Episode #97: Build Hope and Spread Kindness to Impact Globally with Roman Nowak

By Barbara Bray

Join Barbara Bray in conversations with awesome educators, leaders, and influencers as they talk about their passion and purpose for planting seeds for change. Each podcast has a link to a related blog post with more information and resources.

Roman Nowak is a High School English Teacher in Rockland, Ontario in Canada. He is a Student Success Leader, an Agent of Transformation, and is also a fitness enthusiast. I am fortunate to know Roman because of Twitter as the host of BuildHOPEedu and also for sharing quotes about being kind and caring for each other. Roman and I had this conversation at the end of February before the stay at home order. His message is what we need now during the COVID-19 pandemic and after so we all build hope and spread kindness.
Your background
I am from a Polish background and there is no letter in the alphabet for “W” so my last name is pronounced “NOVAK.” Pronunciation of names is really important to me. I always give my students some history and background of my name and want to make sure I pronounce their names correctly. I live in Rockland that is northeast of Toronto. 
This is my 15th year in teaching with a varied background in the elementary yet mostly in the secondary system. Since French is one of our official languages, I’m a high school English teacher but in a French-language district. English is a second language for many of our students.  I was called a Student Success Teacher and was that coach who worked with students who were just on the cusp of failing. I worked with the teachers on how to be proactive and work on preventing failure. This is my second year back in a school system because I took a leave from my school. My district lent me out to our provincial government to work on policies and programs for three years to support student success for our twelve French-language districts. I missed the classroom a lot and came back to be a full-time classroom English teacher and do a couple of cooking classes here and there because that’s a passion of mine. So I’m having fun on a daily basis. 

Find the sunshine. Be the light. Help make the world a better place.
What it was like when you were a student
I came from a very conservative family with a religious upbringing. My dad used to be in the military. I’m a first-generation Canadian with my sister. Both of my parents are from Poland. I have always been taught to follow the rules. When I was a student, I a compliant student doing what was expected of me. There was a fear of not doing what I was told to do because of what my parents might say or do. I was that student who succeeded very well and followed the rules. 
Was I good at school or just good at following rules? 
I was an extremely shy kid yet won a public speaking contest. When I started teaching. I found students that didn’t fit that system. There are many people who don’t know how to use their voice. I’m going to try and be that model. I want to transform schools. I think there is some that works but a lot that doesn’t work. I’m not afraid to stand up when something doesn’t work. It’s not acceptable for students to not pass, not get their diploma, or not move on to the next grade. It’s important for us to put in the work for all children. We don’t need to have all the answers.
Your family 
My wife, Émilie, and my two daughters, Eva and Kaléa in grades 2 and 3, are my heart and who keep me going.

Your journey as a teacher
Early on, I wanted to become a teacher. In high school, I did have some teachers who tried to discourage me. I actually really wanted to go into dramatic arts. That’s where I found my voice. I took drama classes, did a musical, but to my parents, that was not a real job. They wanted my sister and me to have stable, traditional careers. That’s why I chose to teach and it all worked out for me. I bring in that drama outlook to my classroom every day. I volunteer with plays and have fun in class. Yet, I don’t push them to have a voice yet since English is a second language for my students. Many don’t want to speak out.