The Connected Classroom: Transforming Education Through Community Partnership

As I settled into the realities of the COVID pandemic with the “unprecedented” becoming a “new normal,” I did find myself missing the new learning that comes with being creative. As an educator with a film background, I’ve been so fortunate to be invested in two worlds that so intimately align. 

Although I am no longer in the classroom, I still stay grounded in my media literacy and Communications Technology roots in my role as Vice Principal. During this past school year, I co-moderated a virtual film club for students in Gr. 9 – 12 and I facilitated a number of virtual round tables “film watch and talks” for Twitter and LinkedIn movie buffs. This is all to say that as we adapted to staying home, I still yearned for the time to create, share and connect.

Since COVID was limiting my film and digital media work, I turned to the world of podcasting this past January with Rewind From Today. A not-for-profit podcast, my goal was to lean into my documentary roots and celebrate stories through conversations with people I admire doing admiring things. From educators, to community organizers to filmmakers and writers, the time spent producing Rewind From Today rejuvenated my creative soul and most certainly fed my passion for production and learning from the connection made with others.

This still promotes the June episode of Rewind From Today with David Morrell. Here’s a post on Mr. Morrell’s conversation with my students upon the release of Rambo: Last Blood


Serendipitously, my efforts with Rewind From Today has aligned with my Professional Masters of Education studies at Queen’s University. I’m currently enrolled in a course called The Connected Classroom, which is my last course of the program. This course most certainly speaks to my own sensibilities as a life-long learner and someone who seeks opportunities to unlearn, relearn and learn. In fact, Rewind From Today has served this learning journey in that it speaks to the core principles of The Connected Classroom; reinforcing that learning is a community affair as my professor Dr. Paul Leslie so eloquently attests. 

Like when I was in the classroom working with a variety of partners to guide, support and enrich student learning, The Connected Classroom is about understanding stories through the interest and passions of students and cultivating opportunities for the community to become the classroom and teacher. It’s about making schooling truly meaningful, which requires an overhaul and shift away from textbook content and in-school dissemination.

This video from Connected Learning Alliance provides a “Connected Classroom” overview.

With all of this, my latest Rewind From Today episode is an educators’ special titled The Connected Classroom: Transforming Education Through Community Partnership. Specifically, I explore two community organizations (Campus Calgary and MusicLinks) through Networked Learning and Interdisciplinary Learning Theory. The episode lays the foundation for what is an important conversation about school culture today, reimagining learning and the role technology can play to enrich schooling that promotes student interests, creativity and asking questions in active, communal and global ways.

Listen to the podcast below and share your comments with me on Twitter. As you listen, reflect and share what The Connected Classroom means to you.

Reply to this Tweet

Be part of the conversation and share any examples you may have including your successes and next steps pertaining to such learning. 

Visit Rewind From Today

Podcast Academic References:

CBC/Radio Canada. (n.d.). Innovative Learning at Arts Commons. CBCnews. https://www.cbc.ca/player/play/2657976535/. 

Hodgson V., McConnell D., Dirckinck-Holmfeld L. (2012) The Theory, Practice and Pedagogy of Networked Learning. In: Dirckinck-Holmfeld L., Hodgson V., McConnell D. (eds) Exploring the Theory, Pedagogy and Practice of Networked Learning. Springer, New York, NY. 

Utecht, J., & Keller, D. (2019). Becoming Relevant Again: Applying Connectivism Learning Theory to Today’s Classrooms

The Connected Learning Alliance (2012). Connected Learning: Interest, Peer Culture, Academics. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zFdzz26g-EE&t=55s. 

What are the benefits of interdisciplinary study? (2019, March 1). https://www.open.edu/openlearn/education/what-are-the-benefits-interdisciplinary-study. 

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Not All Kids Are Alright: COVID Schooling, Resiliency and Toxic Positivity

Over the course of the past few years and most certainly during COVID, much has been said and written about resiliency. Just Google search “resilience and COVID” and you will find countless articles from scholars to basement bloggers like me.

We’ve come to use the term so loosely.

When it comes to schooling, I can’t count how many times I’ve heard that “kids are resilient.” 

Are they? If so, to what extent?

As a parent and educator, my concern is that students may have hit their max load with all things COVID, Zoom, Google Classroom and the constant changes between in-school and remote learning that has isolated so many. For a young person to be resilient, a set of skills along with a mindset needs to be nurtured. It’s not easy.

I’m forty, educated, privileged and have struggled during the past 16 months. I’ve been afforded opportunities to embrace self care and know how to self-regulate to some extent. I’m resilient up to a point – I’m still learning.

Thus, why do we insist that students are resilient when a framework to embed such practices in may schools and districts are lacking. For example, the Centre of Child Development at Harvard University has done exceptional work supporting families and staff during the COVID pandemic. The centre notes that resiliency “can help us get through and overcome hardship. But resilience is not something we’re born with—it’s built over time as the experiences we have interact with our unique, individual genetic makeup. That’s why we all respond to stress and adversity—like that from the COVID-19 pandemic—differently.”

As shared, resilience is something that must be taught. Unfortunately, it’s become part of the toxic positivity vernacular that is doing more harm than good. Rather than leaning into vulnerability and required action, we’ve walked away from what truly matters. How can we fully expect or assert that students (or staff) are resilient when we’re not necessarily or intentionally teaching them how to be or worse – not building the culture to be. The word resilience is becoming dangerous, as it continues to be appropriated by adults or “leaders” to mask inaction and to deflect responsibility at the most critical of times. 

We’re trying to convince ourselves that kids are resilient, as a justification for giving them less of what they actually need. This facade, has the potential to greatly erode a students’ ability to achieve their success. COVID should have reminded us that students, and all those who make learning possible, need more of the good and not less. Specifically, students need self-regulation skills to ensure their ability to be resilient. Resilience is not born out of hardship but is a response to it. Thus, safe and nurturing places need to exist where resiliency can grow and be utilized during the most challenging of times. From smaller class sizes in response to COVID in schools to truly measuring the workload for staff in all sectors, a culture of well-being is needed more now than ever. However, rather than taking away stressors, more continues to mount.

Thinking about COVID and the school year ahead, I can’t help but play a scene from Netflix’s Fear Street: 1978 in my head.

A horror trilogy based on R.L. Stines’ Fear Street book series, the films provide a window into deep conversation about generational trauma and teenage anxiety. Centred around the gruesome killings in Shadyside, a town plagued by a history of violence, a group of teens navigate a century old curse.

The second film, Fear Street: 1978 pays homage to all things Friday the 13th with a Crystal-Lake-esque camp setting. As a teenage girl is bullied beyond measure, she has an encounter with her older sister who is also a camp counsellor. In a tense conversation about family, identity and community, the younger sister asserts that everyone is “cursed.” This is to say that everyone arrives at a particular time and place with their own hardships and potential realities.

Still from Fear Street: 1978

This particular scene resonates so deeply as it speaks to the both “Small and Big T” trauma that shapes individual lives. Reflecting on the past 16 months, we’ve all been through some sort of trauma. We’ve all navigated what feels like a cursed world. This is not to be negative or a pessimist but rather honest and truthful about the challenges we’ve faced and the road ahead. There’s been plenty of good but also plenty of bad. We can’t avoid the bad. In doing so, the toxicity will take over.

Students, parents, caring-adults, teachers, administrators and all who make schooling happen, have been through so much. Exhaustion is elevated, stress is mounting, unknowns are in abundance and thus now is the time for intentionality, action, support, empathy, deep care and renewed mindset.

With all of this, students and educators alike, will be arriving back to school this August and September after being through so much. We cannot expect them to be resilient and we need the support in place that will allow schools – and people – to truly thrive.

We need more good not less.  

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Luca: The Importance of Seeing Fully

More so than any other studio, Pixar has been consistent in its output of family friendly films that don’t shy away from the complex narratives that shape the shared experience of movie goers. From the studio’s first feature Toy Story (1995) to its most recent Luca (2021), the Pixar canon is a growing mosaic of childhood memories, family trauma, cultural dialogue and ultimately the importance of love.

From the adults watching with young children, or young children watching as they grow older, the studio has always respected audiences’ ability to embrace the nuances of their stories. Pixar films have never been what many would expect from an animated movie. The films are not “kid movies,” but family friendly in that they provide a safe place to share time together while thinking about what makes life so joyous, heartbreaking and ultimately blessed. 

So, whether you plan to watch or even rewatch Luca, there’s a unique opportunity to dive into the narrative with an understanding that popular film has the ability to both influence and reflect culture. In many ways, Luca attempts to do both in it’s telling of two young sea creatures who in human form look to fit in, have their dreams fulfilled but who also yearn to be fully seen in a world they fear will not accept them.

Before you begin to watch with young children, take the time to set the tone of the movie. Directed by Italian filmmaker Enrico Casarosa, Luca raises out of Italian cinema’s social consciousness and visual sensibilities that merge fantasy with the real world. Like Casarosa’s short film La Luna, Luca is a movie about family, finding one’s path and the imagination that inspires the dreams that shape a childhood. 


Watch La Luna below:

After watching La Luna, ask your child about their dreams and aspirations. Ask them about what makes them unique and special. Share time, where your child feels fully seen. 

An interesting way to shape this time of sharing is to have your child make a vision board before watching the movie. A vision board is how your child sees themselves and also gives them an opportunity to share their goals and aspirations.

This vision board allows your child an opportunity to create and share. For some insight into vision boarding, read this article from Oprah Daily

Have your child present their vision board. Take the time to discuss what your child shares.

Luca deserves to be fully experienced. Make popcorn, get your snacks ready and fully engulf yourself into the movie experience. Watch the movie more than once – first to enjoy as entertainment and then the second to “read” critically.

As your child watches for the first time, keep in mind some big ideas that director Enrico Casarosa presents and the time in which he presents them. Developed at a time when Italy was on the front line of migration from Libya, growing populous mandates and the era of Trump, his film truly raises from the political and speaks directly to concerns about “otherness,” and belonging.

Equally, leaning into Italy’s connection to early horror cinema and anxieties around otherness, Luca could easily be a horror movie of the Universal Monster Era as two sea creatures in the human world try to find their way. Misunderstood, they become the target of townspeople’s ignorance, prejudice, hate, privilege and bias. 

Ultimately, in their encounters the audience is reminded that the sea creatures are not monstrous but rather the marginalization and hate that others create. The “otherness” is the monster and reflective of those people unwilling to give and understand. In fact, the scene in which Luca and Alberto are exposed during the race is very reminiscent of the classic horror film Frankenstein

As they race away from Erocle and help Guilia to her feet after a bad fall, the town has an intense movement of reaction. As Luca and Alberto are swarmed as their sea creature selves come to be known, they can be anyone or any group who have been threatened, marginalized, maltreated and harmed for who they are. Not being fully seen, the immediate reaction is to disregard Luca and Alberto. Like Frankenstein’s monster, they are innocent but made to be monsters.

However, love and acceptance comes forward in the shape of Guilia’s father who fully sees Alberto and Luca. He knows who they are. He, a man without an arm, sees the two boys fully and understands the way in which people are looking at them. Like him, the boys regardless of their creature form, deserve dignity and to be fully seen. 

Nonetheless, as you watch, think about the sea creatures and what they represent culturally. Ultimately, they represent all who do not fit within a prescribed sense of social normality; those made to be outsiders. Luca and Alberto represent the need for equity and inclusivity in all of our lives.

Every family has their own sensibilities when it comes to cultural narratives that shape our shared experience. 

For example, in my household my wife and I are quite open when it comes to issues of equity and inclusivity.  As such, it was not new for my children to engage in a conversation about culture and history after watching Luca. 

With my own 10 and 8 year old children, Luca provided an opportunity to talk about truth and reconciliation as it pertains to Canada’s past and present in relation to Indigenous peoples.

As Canada looks to its true history with the recent discoveries of unmarked graves of children who died in and because of Residential Schools, Luca provided an opportunity to speak about realities where people may not want to identify who they really are out of fear. This connects to data pertaining to students in Canadian schools who may not openly identify as Indigenous in fear of reprisal. Thus, the key is to understand why the “otherness” exists and how to change a culture of hate.

Navigating the conversation based on where our children are, Luca provided a window in which to open dialogue about “otherness” and the need for our children to be allies who fully see their peers and empower them to be who they really are. 

If this is not the conversation you’re ready to have with your children, then leverage Luca as an opportunity to speak about the importance of kindness and to respect all that make our communities diverse and unique. 

Have this conversation while your child creates. See below for a collection of Luca activities.

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Reflections on Failing Math, De-Streaming & the School Year Ahead

It’s been 25 years and I remember the summer of 1996 like yesterday. Excited to enter Gr. 11 where I could finally take the media courses I’ve been waiting for, I had to defeat my math demons first. 

Like the previous summer, I once again found myself taking a full-day July summer school math course. I was so envious of the students upgrading, who would head home at lunch before the classroom would become humid and filled with the stale air of student frustration. As I listened to Bush X and Oasis on my Walkman, I thought this would be my last year spending a July in summer school. It wasn’t. I would be there yet again the following year, closing of my trilogy of sorts. At least I was consistent. 

As a student in high school, I wasn’t all that academically inclined and this was especially true when it came to math.  Specifically, I wasn’t invested in math and schooling was not about “Growing Success,” as it is today. My teachers would teach in their way with some students flourishing and others faltering. 

When it came to math, I faltered.

I suppose looking back, I didn’t respond to respective teachers’ style of teaching, didn’t connect with the material, didn’t understand my own relationship with the learning and didn’t have the learning skills needed to find success in the face of such an adversary.  

I collided with barriers of my own doing and in some ways that of my teachers. I by no means blame my teachers, but do know that I felt removed from the experience compared to other courses of studies where my passion for media and film were nurtured by teachers who knew who I was. In retrospect, when it came to math, I had the ability to be successful on my terms during the regular school year but chose not to nor was I really encouraged. Teaching and learning was not what it is now where we recognize the value of knowing our learners and being responsive and relevant in how we teach. 

In my math classes, I would mask my vulnerability through humour. My jokes and clowning around was armour. Rather than being fully open about my needs, I protected myself through creating a personality of sorts. Because the teachers didn’t really know me, I created a character that was indifferent but ultimately wanted success that was hard to find. Also, I found that folks like me in de-streamed junior classes (Gr. 9 and 10) and then senior University courses (Gr. 11 – OAC), were not really welcomed guests. In many ways, it was easier to teach to the students who naturally flourished. I required more attention. Much more attention.

I once had a teacher who would loudly assert, “follow the formula,” when I didn’t understand a question. If I didn’t understand the formula, how would I be able to follow it? At that point, I stopped asking questions and turned to drawing in my notebook and writing my first screenplay – ambitiously the sequel to Mission Impossible.  Of course, this would be a sequel that would only live in my fantasy world.

After taking Gr. 9, 10 and 11 math in summer school, I finally passed Gr. 12 during the “regular season.” This was in large part to my teacher Mr. Deguida. He was a gentle soul, who recognized my desire to learn and equally the armour I would put up around me. He asked about my plans post OAC (Gr. 13) and really did connect with me. He nurtured success on my terms and took the time to support learners who would armour up. I remember my mark in his class was 74%. It was a huge win. I often think of him and how he passed away so young, many years ago. He wasn’t concerned about teaching math but students. He got it. 

Whether its the de-streaming math road ahead or any course, knowing our learner and supporting their self-regulation will be critical. Knowing our learners, is understanding their unique stories, their relationship with schooling along with their goals for learning and life beyond the classroom. Also, this recognizes that a student’s respective definition of success may be different from that of their teacher. When I was in math classes in Gr. 9, 10 and 11, success was deemed as 80% or more. If you weren’t’ an A student, you were made to feel lesser than. No student is lesser than and each student has their Everest to climb. It’s our job as educators to give them the tools and nurture the skills to make their climb. This also means, climbing alongside them.

As a high school VP, looking ahead to September comes with a focus on positive relationships with teachers, students and all members of the school community. COVID alone means that we must take extra time to connect and support teachers and students alike, as they navigate the weight out of what will be nearly 18 months of the pandemic.  For this to happen, we must be intentional in providing safe places to share, connect and support. I look forward to learning alongside teachers, sharing and navigating the road ahead with time, patience and understanding. We will be each other’s greatest resource and support.

Looking to students, the opportunity to share goals while self-regulating along the way is a critical one regardless of subject:

As a learning skill, self-regulation is assessed but is it often truly taught and practiced? 


As noted by Teaching Excellence in Adult Literacy (TEAL), of the US Department of Education, “good self-regulators have developed the skills and habits to be effective learners, exhibiting effective learning strategies, effort, and persistence. The key for instructors is to understand how to foster and train these skills in all students.”

For students to develop self-regulation they first must be able to share their story and set their goals for learning. In setting these goals they can then be supported on their learning journey based on where and who they are.

Like the new Pixar film Luca, where the title character navigates the human world as sea monster in disguise, young people when nurtured can and will thrive. This thinking isn’t new but we must be reminded of it, while fully seeing who the young people are. As Luca sets his own goals of winning the Portorosso Cup Race, he regulates and reframes along the way and ultimately finds his deepest success when fully seen and accepted for who he is.

While in the classroom as a Communications Technology teacher with a diverse group of learners, I did quite a bit of work around goal-setting and self-regulation. From overall goals for the semester to unit goals, students would assess their own progress through a rubric, all while I worked to be responsive to their respective needs and next steps.

With a focus on assessment for and as learning, my work was to reframe as needed as I was reminded that teaching is not a one size fits all practice. It sure did take quite a bit of work but it was purposeful and in most cases it worked. Students were motivated, content was refined and individualized, flipped practices were leveraged all while I grew in knowing the learner. In fact, even exams were individualized with questions pertaining to students’ respective goals. It was messy, imperfect but intentional.

Now when it comes to courses such as math, I most certainly don’t have the answers but know that I’ve personally experienced a highbrow approach that looks to prepare students for university. We must remember, not every student taking math will need it for university in the traditional sense or will be going to post-secondary. Rather the soft skills learnt as part of the journey will be transferable if they are nurtured with intentionality and care. As a beginning point, let’s start where learners are.

In the end, it’s not about what we teach but how and who we reach.

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The Power of Story: An EdxEDNYC Reflection

Recently, I had the wonderful opportunity to moderate a breakout session as part of the EdxEDNYC conference. This is a New York Department of Education Conference that originates from the collaborative and innovative spirit of educators at Hudson High School for Learning Technologies in New York City. From all-things technology education to social-emotional learning, the conference is transformative in that it brings together so many diverse educators with unique experiences and perspectives. 

I was thrilled to moderate a conversation pertaining to school leadership and the power of story in creating culturally relevant school cultures. In preparing for the 1-hour conversation, my goal was to talk less and listen more. Knowing my audience would be composed of educators not only from across New York City but the entire United States, I wanted to take advantage of the time to learn from participants. 

At times being a teacher from Toronto can be a bit of an ego boost of sorts. In many ways Toronto seems to be at the centre of the Canadian narrative. As the country’s largest city and the world’s most diverse city, living within the Greater-Toronto-Area and teaching within an urban board can provide a false sense of importance at times. With that, it was quite humbling to connect with educators from the metropolis of NYC and others from Los Angeles, Austin and other major US hubs.

One teacher shared part of her story as a district technology lead in NYC. In sharing, she spoke about the challenges of a responsive use of technology. Similar to ideas I’ve shared with colleagues about bandwidth and devices students are using, she has worked to support teachers with not just technology but design thinking so that learning is accessible by all. I could relate to her work both as an administrator and in my past life as a system resource teacher for 21st Century Learning. What differed was that she was responsible for 250 schools in her district and those schools came with unique narratives. I couldn’t believe the scope of her work and felt her exhaustion. She explained how she felt leadership didn’t understand her own struggles at times as she navigated turbulent COVID impacted educational waters. 

Learning of her experience was so powerful.

Another participant shared how she leads a BIPOC program that explores financial literacy and relationships with money through Hip-Hop while another educator shared her struggles in a LA high school where although mindset has changed, action seems to have paused. At the centre of all the sharing was a story. 

The power of story was truly the common thread.

The educators who leaned into the safe place all acknowledged the significance of knowing our learners and the need to relinquish control over what teaching and learning is. In fact, as we spoke about current challenges, this idea of story will need to be at the centre of any new norm that we embrace. Whether it be the important work of dismantling anti-Black and BIPOC racism or recognizing the complex impacts of COVID, story will matter.

It will have to start with the adults in the building. Like students, educators have been through small and big “T” trauma during this time. Life before has impacted COVID and COVID has impacted life now. We will have to pause and revisit key thinking and doing in service of educators and students alike.

For me in Ontario, so much good has happened but much work still needs to be done in regards to knowing your learner, culturally relevant pedagogy and assessment as an enabler of deep and meaningful learning. There will be a need to rumble with vulnerability with empathy and grace as teachers must discover who they are in service to students. We must fully understand students, look at how and what we teach and recognize assessment as a journey to learning. I believe this will be the way in which we build upon learning over the past 15 months.

Intentionality always mattered but now more than ever. 

My thanks to EdxEDNYC for the opportunity to share and connect with so many wonderful educators and for allowing me the privilege of being part of their conference. 

I hope to be part of the event next year!

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[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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