Rebecca DiLeo: Capturing the "heArts" and minds of a diverse student

Year: 2018 – Province: Ontario

Transcription – Rebecca DiLeo-2018 Prime Minister's Awards for Teaching Excellence

[Black screen fades up to close-up of woman in interview setting, against a mottled background. Music playing.]

[Caption: Rebecca DiLeo, Central Toronto Academy]

[Rebecca speaking in the interview setting alternates with voice over accompanied by still photos, as follows: Rebecca and a dozen students posing in fancy dress, holding a picture frame and various add-ons on sticks, such as big red lips and moustaches; students in brightly coloured skirts and “Choose Love” t-shirts outside school as part of Pride celebrations; Rebecca with four students similarly dressed outside school; students watching a dancer; and student spray-painting a sign.]

Rebecca DiLeo: The number one factor that contributes to student learning would definitely be the art of collaboration. It would be students coming together with one another, teachers collaborating with students, and students and teachers collaborating with professionals out in the community. So, I would really suggest, tap into that community, get the students together, get them working together, create that energy, create that synergy. It really leads to a much stronger, more impactful final result.

[Rebecca speaking in interview setting alternates with voice over accompanied by still photos, as follows: a group of students and teachers pretending to be at a campfire sing-along; a large group of students crowded together in front of a mural; Rebecca in a dance studio with three students jumping high behind her, taken in the mirror; and exterior of Central Toronto Academy.]

Rebecca DiLeo: I feel at Central Toronto Academy, we are essentially creating that perfect space, together, collaboratively, as a team of teachers and students. Students are very invested in the transformation of the space within our building—literally, physically, inspirationally. At Central Toronto Academy, we don’t like to refer to the classrooms as classrooms. We refer to the spaces as studios, so students get into the mindset that they are in a real working environment, because that they are. We make all our spaces very, very inviting—for students and our community connectors, parents that walk in. Everyone is, like, ‘Wow! This is a high school? This is not like my typical high school experience anymore.’ So, the spaces are always evolving and transforming, based on student needs and interests, and what they want. And, they’re managing the spaces and they’re very hands-on.

[Cut to Rebecca standing with a microphone, making presentation to fellow recipients, with a student at a podium in the background.]

Rebecca DiLeo: Technology has had such a positive impact with my students at our school because we are very social-media savvy.

[Cut back to Rebecca speaking in interview setting, and then alternating with voice over accompanied by video of Rebecca and her students making presentation to recipients, and still photos, as follows: Rebecca and a student on a city street setting up a photo; and Rebecca and a group of students selling their branded clothing under a yellow tent on the street.]

Rebecca DiLeo: Try and bring social media into the classroom whenever possible. It’s just such a great tool to communicate. Technology needs to really be part of the every day narrative and language within the classroom when it comes to using digital equipment, possibly for filmmaking or photography. Within the graphics class, students take their artwork off their sketchbooks. They upload it onto the computer. They can tweak it in some of the apps, in Adobe, industry-professional software programming, and then they can take it off the computer and put it on to products. The image you present online should be the image you are presenting in real life as well.

[Rebecca speaking in interview setting alternates with voice over accompanied by video of Rebecca and her students addressing the recipients in front of a screen, and still photo of girl from the back, arms in the air, in front of the school.]

Rebecca DiLeo: My biggest piece of advice for pre-service teachers is to really find your niche within the school. Recognize what your passions are and find your way to navigate through the curriculum guidelines, to navigate through the system, and bring your passions to fruition. The more excited a teacher is about a project, that transfers to the student learning environment.

[Fade to black.]

[Cut to white screen, with the Government of Canada FIP followed by the Canada Wordmark.]

Certificate of Excellence Recipient

Rebecca DiLeo

Central Toronto Academy
570 Shaw Street
Toronto, ON  M6G 3L6

School telephone: 416-393-0030
School website:
Twitter: @BeckieDiLeo

Subjects and grades taught: Victory Lap, Visual Arts, Photography, Digital Media and Drama, grades 9–12

Rebecca DiLeo was part of a small team that transformed and revitalized an inner-city school on the brink of closing. She embraces the challenges that come with teaching a very diverse group of students from many countries, cultures and socio-economic backgrounds with enthusiasm and creativity.

Teaching approach

Rebecca's arts department is called the "HeArts Department" for a reason: students think, do and act with their hearts and minds. She teaches young people respect and to be conscious of the environment, all while providing engaging opportunities to express their creativity and look to careers in the arts.

In the Classroom

  • Emphasizes collaboration with professionals in the areas of art, music, design, fashion, technology and entrepreneurship: students learn not only creative skills but also about pursuing the arts as a career, even going through a Dragon's Den-style competition to have their designs produced
  • Encourages students to "do good" with social media and use it as a tool to communicate and share information: students create accounts to display artwork, share their voice and build online portfolios; they also develop social media content for businesses and social causes
  • Takes students out into the community to learn from and network with industry insiders—at art galleries, fashion shows, and art and design school—to help students forge a path after high school
  • Infuses all projects with concepts of inclusion and social justice: Muslim students worked on a line of hijab and abaya; students design t-shirts featuring slogans about bullying and respect, and take part in the Pride parade; fundraisers in support of community groups are a regular feature of student life

Outstanding achievements

  • Students have their own product line (backpacks, sneakers, phone covers and clothing) that they design and sell online and in pop-up shops; funds return to the school to support arts programs
  • Designed the school's new logo, transformed the entire front half of the building into an art gallery, established a new drama space (BlackBox theatre) and a number of art studio spaces, and had local graffiti artists and visual art students decorate the entire school
  • Collaborated with business teacher to launch Business for the Arts program to give students the skills to become entrepreneurs who can start successful artistic and fashion businesses; she also launched a new Native Arts and Culture program
  • Named Toronto Star's 2017 Teacher of the Year and Canadian Art Educator of the Year

Rave reviews

Thank you so much for being such a dynamo of a teacher! You have always been such a fantastic support of mine—when I need it and even when I think I don't. Thank you for being you.