A Chat With Mr. Woodward

Eye on The Storm interviewed our principle Mr. Woodward and ask him some questions about his experience working at Richardson this past year.

After being here for a year, how do you like Richardson? I love it. Absolutely the best school I have ever been a part of. The fact I am leading it as principal is very exciting.

What do you think of the students and the teachers at Richardson? The students are second to none. Very mature, respectful and responsible. You can tell that at the elementary school level and what we continue to do here at J Clarke, it is what we expect to see in character. As far as the staff goes, they are so professional. They are open to be challenged. They are reflective practitioners on their work and they continue to want to be better for the kids that are here.

What is your favourite part of being principal? The people. The people make the building. I really learned about diversity and different cultures and how those all blend to make Richardson a cultural mosaic that’s second to none. So for me, it’s a lot of learning. I came from Oshawa, a white middle class experience. That was what I grew up in. So for me, this is very different and a good learning experience.

It’s nice to see the families, lots of supportive families of the kids here. You see that on Parents’ Night, you see that on Grade 9 Night and in all of our other events – including our arts when you see the big arts performances in the fall, it’s amazing.

What did you think of last year’s Musical Tarzan? It was great. It felt like going to Toronto. I have paid for musicals that I didn’t enjoy nearly as much as what I saw here. It was absolutely done professionally. I really respect the work and the time that went into it.

How was your high school experience? I really loved high school. It was easy for me, the academic piece of it, so I spent a lot of time in the social side of it and I really enjoyed that. I didn’t have to work very hard in secondary school so I was able to take advantage of a lot of the extracurricular pieces. I had a really nice network of friends and I spent a lot of time with them.

How was your post-secondary experience? That was a different story. So I always look back at my readiness. Was I ready to go? The answer was that I probably wasn’t. I was pretty immature when I went. I went to the University of Waterloo. I went in the math and computer science program. Within the first year, I needed to take a year off. It wasn’t working. My marks were poor. That was a real tough time for me. That first year I was thinking that I wasn’t good enough, that I wasn’t smart enough but it really was that I wasn’t ready to do the work. I wasn’t prepared to do what it would take to be a university graduate. So I took a year off and then returned and continued my education and finished my degree at Waterloo.

What advice would you give to students to avoid that same experience? I would say that in high school, the best feedback you can get is your learning skills. When those are excellent it means the process in which you are learning is excellent. I would say that when those are in a good place you are more likely to be successful in a post-secondary program. When those aren’t in place, they don’t turn on as easily as a light switch. You have to practice to get them there. On your report card where you see those learning skills, a lot of times parents and students just brush over them and just look at the mark but it’s way more then that. Even with my own kids when they bring their report cards home, both of them are in secondary school, we don’t even talk about marks. We talk about the process of learning. When it’s perfect then you can expect great outcomes. If it’s not perfect you need to look at how to improve it so you can be in a better place and better outcomes.

When did you decide you wanted to work in education? When I started grade nine. I had a math teacher that really inspired me. I liked the way that he interacted with us and how he made us feel like young adults. I really aspired to do what he did for a living. I thought it was really neat how he could spend his days doing what he loved and he really loved what he did. The neat thing was that I got to work with him when I was a vice principal. He was still teaching and I got to tell him. Mr. Hunt.

What did you do after graduating from Waterloo? I went to Scotland and did my teacher training there. I was playing rugby at the time and I wanted to continue playing rugby. So I played rugby in Scotland while I did my teacher training there.

How did you enjoy studying abroad? It was really neat. For the first time, even though I wasn’t a visible minority, my accent gave it away that I wasn’t from Scotland. It carried with it some unique perspectives that I learned. A lot of times I was mistaken for someone from the United States and that carried with it a certain discrimination and a certain perspective I never really faced before being from a white middle class family. I’m in very much that kind of position of power, and I don’t mean status. I mean I am privileged in a lot of ways just based on my colour and I’m very aware of it. I’m becoming more aware of it and how I can use that in a positive way to support other people’s voices that may not be heard. Scotland was that first time I had the opportunity to be a minority.

Did that experienced help to work in such a diverse environment like Richardson? Yes. I always strive to be emotionally intelligent, being very aware of being in other people shoes. Of course you can’t sympathize with everybody but I definitely would like to give people their voice and try and understand them the best as I can. It doesn’t always work, humans sometimes make mistakes and jump to conclusions. But for the most part that’s what I try to do.

What problems do you think affect high school students the most now? The pressures that you guys have is completely different from when I was growing up. It’s one of those things where I just try and understand. Like the prevalence of drugs and how accessible they are is something that definitely concerns me. I have two boys in high school and I have a very open relationship with them so they are able to talk to me about how prevalent it is and how accessible. Those things bother me. This was a pressure that I didn’t have as much of, it was there but it definitely wasn’t as bad as it is now. The anxiety and stresses that are there for students, both to please parents and to get into post-secondary wasn’t there for me. I was the first in my family to go to post-secondary education. It wasn’t an expectation in my house. It was something I strove to do. On youth now, that stress is really palatable. You can see how they carry that anxiety with them.

What advice would you give to students to avoid these pressures and stresses? I don’t know if I am the right person to give them advice but I think they should surround themselves with a solid core of friends and family as best as they can. You need that support when you go through tough times. When I went through my tough time of not being successful and trying to figure out what that meant, it was my brother who really stepped up and helped me get through it. I can remember the conversations with him that got me through it. I don’t know if I can give advice, I don’t think I am in that position. I am definitely always open to have an ear for listening and supporting but at the end of the day your friends and family will be there to support you, whether it is your nuclear family or your extended family. Those will be that people that will support you.

We thank Mr. Woodward for this opportunity to get to know him better and we congratulate him on his amazing year of leading Richardson.