Week 20: Tamiko Ferguson
Please tell us about yourself.
I grew up in Toronto and started curling when I was 5. I loved the sport and played at least once a week. I spent a little bit of time curling competitively at the junior level on a mixed team. When I was 19 I moved to Kingston to go to University. I thought that I would go back to Toronto as soon as I was finished school, but ended up staying in Kingston to work. I started working in an inner-city high school and taught a Special Needs class and then developed a program called SUMMIT for males at-risk in grades 9-12. I spent seven years teaching that program helping boys who were not likely to graduate to find self-worth and to take control of their lives. Ultimately the goal was for them to graduate from high school and to become positive members of their community. Our classroom motto was “You can make excuses, or you can make a life”. After that, I moved into the Guidance department. A good part of my job there revolved around helping first-generation students break down the barriers between themselves and a college or university future. We knew it was a struggle, so we started a post-secondary fund to help students to manage the financial barriers like application fees and school deposits. Once these things were in place we saw a huge increase in the number of students applying and going off to school. When the school I was working at closed, I started in a guidance job where I helped with the transition for the students between two other high schools. My focus now is in part on tracking and monitoring attendance for students at-risk, finding creative solutions for students who are disengaged and helping with post-secondary access. The other part involves work with students, parents and community agencies helping to reduce barriers to school attendance and employment: getting birth certificates, social insurance numbers, food, clothes and access to counselling.
How has sport helped you develop skills for your work today?
Sport has helped me develop skills for my work because even though I haven’t played many sports, I started helping to coach teams where I taught. I helped with girls and boys basketball and boys rugby. I realized quickly that it was a good way to get to know students outside of the classroom and in a different way. Often, kids who shone on the court or the field weren’t the same kids who were stars in the classroom. There are also a lot of transferable skills between sports and life. I often found that the kids played the way they lived, so the more skills and resiliency we could teach them through sport, the more likely they were to be resilient in their own life too.
How do you define leadership?
I think that leadership can be many things. I think that it can be the obvious ‘stand at the front and give direction’ kind of leadership. But I also think that it can be more subtle; the person who is a leader by their actions and not necessarily their edicts. Ultimately, I think that whatever kind of leader you are, it starts with being a good person. You can’t ask anyone to do more than what you are willing to do, your actions have to reflect what you say you believe in and your team needs to feel like you support them. I also think that being a strong leader means seeing people (and yourself) for who you really are, strengths and weaknesses; and using those insights to create space for people to do what they are good at so that the team can be successful.