People

Educator hits the right notes in education

January 04, 2022
BY GERRY RUCCHIN

Teachers influence their students’ lives and David Ennis is a testament on how students can be affected.

This impact was immediate and lasted throughout his teaching career.

Ennis is an experienced education administrator with a specialization in music education. However, Ennis didn’t have a musical background while growing up in eastern Ontario. Rather, it was a high school music teacher who introduced him to musical instruments.

“I had very little music in my life other than a few very poor piano lessons,” Ennis said. “My teacher identified all the instruments and did a quick demonstration on each. Then he said, ‘what do you want?’ I replied, the long black thing – I had forgotten it was called a clarinet.”  

Playing music became a passion for Ennis. He enjoyed it because it motivated him to ‘stretch himself.’   After only few months, he decided to become a music teacher. His teacher supported him and helped him find his way into the Ottawa Youth Orchestra.

It was at Western University while pursuing a music degree that Ennis experienced his greatest opportunities. He successfully auditioned for the National Youth Orchestra and travelled across eastern Canada. Although he met great young musicians, he never wavered from his goal to become a teacher.

“There’s something when a child gets it,” Ennis said. “The first time they’re able to get a decent sound out of an instrument and they give you that look that says – I got it – that’s carried me for years.”  

During his career, he started a music program in two small schools that had a student population of 700 students. The program expanded to a full-time position at Carleton Place High School where his ensembles played very well and travelled across Canada. For over ten years, Ennis played bassoon in the Ottawa Symphony Orchestra, which played at the National Arts Centre.

At the same time, Ennis was also a reed maker, which he supplied to Western Music for free. He also hired two people with spinal injuries to sell them. 

For the next 30 years, Ennis was an education administrator. During his career, Ennis was vice-principal and principal in elementary schools. At the Thames Valley District School Board, he became a Program Supervisor of Communication where he led curriculum writing in language, math and second languages. He finished his career as principal at Lorne Avenue Public School.

However, retirement didn’t last long. He filled a short-term contract to become principal of Antler River school on the Chippewas of the Thames First Nation. This three-month contract ended up being a three-year odyssey. He fell in love with the community.

Today, he’s a curriculum writer who is working with the Chippewas of the Thames First Nation and Fanshawe College to develop an accredited language program. He hopes his experiences will help in reconciliation.

“I would be thrilled if my grandchildren and the children of the Chippewas of the Thames knew each other in a different way,” Ennis said.

At the same time, he also teaches instrumental music and a Master Mentor Class at the Faculty of Education.

Ennis has also been involved in what he calls, ‘adventures.’ He revitalized an amateur theatre group in Carleton Place that’s still going strong after 30 years. He’s also president of the Board of London’s Brassroots ensemble and he is now Past President of Progressive Animal Welfare Services, which raises money to help people take care of their pets and leave abusive relationships. He has also driven passenger coaches and heavy-duty trucks that towed recreational vehicles throughout Ontario.

“I have a career, but I’ve also had adventures where I go and do something for a period of time just for fun," he said.

Looking back at his career, Ennis believes learning occurs when mistakes are made, and feedback is received because they create an improvement mentality. It’s also important for teachers to hear from their students.

“The children will tell you if you’re doing a bad job because they’ll misbehave. They’ll tell you if you’re boring because they’ll yawn and groan,” Ennis said.

What’s more, humility and maintaining good relationships with students are important. Teachers can create an inclusive classroom by promoting safety, positivity, and optimism.

“Kids have to feel that you care about them. You don’t have to be perfect but knowing that you care means a great deal to them,” Ennis said.

Finally, focusing on wellness is crucial as education recovers from the pandemic. Teachers will need to deal with parents and children misbehaving while staff are experiencing trauma, Ennis said.

“It has been extremely taxing. It will be a case of rebuilding resilience, social parameters and appropriate conduct.”