, and really, and then they’ve come to me later and said, Hey, I’m doing this now I’m, I’m working my hands, or I’m, you know, a paramedic or I’m this or that. And, you know, it changed my life just thinking about, you know, how to you know, striving so much for something that was almost unattainable and, and, you know, at the expense of my mental health and other things in my life. and then when I realized that this was actually my gifting I was able to succeed. So

Sam Demma (36:00):

I love it.

Jason Kupery (36:01):

As we talk, I’ll think of a, of an example. I just didn’t expect to come up with that, but I should have that off the top of my head for

Sam Demma (36:08):

Sure. No, I’m putting you on the spot here. And it’s funny, it makes me think about situations where I have a conversation with someone and then five minutes after the conversation ends, I’m like, God damn, that’s, that’s what I wanted to say. You know? But you, you did a perfect job answering that, and I appreciate it. It’s really apparent that at the core of a lot of your thinking and decisions is the end user, which is the student. and I’m sure there’s ways that the the staff are a part of your, your planning as well because you’re at the, I guess, overarching level now. I’m curious, like for all the educators that are listening to this who are starting their first year of teaching, if you could bundle up your wisdom and experiences and go back in time and tap Jason on the shoulder when he was just starting and say, Jason, this is what you need to hear. What would you have told your younger self? Not because you would’ve changed your path, but because you thought it’s helpful advice to hear at the start of a career in education?

Jason Kupery (37:09):

Yeah, great question. I would say, you know, first and foremost and, and to, to, to sort of connect it to the last question you know, when it’s not so much that people have re retooled and done something and now ta-da, I’m happy. Yeah. it’s more about the kids that had a really, really, really hard time with a, because of circumstances in their life growing up unstable families drugs, alcohol, poor decisions and those are the ones that are, that are throwing things at you or telling F off or, and I just, young teachers and, and people in education, I mean, the one thing I would say is, please look past that. I mean, there is trauma in those kids’ lives, and that trauma-informed practice is really, really important because while it is that person standing in front of you, that young person standing in front of you screaming or throwing a fit or punching a snot at somebody else or whatever it’s not to see that that student or I is a terrible person or deserves some kind of punitive justice or those types of things that, that that young person needs some love in their life and needs somebody to look past that.

Jason Kupery (38:23):

And so when I’ve had people come back to me and say, Hey, thanks for, you know, because you, you because you intervened and because you had enough patience and because you didn’t kick me out and because you didn’t make my life harder, I look at I’m now a success and I wanna come back and say thank you. Those things mean a lot to me, obviously. I mean, they mean a lot to a lot of educators, right? But we tend to, and I’m no different, we tend to look at that and say, oh, that kid’s driving me crazy. I just want ’em outta here. Right? Just get out. and it takes far more patience and understanding to sort of try and look through that and try to reason and try to understand where that young person’s coming from to be able to speak into their lives.

Jason Kupery (39:08):

And it’s not like you have to, okay, now I’m gonna tell you everything you need to know, and I’m the best just, Hey, I’m here to listen and I’m, I’m going to be a safe place for you to come and, and be yourself. that changes lives. There’s no question. and so my encouragement would be, a lot of these people have a lot of people that, that give you a hard time or will give you a hard time in your career, are carrying a lot of, they’re carrying a pretty heavy backpack, if I can use your

Sam Demma (39:34):

Analogy. <laugh>

Jason Kupery (39:35):

<laugh>. and, and that’s, and that’s something that’s so extremely important to understand and to try to speak to them in a way that they can hear and know that they’re safe and cared for, because they’ll still make dumb decisions, but they’ll, they’ll always thank you because you stay, you stay beside steadfast. so I guess please don’t give up too easily on, on people that give you a hard time because they got a lot going on. The other thing I would say to young educators, and I do, and I do say that now because we do have what’s called the teacher induction program here. So it’s called Tip for

Sam Demma (40:11):

Sure. Yeah.

Jason Kupery (40:12):

 is don’t let the, the jaded, angry nature of the profession seep into your brain. And I’m not suggesting that’s pervasive, but it, it can happen. All you need is one teacher that, you know, is jaded or disaffected or, you know, kids are lazy or yeah. Whatever. And that sort of can flavor the water and it can get inside your head because that was my experience, right? You know, I had some, some teacher sponsors or whatever that the people that helped evaluate me and helped me through in my early years you know, weren’t always the most possible profession, <laugh> and, you know the, the 40 kids or the 35 kids and, you know, the half of them are criminals and those kinds of things. Right? those are the kinds of things you’re here as a young teacher and you just don’t start believing that.

Sam Demma (40:57):

Yeah.

Jason Kupery (40:58):

Cause it really does impact your ability to speak into people’s lives when you start to see them differently as opposed to who they really are beneath that tough exterior.

Sam Demma (41:07):

Mm. I love it. It’s like the advice don’t judge a book by its cover. And I think it applies so deeply in education, especially with young people, and you’re speaking from experience because you started it at the beginning of this podcast saying that you did some silly stuff as a student <laugh>. So I and we all did, you know, I think back to when I was grade seven and got suspended and we don’t have to get into the details of the silly incident, but I remember coming home and uncontrolled be crying and my dad not, you know, scolding me, but saying, let’s go talk to your principal. And bringing me back to school and sitting in the office and my principal at the time instead of seriously punishing me, he asked me a lot of questions and kind of forced me to reflect on the choice I made and why maybe it wasn’t a good choice and what I learned from the experience.

Sam Demma (42:02):

And I ended up having a two day suspension but it was a it was a very kind gesture, and I learned so much from it. So I’ve had personal experiences and I think a lot of students do. So I appreciate you sharing that, and I appreciate you coming on the podcast and talking about your experiences and beliefs around education. And if there’s an educator who listens to this and wants to ask you a question or send you a message, what would be the most effective way for them to reach out and get in touch? Not that we’re gonna fill your inbox, <laugh>.

Jason Kupery (42:33):

Yeah, yeah. No, I mean, I’m, I’m always willing to, to share and collaborate with others. I think it’s awesome. Yeah, email’s the best way and I can certainly share that with you if you wanna attach it somehow or whatever.

Sam Demma (42:43):

Sure. Awesome. Sounds good. Jason, thanks again for, for coming on the podcast. Really appreciate your time and energy. Keep up the great work, and I’ll see you soon.

Jason Kupery (42:52):

Okay. Thanks, Sam. Appreciate it.

Sam Demma (42:55):

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.