[Coming Soon] Create. Curate. Connect OAPCE Webinar

In all of my years as an educator, I’ve been deeply committed to my own professional learning and have always found so much joy in sharing, connecting and supporting others in their own learning journey.

Whether it be tech-integration or leveraging media literacy as an enabler of culturally relevant teaching and learning, I’m a firm believer in the power of professional development in that it allows educators to to rumble with their own vulnerabilities all while unlearning and relearning in service to students and their school communities. Although, professional learning can come with cynicism induced armour, it’s urgent to embrace change with time and patience in order to respond to the every changing K-12 landscape.

As someone who came to teaching with a film and digital media background at the onset of Web 2.0, I’ve strived to create learning that speaks to the power of storytelling and empowering students to engage in learning beyond the walls of the classroom. Whether in class nurturing students to create film and digital content to supporting teachers in harnessing transferable multi-modal digital skills, I’ve worked to shape conversations that explore what teaching and learning really means while recognizing the importance of global competencies, digital citizenship and global connectivity. This is all to say that learning must go beyond the textbook in order to provide students with the resiliency to adapt and respond to change.

This brings me to my own work pertaining to storytelling and digital portfolio design as a mode for students to create, curate and connect with meaning and purpose. Looking to this past year of COVID impacted learning has reaffirmed that schooling is less about “content”. and more about skills and process.

Deep learning occurs when students are empowered to reflect on what they have learnt, their next steps, who they are as people all while “showing what they know” in ways that extends beyond their classroom or school. All of this becomes further enriched when students are empowered to set goals, self-regulate and are given authentic opportunities to engage with goal setting and descriptive feedback in order to master learning rather than content.

The Ontario Ministry of Education Executive Summary titled What We Heard – Well Being in our Schools, Strengths in Our Society notes “promoting well-being, achieving excellence, ensuring equity, and enhancing public confidence” are the goals for renewed vision for Ontario education.” For this to truly happen, students must be mobilized as responsible citizens who understand their peers, have the ability to share their story and who have the transferable skills needed to be be responsive and active citizens. Ultimately, this doesn’t occur through obtaining marks but rather process. As such, the learning journey is more critical now than ever.

Looking ahead, I’ll be sharing these ideas with OAPCE Ontario as part of a webinar which will be launched on their website mid-May. This webinar will provide parents and caring adults with an authentic overview as to why digital portfolios matter and how to support their children at home engage with Creating Pathways to Success – The All About Me Portfolio (K-6) and the Individual Pathway Plan (7-12). Whether it be creating a student Instagram account or a comprehensive digital portfolio, this webinar will provide authentic perspective and practice.

Excitingly, as part of the webinar I will be sharing recent conversations I’ve had with my former students Vincent Pham currently entering his third year at the University of Toronto and Ryan Dizon, currently entering his fourth year at Schulich School of Business at York University. These two learners, share reflections on how their portfolios have helped shaped deep learning and unique opportunities in school in beyond.

Here’s a sneak preview featuring Vincent Pham who chat with me about his experience with portfolio curation.

Create, Curate, Connect: Why Digital Portfolios Matter will land on OAPCE’s website mid-May.

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[Disney+ Review] The Mighty Ducks are Back with Game Changers

Released in October of 1992, The Mighty Ducks was a sleeper hit and Disney’s throwback to movies like The Bad News Bears series of the 1970s. Building an evening larger audience on VHS The Mighty Ducks spanned into a trilogy, animated TV series, NHL hockey franchise and was the catalyst for an early 90s movement of kids sports movies including The Sandlot, Rookie of the YearLittle Giants, The Big Green and many others. In fact, where the first movie started the early 90s kids sports wave the last film in the series released in October of 1996 seemed to bring the genre to a relative close with its diminished box office returns and a shift in mid-90s theatrical tastes.

The original 90s Ducks

Looking back at these movies about kids playing sports, was the common thread of the  underdog narrative where unique friendships formed that spoke to the awkwardness and challenges of adolescence. With the kids typically finding victory in sport and life, their true sense of self ultimately comes from having the freedom to be who they are and having someone who valued who they were. Although littered with cinematic cliches, these films do address the need to be responsive, kind and understand the uniqueness in one another’s story. In fact, as COVID has reminded us that community is pressingly important, The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers now streaming on Disney + arrives as a tale for our times. 

In this continuation, audiences find that the Mighty Ducks are now a hockey dynasty and far from their Gordon Bombay days of the 1990s. Coached by “Coach T,” (Dlyan Playfair) who shows little care for the emotional well-being of players and is solely driven by victory, this new era of Ducks is one that displaces underdogs rather than embracing them. With Evan (Brady Noon) being cut from the team and not fitting in within the obscure and parent driven world of Pee-Wee hockey, his mom Alex (Lauren Graham) not only takes a stand and fights for her son’s right to play but also pulls the curtain on parents’ obsessive behaviour and living vicariously through their kids. Ultimately, she wants her son to play hockey but recognizes the need for him to be a kid.

Game Changers

Graham, a pure joy to see yet again on the small screen, is in her Gilmore Girls mom mode where her zest for life comes from her own position as an underdog herself. A single mom, she convinces Evan to form his own team and soon enough a 90s type rang-tang group of misfits come together to form what she calls the “No Bothers,” alluding to Coach T telling her son not to bother with hockey. 

As Evan navigates the hardships of feeling ostracized from this former team the Mighty Ducks, he finds solace and courage in a new group of school and hockey friends that all want a chance to play and be who they are. Like the Ducks of the old, this new group epitomizes the classic underdog sport story with all the sensibilities of 2021 kids. 

Similar to Cobra Kai, another continuation of a classic film trilogy, this new generation does cross paths with canon characters, primarily Gordon Bombay himself. Intelligently played by Emilio Estevez, Bombay’s “bitter old man” is a great contrast to Graham’s optimistic mom. As a friendship slowly begins to form, Bombay looks to become a team and life mentor as the owner of the Ice Palace, which the No Bothers call their hockey home. Cranky and a shadow of his former self, this Gordon Bombay brings an extra layer to this new series. 

With the Game Changers off to a warm-hearted start, here’s giving Disney koddos  for honouring the original movie franchise while finding new life in 22 minutes of streaming story.

A perfect mix of nostalgia and relevance, The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers makes for perfect at home family viewing – full of life lessons about friendships, childhood and the need to be kind.

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[MCU Review] The Falcon and The Winter Solider is MCU Done Right

If one thing has saved my family during the COVID malaise of Toronto area theatres being shuttered it’s the glory of Disney + and it’s slate of original content. With a weekly release schedule, there’s something quite retro about this approach as the streamer creates the room to watch, re-watch and talk before each new episode launches.

In regards to fandom, it allows for worlds to be explored as new episodes are anticipated throughout the week. It’s the small joys of at home watching. As Disney + is now in full MCU swing, the grounded “real-world” approach of The Falcon and The Winter Soldier was needed after the multiverse binge of WandaVision. Like Captain American: Winter Solider that proved to be one of the MCU’s most compelling entries, the continuation of Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes’ stories finds solid footing in its political espionage roots. 

Taking place three months after the aged Captain America passed the shield to Sam Wilson, we find Sam in full  action mode. No longer a sidekick, Sam continues the fight against the LAF that took place at the start of Winter Soldier. Like his good buddy Steve Rogers, Sam takes on Georges Batroc (UFC Retiree George St. Pierre) and in doing so reinforces that Sam along with his Red Wing can handle things as main action heroes.  As Sam is introduced to a new world threat in the Flag Smashers, we find Bucky now pardoned, reluctantly in therapy and suffering from PTSD. He looks to make amends with his past while struggling with finding any type of peace. He shares that he misses his time of solace in Wakanda and recognizes the challenge that comes from being decommissioned from conflict after so many years.  Working through a list, quite like Steve was during his early defrosting, Sam seeks to bring balance to his new life while owning his deadly past as the Winter Soldier.

Sam carries the weight of Captain America’s legacy.

The layers of story that shape Sam and Bucky is at the core of the premiere episode and looks to unfold even more as the series continues. With Sam, the show runners embrace Marvel’s history of political consciousness and grounds Sam’s new life post “BLIP” within the micro aggressions of race.

Returning home to Louisiana to help with the family business, Sam’s sister acts as a guide to the real world. Whereas Sam thinks his time as an Avenger makes him unique, he soon realizes that he is trapped with a dual space of race; an America that celebrates his heroics  but then traps, confines and limits his potential as a Black man. Upward mobility for Sam is stripped and he soon realizes the world he lives in. Equally, Sam wrestles with the burden of carrying the Captain American shield all while being told that he is not the symbol that America needs in a hero.

Sarah Wilson gives her brother a lesson on being Black in America.

With episode two now available, it’s these complex narratives that promises to intrigue and provoke as the series unfolds. Yes, there will be action aplenty but it’s the small character moments that remind us that great storytelling rises from the political and is grounded in our day-to-day.

Sam and Bucky are now grounded in more ways than one and so their post Endgame story promises to unfold with true intrigue. This is MCU done right!

Looking ahead to episode 2, trust me that things get real. My review of The Falcon and The Winter Soldier continues next week.

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[Movie Review] Zack Snyder’s Justice League: A Story of Heroes, Villains & Redemption.

Over the course of the past 48 hours the internet has been singing the praises of Zack Snyder’s Justice League. No longer just a movie, this version of DC’s team of heroes, has become a tale of creative redemption, mobilized fandom, advocacy for workplace safety and ultimately a response to pandemic content on a scale not even the MCU can match. Zack Snyder’s Justice League in its lure, scale,  ambition and imperfection is a gift from the movie Gods. 

Like the multiverse that Barry Allen (The Flash) speaks of, there are two worlds: Justice League without Zack Snyder and Justice League with. For those reading who don’t know the story behind the film, the release of Justice League in November 2017 is the stuff of movie urban legend. With Zack Snyder leaving the production in Spring of 2017 his work as the architect of the DCEU, burdened by corporate malice and thwarted by familial tragedy, was unraveled by director Joss Whedon (Avengers, Avengers: Age of Ultron) and Warner Bros. executives. With a heavily restructured story, expansive reshoots and a demoralized cast and crew, Justice League’s arrival and time in theatres was far from glorious. A critical and commercial disaster, Zack Snyder was ultimately laid to blame. Only after actor Ray Fisher (Cyborg) broke the story of workplace harassment under Joss Whedon in July 2020 did the full scope of the production’s issues come to life.

Unlike Marvel, the DCEU was designed by a director who has a brand of his own. Very much an auteur,  Zack Snyder movies come with their own sensibilities. Since his 2002 Dawn of the Dead remake and most certainly since 300, Snyder is a director who puts visceral action on the screen with a visual sensibility that screams his name. With this release of the film, he not only reclaims his honour but his canvas. His tone has been restored. This new release of Justice League finds Snyder bold, glorious and imperfect. 

Ultimately, after fans demanded and created a #releasethesyndercut movement and cast including Ben Affleck (Batman), Jason Momoa (Aquaman) emboldened the fandom with retweets and Instagram stories, Warner succumbed. Serendipitously, having HBO Max’s soft February 2020 launch to thank, corporate brass knew that making peace with Zack Snyder’s DCEU would be good business and rehabilitation after Ray Fisher pulled the curtain of post Zack Snyder workplace harassment. Synder’s time had arrived and so did the time for the cast and crew to be recognized for their successes and hardships.

Nearly 5 years since the 2017 release of Justice League, this new release is Snyder’s superhero opus.  Not only the best reviewed movie of his career thus far but also the most inspired at all levels. Frankly, it’s a film for our pandemic times. Both a reminder that filmmaking of such a grand scale is like no other form of storytelling and that the world needs a Justice League more now than ever. This movie is a pandemic antidote; take it in and go for the ride. 

A tale of consequence, redemption, love, family and discernment, Zack Synder’s Justice League is audacious. From his choice of 4:3 aspect ratio to  every significant character being honoured with real story arcs, the coming together of heroes in Snyder’s world comes with deep urgency. In fact comparing the two releases of the films is jarring. As I watch Snyder’s version I couldn’t help but think about the lack of respect given to his original vision. In this version none of the footage Whedon shot was used and the changes made to Snyder’s original blueprint were restored. In fact, Snyder has never seen the 2017 film. Thus, he followed his own blueprint throughout. This is the original as he always intended.

The film represents a complete catharsis in every sense of the word. Beyond heroes and villains, this film and Snyder’s experience will speak to anyone who has put their heart and soul into a project, initiative or workplace only to have it stripped upon departure. There’s just something human about the film you are watching and the story of how it came into existence. 


So, is Zack Snyder’s Justice League a perfect film? No, it’s not. At over 4 hours, it lags at times, falls victim to self-indulgence and overdoses on CGI in classic superhero ways. It’s best moments are in fact the flushed out character ones that the 2017 lacked as it sped into action. Take your time as Synder did himself.

Watch, pause, stretch, come back to key scenes. Just indulge and enjoy the ride.

It’s not a perfect movie but it’s a hell of a ride, just the same.

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Exploring Mindset: A Focus on Intervention

Looking at pressing realities impacting education today, COVID-19 pandemic emergency and remote learning has placed a direct and bolder spotlight on issues of inequity that exists within schools and districts.

This is a reality that I’ve worked to address in my capacity as a Vice Principal. Whether it be a student’s lack of access to viable technology to a student’s mental health, inequity speaks to realities that impact students based on a number of factors including how cracks in the foundations of schooling can become wider and deeper for particular students.  With some late night casual reading, I’ve been losing sleep thinking about students with exceptionalities, their relationship with literacy and how to best serve them.

This is to say that in looking at an exceptionality in literacy, I’m quite cognizant of the student as a whole person and the challenges that may exist at home, school, broader community and how multiple milieus potentially intersect. As a relatively new Vice Principal, I began my administrative journey at the onset of COVID emergency learning and have been very direct about the need to be responsive to all learners, especially those in need of meaningful intervention. I recognize my privilege in that my own home experience is quite utopian considering the circumstances of COVID. We’re a family with one-to-one technology, no issue with internet connectivity or limits and my children are  without any cognitive barriers. Furthermore, we are a white family middle class family, which comes with other layers of privilege. Outside of the pressing realities of COVID and the challenges that any family is enduring, the experience of schooling is largely without issue. 

I recognize that is not the reality for many students and their families. Regrettably as an administrator I’ve shared in many emotional conversations with parents who are seeking support for their special education child. This support must come with a shift in mindset; recognizing that schools are truly for all students.

As such, when it comes to intervention for students with Learning Difficulties / Disabilities, schools and districts must be responsive to the whole student experience. This speaks to the ideas presented by the Learning Disabilities Association of Canada and Putting a Canada Face on Learning Disabilities.

This notion of “putting a face” is more important than ever taking into account the realities of remote learning and large school district initiatives to offer fully online and/or hybrid based learning. Specifically, as noted in the document Putting a Canadian Face on Learning Disabilities, “there is a direct correlation between the problems not identified in school, and/or not accommodated in school, with the end result of low literacy levels. This, in turn, impacts the employment opportunities and the financial situations of people with learning disabilities. The issue is cyclical, because these challenges feed into one another. Low literacy levels, high rates of unemployment, lack of independence, and lower income contribute to higher rates of mental and physical health and impact the relationships of people with LD” (Learning Disabilities Association of Canada). 

As such, it’s pressing that school leaders, program specialists, classroom teachers and system leaders, construct intentional plans of intervention that speak to issues of equity that impact student learning. As recommended by The Learning Disabilities Association of Canada, the government must “build awareness and training among medical, mental health and educational professionals of co-existence of mental health disorders and learning disabilities in both children and adults. This would facilitate quicker identification and diagnosis of LD and provide families with early support, understanding and resources to reduce the likelihood of developing more serious mental health disorders” (Learning Disabilities Association of Canada).

With all of this, it’s critical to be culturally responsive both in teaching and leading. In the case of exceptionalities and interventions, “putting a face” on learning disabilities means knowing, respecting, acknowledging and responding to the whole person. As in any study of equity, educators must start with self. As shared in What Works ? Research Into Practice, examining one’s own beliefs is significant. Specifically, “it is important to examine your own belief systems with regard to students with exceptionalities. It may be helpful to ask yourself such questions such as: What experiences in my own schooling may have shaped my attitudes toward students with exceptionalities? Do I have a close relationship with a person who would be considered to have an exceptionality? Have I ever been incapacitateed in a way that allows me to view my environment differently? These questions may afford you the opportunity to identify ways in which personal beliefs and experiences inform daily practice in both positive and negative ways” (Bennett, 2009, p. 2).

Furthermore, for LD students to be truly served, a shift in mindset needs to take place at all systeem levels. This is referenced in  Supporting Teachers to Work with Children with Exceptionalities.” Published in the Canadian Journal of Education, the researchers share “writing a policy that embraces inclusion involves much more than knowing how to accommodate students with exceptionalities or modify the curriculum. In order for the policy to be realized, a belief system that commits to inclusion is necessary” (Killoran, Zaretsky, Jordan, Smith, Allard and Moloney, 2013, p. 245). 

There’s most certainly so much to think about but leadership must come with action. This means, that new learning and approaches are critical if all students are going to receive the education they so rightfully deserve.

For me, the learning continues.

References:

Allington, R. L. (2001). Research on reading/learning disability interventions. In S. J. Samuels and A.E. Farstrug (Eds.), What research has to say about reading instruction (4th ed.) Newark, DE: IRA.

Applied: Bennett, S. (2009). Including students with exceptionalities. What Works? Research into Practice, Ontario Ministry of Education, Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat. Retrieve from: http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/literacynumeracy/inspire/research/Bennett.pdf

Killoran, I. Zaretsky, H. Jordan, A. Smith, D. Allard, C and Moloney, J. (2013). Supporting Teachers to Work with Children with Exceptionalities, Canadian Journal of Education

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[Podcast Review] Reflections from my AM Walk Part 1: Brene Brown and “The Heart of Daring Leadership”

Over the course of the past few days, I’ve been finding myself quite restless. Like so many educators, my mind is continuously spinning. Although I’m no longer in the classroom, my role as a Vice Principal is to be in service to teachers, students and their families. Knowing teachers are struggling in the amazing work they are doing, as are students and caring adults at home during remote learning, makes me wonder about the critical realities we’re facing as teachers, administrators and district leaders in our shared service to students. 

So, as I tie my shoe laces at 6:00am and head for length early morning walks, I immerse myself into podcast worlds where I can make my physical gains all while having my mind and soul filled as well. 

My podcast of choice as of late is Brene Brown’s Dare to Lead. If you see yourself as a leader or yearn to grow in your leadership discernment, Brown’s book of the same name provides a masterclass in exploring why leadership matters and what it is.  As Brown asserts in the first episode titled The Heart of Daring Leadership, we’re all leaders. Whether you work as a CEO, are a line cook in a restaurant, school custodian, classroom teacher or stay at home parent, anyone can and is a leader. Leadership is not about power, stature or gross income but rather the mindset to serve, make positive change, set direction and ultimately empower others to be their very best. This is all possible with courageous leadership. 

To be leaders, we can’t as Brown shares “tap out” of courageous conversations. In fact, she suggests that “we can’t get to courage without rumbling vulnerability.” The use of “rumbling” may sound disconcerting as it brings forward images of a fist fight. It’s best to think of it as a dance of ideas and the action of minds coming together with purpose and intention. This is what’s needed in leadership; the will to dialogue, share ideas, respectfully disagree, learn, unlearn and relearn together all while setting direction. 

In fact, I would argue that when looking at education and the change needed to give students a truly transformational learning  experience, the will to actively rumble vulnerability is by and large missing. In fact, this lack of  rumbling,  is negatively impacting the greatest issue in education today: equity and inclusivity. 

Looking at equity through the lens of Culturally Responsive Teaching and Learning, the immediate reality is that individual privilege must be explored at system and school levels. For this to occur, system leaders, school administrators and classroom teachers must intentionally reflect on who they are and their driving educational philosophy. This is important as knowing who we are will help use dismantle the “armour” that Brown shares we all carry. This armour is created by our fears and shields the vulnerability that comes with real and purposeful learning and dialogue. 

Therefore for us educators to truly create places of inclusivity and where equity and equality are truly understood and defined, we must know ourselves and embrace the courageous. What baggage do we come to education with? What are our blind spots? What bias do we carry? What shapes our thinking and our doing? Do we look to tap out or tap into courageous conversations?

For example, I have spent much time learning how to be a purposeful ally when it comes to Anti-Black and BIPOC racism. This has been at the foreground of my early work as a documentary filmmaker, which then became the driving force to becoming an educator. The power of story and how to be an ally who willingly unlearns and relearns with humility and understanding. This means checking my ego at the door, listening to and searching for new learning. 

For this work and mindset to begin and be sustained, I needed to know who I was and this includes understanding my relationship with schooling. This process took time and where I am today didn’t happen overnight. Importantly, to me, schooling is not solely about curricular expectations and course content but rather process and purpose. For me, how students learn and who they are is just as important as what they learn. Thus, to be culturally responsive is to shape intentional opportunities where students can share their why, their goals, and important chapters of their personal story all while I work to create an environment that supports, cares for, enables and empowers them to be their very best in school and beyond. This means I must change to serve the students. Such lack of change is hindering marginalized groups today. This is evident in ongoing debates about the texts used in English classrooms or mindsets around specialized programming and recruitment. For example, specialized programming such as STEAM must be inclusive of all students, especially boys and girls of the BIPOC community in recruitment and retention. For this to occur the structure of recruitment along with teaching needs to be re-imagined at all level. This can only occur when privilege is checked and that comes by rumbling the vulnerability.

Ultimately, courageous leadership is needed. This doesn’t mean combative but rather humanity filled leadership that serves with empathy and understanding but is also guided by purpose and intention. This is leadership willing to “rumble” with the vulnerable to ensure that students receive the transformational experience they deserve. I dedicate myself to this type of leadership; addicted to learning, unlearning and relearning every step of the way in service to teachers, students, parents, caring adults, the public and myself as an educator and parent of elementary school aged children. The world I want my children to live and thrive in is the world I must work to create for all young people.

Importantly, within the space of culturally responsive teaching and learning, the idea of “transformational” is multifaceted. The intentional equity and inclusivity work that speaks to race, class, creed, gender and sexual orientation also comes with the mindset needed to appreciate that each child comes to school with a unique relationship with schooling itself. Thus, for educators to really know students, to shape learning that is intuitive, inclusive and responsive is to be about process and not content. It’s about knowing how students learn, who they are and create spaces where student voice and experience can be put into practice to enrich a sense of self and learning.

For example, I believe that to be fully inclusive is to empower intentional story telling; this is the storyteller in me. For this to happen, students need to document their goals, classroom and curricular learning all while be invited to share personal stories. This can then be leveraged by teachers as a guide to what their students know, need and who they are. This form of “assessment for and as learning” is cross-curricular and is about creating safe spaces where goals can be set, dialogue can take place, supports can be implemented all while checking our potential privilege as educators at the classroom door. 

This can be done through digital portfolio design that empowers students to create, curate, share and connect. It’s about mobilizing in and out of school 21st century – multi-modal storytelling so peers, educators, parents, caring adults and other like-minded partners, can respond to who students are.  In doing this work, students grow as responsible citizens with the digital skills to share ideas and the emotional literacy to be the change and neighbour the world needs. Character education cannot come without the time and patience to share, learn and unlearn together. Unity cannot come without understanding and valuing the individual pieces of a classroom or school puzzle. This is work that I have practiced in with student, teachers and believe in.

As educators and leaders, we have to embrace the “rumble” and come to conversations informed, ready to respectfully dialogue and with the willingness to look at and begin dismantling our armour. This can be scary but for our students, our fear can’t be a barrier to the change needed to ensure they become the leaders and responsible citizens the world needs today and tomorrow. 

I still have so much to learn and do. There is still so much work that needs to be done. However, I won’t tap out of the courageous conversations.

Thanks to Brene Brown for the opportunity to reflect. I can’t wait to listen to the next episode of Dare to Lead.

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A Parents’ Guide to Disney-Pixar’s “Soul”

The best movies not only shape new thinking but ultimately entertain us. They have an ability to transport us to another world, remove us from our everyday and remind us that life outside of the movie is as unique as the world on the big screen.

This idea of life is one that many of us may be pondering over the course of the past ten month as we balance the realities of COVID-19. As our everyday has been reimagined, life as we know it, has changed. However, within this place of change, we’re given time to pause and reflect on what makes us unique and what our spark is in life.

The “unique” is what Pixar has always done so well. From its genesis with Toy Story in 1995, Pixar’s genius is not so much it’s animation artistry (although it still remains the most gorgeous of all mainstream animation studios), but rather their ability to find the story in any aspect of life. Whether it be toys coming to life, a family of ants on a journey, or emotions forming a new understanding of themselves, the Pixar cannon is explores life’s unique wonderment.

With Soul, now available of Disney+, we’re introduced to Joe Gardner (voice of Jamie Foxx) – a middle-school band teacher who gets the chance of a lifetime to play at the best jazz club in town. But one small misstep takes him from the streets of New York City to The Great Before – a fantastical place where new souls get their personalities, quirks and interests before they go to Earth. Determined to return to his life, Joe teams up with a precocious soul, 22 (voice of Tina Fey), who has never understood the appeal of the human experience. As Joe desperately tries to show 22 what’s great about living, he may just discover the answers to some of life’s most important questions. (Disney +).

Watching this film with my own 10 and 7-year-old children was an emotional journey. In the past year, we’ve lost a dear family friend to COVID, two uncles and over the Christmas holidays a dearly beloved aunt (a family matriarch) passed away. Nonetheless, 2020 was filled with much sadness and thus my wife and I were hesitant to watch Soul with our children with its narrative grounded in life and death.

Regardless, we took the leap, made the popcorn, got couch comfy and found ourselves relishing in yet another heartfelt, touching and accessible story from Pixar. Afterwards we did what we normally do as a family: we talked about and decoded the movie.

So, here’s a little cheat sheet for any parent or caring adult looking to watch Soul with their child/children.

As you get snack ready, have a conversation with your child/children about what excites them about life. This is a great opportunity to just open the door to conversation.

In our case, because of all of the recent sadness the kids were processing, we asked them to share memories of the loved ones we lost in 2020. They readily shared so many warm memories and asked provocative questions of their own about life, death and faith.

It was an emotional movie set up but needed in order to ground the context for the film, give us a 2020 cleanse and also to allow our kids to reflect and share what has been on their minds and in their hearts over the last little while. Although, such family dialogue has been ongoing, the lead into Soul gave us yet another opportunity to intentionally pause and chat.

Although, they really can’t stand it, my kids are use to my pausing a movie while we watch. Like when I was in the classroom teaching Communications Technology, I often pause asking for a summary of the narrative thus far, what could possibly unfold, ask if there are any questions about where we are in the story or share a bit of useless “making of” information. Since, I’m a major cinephile, we typically watch a movie more than once – eventually the pausing stops.

With Soul, it provides a unique opportunity to explore typical Pixar storytelling itself in regards to race and representation. Not only do we have a story about life, death, soul and the meaning of life, but the movie’s foundation is about an African-American man in love with Soul music as an expression of himself, connection to his musician father and a mode of cultural expression.

Importantly, Joe is a good man. He’s not the Black voodoo villain of The Princess and Frog, but rather a whole person with ambition, hope, fears and insecurities who inhabits an African-American neighbourhood that is uniquely bountiful and lived in; not ghettoized in any way.

Guiding Questions:

Think about all of the Pixar movies you’ve watched. What’s interesting about the character of Joe? How is he unique compared to other Pixar main characters?

Depending on the type of conversations you have at home with your children, they may make a connection to race. Like my children who often decode media texts and casually participate or actively listen to dinner table conversation about politics, race is an important connection to make when watching Soul.

Joe is Pixar’s first African-American main protagonist and how he is represented matters. Like shared already in this post, he’s a positive representation is so many ways.

For example, Joe is educated and is a respected teacher. This is quite evident from the onset of the movie when we are introduced to him in his classroom. He’s calm, patient and giving with the students which counters images or ideas about the aggressive Black male that litters cultural discourse. He’s beloved and is welcomed to the school community fold with a full-time teaching promotion.

Outside of the classroom, he’s equally warm and beloved. An example of this when his old student invites him to audition for the The Dorothy Williams Band. It’s clear that Joe had a positive relationship with the people in his life.

Further, Joe can be compared to the satirical Combat Carl from Pixar’s 2013 Halloween special Toy Story of Terror, he’s a totally formed Pixar character. Whereas Combat Carl was a comic spoof of Carl Weather’s action persona from the film Predator, Joe is a fully flushed lead character with a backstory and more. Perhaps, Joe lacks agency as some critics have shared. Regardless, we do grow to understand who he is. Part of Joe’s story is that he doesn’t fall into the trope of the fatherless black male. Instead, he yearns to follow in his father’s footsteps.

This may be quite a topic to unfold with your children. Nonetheless, to avoid Joe and his world is to lessen the impact of the film itself. This is not to say that the film is perfect in its representation or race. However, within the Pixar cannon, Joe is most certainly a progressive first step.

What does Joe learn from Soul, 22? Why is this important?

Your child/children may bring forward a number of answers that are all correct. When I watched the film with my children, it’s about enabling their imagination and sharing how they see life through their eyes.

Guiding the conversation, you can bring forward that Soul – 22 does inspire Joe to see the uniqueness in everyday life. Soul – 22 relishes in the small moments that Joe takes for granted. Like Pixar films that have the ability to find a story in just about anything, Soul, 22 finds spark in the everyday – walking, nature, the sky and more.

With this, Soul – 22 not only reminds Joe but all of us that life is the spark. Whereas Joe is singular in his obsession with being a musician throughout the film, he realizes that with his second chance at life he’s going to enjoy all things and broaden who he is and how he sees the world. He’s no longer just going to live for soul music but life itself.

Now that all of the decoding is out of the way, use the stay at home time as an opportunity to have your child/children create, share their life sparks.
This could be a vision board, a collage or at home show and tell. Or, you can use the following Soul “Dear Future Me” worksheet.

For more worksheets, click here:

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Weekend Watch List: Friday December 11

We’re almost to Christmas and there is no better time to get couch comfy and indulge in some Christmas movie wonderment. So, whether you’re finding time for a family movie night or if you’re in the mood for more mature viewing, this list has something for everyone. Grab a hot coco, get under a cozy blanket and enjoy!

First Blood (1982)

Yes, like Die Hard (1988), First Blood is a Christmas movie. Often forgotten within the landscape of action movie masterpieces, First Blood is the first film in the Rambo series which was inspired by the David Morrell action thriller First Blood first published in 1972. 

Forget about the Rambo you may know from the over the top Rambo First Blood Part 2 (1985) that was released at the peak of Reagan’s American obsession with meta-history and “winning” the Vietnam War. In First Blood we’re introduced to an isolated Rambo, a Vietnam War veteran drifter who in looking for friendship is confronted by a small town Sheriff who doesn’t like his kind or his war. The two characters collide as Rambo launches into a PTSD fuelled response to the Sheriff and the small town policemen who push him too far and ignite within the physiological trauma of the war both at home and afar. 

Quietly set during the Christmas season with only a few Christmas trees and lights on display, this origin story places Rambo in the small town America he was told to fight for in Vietnam. A place of indifference towards him, First Blood’s epic climax takes place in a quintessential small American downtown and specifically a gun shop. There, Rambo finds himself coming to terms with his war demons and the loss he faces day-to-day as as veteran of a war America is ashamed of. 

Much different than the original novel, it took First Blood many years to get to the screen but it is all worth it. Released in October of 1982, First Blood is the OG of 80s action cinema later perfected by films such as Die Hard. 


Happiest Season (2020)

This perfectly 2020 Rom-Com tells the story of young lesbian couple Abby (Kristen Stewart) and Harper (Mackenzie Davis). Newly in love, Christmas obsessed Harper  wants to spend Christmas morning together and invites Abby to spend the holidays with her and her family.


Not until they are travelling by car to the holiday festivities does Harper cautiously inform Abby  that she lied about telling her parents about being a lesbian in the summer and that Abby isn’t her girlfriend but roommate.

Along with this, Harper also places Abby in the awkward and unsettling scenario of not being truthful about her own sexuality; asking her not to mention the fact that she is gay. All of this to protect the sensibilities of her conservative parents. Even worse, Harper selfishly leverages Abby’s hardship of losing her parents as the reason she is celebrating with her family. With this chain of events, a joyful family yearn unfolds with Abby caught within this American family with all their obscurity. Reminiscent of the very best of 90s and early 2000s romantic comedy hits, Happiest Season is very much in the spirit of writer-director Nora Ephron (Sleepless in Seattle, You’ve Got Mail). This little film co-written and directed by the wonderful Clea DuVall is smart, charming and so progressive without being cliched or preachy. It’s LGBTQ pride shouts with grace, empathy and love. A must watch for anyone looking for a warm hearted family affair. 


All I Want For Christmas (1991) 

This is not remotely the Christmas movie 2020 is looking for. Although overtly white, privileged and littered with high brow rich New Yorkers, this early 90s film does strike a sentimental Christmas tone with a brother and sister who scheme to reunite their recently divorced parents at Christmas.

It all begins with young Hailey (Thora Birch), who visits Santa at Macy’s. Instead of asking for toys and treats, she asks Santa for a united family. Her caring older brother Ethan (Ethan Embry), who is perhaps the nicest older teen brother in family films, works to ensure that Hailey’s wish comes true.

So, brother, sister along with some friends stir up the perfect mix of family film antics that brings laughs to kids and warms the melodramatic hearts of adults. Yes, it’s sappy and far from a Capra classic, but this little 1991 film brings plenty of heart just in time for Christmas. 


Scrooged (1988)

From Richard Donner, the director behind Superman, Lethal Weapon and The Goonies came this late 80s classic that finds Bill Murray in his cantankerous prime.

A dark comedic take on Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol, Bill Murray is a media mogul without a soul that not only pollutes the television airwaves with cultural rubbish but also treats the people in his life with incredible disdain. Like all tellings of the Dickens’ classic, Murray’s character is visited by a collection of ghosts who teach him a thing or two about what it means to have the Christmas spirit all year round. Heightened by Murray’s comic antics and talent for gruff, this telling is dark, satirical and more timely now than ever. 


Batman Returns (1992)

I still have memories of this most Tim Burton of Batman films while enthralled at an opening night screening back in June of 1992. 

Enjoying Batman’s even darker Gotham, a family with young kids left the theatre as Danny DeVito’s sinister Penguin enjoyed a vicious bite of a man’s nose.It immediately dawned on on my 12 year old self that this tale was not the kid geared story of the first Batman that dominated movie theatres and toy stores in 1989. Instead, Tim Burton with all the clout of new cemented A-list director dove deep into the complexity of Gotham, the characters that inhibit it and the unmasking of Christmas itself.

At its core, Batman Returns with all of its violence, sexuality and holiday set design is a Christmas exploitation film; one that forces audience to remember that with the festive season rests many unhidden or often avoided truths and horrors of society forgotten or run amok. 

This is quintessential Burton; peeling away the societal masks and using costumes and abstraction as an exploration of truth. Regardless of all of the dark, there is a sheer comic joy to Batman Returns. Brooding and fun, this is the best of the 90s Batman films and one of the characters most intriguing interpretations. 

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Press The Re-Set: Thinking of September and Beyond

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As the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to unfold globally, the return to school stresses also continue to mount. As an educator and parent, I am most certainly anxious about the unknown that rests ahead.

Thinking about my own children going into Grade 5 and 2 respectively, I’m constantly thinking not solely about their physical well-being but their mental and emotional health as well. Knowing that this school year will be decorated by PPEs, new routines, staggered recess and lingering health threats, I’m hoping that an intentional balance between academic success and overall well-being can be found.

This is all to say that as educators return to school in September and amidst all of the challenges that rest ahead, COVID-19 does present us with the opportunity to reset the norm. Whether this means that curriculum takes a back seat at the onset to finding new pedagogical opportunities with through technology, there is a need to revisit what teaching and learning really means.

As educators we all must revisit our individual and shared purpose. What’s our critical motivator? In regards to the COVID era, I’m personally reminded that schooling must be and is so much more than content and curriculum. I’ve echoed this sentiments before on this very site and must reassert this more now than ever. Schooling must be about who our students are, how they learn and important not just what they learn.

More now than ever, as we return to school within a landscape of diverse COVID modelling, we must ensure that we truly know who our students are and the emotional space in which they are returning to school. Urgently, although we have all been in this COVID-19 reality together, our individual experiences has not been the same. Thus, more now than ever, our relationships with students will be critical in helping grow their success. Ultimately, for us as educators to truly understand and value our students, we must know ourselves in all forms.

For example, I know that during the time of COVID distance learning my empathy for students and their experience truly deepened. As I played Nintendo Switch with my kids, swam in water behind my father-in-law’s cottage, ordered toys and 4K movies on Amazon and even renovated my house, my pandemic experience was unique. Although, we truly missed and longed to see grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends, we were safe and enjoying the frills of our privilege. This was not the case for many of my students and perhaps even colleagues. Everyone comes to the classroom with their own narrative and thus to serve students the best we can we must unravel not only their story but our own. How can we truly foster student success if we don’t either know who are students really are?

This is all to say that as educators reflect on today’s many COVID challenges at the centre must be the promise of purpose. Now is the critical time to remember that as educators we serve children – they are our guiding force not curriculum expectations.

So, let’s have a conversation. Let’s share and look to September with the provocation to Reset the Norm and discover what teaching and learning in the COVID-Era could look like.

Let’s talk about our success teaching and/or leading during the pandemic along with our challenges and next steps;

With Dr. Marlyn Morris, an expert is curriculum design and equity training, let’s reflect on anti-racism and what it means to be a culturally relevant educator;

Let’s reflect on the growing need for enriched tech-ed and how technology can be used to support student well-being and enable transformational teaching and learning;

Let’s come together as a community with purpose.

Join me and Dr. Marlyn Morris on Wednesday August 19 at 9:00am for a FREE interactive webinar on Re-Setting The Norm: Teaching an Learning in the COVID-Era
Click on the following link to register:

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Getting Ready – September is Coming

COVID

The first day of school is only 46 days away and with all things COVID-19 that reality is becoming increasingly daunting as each day passes. Personally, I find myself going to sleep at night thinking about what September will hold for my elementary school age children, my wife who is a high school classroom teacher and myself as a Vice Principal. Whether it’s a full return or hybrid model where modified in person teaching is coupled with online learning, the COVID-19 educational space is littered with unknowns. This is not a criticism but a stark reality that there is no perfect solution to this pressing enigma. There is no right answer.

Coupled with the anxiety of the unknown is how all educators will cope within an educational milieu where tech integration is no longer a niche novelty but rather an urgent necessity. There is no longer room to debate the validity of tech based instruction. It’s here, it’s been here for some quite time and COVID-19 has reminded us that a limited responsiveness to tech integration can create great inequities in regards to the learning experience and shape deeply reflective conversations amongst stakeholders.

Yes, inequities have always existed. For example, how one classroom teacher is in their classroom is not how another teacher is in theirs. This is a known reality.  However, with COVID-19 and the use of virtual learning environments and looking to stakeholders as active partners, the evidence of such inequity has become even more clear with pedagogy and purpose at the epicentre of conversations. This by no means takes away  away from a respective teacher’s great intentions. Rather, the ability to leverage digital modalities requires new learning that embraces technology as an enabler of reimagined pedagogy. Thus, pedagogy and purpose must come before the technology. The technology must be an enabler of a teacher’s why. Technology is the how. 

This has been a big part of the conversation in the Integration of Information and Computer Technology courses I am teaching at Niagara University this summer. Teachers in the respective courses recognize that using technology is a transferable skill set that speaks to their ability to foster enriched learning regardless of subject or grade level. Whether you are teaching Gr. 1 or Gr. 12 English, all things COVID-19 has presented all educators with this pressing provocation: How can technology be used to promote deep teaching and learning?

This is to say that the ongoing challenges outside of what model is adapted by respective school boards will be that of instruction. It will not be business as usual come September and regardless of model, every teacher should be preparing and adapting their courses for either D2L, Google Classroom or whichever digital platform their board promotes. I recommend Blend, Blend, Blend.

In the world of COVID that can turn so easily, all teachers must be prepared for a full distance teaching and learning model. This doesn’t mean correspondence through PDFs but direct instruction where students engage with their educator in a meaningful way and experience.

Yes, I suggest that this means synchronized learning and a mindset shift that recognizes it’s value to cultivate responsive learning spaces. I know that this term carries a lot of unease. However, it is critical in shaping opportunities for learners to engage meaningfully with their teacher. I’ve witnessed the power of such practice as my son’s Gr. 1 teacher during COVID distance learning would host individual guided reading sessions with students through Google Meet. That 20-25 minutes with my son, once a week, was transformational. It provided him with an intimate opportunity to engage with his teacher and receive the responsive education he deserves; immediate feedback that spoke to his strengths and next steps.  As a parent I can deeply appreciate the value of synchronized opportunities as much as I do an educator.

As an administrator, I know this won’t be easy and it hasn’t been.  Nonetheless, the ongoing challenge is deeply significant. As educators and professionals we are called to be life-long self directed learners. More now than ever, we have to continue on this journey with all of its successes, challenges and next steps.

So, as you breathe deeply thinking about September, please start preparing if you haven’t done so already. Be prepared for any reality and remember that when it comes to tech-ed, the technology will never make an educator obsolete.

The educator will always matter.

Good luck!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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