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Sue Northey: Building student leaders

Sue Northey believes in helping students find their inner leader.  - JENNA HAUCK/ PROGRESS FILE
Sue Northey believes in helping students find their inner leader.
— image credit: JENNA HAUCK/ PROGRESS FILE

Susan Northey, a leadership and physical education teacher at Vedder Middle School, is what you’d call a real go-getter. She’s not a procrastinator, but an engaging, outgoing, self-motivated, focused and get ’er done kind of person. Sue is a natural leader who has the ability to inspire her students and to enable them to discover that they too have leadership skills. “I want them to discover that they have what it takes to become exceptional leaders. I want them to discover the leader within them,” she enthused.

Although Sue was born and raised in Toronto, she’s far from your stereotypical Torontonian. Her warm, friendly, bubbly and empathetic nature is quite fitting given her position and her students respond appreciatively.

Sue enjoyed school although she had to work hard for her marks. She admits, with a rather broad smile, that she was a very social student. While her father was an electrician, her mother was a phys-ed teacher and she inspired Sue to pursue a teaching career. “I wanted to be a kindergarten teacher for the longest time but eventually I decided to follow in my mother’s footsteps and become a P.E. teacher,” she smiled. Sue recognizes that she has never been a jock but she’s passionate about self confidence, healthy living and the correlation between that and physical education.

After graduation, Sue went on to McMaster University for her undergraduate degree and then to London Western for her teaching degree. It was while she was attending McMaster that she met future husband. He was a football player and was doing speed work with the track team and Sue just happened to be a member of that team. He ended up joining the Canadian Military, the coupled married and in 1989 they were posted to Chilliwack. They settled in nicely, Sue took on a job with the Abbotsford School District but made her way to Vedder Middle soon after. “It was a job that I thoroughly enjoyed but then we were posted to Petawawa. I wasn’t going to tell my husband to leave the military any more than he was going to tell me to leave teaching but he ended up deciding to leave the military. Chilliwack became home,” she said.

Sue taught science for about 10 years and enjoyed the classroom setting but with her energy and motivation she began teaching phys-ed and leadership. She enjoys having the ability to challenge her students to be the best that they can be. “Leadership is about personal growth. The students are encouraged to lead a healthy lifestyle and there is certainly a component of service. In serving others, you grow and you learn. You have power; you have the power to change. You also need to find balance,” she explained.

Creating balance in our life is difficult whether you’re the student or the teacher, the parent or the child, the employee or the employer. Prioritizing our goals can be so difficult especially when there are constant demands on our time. We need to work on fulfilling a balanced life. Sue struggles with finding balance; as a wife, mother to two teenage sons, teacher, friend and coach there’s little time for her. “I have to make the time. It’s important,” she said convincingly. Sue is heavily involved in coaching both cross county and track and field. She coached for Chilliwack Track and Field, the Valley Royals in Abbotsford and is currently coaching at Trinity Western University. “I try and run three times a week. I’ll get up at five in the morning and go for a run and I also try and support local runs like the Run for Mom and the Terry Fox Run. I’ve done the Sun Run many times but supporting the local ones is important,” she said.

Aside from struggling to find the ideal balance in her life, Sue would like to do more coaching in the future, including coaching for Olympic athletes. Her heroes include Terry Fox, Canadian activist for the rights of children, Craig Kielburger and Steve Nash. “Terry Fox is my ultimate then Craig followed by Steve. Terry is a great example of leadership. He made his decision, got to work and achieved the impossible. Craig is a Canadian who was just 12 when he began to fight for the rights of children. He founded Free the Children and co-founded Me to We and down the road I’d like to get more involved in his organization,” she said passionately.

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