Introducing Debbie Donsky is like explaining George Seurat’s pointillism. Each element, every dot, each colour and texture contribute to the big picture. You see the whole work, and it’s amazing, but it truly becomes a masterpiece when you look at all the contributing factors in perfect detail. Dr. Donsky is a mother and a teacher. She is a principal on secondment from YRDSB working as a student achievement officer for Mathematics at the Ministry of Education. She teaches the Principal’s Qualification Program and co-authored a 125 hour course for the Ontario Principals Council on Digital Leadership. She is a sketchnoter, and an artist. She is a writer, a thinker, a change agent, an advocate for equity, inclusion and student voice, and speaker extraordinaire. Like any work of art, Debbie really captures your attention and imagination, and recording her Personal Playlist podcast (link to come) was no exception.
Debbie explored many songs when trying to narrow down her personal playlist. The first songs that she thought of were the favourites from her adolescents, ones that “…were tied to that time in my life when music was my comfort, it was my joy, it was my closest friend…” When introducing her nostalgic song, she explained that she chose it because she remembered it going “straight to her heart.” She referred to her Grade 9 teacher, Mr. Armstrong, who helped her see herself as an intelligent, capable learner. This was an important shift at a critical time. “When someone really sees you,” says Dr. Donsky, “you fall in love with them a little bit.” This song was played at her grad as a tribute to Debbie and Mr. Armstrong. “For me in Grade 8, it was a very lonely time in my life.” A different teacher had done some significant damage but, thank goodness, this other teacher has become one of her five people who helped to make her feel seen and valued, empowering her to persevere. From her clothing to her personal convictions, this artist also helped her audience feel good to be who they are. It’s hard to go back to the eighties without channeling images of this classic icon and pop star. Here is Cindy Lauper singling Time After Time:
Choosing one identity song for this educator was too challenging, so she has two. She has a song that she used to sing to each of her children, and this song was her son Max’s. She recalled how this comforted him many times, especially one night as he was awaiting for surgery. Unable to feed him before an operation when he was a baby, she nurtured him through hugs and this song. He was fine, and this song really helped both of them get through it. Then, Rachel, her daughter, was doing volunteer work singing in different old folks homes. At Baycrest, a Jewish home for the elderly, she sang this version of the song with her ukulele. For Debbie, it represents her children and being a mom, a huge part of who she is. Referring to her children, Debbie said lovingly, “Watching them grow into young adults has been the greatest gift of my life.” This beautiful rendition of an Elvis classic is by Hailey Reinhart. Here is I Can’t Help Falling in Love With You:
Debbie’s second identity song reflects her busy life and many interests. She did some research and discovered the story behind this song. The artist, “reconnected with his estranged father who was living in Vienna. They saw and old woman sweeping on the street. The son thought she shouldn’t be doing the work, so he felt sad for her. His father told him that it’s not sad because she has meaning in her life.” The lyrics about slowing down and being ambitious reflect Debbie’s life, but having meaning is a driving force. A key aspect of the lyric shows that saying,” Where’s the fire, what’s the hurry about? You’d better cool it off before you burn it out. You’ve got so much to do and only so many hours in the day…” This educator has many things to do and places to go, continually inspired and motivated to grow. While she has many aspirations that keep her excited. Debbie has developed a mantra: “ My ambition will never surpass my integrity.” Take a moment to take that in as you listen to Billy Joel singing Vienna:
If you have ever dreamed of making your mark, being the change or reframing something that has been societally imposed, my guest and the singer of this song have crafted tributes you need to hear and see. The latter, among her many accomplishments, made an inspiring speech to her daughter at the at the Video Music Awards (VMA’s) about accepting and celebrating yourself. Debbie said about the song by this artist, “When I hear it, I think about driving in the sun, singing with my daughter, and it lifts my spirits every time.” Debbie presented her TEDxKitchenerED Talk, and I want to see it all again when the video is ready. It was well-rehearsed, heartfelt, and honest. She talked about several experiences that she had growing up, which contributed to her being drawn to equity work. The essence of her talk is about, “…not to judge people… because of the body that holds them.” Each statement was complemented by photographs, original artwork and pointed statements that gripped the audience and culminated in a standing ovation. Debbie refered to this song as, “…a call to action to accept and celebrate and have fun and just embrace exactly who you are.” She goes on to quote the lyrics, “So raise your glass if you are wrong, in all the right ways, all my underdogs, we will never be never be anything but loud, and nitty gritty, dirty little freaks, won’t you come and raise your glass…” Here is Debbie’s inspirational song by Pink: Raise Your Glass.
Debbie’s TEDx Talk blew the audience away. It took her time to come down, overcome the adrenaline rush and take in all the sunshine. I was so glad to have witnessed it in person. Debbie had been busy preparing for her talk, transitioning to her new job, presented on myriad topics and doing many other things in the past few months, so she asked me to wait until October to interview her. Spending this time and unpacking the songs with Debbie was worth waiting for. If you haven’t read her work or seen her art, you should definitely check out her website and start following her on Twitter. Debbie uses creativity to share her heart and soul with the world. Although we have not yet met in person, I feel like we are friends. I look forward to continuing to learn from her, and I hope to rock out with her one day to the rest of the songs on her playlist that didn’t make the P3 cut.