What my Students taught me about Learning Skills

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To understand and deeply appreciate the reality of the teacher in the classroom is to live deep inside the trench. Working along students with the hope to meet not only your respective goals as a classroom teacher but importantly provide students with the support and framework to meet their expectations and individual definitions of success. From their academic aims to their social pursuits in the school community, the hope is that all students grow into active, mature and responsible citizens. Often within this discourse, teachers are driven by the time constraints in meeting the curriculum expectations and working within a realm where initiatives are abundance. It’s with this that some of the best teaching and learning happens outside of the curriculum (those small moments) but can very much guide students in becoming the very best version of themselves (and teach, teachers at the same time about what learning is).

As educators in the classroom, how often do we intentionally address the learning skills noted on the Ontario report card?

Do we allow students an opportunity to reflect on the skills they will need today and tomorrow to achieve excellence?

In doing so, we have the great opportunity to learn a great deal about our students – who they are now and who they want to become tomorrow.

Last week, I facilitated the second annual Portfolio Camp at my school. In working with Gr. 9 STEM BTT students, that goal is to provide learners with an authentic understanding of why digital citizenship matters within the context of online social profiles as a new resume. Through the lens of Creating Pathways to Success and the IPP and importantly the Catholic Graduate Expectations, the conversation was shaped to allow students to direct the thinking and share in reflection about the skills needed to succeed in their today and tomorrow.

To begin the day, students participated in a small group brainstorm activity.  

In small groups, the class of twenty-six students shared their working goals for tomorrow (potential jobs, post-secondary education goals etc.) and the skills they believed are required for a particular profession or to “succeed” in a global economy.

As I walked the room, it was amazing to see students actually sharing – being open about their fears, ambitions and questions about what the future holds (all incredibly viable reflections). As the students shared their group reflections, some of the big ideas (and somewhat typical references) came to forefront, including:

  • Leadership
  • Collaborator
  • Problem Solver


As the conversation progressed and we dove into such terms, other ideas began to grow. Students began speaking about the need to be inclusive, respectful, empathic, compassionate, politically aware, humble, selfless etc. The human skills that are needed regardless of education or socio-economic stature. 

It was in this change in conversation that the framework for the Ontario learning skills provided context for a deep reading and practical application of the  Catholic Graduate Expectations – the importance of not only being a Collaborative Contributor and Effective Communicator but to be a leader through the lens of A Reflective, Creative and Holistic Thinker.  It was in addressing the big idea of leadership that the term was defined through the footsteps of Christ. The students shared (and learned) that being a leader is much more than organization, sharing workable ideas or being the most intelligent person in the room, but rather, the ability to help people grow, stand up for what is morally right, to admit fault, to treat people with dignity and to share in the common good.

It was with this opening camp day activity that the students became aware that designing their online brand, curating their portfolio and understanding the urgency of digital literacy and citizenship was very much about ensuring that who they are online matters. Their ability to shape the world through their digital footprint (their attitudes and values shared online) was and is much more urgent that the work curated from a respective class.

It was in listening to the students share and dive deep in this  opening conversation that the “intentionality” of the learning skills became so clearly important and a great reminder to me as a classroom teacher to pause and support students in this discussion.

Moving forward, my practice will now most definitely change. At the start of each new semester, the learning begins with this similar conversation and sharing.

Pause. Curriculum can wait.

Posted in 21st Century Learning | Tagged , ,

What teachers & students can learn from Stranger Things


If you’re a classroom teacher then you can appreciate the value in a shared discourse as it pertains to the learning skills – those skills that speak to not only the culture of learning but importantly (and exhaustively to the point that it is now a cliche ) that are transferable to life outside of a respective classroom . When it comes to assessing learning skills the urgency, one can argue , differs greatly between the elementary and secondary panels. Whereas in elementary the learning skills are front and centre and in depth on the report card , in secondary , the importance is devalued with a visual and format preoccupation with individual student average and class median. Yet, we proclaim readily to our students that being responsible,  showing the ability to self-regulate, organize , effectively collaborate, show initiative , and to work independently with the hope to be autonomous) are the transferable skills needed for success in  a milieu of “Achieving Excellence.”


  • Do our students listen?
  • Are we, as teachers, speaking loud enough?

“Strangely,” this is where Stranger Things comes into play – a potential tool in providing a popular discourse for students to see and appreciate the value of the learning skills within the frames of teamwork and friendship. 

Much has been written about Stranger Things, Netflix’s pop- culture phenomenon, that has excited audiences with genuine thrills, pastiche and nostalgia. Beyond the meta references to 80s allure (any show that makes reference to Corey Harts “Sunglasses at Night ” is a must watch), at the core is a multi-layered program about the politics of teamwork and friendship.

Look closely at what we (and our students) can learn from the unwavering bond between Mike , Lucas, Dustin  Eleven and Will. As the mystery of Will’s disappearance deepens and the tensions elevated by Eleven’s back story heighten, the characters of Mike, Lucas and Dustin, speak to an incredibly mature framework for both teamwork and friendship.  The trio speak their minds and share emotions openly; they’ve created a culture of collaboration with expectations for behaviour and have established consequences; they have humility and extend apologies when needed and give forgiveness; they’re fiercely independent; they innovate, share responsibility , admit fault and most importantly, are, selfless. All are leaders who have created a culture or collaboration (not perfect by any means or ideal ) but one that evolves and encourages all of them to grow.  

If they were my students, what letter level assessment would these young kids receive when it comes to Ontario Learning Skills? Without hesitation an E across the board. In their success , it’s important to note that they’re not theoretically saving their friend – they’re in the practice of saving their friend. With this, where is the #lesson for us teachers and our students beyond understanding that these Goonie-esque boys are gifted in a number of ways? 

Although our classroom stakes would not be so dramatically high, the “doing” of the boys reminds us that activating learning is so critically important. The trio continuously seek  “theoretical” reasoning from their science teacher but build on his textbook knowledge by “doing.” It is in the doing that the learning skills are activated, mature and evolve.   In doing (not just copying off a over head or working in class from a textbook) we provoke our students to strive and grow in the skills needed to be successful in today’s competitive , complicated and diverse socio-economic milieu. As Ontario education thrives to scaffold students to have “entrepreneurial spirit”, we have to ensure that the stakes are high in our classroom. 

Now, I can appreciate that making a connection between education and Stranger Things is not faculty bound, however, because in reading and watching critically, we can all learning a little something about teamwork and friendship from from three boys and a girl who are trying to save their friend. 

Posted in Netflix | Tagged , , ,

Wicked World: A Parents Guide to Watching Descendants 2


If you’re like me and have children under the age of 13 , then I’m certain you know the lyrics of Wicked World or Chill’in like a Villian , songs from Disney’s Descendants and Descendants 2 that may vibrate from the speakers of your television or mobile device. The gimmick is catchy; the teenage descendants of Disney’s most vile cartoon villains are outcasts who attempt to destroy and then are integrated into the community of United States of Auradon; a kingdom where Belle is princess, the Beast is king and their son Ben is bolstered as the all good conscious of the people.

With the release of the sequel last week across disney platforms including the Disney Chanel and ABC, the popularity of the characters are deeply entrenched in kid culture (my six year old and four year old at obsessed) with the Disney machine in full force. From behind the scene videos on YouTube kids to the Disney Store showcasing the movie on full display (my daughter already has her Descendants 2 Halloween costume), the characters and the songs seem to provide innocent entertainment. However, its a film that truly deserves equal watching from parents as it has the potential (if you’re ready and willing) to shape some meaningful conversation.

It’s in listening to the sequel play in the back seat of the family SUV on a recent cottage excursion that it became evident that for all of their progressive steps with theatrical productions, the Disney machine seemed out of touch with the at home audience; one surely composed of rich diversity. From race to class, Descendants 2 falls the diversity test and falls trapped within colonial rhetoric where “blackness” is vilified and projected with stereotype.

As we drove two plus hours, it was a optimal time to provide my kids with a critical media reading; shaping a conversation they can understand will not destroying  their fondness of the production’s songs and dance routines.


Here’s the step by step guide:

1) I began by asking the kids what racism means. We talked about this before when my daughter came home from school two years ago upset that her friend from preschool was being ridiculed for having “chocolate” skin. She was taught not to be a passive bystander and to voice her disposition, which she did.

2) I asked the kids to reflect on who the heroes were in Descendants and Descendants 2; the main characters. I asked them what colour skin was missing from the respective group. They came to the conclusion that neither of the main characters were black. 

3) I asked them to reflect on the first movie and the characterization of Cruella De Vil. What colour was her skin and what colour is the skin of her son Carlos. They responded that the mom was black and Carlos was white. Arguably, Carlos could be bi-racial, however, reference to his father is never mentioned. Problematically, within the conversation of race representation, Carlos turns good , amplifying his generic race narrative within popular film. Black = Bad and White = Good.

4) Now looking at Descendants 2, I asked my kids who the main villain was and the color of their skin. The kids noted Uma, and that she had brown skin.

5) I then asked why Uma is upset? The kids responded that Uma is upset in the film because she is jealous of Mal (who is going to be a future princess ) and that she hates working in her mom’s (Ursula’s) restaurant.  Their response was correct and as such, this characterization of Uma as a working class black woman cursed with jealously and contempt for the “privilege” that Mal holds, reinforces traditional cultural narratives of “blackness” as the “other,” and  morally corrupt. These ideas were presented by Ava DuVernay in her masterpiece 13th where the black male body is deemed as monstrous in popular Hollywood cinema and the notion of American blackness is vilified. The only representation of blackness in either The Descendants 2 or the original film is connected to villainy. 

Along with Uma’s internal motivation, her physical characterization is painted with an equally stereotypical brush; dreadlocks and hip-hop define her existence and as such trap her within an a corporate – colonial appropriation of culture. 


Although the child’s experience of watching is innocent, its important that as parents we are indeed watching with our children and providing them with a framework to understand that media texts have and carry meaning. This is not to take away from the joy of being entertained but to make them critical viewers  (at their level) with the hope that they mature into respectful, inclusive, emphatic and active citizens.

After all, we as parents are responsible for raising our children. Not, Disney.

Posted in Media Literacy and Pop Culture, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Love Transcends: Gender, Equality and Teaching Wonder Woman as an Anti-War Film

Much has been written about the phenomenon of the Wonder Woman film. From the onset of its June 2 release, the film became the most “tweeted” about movie of the summer season thus far. I found myself tweeting my fondness and sharing a critical reflection from my daughter who’s note was even mentioned by the Hollywood Reporter.

Not just as a parent to both a girl and boy is the film important about gender characterization but as a teacher of media studies, the film is a crucial reminder as to why popular cinema is so urgent and critical to understand. Wonder Woman is so much more than a film about a female superhero, but rather a mirror to the thinking of a particular time; shaping conversation but also born out of a world in desperate need of women and men who see and value each other  for their shared strengths, weaknesses and personal histories .

Recently I interviewed academic Susan Jeffords (celebrated academic and author of such incredible texts including: “The Remasculinization of America: Gender and the Vietnam War” and “Hard Bodies: Hollywood Masculinity in the Reagan Era“) for a teacher / student resource I’m developing titled The Catholic Filmmaker (my follow up to The Catholic Film Reader published by the Catholic Curriculum Corporation). In our conversation she notes not only why equality is so critical as a global need but also what popular culture means as a form of literacy about who we are and how we see people.  You can see a segment of the interview below.

Wonder Woman provides us as teachers with an incredible opportunity to dialogue about why we all must be advocates for equality; the film is not just about Wonder Woman fighting to restore order in a world of chaos created by “man”, but also the displacement of characters who create a mosaic of our times; an actor with the “wrong” skin colour, an Indigenous man with a  colonial history, a solider suffering with PTSD and a military hero burdened with the notion of masculinity itself.

Whereas films such as Batman V. Superman and Captain America: Civil War invite conflict to varying degrees both in terms of narrative and the spectacular cinema that audiences expect, Wonder Woman gives that  spectacle, but through a journey of a character looking for war and who then recognizes that love is more powerful than the most militarized weapon. Where Batman V. Superman and Captain America: Civil War  build towards the promised spectacle of battle showcased in their trailers, Wonder Woman reminds us that “real” war impacts all involved; regardless of sides, colour, race etc. In regards to the politics of today, Wonder Woman echoes the urgency of  the powerful female voices needed at a time where the mechanism of global conflict has been escalated by definitions of masculinity (yes, Trump is an easy parallel to this). As such, Wonder Woman  is very much an anti-war film as the character of Wonder Woman herself recognizes that love is truly transcendent.

Over the course of the summer, I’ll be working on the Catholic Filmmaker which will include more of Dr. Jeffords, along with filmmakers and classroom ready resources that support the authentic  integration of  short film, documentary and music video production, through the gospel lens,

Stay tuned for more !

Posted in Media Literacy and Pop Culture | Tagged , , ,

Logan & why I take my students to the movies


Let me begin by stating that although I’m a huge fan of comic book movies, I do feel that the preoccupation of creating a global box-office and merchandising behemoth, glossed over by hyper special effects and characters who passively exist to push action and consequence, has come to a critical mass. Evidence of this can be found in the excessively loud trailer for Justice League (I’m only guessing Zak Synder didn’t learn anything from the reaction to Batman v Superman) or Spider-Man Homecoming, which seems to be a post-modern rendering of all the the Spider-Man films that came before it. It’s within this landscape of spectacle, that I’m taking my students to a screening of Logan next week. A comic-book movie that, like The Dark Knight, is so much more. Following Nolan’s landmark entry into the comic book world, James Mangold has created a genre study that just happens to feature characters who exist within the comic book universe and goes further with the inclusion of meta-text about movies and comics themselves.

Many critics have noted that Logan “transcends” the comic book film text; the anti-comic book film where the main protagonist, who epitomizes the “antihero”, is torn, isolated, and against his own mythology, is dying. This alone is not overly unique as Logan (aka. Wolverine), has always be torn. The opening frames of Bryan Singers’ X-Men , introduces a bitterly violent and animalistic Logan fighting in a cage; a man or “thing” who is forced to live on the outskirts of society ( both wanting and distrusting the promise of inclusion). With Logan, the Wolverine has become mythical and unlike the cage fighter in Singer’s X-Men, his body is no longer impenetrable.

Logan is a different film than the original X-Men but at the same time similar. Its a film that yearns to be taken seriously and it deserves to be. As such, in taking my students to the see it (along with Get Out – a fun double header leading into the Easter weekend), the goal is to provoke their understanding of genre, meaning and the meta-history and text that James Mangold paints his Western canvas with. Coming together in a shared space and time is important; films in shaping culture rises out of the political and thus it is urgent for students to see current titles with meaning. 

Excitingly, the learning will be enriched with the inclusion of the guys behind the podcast 24panelspersecond. Comprised of  Dr. Dru Jefferies and teacher David Babbitt, I had the pleasure to pre-record a conversation that will guide the student post-screening experience. You can check it out here and make sure to visit 24panelspersecond. Its a great resource for any media classroom or fan of movies and pop-culture. 

I’m looking forward to the rich conversation that promises to come out of Logan and can only imagine what the student reaction will be to Get Out

Special thanks are extended to Dru and David of 24panelspersecond. Its always inspiring to share time with enthused educators and film buffs.

Posted in Media Literacy and Pop Culture, Movies and Television | Tagged , , ,

Be Adventurous and Brave


It’s Sunday morning, Oscar day (my Super Bowl ), and I’m writing this post mid-flight on my way to Timmins to give a presentation tomorrow to Northeastern Catholic District School Board elementary and secondary teachers.  This is a bit of an adventure; my first time flying in nearly 10 years without my wife and missing my two little ones. I’m sure their day will be adventurous and mom will be exhausted by dinner time.

With all of this, I can’t help think of “adventure” and what it means as a classroom teacher.

As teachers we should, no, we must be adventurous! 

The scale and scope of the adventure is individualized but needs to exist. In my nearly 12 years in the profession, I’ve worked at three schools, two boards  (moves by choice ), at the system level and venture to over stretch my time and calendar in a number of initiatives and projects. Friends, family and colleagues will ask why I do all the “extras.” It’s simple : adventure.

It’s the adventure that forces me to change, meet new people, reflect on practice, adapt, modify teaching materials and ultimately recognize that without adventure, I’m failing the students in my classroom and the parents who put their trust in those of educate their kids.

As a parent of a 6 year old grade 1 daughter and a 3 year old son starting JK in September, I have an intimate appreciation, that what happens in the classroom matters. My wife and I send our little darlings off in the morning with the trust that they are not only warmly cared for but they are being provoked and challenged to be their best. With this reality, I attempt to teach as if my children were in the room. To do this, I need to be constantly growing with the adventurous spirit that allows my practice to grow.
It’s with the “adventure” as a constant that I’m sitting in a sardine of a plane with propellers radiating my ear drum, as I write the first draft of this post on my phone. It’s not for me to be away from my family for an overnight stay; I love the chaos of dinner and bedtime after a full day of school. However, I couldn’t miss the opportunity to grow with a group of teachers outside of my typical GTA driving zone. I can’t wait to hear about their realities and their stories of successes and next steps.

Tomorrow’s take away:

From technology integration to backward design, be adventurous for you and the students you serve as they need to grow into global citizens. What we do matters.

Posted in Educational Leadership

Trump and the classroom lesson.


We’re living history.

With the morally dysfunctional Donald Trump igniting a reform in societal political awareness, there is something great coming out from the ashes of his contempt. Rebellion.

People are rebelling.

From the Women’s March to the universal decrying of his travel ban on several Muslim nations, I truly can’t remember a time in my life where the everyday citizen has responded in shared voice. It’s been slowly building for a year or so now. From Black Lives Matters to shared response to misogyny put on display during Hillary Clinton’s campaign, goodness has begun to speak out and the conversation needs a response.

Not only are we living history but it’s the “present” that we in the classroom must talk about. I often write and share on this site my thinking on learning in the classroom, how we use technology and as it pertains to media, how thinking must be priority. The lessons of today are paramount in teaching our students, regardless of subject or grade, the importance of values that cross all religious, racial, gender, ethnic or class boundaries. RESPECT. EMPATHY. LOVE. Not just words that shape slogans, but the foundation needed for a decent society to take root. Who are we, if not able to find goodness? What do we teach our children when we stay quiet and do not provoke?

Specific to the media classroom and conversation, a lesson on voice needs to be had. President Trump has already begun his quest in fragmenting the value of journalism and has used social media with a troll mindset. As a teacher, he is the great example and manifestation of McLuhan’s foreshadowing discourse that the medium is the message.

Often, in media courses and I remember this from my high school days,  McLuhan’s theory is incorrectly digested. It’s not the artifact that truly matters (the television program, movie, radio broadcast etc.), but rather the medium itself. The fact that any given medium can incite a societal reaction or shape our thinking is of deepest importance. This is evident in the use of Twitter by President Trump. Twitter, in this case, is the message. We must recognize that in 140 characters, the value of thought is limited. Although the medium can be powerful, his use is not about conversation or sharing but explosive proclamation. It’s a platform that shields him.

As such, if you’re like me and in the classroom, now, is an incredible time for rich discourse grounded in thinking and meaning. I revisited McLuhan last night and took in old university notes with the acute awareness that I was waiting for the politics of today to truly see McLuhan’s thinking take shape.

Now, I better get to class. Time to have a conversation.


Posted in Media Literacy and Pop Culture, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , ,