Collingwood residents: Michael Giffen, retired SCDSB superintendent of education and farmer
Following a tragic farming accident that claimed his father’s life last fall, Michael Giffen will soon be hanging up his teaching hat to take on a leadership role on his family farm in Glen Huron.
For this week’s edition of People of Collingwood, we spoke with Giffen, 52, a retired Simcoe County School Board superintendent of education and local farmer.
Q: Where did you grow up?
A: I live on my family farm in Glen Huron. I was born and raised there.
From Kindergarten to Grade 8 I was at Duntroon Central Public School. From there I went to Collingwood Collegiate Institute.
Q: Did you always know you wanted to study?
A: I did. From an early age, I felt that I wanted to become a teacher.
I had many teachers along the way who confirmed this thought, both at Duntroon and at CCI in particular.
Q: Where did life take you after high school?
A: I went to Brock University for my undergrad. Then I went to get my teaching degree at York University. I also completed a Masters in Educational Leadership from Charles Sturt University in Australia.
There has been a lot of learning along the way. I am definitely a proponent of lifelong learning.
Q: When did you start teaching at SCDSB?
A: I started there as an uncertified substitute teacher in December 1989. I was coming home from college and working summers or vacations.
After graduating in teaching, I was hired on contract in 1995. My entire career as a teacher and administrator has been at the SCDSB.
Q: What subjects did you teach?
A: I started as a French teacher. Then I made the transition to teaching in 6th grade. After that, I joined special education.
As the Assistant Director of Education, I had various teaching responsibilities from K-8.
Q: What was your favorite subject to teach?
A: I’ve had great experiences in everything I’ve done, but I really enjoyed teaching 6th grade especially because back then we spent a lot of time using an integrated approach to learning. teaching reading and writing, and I did it through the news.
Every morning, we started the lesson with current affairs and news. Whether it was an editorial cartoon or a news story that I selected that morning, I thought it might be an applicable teaching tool for kids that age.
I found it generated good discussions and we worked on reading and writing skills. It was memorable for me. I still communicate with the students of that time. It was the late 90s and I was teaching at Angus. Past students will still say they remember those days.
When I moved into special education, that was really my main area of interest, because each student and their needs were as unique as the individual. It taught me a lot about people and families and working together.
It helped guide my next steps as superintendent and administrator. Everything is a learning experience. Reflection is necessary and important to keep moving forward.
Q: You’re retiring next month from the school board to work on your family farm, right?
A: Yes. We have a farm and a country market in Glen Huron, and my plan when I retired was always to get back to the farm and the business because I had worked in the business over the years in addition to teaching.
Unfortunately, my father passed away last fall in a tragic agricultural accident. It got me thinking. I made the decision that I needed to work, lead, and manage in different ways now to work with my family and contribute.
I’m leaving my post here early, per my original plan, but I’ve maintained that family always comes first.
I would always like to, in some way, continue to be involved in public education and continue to contribute in a meaningful way. I don’t have a specific plan yet but that would be my intention.
Q: Do you think any of the skills you learned during your time at SCDSB will be transferable to your role on the farm?
What I learned in my job as a teacher is: it’s all about relationships. Relationships are extremely important, whether you are in the public or private sector.
How we treat our staff and our customers is very important to me, and I can use what I have learned over the years in public service in this role.
I continue to work with people.
Q: Do you have any other hobbies that you would like to share?
A: I have had many wonderful opportunities and experiences over the years. I worked at The Peak for 23 years as a part-time announcer. I still have strong connections and friendships that work at the radio station, past and present.
I play with the Beinn Gorm Highlanders, as part of the drum core. It’s about giving back to the community. I have a strong bond and interest in music. I also play with the OPP. Music is part of my life in different forms.
I enjoy hiking, exercising, skiing and the outdoors. My family lives on the farm, so we enjoy every second spent outdoors.
Q: Is there anything else you would like the people of Collingwood to know about you?
A: I grew up and went to school in the same area that I was blessed to be the supporting superintendent. The schools I supported were in the Collingwood/Clearview/Wasaga Beach area. I had the chance to work in many schools that I support.
I want to thank the many families in the community for their support over the years.
For our People of Collingwood feature, we’ll speak with interesting people who are part of, or contribute to, the Collingwood community in some way, letting them tell their own stories in their own words. This feature will work on CollingwoodToday every weekend. If you would like to nominate or suggest someone to be featured in People of Collingwood, email [email protected]