Humans of HDSB

A space where we celebrate the beautiful humans in Halton, sharing their stories and their insights

Meet the Humans of HDSB. Learn a little bit about what they love about their role, the successes and challenges they face, along with some of the things that make them Human. We asked each of these humans about what is working for them in their role, what their main challenges are, a tiny victory they've had, what they want you to know, and a couple of luck-of-the-draw personal questions.

Michael Marchione

Intermediate Teacher - Virtual School North

What do you love about your job?

Having the opportunity to learn alongside others - the students, colleagues, mentors within the Board and our community - is a huge part of why I love education. Every year provides opportunities to keep learning and growing. The opportunities to engage in Professional Development, even virtually, have been an amazing part of the journey. For me, this job is about relationships and connections and so I am very thankful to the people I have met along the way.

As someone who did not enjoy school as a young learner, I find that having the opportunity to be a small part of building a safe learning community with the students is also a major part of the job I love. I really do believe in doing the work with and for the students.

In this challenging year, what have you tried that is working?

At work, collaborating with others and those small ‘check-ins’ with friends and colleagues has really been a source of light this year. I am fortunate to have amazing teaching partners who support one another and create a safe space for trying and failing and listening and growing. The ‘check-in’ texts, virtual coffee chats, and physically distanced walks have gone a long way. It hasn’t always been easy and there are so many people I miss dearly at work and look forward to connecting again soon.

On a personal level, I have tried to give myself more grace. I place very high expectations on myself, and this year put that in the spotlight for me. I get frustrated because limitations beyond my control prevent me from doing the things I value and believe in to the standards I hold myself to. I feel defeated when I can’t sleep or my body aches from being on a screen all day. Negative self talk permeates my thoughts as I sit in my office by myself. These things (and then some) are still present but what is working is reminding myself that my feelings are valid and justified.

And so, I have been working on acknowledging and accepting how I feel in the moment and developing tools to work through them. Understanding that I am doing the best I can with the moment I am in, and seeking support when needed. I recognize that it will be a lifelong journey and I am okay with that.

What has been challenging?

Giving myself a haircut! Those side fades really are works of art… Anyone with advice!?

I also think a constant challenge that ebbs and flows is teaching virtually. For me, I know that being on a screen and sitting at a computer for hours a day was not something I pictured as an educator. I think this experience captures that pause for “yet” because I feel that I have seen how virtual learning spaces provide opportunities that differ from in-person learning. For all the tears, the uncertainty, the anxiety, the internet connections - it has been a challenge for sure. However, I remind myself that the situation we ALL faced this year continues to be in response to a global pandemic. In our virtual and in-person learning communities.

Something that I hope to carry with me from these challenges… I hope this pandemic gives us pause to really take a look at public education and leave behind what was not working, carrying forward new learning and perspectives, and to support one another as we heal and grow from adversity.

What is one tiny victory or quick win?

It took a while to really view it in this way, but in a virtual setting having the students log into our Google Meet each day feels like a victory. Whether it’s a few or all. All challenges aside, they come back and while each day may look different I have so much respect and gratitude that they come back each day. I want to carry that gratitude with me when I return to the physical learning community.

What words of love & encouragement do you have for fellow Humans of HDSB?

I feel unsure what I could possibly say, or share that could make an impact, but here it goes:

Remember why you love this world we call education - beyond all the emails, the many many many extra hours, the constant content creation, the internet problems, the rows of desks, the reminders to ‘stay in your zone’ and ‘put your mask on please’, the list could go on…

You are important. You matter. Advocate for the mental health and wellbeing of your students, colleagues, and ultimately yourself. Take care of yourself and take care of others.

What is your favourite word, and why?

Can I say ‘pizza’? Because I absolutely LOVE pizza and even the word brings me joy!

Have you ever had a nickname? What was it? If not, what nickname would you like to have had?

I’m not sure I’ve ever had a ‘nickname’ per se - some of my cousins called me Mikey when we were younger though!

Not sure I could think of one if I had to choose to be honest!

Caitlin Warren

Health and Wellness Assistant - JWS/ Health and Wellness (HR)

What do you love about your job?

The thing I love most about my job are the daily interactions I have with employees. In my role, I am the first point of contact for our department. This allows me to interact with employees in all departments and roles. It can be difficult to come to terms with an illness, upcoming surgery or a loss. I’m happiest when I can offer support or comfort even in a small way.

In this challenging year, what have you tried and that is working?

It seems to be so easy to sit in solitude at my desk and that can get really lonely. Whether it be by email, text or Google Meet, it makes all the difference connecting with my coworkers. I also ensure to get out for a walk during my lunch break to recharge and give myself a break from my screen.

What is a challenge, or something that isn’t working for you yet?

Training has been more difficult online. It has taken some adjustments and getting creative.

What is a tiny victory, or a quick win you've had?

A few years ago we implemented a system so that all documentation that comes into our office is sent to one central email address. This really streamlined how we received important documentation. When we were initially shut down, this meant we could still process documentation and support employees from home.

Do you have any words of encouragement / love for other educators or staff?

These are strange and difficult times, it’s ok to admit that things have not been easy. Try and have grace with yourself. Everyone is doing their best and kindness can go a long way.

If you could hire someone to do one job for you for the rest of your life, what job would it be? Why?

I would like to have a personal yoga/ meditation instructor. Someone to motivate me in the morning and find my inner calm to start the day right.

What 3 things do you think of most in a day?

  1. My family and friends

  2. Daydreaming of vacations to Italy, New Zealand, Ireland and Scotland

  3. My inbox

Jon Corbin

Secondary Educator - Craig Kielburger Secondary School

What do you love about your job?

I love the constant learning that comes with this job. I walk into a classroom with a heavy amount of humility, wanting to share what I can and am actively looking to receive new perspectives, new connections to culture. I love hearing from students “Mr Corbin, have you seen this, read this, heard this?”

I want an environment where people can share … “You speak, we learn” I’m personally enriched and I set the tone to be listeners, to be attuned to each other and to learn from each other. I model it, I’m so blessed looking to learn from my students and I hope that my students learn from each other as well.

In this challenging year, what have you tried that is working?

This year has been a massive change, even in the setup of the year. Last year I was a SERT at Gary Allan and prior to that I was teaching at the Secondary Teen Education Program (S.T.E.P.) which were smaller groups, and more flexible education models. This year marked my first return in a while to mainstream school in the virtual secondary school. So in so many ways, the job was new to me and that change has forced me to learn and grow. I hope it has taught me a bit about grace. When you see your limitations, hopefully you learn that over time, some days are better than others in terms of giving myself grace. The return to the day to day instruction of a large group of people was a big shift. What is cool about teaching at VSS is being able to build student relationships. I am much more attuned to mental health this year, both of mine and my students. We try to live and breathe that priority in our class. I'm working on integrating mental health into our days. We are being honest about our own journeys. We start every day with a fun and silly check in, then on Wednesday, we start with “What’s Good Wednesday'' where we intentionally share our gratitudes for what is in our lives and what our strengths are. Fostering that positive dialogue really lifts the community and is important to keep centred in our minds and hearts.

What is a challenge and isn’t working...yet?

This is one question that is so difficult to answer. There have been so many monumental challenges this year, it makes my head spin: cramming 5 months into 10 weeks. The deluge of marking. However, what is more important, I see room for growth in self compassion. Remembering, we are doing the best we can. It starts with self-acceptance and self-compassion. I’m constantly learning about taking care of myself. There are many days of missteps, and I’m still learning to be easy on myself for that.

What is one tiny victory you have had?

I take the victory that the students I teach acknowledge the classroom space as fun, engaging, and interesting. Getting feedback this year that class has been sparking joy and sparking thought - in this season, that is enough for me.

Words of Encouragement and Love for staff

I have learned from my mistakes: lesson #1 - don’t sacrifice sleep. Actively look for fun and for something to look forward to. One way that has filled my cup is being intentionally generous. It is much more fulfilling than sitting on the couch and gives me energy to keep going. We started a tradition in our family called “Corbinfest”, where we planned our perfect day of activities and food as a family in the morning then in the afternoon, we bought $150 dollars worth of donuts from Donut Monster in Hamilton and went around distributing them and spreading love. That day will keep me going for a long time and I think it is a new tradition that has to stay.

Have you ever had a nickname? What was it?

When I worked at day camps as a counsellor, my nickname was “Doc”. It was an homage to the great Dr. J with his afro. That was a season of my life of being carefree and I modelled that for the kids at the camp: freedom to be silly and to play.

Heather Bolt

Staffing and Recruiting Officer - JWS

What do you love about your job?

I love almost everything about my job - recruiting and onboarding new teachers. And, I am a numbers person, so I love the staffing piece of my job. I love being able to help principals work through their staffing to ensure that they balance.

In this challenging year, what have you tried and that is working?

Staying connected to my colleagues through virtual meetings instead of just emails. I try to pick up the phone when I can as well.

What is a challenge / isn’t working …. Yet?

I really miss being face-to-face with people. We’re doing the best we can with what we have, the orientations with new teachers are all virtual, and that’s great, but I miss the actual face-to-face. You feel like you engage and connect better.

Tiny Victory - Quick Win

We’ve had a great year in spite of everything. We’ve had to completely change our process, and yet we’ve still been able to get over 300 teachers onto the OT list! Everything from interviews to reference checks have all been done electronically, and we’ve managed to conduct all our orientation sessions virtually. So, we’ve done alright, I think. I’m pretty proud of our team!

Do you have any words of encouragement / love for other educators or staff?

I just read this in my church bulletin and it really resonated with me:

"Always surround yourself with people that have plenty of light in them. That way, you will always have candles around you when days are dark”

So many of us have had dark days through this pandemic and I think this is really important. The truth is we never know what someone is going through behind the scenes, so just be kind.

February was really super hard for me. Both my elderly parents tested positive for COVID - my stepfather contracted it in the hospital while he was in for heart surgery, and then brought it home with him. So, I was taking care of them (responsibly and from a distance), making sure they had everything they needed. It was really frustrating, especially when we had taken all the precautions to keep them safe and protect them from it.

So, you just never know. I tried to stay positive, but those were some dark times. I know everyone is experiencing that, so bringing that quote to mind really helps.

Sometimes I find just a quick conversation with my manager, principal or colleague helps to put everything in perspective.

Happily, the sun is out now, and now, both my parents recovered, and are now vaccinated. And it reminds me to be grateful for so many things, and to know we will get through it.

What is the last thing you bought for yourself?

A kayak!

We do a lot of camping, and I am an avid photographer! My favourite thing to photograph is birds. My happy place is being out on the water in my kayak early in the morning, and taking as many pictures as I can.

We’ve always rented kayaks. But, last year, I had finally saved up enough money to buy one for myself, and then the world fell apart, and everyone and their brother was buying a kayak.

I mean, you couldn’t get one anywhere! Canadian Tire told us “Basically, if it’s fun, it’s out of stock.”

Then, one day, my daughter calls and says that Costco in Guelph has 20 kayaks in stock that morning. My husband rushed over there, and found out they had sold in under 5 minutes! People ran into the store as soon as the doors opened.

Fortunately, my dear husband decided to check out the Oakville Canadian Tire on his way home, and was able to get one!

So, we are really looking forward to some kayaking camping trips this summer in Algonquin, Charleston Lake, and Balsam Lake.

Joy Barnaby

Guidance Counsellor - Craig Kielburger Secondary School

What do you love about your job?

What’s not to love? I have been teaching a long time (I won’t say how long) and I have to say, the main thing that I love the most, is that as teachers we have the capacity to change lives at our fingertips. It is amazing that we get to work with our young minds. School is a space to challenge, and to affect change. Best of all, we get to watch the results at the end! It is so nice to see young people with their innocence in grade 9 and then witness them develop into amazing young adults the time they graduate. I revel and say “My babies are grown up” and feel blessed to see their journey in life and to see their success. Some students really struggle, and to see them turn themselves around on their own time, to being happy, that is the sweetest reward there is!.

In this challenging year, what have you tried that is working?

The biggest challenge for me that has worked in this virtual world and in this moment in time is getting so much equity work done this year. I have an amazing team with me of teachers and students working on equity, and we just recently went through planning all the opportunities for Black History Month. We have creative constraints to work within this year, it is hard to get people physically together for things like assemblies, which we often do. Instead, we have been meeting virtually to reinvent Black History Month. We have invited in a speaker who spoke about how to be an anti-racist educator and we also had a virtual student panel discussion. I’m really proud of the equity team for being more creative in the face of these new constraints this year. We were forced to think outside the box and in the end, got more engagement in the conversation than in other years. Students were really engaged - they said it was really enriching and to have the student voice in the student panel.

What is a challenge and isn’t working...yet?

In my position as guidance counsellor, it remains so hard to engage students in virtual chats. It is harder both to reach them and read them, when they need support or are in distress. I don’t get to see the students, as they don’t have their cameras on, and as a result, I can’t read them, their body language, their non-verbal cues. It is easier for students to disappear, and not check their email. Connecting with students involves a lot more follow up and calls needed than it would in a year without COVID.

What is one tiny victory you have had?

I’m so pleased, I learned to do a screencastify! We have all been stretched to learn new tools like Screencastify and Brightspace. I tried that for the first time and it has actually been really useful. We are using Screencastify to help with our presentations to students.

Words of Encouragement and Love for staff

Right now is so difficult. We are all wondering WHEN do we get back to normality? If only, then, can we make a difference. I say, let’s not wait for WHEN to make a difference, realize that we are making a difference now. I think that especially when life’s challenges are high, now is the time we can be extra encouraging and kind. Trust that we ARE making a difference, we just need to stay positive in this moment.

What is the first thing you do in the morning when you wake up?

Every morning I wake up and say a prayer. I focus on being grateful and centring myself in that for the day. I grab my lemon tea and have a quiet sit, in meditation and prayer. If I don’t do that, I find that I’m not centred during my day. I really think that practicing gratitude has had an effect on my life. It seeps into other aspects of your life. Once you name it, it becomes so.

Who is someone you would like to have lunch with?

I’d love, love, LOVE to have lunch with Michelle Obama! After reading her book Becoming, I’m so inspired by her. I’d love to sit with her and just chat about her life. Her book inspired me to start writing again and her words and life inspired and encouraged me to get back at it. I write poems and I’m loving that creative release.

Photo by CKSS photography teacher - Antonia Giroux

Rasha Balche

Vice Principal - Irma Coulson P.S.

What do you love about your job? What lights you up?

The people I work with everyday….and especially the kids!!! I absolutely LOVE visiting classrooms, and talking to the kids and families on the school-yard. With over 1000 students at Irma Coulson....they keep me energized and excited to be at work everyday! The staff are simply inspiring, and remind me that educators are some of the most caring, hardworking and selfless people I know!

What has been a challenge?

I’ve learned to accept that not everything will go as planned...this year is a great example of how COVID has impacted us all. This has been a great reminder to slow things down, to prioritize our health and wellbeing and to simply be kind to everyone we come into contact with. Keeping up with Public Health protocols have kept us all very’s great to see how our communities in Halton have come together during these challenging times.

What is one tiny victory you've had?

Seeing our Coulson students from JK to grade 8 follow all the new Health and Safety protocols and expectations while remaining positive and happy at school is a win for families and educators alike! We all want our kids to be safe and happy! I’m just as thankful for all the great work my own children’s HDSB school is doing to keep them safe and excited to be there everyday.

Do you have any words of encouragement for other Humans of HDSB?

Nothing is forever...remember that these challenges will pass! Remember to take care of yourself and to reach out to support those around you. Find ways to laugh...I’m so thankful for my Coulson Family who shows this kindness, care and empathy to others everyday! It really does make a difference!

What is the last thing you bought for yourself?A mask (

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?I’m honestly happy with who I am. I’m in no means perfect... but I don’t think anyone should be. Our weaknesses and imperfections build our character, our empathy, and our resilience. I know I have a lot to offer but I also know I have a lot to learn. I have an incredible husband and family who are there to support me and two beautiful kids who I’m beyond proud of. Teaching our kids to be proud of their identities and confident in their own bodies and voice their contributions is a wonderful gift that we as educators and parents have an opportunity to do everyday!

Tamara Phillips

English Teacher - Virtual Secondary School

What do you love about your job?

I love the seasons of teaching, there is an ebb and flow of the job. You start fresh in September, with a new set of ideas, and the year flows with a rhythm of teaching. You see a new set of kids, there are changes for iteration and reset throughout the year September until June, and then a reset over the summer. I was a kid that loved school, and I have always been in that September to June flow. I don’t think I will every consider January as the beginning of the year! You’ll never make the big bucks in teaching but it is the sweetest gig. Also, as a mom, there is something organic and poetic about it. You watch these kids grow. I live and work in my community, I have gone to my students weddings, I see when they have kids of their own. It is beautiful to be so deeply embedded in the community as an educator.

In this challenging year, what have you tried that is working?

In the midst of the pandemic and lock down in the spring, George Floyd was murdered. I’m a racialized educator, some of my relatives are black, my own kids weren’t as engaged because of lockdown and emergency distance learning. I would say I have always been involved in equity work, and I was always in the background, on the equity team at Craig Kielburger, but I would be designing the slides but wasn’t comfortable being the brown woman up front talking about it at staff meetings. It was the day of George Floyd’s funeral, and nothing had been said in our Google Group about it. That day, I wrote this open letter to my students, then also posted to CKSS Google group, and with that tried to bring my most honest and authentic personal experience in my interactions with staff and students. It sounds simple, but in the past I didn't acknowledge my own positionality with students and this shift has really worked. The work that we have done at CKSS since George Floyd’s murder has been a great start, it has been so much more meaningful, and teachers are more responsive especially around anti-black racism. I hear from kids that they really need adults in their lives to tackle real situations that are happening and not be silent about them. This shift I now realize, exists in a bigger context: we are now talking a lot about colonized spaces that we all inhabit and it has taken me all this time for me to realize my own colonized practice as an educator. As an English teacher, it is typically a very traditional top down type of learning, choosing works from the cannon and learning about them. This year has about questioning and reexamining that and I’m feeling joyful and empowered in the work.

What is a challenge and isn’t working...yet?

Students are still not turning on their cameras in the virtual sounds like a small thing, but it isn’t! I never realized before how much we as educators rely on quickly glancing around a classroom to see how students are doing, reading their body language and their physical cues to determine if they need support. Without that ability in virtual class, it is forcing me to think about how to connect with these students.

I recall my professor at university saying that students have to have sovereignty over some spaces within the school. I typically see those as some public areas around the school, like the hallways and their lockers. As a result, I would often deliberately not overly police those spaces. I wonder if by not turning their cameras it is a way for them to own a part of the virtual school space.

What is one tiny victory you’ve had?

I would count this as a huge victory - this pandemic and teaching virtually has presented a beautiful opportunity to transform the content of our courses. We are not bound by what is found in the book room at school, and we are curating our own texts. We have done podcasts, Thunder Bay podcast CanadaLand and students are responding really well. After listening to that podcast, they were all fired up, saying “I feel lied to”! This has been an opportunity to change the way we think about the cannon. We have amplified voices that have never been heard before in English courses.

Have you ever had a nickname?

My parents came to Canada in 1970s, they were Sri Lankan immigrants. They named me Tamara for the purpose of being able to call me Tammy. How 70s is and white is that! As a little Sri Lankan immigrant, I recall being thankful for this name that Canadian people had no problem pronouncing. My last name was a long Singhalese/Tamil name, Thurairajah, that would inevitably get butchered at every mention. No one called me Tamara, even my younger sister calls me Akki, a term of endearment meaning older sister (an informal version of Akka). My middle name is Seethadevi and I was so happy to learn that Kamala Harris’ middle name is Devi, that made me proud!

Do you have any words of encouragement or love for other educators and staff?

If educators don’t see how powerful they are after this pandemic, nothing will! Students and parents are longing for school, and attests to the importance of educators and school. We have the power to make and change communities for the better. I recently read Toni Morrison’s words on her birthday and I think they are really fitting: "Whatever the work is, do it well. You make the job; it doesn't make you," and perhaps most importantly, "You are not the work you do; you are the person you are."

Photo by CKSS photography teacher - Antonia Giroux

Frana Barry

Secondary Music Teacher at the Virtual Secondary School

This year is a year of so many firsts, with lots of trial and error. What have you tried that has worked?

I teach music online in the virtual secondary school this year, and for the most part, I’m pleased to say that it is working surprisingly well. The most important thing as a teacher for me is to develop the class community and build relationships. I can deliver curriculum until I am blue in the face, but how am I going to get kids to make friends and take risks and how do you create that in a virtual space? I start with lots of community building, using Google Meet breakout rooms to facilitate quick 5 minute conversations. I ask questions such as “Find someone who… find one common thing, find a boring fact about themselves.” Kids who have chosen VSS may have been locked down for a long time due to family and health constraints so it is important for their mental health to make room for them to be social and to connect. My students have a discord chat on the side, sharing inside jokes, and are planning to meet IRL (in real life) post COVID. As a result of building the community they report that they actually feel part of a real school. I notice that introverts feel more comfortable in this space to share as well. They challenge each other and challenge me.

What isn’t working …. yet?

As a music teacher teaching in the virtual space, I’m still struggling with performances. The core of the music program is very demonstrative and performative. We can’t play live because of a myriad of technological and equipment issues. Microphones are an issue, there is internet lag that makes it impossible to play together, there are just too many barriers to do this well. We tried a multi-track mix, but not all students are there yet.

What is one tiny victory you have had in your teaching this year?

We did a study of really strange and experimental modern classical music and students created “Teens React” video, using as much musical knowledge as possible. Kids really went all in on that one, and it was a lot of fun!

What would you change about yourself if you could?

I have a lot of ideas and good intentions in both work and at home, but don’t have the capacity and motivation to follow through. I wish I could have more follow through on these ideas. I am not sure exactly what stops me, but only some of my ideas come to fruition. Sometimes the need to unwind on the couch is a greater draw in the moment, instead of editing that video or making that recording. There are many things you can be doing, and you also need to prioritize your own sanity, and your own priorities. As a parent of three children, I’m always pulled in many directions and many commitments, swimming lessons, piano and so much more. I have to say, the pandemic has crystalized what needs to be prioritized - and family time has truly been a blessing. Whereas before the pandemic, we were SO BUSY running around from commitment to commitment, the pandemic has focused us on going for walks together and playing board games as a family. It is nice to have time to regroup, and sit together. So in some ways, I am taking small steps towards focusing on my goals and refocusing on what is really important.

If you had a warning label, what would it say?

“Caution - time pirate.” I really love to talk. I don’t mean to, I just love humans and spend a lot of time talking, so be warned!

Do you have any words of encouragement and love for other educators and staff at Halton?

I have all of the love for my colleagues. This year in some ways has been the best year for collaborating as everyone is in the same boat. We are all in our first years teaching again and we are scrambling together, and every little reach out, every little tip, however small, helps. It could be as simple as sharing chrome extensions, some of those have changed my life! There has been so much banding together and helping each other out. Everyone deserves a shout out.

Althea Delic

Grade One Teacher - Virtual North

What do you love about your job?

No matter how much I may be dreading my day - from staying up late the night before prepping and feeling inadequate as a teacher - the minute I see those smiling faces on the screen excited to see me and telling me that they would rather be at school with me than on winter break or the weekend, totally lifts my spirits!

What has been a challenge?

Having to assess my students according to the standards of the current curriculum expectations when our teaching models have had to undergo so much tremendous change with fewer resources available to us for enriching and engaging learning.

What is a tiny victory you've had?

Most of my students can now navigate from the Google Meet to their online activities with independence or much less guidance than they needed at the beginning of the year. They are becoming more proficient with the online learning tools that we use in class. Oh! I also helped my daughter’s teacher who just started virtual last month with presenting online readers to the students because she was having trouble showing it on the screen. I actually knew some of the jargon to use to explain it to her instead of saying, “click on the thingy on the bottom and then the thing that says Pearson Readers….”. She managed to successfully read with my daughter on the screen and thanked me for my help.

Words of encouragement for the other Humans in HDSB?

It’s a lot but the small victories can be the fuel to get you through each day if you focus on getting through one small step at a time. My father-in-law always says to my kids, “How do you eat an elephant? Bite by bite.”

It may seem like there is no end in sight and you want to give up. I think about it everyday. Keep focusing on those little steps then suddenly when you look back you see that you’ve made it to the end of January already. March is just around the corner. You’ve got this and I am here cheering you on the whole way through.

If you could hire someone to do one job for you for the rest of your life, what job would it be?

I would want a personal trainer because I want to get in the habit of having a healthier lifestyle, and I feel like I’m utterly failing when I do it on my own. I do a lot better when someone is motivating me to push myself.

Have you ever had a secret admirer? Would you want one?

I can’t recall ever having a secret admirer. No, I wouldn’t want one because I don’t like the idea of someone putting me on a pedestal. I don’t like to be the centre of attention at the best of times, and the thought of someone admiring me creeps me out.

Caitlin Kemp

Secondary English and Creative Writing Teacher at the Virtual Secondary School

What have you tried that has worked this year?

I teach English and Creative Writing in the Virtual Secondary School and what I have tried that is working well for me is using the Google Meet breakout groups, even before Google Meet officially added that feature into meet, I was using multiple Google Meets to create breakout groups. The key to why I think the breakout groups are working well for me, is the students are distributed into the same group every day, and as a result, they have formed relationships in those groups. With that consistency of the same group every day, the, they could start making friends in the virtual space. They even started turning on their cameras, and you know how huge that is for teenagers! In those breakout groups, they were working on a variety of collaborative tasks together: jamboards, escape rooms, working from a collective brainstorm template together. So I’m really pleased to have the social aspects of a in person class creeping back into the virtual classroom.

What isn’t working...yet?

We need to lower our expectations as educators, this is the first time through this model of teaching and it is hard on ourselves as educators and as humans. I do see essential level students really struggle in this space, from managing the technology and digital organization (sharing docs, for example). In a virtual space, reluctant learners disengage and it is harder to give them real time support. It is easy for them to turn off their screens and not participate and frustrating for me as an educator to not be able to give them the support I would normally be able to in a face to face setting.

What is one tiny victory you’ve had?

I have been trying to do more one on one with students by scheduling them into class time, so I’m not synchronous with everyone all the time. I am trying to meet with them and turn on camera with one on one. By making space for that one on one connection, I’m getting to know my students a bit better.

Words of encouragement and love for educators and staff

Realize we are all learning and we are feeling very isolated, we can’t meet in workrooms, pop into each others’ rooms, at lunch. We also see amazing work educators are sharing (on Twitter etc.) and we can fall into the trap of feeling inadequate, but we are all doing the best we can the first time around. Educators helping educators has really helped as we are in the state of new uncharted waters together. But because we can’t connect in our usual ways in a school building, let’s make a point to intentionally reach out to each other in other ways. It really makes a difference.

If you could choose to do anything for a day, what would it be? With whom?

My mother and I have had the tradition for the last few years of going to the spa and having a spa day, just the two of us. It started when I moved out as a way for us to have one special day that keeps us connected. We relax, we get pampered, we reconnect just the two of us. We got to a beautiful spa called Grand River Spa out on Six Nations, where we can get lunch, go for a swim if we want, there are often deer nearby. It is lovely. COVID has interrupted that tradition. At this point, I would love nothing more than to make COVID disappear and I could go to the spa with my mom. I think we all need a little extra pampering right now.

If you could go back in time, what year would you travel to? Why?

If I were to go anywhere, to any place, I would choose to go back to 1990. My paternal grandmother died when I was quite young of cancer... I think I was 7 when she passed away. I have heard such great things about her and heard that she was a lot like who I have become: she was feisty, a go-getter, a ball of energy. She was also a fabulous chef and baker, but she didn’t write her cooking secrets down. We can try a recipe she did, but it just doesn’t turn out the way she did. So I think I would love to go back in time to spend time with my grandmother, cook and bake with her, while furiously taking notes about the magic she puts into her cooking. I’d love to visit with someone who I hear was so much like me and just have a chance to connect.

Hawa Iyamabo

Executive assistant to the superintendent of education - school operations

Manage 36 schools.

What is working

This year looks different - work in the board office, staff working from home, fewer people in the space, not having the normal conversations to problem solve, connect and build relationships, Using PPE (good for our safety).


We are still running the building. Schools are open. Leadership has been working their tails off to make things work.

The toughest part is that we are still trying to get into the rhythm of the new delivery of curriculum, things are beyond our control - limited resources, time, supply teachers, what we are given, we are doing our best.

A tiny victory is around technology - improved skills and efficiency. Cut printing, doing things online has proven surprisingly effective. I've enjoyed attending virtual events more.

Message For You

I feel like I’m stronger than I give myself credit for. We all are. Know that we are collectively stronger than we think. It's good to laugh at ourselves - funny fails when trying new things. We will get through this and look back and be stronger for it. We'll look back and say "I got through it, I got it, and kept going”

If I could go back in time, I would sprint back to 2019, pre-Covid, a somewhat normal year, a year when Dad and mum-in law were still alive. A year that I hadn't experienced loss of a close family member. There are so many conversations I would have with them. Most importantly I would record their voices and just listen to them talk, laugh, and share words of wisdom…. Now, flash forward to my current reality of 2021, even though I am thankful for the great memories of 2019, like many, I feel the void of loss. It is true when they say CHERISH what you value, before it’s gone

Aside from necessities, I can’t go a day without my prayers and my tea. These are a MUST, and so uplifting!! When I travel, I always travel with my own favourite teabag (just in case) and yes that would be me taking any left teabags from my hotel room.... Shhhh!

Michelle McCann

IPL - Student Well-being (Elementary)

I love working with educators around supporting the mental health and well-being of students. It has always been an area of importance to me in my own classrooms. I am thrilled that the Board has created this position to help build networks of support and resources for educators that can be used to promote positive mental health and well-being of ALL our Halton students. I have built so many new and wonderful relationships this year with educators who I may never have met if I was not in this role.

Like many of us, the feelings of isolation due to covid 19 have affected me. I do not get to work in the schools very often and I really miss connecting with students.

To the other humans of HDSB, I would say... This is hard. Really hard. Thank you for the love and compassion you are sharing with your students during these challenging times. Remember to show yourself some of that love and compassion too!

What is your proudest accomplishment?

I returned to Wilfrid Laurier University as a full time student in September 2018, while also continuing to work part time for the school board and parenting two young children. I completed a research based Masters degree in Developmental Psychology in 2020. I am very proud of this accomplishment, the knowledge and experiences I gained, and the opportunities that have come from it.

What would you sing at karaoke night?

I am definitely not known for being able to carry a tune, but I would probably sing something really loud and dramatic. Possibly something by Bon Jovi. You Give Love a Bad Name!

Eric Keunne

Program Lead - Newcomer Youth Settlement @ HDSB Welcome Centre

What is working?

“Being new to my role, my focus has been on communication and relationship building, building relationships with staff at the Welcome Centre as well as our community partners. It has been really helpful in this transition to have that strong support network. I keep connected with my team through a couple simple but effective tools: First, we meet on a daily basis in a meeting we call the morning huddles. Here we map out what is the day going to look like and any challenges with a case, then having open conversations to being able to help each other out. Second, I have an open calendar that I share with my team - they can book me any time one on one basis to discuss anything at all. It’s a virtual version of “my door is always open”. You can rely on me to listen, even if I don’t have answers at that moment.”

What isn’t working, yet?

Well, one of the things we have tried to do that is a work in progress is to put together a map of our whole process - to have help organize ourselves in our department and to help administrators and support them related to new questions they have, especially regarding Virtual Schools. Finding concrete answers to specific questions in a changing landscape of information is hard.

What is your favourite word?

My favourite word is “Thank You” (ok, technically two words) because sometimes in the moment we fail to recognize that we need to be grateful for our lives. I am privileged to be surrounded by amazing human beings, to have family and friends, and even to be alive right now, especially in the middle of a pandemic. Everyone has challenges, struggles, future aspirations, and at times we fail to recognize who we are right now. "Thank you" is a foundation for a better tomorrow. The greatest support you can offer someone in the moment is not always a job, money, it can be as simple as a smile. I always say thank you to my students for teaching me so much, I say thank you to my colleagues, I learn so much from them as well. Having someone to show you something new, that is something that is difficult to repay and to measure, so "thank you" is so very important.

What is the most daring thing you’ve ever done?

The most daring thing I’ve ever done was the decision to immigrate to Canada from the UK. My life in Newcastle UK was tough, mentally, financially, socially. So, I made the big decision to immigrate to Canada. When it was time to move, I only had the money to afford a one way ticket, so it was a daring decision, because I knew there was no going back, quite literally! I came to Canada knowing absolutely no one, and with only $200 in my pocket. My only acquaintance, who I had never met, was the elder brother of a friend I knew back in Belgium. It was incredibly stressful wondering how I would survive, where I would sleep when I landed in Canada, if I wasn’t able to connect with that acquaintance...I only had a photograph of him. Thankfully, he waited at the airport for me, even though my flight was hours late. So I think that was my most daring decision, was taking the risk for a better life here in Canada. I’m glad I did!

Kristina Bothmer

WINS: My two grade 1 colleagues and I share a portable as our virtual instructional space. We decided to bring our classes together for some read-alouds, mindfulness, and activities. It allowed the kids to get to know different teachers, the educators to get to know more students, and the students to get to know each other. And, it gave us, as educators, a bit of a breather from being "on" and gather our thoughts, which was nice for our mental (and physical) well-being.

The parents of our kiddos have been so supportive! They recognize and acknowledge the effort we're putting in all day long, and are getting a more realistic behind-the-scenes understanding of what happens in a day. They are also so helpful in times when tech issues arise.

Who would you like to have dinner with?

I would love to have dinner with Kamala Harris. I don't follow politics greatly, but I think Harris has something really unique about her, and I feel a connection to her in some interesting way that she sees the world in a way that I see the world, and she sees people in the same way I see people - looking at people like humans, and being a kind, nice human being matters. That's important to her. She had a quote the other day that being a kind human matters - and I just was like, "YES!" Of course, I want my students to learn to read, and write, and do math, and all the other things, but ultimately, I want them to be kind human beings - because, if you're kind, you can collaborate better, and if you can collaborate better, you can work out that math problem with others, you know?!

So, I think it would be amazing to have a conversation and learn more about her as a person, how she got to where she is, what her plans are... Tomorrow, we're going to read her book, "Superheroes are Everywhere", and talk about the picture of her with all the other Vice Presidents - all the white men in their white hair - and then Kamala at the bottom, a black female. I've never really brought politics into the grade one classroom before, but I think this is important enough. So yeah, I would totally want to have dinner with her, and get to know her.