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Long-time educator trading a tie for a tractor

People of Collingwood: Michael Giffen, retiring superintendent of education with the SCDSB and farmer
2022-06-22 POCGiffen
Michael Giffen will be retiring as superintendent of education with the Simcoe County District School Board in July.

Following a tragic farming accident that took the life of his father this past fall, Michael Giffen will soon be hanging up his educator hat to take on a leadership role at his family farm in Glen Huron.

For this week’s edition of People of Collingwood we spoke with Giffen, 52, retiring superintendent of education with the Simcoe County District School Board 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 go into education?

A: I did. From a very early age, I felt that I wanted to become a teacher.

I had a lot of teachers along the way that confirmed that thinking, 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 received a master's in education leadership from Charles Sturt University in Australia.

There was lots of learning along the way. I’m certainly a proponent of life-long learning.

Q: When did you start teaching at the SCDSB?

A: I started there as an uncertified supply teacher back in December of 1989. I would come home from university and I would work in the summertime or holidays.

Once I got my teaching degree, I was hired on contract in 1995. My entire career as a teacher and administrator has been with the SCDSB.

Q: What subjects did you teach?

A: I started as a French teacher. Then, I transitioned into teaching Grade 6. After that, I got into special education.

As a teaching vice-principal, I had various teaching responsibilities from kindergarten to Grade 8.

Q: What was your favourite subject to teach?

A: I had great experiences in all that I did, but I really appreciated teaching Grade 6 in particular because we spent a lot of time back in those days using an integrated approach to teaching reading and writing, and I did that through current events.

Every morning, we would begin class with current events and the news. Whether it was an editorial cartoon or a news story that I selected from that morning that I felt could be an applicable teaching tool to kids at that age.

I found it generated good discussion and we worked on reading and writing skills. It was memorable for me. I still communicate with students from that time. It was the late ’90s and I was teaching in Angus. Former students will still say they remember those days.

When I moved into special education, that really was my area of most interest because every student and their need was as unique as the individual. That really taught me a lot about people and families and working together.

It helped guide my next steps as a superintendent and administrator. Everything is a learning experience. Reflection is necessary and important to keep moving forward.

Q: You’re retiring next month from at the school board to work on your family farm, is that correct?

A: Yes. We have a farm operation and country market in Glen Huron, and my plan when I retired was always to return to the farm and business because I’d worked off and on in the business over the years in addition to teaching.

Unfortunately, my dad passed away last fall in a tragic farm accident. It made me reflect. I came to the decision that I needed to move on to work, lead and manage in different ways now to work with my family and contribute.

I am leaving my position here early, in terms of my original plan, but I’ve maintained that family always comes first.

I’d still like to, in some way, keep involved in public education and continue to contribute in some meaningful way. I don’t have any definite plan yet but that would be my intention.

Q: Do you think any of the skills you’ve gained through your time at the SCDSB will be transferable to your role at the farm?

A: Absolutely.

What I’ve learned in my profession in education is: it’s about relationships. Relationships are extremely important, whether you are in the public or private sector.

How we treat our staff and customers is very important to me, and I can use what I’ve learned over the years in public service in that role.

I’m continuing to work with people.

Q: Do you have other hobbies you’d like to share?

A: I’ve had a lot of wonderful opportunities and experiences over the years. I worked at The Peak for 23 years as an announcer part-time. I still have strong connections and friendships who work at the radio station, past and present.

I play with the Beinn Gorm Highlanders, as part of the drum core. It’s all about giving back to the community. I have a strong tie to and interest in music. I also play with the OPP. Music is a part of my life in different shapes and forms.

I like hiking, exercise, skiing and being outdoors. My family lives on the farm so we take advantage of every second of being outside.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like people in Collingwood to know about you?

A: I grew up and went to school in the same area that I’ve had the fortune of being the superintendent to support. The schools I’ve supported were in the Collingwood/Clearview/Wasaga Beach area. I was fortunate to work in many of the schools I support.

I’d like to thank the many families in the community for their support of me over the years.

For our feature People of Collingwood, we’ll be speaking with interesting people who are either from or are contributing to the Collingwood community in some way, letting them tell their own stories in their own words. This feature will run on CollingwoodToday every weekend. If you’d like to nominate or suggest someone to be featured in People of Collingwood, email jessica@villagemedia.ca.


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Jessica Owen

About the Author: Jessica Owen

Jessica Owen brings 12 years of experience to her role as regional reporter for Village Media, primarily covering Collingwood, County of Simcoe and education.
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