Voices in Education Podcast

Episode 22: Creating Access & Opportunity for All

August 28, 2023 Securly Season 3 Episode 22
Voices in Education Podcast
Episode 22: Creating Access & Opportunity for All
Show Notes Transcript

Being a leader within the education sector is challenging at the best of times, with so many responsibilities to fulfil and objectives to achieve. While juggling all of these elements, it's not surprising that we sometimes lose sight of the real goal behind why we do what we do: to create access and opportunity for our students everywhere.

For Dr April Grace, educator, consultant, and superintendent, her tenure as Shawnee Public Schools' superintendent was one that spanned one of the most tumultuous times in modern history - and yet, Dr Grace's focus remained steadfast on her staff and students' wellbeing and success. Having to overcome teacher strikes, the global pandemic and an actual tornado tearing through her district, Dr Grace's story is one of the more motivating and inspiring you're likely to hear!

Join Dr April Grace on Voices in Education as she reflects on her illustrious career, offering invaluable knowhow and anecdotal advice on how to stay the course as an educator and leader within schools, while never losing sight of the true mission we all work towards each day. From her humble beginnings all the way through to her retirement, there's so much to be learnt for everyone working in education, no matter your current role or career aspirations.

Voices in Education is powered by Securly

Securly is your school’s all-in-one solution for student safety, wellness, and engagement. Securly's 2023 State of Student Wellness Report is a free-to-download paper that takes a closer look into the data and current trends surrounding student wellness. You'll learn how your school can overcome resource limitations, introduce efficient technologies into the classroom, and ultimately better support the students who need your help the most.

Download your free copy of this illuminating special report today.

Adam Smith: 00:02 You are listening to the Voices in Education Podcast, powered by Securly. In our third season of the podcast, we're fine tuning our focus and shining a spotlight where we believe it's needed most, on those who've dedicated their careers and lives to education. Whether inside or outside of the classroom, we know that students need to feel seen, safe, and supported to perform at their best. But these aren't just the needs of students. They're basic human needs that apply to our educators, administrators, and school mental health professionals, as well. There's a saying that you can't pour from an empty cup. Well, you are invited to fill your cup here with us.

00:44 I'm Adam Smith, a former teacher, mental health advocate, and your host of the Voices in Education Podcast. It's my great honor and pleasure to get to sit down with educators just like you to discuss why they chose a career in education and how they stay the course in the face of challenges. In hearing their stories, I hope you'll come away feeling refreshed, re-energized, and reconnected to your own reasons for becoming an educator. Let's hear from the Voices in Education.

01:15 Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Voices in Education Podcast. I'm Adam Smith, your host for this brand new season of Voices in Education, and I can't wait to share these inspiring conversations with you all. But before I get into it, I want to make sure that you don't miss out on a single episode. Be sure to like, follow, and subscribe to Voices in Education on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts from.

01:40 Today I'm joined by Dr. April Grace, an educator, consultant, and superintendent with a truly remarkable history. We will of course get into April's beginnings and the story of her, frankly, fascinating journey through the world of education, but her time as superintendent is one that has to be heard to be believed. Not only did she serve during both the teacher walkouts and the global COVID pandemic, which definitely enough to test anyone's resolve, she also served during a period in which a tornado tore through her district. So I think it's fair to say that April has come through many adversities and face-to-face with some of the most trying circumstances in recent history, but through it all, she maintained that education wasn't just the right job for her, but the best job she could have asked for.

02:28 April, welcome to Voices in Education. It's a genuine honor to have you here. Thank you for joining us. How are you today?

Dr. April Grace: 02:36 I am fantastic today, absolutely, and it's an honor to be on here, so thanks for having me.

Adam Smith: 02:42 Oh, well, I'm glad. It's a mutual honor. Yeah, I've been very excited to have you on because I think your story is a storied one, if I can use that repetition there, but it's one of quite magnificent ups and then some almost unbelievable downs and some very trying times, and I think on Voices in Education, we love to really dig into those journeys and those whys, and I think the fact that your why remains steadfast even during those very hard times is something that we can all really aspire towards and draw inspiration from.

03:15 So when we first spoke about having you as a guest on Voices in Education, you were actually only a few days away from retiring as superintendent of Shawnee Public Schools. So first of all, congratulations. You made it.

Dr. April Grace: 03:29 I did. I did it.

Adam Smith: 03:31 How does it feel now to be retired?

Dr. April Grace: 03:37 It feels great, but it also feels a little weird. I'm sure as school kicks off here in the next several weeks, it'll probably feel even more weird.

Adam Smith: 03:46 Absolutely.

Dr. April Grace: 03:47 But right now it feels great. I'm rested. I've had a little more sleep than normal, and my brain shuts off a little better at night. When you're a superintendent, it feels like your brain wants to stay on all the time, or mine did. If I woke up, your brain engages and then your sleep's interrupted from there on. So yeah, it's great. I'm having a good time.

04:07 I went by the district yesterday to get a few things and see some people, and so it was good to say hi and just check in. But no, I'm doing great. I used to say all the time, because I did HR for a long time too, within education, I said as soon as they sign that paperwork, it's like they look 10 pounds lighter and 10 years younger just by signing the form.

Adam Smith: 04:30 I mean, I guess there's just so much really that comes with being a superintendent, and I would love just now to maybe do a bit of a retrospective on, I guess, yeah, this final kind of stint of superintendency. So what did your role look like coming up to the end? And I don't mean the final week, I'm sure there was a lot of goodbyes and those sorts of things, but maybe in those few months when you were leading up to it, what did your role include? What were you doing day to day?

Dr. April Grace: 05:00 Well, for me, it was probably a little bit different than most people getting to go out. I was riding the wave of a devastating tornado that came to the community, and over $30 million worth of damage to school buildings. So some of our facilities, completely destroyed. Not our main classroom spaces. We were able to get kids back in school those last several weeks. So my last few weeks and the days were entirely different. While we did take time to have a gathering and a goodbye thing, I kept saying, we really don't need to do this, just because there was so much work to do, but they insisted that we have something just to pause and reflect and have time together.

05:46 But my days were filled with trying to get ready, help get things back on track for another school year, working with insurance people, trying to assess a plan for the district going forward, as I was working with my assistant superintendent who was going to be transitioning into the role, so the days were full, they were busy. Every day as a superintendent's pretty busy. There's always a lot of community interaction, staff interaction from time to time, a lot of planning. You're involved in a lot of things. I've been involved in a lot of things, I should say, state and nationally. So for me, my day is always full of all kinds of stuff.

Adam Smith: 06:25 I'm sure, and I've heard other superintendents refer to their role, and other teachers actually, as a whirlwind or a tornado metaphorically, but to actually have experienced one and come out the other side, and thankfully you managed to. We'll come back to that later because I would love to, I guess just talk about an obstacle of such unpredictability and something that you absolutely cannot prepare for and in fact never feel like you probably would have to. So just again, as a retrospective, as a whole, what actually appealed to you about superintendency and what would you say your favorite parts or parts of the role were?

Dr. April Grace: 07:06 Well, for me, I kind of always just fell into leadership. It was kind of, I don't know that I had this goal to be a superintendent. It would be, oh, you need to be thinking about this. And people would be saying that to me, and I would apply for the next thing, or I had certain jobs that I was interested in. And then those things just begat other things.

07:29 And as I emerged as a leader in our state in a lot of different ways, then of course then that fueled other things. And then I think I just got to points where it was time for the next thing, time for the next bigger, broader scope of work, and just sort of evolved in that way. But I've always felt every job I've had in education was the best job I had up to that point in my career. And it didn't matter which job it was, and perhaps I'll feel that about retirement, I don't know. It remains to be seen.

08:04 Every single job I've had, I've thought, man, this is the greatest thing I've ever done in my life. And as I evolved into the next position, I felt the same way about that one. And I felt that same way about superintendency. I loved every moment of being in the classroom and that interaction with kids and making impact and being impactful in our community as a teacher.

08:26 Of course, as you move up the chain, that sphere of influence, that ability to impact is different. You're still impacting kids, but you're also impacting adults and you're impacting a community. And so for me, I think that's been some of the most rewarding part, but it always comes back to the students for me. How are we creating access and opportunity for kids? Because for some of them, if we don't create that access and opportunity, it may not happen.

08:54 My granddaughter, I can make things happen for her, but not everybody has me for their grandparent or me for a parent. So you've got lots of parents that they aren't sure what to do, or maybe their working situation or just their family dynamics or life itself has created situations where if we don't create access and opportunity and education for kids, they may or may not experience that as a result of just the home environment.

09:21 So for me, that's always been the compelling mission. How do we impact lives in a really positive way and help people reach their highest and best potential? And so whether that's an adult or whether that's a student, for me that's very satisfying. And servant leadership and giving back, those are all, I think, the parts for me that were very compelling in this work.

Adam Smith: 09:44 Sure. And I love when you talk about the situation at home for the student as well, because I think a lot of people forget that you're not just dealing with the student in the classroom. At Securly, we refer to it as the whole student. We talk about you need to look after the whole student. You can't just look after the student that's in your classroom for that hour or whatever it might be. You need to consider that entire circumstance, and you're so right. Absolutely, it is both a privilege and a responsibility of anyone in education to realize that these children don't just walk into the classroom, exist for an hour, leave, and that's all it is.

10:21 So I really love that. And I think if everybody could capture that energy you have and that belief you had when you went into each role, this is the best role I've had, I think you're on the right track. You know you are made for education in that instance. And it's lovely to hear, to be honest.

Dr. April Grace: 10:38 Yeah, I mean, people always think this and that. And I've been told this multiple times in my career, that I make it look easy. And I think maybe I do, maybe I don't. I don't know. I mean, people say that to me all the time, is you just make it look so easy. I had no idea this was so hard.

10:54 And I think that just comes from the sheer joy that it brings me to be able to do for other people. I'm a giver by nature, and so that opportunity to give to others and to serve them in a higher capacity, no matter what position I'm in, is really fulfilling. I've worked in all kinds of communities, but I think those socioeconomically challenged communities, especially the ones where we've got a lot of poverty and students with a lot of gaps in needs that aren't happening, for me are always the ones that get to me the most. And it's such a drive to make such a difference for them because you do know that you are helping create pathways for them.

11:40 We opened telemedicine clinics. We were the first in our state to do that in every one of our school sites. And that was to create access and opportunity for, like you discussed, the whole child, making sure that students have the care that they needed because our parents may or may not have had access to healthcare, or they may not have had the means to get them there. They maybe didn't know they could sign up for Medicaid assistance or things for their kids. So for us, that's been another thing. I think I've always just kind of seen this, too, as, not to get religious or anything, but I see it as a ministry of its own in whatever form that you do, in the way you're serving and trying to meet the needs of people.

Adam Smith: 12:20 I mean, I think that's a lovely way to think about it. And so many of my guests talk about community, the importance of community, not just within schools, but within the actual, I guess the towns, the cities, the districts. So no, I totally agree with you on-

Dr. April Grace: 12:35 For communities and economies to thrive, we have to have well-educated populace that can continue to evolve and learn and be lifetime learners. And so my career looks, all the tools and things available in my career now are very different than in the early years of my career as a classroom teacher. I remember doing grade books still in the book, and then at some point while I was still in the classroom, you could purchase a little program you could put on your computer to do your grades on there.

13:07 And then now it's like everybody provides that for every teacher, and we have these complex systems in which everybody does that. So it's important that we really give people that hunger for learning, whatever that looks like, whatever their career is. We have to continue to evolve and grow no matter what we do.

Adam Smith: 13:26 Absolutely. That's so important. I think because we are evolving so quickly, both the way the students learn, that's evolving, the way students are engaging, that's progressing as well. But also, yeah, the way we should be teaching in the classroom and those tools that are available, it's so important, I think, to keep abreast of those and move forward.

13:46 But speaking of the beginning of your career, as you say, probably very different times, but yeah, I'd love to go back to that beginning for you. We're at one end of your career now. We're going back to the other end. So as many of our listeners would've done, your story actually began when you attended Sunday school, and you eventually became a coach and a teacher there. Was that the start for you, would you say, was that the beginning of all of this? And I guess from there, where did your story go? So can you tell us about those early years?

Dr. April Grace: 14:21 Well, I always say my first teaching job was helping teach Sunday school when I was 18 years old and coaching some Little League teams for my cousins normally and volunteering. And so I'm sure it did spark something within me to do, but originally I intended to do medicine and I did science education as a way to get all the science courses, but have something else I could fall back on because often people didn't get accepted to med school right away.

Adam Smith: 14:54 Yeah, of course.

Dr. April Grace: 14:57 So I think that maybe there are more options now than back then, maybe not, but people often waited and had to wait for years before they sometimes got accepted to med school. So I was looking at that practical aspect of, well, what would I be able to find a job doing that would be fulfilling while I was waiting to go to med school?

15:17 And then quite honestly, I just fell in love with teaching and coaching, and I didn't coach for a super long time because once I had my daughter, I stopped doing that and did go back to school and get a master's degree and things like that. So for me, it wasn't my original intent, but I did fall in love with the profession. I did have when my daughter was five an opportunity, I had interviews for PA in med school and was in the docket for the next following year, and I just couldn't do it.

15:51 First of all, I loved the profession and then at that point, I knew what it was going to take to get through either one of those programs, and I couldn't fathom giving up those years of my daughter's life. And so I think for me, I stayed and I've never regretted the decision. I think my bank account's probably a little lighter as a result, but it's been the most rewarding career. I tell people all the time, I feel like I've just been so blessed to have this extraordinary career and accomplish things and be recognized for things that I just would've never fathomed.

Adam Smith: 16:34 You talk about your bank account there, but you say you feel rewarded for the choice that you did make. And I think so many people I speak to, and again, a lot of the teachers that we work with at Securly, it's a common thing that I hear repeated, that you do it because you love it, you do it because of the fulfillment of making an actual difference each day. And yeah, the reward is in seeing those children grow, seeing them excel. And you mentioned earlier about trying to bring out the best in them and those sorts of things.

17:08 And if you can see the impact of your work day to day in a human being, growing from, as you say, these sort of young aspiring children to something kind of great at the end, yeah, it's absolutely wonderful. So your first teaching role was I believe as a science teacher, and you say you loved it, you kind of maybe fell into that, but what do you remember from that? When did that feeling come along of feeling so fulfilled, and then what followed after that?

Dr. April Grace: 17:37 Well, so I taught science, I taught high school. And so the relationships and of course the relationships when I did a little bit of coaching for a few years, it's the relationships that you're building, and it's helping, it's sparking that curiosity for someone to continue to want to advance in a particular field. So of course, I had lots of students because I taught anatomy and physiology, so I still kind of got a little bit of a fix for my love for medicine by teaching that. But I had lots of students perhaps interested in going into medicine after high school. And so that was intriguing, being able to maybe perhaps be part of their foundation or spark their curiosity and their love for it.

18:23 But I think it always comes back to relationships, the relationship you built with the kids and the families and just those connections and hopefully making just a little bit of difference and adding to somebody's journey in a really positive way. And so it was exciting, it was fun, but I'll always go back to the relationships, whether that was with colleagues or students. That was really the glue that held everything together.

Adam Smith: 18:52 I guess that leads us onto, so you taught for I think 13 years before ending up as a superintendent, and you said you sort of fell into these roles, I guess, that maybe it was never your intention to specifically aim for that. So how did you end up in that superintendency?

Dr. April Grace: 19:07 Interestingly enough, I'd gone to interview for a job. We had a principal and an assistant principal had left, and they called me because they had an opening in their district they had gone to and they said, "Hey, come up and look at this science classroom. We'd love for you to come join our staff here," dah, dah, dah. I didn't necessarily have interest in it, but I said, "Sure, I'll come up and talk to you and I'll give it consideration."

19:29 On my way back from that, I got a call from my district I was in and said, "Hey, we'd like to know if you'd be interested in considering administration." I already had my master's at that point in administration, but they said, "We'd like to know if you'd be willing to consider an administrative internship." And I had served as summer school principal just because they needed somebody and they asked me to do it.

19:51 And so that for me was my sign that I needed to stay where I was, that this other door [inaudible 00:19:57]. So it was kind of like it found me, it kind of pursued me. And then I did administration, and I did go back into the classroom for several years because my daughter was young and I wasn't quite ready to be a full-time administrator, but I had that experience under my belt. And I just did an internship for a period of time, which was very helpful and I think helped me as a teacher see a bigger picture, too, because every position requires a little bit bigger scope and vision.

20:30 So then that kind of evolved. Eventually I became an assistant principal, then a principal, and then got interested in some of the work around policy and law and had an opportunity, thought I would do curriculum because I always loved curriculum development and those things, but I ended up interviewing for assistant superintendent of HR and got that position. And then eventually that led into some interest in being a superintendent and people saying, "Oh, you should interview for this."

21:03 And you start thinking. So for me, that evolved, is then you kind of go, I think I'm ready for a new challenge. I'm ready for something a little bit different. And interview, you get that. It just kind of happened that way. I don't know that I set out as a teacher or when I got my master's ever thinking I was going to be a superintendent. So I think part of that is you really have to learn to just be present where you are. You can't always be looking to the next thing. How can you do a fantastic job in the moment where you are, just being present and serving to the highest level in that moment?

Adam Smith: 21:41 What would your advice be then, do you think? Because as you say, perhaps you weren't ever intending to get to that point, but I think what you just said was really important, being present in your current role, doing all you can in that role, will make people take notice when the good results are coming in or when you have a consistent level that your students are coming out at, or whatever it might be, whatever your role is within the educational sector, focus on that. But would you have any other advice that you could give to anyone aspiring to climb, or yeah, somebody who's looking to find a new challenge?

Dr. April Grace: 22:12 Oh yeah, sure. And I think having those goals and wanting to do those things and still be in a classroom are all fine too. I've just, I've seen a lot of people be so distracted trying to chase the next thing that they forget to take care of the thing they're in. And as somebody who's sat in the seat of doing lots of interviews and hiring, it's evident to people in a district when that's going on.

22:39 And so the best thing you can do is be present in the moment in the job you're in, be an above and beyond person. I think I was always an above and beyond person, doing all the extra things, not necessarily with the intent that I was going to do something else, just I had genuine interest or there was a genuine need. And then just doing it to the highest level that you can possibly do it.

23:02 And then I always encourage people, talk to the people that are doing the hiring, ask them what they're looking for, ask them what you can do, what their recommendation is, because every district handles that a little bit differently, and I just know how we did it in my previous tenure. So I think that's important. Getting yourself, if it's a large district, you've got to find ways to get yourself on people's radar a little bit. So signing up for extra committees, attending things that you don't have to attend, but you choose to attend and be a part of. People notice those things. Take care of where you are, number one.

Adam Smith: 23:39 Yeah, I heard a brilliant play on a phrase the other week. It was the grass isn't always greener on the other side. It's greenest where you water it. And absolutely about tending to your lot at that given moment to then allow you a chance to really own that and then be noticed, I suppose, that you are someone that can be relied on, somebody that maybe can offer more.

Securly: 24:05 The Voices in Education Podcast is brought to you by Securly. Since 2013, Securly's sole mission has been to support student safety and wellness. With more than 15,000 schools worldwide already choosing to bring Securly into their school communities, we are creating a clearer picture of what young people are struggling with each and every day. With this data, we are able to more effectively target and implement support, and we want to share that information with as many educators like you as possible. The 2023 State of Student Wellness Report is a free to download paper that takes a closer look into the data and current trends surrounding student wellness. You'll learn how your school can overcome resource limitations, introduce efficient technologies into the classroom, and ultimately better support the students who need your help the most. Download your free copy of this illuminating special report by visiting https://hs.securly.com/report. That's https://hs.securly.com/report today.

Adam Smith: 25:07 So looking into your superintendency, you spent seven years as superintendent, and during that seven years were some of the most trying and I'd argue crazy times that we've experienced in recent memory. First of all, you went through a teacher walkout, then there was the global COVID pandemic, which I think all of our listeners can relate to when we say it was quite an upheaval, quite a change.

25:30 And then just to put the icing on the cake, you had a tornado to deal with, as you mentioned at the start there. So talk us through, I guess, some of these hardships that you faced. What advice could you give to others based on that, as well, to overcome really unexpected, unpredictable circumstances?

Dr. April Grace: 25:49 Yeah, in fact, I still say I think a lot of people are still tired from the pandemic. That was an extraordinary time. And we ran 300 bus routes during the pandemic to get food to kids in an ongoing basis. So that took a lot of coordination with volunteers and things like that because we had our staff at home at that point. So people, we had teachers that came up and volunteered to help us run that. Took us like 140 or 160 volunteers to run morning and afternoon each time. So it was a lot, but it was worth it. Again, for me, it's always about how do we serve kids and community? So that was what was needed. That's what we did.

26:35 I think for me, it's just always staying focused on the why, staying focused on the larger mission. And again, everything always comes back to the kids for me. And serving kids, families and communities, that's what the work is. That's what we do. That's how we're wired. Hopefully that's how we're wired. So for me, I'm always really clear about that. That's always the thing that's always driving me.

26:59 And so when we had the tornado come through, it was the same thing. How do we get kids back in school? Because they need that stability from us. They need to be with us. Many of them, that's where they get their hot meal, that's where they get their encouragement, that's where they get their smile. That may be where they get their hug. So we need them back with us. So for me, that's always the driving piece, is that that's the role that we're serving.

27:25 You have to try to, it doesn't mean you deny the actual realities of your current situation. You have to understand what they are. But for me, when you do StrengthsFinders, one of my things is always strategic. It's strategic or [inaudible 00:27:42] achiever, connectedness, and learner. And so I'm kind of uniquely wired for these situations, probably. I can immediately see the path we need to take. The biggest job is rallying everybody around to know this is what we've got to do and here's how we're going to do it. And it's navigating everybody else's emotions around it.

28:03 And of course, I tell anyone in leadership, never take anything personal. Your number one rule is you cannot take anything personal. Even when people are trying to say, well, she, dah, dah, dah, or he, dah, dah, dah, you just cannot do that. You have to let all that roll off, and I'm really good about that. So I think that helps me a lot. But stay focused on the why, stay focused on the biggest mission, which is serving kids and families and communities. And so for me, that's always the driving force. I'm always trying to navigate that.

28:38 And of course in that, as a leader, you've got to take care of your staff too, because you can't take care of the kids if you're not taking care of your staff because they are the ones often in those trenches pulling off that day-to-day, minute-by-minute work with the kids. And so part of a leader's job is looking at the kids as the big part, but you also have to take into account how you support and encourage your staff as well. So I stay focused on, again, about the larger mission, which is really serving kids and community.

Adam Smith: 29:10 No, and a big thing we support here at Voices in Education is remembering that why. It is when you're facing the darkest times, some of the biggest hurdles is to always remember what you do this for. And it's okay to take time for yourself, as you mentioned, actually, that it's really important to take into account your staff's emotion and I guess the exhaustion that can come with this, both physical and mental exhaustion.

29:34 You mentioned earlier about mental health becoming much more of a focal point nowadays, and it's huge for us at Securly. We're all about mental wellness, both of students and staff, and a combo of all of these things, like it's okay to have bad days, bad weeks, bad months, but come together as this community and absolutely reach out, speak up, talk to your superiors, talk to your colleagues and your peers, and find that way through. Because yeah, the job we do at the end of the day is so important to remember and move forward from really.

Dr. April Grace: 30:06 You have to be willing to recognize it and say it. We can't pretend like something isn't there. So you have to be willing to say, "Hey, I know this is a tough time for everybody." I mean, one of the very first emails I put out during the pandemic when schools shuttered was titled, "I cried, too." And just as a leader, just really transparent and authentic with them and saying, "I cried, too, when we had to shut down." Just letting them know it's okay. It's okay. We have a lot of kids that rely on us for a lot of things, and it's okay for us to be sad. We didn't get closure.

30:47 And I think for me, with the tornado this year, having been through COVID, a big driving force for me trying to get the kids back in the school building and have some time together, even those last few weeks, was because of the experiences we went through with COVID, where people didn't get closure and there was just not that opportunity to come back together, to see that people were okay, to make those final connections, especially for our seniors or for eighth graders transitioning to nine and moving to a different school, or fifth graders going, just the opportunity for people to come back together and have the ability to have some closure and see each other, know each other were okay.

31:29 And that was something we didn't get in the pandemic. And so probably because of that, I was a lot maybe more focused than I would've been had I not had that experience, on trying to get people back together.

Adam Smith: 31:41 That's a really interesting point, as well, that you actually look at the pandemic experience as a learning moment, I suppose, as of course everyone had to learn, adapt, and change their daily routines and schedules and all those sorts of things. But that's a great lesson to learn, is no matter how big the obstacle, no matter how unexpected or difficult, there's a chance there to learn, to grow.

32:05 And as you say, then you are probably in a stronger position to deal with an actual tornado versus what you might have been had that have come first kind of thing. I mean, just an incredible run as a superintendent really, and to have come out the other side still smiling and able to offer such gems of wisdom, amazing. And yeah, feel really lucky to have you here today.

32:31 I want to move on now. I ask the same three questions to all of our guests because we like to be able to give our listeners some advice, some other perspectives on some of the really relevant topics within education at the moment. So I'd love to know, in your opinion, what is the biggest challenge that educators face when it comes to supporting students' wellness?

Dr. April Grace: 32:52 Well, in many areas, it's probably the resources to do that. And maybe for some teachers, teachers don't maybe have the adequate training to be the ones to deal with that, so they really need the resources to point kids to or the staff members to point them to. And in some communities, that's much more challenging than others.

33:17 In the state, it's a very rural state. We have lots of rural areas in the state. There are provider deserts, and so they don't have access. Now, telemedicine is helping with that, to bridge some of those gaps. But we do have, there are a lot of gaps, and I think resources is a big challenge for teachers, and they're just not quite honestly trained to be the mental health expert. So maybe they need training on signs and symptoms. But teachers are pretty intuitive. They get to know their kids. They know. So for me, I think one of the biggest challenges is being able to connect them to the resources, the adequate resources that they actually need.

Adam Smith: 34:02 No, so true. And when it comes to resources, we hear it a lot, that so many schools and districts are under-resourced, they're strapped for resources. We like at Securly to try and offer some tools, some solutions that I guess alleviate that because we want the teachers to be able to do the best jobs. As you say, sometimes they're very intuitive, they know perhaps what they need to do or who they need to help, but they don't necessarily have then the time or the staff even to then deal with that. So yeah, I think it's quite a keen observation, really.

34:36 So I suppose for anyone, any of our listeners that are tuning in today and perhaps struggling working in education right now, maybe they're feeling lost or burnt out, what's one thing you'd like to say to them or one piece of advice you could give?

Dr. April Grace: 34:51 Well, I think just what we've talked about a lot is staying focused on your why. And I think remembering that you do make a difference. Every single day you make a difference. And you may not know it in the moment, you may not know it at the end of the year, you may not know it at the end of the week, it may be years and years and years and years later. But what we know is teachers do make a profound difference in the lives of students that are long term.

35:17 And so it's just understanding that there are some non-tangibles. You're not going to always see the results immediately. Stay focused on the why. I heard a guy named Larry Bell, and he always said, one of his things he always said at the end, it's always stuck with me and I've said it to our staff many times, is just remembering even on your worst day, you're still some kids' best hope.

Adam Smith: 35:39 I love that.

Dr. April Grace: 35:40 And so I think if you can cling and know that really, and I would say that even for us as adults, you may be the best hope today for one of your colleagues. So I think it trickles to everything, not just to kids, that even on our worst day, we may be somebody's best hope, whoever that person is.

35:57 And so I think staying focused on that and remembering that you really do make a difference. Teachers put up with a lot of incredible stuff to do beautiful work, and I have a colleague who often says, and it's kind of stuck with me, so I say it a lot too, is the job stinks sometimes, but the work that we get to do for kids and community and with kids and community and others is a gift.

Adam Smith: 36:23 That brings us actually nicely into the final question because that was a very hopeful outlook and very positive. And I'd love to know that, although there are so many challenges facing our educators right now, what is one thing that is giving you hope about the future of education?

Dr. April Grace: 36:38 This generation of kids give me tremendous hope. They're innovative, they're energetic, they're exciting, and I think understand these complexities in which they're dealing with the world, and they have a whole different view on it than people my age do. So I think this generation's going to change the world, and so kids give me a lot of hope, but educators give me a lot of hope, as well, because they continue to serve at the very highest levels and continue to work to make a difference despite many, many challenges, depending on what those are. And those change from week to week, place to place, or as the world turns sometimes. So they both give me a lot of hope.

Adam Smith: 37:22 I hope our listeners today hear this and take some pride, take the kudos, take this boon, because I think you're so right. It is seeing so many people still focused, still steadfast in their why and their day-to-day work. I'm humbled on a daily basis when I see what our teachers are dealing with, what our teachers are producing, some of the incredible incentives and programs, and even just some of the smaller acts that you hear about kind of keeps me getting up in the morning and fighting the good fight, really, as you say.

38:02 April, we've come to the end of Voices in Education. It has just been so lovely to speak to you, and thank you for taking time out of your busy retirement to talk to me. I hope it continues to be something you enjoy. As you say, every role you've had has been the best one, and I hope this is, as well. I hope this is the right thing for you at this time. If people want to keep an eye on what you are doing, where can they find you?

Dr. April Grace: 38:24 They can find me, they can email me at shawneesupt@gmail.com. I still have that email. I'm on LinkedIn. I don't post a lot of stuff, I promise. I have a Facebook page. I haven't really been that active on it. I've sort of been on the DL lately, but I'll be that way, and at some point, maybe we'll get a blog site up or something too. So I have a Facebook page, and I'll probably start posting some stuff back on there.

Adam Smith: 38:59 That brings us to the end of today's Voices in Education episode. But now, we'd love to hear from you. If you enjoyed this episode, don't forget to leave a rating and a review to help other listeners like you find the podcast. We'd also love for you to continue this conversation over on our social channels. You can follow us on Twitter at Securly, over on Instagram and Facebook at SecurlyInc, and on LinkedIn at https://linkedin.com/company/securly. I look forward to seeing you all there.

39:29 So until next time, just make sure that you are finding time for your own mental health because it is just as important for you as it is for the students that you care for. Keep up the astounding work, and we'll see you next time.

39:41 Thanks for tuning in to the Voices in Education Podcast, powered by Securly. For more episodes and additional details about the podcast, visit https://securly.com/podcast.