John Malloy’s Keynote Speech at TDSB Unleashing Learning 2018 (Summarized)

Unleashing Learning – April 3rd, 2018
John Malloy, Keynote Speaker
“We serve and support students.”
-John Malloy

On April 3rd, 2018, I was lucky enough to be present at the Toronto District School Board’s Unleashing Learning conference.  I manned a small booth in the Marketplace talking about how to enhance your classroom through the creation of Choose Our Way tale using Twine 2.  It demonstrated how high school students can easily create Andoird Apps allowing for their short stories to have life outside of the classroom.

The most powerful moment that day was John Malloy’s keynote speech.  It was an engaging one-hour speech that had the audience captivated.  While I encourage you to watch the full video (posted above) I understand that teachers are busy people.  For that reason, you are free to read my synthesis of the speech.

On April 13th I received an e-mail from John Malloy stating, “I have read everything and appreciate the time you took,” so this can be considered a fairly accurate representation of the hour-long presentation.

Feel free to add any corrections, or additions to the comments below.

Activating Student Voice and Agency

“When I go into a classroom and I see that level of engagement there’s nothing like it …  when I see that level of engagement in students I see the happiest most satisfied teachers in the Toronto District School Board.”

Happy Teachers

  • Satisfied and happy teachers are created by engaged students.

Student Voice

  • Teachers must change their interests to suit the strengths of their students.
    • Students should not have to change themselves to fit the teacher’s box
    • Teachers should be transforming to meet the needs / strengths of our students
  • Students must be allowed the space to speak
  • Teachers must actually listen to students when they speak

Student Agency

  • What is changing because student voice was encouraged?
  • How have you changed because students have spoken?
  • Student Agency must be embedded in classrooms, schools, and all of the TDSB

Equity in Student Voice and Agency

  • Teachers need to reflect on their context and decide whose voice needs to be brought to the centre of discussions and recognized.  
  • Teachers must question whose voices are often not heard in their specific situations.


Shared Leadership

“We build confidence in one another together not alone.”

  • Shared leadership only happens when every voice is heard.

Global Competencies

“Our students are preparing for a world that we can’t even imagine.”

Critical Thinking

Global Citizenship


Collaboration and Leadership

  • When students are on fire how do we reproduce those conditions?

Creativity, Inquiry, and Entrepreneurship

  • How will we unleash student creativity so that positive change occurs in schools, the community, and beyond?
  • We must lead to student inquiry that changes:
    • Classroom
    • Community
    • The world!



“I’m betting that there are other perspectives in this room right now that are not being shared because it’s probably not safe in light of how intense the one or two voices are.”

Educators must examine themselves.  They must:

  • Confront barriers to remove them
    • It’s difficult for someone with privilege to understand that no space is neutral.
  • Interrogate their own practice
    • Personal improvement must be communicated
  • Not be afraid to understand their identity in relationship to their students’ identities
    • power, privilege, and how that impacts every environment.
  • Invite students to engage in Social Justice inquiry
    • We must be Anti-Racist, Anti-Oppression, and Pro Human Rights

The Principles of Equity and Anti-Oppression

  • Intent vs. Impact
  • No such thing as a neutral environment
  • Majority / Minority are not about numbers
  • Systems and structures drive practice
  • Voice and experience of marginalized youth must be brought to the centre of discussions

The Majority Doesn’t Rule

  • When 70% want something, what happens to the 30% who don’t want it?
  • We need to focus on all voices.
  • Putting things to a vote is problematic, as it excludes voices.

Systemic Changes

  • Special education classrooms, away from the classroom, don’t show results we want.
    • They lead to behavioural issues,
    • which leads to suspensions,
    • which leads to lack of high school success.
  • This systemic pathway must change.
  • Systemic pathways create a culture that is hard to break
  • We must have the courage to interrupt the system and culture that has been in place

Our Equity Commitment

  • We must challenge the existing structures by:
    • Interrogating our practice
    • Enabling student agency
    • Analyzing our structure
    • Ensuring positive student outcomes in effective learning communities that are reflective of all students


Inclusive Design

“The student … must be engaged [through] inclusive design, authentic learning, [and] global competencies.”

  • Teachers must honour identity, social location, family, culture, language, abilities, human rights, and the potential that they bring to the classroom.
  • Teachers need to think about learning needs and strengths of the students.

Six threads of inclusive design

  1. Student voice and agency
  2. Designing instruction
  3. Engaging parents, family, community, and elders
  4. Establishing environment as the third teacher
  5. Build leadership capacity and sustainability
  6. Analysis of data

Numbers are Not Students

“Looking at numbers does very little unless we know the story behind the student who represents that number.”

  • System data means nothing about the students in your building or your classroom.

Student Strengths

  • Teachers often think about learning needs, but they don’t spend the same time thinking about considering the strengths of their students.
  • Rather than trying to find ways to accommodate student needs, they should be looking to build activities that allow students to utilize their own strengths!

Ask students tough questions to ensure engagement

  • “Help me understand you so I don’t inadvertently create barriers for you.”
  • How do we accommodate strengths, not only their needs?
  • How do we deal with intersectionality?
    • It can be difficult for a white male teacher to understand the needs of a white male student with LD; it is far more difficult for them to understand the needs of a black female student with LD
  • We go to challenging places together with support!

Designing a Space for Success

  • If students have strong knowledge, but can’t write, we must create an environment where we allow them to have their knowledge assessed through oral submissions.
  • Do we encourage all voices to come to the centre of a discussion and be heard?
  • Students are empowered when they co-construct success criteria and learning goals
    • Students should help construct course outlines
  • Are we naming biases (personal, and otherwise), identifying barriers, and removing the structures that prevent success?
  • There are times we need to take an observant stance in our classroom and let the students lead the way.
    • We must honour student experience, and give students opportunities to succeed
  • Don’t be attached to every curricular expectation
    • Achievement means more than Literacy and Numeracy
  • Experiential learning is important
    • Connect what you’re doing in class to something relevant outside the classroom.


“Transformation happens in classrooms and in schools supported by a system, not the other way around.”

Confronting the Silos

  • Equity (anti-racism, anti-oppression)
  • special education
  • indigenous education
  • global competencies
  • mental health
    • These things can not stand alone.
    • They must be worked together and de-siloed without our system to best serve our students.

Asking the Right Questions

  • How do we wrap the curriculum around our students?
  • How will student voice influence us?  
  • What does strong instruction look like?
  • What does strong engagement look like?
  • How is our environment supported by students?
  • How do we build, and share leadership capacity?
  • How does analysis of data change our practice?
  • How does our environment reflect our supporting of student needs?

Thinking Locally

  • What will be the transformation in your school?
  • When educators collaborate with each other, families, and students, nothing will stand in our way

Mobilizing Schools

“Mobilizing means that we will only bring about the transformation … when all through this system you, our educators, our leaders, feel excited … desiring to make this kind of change!”

  • How do we show / communicate that we are making a difference with our students?

Evidence of Mobilization

  • What are people talking about in the building?
  • What questions are people asking?
    • We can’t figure out how to make this work, what can we do to enhance it?
  • How are teachers celebrating their successes?

The Digital World

“Our digital world … is not going away[. It] opens tons of doors and … has to support health, not diminish it.  That’s why global competencies have to include … how we might help our students to connect to the land, respect our earth, and strengthen environmental sustainability.”

  • How can technology help us connect to the land, and respect the earth?
  • Students are more interested in their screens then they are about going out with friends, or doing things in person.
  • The digital world is part of the physical world, not separate.
  • The digital world needs to support our students, not diminish them.

Grade 9 Academic Classes in the TDSB

  • There are no specific directions for 2018/19
  • We are not destreaming, we are moving to students being placed in academic classes
  • We move towards grade 9 and 10 academic for the majority of students
  • We must ensure we are paying attention to their needs
  • There is no direction on how to get there
  • 2020/2021 – fully academic across the grade 9 and 10 levels

Steps Forward

“I’m not a huge fan of big room meetings unless there is impact the next day … What we do today … make[s] a difference because as I’ve said: we serve students.

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