Episode 17 – The Voice


In this episode, we interview Brandon Pachan, who is currently teaching Grade 8 SciTech LASS & Primary Dance and Drama at Macville Public School. He shares the work he is doing around Inquiry both at the Intermediate and Primary level. He also shares how the rules of improv he learned about are helping him empower his learners each and every day.

What’s New in the World of EML?

Jim shared work he is doing with a new teacher-librarian at a middle school. She is in her first year of the role and trying to rethink and redesign the library space, as well as a few other adjacent spaces, to better serve students, the maker mindset, and STEAM-based activities. She is connecting with other amazing teacher-librarians around the board such as @the_mulc and @MrSchuermann. Jim suggested that this year is a learning year and a pilot year, one in which any barriers to the most efficient and collaborative use of the space are identified and eliminated for next year.

Amit shared the work he is doing at Louise Arbour Secondary School‘s English Department around using Simon Sinek‘s Start With Why to frame the work they are doing with Empowering Modern Learners. Although they are focusing in on one element right now, they understand how all of the elements are interconnected, but starting with one can sometimes make navigating the change a bit more manageable.

Links from the Interview with Brandon Pachan

Shares for the Week

Jim was very inspired by Brandon’s connection between his three rules of improv and his teacher practice. Jim did some more reading is search of more inspiration from the world of improv. He found two more ideas that resonated with him. The first is from a list by David Algar and the idea is “change, change, change” with the point being that the characters in a scene must go through a change as a result of their experiences in the scene – I think learning is no different – students change their ideas, values, understandings, concepts everyday at school as a result of their experiences there. But how can we be the most respectful to their idiosyncratic views and notions in our teaching practice? The other idea come from Fancypants by Tina Fey and Jim found a short excerpt online. Fey’s idea is that there are no mistakes, only opportunities. Any misinterpretations by others in the scene with you are not mistakes but opportunities and everyone needs to go with them, whatever they might be. The same can be said of the dynamics of a classroom of students and the teacher in the room. There is nothing more DIS-empowering than learning under a climate where mistakes are feared and taking risks are unsupported and unwelcome.

Amit shared a blog post by Katie Martin entitled “10 Characteristics of Professional Learning that Inspires Learner-Centered Innovation” where she talks about how to make professional learning more meaningful for teachers.

10 Characterisitcs

He talked also about how using a one-size-fits-all approach to professional learning is not the most authentic learning and doesn’t empower teachers. He spoke about how the Empowering Modern Learners document does not talk about teachers and students, but learners generally as we are all learners in this ever-changing world.


Episode 16 – This Is Us


In this episode, we interview Melissa Wilson who is Instructional Coordinator of Indigenous Education in Peel. Melissa shares the work she is doing with schools across the board to bring an awareness of the true history of Canada and the work she does around identity. She also encourages teachers to step outside of their comfort zones, take risks and embrace being a co-learner with their students.

What’s New in the World of EML?

Jim shared some work he has been doing in a grade 6 class. During some co-planning, we discussed the issue of genuine collaboration, and what that looks like. One of the strategies that I thought of was to view a group document on two levels: 1. the content that was created and 2. the way the document was put together over time. That is, one suggestion I had was for students to examine the way in which a document was created after it was done. Google Docs already has the ability to “see revision history” under the “File” menu item but there is also a great add-on called draftback that animates the creation of the doc over time, edit by edit.

Amit shared the work he did with teachers at Allan Drive Middle School around using Spheros as a way to Ignite the curiosity of the learners in the building and as a way to introduce Empowering Modern Learners to the community. He talked with the teachers about having a community BBQ and introducing the vision document and what it means for the learners in the building.

Links from the Interview with Melissa Wilson

Shares for the Week

Indigenous Writes

Jim shared a book recommended by Melissa called Indigenous Writes by Chelsea Vowel. For Jim, this book was, and continues to be, the source of an authentic and articulate Indigenous perspective on a wide variety of events, issues and experiences. This is in contrast to the almost exclusively Eurocentric historical and social perspective that he has heard all his life, in his education and in society. Jim also shared how he is following some indigenous voices on Twitter. One person that stands out to him is Veldon Coburn who is Anishinaabe from Pikwàkanagàna and teaches at McGill University. Jim shared that he has so much to learn and so much to unlearn.

Amit shared a film entitled “Soar” by Alyce Tzue that is a great film that can be used to make interdisciplinary connections. On the site Teaching Ideas, they go over many of the cross-curricular connections that can be used for the short film, and Amit also saw some connections to using the film as a way to discuss learners as empathetic, global citizens.

Episode 15 – Small Wonder

Jenn P

In this episode, Jim interviews Jennifer Pagniello who is a grade 3 teacher at Ray Lawson Public School. She shares how she is using the guided inquiry framework as a way to help empower her students. She also talks about the changes she has made to her assessment practices with the help of her Instructional Coach Mary Neely and Peel’s Instructional Coordinator for Assessment Kristen Clarke who we interviewed in Episode 11 – The Wonder Years.

What’s New in the World of EML?

Jim shared some of the key ideas and messages from Jennifer’s interview. Specifically:

  • provocations are intentionally tied back to big ideas in the curriculum
  • Jim loved the way Jennifer worded this: “Instead of me telling them the expectations, the students are unfolding them on their own.”
  • assessing students all focusing on different questions – gathering evidence of learning COP – teacher’s role facilitating conversations – the conversations move the learning forward
  • uses Flipgrid, students can create a short video, talk about some key wonderings from the session, reflection, can serve as check-in
  • key learning environment innovation – Interactive bulletin board – provides focus, student planning, exploration + co constructed criteria – always come back to the expectations for CONTENT and SKILLS
  • Below bulletin board – interactive word wall, provocations, materials-students can grab resources

Amit shared the work that he is doing at Mount Royal Public School around making one small tweak to their assessment practices to bring them more in line with Growing Success as well as Empowering Modern Learners. He discussed how some of the teachers faced some pushback from students, but that they were all willing to co-learn in the process and not allow students to be passive recipients of learning during the process.


Links from the Interview with Jennifer Pagniello

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Jim shared an excellent resource for teachers looking to explore inquiry-based learning. The book is called Dive into Inquiry by Trevor MacKenzie. In his book, he describes a scaffolded approach to student inquiry by defining several types:


Amit shared an article entitled “Students LEAD to Learn” by Jessica Slusser who discusses how The Friday Institute for Educational Innovation in the College of Education at NC State University announced last week a new program where they are trying to create opportunities for personalized learning that adapts to how students learn best. The free experience, called Students LEAD (Learn, Explore, & Advocate Differently), “guides students to explore key areas such as attention, memory, idea expression and time management” and connects to the concept of Learning to Learn as found in the 21st Century Competencies Innovative Element. 

Once the course is complete, students and teachers receive an Advocacy Plan (sample pictured below) that shows their strengths, challenges and makes recommendations to consider.

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Episode 14 – Inside Out


In this episode, we interview Rasulan “Q” Hoppie, and he shares how he is trying to weave Empowering Modern Learners inside and out of everything happening at Castlebrooke Secondary School. He shares how the teachers are empowering students through the use of Project-Based Learning, and that they have an ICT Mindset throughout the building. There are no textbooks in the schools as they are trying to encourage learners to use technology to access information. He also shares the amazing work he is doing with the We Rise Together Action Plan in the board.

What’s New in the World of EML?

Jim shared a recording of a grade 5 student sharing his thinking and his actions in the midst of coding a game using Scratch. His Pacman game was progressing very well and on the day Jim recorded him, we had some conversations exploring ideas regarding how to code the walls so that Pacman bump into them and not pass through.

The video below captures his first successful attempt to get Pacman to bounce off a wall when he runs into it. This success came at the end of many other attempts, each of which were not mistakes or errors; a growth mindset culture in the classroom is being built and sustained, one in which everything done and everything learned in the process of solving problems is new and valuable knowledge.

Amit shared the work he was doing at James Grieve Public School with Monika Jaitly‘s kindergarten class. They were working with Scratch Jr. as a new way to tell stories about what they were doing over their Holiday Break. The students were not only collaborating, but they were problem solving and communicating in a new way. It was very empowering for these students as most of them can’t write yet, but this gave them a way to tell their stories using technology.

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Links from the Interview with Q Hoppie

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Jim shared a recent blog post called How to Learn? One of the main ideas of his post is the notion that highly ranked hits in Google when searching for “how to learn” result in resources that assume a transmission or delivery approach to how people learn. Jim wonders if readers will infer that that what learning is all about and not a more active, constructive process.

Amit shared a Ted Talk by Ritu Karidhal who is an Indian scientist working in the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). She was a Deputy Operations Director for India’s Mars orbiter mission, Mangalyaan. She is one of the women scientists who are now popularly known as “Rocket Women of India”. He was so impressed by her passion and hopes that it something that can be shared with students through Empowering Modern Learners.

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Amit talked about the connections to making our students become global citizens and how the talk speaks to the UN Goals for Sustainable Development #5 talks about Gender Equality

Episode 13 – Born to Run


In this episode, we interview Luke Mahoney who is currently the principal at Brian W. Fleming Public School. Luke shares how he is supporting the learners in his building to run with their ideas through being a lead learner and creating innovative Learning Environments. He also talks about the value he places on providing equitable Access to Technology and what that means for learners to be empowered.

What’s New in the World of EML?

Jim visited a school learning environment designed by Kris Schuermann, a teacher librarian he has worked with in the past. He had a chance recently to see some of the exciting and empowering things going on at his current school, Aylesbury Public School. Jim also chatted with a few Grade 5 students about a six-week project they and their classmates were a part of in fall. It involved designing, building and coding LEGO Mindstorms robots to complete a specific task involving sensing and movement related to geometric shapes. 

One student spoke about collaboration, another about patience and perseverance, and the third spoke about how their projects were related to wide variety of traditional curriculum subjects. It was clear that the students understood the interdisciplinary nature of project-based learning. Please listen to the podcast to hear the girls themselves explaining their ideas and experiences. 

Amit shared the work he was doing with the Secondary Assessment Leadership Team (SALT) around Final Evaluations. He mentioned that teachers are creating sample final evaluations and reflecting on the process. The final evaluations are being made in line with both Growing Success and the AssessPeel Guide on Final Evaluations.

Links from the Interview with Luke Mahoney

Shares for the Week

Jim highlighted a useful resource created by Kris Schuermann, the teacher librarian at Aylesbury PS. The link connects to a Google Site where Kris includes photos and descriptions of his “Maker Education” Library space.

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He also explains the inquiry model he uses with students and describes each of the “maker stations” and what they contain. Other sections of his makerspace are mentioned that reveal more of the philosophy of his space, a philosophy which highly aligned with the EML vision. His space and approach is compelling example of the ideas in the EML vision being realized and put in practice. Mr. Schuermann on Twitter: @MrSchuermann

Jim also shared some of the ideas captured in this graphic by George Couros (original source):


Amit shared an article entitled The Greatest Challenge Facing School Leaders in a Digital World by Scott McLeod that talks about the challenges faced by school leaders when thinking about integrating technology. He mentioned moving along in the SAMR Model so that technology is not just being used as a substitution for learning, but that it is redefining what is possible. He also talked about Simon Sinek’s Start With Why and his Golden Circle that he uses in his book. 

Golden Circle

He finished off by talking a bit about the book Drive by Daniel Pink which mentions the idea of people needing autonomy, mastery & purpose in order to find passions and have something that drives them in their work.

Episode 12 – The Next Generation


In this episode, we interview Lynn Filliter who is the Curricular Lead Learner of Voice at Jean Augustine Secondary School. She shares the work she is doing around providing students with voice and choice in her classes and how she’s helping the “next generation” of students learn how to be an integral part of their assessment journey and learning process. 

What’s New in the World of EML?

Jim shared work he was doing at Agnes Taylor PS just before the winter break. He and a teacher began to co-plan the structure of the remainder of the year for the media literacy classes she is teaching. She provides planning time by focusing on the language arts media literacy component, providing learning activities in grades 1-3. In addition to the Ontario Language Arts curriculum, we also found the Center for Media Literacy web site a good resource:


We found many resources online (e.g., MediaSmarts) but it was very difficult to find ideas that were highly effective for early primary students.

A project-based learning approach was used to organize each month’s activities with specific focus on opportunities for students to explore, reflect, make and share. Collecting evidence of learning through observations, conversations, reflections and ongoing work on projects will be crucial for effective assessment.

Amit shared the work that he was doing with the teachers, administration and office manager at Palgrave Public School around using the Google Suite. He mentioned how, while it is just a tool, it can be something that is empowering to all learners and emphasized how everyone is a learner when it comes to these tools.

He also talked about the upcoming Google Parents’ Night that will be happening in February at James Bolton Public School. It’s an opportunity for families to come by and learn about the tools that their children have available to them.

Links from the Interview with Lynn Filliter

  • Lynn spoke about the book Essentialism by Greg McKeown and how the school has modelled it’s 6 beliefs around that. 
  • She also talked about the book How to Give Effective Feedback  by Susan Brookhart and how the teachers in her school are learning more about giving feedback and how to effectively incorporate Assessment as Learning.
  • Lynn’s professional Twitter handle is @AssessmentGeek
  • Her personal Twitter handle is @MrsFilliter
  • The department’s Twitter handle is @JassVoice
  • She can also be reached by email at lynn.filliter@peelsb.com

Shares for the Week

Jim shared an Edutopia article entitled “Bringing Students Into Professional Development.” The article includes the rationale for the intentional and purposeful inclusion of student voice within the context of professional learning. Questions such as “Why should student voice be a part of PD?” and “How do I capture student voice?” are also addressed.

Amit shared information about the amazing new space that is being offered at the Chinguacousy Branch of the Brampton Public Library.

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The space was inspired by their new mandate to foster creativity and innovation which is a major shift from the quiet space that a library was seen as in the past. You can use the recording studio on a first come first served basis and simply have to sit in on a training session prior to using it.

The library also offers 3D printers and much more as part of their new Makerspace. They have partnered with Sheridan College and the City of Brampton to make these new spaces possible. For more information check out http://www.bramptonlibrary.ca/ .

Episode 11 – The Wonder Years


In this episode we interview Kristen Clarke, who is the Instructional Coordinator for Assessment in Peel. She talks about the importance of reflection when considering strategies of Informative Assessment (one of the Innovative Elements in Empowering Modern Learners.)

What’s New in the World of EML?

Jim shared on-going work in schools he supports related to improving assessment and instructional practices. One of the important conclusions during some recent discussions with teachers was point 1. below. It was exciting that, while Tomlinson’s article was used as a minds on resource, through discussion and sharing, we provided evidence from our teacher practice that #7 in her list was a very accurate statement:

  1. One cannot separate assessment approaches or philosophy with pedagogical approaches or philosophy – discussions about assessment always in context of content and pedagogy (understanding #7 in Tomlinson’s article).
  2. Technology-based tools can be used to organize and focus informative assessment strategies (e.g., seesaw, fresh grade, sesame, SLN, Google Forms, etc.) How a tool is used is far more important than which tool is used; however, some tools are better suited to certain goals or tasks… 
  3. Inquiry can occur in different ways or levels with students (we were looking at this graphic by Trevor MacKenzie) and sometimes different levels of assessment can occur at the same time within one class – question is – what do students need to know in order to be more independent during inquiry-based learning?
  4. Use of structured inquiry itself can function as an assessment approach, diagnostic in nature — this will inform decisions for ‘freer’ inquiry

Amit shared the work that he is doing at Larkspur Public School with Beth Lyons and Surya Naidu around introducing the Maker Mindset and Maker Culture to the school. He shared the idea of bringing grade level leads in to learn about Making and how they can bring that back to the teachers on their team. He also shared the website that Beth has created entitled Explore Tinkering in the Forest that was inspired by Melanie Mulcaster‘s site from last year.

Links from the Interview with Kristen Clarke

Shares for the Week

Jim shared the article he referred to during his “What’s new” segment in more detail. The article is called Learning to Love Assessment by Carol Ann Tomlinson and available for free from the ASCD site (linked above). Dr. Tomlinson’s writes about her professional learning journey regarding assessment practice. A summary of her list of learnings:

Informative assessment isn’t:

  1. just about tests
  2. about the grade book
  3. always formal
  4. separate from the curriculum
  5. about “after”
  6. an end in itself
  7. separate from instruction
  8. just about student readiness
  9. just about finding weaknesses
  10. just for the teacher

Amit shared a new Canadian work, called Acha Bachaat Theatre Passe Muraille, in co-operation with Buddies in Bad Times. He shared the article, by Doreen Nicoll, that speaks about the importance of this play in hyper-racialized times and how it relates to the ideas of equity and inclusion as well as culturally responsive pedagogy in relation to Empowering Modern LearnersScreen Shot 2018-01-02 at 10.48.17 PM

Part of the article that stood out to Amit was a quotation by Nethersole where he states that, “Reading a play for the first time can sometimes be a tedious task, but I devoured Acha Bacha in no time. These characters are not ‘other’ and they are not defined by being Muslim or queer. They are human beings, real, complex and fully realized.” 

As teachers of global citizens, we can empower our students by not reinforcing the same negative ideals and status quo and the play reminds us to question whose agenda is being served.