Exemplary Teacher

Award-winning teacher Jon Young

wants to do more than catch kids who are falling through the cracks

by Leanne Miller

Student Success Teachers catch kids who are falling through the cracks.

2007 Premier’s Award winner Jon Young works with the committed staff at Elliot Lake Secondary School to close the cracks.

When Jon Young began teaching at Elliot Lake SS in 1978 as a brand-new teacher, he looked so young that Mrs. Wolfe, then one of the school’s custodians and now head of the cafeteria, chased him out of the school with her broom one night.

“I called him ‘son’ that night and he’s called me ‘mom’ ever since.” She and Young still laugh every time she tells the story.

A close-knit family feeling pervades the small school community where support staff, parents, students and teachers work to maintain a strong and supportive atmosphere.

The Premier’s Award for Excellence in Leadership usually goes to principals or other administrators, but Young’s colleagues at the Algoma DSB argued that he has been a respected and effective leader for many years – as an English teacher, a department head, a guidance counsellor and now as his school’s Student Success teacher.

Lindsay Killen, head of social sciences at Elliot Lake SS and Young’s long-time colleague, co-ordinated his nomination and wrote:

Our students and staff, our whole school culture, have directly benefited from Jon’s efforts, passion and team building … Jon is the very definition of excellence: the effective combination of working smart and working hard while collaborating towards reaching shared goals.

Now in his 31st year of teaching, Young still strives each day to keep things fresh for his students.

 Leslie McAuley, a Special Assignment teacher in the Algoma DSB, says that Young is always thinking of new ways to help students be successful. And he celebrates their successes, large and small, with monthly character awards and community-wide celebration dinners.

McAuley and Delia Grandinetti, a Literacy Resource teacher, have both worked closely with Young for years.

“He is always willing to share his expertise, not just with words but with actual examples and handouts.”

As Elliot Lake’s Student Success teacher, Young’s responsibilities include literacy, Grade 9 transition and the credit-recovery program. He also works with the school’s Student Success team on alternative education and program pathways.

Silent reading

A hush falls over Elliot Lake SS every morning at 10:05. It’s time for Sustained Silent Reading (SSR). Students, teachers, cooks, caretakers, office staff and even visitors stop what they are doing and read for 15 minutes.

SSR started many years ago but it died out. Now it’s back and it’s working.

“We’ve seen a 20 to 30 per cent increase in the number of students who report reading outside of school more than three hours per week,” Young says proudly. “That has to impact student success and achievement.”

In 2002, when Young was the English head, he and his colleagues weren’t happy with their students’ Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test (OSSLT) scores.

“We knew our students could do better and we committed ourselves to increasing the number of students who achieve the provincial standard – from a percentage somewhere in the mid-60s to 75 per cent.

“It’s much easier to implement change in a collegial culture where professionals continually strive to improve student learning.”

He adds that you’d burn out quickly if you tried to do everything yourself. And Young sought wide participation in the literacy committee.

“He is always willing to share his expertise, not just with words but with actual examples and handouts.”

“We needed science, math, technology and phys ed teachers as well as English teachers on our team. We needed everyone’s perspective and buy-in if we were going to make a significant difference for our students.”

At Elliot Lake, literacy support doesn’t just come from English teachers. The wide ownership of the OSSLT is evident everywhere, including in beautiful, instructional literacy posters, courtesy of art teacher Elizabeth Kanski, that hang in every Grade 9 and 10 classroom.

“It doesn’t matter who works with the students,” he explains. “The message is consistent from art teachers, business teachers, English teachers and education assistants.

“We all share the goal of helping our students do their best.”

The result last year: 85 per cent of students passed the OSSLT. That’s close to the highest success rate in the Algoma DSB and pretty impressive for a composite high school. Equally important, few students studying at the applied level were unsuccessful.

This year the goal is a 90 per cent success rate.

Teaching and learning

One of the main objectives of the Grade 12 Ontario Secondary School Literacy Course (OSSLC) is to create a positive atmosphere in which students build, refine and gain confidence in their reading and writing skills. When Young taught the course, his students visited the neighbouring Our Lady of Fatima School once every four days, where emerging readers in SK to Grade 3 read to the big kids.


10:05 AM: Everything and everyone stops for Sustained Silent Reading.


“At first, my students were afraid the little ones would read better than them,” says Young. But their fears soon dissipated. When the little ones struggled to learn new words, Young’s students readily shared their strategies to figure out meaning.

“Talk about applying skills in a meaningful context; this is it!” he says enthusiastically.

Karen Houle-Tymeckzo, who now teaches the OSSLC at Elliot Lake, is continuing the elementary school visits and has even made ELSS Literacy Team T-shirts for her students.

After consulting with Young, Peter Hausenblas, the lead math teacher at Elliot Lake, developed a similarly collaborative approach to numeracy with all Grade 9 teachers emphasizing numeracy skills in their programs. Each Wednesday during the first period, Grade 9 teachers and students take the math challenge, answering questions similar to those found on the provincial test. Students with correct answers are entered in a draw for a weekly prize.

The school’s Grade 9 EQAO Level 3 and 4 math results, at both the applied and academic levels, are well above provincial and board levels. In fact, on last year’s tests, not one student working at the applied level scored below Level 2.

Assignment credit

Student success means getting credits, which of course requires completing assignments. But when Rick Juuti, who is the school’s Special Education resource teacher, polled the school’s Grade 9 teachers in 2007–08, the survey revealed that only 20 per cent of Grade 9 students had completed all of their assignments.

This year, a group of teachers led by Juuti worked to address the problem.

Now, thanks to Club 210, students who fail to hand in assignments spend time after school in Room 210, where they can finish their work under teacher supervision.


“After 30 years at ELSS, I still look forward to coming to school every day.”


Room 210 coverage has joined the roster of supervision duties; it’s part of the regular routine. If a student’s assignment remains unfinished, the student returns to Room 210 the following day at lunch and, if necessary, again after school. After three failed opportunities to complete an assignment, a student must see vice-principle Bill Riddle. The 40-year veteran of Elliot Lake SS phones the student’s home to get the parents involved.

At mid-semester, 95 per cent of Grade 9 students had completed all their assignments.

Young acknowledges there will probably never be perfect numbers around work completion, but he’s proud of the dramatic improvement. And he’s prouder still of the committee of teachers who saw a need, set a goal, then developed a strategy to reach that goal and the means to measure their success.

Tracking progress is important to Young and teachers share information on the progress of Grades 9 and 10 students, noting specific problem areas and improvement strategies.

At a PD day last fall, teachers shared stories and discussed the progress of these students.

“Some teachers commented that it was one of the most productive PD days in recent years,” says Young.

New generation

Shannon McLean works exclusively with students at risk. She is one of eight younger teachers at Elliot Lake SS who attended the school and had Young as a teacher.

McLean runs the Late School for students who might not succeed because they can’t manage the traditional school timetable. Whether because they work late at outside jobs or are raising children and don’t have early daycare, some kids cannot get to school at 8:30 in the morning. Late School runs from 10:30 AM to 4 PM and means one fewer crack into which such students could fall.

Seeing kids who previously struggled and are now succeeding energizes McLean. She talks about her current mentor and former teacher with admiration.

“He leads by example. He’s an inspiration to all of us.”

Focused and flexible

Young runs the school’s credit-recovery program – often working one-on-one with challenged learners.

“After 30 years at ELSS, I still look forward to coming to school every day. This is my dream job and I value having the time to really talk to these kids and help them see that school is worthwhile.

“We’ve created a flexible, welcoming and quiet place for kids to come and work and be successful,” says Young.

He finds motivation in students’ daily progress.

“I can have a measurable impact one-on-one with kids who normally would have fallen through the cracks.”

Students Mike, Jordan and Paul have all experienced big challenges in their education careers. Their message is consistent: Young believes in us. He listens to us. He has time for us. He goes beyond how we appear on the surface. He has helped us learn and understand new concepts and not made us feel stupid.

“He helps us get to know ourselves while we’re getting to know him,” says Jordan.

“We want to do well for him, to pay him back for helping us,” says Paul.

“Mr. Young is a safety net for students at our school,” adds Mike. “He’s our Superman.”

Lead by example

Young is humble about his leadership role in these and other initiatives. He simply believes that kids come first and that his colleagues have bought into so many initiatives because they support student success.

“These initiatives come from teachers’ ideas about helping students succeed. They are running the programs and they are seeing the benefits for their students. Isn’t that what leading change in education is all about?”

There is little doubt that Young leads by example, inspiring colleagues to rise above potential pitfalls and clear the obstacles on their students’ paths to success.

Jon Young’s strategies for lasting change
  1. Set attainable, concrete and measurable goals. Near the end of each year, Elliot Lake SS staff members set two or three goals for the next year.

  2. Focus on student learning and achievement as well as school environment.

  3. Establish cross-curricular teams to get different perspectives. Include education assistants and other staff, not just teachers.

  4. Set up a major school-wide initiative. For example, daily silent reading.

  5. Recognize that some goals may need to begin with a narrower focus. Consider starting with one grade first, ideally Grade 9, and once you are successful move on to Grade 10.

  6. Ensure that participating staff members have specific roles to play and that they see the benefits to student learning and success.

  7. Track improvements with before-and-after data. Make your work data driven and your progress measurable as you work.

  8. Share results with staff, students and parents as soon as possible. Discuss progress and results at regular staff meetings.

  9. Celebrate success publicly with certificates of accomplishment at monthly student-recognition assemblies, at celebration events throughout the year, and at graduation. Invite parents, board members and the local press to every celebration.

  10. Let colleagues take the reins of initiatives or programs when the time is right and take pride in their accomplishments.

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