Top Gun: Maverick and Authentic School Leadership

For many film critics Peter “Maverick” Mitchell is the quintessential Tom Cruise role. Like many of Cruise’s characters, Maverick is a character navigating some type of personal trauma, who then discovers something about himself that requires critical reflection. This reflection leads to a change in action that eventually leads to a personal victory. This victory then solidifies both greatness in character and craft (pilot, race car driver, brother, bartender, lawyer, spy etc).

This Cruise blueprint, certainly personifies Maverick in the original Top Gun (1986) a film that unapologetically spoke to 80s Reagan values and overtly fetishized military life through a cool MTV atheistic. The movie rocketed Tom Cruise to superstardom, increased enlisting in the United States Air Force and sold out bomber jackets and aviator glasses in malls across North America. Top Gun and Maverick of 1986 was about youthful cool, the need for speed and self-preservation.  

Fast forward over thirty years, and Maverick now in his late 50s, is quite different. Although he still embodies his call sign’s attributes, his renegade spirit comes with renewed purpose.  Although he still fully embraces the “need for speed,” Maverick in Top Gun: Maverick (2022), is looking to belong and serve.

Throughout his journey as a relic in a modernized Air Force, he leans into his vulnerability all while becoming an example of how Authentic Leaders lead. As Peter G. Northouse notes in Leadership: Theory and Practice, “authentic leadership is as an interpersonal process. This perspective outlines authentic leadership as relational, created by leaders and followers together (Eagly, 2005). It results not from the leader’s efforts alone, but also from the response of followers. Authenticity emerges from the interactions between leaders and followers. It is a reciprocal process because leaders affect followers and followers affect leaders” (Northouse, 196). 

The reciprocal process between leaders and followers is at the centre of the film and the masterclass it provides in leadership. In regards to education, school leaders can take some notes from Captain Mitchell. Maverick is an example of an authentic leader who is fully immersed in his team and who will always do what he asks of others.

Let’s take a moment to reimagine Top Gun: Maverick through a schooling point of view. 

A group of ace educators are brought together to reimagine and shift pedagogy . They are the “best of the best,” and together can achieve greatness as they lean into their vulnerability with a commitment to serving and activating their new learning. 

Their instructional leader is a master teacher. With a decorated professional history, he’s known for both his skill and rebellious mindset. Misunderstood by most, he has been called on to prepare the young aces for the unknown; asking them to adapt. He knows that adapting will be a challenge that will require considerable vulnerability. To adapt is to disrupt.

As the story unfolds, the team struggles to grasp the realities of their new professional learning. The mission to change the parameters of how they teach is too daunting. They can’t see the way. Through frustration, in-fighting and self doubt, their confidence begins to fragment. The goals seem unattainable. The disruption is too much.

As the team faces their challenges, the master teacher is facing their own stark realities. Not fully supported by his direct supervisor, the master teacher finds themselves trapped. Seen a relic by some, he knows that he must lead in a way that is true to who he really is in order to protect and best serve his team.

With the “best of the best,” losing faith and with the team’s wellbeing at stake, what will the master teacher do?

The master teacher embraces an authentic mindset through direct action. Leaning into their core values, the master teacher places themselves directly into action.  The master teacher isn’t teaching – but doing. The master teacher acts on their values with purpose.  

This authentic action coupled by the adaptive spirit of the team, leads to victory.

As school administrators, we’re called to be authentic leaders just like Maverick. In becoming the team leader and flying an impossible mission alongside his team, Maverick exemplifies that “authentic leaders understand their own values and behave toward others based on these values” (Northouse, 198). 

All of this reminds me that to lead, to serve and to be authentic, requires continuous reflection and understanding of my own values. Values shape our purpose and purpose shapes action. This type of self-awareness leads to authenticity. As Northouse notes, “self-awareness refers to the personal insights of the leader. It is not an end in itself but a process in which individuals understand themselves, including their strengths and weaknesses, and the impact they have on others.” (Northouse, 202).

Ultimately, any form of leadership is complex and layered. However, more now than ever, educational leadership requires a bit of Maverick. Looking to 2023, I will certainly do the work to fully understand and act on my values and purpose.


Northouse, P.G. (2022) Leadership: Theory and practice. Los Angeles: SAGE.

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Before Visiting Pandora, Enter The Abyss

Before you take a deep dive into this love letter to The Abyss (1989) it’s imperative that I disclose a conflict of interest. I was born and raised in Niagara Falls, Canada, where James Cameron first found his teenage love for all things science-fiction, saw Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) a dozen times at the now closed Seneca Theatre on Queen’s Street and first dreamt of metal skeletons and alien landscapes while in class as a student at Stamford Collegiate High School. As a movie geek, growing up in the “Home of James Cameron,” was euphoric in that Hollywood seemed so close to home. Needless to say, I was obsessed with his blockbusters from a very young age and still find myself fully immersed in his exploratory stories that are often about the intersection between technology and humanity.  

Looking back to my teenage self, imagine if the character of Dawson Leery from the CW teen drama Dawson’s Creek was from the same town as his idol Steven Spielberg. If you get the reference then you can appreciate my level of adoration for all-things James Cameron. 

Now known for his love of aquatic adventure, James Cameron’s first big-screen immersion into the depths of the ocean took place in 1989 with The Abyss. Released 33 years ago, The Abyss remains a taunt screening with the ground-breaking special effects that have become the norm for a James Cameron movie.

In fact, The Abyss is necessary viewing prior to seeing Avatar: Way of the Water (now in theatres) as it provides the groundwork for the environmental discourse that is at the centre of Cameron’s Pandora universe.

Before visiting Pandora, enter The Abyss.   

Cameron and Science Fiction:

“Science fiction has always asked the great and profound questions: What is it to be human? What is the place in the grand scheme of things? Are we alone in the vastness or part of a great community? What does it all mean? What will happen next? Are we doomed, or destined for greatness? It’s a genre that’s not afraid of the deepest philosophical abyss.” 

James Cameron from James Cameron’s Story of Science Fiction

Steeped within the folklore of James Cameron is his unadulterated love for all things science fiction. As shared throughout his AMC mini-series titled James Cameron’s Story of Science Fiction and the book of the same title, it was from an early age that Cameron sought to ask big questions about the world around him.

From the science fiction works of Ray Radbury to the cinema of the fantastic broadcasted on late night television, a teenage James Cameron spent much of his time dreaming, writing and drawing worlds of science fiction that highlighted his understanding of the genre’s rich cultural discourse. Cameron understands fully that science fiction is not merely about space, time travel and other worlds. Rather, science fiction is about big ideas.  As such, true science fiction film is not merely concerned with the fantastical but rather the culturally rich discourse that shapes humanity. 

James Cameron on the set of The Terminator (1984) with Arnold Schwarzenegger

Profound questions are explored within the depths of The Abyss.  Squarely grounded within the politics of the Cold Water and the fear of nuclear disaster, The Abyss tells the story of a U.S. search and recovery team, on a mission to locate a sunken U.S. nuclear submarine before it is discovered by the Russians.

Loosely inspired by H.G Wells’ 1879 story In the Abyss, Cameron’s story highlights a world where technological evolution creates a constant threat and where nature is fully alive. As water shaping alien sea creatures magically come to life on the big screen (technology that would make Terminator 2 and Jurassic Park possible), both the film’s characters and audience are challenged to explore their own understanding of life and humanity’s relationship with the environment. This connection is further explored in Cameron’s Avatar films and reinforces the engrossing canvas science-fiction enables in in examining real world issues. Often for Cameron, the intersectionality of technology and humanity is at the centre of his cinematic stories and The Abyss is no different.

Cameron’s Visual World:

Cameron’s cinematic body of work ranks amongst the groundbreaking achievements of film giants including George Lucas and Steven Spielberg.  Like George Lucas who built Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) in order to make Star Wars (1977), James Cameron often finds himself in the midst of technological innovation in service of story. Leveraging his experience on the ground floor of the Roger Corman film factory of New World Pictures as an art director, matte painter and special effects coordinator among many other roles, Cameron has a tradition of changing the tide of movie effects with each film he makes.

From Battle Beyond the Stars (1980), Corman’s low-budget and yet ambitious take on Star Wars to Galaxy of Terror (1981), an Alien inspired b-movie romp, Cameron’s experience as a multifaceted and skilled taskmaster helped propel him to the ranks of blockbuster behemoths. In fact, it was the Academy Award Winning special effects of computer generated sea-creatures in The Abyss that evolved into the liquid morphing spectacle of the T-1000 in Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991) and the evolution of CGI that has led Cameron to Avatar (2009).

Although, designed by the creative minds at ILM, Cameron, unlike other filmmakers who may stand at the sidelines of such creative design,  was intrinsically entrenched within the behind-the-scenes development of the technology used in making movie magic.  

The T-1000 from Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)

However, when it comes to The Abyss, CGI rendered sea creatures pale in comparison to the complicated nature of the practical effects that the film required. Whereas James Cameron was heralded for his deep ocean dives in order to capture the opening segment of the real Titanic for his 1997 cultural phenomenon, The Abyss was very much his prototype for underwater cinematography. Placing actors within real submarines and shooting underwater segments in an abandoned power station, which was converted into the world’s largest fresh-water filtered tank, (check out this behind-the-scenes video) Cameron pushed the elevelop both in terms of computer generated imagery and practical in camera and on-set effects. 

Water comes to life in The Abyss (1989)

140 Minutes of Movie Magic:

Ambitious and brilliant, The Abyss still remains one of the best science fiction films ever made. The antithesis to the rapid speed of the Star Wars films, The Abyss is a slow dive into the depths of the ocean all while building claustrophobic tension that still resonants over 30 years later. 

So, if you’re snowed-in this Christmas weekend and can’t make it to the theatre to see Avatar: Way of the Water, make sure to add The Abyss to your watch list.

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Register Now: A Media Literacy Week Conversation

Media Smarts’ National Media Literacy Week is soon approaching and promises an exciting opportunity for educators in Canada and beyond to learn, unlearn and relearn as it pertains to all-things media literacy.

Recognizing that educators and students are navigating a complex space of consumption and production, it’s critical to continuously reframe as it pertains to media literacy. As an educator with a diverse media literacy and digital technology background, I’m constantly reflecting on how to best evolve my practice so that all educational partners can actively engage in what is a vast (and at times scary) digital media landscape.

As an educator of nearly eighteen-years, I’ve attempted to champion digital media through a positive and responsive lens. From video production that brings to life personal story to digital portfolio design that allows students to “show what they know,” my work looks to a creating and embracing the “good” that production allows and that online culture can help further evolve.

However, as a secondary school Vice Principal and parent of a daughter entering “tweendom,” the dystopia of social media cannot be ignored. More now than ever, a collective effort is needed to educate and empower students to be their best in-person and online. We need to actively support and promote social and emotional learning that will allow educators and students to be their very best. This mission is not impossible but will take real and purposeful action.

As such, let’s come together for a critical conversation about teaching and leading in the social media dystopia.

Register for Connected Teaching and Leading in the Social Media Dystopia

When: Tuesday October 25th from 4:00pm – 4:45pm via Zoom.

Join the conversation: Click here to Register

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[Media Literacy] Lightyear: A Family Watch Guide

Setting the stage for family movie nights can help in nurturing young people to be active consumers of media text. 

In the spirit of reading deeply, providing young viewers with an opportunity to reflect and share prior knowledge can nurture their skills as critical thinkers and effective communicators 

As it pertains to Lightyear and the Toy Story world, there is a rich opportunity to navigate conversations about leadership and the call to be a self-reflective life long learner.

Prior to watching the movie, discuss what leadership means.

Suggested starting points:

  • What does leadership mean to you?
  • What makes a person an effective leader?
  • What leaders to you look up to and why? 

Watch the following video of Kid President, together as a family. In this video Kid President explores what makes a great leader by connecting with young leaders.

As you watch the movie, quietly reflect on the characteristics noted in Kid President video (above). The goal is to actively watch so that you can shape a post-movie conversation with your family.

Some key ideas to reflect on:

Throughout the film, Buzz is burdened by the very notion of being a leader. Like in the original Toy Story (1995), Buzz is preoccupied with taking action. As a result, his ability to lead is often ineffective and narrow. This is evident in the the opening sequence of Lightyear, where Buzz’s drive to “do it alone” results in the catastrophe that puts his team in harms way.

If only Buzz combined his desire to engage in action with cooperation all while taking the time to understand and value others. If he had, the events that shape the story may have been altered. Nonetheless, his inability to empower and be humble leads him on a journey of self-discovery; one that forces him to lean into his vulnerability and understand himself fully.

As the film begins, Buzz still has so much to learn. He associates leadership with heroism in the most traditional form. However, leading without actively listening, reflecting and reframing can have considerable consequences.

As the story unfolds, Buzz begins to learn, unlearn and relearn. He grows to understand what leadership truly means and benefits from positive outcomes of empowering others and embracing their skills and mindset. Consequently, he discovers his true self through by actively listening, being responsive, open and accepting. He now understands that leadership is not heroism but a journey of vulnerability where change is constant.

As a family makes connections between Buzz and the characteristics shared by the young people in the Kid President video.

Furthermore, read the following blog from the Disney Institute: What Toy Story Can Teach Us About Leadership and Teamwork to deepen connections between Lighyear and what can be learnt about leadership.

Along with “deep read conversations,” young kids can have some creative fun with the official Lightyear Activity Pack

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[Trailer Review] Halloween Ends

With the return of Jamie Lee Curtis to the Halloween franchise in 2018, the new series of Jason Blum produced and David Gordon Green directed films have garnered huge box-office results along with divisive critical response.

Premiering as part of the Midnight Section at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2018, Halloween (2018) was a return to form for Michael Myers and company. Continuing where John Carpenter’s original 1978 Library of Congress inducted masterpiece left off (all while disowning prior sequels), Halloween told the story of trauma, the consequences of violence and the erasure of victim voices. Heralded by audiences and critics alike, the Shape found new meaning within a culture navigating #metoo and examining the repercussions of male violence.  

With Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) now in her late 50s, audiences found her living a life filled with sorrow, regret and anger. In particular, anger drives Laurie as a character burdened with the lure of vengeance and broken by trauma. Like Sarah Connor of Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991), she has transformed from prey to predator. She has the capacity to take action in the attempt to fix the wrongs of the past and potentially the future.

As Laurie navigates her transformation, the David Gordon Green sequel is very much the offspring of Carpenter’s original in tone and style. Driven by psychology and atmosphere, Halloween is the perfect compliment to the original film.

Whereas Halloween (2018) followed in the psychology of the first film, the sequel Halloween Kills (2021), was a brutal tale of violence.  With Michael becoming increasingly more vicious, the film moved away from suggestiveness towards a more grind-house flare for carnage. Most interesting is that the film detours from Laurie’s trauma to that of Haddonfield’s, the small American town that the boogeyman has haunted for decades.

With legacy characters such as Tommy Doyle (Anthony Michael Hall) revisited as adults, Halloween Kills attempts to explore the potential for anyone to Michael Myers. Harkening back to the mob in James Whales’ Frankenstein (1931), director David Gordon Green brings to the screen Haddonfield’s own monstrous side. Although, well intentioned, the film loses itself to violence rather than the intensity that comes from the lurking threat of the unknown.

The mob scene in Halloween Kills (2021)

Now with the story supposedly concluding with Halloween Ends arriving in theatres this October, the trailer (see below) suggests the epic final showdown between Laurie and Michael. One can only hope that Halloween Ends is less grind-house and more Carpenter original. Less can certainly be more when it comes to horror.

Halloween Ends arrives in theatres October 14.

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[Movie Review] Tom Cruise Soars in Top Gun:Maverick

Simply put, Tom Cruise is Top Gun: Maverick and perhaps the last true Hollywood movie star.

In a pop culture landscape filled with reality television personalities, TikTot challenges and superhero multiverses, the selling-power of a marquee name on a movie poster has dimmed since the emergence of the superhero renaissance and fantasy IP that came with Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001).

In fact, characters and franchises sell more than ever. Outside of the MCU, Robert Downey Jr. doesn’t draw major box-office dollars. Equally, Wonder Women is the marquee – not Gal Gadot. Even Dwayne Johnson’s box office draw outside franchises or existing intellectual properties is limited. His leaning into the DC brand with Super Pets this summer and Black Adam in October speaks to his marquee limitations.

With Hollywood continuously searching for the next big property, the $160 million haul of Top Gun: Maverick over the four day US memorial weekend, is a reminder that Tom Cruise still sells. His hypersonic return as Pete “Maverick” Mitchell not only reaffirmed the actor’s global appeal but audiences’ yearning for cinematic stories other than superhero or fantasy fare. In fact, the film’s opening weekend marked the first time in 22 years that a “real-world” centred action film topped the Memorial Day. weekend box-office charts. The last film – Mission Impossible 2 with Tom Cruise.

A brand build on Hollywood looks, charm and a talent that transcends multiple genres, the success of Top Gun: Maverick reinforces the rich diversity of Tom Cruise’s career. From the original Top Gun (1986) to Rain Man (1988), A Few Good Men (1992), Interview with a Vampire (1994), Mission Impossible (1996), Eyes Wide Shut (1999), Magnolia (1999), Minority Report (2002) and Tropic Thunder (2008), Tom Cruise has succeeded in genre fare like no other actor of his generation. Regardless of his personal life and couch antics (yes the infamous Oprah moment in 2005), Tom Cruise continues to be the world’s biggest movie star. With Tom Cruise, you’re buying a ticket for a Tom Cruise movie. Plan and simple.

As you may imagine, Top Gun: Maverick is the ultimate Tom Cruise movie. Actually, it’s the ultimate action movie and one of the best genre films to hit theatres in recent memory.

A throw back to character drama and action flicks that would have long box-office legs as was the case in the 80s and 90s, Top Gun: Maverick is a master class in technological innovation, storytelling, awe-inducing cinematography and break-neck paced editing.

Trust me, I went to an IMAX screening with my 11 and 9 yr old kiddos who after eating and drinking excessively, never asked to leave for a washroom break. At over two-hours, the film is a brisk watch from start to finish. In fact, in terms of blockbuster films, Top Gun: Maverick ranks with Back to the Future (1985) as a masterclass in writing and editing.

With the difficult task to balance nostalgia with renewed purpose, the Joseph Kosinski (Tron Legacy, Oblivion) directed and Tom Cruise produced picture starts with a tribute to the original. With the classic Top Gun anthem transitioning to Danger Zone driving a classic 80s montage filled with jets and more, the opening minutes set the stage for what promises to be an emotionally charged thrill ride.

Past and present collide as Pete Mitchell is introduced. Working and living in a hangar / shrine to the past 36 years, we see photographs of his best-friend Goose and his now adult son, the classic 1986 bomber jacket and Maverick’s Kawasaki motorcycle. With “Mach 9” noted on a calendar, Maverick is off to do what he does – fulfilling his need for speed. Now a test pilot, we’re reacquainted with Maverick in full spirit, who after breaking orders once again, finds himself returning to Top Gun to prepare today’s “best of the best” for a life-threatening mission all while facing the his mounting trauma.

Whereas Maverick in 1986 was reluctant to share deeply and lean into his vulnerably, the Maverick in his 50s sees the world through a new lens. Although still a rebel in the skies. his sense of purpose has certainly matured. He’s at a cross roads as he must come to terms with the past, present and future. Yearning to be a father to Goose’s fighter-pilot son and find peace with an old love, Top Gun: Maverick has an emotional maturity that the original lacked. With the emotional stakes set high, the action that makes for a shockingly impressive third-act is only made better.

Unlike the original film that came to define Reaganite entertainment and was unapologetically a PSA for the US Navy, Top Gun: Maverick is more sincere in looking at the realities of war. The stakes are real, war has consequences and true leadership is needed. This is all to say that Cruise and company have made the perfect legacy sequel and popcorn summer blockbuster . With intense action, charming romance, quiet humour and tearful moments, Top Gun: Maverick reimagines what movies can and should be.

So, with a full summer ahead, Top Gun: Maverick is not to be missed in theatres. Buy a ticket for the biggest screen possible and buckle up for a return to the Danger Zone.

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To Infinity and Beyond the “Learning Gaps.”

Throughout the course of the pandemic, much has been shared about the negative impacts COVID schooling has had on students. From academics to social-emotional learning, a number of “learning gaps” and next steps have become a critical focus of educational dialogue and professional learning. As shared in the University of Toronto report titled, “Effects of School Closures During the COVID-19 Pandemic on Achievement Gaps and Learning Inequalities,” the gaps caused by school closures significantly disrupted school learning.

Specifically, the July 2021 report outlines that “growing evidence consistently shows that the COVID-19 pandemic will have lasting effects on children and youth and that school closures during 2020 and 2021 will impact students’ academic achievement. Achievement gaps between students of different backgrounds and skill levels are expected to increase further as a result of repeated school closures, unless innovative solutions and remedial strategies are implemented to help students recover
from the loss of learning.”

In recognizing such realities, it’s important to have and connect with students through an infinite mindset. With an infinite mindset, the potential to reimagine learning, close gaps and harness the gains students did make over the course of the past two years can lead to deep learning and a positive relationship with school.

After all, learning did happen, teaching was taking place and students were yearning for opportunities for deep learning. In fact, I’ve witnessed first hand this school year the power of deep learning and the wanting of real partnership between educator and student.

Listen to this episode of Dare to Lead to learn more about an infinite mindset with Simon Sinek.

Personally, in my joy of co-moderating Romero Visionaries, an after-school club composed of Gr. 9-12 creative-minded students, I’ve been deeply encouraged and inspired by their desire to learn deeply. Such an experience reinforced that learning most certainly took place during the pandemic and students ultimately want to learn. They thrive when invested in their interests and thrive in spaces where an infinity mindset is nurtured.

Romero Visionaries are currently in pre-production in a short film.

Take for example, the email below sent to me by a Romero Visionary. I found my eyes welling with tears of joy as this student yearned for more.

Students like this creative soul who has a deep love of learning, have found a way to persevere during a COVID impacted time and space. When “gaps” are often spoken of, we can easily forget or under value that real learning was in fact taking place. Perhaps it looked differently, but so many of our students gained so much through the efforts of dedicated educators, encouragement of their families and support of their peers.

The email shared, speaks to the importance of celebrating and focusing on “assets.” To always speak of “gaps” is to create a narrative that teaching and learning wasn’t happening. It was and successes were also mounting. 

As educators, let’s continue to build success and find ways to nurture our students fully.

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[Coming Soon] Brick By Brick – An ONABSE Conference Presentation

As an educator, being humbled is part of the experience of learning from others and sharing time with those who make you better. I’m so fortunate that this happens quite often.

For example, over the course of the past five years, I have grown tremendously in my learning as it pertains to culturally relevant pedagogy. Shaped by students, families and partners in my current district and beyond, I’ve been encouraged to rumble with my own vulnerability with the goal to make schools equitable. In doing so, the work is to make safe schools possible for all students. With this, the partnerships I’ve been able to foster have made me both a better educator and person. Regardless, I’m still a work in progress as each day brings new learning.

One such partnership is with Dr. Marlyn Morris, who I first met back in 2018 when I was producing a Culturally Relevant Pedagogy video for OECTA (see below). From our first conversation, it was evident that Dr. Morris and I shared a similar mindset as it pertains to student learners as responsible and global citizens.

As a design thinker and educator with global experience in equity based education, Dr. Morris understood my sensibilities as a teacher who also happened to be a filmmaker. As we talked about digital technology as the relevant pedagogy to mobilize young people, it was clear we shared a common goal to create learning spaces where students could be seen fully and understand their world through story. Thus, technological access and the ability to tell story, would be a critical foundation to culturally relevant teaching and learning.

As shared in Becoming Relevant Again: Applying Connectivism Learning Theory to Today’s Classrooms by academics Jeff Utecht and Doreen Keller, “leveraging these technologies in meaningful ways to share work, add value to the conversation, and find ways to connect to community, has potential to further all participants’ learning” (Utecht & Keller, 2019).

Furthermore as described by Michael Fullan and Maria Langworthy in A Rich Seam: How New Pedagogies Find Deep Learning, such practice aligns with the “new pedagogies” that look at the importance of new partnership in learning. Fullan and Langworthy share that the ‘new pedagogies can be defined succinctly as a new model of learning partnerships between and among students and teachers, aiming towards deep learning goals and enabled by pervasive digital access” (Fullan & Langworthy, 2014).

This is to say that the new partnership and thus a reconfiguration of learning comes when students are able to show what they know, how they learn and who they are through connected practices. Through the new technologies, students are able to break barriers through sharing in and beyond their classroom spaces. Ultimately, educators must role model this new potential and provide students with authentic opportunities to learn, unlearn and relearn.

For example, as a secondary school Vice Principal, I’ve been so fortunate to lean into my experience as a filmmaker to document student voice so that the power of storytelling can be enabled and modelled. From this, the hope is that students will grow as effective communicators and be provided with the opportunities to share their story in school and beyond as connected learners who actively use technology to deepen and extend their experience (see below).

It’s with the new pedagogies as a enabler of culturally responsive education that Dr. Morris and I will be co-presenting at this year’s ONABSE Conference.

Our presentation titled Brick by Brick: Building Culturally Relevant Schools and Dismantling Anti-Black Racism by Empowering Intervention Strategies and Stories will hopefully motivate and inspire educators to move toward more culturally relevant schools and education. It is time that educators re-engineer and repurpose education for the 21st Century by Embracing Culturally Relevant Pedagogy and 21st Century Social and Emotional Learning as well as the collective voices of the Generation Z and the Generation Alpha, (6-18 years old). By leveraging technology and digital storytelling the goal is to build new learning opportunities one brick at a time where students are seen fully.

Join us on Saturday April 30 at 2:15pm. Register here.

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[Movie Review] Spielberg’s West Side Story is a Masterpiece

I’ve spent many years studying and appreciating film. From my time in college and university diving deep into production and theory, I can without hesitation share that my fandom for Steven Spielberg was polarizing. Perhaps, this is because I was in post-secondary at a time when Dawson Creek was still on television, so any mention of Spielberg immediately reminded people of James Van Der Beek.

Regardless, I have distinct memories of sharing my admiration for Spielberg only to be encountered with indifference. From college production classes to the academic halls of university, Spielberg was not readily mentioned or studied. In fact, in all of my post-secondary studies, I never watched a Spielberg movie in lecture hall nor read any assigned literature for seminar. He was not spoken of.

Beyond my fandom, I found it strange that arguably cinema’s most significant contemporary filmmaker wasn’t valued or deemed worthy to discuss at any level. Odd not say the least.

It wasn’t until I read Mark O’Connell’s Watching Skies: Star Wars, Spielberg and Us (2018) that I found Spielberg finally being embraced for his cultural works. After all, his imprint on Hollywood film and thus Americana is undeniable. Anytime you see kids on a bike or the contrast between light and shadow, it’s hard not to think about Spielberg and movie’s like E.T.

I suppose, Spielberg’s commercial success and mass appeal didn’t fit within highbrow lecture halls or hip production grounds where film students craved to be the next indie darling. Regardless, Spielberg deserved a greater study and to this day remains a master filmmaker worthy of attention.

Frankly, his mastery and understanding of visual language and emotional storytelling is unparalleled and is etched in every frame of his reimagining of West Side Story.

The much heralded gymnasium scene (below) is just one example of his ability to frame without barriers, where the camera fully immerses his audience in the spectacle of sound, lighting and action. Perhaps, unlike any other filmmaker, Spielberg’s framing is uniquely immersive, reminding audiences that the big screen is all encapsulating. His “blocking” of action serves and directs the camera in a way that reminds us that movie magic is transformational and doesn’t require CGI.

The camera’s ability to capture scale and scope is clearly evident in West Side Story. From the opening sequence where the Jets and Sharks are first introduced to the Indiana Jones-like bridge scene where Tony tries to stop Riff from fighting Bernardo, there is no other film I’ve seen this year that creates pure spectacle like West Side Story.

Perhaps, Spielberg hasn’t been embraced in the halls of academia because his themes and politics aren’t deemed provocative enough. However, from his blockbuster Jaws which is an anti-Vietnam text where middle-aged bureaucrats are concerned more with capitalism than the well-being on their young, Spielberg has always been about exploring the anxiety of “everyday” including leaders, heroes, villains, family and what brings us together or divides us.

West Side Story is no different in that he explores the fallacy of the American dream in that it’s very notion is complicated, layered and displacing. Elliot experienced this displacement in E.T as the “bad men” came for his surrogate father and best friend. In West Side Story, the slums of New York are being reclaimed by the “bad men,” of government who rather destroy than revitalize with a commitment to those who live in and who are community. Thus, the elders (including fathers) fail the youth in a number of ways that leads to societal division and disenfranchisement. This is pure Spielberg with an internal meaning worth studying.

So, as I post this review on the eve of the 2002 Oscars, I implore you to give West Side Story the audience it deserves. Nominated for 7 Academy Awards, West Side Story is a pure epic. A movie that reminds us that the cinema of a spectacular doesn’t have to involve masked heroes or cinematic universes.

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[Movie Review] Leatherface Returns

Other than comic-book inspired movies, horror continues to resonant in theatres during the pandemic. In the past nine months, horror has dominated the box office with The Quiet Place 2, Candy Man, The Conjuring : The Devil Made Me Do It, Halloween Kill and Scream doing solid business at the box office during various COVID waves, reinforcing that horror movies are best “experienced” within the shared space of the movie theatre.

In fact, the key element missing from Netflix’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre “requel” are the shared gasps, screams and screen taunts that come with every horror movie. Like Halloween (2018) and Scream (2022) before it, Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a “requel” that strives to tell a continuing story grounded in franchise lure all while being connected to legacy characters (the OGs of the franchise) and new additions that aim to extend the universe.

For example, Scream released this past January, is not merely “Scream 5,” but a reconfiguration of the franchise in that it reaches back to the original. As a teen character articulates in the film, it’s all about the requels. Like with Jamie Lee Curtis returning to Halloween, Scream creates a world where the franchises can continue within the new confines of genre.

Thus, to fully appreciate Netflix’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre gore-fest is to first understand that franchises like genres will evolve with audience taste and cultural sensibilities. This is illustrated in this new Texas Chainsaw Massacre in that a group of millennials aim to gentrify a Texas ghost town only to discover a Trumpian presence. The ghost town, straight out of an old b-movie western, is where Confederate flags still hang and the trauma of body horror remains.

This notion of body-horror, a horror sub-genre, is about the fear of the human body being dismantled and rampaged. In this regard, Leatherface is the perfect analogy for our populous, COVID and war-torn times. Our bodies, our most personal belonging, is in threat and obscurely not our own. Whether it’s Leatherface as a symbol of Deep South racism or an unforgiving and unbiased disease like COVID, harm is inevitable and viewers are forced to encounter the bloodshed directly.

This is all to say that Netflix’s rendition of Learherface is not the elevated horror that Tara (Jenny Ortega) speaks of in the opening of the new Scream (2022). Rather it’s a b-movie, grind-house throwback, to 80s horror that was unapologetically violent and shocking. Thus, as you manage the bloodshed, keep in focus the world that Leatherface rises out of. His world is very much our own.

As Dr. Anne Lancashire asserts in the video below, all popular film rises from the political. With this understanding comes the need to be intentional in thinking and to look beyond the blood and discomfort that any horror film delivers .

Although this Texas Chainsaw Massacre is far from a masterpiece, it’s a must watch for anyone looking for a couch jolt or cringe.

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