Making Authentic Connections to Students’ Learning

Document created by teachontarioteam on Feb 15, 2019Last modified by on May 27, 2019
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In this installment of TeachOntario Talks, we are profiling and celebrating the work of Mellissa Connolly and her amazing Teacher Learning and Leadership Program (TLLP) project, “LEAP (Literacy Evaluation and Applied Practices)” at St. John’s College in the Brant Haldimand Norfolk Catholic District School Board. Mellissa and her colleagues, Christine O’Sullivan, Stella Iliopoulos-DaSilva, Lee Bowen, Agata Kowalski, Toni Merks and Jackie Whiting embarked on a journey with their students and their shared passion for literacy and an understanding of the impact of SES (socioeconomic status) in their learning. Mellissa is presently working as a Literacy Consultant.


Connolly used LEAP, and an understanding of the impact SES (socioeconomic status) has on students’ literacy skills, classroom learning, attendance, and suspension rates. Mellissa used an inquiry approach through LEAP, to help students become more successful and confident learners. Connolly’s group of educators explored various ideas such as using cross-curricular work, understanding the impact of poverty, and growth mindset to engage reluctant learners and build relationships with the students. This led to increased completion of work and provided them with strategies for self-regulation.


MellissaConnollyArtboard 1-100.jpgMellissa noted that students often struggled with making authentic connections to their learning and course work. By using LEAP’s strategies, educators were able to reach at-risk learners. They incorporated literacy (graphic novels and smash books), art, and social studies. The LEAP strategies program provides experiential and project-based opportunities to meet the varied learning styles of all students. Students used Smash Books (scrapbook and journal) by moving around their classrooms, their schools, even their communities to engage in unique, and authentic adventures. Students, especially boys, responded favourably to the voice and choice that colourful, interactive Smash Books provided them during their learning.


During this TLLP, educators collaborated to create engaging activities to use in their classrooms. This project became a cross-curricular whole-school affair. Educators noted the changes in the way that their students dealt with challenges and used their new skills to help them master new content. An increased engagement was especially noted for male students across various grades. The OSSLT scores for boys in applied classes increased by 16% the year that the LEAP program was introduced. The project focused on preparing students for success by promoting:

  • re-engagement in school
  • basic skill development in numeracy and literacy
  • development of social skills through collaborative learning opportunities
  • use of technology to support skills acquisition where appropriate
  • develop positive self-esteem as learners.MellissaConnollyArtboard 2 copy 3-100.jpg


The rich learning that came from the LEAP project has intrigued other educators both within the board and across the province. Mellissa and her group of educators are in a unique position to empower their students by embedding strategies that foster students’ mental health, growth mindset, relationships skills, and motivation to do well in school, all of which supports student success. Many of the educators who participated in the TLLP have moved on to leadership roles within Brant Haldimand Norfolk Catholic District School Board. The impact of the LEAP project is transformative and is felt both inside and outside of the classroom.