About Tom Yonge
Tom Yonge (@TomYonge) is the Department head of Leadership at Strathcona High School in Edmonton, AB. The heart of his leadership model is service work and in the last 12 years, the program has raised over $3.5 million dollars for local and global charitable organizations. Through these initiatives, the students have learned important life lessons and the emotional reward of giving back.
**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. I’m super excited about today’s interview. Our guest is Tom Yonge. He is a leadership teacher, speaker, and workshop facilitator at Edmonton public schools. He has such a diverse experience working within leadership and within schools. Currently he is a department head of student activities and leadership programs at a high school in Edmonton, Alberta.
Sam Demma (01:06):
He’s also a storyteller who honed his craft chirping teammates in hockey dressing rooms and having heart to heart conversations around the campfire and by sharing his passion for student activities in leadership class. He’s spoken in front of different crowds and, and different conferences before he has a bachelor in PE and education combined degree program from the university of Alberta, but he brings so much wisdom and ideas to the table during our conversation today. It’s a pretty long one, so I hope you enjoy it. There’s tons of ideas to take down, so don’t get overwhelmed. But have a note, have a sheet of paper and a pen and be sure to write some things down. I will see you on the other side, enjoy today’s conversation with Tom. Tom, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on this show. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit behind the reason why you got involved in education?
Tom Yonge (02:02):
All right. Well, first of all, Sam, it’s a pleasure to be here. Congratulations on your podcast and speaking. I’ve really enjoyed listening to a lot of your episodes and this is a, an honor to be here. But maybe before we start Sam, I wanna wish you a happy Wolf Wednesday. I don’t know when this is gonna be released Sam, but I’m you can tell viewers, can’t see at home, I’m wearing a, an, an awesomely tacky wolf shirt right now. and this is one of a roster of almost 52. Years ago. I I was in a, I had a young advisor, leadership teacher and I had this Vice Principal named Tom Davy and he’s from South Africa and he has an accent and he’s just a, just a beauty of guy, probably one of the best administrators I’ve ever worked with. But we differed in one thing and that was dress code.
Tom Yonge (02:48):
Tom was the kind of guy who was like you dress up in suit and tie every day and he was pushing to have like formal days, like not like touch of class formal days, but like teachers just, you know, pick up your game kind of thing. And I was all about casual Fridays. And so this got on the faculty council, like department head agenda, and it was on a Wednesday that we’re having this meeting. So I showed up with my tacky you know, gas station Wolf shirt, and he was at the gas. He’s just like, he’s like “Thomas Young! What are you wearing to a professional, you know, meeting!?” And I, I said, Hey, Tom, I’m in charge of, of leadership and student activities and just like pajama days now, every single day is maybe Wolf Wednesday and he just kinda shook his head and we agreed to disagree.
Tom Yonge (03:27):
And it’s kind of became a it’s it’s, I’m controlling the world by wearing these tacky Wolf shirts on Wednesdays, but it’s actually became a thing. And, and kids sometimes will, you know, give us a gifts after writing reference letters or at the end of this school year. And I’m collecting as many terrible wolf shirts as I possibly can believe it or not. It’s actually a lot of fun. And when, when I actually dive a little bit deeper, there’s actually some symbolism there that goes back to original question about why I got into teaching. And that actually is community and the metaphor of the wolf pack and the dignity and having to survive and face the harsh elements you know, is actually symbolic for, or, you know, my, my group of friends outside of school and, and also the mentality that I want my my class to have. So there’s a little bit of a little bit of realness underneath the trolling, but very also out there it’s like wearing a Hawaiian shirt, but it’s a woo shirt and this makes, you know, hump day on Wednesday that much better.
Sam Demma (04:17):
I love that, man. That’s so good. I, I can’t say the I’ve had a teacher that had something like that similar, so that’s awesome. Yeah. You know, you mentioned that this educator, Tom was one of the most phenomenal educators you ever had, but the one difference was your dress code. Yeah. What were the similarities, what were the things that he did that had such a huge impact on you when you look back at and reflect on how he taught now?
Tom Yonge (04:42):
Well, I’m so glad you’re asking this because I’d like him to hear this. And I think I I’ve mentioned it to him in person, but it’s, it’s nice be able to do this on the larger platform. I’ve never met someone who had a, a bigger heart for teaching. Wow. And would give more of himself to anyone in the school. And I said, he’s one of the best administrators. And I mean that because he help, not just myself and my leadership department, he’d be there to help. Absolutely everyone. He held everyone to a high standard, he would open doors. And if he felt that you were doing right by kids he had your back and, you know, he is kinda guy who actually had your back regardless which that’s another layer of, of why he’s such a phenomenal mentor to me. And so I was actually lucky enough to coach his son as a student teacher in my practicum.
Tom Yonge (05:26):
And I was I coached the, the, the Jasper place rebels team to a one and seven record league play. We lost all seven games, but we had the best team spirit you’ve ever seen. And it was after that, that you know, he approached me at the end of the season. He said it, you know, I, I’m actually a vice principal and I’ve been watching this whole season. And I just think that you’re, you found the right profession, you found the right vocation and maybe our paths will cross. And he kind of smirked as he left. And then years later I got a phone call saying, there’s this, this job you know, opening at, at strap Kona school, which he happened to be the vice principal of. And then we got to work together and we worked together until his retirement. And yeah, I just, you know, we’re so lucky to have people like that in our lives, who open doors and then support you and develop you and, and ask good questions. And that’s what Tom, Dave did. He’d always be asking good questions. And sometimes it was challenging coming up with good, but he sharpened sharpened us to be the, the best versions of ourselves. So I eternally grateful for Tom DVY.
Sam Demma (06:22):
What does holding you to a high standard mean? Like when you say he held you and I assume all the staff to a high standard, what does that look like? Was that his expectations or, or how did he display that to all of you?
Tom Yonge (06:38):
Well, for a couple reasons, one, he’s the type of person lead by example, you know he’s he would be there on evenings and weekends and whether it was my events or it was his work, he, you know, he’s not one of those people who’s asking you to work hard and then, you know, is leaving the parking lot at four o’clock got it. And so we knew that he was working as, as he could to build the, to do his part and his portfolio. But when I say also high standard it was through conversation and questions whether it was casually in the hallway, dipping into our classroom, or having us have a, in a conversation in his office, he would just keep on digging deeper and trying to ask us if we understood the meaning of the thing that we had planned. Hmm.
Tom Yonge (07:18):
And sometimes it would twist my brain up and the meetings would go on. They, they would take some time, but that was, he loved talking teaching and he loved talking life. And so that’s what I kind of mean by that is that when I say high standard, it wasn’t good enough just to go execute an event or teach a good lesson. He wanted you just to ring every drop of knowledge and takeaway from that experience. And he was gonna make sure that you did. Hmm. And that’s you know, and that’s what we tried to now kind of also emulate for our students.
Sam Demma (07:47):
I had a teacher Mike loud foot who changed my life and he taught me this idea that your self worth doesn’t come from your talent, skills, and abilities. But from two decisions, you make one to be of service to others. And two, every single day to give a hundred percent of your effort to whatever it is that you’re doing. And the reason he taught me those things was because he thought that even if the result didn’t go the way you expected it to be, or the event you planned flopped, if you knew you gave a hundred percent of your effort, you could look at the mirror at the end of your day. At the end of the night, a I’m still proud of myself for giving all my effort and energy into this project, despite what happened. And that sounds very similar to what, you know, your admin Tom kind of lives by. Did, did the discrepancy in dressing in shirts ever get resolved over the years?
Tom Yonge (08:35):
no, I think we kind of agreed to disagree. I think you know, he gets a chuckle at me now. He’s, he’s no longer working at the school and every once in a while, every once in a while, I’ll throw on a tie and it’s, and I’ll what I’m doing is I’m just gonna tipping my hat to Tom Davey. And I, I think of this is this story I just told you there, as goofy as it was, is something that I’ll, I’ll definitely relish as I get onto my more senior years of teaching.
Sam Demma (09:00):
I love that. That’s awesome. And so if we go, even back before you got involved and became a teacher I know you played hockey. I know you developed your speaking skills by chirping other players in the dressing rooms. , I’m curious to Melville at what moment in your young adulthood, your adolescents, did you say, I wanna be an educator. I wanna be a teacher. And how did that unfold for you?
Tom Yonge (09:22):
Alrighty. Well, I’ll try to get this as quick as I can to you because, you know, we don’t that much time I could go on, I could go on and, and get into a storytelling mode, but I I’ll keep it quick. I was actually origin gonna go, go into business. And I was in high school. I had all my, my choices chosen for, or, you know, I was gonna go grant McCuen. I was hoping to, you know, play for the college hockey team if I made it. And that was the plan. I was, I was going that route. I was literally the last two weeks of school of I was in a Fette 30 class and we had another school partner with us and we have a swimming pool attached to our, our school and our campus.
Tom Yonge (09:53):
And we were teaching these students with special needs, how to swim. And I was placed with a kid who had an extreme phobia of water. And I met him in the change room and he had two aide trying to pry his hands off the lockers while he was screaming. And he was just this little guy, but he was strong and he did not wanna make the walk even to the pool. And that’s where we started. It was just, just screams. And over the course, that two weeks, we just made incremental little changes of little growth. And I remember at one point I, I got him in the water and he was wearing two water wings per arm and leg, and two life jackets. Like he wasn’t even wet, like he was floating onto quotation and he was screaming at the top of his lungs, just yelling, screaming.
Tom Yonge (10:35):
At one point I got right over top of him. I looked in the eye and I said, Christian, are you okay? And he paused for a second mid scream. And he said, I’m okay, Tom. Ah, and he went back to screaming again, and I know by the end of the two weeks he was comfortable enough in the shower and that he could actually hold onto the, the rail outside of the pool and just and be wet. And in addition, he learned to catch a ball and his mom came on that last day and we, which I described this as what I call my first teaching moment. Mm. It was so powerful. Like I left that day and I, I went when I, I went home and I told my parents what had happened. And I dropped out of all my business program courses.
Tom Yonge (11:17):
I changed the direction of my career. Wow. And I enrolled in education. Well actually Fyed, I went to Fyed first at the university of Alberta. But I was thinking I wanted to do something now more with people and maybe less with business, but I was still kind of caught because I, up until this point, I also had an interest in being an outdoor guide. So it was my love of adventure, which I still love today. And I think teaching leadership is absolutely an adventure that I, I thought, you know, maybe my teaching won’t be in the typical classroom, it’ll be in the outdoor classroom and I’ll take people on canoe trips on the Nhan river or back country trips, you know, whether it’s skiing or, or hiking. Cause that was my other passion outside of sports. So I kind of went into the Fyed realm thinking, you know, I might be able to specialize in, in that, in that area.
Tom Yonge (12:02):
And while I was in university, I got coaching a junior high girls volleyball team, nice at the junior high, close to my house cause they needed someone. They needed someone. And I knew that I wanted happy to experience working with kids. So I said, sign me up. And I got to, to work with the Mustangs and junior high volleyball, as you probably know, Sam. I know you’ve played a lot of sports as well. You know, kids haven’t really like, they’re not as coordinated as they are, as they get older yet they haven’t grown into their bodies and volleyball’s a tough sports team sport. And typically it’s not skill that wins at the junior high level. It’s the, you have to get the basics down, you have to move as a unit and you have to be able to feel that trust on the team that they got your back.
Tom Yonge (12:43):
So you just can simply get balls in and not make mistakes. In fact, you can pretty much, you know, have a winning record by just playing a very basic game, but getting the ball back mm-hmm . And what I learned in my, my first few years, while I was doing my PHys ED degree was that we didn’t have the best team. We certainly didn’t have the tallest girls. We weren’t the most talented, but we were able to get that group moving as a unit on the court. And more importantly, I noticed that that group being hand moving as a unit off the court and into the hallways and after school, and many of them went on to still have life, life, life, own relationships. And that teaching moment number two was I loved coaching mm-hmm and there was that point. I was like, wait a second.
Tom Yonge (13:21):
Maybe clearly I’m not a good coach. You know, based on the Tom D and Sean Davies story. So I love coaching whether, regardless of the record, but I love the team aspect of it. And so then I know I was thinking maybe I don’t wanna always to be outside taking people, you know, on trips, maybe like I need to take my love of people and team and move that into the classroom. Hence the education degree, fast forward, a few years, an opportunity opened up to, to teach leadership. And I saw that as like, this is my gymnasium. This is like where I can actually build team every single day, myself and my colleague Jane Grant, who I think you might wanna talk up to at some point we’re the coaches and the, the students are the players. And each class that we have is a team and we have a season and our job is to peak until we get to that last day of, of leadership for that year. And that’s our Stanley cup, that’s our championship game where we get to look back and be like, whoa, look, how far became the season? And just like earn a hard goodbye. And like, because that’s time well spent. And so that’s what I’m, I’ve been addicted to, to building team. And I, that’s my nutshell story. That’s my arc.
Sam Demma (14:28):
Oh man. I love that. That’s so awesome. So many ideas came out of it. You know, you talked about that split moment decision that you out of the business courses and totally changed your direction. Jim, Jim Rowan business philosopher passed away. Now always used to say, you know, you can’t change your destination overnight, but you can definitely change the direction. And that’s exactly what you did in that moment where you dropped all your business courses and shifted into education, which I think is so cool. Secondly, you talked about at the junior high level, you know, it’s not about being the players that spike the balls. It’s just about the fundamentals and basics. Earlier today, I actually interviewed Alan Stein Jr. Who’s well known the basketball community. He actually coached Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant Steph Curry. And he told me that the one thing he recognized watching these players play was that they were obsessed with the fundamentals. It was the fundamentals and obsession over becoming so flawless and perfect with the fundamentals that led to their awesome performance. I’m curious to know, from your perspective, what do you think are the fundamentals of making sure students feel heard, seen, valued and appreciated? Like what do as educators? What are the fundamentals to make sure a student feels like seen, heard and appreciated in a classroom?
Tom Yonge (15:49):
Well, I think you, you actually just nailed the, a bunch of, of the fundamentals through your question. They have to give each other the opportunity to feel seen and heard and connected. So one of the words that we tell the students on the very first day of school is that we will be relentless. We will not give up. We will hold you to account that you will come to this class to be the best version of yourself in hopes that that will be reflected in others. Mm. And these are, and therefore you got get used to, we call ’em just our norms, which is basically our fundamentals, but that is phones are, are not on like, we, you, we don’t see phones in our room. It’s, it’s a no phone zone. If you wanna. And if, and if that’s a problem, then you, you’re probably not gonna you know, have a great experience here.
Tom Yonge (16:35):
Yeah. We might get the odd break or something where where, you know, kids can, can be on their phone. So it’s not like it’s, it’s that militant, but the philosophy is the moment you walk in our door, like, and it’s like, like you’ve passed the door frame you’re on. And you have a responsibility to look around and make eye contact and say hi to people. We always have a do now on the, on the screen or the whiteboard and like, and this sounds so, like, I’m not giving anything wise here. Like, I don’t remember learning about, do nows in, in university, but we try to get really creative with them. And basically it’s not, it’s, it’s an activity that is not teacher led. You can like, the materials will be out if needed. It could be a big group, small group, a pair, an individual thing.
Tom Yonge (17:17):
And the goal is that it sets the tone of the class. It’s the appetizer before the main course, we, a few years ago, I noticed that our class was really good when Jane and I were running it, like they bought into like, we’ve got our redemption and I Clapp once clapped twice, they knew the routines. They nice. They knew how to say, like, we, we, we always say like, hi everybody. And then they all in Houston say hi, like Mr. Young Heman grant. And, and they have to match our intonation and our expression and our energy and actions. If we do it, they’re bought into all those routines. But we noticed the areas where, where they were kind of struggling with the, in between the break time, the after class, the, before class started, where they put their bags away. That’s where we would see that clicky behavior that, that, you know, divisiveness of, of that we don’t wanna see in our community or on our team.
Tom Yonge (18:02):
And for us, our reflection was, this is really where they are at. And this is where they’re at when they leave here to get into the whole away. So we are gonna make sure that every kid is, feels seen and heard because they’re gonna be encouraged due. So from the moment they walk in, and another thing that Jane and I do is every single time someone comes into our class, this is again, not wisdom, but it’s simple truth. We say, we leave by example and we’re at the door. And we say, hi, and no one leaves that. And no one leaves the classroom without saying, without passing us and getting a hello and eye contact. And I used to always give high fives. I was really sad when COVID happened, because I’d have all these fancy high fives of different kids are just like, you know, just, you know, classic.
Tom Yonge (18:42):
Right. But it was like my little way of saying, I may have not called on you today. We may have not had a conversation, but I’m looking you in the eye right now. And I see you here. Appreciate you being here. Thanks for taking my class. And I hope that you have a, a better day now that we’ve spent time together, moving forward, high five, boom, see you tomorrow. And so that was tough with COVID, but we kind of, I’ve kind of realized that it really never was about the skin contact. And by the way, I haven’t been sick yet this year. So maybe less terms is not the worst, but it, but what it is a about is the eye contact and that little connection. And so we’re encouraging kids to do it. We wanna lead by example, and I think we’ve seen really good results.
Tom Yonge (19:17):
So it’s been really, really neat just watching the, the class. I’ll give you one example quickly, Sam, if I could give as many as you want we, we have all sorts of of, of activities. It could be like, you know, sanitize your hands and keep a balloon in the air sanitizer. Don’t touch your face, sanitize your hands. It could be something as simple as that. And every time you get into a group of six and you split into three and you always bring people in, it could, that could be an example of a very simple do. Now here’s the simplest one, but it was really cute. And it was, and, and kind of challenging. It was put your bags down, sanitize your hands and say hi to the person who comes in next. And so they would read the door, but they they’d read.
Tom Yonge (19:53):
Then you’d have to go find that person and say hi. And then the two of them would say hi to the next person, which became three. And I, I was expecting just a whole bunch of one-on-one hellos and it turned into a gauntlet and it, and then now everyone everyone’s walking in and they’re getting, you know, 35 highs, they would say, hi, hi, high, high, going all the way down the line. And it wasn’t what we expected. But then kids wrote, you know, on one of their early, like, you know, week or two week into the quarter in, you know, surveys, they said, that was really cool. They’re like, that’s the moment that I knew that, that our class had got to a point where we felt trust and we felt connection. And so yeah, I think providing opportunities for our norms to become authentic experiences. That’s my, to answer
Sam Demma (20:32):
Love that. And you just mentioned something that I think is a foundational piece of building a, a team, whether it’s a team of students, a team of athletes, which is trust, and you’re someone who’s obsessed with teams, you’ve, you’ve played on sports teams, you build teams of students and you coach teams. What do you think are the, the foundation or the fundamentals of a team in terms of characteristics?
Tom Yonge (20:56):
Yeah, it’s a good question. I think number one is that people have to feel on the team. I don’t mean that make that, and that’s very different than making the roster. You can make the roster, but not feel a on the team. And, you know, especially at elite level sports, I mean, you can be on the roster, but you might be a bench player. Yeah. And you know, you, you, you might be able to wear the Jersey, but you know, people kind of know who the starting lineup is. So when I bring it, whether it’s a sport metaphor or it’s a class metaphor, it’s not enough just to be there. You’ve gotta feel that you’re, you’re connected. And, and so I think that’s really I into, on, on a few things. I mean, I think the, the, the teacher plays a role, but I think it’s also making sure that you have students who, whether they do it on their own or through a nudge take on responsibility to make sure that they know everyone else needs to feel, feel included.
Tom Yonge (21:43):
So we talked about trust and then other big thing that there I would say is inclusion and that, and also feeling valued. And so I usually try to find a couple kids who I know have that confidence. So, and I’ll pull ’em aside and I’ll be able to give them some positive affirmation, say, Hey, I just noticed what you did there today. You went over and talked to so, and so last year, I’m not sure I saw that many people talking to, so and so, and I just I’m seeing, so, and so’s eyes are lit right now, what you just did was awesome. That is what we’re looking for now, without saying anything. Do you think that you could go a good compliment to someone else next time you see them doing something like that for someone else? And it just becomes a chain reaction.
Tom Yonge (22:20):
And and I, I think that’s you know, know COVID has certainly changed a lot of things and a really changed a lot of things of how our school runs. We’re a event, heavy school, and we do massive campaigns and bikes and, and things. And we all that had to had to stop. And we had to kind of re refocus and bring it right back to what brought us to the dance mm-hmm . And that was the original thing was building team under getting to understand each other’s stories, you know, to feel the range of emotions. I mean, you know, from being at a, being a speaker yourself, whether it’s at a conference or whether it’s on a camping trip, like a retreat, you wanna laugh and you wanna have moments where you can get so real that you cry, but it’s not like sorrow cry. It’s like, I just feel good cause I’m alive and I’m connected to people cry. And and I think when you, when you do all that, then people, they feel part of that team.
Sam Demma (23:06):
That’s so awesome. There’s an awesome book. If you have an already read it, you should check it out. I think you would love it personally. It’s called catch them doing good or catch them when they’re doing good, something along those lines. And the basic idea is our instinct is to correct people, you know, when they do the wrong thing, correct. That behavior in sports it’s Hey, Jessica, make sure your knee is over the ball. When you kick the, a soccer ball or else it’s gonna go over the soccer net or, you know, make sure that your arms are fully inverted when you bump the volleyball or else it’s gonna go right. Or left. Yeah. The whole premise of this book though says, if you actually just encourage the correct behavior, no one feels like they did a bad job. And in fact, when you correct the, when you, when you heighten or put a spotlight on the correct behavior, everyone around sees you highlighting the correct behavior and subconsciously says, wow, that’s the right thing to do. I will adjust my behavior to fit that as well. And it’s such a powerful tool. So I would, I would assume that the way that you praised that one student’s behavior to compliment another student could even lead to everyone else, assuming, wow, this is the right thing to do. We should all compliment each other and would have a huge impact. So that’s awesome. I think you would, you should definitely check out that book if you haven’t heard it before, but I think you would really like it.
Tom Yonge (24:23):
I, and I’m gonna check it out. I appreciate the record. Yeah.
Sam Demma (24:26):
And I thought it was awesome. In your years teaching, and in your years doing leadership, you talked about a couple activities or exercises. What are some of the events you’ve run or things you’ve done that the students really enjoyed that you think someone else listening might also benefit from learning about?
Tom Yonge (24:42):
Woo. There’s so many things to so many directions to go. Yeah. okay. Well, I’ll try to just touch on, on a couple different ones. I I’d like, I love how you talked about your mentor and I know work that you’ve done. This is involved service. I know whether it’s, you know, you know, getting, you know, rallying people to clean up the community, you know, through garbage or what have you. I truly, you know, love service. I love being part of it. I love encouraging others too and doing it for the right reasons. I really love your, your podcast with Sarah Dre. Who’s a friend of mine in her project equal and and just how she gets people in regular core classes. Like you’re in a core class. You’re my, you’re my students you’re serving. Yeah. And I just, I just love that then, and know our motto at our school is as one who serves and I can common out in a lot of different ways.
Tom Yonge (25:27):
We’ve done a lot of really big fundraisers. We, we normally have this thing called the annual SCO initiative which is basically a full year of planning, but it, you know, it’s a campaign that’s usually launched in December and culminates in March for the greater population, but the planning’s happening around the clock with our, with the core of our grade 12 leadership, 35 class. And it ends in this massive 1200 person bikeathon that has just events happening at all times, but that’s something that’s, so that that’s really big. It’s really big inate and it’s not necessarily something that, you know, everybody can do, but you know, some people do walkathons or, you know, relay for life. And so there are ones that are out there, like the, the big ones. One of the things that that I, I would like to, to just suggest is a classic just retreat where it’s not necessarily going.
Tom Yonge (26:14):
I mean, by the way, if you can go to the horizon conference, if you can go to CSLC CSLC, if you can do, I’ll go to your provincial leadership. Yes, absolutely do that. That’s where I cut my teeth. That’s where I’ve learned. Thank you to all my mentors. Thank you all my community of friends who’ve ideas over the years, but I, I really think that one of the most simple things you can do when it comes back to building team is carving time with your class to have a little retreat. And now it’s really tough in, in COVID. And so we normally take our, our grade twelves on camping on the very first weekend of school. And they’re still looking forward to that. Cause we, we plant seeds since they’re in grade 10, about what a great time it’s gonna be. And so what this year we did, we did all the activities that we would do at the retreat, but in class time.
Tom Yonge (26:55):
And luckily it was in September and we could go outside and, and be out and, and, and do things safely. But we were able to experience a lot of the magic that had happens. But what the idea of the, of a, of a retreat is that it’s, you are retreating from your normal space and therefore the norms of how we interact in our environment and are, are, are changing. And that’s why we tend to have memories when we go camping. Cuz we talk a little bit differently when we’re sitting around the campfire, looking up at the stars, contemplating our lives. And we are now that we’re exchanging books. One of my favorite authors is Heath and Heath Heath and Heath brothers. And they have a book called the power of moments and they talk about creating experiences of, of, of a elation to elevate, sorry.
Tom Yonge (27:36):
And I think when we intentionally, as teachers create moments that make memories that also cements relationships to last longer. And so I think that a retreat could even be a two hour after school activity. That’s focused on team building done in the soccer field, outside of your school, but done early in the year. The, the value we get from investing our time early is pays dividends throughout the rest of the year. And I think any school can do that. And I think you can do it with a very little budget just by, and many people with with experience probably already doing that. And then that leads to a larger retreat. We, we call word, call Theone Lords, we call it JLo, get your, get your Lord on is the idea that, and that’s kind of like a day of it’s.
Tom Yonge (28:23):
It was originally model after a day of like Canadian student leadership conference or an Alberta student leadership conference. That’s kind of where it started, but it’s truly transformed to a completely student led thing. Now it’s a retreat for everybody in the leadership program and friends. And that’s why and, and so it’s usually, but a four or 500 person event which is big, but it’s not like bikeathon big and it allows them kids to practice like learning and leading and figuring out who’s gonna be on what committee and you know, everything from serving food to being on stage to running a wild scavenger hunt all over white avenue, which is kinda like your Yonge street. If you’re in Toronto, you’re in Toronto area, are you right Sam? Yeah. Yeah. And so, and it’s it’s, it’s been really cool. So I think there’s a range of, of a small, middle and big activities you could do. And I could probably give you more specific things that we do at any of them, this podcast or another one. But I, I think it’s really important to be intentional and take that time cuz it builds community in your class and your school.
Sam Demma (29:22):
And I agree that doing it early is, is best, you know, better. It’s better than doing it later. You know, you can look at the analogy of planting a seed in the garden, you plant it in the spring before the summer, you’re gonna have huge harvest. You know, if you wait to plant that seed in the middle of the summer, you might not get a tomato. Right? Like my, my N would come and hit me, my grandmother, if I tried to plant tomatoes in the middle of the summer, you know, . Yeah. and I think it’s the same with, with leadership activities. The sooner you can build that trust within a class, the more they’ll flourish together throughout the year. I’m curious in all the years you’ve been teaching, I would assume that there’s been moments where you’ve literally witnessed students, transform. A lot of teachers tell me that sometimes you don’t see the transformation.
Sam Demma (30:03):
Sometimes the seed gets planted and it gets watered for the four years. You have a student or the couple of months you have a student and then 20 years later they might come back and thank you. Or you may never hear from them, but your guidance and mentorship still had an impact. But have you witnessed any student transformations just to the, the appreciation and love of a caring educator and adult that has changed their students life? And the reason I’m asking is because I think at the core of education, when I ask, you know, why did most people get into this work? They say it’s because they have a passion for helping young people and coaching young people and mentoring young people. And some educators right now through COVID might be teaching virtually from home might be really struggling and sharing a, a story about a student who transformed might remind them why this works so important. Do any stories come to mind? And if it’s very personal, you can change a name. Yeah.
Tom Yonge (30:54):
Oh man. There’s so many stories that come to mind. Sam, that’s the beauty of the work that we do is that we get to be part of these stories. One of the things that I, I love about teaching junior high or high school kids is that a they’re they have a sense of humor. They’re creative. They don’t take life so seriously yet. But they’re also resilient as I’ve found through COVID and we it’s a, it’s a really, it’s a privilege to be part of their lives at such a formative time. And, and some of them, some of my, some of my best do have not had the greatest home lives. And maybe that’s part of the reason they wanna spend so much more time in a, more of a, I guess, a loving community or a room or space with other people.
Tom Yonge (31:32):
And others have come from F fantastic families. And it’s a little bit more like the rubiks cube that Phil Phil boy talks about where, you know, they’re already on a great path. And by being in our leadership program, we can just give ’em a few extra tools and they’re gonna, they’re gonna go out and just have a fantastic, you know, career in life, outside of, you know, the time that they spend with us. I guess I’ll tell you that in the, the quickest version, when I think of truly transformational and, and there’s, there’s, there’s so many, but my very UNT I can take back from my very first year at, at SCON and or my very first year having a grade 12, like this is my second year at school, first year having a grade 12 leadership class and this kid got put in there.
Tom Yonge (32:11):
And just cause I, I haven’t had a chance to talk to him in, in a couple years. I’ll, I’ll use a different name from now. His name is I’ll call him Braden. Braden was known for, or I think at the time he had the record for most skip classes of any student that ever came through or school. And had a few bad habits as well along the way, but on the very first day of school, we did this thing called hot dog tag, where I just wanna get them moving. You’ve probably seen it. You know, one person stands in the middle, two people on either side, few people that are it, few people running around and someone joins your trio. The other guy got a run. And then I turn that into a name game and they can say hi.
Tom Yonge (32:43):
And I, I normally do this outside now for anyone else who’s watching because of what happened. But I was doing it inside and the room I was teaching and also was like our trophy case room. And at one point he was going really hard and he hopped up and he actually sprinted across four tables and he did a triple flip off the end table, went flying through the air. He rotated three times, tried to land, but missed and some salted into the display case. And, and I just saw like, like, like a lawsuit coming right away. Cause he’s, he’s going cracked right into the glass. Everything shook, trophies fell. Luckily the glass didn’t break. If it did, it would, would’ve showered upon him and that other people were around and I just flipped. And I just went into like, like assertive mode and I was like, Braden, like, what the heck are you doing?
Tom Yonge (33:28):
Like just kind of, and I just like, and he looked at me after you just having so much fun in the class. And he flipped me the bird. And he just flipped me the bur. And I think he, he might had a couple choice and he told me where to go and Audi and Audi walked and I was like, Ugh, like that’s the worst? Start to a team building experience, worst start to a school year. Like what could I possibly do? And I, I thought, well, he’s gone. They gave, they, you know, they, they tried, they tried, they put him in my class. They thought maybe this would be a good fit. Didn’t work. He’s gone comes by after school. And he’s standing in the doorway. He doesn’t wanna say too much. And I’m like, do you wanna talk? And he was just, he was really non-verbal and, and I just said like, listen, I lost my temper there.
Tom Yonge (34:07):
When I, when I got upset with you, I thought you were gonna like hurt yourself or hurt somebody else. But tell me, where did you learn to do that flip? And he is like, and you wouldn’t say too much. He’s like, I’m a trampoline and Tumblr, like I got, this is what I do. Like, like I, this is the one, the one thing that’s going, that’s going well is, is, is I, I, I have this skillset. And I was like, I would love to see that skillset that, you know, perform sometime on stage, like at a pep rally or, or something. Cuz that’s pretty cool if you wanna come back tomorrow. This incident is behind me as far as I’m concerned. But I’ll let you think about it. And he left that. He came back the next day and he kept coming back.
Tom Yonge (34:41):
And this is our first time planning, one of our big, you know, S Scona initiatives trying to, you know, raise money. And we had no clue what we were doing. We were, we are nickling and di our way to try to raise, you know, $15,000, we were kind of classic school, build a school somewhere else kind of thing. And we never had done a live launch in front the whole school before, but you know, we took a moment of, of, of a pep rally to take 15 minutes to talk about this. And we weekly leading up to it. Everyone’s getting super stressed out. We weren’t sure how to tell the story. We weren’t trying to make it relatable kids. Like, you know, 1500 kids getting outta class mostly are just happy to be outta class. They’re not ready to listen. And you know, especially when it’s a pep rally, all is fun stuff.
Tom Yonge (35:19):
And now we want them to get serious and talk about kids who are living in paw somewhere else who want a chance to read. And we called it to spread the word campaign. And while all the kids were getting at each other, like three days out, he eventually at one point he was just like, stop. He’s like stop. And we’re just like what? Because mostly, mostly just sitting there and he is like, listen. And he told us about where he grew up. And he told us about what had had what, some of the, the issues in his family and the community that it’s a rough, rough place, different city. He won’t get into it just for privacy’s sake. And he is like the kids that we’re trying to help, you know, a lot of them had had worse off than I did. He’s like, he, like, we gotta stop.
Tom Yonge (35:57):
Like we’re losing, we’re losing, we’re losing sight of, of what this is all about. Like, why are we here? Like, what’s our purpose? And he’s just like, and when he told his story and it was really personal, like everyone just was like, Teeter’s rolling down to the, down, down the face. And he came back like a few days later and he had a poem. And he’s like, I think I’d like to read this on stage. And, and so we got up and, you know, we got to this moment and all of a sudden the guy pretty much has never been to a pep rally cause he skipped every single one prior to this is the guy who has the light shining on him. And, and yeah, I, I don’t, I almost, I almost have bit memorized still, but I I don’t know if I, if I can do it quite, quite, quite right.
Tom Yonge (36:43):
But bottom line is this. I can, I can save, save that cause I don’t wanna, I don’t wanna butcher his words, but I still still remember it. So crystal clear, but he went off and he, and he basically did his spoken word poetry and the whole Jim just went silent and they were focused on every word he said, and that it was called to spread the word campaign. And we’d asked every kid in the school prior to write a powerful word on their hand before they got there and they didn’t know why. And when he was done, they, they, you know, he asked everyone just to kind of raise their hands. And we took the spotlights that were on the, on the stage. And we turned them out just to illuminate the audience and of a sudden 1500 hands in the raise high with words like, like hope and dreams and, and care and love.
Tom Yonge (37:25):
And like, he’s got this massive standing ovation and it’s like, right then I knew like we had it and that we were gonna be able to be successful in that first campaign. And that first campaign was called, you know, you know, the campaign, it became the annual SCON initiative and we’ve been doing this, this ever since. And he went on to do really good things. And I believe at one point, I don’t know if it was like fully working with, with CTA slay. But he was, he took his, his skills elsewhere, but my first thought he’d be on stage doing flips instead, he, he, he opened up his heart. And that that’s a story that will probably always dig with me.
Sam Demma (38:02):
Wow, man, I have goosebumps under my sweater. that was such a good story. I, I know, I know of another speaker named Josh and he always says that, you know, a kid’s most brilliant trait sometimes first makes its appearance through an annoyance. Right? Yeah. And I think this is perfect example of that, of that principle and story and how, you know, the love of a caring adult, the appreciation of a caring adult can turn that annoyance into some magnificent thing. And not that it was directly a result of just yourself, but it’s true. Educators change lives, you know? And that’s a phenomenal, that’s a phenomenal story. I still have goosebumps.
Tom Yonge (38:44):
No, I mean, and that’s the thing. It really, I, I think it rarely is about, about the educator. I think our job is to provide the opportunities. Yep. And oftentimes we’re just as, as surprised as, as anyone else would with what happens. Like I, I can take out to zero credit for that because I was the blind leading the blind that year. And actually for my many first years of teaching leadership, I really had no clue. In fact, a lot of my best activities that I’ve kept from the early years literally came out of kids saying things like Mr. Young, no offense, but we can tell that you’re not actually really ready for the next couple months. So could we do this? And they come up with an idea and I, yeah, that sounds like a good idea. And, and then, so they, weren’t a lot of the best stuff that I have, like didn’t come from me, but then I learned what did work.
Tom Yonge (39:21):
And you know, we follow the experiential learning model, which is not just learning from doing, but learning from reflection upon doing. And that’s, that’s really what we drive the kids. So we never do an event or even an Energizer or an activity without talking about the purpose or the metaphor or the, that can come out of it. I think that is like the, the real key is, is to, to extract meaning. And that goes back to Tom D if you wanna go full circle is you’ve, you’ve gotta reflect to be able to to move forward. And so the students were, were the ones that have often shown me the road and I’ve been happy to, to drive along on the bus with them.
Sam Demma (39:54):
Last final reflection question. you talked about your first few years of education. If you could go back in time and speak to your younger self, what your, in your first, second year of teaching, what advice would you give knowing what you know now?
Tom Yonge (40:10):
Ooh, that’s a good question. Wow. Well, first of all, I’d probably say you know, embrace every moment, cause it goes quick. Mm-Hmm , you know, it it’s, it’s, it’s a wild ride. I think one of the, the, maybe, I dunno if it was a mistake or things that almost drove me to a point of burnout early on is I tried to do too much myself. I tried to carry the load and I always pride myself from being a guy doesn’t need much sleep and have a boundless energy. I mean, my mom grew up on a farm and you, you went to bed late and you woke up early to, you know, take care of the cattle or, you know, the goats or what have you. And I have that energy in me and I’m, I’m grateful to have it, but at, at some points in my career, I’ve, I’ve, I’ve gotten pretty close to line I’ve, I’ve drawn myself pretty thin.
Tom Yonge (40:53):
And I think a few of your different people you’ve had, you know, I think Mark England and Brent Dixon have talked about the importance of, of staff collegiality and making sure you take time to get to talk to people. And so I’ll take a slightly different take though. I agreed with everything they said, I would say you’ve got to find an ally. My mentor one of my mentors and, and still good friends who I met through student, this Canadian Sioux leadership conference. But I also, so I worked with her briefly when I was a young young teacher, her name’s Stacy, maybe. And she was just a giant in, in leadership world when I was coming in. And I remember her saying that, trying to be like an advisor by yourself show that being an advisor, student advisor or leadership teacher in a care is challenging and doing it by yourself is almost impossible.
Tom Yonge (41:39):
Mm. And, but if you have at least one other person who you can brainstorm with, you can say, you can go in the back office and say, did you just see what I saw? And either it’s a celebration or it’s event, but it’s someone you trust and you can, you know, you know, you can create with. And so in my, my fir I’ve been at school now for 12 years. And my, my first, you know, five or five years, I was getting pretty tired and I was just, you know, it was hard. But I think this is the perfect way to end this Sam, when I went to my very first Canadian student leadership conference in, in Waterloo, not Waterloo Niagara and I was just a young was my first year at the school, after all the bill, all these billets, you know, come and pick up the kids and people who are listening, we’re talking about like 800, maybe sometimes like a thousand kids all get billed.
Tom Yonge (42:22):
After going to this conference, you know, you find a plane, you go to this amazing opening ceremonies, the energy so high, and then you get these kids get billed. And then the advisors get to go to their hotel and, and get to network and meet one another and shared their ideas. And I was left. Like my kids had left and I’m talking to Stacy, cuz we used to work together. We’re so surprised to see each other at this conference. And she has one delegate and her name’s Jane Grant and this poor kid is in, in, in grade 11 or 12. And she’s the only one who didn’t have a bill come pick her up. Mm-Hmm . And so I’m trying to get on her level and just, you know, like have fun. So I remember like making like, like these dumb seal sounds like I won’t make it now.
Tom Yonge (42:58):
Cause it’ll break you the eater drums of your audience. And we were singing the beach boys and we were just trying to like play name that tune and just try to keep her mind off the fact that she didn’t have anyone come pick her up while you know, the people ran to con sort, you know, try troubleshoot. Well long the story short, I got to know her through state AC over the course of the week. And she said she wanted to be a teacher. And at the time an elementary teacher, well, when we came back, I introduced her to one of my former students and, and now one of my best friends, Michael Schlegel melt, and I said, you guys need to meet like, you’re really good Sam trying to get people to connect. And this is one of those moments where I was like, Jane, you’re awesome, Mike, you are awesome.
Tom Yonge (43:34):
And Michael’s is the guy who would come back and staff, all my retreats and camping trips and stuff cause most other teachers didn’t want to. And so I always rely heavily on my alumni and Mike was just a year older or too older than, than her. And he was starting this thing called the Alberta mentorship program, which is basically a bunch of young kids who would come out and they, they helped school. They helped at other schools and they would offer their services to be that bridge between student and adult and do mentorship or just simply be the backbone of, you know, big retreat like, you know, bikeathon and different things and say we’ll stay up all night. We’re the ones who like doing that. We’ll do the Brun work. We’ll take the garbage and we’ll meet with your kids and we’ll hold sessions.
Tom Yonge (44:08):
And so Mike and Jane actually started this, this thing and it became like a nonprofit and many of my alumni who left my class, went through this. And so Jane and I got to stay in touch through her entire, you know, university. And so she already was working with my students as like a university student. And then when she finally graduated, we said, Hey, like, would you come work with work with SCON and run the leadership program with me? And, you know, at that point, just like I before at one point was like, I don’t know, do I wanna be an outdoor guide? Do I want to, you know, be a coach, she chose to leave her elementary training and become the leadership teacher with me. And that is the TSM turning point. That is when things really took off. And we had, I said, we’d reach small events where we’d only use, kind of get like, you know, you know, 50 kids to a hundred kids max to an school event in the early years, once she came, things took off.
Tom Yonge (44:55):
And, you know, the last few years when we ran our bikeathon, as I said, it’s like 1200 people plus alumni plus volunteer plus staff. Like it’s like the whole school like involved. And she’s you know, at one point I probably was her mentor and now I kind of feel that she’s mine and we’ve kind of, you know, switch spots. She’s incredibly hardworking, organized, creative. And I just I think having an ally, so back back to the back, then find your ally guys and gals, everybody like find your ally. And and, and for me, I was fortunate enough to, and I had to work though. And I had to like really like lean on the administration. And some of us living in small town, this, this, this advice doesn’t help you too much. So your ally might look different and maybe that’s someone at home, it’s someone in the community.
Tom Yonge (45:37):
Maybe it’s not a teacher like my ally before that was Mike who was just alumni became who became my friend. And he was the one who I, I, I knew I could take kids on trips cause they’d always come to me. These big ideas. I couldn’t ask my staff to do that, but I couldn ask Mike. So Mike was my ally until he went and got his, you know, multiple degrees and, you know, became a doctor and moved to Ottawa. But and then by by the time he could not give the time that he, he did Jane could. Mm. And at some point I’m sure her she’ll find other allies, I’ll find other allies, but iron sharpens iron. And I think all of like I’ve benefit, she’s benefiting and most important’s students have be benefited from our co-teaching.
Sam Demma (46:15):
There’s an awesome book, think and grow rich. And there’s a chapter on the mastermind and Napoleon Hill, the author basically says when two minds, you know, two humans talk to each other and brainstorm ideas, a third intangible mind is created because of the two coming together and that’s what you’re describing. It’s like your creativity will never out match two people talking together and brainstorming together. We all have blind spots and other people help us identify them and amplify each other’s creativity, which I think is so cool. Ending on that note. If someone wants to chat with you and bring two minds together who listened to this interview and thinks it was a phenomenal conversation, what would be the best way for them to reach out to you and, and have that conversation?
Tom Yonge (46:57):
Well, I’ll say this in, in just to be funny, but probably email Jane.brand. ATSB, DOTC be more organized than I am. And I hope you, Jane, I hope you listen to this sometimes because it’s true and you know it, and you’ll get a kick of this when you see me next. No, but my, my emails, firstname.lastname@example.org and as long as you don’t mind getting emails late at night, I tend to get the kids to, I got a four and six year old. I get the kids to bed and that’s when I get back on and do my schoolwork. So I usually reply late and if that’s okay then I’m always happy to connect. And as I said, Sam, it’s been such a pleasure listening to the different educators from all over the place that you brought on this podcast. I really miss the community of CSLC teachers. And so much of, of my growth and everything that I’ve done is a direct result of better mentorship. And so cycle continues.
Sam Demma (47:52):
I love it. And I heard the rumor that if you’re near the school on a night of a full moon, you might hear a Ooh
Tom Yonge (47:59):
Right. I’m no, no lone Wolf. I’m looking for the pack. So just join in.
Sam Demma (48:05):
I love it, Tom. Thanks so much for coming on.
Tom Yonge (48:06):
I really appreciate it. My pleasure, Sam, thanks so much. Take care.
Sam Demma (48:10):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show. If you wanna meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network. You’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise, I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.
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