Skip navigation
All Places > Explore > In Conversation With ... > Blog


José Luis Vilson is a math educator for a middle school in the Inwood / Washington Heights neighborhood of New York, NY. He’s also a committed writer, activist, web designer, and father. His first solo project, This Is Not A Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class, and the Future of Education, was published by Haymarket Books in the Spring of 2014. He is the co-founder and executive director of EduColor, an organization dedicated to race and social justice issues in education. He is a National Board Certified Teacher and a Math for America Master Teacher. He has served as a board member on the Board of Directors for the Center for Teaching Quality and the president emeritus of the Latino Alumni Network of Syracuse University. He writes regularly for Edutopia and Progressive Magazine, and has contributed to The New York Times,, Education Week, Huffington Post, and El Diario / La Prensa NY. He has also been featured at PBS, Vox, Mashable, Idealist, Chalkbeat NY, TakePart, Mother Jones, Manhattan Times, and the Fusion. He co-authored the book Teaching 2030: What We Must Do For Our Students and Public Schools … Now and In The Future.


Here is TVO TeachOntario In Conversation with José Luis Vilson, educator and author


1) Let's begin with the key social activism issue that you have been working to amplify over the years. How would you name it and what started your interest in the ways that race, class and education intersect?


I don’t have one specific thing I’ve been activated on, but “educational justice” is probably the name for it. When I think justice, I’m thinking beyond equality and equity. I’m thinking more about what it would take for our society, institutions, and the people who interact with these elements to get restoration. Our education systems are part of these unkept promises. Our country’s history - and really our world’s history - is rife with stories of the expectation we have around the promise of education and how our institutions continually fail to meet that expectation for any number of reasons. In this country, it means racism and the pernicious idea that we must have inequity in order for others to have greatness. That’s unjust.


2) What are the pedagogies and practices that you feel are most effective in supporting and reaching our underserved students?


For one, any pedagogical practice has to be about a power transfer of sorts. For example, I’m a big fan of walking away and let students have the last word when we have a dialogue in math class. In the back of my mind, I’ll be taking my informal assessments about whether a student gets it. If I find that a student doesn’t get it, I’ll ask questions until I can see a path forward with the student. Then I’ll ask another set of questions that scaffold the work until they get to the point where they can answer the work for themselves. Then, I don’t confirm or deny; I just walk away. At first, kids don’t get why I do it, but they eventually understand that I’m trying not to take the power from them.


3) It seems that we are seeing a cultural shift catalyzed by the Black Lives Matter movement in which justice and equity are prioritized. What advice do you have for educators who see themselves as change agents?


Listening, learning, reflecting, and self-actualizing are important. Active listening is an important skill regardless and because of the spectrum of what we consider political consciousness. There’s a way of doing this work that still shows a measure of love, empathy, and thoughtfulness required to move people towards anti-racism and justice. I’m navigating that complex space daily, too.


Also, I’d suggest that people do a lot of reading and intellectualizing while making themselves vulnerable in this work. If folks can read books and follow people’s work, but not interrogate how they are complicit in the perpetuation of injustice and white supremacy, then that’s not the full work. Agents of change can and should be encouraged to do both.


Continue Your Learning


Click here for more information on This Is Not A Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class, and the Future of Education published by Haymarket Books


Click here for José Luis Vilson's website


Mary Gordon is recognized internationally as an award-winning social entrepreneur, educator, author, child advocate and parenting expert who has created programs informed by the  power of empathy. Over 20 years ago, Ms. Gordon created Roots of Empathy, a national and international not for profit children's charity which now offers programs in 14 countries. Ms. Gordon is also the founder of Canada's first and largest school-based Parenting and Family Literacy Centers, which she initiated in 1981. 


Here is TVO TeachOntario In Conversation with Mary Gordon, Founder and President of Roots of Empathy


1) What do you see as the impact of empathy-focused work in schools?


Empathy-focused work in schools not only improves the perspective taking skills of children, but also improves teacher’s awareness of student perspectives. This is cognitive empathy and it is supportive of better communication. Classroom dynamics shift when students and teachers have the ability to express how they feel in a shared expanded vocabulary of emotions. With Roots of Empathy, both students and teachers become more emotionally literate. This emotional literacy leads to better relationships in the classroom and therefore better learning.

2) It seems that educators are becoming increasingly interested in implementing ways to foster empathy in the classroom. Why do you think this is?


Teachers and principals typically are alert and willing to implement any approaches, which will improve the climate of the classroom or children’s learning. Teachers more than any professional group focus on their development for the benefit of their students. They are aware of the research, which speaks to teacher/student relationships as being powerful conduits for student learning. Empathy is at the base of all positive relationships.

3) What role do you see empathy playing in combating the issues that plague contemporary society such as: inequality, inequity, racism, sexism?


Empathy is integral to solving problems in the playroom, the boardroom and the war room. The ability to take the perspective of another person, to identify commonalities through our shared feelings, is the best peace pill we have. Empathy is the ultimate human trait. Its absence is underscored in violence and cruelty of all kinds including bullying in childhood and in the workplace. The current Black Lives Matter movement, the MeToo movement, global warming, income and gender inequality and the LGBTQ+ movement are current examples of situations that require empathy in order to advance just policies and responsible behavior. A major cause of many of the conflicts in the world is our intolerance of difference. On the world stage, differences provide the justification for genocide and war, or failure to respond in times of disaster and disease. On the playground, the absence of empathy allows differences to become a target for bullies. In the difference lies the vulnerability. Dismantling systemic bullying, systemic racism and systemic gender inequality is doable if we grow a generation of children whose empathy allows them to challenge injustice of all kinds, as empathy allows them to recognize our shared humanity.


More about our guest on In Conversation with ...


Ms. Gordon speaks and consults to governments, educational organizations, and public institutions, including the World Health Organization and the United Nations. Ms. Gordon is often a keynote presenter at international conferences such as Skoll World Forum and UBS Global Philanthropy Forum, Collision, Digital-Living-Design among others. She is a frequent participant on global panels discussing empathy. She is the recipient of several awards recognizing her contribution to innovation in education and international social entrepreneurship, including the 2018 Governor General of Canada Award for Innovation. Ms. Gordon is a Member of the Order of Ontario and Order of Canada and is the recipient of honorary doctorates. Ms. Gordon is an Ashoka Fellow (Globalizer) and sits on the Ashoka Global Board out of Washington DC. Roots of Empathy is quoted in more than 400 Academic journals and both Ms. Gordon and the program have been featured in the New York Times, the LA Times, the Washington Post, the BBC, The Globe and Mail, Time Magazine, Japan’s NHK, CBC and in features on PBS, CNN, NBC and the Huffington Post. She has written many articles, book chapters, children’s books and her book, Roots of Empathy: Changing the World Child by Child, is a Canadian bestseller and is available in multiple languages.


Continue Your Learning


Click here to visit the Roots of Empathy website


Click here to watch the video: What is Roots of Empathy?

Click here to read the BBC's The baby tackling bullying at school which has been viewed 24 million times worldwide

Click here to read about Roots of Empathy's selection as a top 100 innovation in education by

Click here to ready about Mary Gordon receiving the 2018 Governor General’s Innovation Award


Shelley Murphy has authored a book titled “Fostering Mindfulness: Building Skills That Students Need to Manage Their Attention, Emotions, and Behavior in Classrooms and Beyond.” Published by Pembroke Publishers, the book provides readers with an essential guide to mindfulness activities and practices that help students develop the skills they need for self-regulation, stress management, learning and more.


Here is TVO TeachOntario In Conversation with Shelley Murphy


1) What is mindfulness and how does it work for children?


Mindfulness is a disposition or trait and it’s a practice. As a trait, it’s the quality of presence we bring to our experience in the moment. It turns out, though, that our ability to focus on what’s happening in the moment is not very good. This is where the practice of mindfulness can help. We get better at being mindful when we purposely practice every day. We can think of it as a skill that can be strengthened over time, much like strength training for our brains. Children, like adults, can learn to become more aware of their internal and external experiences. They can learn to better manage their attention, emotions and responses, and be more compassionate and kind towards themselves and others through mindfulness-based activities.


2) It seems that educators are becoming increasingly interested in implementing ways to foster mindfulness in the classroom. Why do you think this is?


I think interest in fostering mindfulness in classroom settings has grown because there’s now a depth and breadth of research showing the benefits of mindfulness for strengthening habits of mind central to learning, emotion regulation and well-being. Teachers are concerned about rising levels of stress and anxiety that seem to be pervasive amongst students. When students are in a heightened state of stress, the part of their brain that is necessary for thinking, reasoning, emotion regulation, and learning is less readily available to them. Teachers want to provide children with opportunities to cultivate the skills they need to manage their stress and meet each moment of their school day and beyond with greater awareness, attention and resilience. Mindfulness helps them do that.


3) For educators thinking about bringing mindfulness into the classroom, where should they start?


I believe it is important for teachers to begin with a personal mindfulness practice before introducing it to their students. I often get asked: “what is the most powerful mindfulness strategy for the classroom?” My answer is always: “your own practice”. Even if teachers never introduce mindfulness to their students, if they commit to their own practice, there is almost always a positive ripple effect in the classroom. Furthermore, findings from my experience in the field and my own research align with the wider body of studies that have found when teachers practice mindfulness, they have decreased levels of stress, improved relationships with students, and greater resilience.

If educators are interested in taking the next step of introducing mindfulness to their students, activities and practices should align with current scientific understanding and be offered in trauma sensitive ways. By doing so, mindfulness will be designed to support the safety and stability of their students.


4) What do you think the role of mindfulness is in contributing to equitable and just environments both within our schools and within wider communities?


Emerging research shows that mindfulness can reduce prejudice, implicit bias and biased behaviours. It can also help us respond with more empathy, compassion and awareness of our interconnectedness. While a growing body of research shows the benefits of mindfulness for improving students’ social, emotional and cognitive development and well-being, it is important to understand the larger frame around the social conditions that influence these. Mindfulness helps to teach skills and competencies so that students are better able to manage what is challenging them. However, it should not be understood as a way for students to more easily accept experiences of racism, discrimination, oppression, marginalization, etc.


For educators who are interested in bringing mindfulness into their classrooms, it is important that it’s integrated into a culturally responsive and antiracist approach to teaching. My hope is that mindfulness would be offered in tandem with a commitment to teaching about, responding to, and taking action toward access, equity, and social justice in school systems and beyond.



More about our guest on In Conversation with ...


Shelley Murphy, PhD is a lecturer and researcher at OISE/University of Toronto. She teaches graduate courses in Special Education, Mental Health, and Mindfulness in Education in the Department of Curriculum, Teaching, and Learning. She is a former elementary teacher and has been a mindfulness practitioner and educator for over 20 years. She has extensive training in the science and practice of trauma-sensitive mindfulness. Her research interests include teacher education, wellbeing, and mindfulness in education settings. Shelley is the recipient of A Mindful Society’s 2019 Michele Chaban Spirit of Leadership Award for her work and research in the field.


Click here for a link to Shelley Murphy's page at the University of Toronto, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.



Continue Your Learning


Click here for a link to Shelley Murphy's website Fostering Mindfulness.


Click here to order or for more information on “Fostering Mindfulness: Building Skills That Students Need to Manage Their Attention, Emotions, and Behavior in Classrooms and Beyond.” from Pembrooke Publishers 


Kenneth Oppel is the author of numerous books for young readers. His award-winning Silverwing trilogy has sold over a million copies worldwide and was adapted into an animated TV series and stage play. His books are adored by readers of all ages and lucky for them, he is prolific! He writes across genres, topics and themes and has authored books that are staples in Canadian classrooms, libraries and homes. He has just released Bloom, the first in The Bloom Trilogy, which is a riveting story about an environmental disaster and the three teens who appear to be immune to it. Part 2 in the series, Hatch, is being released in the fall. Born in British Columbia, Ken lives in Toronto with his family.


Here is TVO TeachOntario In Conversation with Kenneth Oppel


1) How did you start writing? Do you have any anecdotes about when you were just starting out? 


After the first Star Wars movie came (when I was 10 years old), I decided I wanted to write my very own magnificent science fiction epic. Naturally I wasn’t going to call my story Star Wars; I settled on the much more original title, Star Ship. I began work in a Hilroy School Exercise Book. Interlined for help forming those tricky lower-case letters. All thirty-eight pages are filled.


I still have this notebook. I wrote in pen, pencil and brown marker. I was already making rudimentary efforts to edit. There were numerous crossings-out. I replaced a limp “walked” with the more expressive “scurried”. I labeled blocks of text with instructions on where and how they should be reshuffled. I marked potential chapter breaks. I left myself stern notes which said: “go to page 1-3A” or in emphatic capitals, simply: “REWRITE”. It made me realize how little my life has changed in 41 years.


I can’t tell you what it was about my story was about with any accuracy, other than a group of brave male space warriors in amazing spaceships, blowing up alien spaceships, and occasionally landing in various space stations to sizzle more aliens, who I now suspect were probably quite undeserving of their fates.


At some point I must have decided that Star Ship was a rather anodyne title, and boldly crossed out all references to it on the front and back covers. Instead I was going to call it Rebellion. I believe this late change of title coincided with a flagging of resolve on my part -- and not long thereafter, I abandoned work on the manuscript – sensing, I think, that it was more and more becoming a pastiche of Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica. My own imagination was not yet ready to kick in and transform my source material into something more original.



2) What books are you reading at the moment? 


Right now I’ve got David Copperfield (Charles DIckens) on the go, and don’t know why I’ve avoided him for so long. He’s a great humourist and his characters are so vivid, and his stories so utterly satisfying. Before that I read Emily of New Moon, a childhood favourite of mine, and still a delight to read. Before that, an upcoming book by Eric Walters called King of Jam Sandwiches which is heartfelt and harrowing, and before that I read Tim Wynne-Jones wonderful collection of stories, War at the Snow White Motel. And before THAT, it was another Victorian novel, Wilkie Collins’ Woman in White. Those Victorians really knew how to put a story together!



3) What/who inspires you today?


Oh, I’m easily inspired. Could be a scene in a book or a movie, or a landscape, or a good climbing tree, or a display in a museum, my own family, a dream, a pandemic. Ideas come fairly easily to me, which is why, over the years I’ve filled countless notebooks. Very few ideas become finished stories, but by writing them down, I give them a chance to germinate and grow. I interrogate them, and transcribe their answers, and those might lead to secondary questions, which in turn give me more answers. Sometimes I start to see a beginning, middle and end to the story. I’ll put together a rough outline, and if I’m still excited about it, I might type chapter one and see what happens. I’m getting better at figuring out which story ideas are good to go.



4) How are you holding up during these times? 


Fairly well. My work is solitary, and I’ve always worked from home, so I’m very fortunate little has changed for me, in terms of work regimen. Psychologically, I’ve found this a rather anxiety-inducing and dispiriting time, especially with the recent instances of horrific racism and police brutality in North America. I’m alternately encouraged and discouraged by humanity. But when I work, I try to focus on the world of my story, and shut it all out. I’m incredibly fortunate to be able to do what I do.


5) Your latest trilogy begins with the novel Bloom in which the world is besieged by an invasive plant. Where did you find your inspiration for this story?


It came from two places. The first was a sentence I’d had banging around in my head: “There was a dead patch in the garden where nothing grew.” I liked it and wrote it down in my Ideas notebook. I wondered about this dead patch, why nothing grew there, and daydreamed about something buried deep in the soil, something ominous, something that one day might come up. And what if it did? What would it be? So, I had that idea, but nothing more really happened to it, until my eldest daughter told me this amazing nightmare she’d had.


In the dream, she is walking outside and it begins to rain. Amongst the raindrops are little eggs that hatch to release countless strange insects. Terrified, she runs for cover under a bridge, and there on the ground is a man, in the process of being eaten by a bug that is much, much larger than the others.

When my daughter told me this dream, I thought: That is a pretty good dream. Naturally I had to have it. Like all good scenes or images, it triggered an avalanche of questions. Why is it raining eggs? What’s inside them? Who is the kid?

I stepped back and imagined a story in which, after a global rainfall, strange plants start appearing worldwide. Nothing kills them. They crowd out crops and produce a storm of pollen that everyone is very allergic to, except three kids who live on Salt Spring Island, in British Columbia -- a part of the world I’m very familiar with.

Anaya, Seth, and Petra are, for some reason, impervious to all the other invasive plants that begin to appear: the sleep-inducing vines that strangle you, the buried pit plants that grow under lawns and fields and sidewalks and roads and digest whatever might fall into them.


Anaya, Petra and Seth aren’t friends, but they’re quickly thrown together when the government takes an interest in them, and wants to know why they’re immune, and whether they can fashion vaccines from them.

That’s all I’m going to tell you. If you go ahead and read Bloom -- and its sequel Hatch, coming this September -- you’ll find my daughter’s dream, the one that started it all. I barely had to change a thing.



More about our guest on In Conversation with ...


Here's a link to Kenneth Oppel's personal author website

Here's a link to Kenneth Oppel's bibliography

Here's a link to Kenneth Oppel's page on Harper Collins



Lana Parker and Diane Vetter are educators, mentors and researchers who have co-authored a book titled “Mentoring Each Other: Teachers Listening, Learning, and Sharing to Create More Successful Classrooms.” Lana is an Assistant Professor at the University of Windsor and Diane is a Course Director at York University.


Published by Pembroke Publishers, the book explores ways teachers can collaborate and learn from each other in both formal and informal mentoring relationships. Based on extensive experience, the book includes personal histories and experiences around important values and advocates for honest reflection and meaningful feedback. This approach to mentoring is applicable to a broad range of professional learning communities, and the increase in new teachers entering the system makes the book a much-needed resource for beginning teachers.


Here is TVO TeachOntario In Conversation with Lana Parker and DIane Vetter


1) How might we foster and sustain mentoring partnerships in the virtual space?


Strong mentoring partnerships begin and are sustained through careful relationship building and a reciprocal stance that values what both partners bring to the mentoring relationship.


Our book is organised according to key topics, with particular “Mentoring Moves” that teachers can use to: develop mentoring relationships; share knowledge and enhance skills development; and create opportunities for reciprocal learning, community-building and leadership. The book actually lends itself really well to the online environment, as different Mentoring Moves can be engaged in each online meeting.


If you are early in the relationship and you want to learn more about your partner, you can read about and access our Mentoring Move “Making Connections.” If you are further along in your relationship and want to co-learn and co-plan using new resources, you can use our Mentoring Move “Inquiring Collaboratively” to guide the planning process. Mentors and mentees who want to inquire about new practices or ideas in education can review our Mentoring Move “Opening Up Practice.”


There are 29 Mentoring Moves in the book, all of which lend themselves to face-to-face and online connections. We also offer suggestions for how to adapt some of these moves for classroom use with your students.



2) How can educators become mentors? What are the attributes and best practices that are essential in creating these partnerships?


Most educators are naturally and organically mentors. What we have discovered is that many educators serve as informal mentors in their school communities without becoming part of an official mentoring program. What we hope to do in this book is recognize all of the mentoring practices that already permeate schools, and offer formal and informal mentors some insights into particular strategies, tools and practices that can grow and deepen their impact.


Over the course of our work, mentors and mentees shared two key concerns with us: needing adequate time to meet with their partner and having access to immediately helpful tools and strategies. Our Mentoring Moves address many aspects of teacher planning, goal sharing, offering feedback and co-learning. We wanted to give educators some high impact resources that allow them to make the best use of the limited time they have.


3) In your research and inquiry, what did the mentors/mentees tell you about the ways in which these relationships supported their learning?


One of the most important findings that emerged from our research and experiences in the field is that both mentors and mentees learn from engaging in a mentoring relationship. Mentors learn to see their practice through fresh eyes. They often experiment with new ideas and tools in collaboration with their mentees. These gains are reflected in teachers’ pedagogy and have real, immediate impact in the classroom for students.



More about our guests on In Conversation With ...

Lana Parker is an Assistant Professor at the University of Windsor’s Faculty of Education. A specialist in language and literacy, Lana has taught at the elementary level and has spent several years as a Mentor Leader. Lana writes about the influence of politics on educational policy and discourse, and about the possibilities for ethically informed pedagogy. Lana lives in Toronto.



Diane Vetter is a Course Director for the Faculty of Education at York University. The author of journal articles and a popular keynote speaker, Diane’s research interests include mentoring, teacher education, and cross-curricular infusion of Indigenous perspectives, traditions, and cultures. Diane has taught in the elementary grades and served as a teacher mentor. Diane lives in Barrie, Ontario.




Continue Your Learning


Click here to order or for more information on “Mentoring Each Other: Teachers Listening, Learning, and Sharing to Create More Successful Classrooms” from Pembrooke Publishers 


Click here for an example of a Mentoring Move excerpted from "Mentoring Each Other"