Conversations with School Leaders

This is a podcast that engages school leaders across Ontario in authentic conversations about their passion and expertise in K - 12 education. We hope listeners will gain practical insights and strategies from each other to enhance learning and strengthen their school communities. Most importantly, this podcast will highlight stories, perspectives and the joy of school leadership! 

Podcast Hosts

Photo of Lawrence DeMaeyerPhoto of Susie Lee-Fernandes

Lawrence DeMaeyer 

Professional Learning Consultant, Ontario Principals’ Council 

Susie Lee-Fernandes

Director of Professional Learning and Engagement, Ontario Principals’ Council 

Share Your Story

Please consider joining us as a guest by completing our brief proposal form.

Leadership Talks Proposal Form


Listen here or visit voicEd Radio. We invite you to subscribe, follow, favorite, comment or just listen. 

*Episode transcripts now available!

Episode 0 - Leadership Talks: Getting Started


In Episode 0 - Leadership Talks: Getting Started, join our hosts Susie and Lawrence to hear more about what Leadership Talks is all about. We are looking forward to our conversations with leaders in education sharing their passions, areas of expertise and authentic stories about what drives their leadership journey.

Episode 0 Transcript PDF

Episode 1 - Support to Thrive: Bolstering Resilience and Mental Health in Schools

Our Guest 

Dr. Kingsley Hurlington, Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board


Joining us in conversation is Kingsley Hurlington to discuss the question - Ever wonder why some youth are seemingly crushed by stress in their lives while others seem to thrive? Resilience is the capacity of individuals to navigate their way to well-being in the face of adversity. In an interactive workshop, we will explore how the principles of resilience can be applied by teachers with individual students, classroom communities and entire schools in practical and meaningful ways that bolster social, emotional, mental – and ultimately – academic and personal success.

Episode 1 Transcript PDF

Episode 2 - Principalship at High Priority / High Needs Elementary Schools
Our Guest 

Umar Qureshi, Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board


In an elementary school that is deemed "high need" within Ontario, the context of the learning is as important as what is being taught and by whom. In our conversation with Umar Qureshi, he discusses his research proposal compiling leadership competencies and standardized considerations to support school leaders. Could leadership considerations be added to the Ontario Leadership Framework (OLF) given the diverse academic and socio-economic circumstances at high need elementary schools in Ontario? A consistent leadership framework to address the student achievement gap would be beneficial with the layered nature of school principalship.

The question of how to effectively support student achievement for at-risk students in high need schools must be addressed to ensure educational equity. A systemic and structured leadership framework that consistently supports students Ontario-wide is important to implement in order to ensure an equity based school leadership approach that will reduce student achievement gaps.

Episode 2 Transcript PDF

Episode 3 - Leading Innovation, Finding and Activating School Leaders

Our Guest

Jennifer Shortreed, Waterloo Region District School Board


For this episode, we have Jennifer Shortreed joining us to share some of her experiences working on innovative structures that improve student outcomes over the years, most frequently in Design thinking, Student Success and Online Learning.

As a System Principal with 15 years secondary administrative experience, she has activated staff on innovation in new modular credits in student success, innovation labs with packaged credits, remote learning that centers the student, and recently blended learning. In this conversation, Jennifer outlines leadership moves, relationship tools, and the key aspects needed to ensure success on an innovation in your school, across schools, or across the system. When students are in the heart of a human centered design process, the unimaginable becomes a practical reality.

Episode 3 Transcript PDF

Episode 4 - Supporting 2SLGBTQQIA+ Staff and Students

Our Guest

Barry Bedford, Simcoe County District School Board


Please note that this topic may be challenging for different reasons, and while it is not our intent to cause anxiety or stress to anyone participating or listening, we acknowledge that this may be the experience for some people. If needed, we encourage you to reach out for support to a trusted friend or colleague, another personal resource or your organization’s Employee Assistance Program.

In this session, Barry Bedford joins us to discuss the realities of being 2SLGBTQQIA+ in today's schools. There is a need to challenge homophobia and heterosexism in school communities (unintentional or intentional) to help create safer, more inclusive learning environments and workspaces. As school leaders, let’s think about how to model best practices for including 2SLGBTQQIA+ issues.

Episode 4 Transcript PDF

Episode 5 - School / Community Read Alouds

Our Guest

Gurmeet Gill, Peel District School Board


Gurmeet Gill, our guest in this episode of Leadership Talks, has been using school wide and community read alouds to bring the community together. The intentional selection of books support school success goals around equity, including celebrating Black Excellence, learning about Canadian history with the lens of Truth and Reconciliation, and celebrates our students and community. Gurmeet’s support of read alouds, engaged community members, students and staff as her schools’ special guests and as readers. She invites you to embrace your passion, be intentional and take risks as a leader. For herself, she has found exciting work in this area that continues to flourish in many ways.

Episode 5 Transcript PDF

Episode 6 - Teaching Learning Walks and Rolls: Co-creating Learning

Our Guest

Dr. Beverly Freedman, Educational Services Consultant


Update - Shortly after the release of this episode, we received feedback that the term “walks” is not inclusive as not all individuals walk. We should have included terminology that is universal and does not stem from ableism. We decided to keep this episode availableas it does highlight ideas and strategies to support instructional leadership.As we re-evaluate resources, strategies, etc. to support leadership, we are committed to intentional learning about ableism in schooling and society, including our language, that perpetuate bias, barriers and oppression.We encourage our Members to learn more about ableism in education and to reflect on how that shows up in their practice as they find other learnings within this podcast. 

In this conversation, we chat with Bev Freedman about how COVID disrupted the ways we, as leaders, engage in schools and classrooms. She reminds us of the importance of intentional monitoring of teaching/learning in classrooms.

Teaching Learning Walks and Rolls (TLWR) provides a framework to capture observations not only individual classrooms, but rather a broader analysis across classrooms creating a tapestry of learning. There isn't an emphasis on a single data point, instead TLWR uses the data across multiple visits to classrooms, across all grades and subjects, as assessment for learning. When combined with other information, observational data can be used to develop trends and patterns to inform system/school planning. Providing collegial feedback using observational data becomes a form of pedagogical documentation providing the basis for collaborative inquiry, which can increase collective efficacy.

Presence in classrooms also increases principal credibility, because feedback is job-embedded, based on on-going, evidence-based teacher practice. TLWRs moves the practice from automatic to intentional using a framework to focus on various forms of evidence in teacher practice. Effective leaders are present and collaborative. TLWRs are evidence-based. Engaging and collaborating – purposeful presence is good for your health and your mind.

Let us engage, be purposefully present and learn together!


Teaching Learning Walks.pdf

*Please note that the monograph is for the personal and professional use of OPC Members and Associates. The materials should not be re-distributed or used publicly, or with staff or other groups, without permission from the author.

Episode 6 Transcript PDF

Episode 7 - Supporting Technological Education

Our Guest

Brent Coakwell, Halton District School Board


With the current demand for Technological Education for Kindergarten – Grade 12, Brent Coakwell joins us on Leadership Talks to share his passion for the trades. He’ll discuss how it’s possible to empower and enhance the experience for students, while supporting principals in an area many are looking to develop a deeper understanding. There are ways principals can help each other through the deep work needed to build capacity in Technological Education. Brent also talks about considerations for planning, timetabling, budgeting, and safety, as well as supporting and mentoring new Tech staff as they enter the field of education. Don’t miss this episode!

Episode 7 Transcript PDF

Episode 8 - Leveraging Student Voice through Culturally Relevant and Responsive Pedagogy

Our Guest

Andrea Carnegie, Peel District School Board


At Andrea Carnegie’s school, they work on leveraging student voices, especially the voices of Black, Indigenous and students who have been historically marginalized. This empowers students to have more ownership and agency over their learning.

For this episode of Leadership Talks, Andrea shares with us the importance of grounding teaching and learning through a variety of pedagogical practices, such as, Culturally Relevant and Responsive Pedagogy (CRRP) and the emphasis on students' intersecting identities. She touches upon how student voices are leveraged, the tools and resources that are necessary for student voices to be amplified, how amplifying student voices can have the ability to re-culturize learning spaces, and the impact that centering student voices has on student learning and well-being.

Episode 8 Transcript PDF

Episode 9 - Neuroaffirmative Human Rights Informed Practice

Our Guest

Karen Timm, Durham District School Board


Our conversation with Karen Timm spotlights her passion and expertise in neurodiversity.

Neuroaffirmative practice is an essential skill for school leaders, though many may not yet feel equipped to lead in this area. As the growing body of authentically informed research shows, embracing neurodifferences through human rights informed practice is not just beneficial for neurodivergent students and staff, but it fosters anti-oppressive thinking and helps to create habits of mind which are anti-colonial, anti-racist and anti-ableist. When activated through an intersectional approach, our efforts to embrace communication differences, normalise stimming and foster acceptance of authentic ways of being, can have a lasting impact across all dimensions of equity. By challenging ourselves to reframe outdated notions of “normal”, we can become better equipped to lead change that benefits all. By unlearning with intentionality alongside our school communities, we can build safe, inclusive and accessible learning and working environments.

Neuroaffirmative practice is pivotal on this journey. As an Autistic school leader and founder of the Neurodivergent Infinity Network of Educators (NINE) and the NeuroRealMe affinity network for school leaders, Karen is uniquely positioned to support critical reflection, unlearning and neuroaffirmative school improvement planning. Join as a co-learner on this journey to reframing normal!


Episode 9 Transcript PDF

 Episode 10 - Personal Leadership Journey as an Arab Woman
Our Guest

Diane Merhi, Ottawa-Carlton District School Board


Diane Merhi's story is a testament to the fact that there is no one set pathway to leadership. In this Leadership Talks, Diane shares her personal journey, beginning as an office administrator, transitioning to educational assistant, and eventually taking on teaching and leadership roles. Her lived experiences as a first-generation immigrant navigating the school system, combined with her experiences as an educator, have deeply informed her approach to leadership.  
Diane also discusses the importance of representation, including different perspectives when building your staff team and actively cultivating inclusive spaces for students and the school community so that they feel they belong. She points out that there is no “easy button” to leadership and encourages colleagues to believe in their self-determination, hard work and resilience. She invites everyone to continue to question current practices and processes to create positive change.  
Listen now for more valuable takeaways shared by Diane Merhi.

Episode 10 Transcript PDF

Episode 11 - Leading Through Challenging Situations

Our Guest

Steve Oliver - Halton District School Board


School leaders are tasked with ensuring the health and safety of the students and staff in school buildings. Many would wonder how to manage when a challenging situation elevates to a level that is out-of-the ordinary.

Steve Oliver joins the Leadership Talks team for a conversation to share his journey and what he learned from handling a high profile situation so that colleagues can recognize the resources that are at their disposal to navigate challenging circumstances, while leading in a way that prioritizes and supports the wellness and resiliency of the students and staff in their school community.

Episode 11 Transcript PDF

Episode 12 - STEM Education Leadership Through Inclusive Design

Our Guest

Lisa Cole – Director of Programming, k2i academy | Lassonde School of Engineering | York University


In this episode, Lisa Cole shares how inclusive design approaches may provide an opportunity to co-design and co-implement programs that make system impact in STEM education. She plays a pivotal role at York University’s Lassonde School of Engineering, which launched k2i (kindergarten to industry) academy in June 2020 with a mission to create an ecosystem of diverse partners, committed to dismantling systemic barriers to opportunities for underrepresented students in STEM. The k2i academy engages with youth by bringing STEM to life – connecting directly to school boards and their classrooms, offering innovative work-integrated learning programs, and partnering with community organizations to provide unique, hands-on STEM learning opportunities. Today, they have grown to reach 27,000+ students, teachers, families, and community members, spending 230,000+ hours in virtual and face-to-face engagements, generating almost $6M in funding.  

The k2i academy works with system leaders in publicly funded school boards. They are committed to working with diverse partners to question current systems, create opportunities for collaboration, investigate challenges, and design approaches to implement in partnership.  

Episode 12 Transcript PDF

Episode 13 - Equity and Mental Health: Strategies for Navigating Challenges

Our Guest

Anjali Bajaj - Toronto District School Board


For this episode of Leadership Talks, we welcome Anjali Bajaj, a secondary vice-principal with the Toronto District School Board.

Anjali shares how leading for equity impacts the mental health of school administrators, a topic which she presented in the spring of 2023 OPC Vice-principal Symposium. While acknowledging post-pandemic realities, there is a greater need to support student & staff mental health due to tensions faced by school leaders. The impact of trauma / stress on our health and practice, include compassion fatigue and racial battle fatigue. What then are the tangible practices that are available for aligning both self & community care. How do we to hold colleagues/staff accountable to equity practices, while also maintaining personal wellness? This is where strategies such as mentoring/coaching of equity conversations, the SMHO cultural humility tool and the importance of partnerships can be used to widen the circle of care around a school community.

Episode 13 Transcript PDF

Episode 14 - Debunking the Myths Around Virtual Learning

Our Guests

  • Raquel Cariati-Cardoso, Peel District School Board
  • Sumeeta Merwar, Peel District School Board

As the school leaders of Peel Elementary Virtual School, Raquel Cariati-Cardoso and Sumeeta Merwar, have comprehensive understanding of virtual learning's role in the educational landscape. Their insights are backed by practical experience that focus on ensuring that students' diverse needs are met effectively in an innovative virtual space. Having been at the forefront of implementing virtual learning methods that cater to individual student, Raquel and Sumeeta have many success stories and examples that demonstrate how virtual learning has positively impacted the students that attend virtual school. There is flexibility to provide comprehensive support, specialized resources and an inclusive learning environment for all students. This is not the same virtual learning that happened during the pandemic.

Episode 14 Transcript PDF

Episode 15 - Special Education 6-week Co-learning and Instructional Cycle

Our Guests
  • Dinusha Gunasingham, Peel District School Board

  • Samantha Stephen, Peel District School Board


This conversation is with Dinusha Gunasingham and Samantha Stephen, who join us as representatives of the Transformational Administrators' Network; a group of administrators and educators invested in championing change management. With a focus on whole school implementation (for the benefit of ALL students), this group co-created the Transformative Administrators' Toolkit (TAT), an administrative toolkit that includes resources, materials, tools and frameworks that can be utilized by administrators to shift white supremacy culture by deprivatizing practice, employing evidence-based processes, setting direction through high expectations, centering and affirming students’ intersecting identities and fostering a climate of collaboration, responsibility and accountability that includes students, families and staff as active agents. 
Dinusha and Samantha highlight for listeners how they have used the 6-week Co-learning and Instructional Cycle, included in the TAT toolkit, to foster positive student outcomes. It is a proactive, responsive and intentional tool created to action a transformative process to address disproportionalities in special education. The framework provides scaffolded support for educators to work in community with students, families and colleagues using critical discourse to complete an evidence-based process with a focus on problematizing practice and not students, as well as encouraging ongoing and purposeful critical reflection of current pedagogy.  
Although the team was not able to consolidate all 6-weeks of the cycle in the podcast episode due to time constraints, they wanted to express for listeners that Weeks 4-6 continue with the collection of student and staff driven dialogue and data. Then analysis of the specific goals and intentional teaching strategies for when, in Week 6, a review team comes together to assess if the cycle should:

  1. Continue.

  2. If a referral to ISSP for a more intensive evaluation of supports (both school and / or community based) is required.

  3. Discontinue with monitoring.  

The purpose of the 6-week Co-learning and Instructional Cycle is to action, in the most effective and intentional way, an individualized program to meet students' specific academic and socio-emotional needs using informed instruction. 
To further benefit students and support colleagues the Transformational Administrators' Network is open to sharing more information* on the TAT toolkit. Contact:

*Note, the tool will only be shared with support in understanding the conceptualization. This allows the creators to ensure that the elements, use and framework are not used in a manner that operates outside of their original vision. They welcome inquires from anyone who is interested and open to a conversation and/or learning session.

Episode 15 Transcript PDF

More coming soon...

Next episode anticipated for June 26.

Get notified when new episodes are released by signing up for our mailer using the button below or by hitting the Subscribe to this Page button under the right menu of this page.

Professional Learning Opportunities