[Media Literacy Lesson] Don’t Look Up

Well before COVID and when streamers became first release exhibitors of major Hollywood pictures, star-driven movies such a Don’t Look Up would be a significant box office draw. The likes of Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence coupled with a topical satire about today’s leadership crisis and pseudo-expertise would be creating cultural discourse about who we are and who we need to be. Thus, although in the Top 10 of Netflix, I can’t help but think of the potential dialogue if a traditional theatrical run was in the cards for this must see film about a comet on a collision course with earth and the “meh” attitude towards truth.

Regardless, Don’t Look Up written and directed by Adam McKay (The Big Short, Vice), is most certainly a movie for our times. Like the white mask of Michael Myers in the Halloween series, which acts as a screen in which we can project our shared and individual anxieties, the comet in Don’t Look Up is a metaphor for the cosmic mosaic of our self-destructive tendencies. From climate change, to health-care and education, the comet represents our inability to maneuver in a way that will ensure we coexist with moral consciousness and decency.

Littered with anti-Trump sentiment through a new found comic-duo in Meryl Streep and Jonah Hill playing Donald and Donald Jr charcuteries, filmmaker Adam McKay’s satirical lens captures leadership, policy and citizenship with incredible wit and heart felt emotion. With so much happening (perhaps too much at times), leadership is most certainly at the centre of the film as scientists Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence ) share the truth about earth’s impending doom while leaders, journalists and the general public choose not to believe or fully see until it’s too late.

Within a Catholic education context, Don’t Look Up very much speaks to Jesus’ own leadership journey and the need for young people to be effective communicators who can navigate truth through mobilization. For example, the film connects to the efforts of Bishop Broderick Pabillo who has called his Palawan parishioners to elect leaders who best emulate Christ. In his words, ” the goal of leadership is not to grab power but to serve and he did it with humility, selfless love, and compassion.” (Read the article: Look at Jesus’ leadership style, bishop tells Voters).

As both educators and students continue to navigate complex times, Don’t Look Up is a media text that provides for a rich opportunity to reflect on Jesus as a leader and who we are called to be.

For Students Grade 9 -12:

Getting Started (Assessment For Learning):

Set the stage for watching the film by nurturing an opportunity for students to share prior knowledge and/or discover new knowledge as autonomous learners.

Whether in-person or online, have students share their own fears and anxieties. This can be done through a gallery wall (“old fashion” chart paper and idea sharing) or by using digital applications such as Jamboard or Padlet.

This not only provides an opportunity to lean into their vulnerability but cultivates responsible citizenship citizenship in creating a place where students are fully seen and valued.

From this sharing have students research what satire means. Whether individually or in small groups, encourage students to develop and share a definition of satire all while finding/sharing an example. With students sharing, the following CBC News excerpt provides for a fluid understanding of satire:

Action (Assessment As Learning):

Watch the movie as a class.

In watching the movie, the goal should be to nurture a space for safe and active engagement. This means pausing the film, clarifying, building upon key moments etc.

Ask students if they have any questions and encourage whole group dialogue. Movie watching in class should be like when a novel is read aloud. There is a discourse to be had and it’s within this context that assessment as learning takes place. Students are provoked, provided with feedback all while assessment is leveraged to create learning.

Ideally, by the end of the film, students are at a place of reflection where they can show what they know.

Some provocations throughout the film:

  • Which societal divisions exist?
  • What happens when science is not valued or respected?
  • What do you look for in a leader?
  • What role does the media play in our lives?
  • What do you think the difference between “Don’t Look Up and “Just Look Up” is?

The following article features a very compelling interview with writer-director Adam McKay where he speaks to the making of the film: Adam McKay Had To Make The Comedy Of His Satire ‘Don’t Look Up’ Even Wilder To One-Up Crazy Real-World Events – Contenders L.A.

Consolidation (Assessment Of Learning):

In watching the film, have students reflect on the type of leader Jesus was.

  • Who did Jesus help?
  • Who did Jesus “threaten” through his vocation?
  • Who does Jesus call you to be?

Reflect on the following:

How would Jesus navigate the:

  • COVID pandemic
  • World Hunger
  • Political Corruption
  • Health Care inquirers
  • Racial and social injustice

With Don’t Look Up released during the Christmas season and the faith-filled final scene, it’s hard not to examine the movie through a Catholic education lens as it provides a faith-based opportunity to look at our world, who we are and how we can mobilize in the service of what is right and just.

In the spirit of the movie’s character driven posters, students can “show what they know” as they are called to be leaders as part of a “Just Look Up” class campaign. The goal of the “Just Look Up” class campaign is to mobilize student voice and provide all learners with an opportunity to reflect on who they are called to be while sharing what leadership means to them.


When it comes to media literacy, the ultimate goal is to move students from a place of input to active output. Watching a film together, sharing in dialogue and empowering students to “what they know,” leads to transferable learning and media literacy grounded in cultural discourse.

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It’s That Time of Year…

Media Smarts’ annual Media Literacy Week is just around the corner.

Taking place Monday October 25 to Saturday October 30, Media Literacy Week provides educators with an intentional opportunity to learn, unlearn and relearn as it pertains to media literacy in the classroom and beyond.

I’ve been fortunate to be an active contributor to Media Literacy Week for the past few years. From classroom resources pertaining to reading film through a cultural lens to finding the truth in Deep Fake videos, the opportunity to share is humbling and liberating in that it allows me to reflect on my own experience and prompts new learning by connecting with others.

Now in my 16th year of teaching and with an extensive educational background which includes film criticism, film making, digital media production, technology integration and more, I’ve always been grounded in media literacy as enabler of story telling. This is to say that any modality can allow for story to be shared while recognizing that media literacy is multifaceted and urgent.

Thus, story matters in that it allows for sharing, connection and authentic opportunities to learn about ourselves and others. It’s through story that students and educators can be seen fully. Story shapes relationships and creates the mindset to engage as responsible and responsive citizens.

I know this even more now as a Vice Principal, who thrives to stay connected to storytelling through nurturing school cultures where creating, curating and connecting is mobilized to enrich and celebrate successes and next steps. Schools are full of stories that need to be shared.

This brings me to this year’s Media Literacy Week where I will be hosting a live virtual presentation entitled: Digital Portfolios & the Power of Story.

Please join me for what will be an hour of authentic sharing, where I will provide a classroom and school ready approach to storytelling through digital portfolio design. See below for more details:

Digital Portfolios & The Power of Story:

In this Media Literacy Week workshop, educator Anthony Perrotta shares his passion for storytelling, through the creation of multi-modal enriched digital portfolios that highlight and mobilize student voice. 

With an extensive and diverse media literacy and tech-ed background, Anthony speaks to his understanding of portfolios as an enabler of “connected learning” that can deeply enrich the experience of both students and educators alike. 

This workshop will provide participants with a classroom / school ready approach to creating, curating and connecting with purpose and relevancy. Equally, this workshop speaks to Anthony’s commitment  to nurturing students to be creative, innovative and, self-directed learners who are able to share their story all while being responsive to others as global citizens.

Workshop Date: Wednesday October 27th – 4:30pm to 5:30pm

Register here: Digital Portfolios & The Power of Story

I hope to see you on Wednesday October 27th.

Below you will find my previous Media Literacy Week contributions:





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Practicing Gratitude

This past Saturday, I wrote a blog post for the St. Oscar Romero Catholic Secondary School website, where I proudly serve as a Vice Principal.

In the post, a Thanksgiving message to the school community, I wrote about the importance of gratitude and the positive role reflection and sharing thanks can play in our lives. As an educator, let alone Vice Principal, I’m continuously grateful for the opportunity to engage with young people. Whether it was my time in the classroom, at the system level and now in the capacity of a school administrator, I’m deeply aware that the young people I work to serve come to me as the most precious gifts others (parents and caring adults) can share. Even when I’m fulfilling the most stereotypical tasks of the Vice Principal (discipline and expectations aren’t bad words), the interactions are a gift as I work to support students in being their very best, even if they don’t see my intentions at any particular moment.

In writing the post, it dawned on me that intentionally practicing gratitude is to lean into one’s emotional vulnerability and sense of self-regulation. In looking at our students and their practice of embracing gratitude, creating a culture of high expectation grounded in goal setting and self regulation is of critical importance.

Through the work of academics like Stuart Shanker, we know that self-regulation must be embedded within a culture of goal setting and social/emotional wellness. As students establish Distal and Proximal goals, their ability to self-regulate allows them to remap their emotional and learning journeys. It’s within this process that emotional awareness becomes a critical tool in avoiding “ego depletion.”

As shared by Psychology Campus, “ego-depletion suggests that your willpower failings are inevitable and, ironically, beyond your control” (Psychological Campus). This idea of “ego depletion” derives from clinical research and the hypothesis presented by Mark Muraven and Roy F. Baumeister from Case Western Reserve University who in their paper titled Self-Regulation and Depletion of Limited Resources: Does Self-Control Resemble a Muscle? share that “ controlling one’s own behaviour requires the expenditure of some inner, limited resource that is depleted afterward. We propose that people have a limited quantity of resources available for self-control and that various acts of self-control draw on this limited stock” (Muraven and Baumeister, 247).

It’s with a focus on the “inner limited resource,” that fuels the self-regulation required to meet goals that gratitude can help replenish. In fact, Psychology Campus’ compassion, gratitude and pride framework looks to emotional rewards needed to energize self-regulation and the pursuit of one’s goals. This is to say that during remapping, the pause that comes with reflecting on gratitude can be a vital tool as individuals look at successes and next steps.

Specifically, gratitude, “helps people refocus on what they have instead of what they lack. And, although it may feel contrived at first, this mental state grows stronger with use and practice” (Harvard Health Publishing). As such, when looking to support all students to become their very best, practicing gratitude is essential. Whether it’s students having a behavioural lapse or encountering an academic roadblock, gratitude can allow for reframing, changed behaviour, cultivate a growth mindset, nurture positive relationships and ultimately lead to individual success.

With all of this, it is important for school communities to continuously cultivate a culture of high expectation where goal-setting and self-regulation guide thinking and doing. All students can find their personal success while feeling grateful for what they have in both tangible and intangible ways.

As shared by Laura Elliot in the Toronto Star, “gratitude is a powerful strategy to help get us through an unpredictable school year.”

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Team Jess: A Reflection on Schooling Today

Last night I finished the culminating activity for the last course of my MEd program while Gilmore Girls played in the background. With such vibrant dialogue, every episode of Gilmore Girls plays like a soundtrack of rapid beats, fluid rhythm and pulsing energy.

As I was working away, I couldn’t help but make a connection (no pun intended) between the character of Jess Mariano (Milo Ventimiglia) and my final MEd course titled The Connected Classroom with Dr. Paul Leslie.  With this course providing a deep dive into theories of change pertaining to what school was, is and needs to be, I thought of Jess, students like him and the need to ensure that schools are places where students can actively learn, unlearn and relearn while in pursuit of their passions and interests as connected learners.

Jess Mariano would often find solace in a book.

The Connected Classroom:

Through a deep study of theoretical principles grounded in experiential learning, community education and the transformational role technology can play to enrich, extend and deepen the student experience, the course provided a critical reminder that schools must be places where students are active partners in their learning. Within this context, knowledge is constructed, experienced and authenticated in a manner that transcends the traditional thinking of the classroom teacher as the holder and master of knowledge.

As noted in a course reading titled Becoming Relevant Again: Applying Connectivism Learning Theory to Today’s Classrooms, academics Jeff Utecht and Doreen Keller share that “knowledge therefore is not a set of facts but rather a learner’s ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn information quickly and be able to apply that new knowledge in an ever-changing information landscape.” They continue to share that “learning is the ability to discover something unknown. Unlearning involves critically analyzing and in some cases rejecting information or beliefs once held to be true in the presence of new information. Finally, relearning is the arriving at a new understanding, sometimes replacing perspectives that were once expected or believed from past experiences” (Utech & Keller, 2019).  

For this learning, unlearning and relearning to occur,  schools must be places where students engage in reciprocal learning that nurtures their ability as responsive and global citizens who can create, collaborate, think creatively and communicate effectively through the “new pedagogies” of today.  As Michael Fullan and Maria Langworthy note  in A Rich Seam: How New Pedagogies Find Deep Learning, 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 “pervasive digital access” has the potential to empower students in their ability to connect with “educators” outside of their school all while leaning into their sense of self. From connecting to experts via video conferencing to building a student learning network on social media, there is power in access and connection. As Fullan and Langworhjty note, students can leverage technology “not only to create new knowledge, but also to connect it to the world, using the power of digital tools to do things that matter beyond school (Fullan & Langworthy, 2014). 

As educators we must be active in our approach to create cultures where learning is about applying, reassessing, new understanding, reimagining and connecting with the goal to deepen the student experience. This is the case for students in the classroom, professional learners and all invested in education.

Equally, this is true for a student like Gilmore Girls‘ Jess, who reminds us educators that the classroom experience must be reciprocal and connected to who students are in school and beyond with the understanding that content does not equate knowledge.

Jess Mariano:

Jess Mariano arrives at Stars Hollow in season 2 and not only creates upheaval for his uncle Luke but for Lorelia, Rory and most importantly her boyfriend Dean. A disenfranchised New York teen, Jess is shipped off to Stars Hollow by his mother in hopes that both her brother and small town life will help realign his path. Angry, sarcastic and underwhelmed, Jess is full of angst. Although, quite problematic for a number of characters, Jess is unique in that his rebellion seems to stem from being stifled as he struggles to find himself or find a way to be who he intends to be. 

It’s clear from the onset that Jess is incredibly bright. Like Rory, he loves books, music and yearns for intellectual stimulation. However, unlike Rory, who is afforded the opportunity of attending a prestigious private school and has always been nurtured,  Jess is unmotivated by his time at Stars Hollow High and the unfortunate realities of his personal experience. Looking to his early 2000s high school,  Jess would have benefited from the connected classroom ideology that schools must be more than repositories of information. In seeing Jess fully, the potential to harness his passions and interests in an experiential way could have played an early role in dismantling his emotional and social armour. Thus, for Jess the issue is not so much a realignment of his path but fully understanding what speaks to him. He’s looking not to be fixed but rather seen and empowered. 

Still from the episode titled “There’s The Rub.”

Specifically, his passion for literature, music and culture is not leveraged as he navigates his newly found small town life. In fact, it’s quite clear that his contempt derives from a lack of deep engagement. This is reinforced in Season 2, Episode 16 titled “There’s the Rub.” In this episode, Rory’s quiet night at home is interrupted by both Paris and Jess who form an unlikely bound. As the three share in a meal and book talk, Jess begins to relinquish his armour. The kindness he typically reserves only for Rory is shared with Paris as she pushes him on the merit of poetry and he educates her on the worldliness of combining salt, pepper and hot sauce as a complement to French Fries. 

Ultimately, this teen meal provides a window into what motivates Jess and how pieces are lacking from his current schooling realities and personal life.

Jess and Schooling Today:

This dinner scene reinforces that Jess and all students need something more from school than merely a textbook or lecture. For Jess, school needed to be more than just a place in which content as knowledge is shared.

Considering the dial up world of the internet at the time of the episode, Jess’ access to information was limited. However, in today’s world of Web 2.0 where students can access the same content as their educators, schools must be places where the learning journey is intentional in nurturing young people to be autonomous, self-directed, creative, critical, communicative, collaborative, innovative and responsible learners who are active partners in teaching and learning. 

Imagine, if Jess had the access to the new pedagogies of today that allowed him to lean into his passion and interests. Imagine if he could create, curate and connect readily through digital & social media. Imagine, if Luke or his high school principal fully saw him and thus embraced his passion for books, music and culture. Imagine, if Jess was able to connect with other like-minded people regardless of his geographic location. 

Connected Learning: Interest, Peer Culture and Academics

In fact, as Jess leaves Stars Hollow in season 3, he reconnects with Rory in season 6 where he is now in Philadelphia and thriving as a indie writer and partner in a small publishing house. In surrounding himself with people who nurtured his passion, his armour completely shattered. In fact, so many years later with Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, Jess visits Rory who finds herself lost in so many ways. For all of her higher education and childhood nurturing, Rory is not who she wants to be let alone where she wants to be career wise. However, Jess the high school misfit is exactly who he’s meant to me and is thriving.

COVID Reminder:

Thus, as educators within a COVID reality with lockdowns and remote learning, we’re reminded that the experience can’t be where learning is associated with merely tests, quizzes and memorization of content.  We’ve been tasked with something quite remarkable in that Web 2.0 has enabled a change in learning culture. Whether it be students interacting within a VLE discussion board or curating a digital learning portfolio, the culture of learning has changed even if some refuse such truth. 

More now than ever, us educators have to provide students with the opportunities to create the doors that do not yet exist for themselves. For this to occur, students must be partners in change and they must be seen fully with a positive sense of well-being. As noted in What We Heard – Well Being in our Schools, Strengths in Our Society well-being  is a “positive sense of self and spirit. It is reflected in the students’ sense of personal identity and self-worth, and an optimistic and hopeful view of life. Students told us that being connected, having a sense of belonging at school, and feeling like a respected and valued member of the school community are critical” (What We Heard, 2017, p. 3).

Jess deserved this. All students do.


Fullan, M., & Langworthy, M. (n.d.). A Rich Seam: How New Pedagogies Find Deep Learning.

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

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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!

Posted in 21st Century Learning, Education, Educational Leadership, Media Literacy and Pop Culture, Student Voice, Technology Education | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

[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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