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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[Movie Review] King Richard

It seems that late 2021 was Will Smith’s time to remind both readers and movie watchers that destiny doesn’t come by accident. Rather, who we are, want to become and where we want to be is far from accidental. It’s an intersectional journey where goal setting, planning, adapting, perseverance, relationships and unadulterated hard work come together to make success happen.

From the telling of his personal story in the autobiographical bestseller Will to the award darling King Richard, it’s quite clear that Smith (now 53) is transitioning from a man in black and bad boy to an introspective father and husband who is starting a unique chapter in his life grounded in the power of vulnerability.

Specifically, in King Richard, which is the type of drama that would be a major blockbuster in a Pre-COVID theatrical world, Smith effortlessly morphs his natural charisma with the edginess of a trauma inflicted father who is planning big for his children all while navigating realities of race and class in America.

King Richard tells the story of the Williams family and the journey that Venus and Serena Williams took to become professional tennis legends. Coached at an early age by their father and supported by a close knit family, the sisters were transformed into elite athletes who had to bare the brunt of multiple complexities.

From finding their place in white tennis society, to a father parenting through his own experience of racial trauma, the story told in King Richard is a timely reminder that so we haven’t come very far with activating on the promise of equality. Although, the Williams found their support system and one the film depicts as trust worthy, the layers of difference makes for an inspiring story of how a Black father had to protect his children and how his children also earned the right to stand and speak for themselves.

Inspiringly, King Richard transcends race and is very much a master class on fatherhood. As a father watching, I had incredibly empathy for Richard Williams and how he had to navigate moments that tore at his dignity. Yes, it’s patriarchal but as a father you yearn to protect. This is amplified when you are a father to a daughter. Thus, I found so much of myself in Richard Williams. The father who was / is afraid of how the world will impact his daughter and equally how his daughter will navigate the world around her. For the Williams, the added societal impacts of race and class make the worries Everest like.

Nonetheless, the film also tears down that patriarchal mindset and reminds fathers that parenthood is a team sport as is family life. This, perhaps is the most heartwarming chapter of the Williams’ story. Yes, the sisters went on to be legends but the family was at the centre of their “plan” for success. Success was a family affair with all five of the Williams sisters thriving to be champions in their own way.

With the Oscars right around the corner, Smith’s performance is spectacular. The quietness of it, chips away at his very persona. He is navigating Richard with the weight of his own fatherhood experience – as a child and parent. Along with his acting, the supporting cast holds every scene, which are crafted with spectacular writing and a confidence in direction. Steady, well-paced and assured in the quiet moments.

Watch King Richard. It’s a must see.

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The ‘Fresh Prince’ of Growth Mindset & Success:

The Wall is how Will Smith begins the telling of his life story in this autobiography, titled Will. In sharing his time spent building a wall outside of his father’s store front as an adolescent, Smith provides a window into his relationship with his father and the foundation of a personal story grounded in dreams, goals, the understanding of one’s true self and hope. 

Rather than focusing on the wall, an 11-year Will was challenged by his father to reframe his thinking by concentrating on the sequential individual actions that lead to success. Brick by brick the wall was constructed. As errors were made and frustrations mounted, so did innovation, problem solving, reframing and the ultimate sense of accomplishment upon completion. The wall taught Will the importance of goal setting, self-regulation and resiliency. Tools that have empowered him throughout his groundbreaking career. 

As I read this opening chapter and reflected on the resiliency needed to persevere “brick by brick,”  I couldn’t help but frame Smith’s story in my experience as a parent and educator.  As a parent and educator, I know quite intimately that resiliency is needed for students to be successful in class and beyond. Thus, the dichotomy of resilience in education today is increasingly problematic. Frankly, resiliency is a word often said but not fully understood. For example, prior to the pandemic and before a shift in cabinet positions, former Ontario Minister of Education Lisa Thompson asserted that “resiliency” was at the centre of a policy shift that would see class sizes increase in Ontario publicly funded schools.

Such rhetoric is disconnected from an authentic understanding that resilience is a response to stressors that need to be nurtured over time. Like Will Smith building the wall, the whole student requires a hopeful system of support for resiliency to be fostered. Thus, whether it’s Ontario education then or now, any policy mounted on the promise of promoting resiliency is a broken, if not followed by an intentional plan to integrate goal-setting, self-regulation and resiliency in schools. 

Intentionally Matters. Hope Matters.

From his opening chapter, Smith pulls back the curtain on his celebrity and the persona that has made him one of the most successful actors in Hollywood history. At the centre of this nuanced self-reflection is a commentary on setting goals, adapting and embracing failure. His ability to set a goal, self-regulate and be resilient has shaped who he is. Such a pathway is not exclusive to celebrities. 

All of us are on a pathway to our individual greatness and thus need the tools to be successful. When we lack goals, the inability to self-regulate obstructs resiliency. As such, there is a potential to become trapped in a regressive mindset or behaviour. Thus, it’s essential that parents and educators be intentional when it comes to nurturing children who can envision their wall and build it brick by brick.  

An extract from Will

Goal Setting:

With self-regulation as an Ontario education learning skill, it’s important to recognize it’s inherently linked to Goal Setting.  A goal reflects one’s purpose and refers to quantity, quality, or rate of performance (Locke & Latham, 1990). Goal setting involves establishing a standard or objective to serve as the aim of one’s actions. Goals are involved across the different phases of self-regulation: forethought (setting a goal and deciding on goal strategies); performance control (employing goal-directed actions and monitoring performance); and self-reflection (evaluating one’s goal progress and adjusting strategies to ensure success (Zimmerman, 1998). 

Goals motivate people to exert effort necessary to meet task demands and persist over time. Goals also direct individuals’ attention to relevant task features, behaviors to be performed, and potential outcomes, and goals can affect how people process information. Goals help people focus on the task, select and apply appropriate strategies, and monitor goal progress (Schunk, 2001).

Understanding goals and setting them is a precursor to self-regulation and also has the ability to signal hope. Having a goal is having hope.


Dr. Stuart Shanker, a self-regulation expert shares that “self-reg teaches a child a foundational set of skills: not just how to deal with a deluge when it happens, but more importantly, how to prevent the deluge in the first place by recognizing when they are becoming over-stressed and why, and what to do about it.” 

Looking back to goal setting, self-regulation serves an individual’s ability to adapt as needed as they work towards their goal. With this, the self-efficacy that self-regulation provides is foundational to an individual’s success. 

Thus, students must be provided with opportunities to pause, reflect, revisit goals, next steps etc. They must be taught that self-regulation is looking at one’s self with intention and purpose as they work to reach their goals. 


If self-regulation is about teaching a set of skills, resilience is about activation.

As Dr. Stuart Shanker asserts, resiliency, “rests on how well we can stabilize after a challenge, serious or otherwise. That’s what an “adaptive response” to stress or adversity consists in: the ability to get back to our optimal state of equilibrium.”

The notion of “our optimal state of equilibrium” is critical in being able to reset with a sense of self-empowerment and hope in the pursuit of goals. What occurs when a balance cannot be found has the potential to impact positive next steps.  For students, this can include being disenfranchised with schooling and making decisions that can have negative consequences on their social and emotional well-being. 

Growth Mindset Matters:

This brings me to my experience as a parent and educator during the past 22 months of the pandemic. With school closures, extracurricular activities halted, families isolated and the world changing in so many ways, the need for a Growth Mindset is more important than ever.

It’s our duty as parents and educators to nurture our children and students, hold them to a culture of high expectations, all while being supported and loved. A culture of high expectations means looking to lift each brick one at a time with students knowing they can and will succeed.

At times the journey isn’t easy, but with hope and goals in mind the outcomes can be transformational. In fact, in my own work as a high school administrator, I find that those students who are in the most need are those who lack goals, self-regulation, resiliency and have a fixed mindset. They’re not sure what they are working towards are stigmatized by “failure” and thus navigate particular life paths with unease. 

As we continue to navigate a pandemic world let’s also continue in our efforts at home and school to cultivate hope so young people can meet and build their future one brick at a time. For this to happen we have to be intentional in empowering young people to set goals so that they can self-regulate and have the skills necessary to be a resilient and hopeful life-long learner.

Watch the video below and reflect on the following:

As a parent or educator, how can you foster a Growth Mindset at home or school?

What conversations are you having with your children or students?

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