Organizing Against Islamophobia & the US Travel Ban

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Protestors march along Yonge Street Saturday, February 4 as part of a national day of action opposing hatred against Muslims.
I attended an event organized by my community, Parkdale’s Legal Services at the local library. The event focused on addressing Islamophobia in Canada, the province, and the community, as well as the impact of the travel ban on refugees and immigrants.
The event could have used more Muslim voices on the panel. There was only one Muslim woman on it, and her story was great to hear. I appreciated the fact that an attendee called this out. The organizers claim they tried to reach out to Muslims community members, and the local Imam, but they weren’t available.
One of the important things in organizing, whether it’s a movement, events, conferences, etc, is that you have a diverse representation of voices, but most importantly, the voices of those who you’re trying to specifically fight for.
The event was great and I’d like to share some of the key points here, so that others benefit. It’s important to note that while many Canadians believe that this ban impacts people in the US, it actually is a fact that this impacts people worldwide. So, as a Canadian citizen, and as a Muslim woman who was born in Iraq, it’s important that people recognize how this impacts me, my family, and millions of others who are dual citizens, refugees and immigrants in the US and Canada.
Some of the demands that were made in the event were:
  • To immediately suspend the Canada-US safe third country agreement, and conduct a review of whether the US still meets the designation of a “safe country” described in the agreement.
  • End the Canada refugee resettlement backlog by immediately landing Legacy Refugee claimants.
  • Lift cap on private sponsorship of Syrian refugees so that Parkdale community members can work together to bring refugees to safety.

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Resources to Teach about The #MuslimBan

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Thousands of protestors gathered at JFK airport in New York City Saturday in protest of people detained under Trump’s executive order Friday. Stephanie Keith, Getty.

Many educators are often afraid of discussing “controversial” issues in the classroom. The word “controversial” here puts a shroud on many relevant topics, such as politics, daily events, history, social justice issues, equality, and many others.

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What are you so afraid of? Having a healthy debate in the classroom? shouldn’t students be exposed to different perspectives than predominate hegemonic ones? Or are you afraid of “not getting it right”? if that’s the case, then one needs to take themselves out of the picture.

Discussing these issues in the classroom will not only benefit students’ knowledge, learning, and other critical thinking skills, but it’ll also be impacting the future generation. Do we want to raise kids who are complicit, docile, and shy away from having a point of view? Or do we want to raise strong citizens that can speak about their values and beliefs with conviction?

If you’re still worried about discussing the Muslim Ban in your classroom, I would suggest you read through this thread:

I didn’t create a lesson of my own, seeing I am not in the classroom currently, and frankly, this topic is still hard for me to discuss. There are though a few resources that you can use here:

  • #EduColor teacher and activist, Valencia Clay, created a #RefgueesWelcome lesson plan. It has great strategies on initiating the discussion with students, as well as several useful links and resources. Here is the lesson plan being use by fellow educator, Stephanie Hardinger’s 4th graders.

The last suggestion I’ll leave you with is, often times, all we need to be moved to create change is to look at images and analyze them:

#NoMuslimBan: A letter to my Muslim Brothers and Sisters

Alsalam alaikum,

How have you been? I know you’ve been suffering for a long time now. But this past weekend, we took a hard blow. We all did. Not one of us, all of us. It doesn’t matter if you are an Arab Muslim, an African Muslim, or a convert Muslim. Hearing that we are not welcome in a country we have helped to build has been something we’re just getting used to.

We go about our daily lives, work, family, homes, friends, and ignore the micro aggressions around us. We are good at ignoring the hatred, and bigotry that most of us encounter on a daily basis.

cladtwjvaamwo3nBut how can we keep going when there are now national policies being put in place to keep us out? How can we keep on living when our brothers and sisters, our family, our being kept away from us?

The Muslim Ban is a national threat to all of us. Not only Muslims, but everyone.

Where do you go when you’re surrounded by such reckless hate?

I have to breathe, and remind not only myself, and you, my brothers and sisters, that we can get through this. Our faith, our strength, and our solidarity can get us through this. We must stand up together, shoulder to shoulder, in the face of hatred and bigotry. We must not give in to evil. We must remain strong. And have faith that things will get better. And things will get better, because there is still some good in this world.

Yours truly,

A sister.

 

What is Impactful Work?

When I am asked “Why did you want to get into teaching?” my answer was often about making a difference, or creating an impact in education. That, and the fact that I also enjoyed working with young people who are still trying to figure out their goals in life.

ext-2Joining Ci.Strategy+Design, as an Educator-in-Residence, taught me a lot about Design Thinking, Entrepreneurship, Solution-Based Thinking, and more importantly, how to work with people to make an impact in the spaces you’re in.

What is Impact???

Google defines “impact” as: have a strong effect on someone or something.

extOur individual definition of impact can vary, from grand humanitarian acts that very few can compete with, to small acts of kindness that many of us can encounter on a daily basis. Mustefa Jo’shen, my partner at Ci.Strategy+Design, defines impact as “a third stage of a life-cycle, that begins with awareness, followed by engagement, which is measured by impact. That represents a change in the status quo.”

One of the most prominent social justice activist and Muslim women that I constantly look up to for meaningful and impactful work amongst many communities is Linda Sarsour. Her work is a constant source of inspiration to me and millions of people out there. To me, her impactful work goes through the cycle that Mustefa describes above, which is that it starts off with awareness. Sarsour constantly creates awareness campaigns about issues and causes that are meaningful to the communities, and puts urgent political and social issues at the forefront of her platform to educate and show people what’s at stake. Then she engages with the work, which means she actually goes and is on the ground doing the work herself, such as her most recent project, as an organizer for the #WomensMarch that occurred last Saturday January 21.

attends the Women's March on Washington on January 21, 2017 in Washington, DC.
Linda Sarsour. THEO WARGO VIA GETTY IMAGES, Women’s March, NY. 2017.

Work, any work, can be impactful. It’s up to us how to design experiences for the people we work for, the culture we’re in, and the people we serve, to make sure that the work that we do makes a difference.

These days, I am learning a lot about helping people create an impact and making a difference.

How to Create an Impact

  • Understand the needs of others: We can’t begin to make a difference without knowing what problem needs to be solved. When working with schools, organizations, or companies we need to first understand the need of the stakeholders, and what they’re looking for.
  • Be Flexible: It takes a bit of flexibility, and even some patience, when working with others, and figuring out the work process. This is worth the work, because often times, the bigger the impact, the more flexible we need to be.

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  • Little Steps, Big Difference: Don’t be discouraged by the how long the process and the timelines usually take. Often times, it takes quite a bit of time to work on and build something that is truly impactful. Also remember that those little milestones throughout the process, often make a big difference too.

 

 

 

If this sounds interesting to you, and you’d like to collaborate together, send me an email rusul@cfndrs.com. You can also check out the work we’re doing on our website. (We are doing research on our new design, and it can be accessed on a desktop).

Digital Writing for English Language Learners

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Book Cover by Rebeca Zuniga.

The best part about publishing a book is knowing how it’ll impact students and teachers to make writing and learning a bit easier for everyone. In 2015, I was approached by Rowman and Littlefield editor, Sarah Jubar, to write about English Language Learners. She had read some of my Edutopia, Education Week, and personal blogs and envisioned one book to help students in ELL classrooms.

I had a baby and a toddler at the time, and I didn’t think I could do it. It meant that I would need to write during evening hours. With a lot of support from family, I decided to go for it. I felt that if there was ever a right time for me to write a book, it was now, and I shouldn’t miss out on the opportunity.

Late evenings had me believe otherwise at times. Like many difficult things in life, I pushed through this one, because the final product sounded like such a great reward and well worth sleepless nights.

I am excited it’s finally here! My book is currently out on pre-order on Amazon, and will be out this coming Spring, sometime in April. This book has many amazing contributions from so many great people, and I can’t thank them enough for supporting my work and always championing my cause.

Here’s a summary of my book, if you’re interested in using it in your English Language classroom:

Digital Writing for English Language learners looks at practical ways educators can implement the use of technology in their English and Language Arts classroom for English Language Learners. The book provides a variety of classroom activities and assignments that can be completed with English Language Learners using social media and other digital writing tools. The book also looks at creating a culture that fosters the necessary conditions for student voice to thrive in an English Language Learners’ classroom.

The book is available to be pre-ordered on Amazon here, in hardcopy and paperback. It’s also available to pre-order on the publishers’ site.

Social Media & Digital Citizenship 

A recent article on The New York Times discussed the “Unspoken Rules Kids Create for Instagram“. The article focused on how kids (middle school, and some high school) had unwritten rules on ways they engage on social media. For example, what types of images to post, how often, etc.

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Common Sense Consus, 2016.

The one thing that stood out to me was how these rules were known amongst kids themselves, and actually had to be explained to the adults. We as adults, sometimes have the perception that kids don’t understand what it means to engage in a responsible way online. The rise of digital awareness and even being cognizant of cyberbullying issues in today’s youth could be as a result of the education that kids are receiving about digital literacy.

 

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Common Sense Media Census: Plugged in parents of tweens and teens. 2016.

However, I do think it’s also as a result of technology serving to be a great communication tool that allows kids to have access to social media, where they can see issues like bullying, prejudice, racism, sexism etc, being heavily covered.

Of course parents play a huge part in helping to raise the kids’ awareness of positive digital engagement and self-representation online. A recent study by Common Sense Census found that parents overwhelmingly have a positive attitude towards the use of technology and social media as tools to improve kids’ education and their development of important social skills.

Parents agreed that technology positively supports their children with schoolwork and education (94 percent). Parents also felt that technology can support their children by supporting them in learning new skills (88 percent) and preparing them for 21st-century jobs (89 percent). Parents agreed that technology increases their children’s exposure to other cultures (77 percent), allows for the expression of their children’s personal opinions and beliefs (75 percent), supports their children’s creativity (79 percent), and allows their children to find and interact with others who have similar interests (69 percent). Only 54 percent of parents felt that technology supports their children’s social skills.

This is interesting, because it suggests that parents *do* see the importance of technology and the impact it can have on teaching and learning.

However, the study also found that those parents who are concerned about their kids’ social media/technology use were less aware of their kids’ activities on devices/online.

What does this all mean?

It means several things:

  • The more parents/guardians talk and discuss the use of devices and social media with their kids, the more their kids use the “rules of engagement” on social media.
  • Discussing digital literacy and social media use in the classroom and schools helps students.
  • We have to trust kids once they’re given all our own “rules of engagement” on social media. They ultimately will make the right decision.
  • Talk to kids more. Ask them questions about what they do on social media, why do they do it…Questions should be judgement free…and kids will only open up if they do feel it’s safe to open up.
  • Do not underestimate the power of modelling! The study found that parents on average spend up to 9 hours of screen time everyday! Holy cow. If we want our kids to detach from their devices for a bit, it has to start with us.

So when it comes to social media and rules of engagement, kids are basically figuring out ways to better communicate with each other. To them, and this should also apply to adults, there is no difference between online and real life. Their actions online should replicate their actions in real life. From an educator’s perspective, it’s important to see that many students have already come to this understanding themselves. Then it doesn’t become a conversation about “digital citizenship”, it becomes a conversation about what it means to be a “good citizen/human”.

 

 

Equity in Collaborative Spaces

screenshot-2016-12-20-22-29-51We discuss collaboration in different spaces a great deal in and outside of education. We talk about the benefits of collaboration, the importance of it, and how it can look like. But do we ever discuss the downside of collaboration?

Do we ever spend enough time to focus on how collaborative spaces can be equitable and inclusive for everyone?

A few years ago, I collaborated with a White “prominent” education leader on an initiative. I mention that he’s white, because his part played a huge role in silencing me throughout the initiative. So race here is a vital aspect, as I do identify as a Muslim woman of colour. Therefore, to have a hand in the direct oppression and silencing of women of colour, one needs to identify the systems and identities at play in the work structure.

We were aligned on the mission and vision for the project in many different ways, except one: Equity.

Like many projects I’ve led, I shouldered the workload myself. Taking initiative on starting and executing on the project tasks. I was under the impression we were clear on what all members in the group (we had other members, but him and I were the main ones working on this, since we initiated it). Apparently, I was wrong.

He emailed me the week before the event was to take place asking me to back out and cancel it, since we “weren’t aligned” on major decisions, despite my and the team’s efforts to communicate them. Long story short, I refused to cancel what was a great project. I had to carry the torch for the entire group, to not fall apart, and ensure the success of the event.

Because when things fall apart, there almost always is a person there to pick up the pieces. And that’s often the work that needs to be done.

As a result of that I learned the importance of understanding and aligning yourself with equitable practices when entering collaborative spaces.

You might be thinking: “Well, I only work with good people, who won’t do what this guy did”.

We don’t *really* know someone unless you work closely with them. Even then, you still might not fully know them.

I’ve learned that collaborative spaces first and foremost need to ensure equity before starting the work process.

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3 Diverse Children’s Books My Kids are Reading

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For me, as a mom, it’s so important that my kids read diverse books in school and at home. Diverse books allows children to see that there is not one variation of what it means to be human. We’re all different, and representing that really well in books helps children to develop an understanding, empathy, and kindness of other cultures, races, and ethnicities around them.

The other day, when we went to our public library, I couldn’t help but notice the amazing display of diverse books in the children’s section. My two girls are almost 5 and almost 3, and they loved listening and looking at the pictures of these three stories:

Anna Hibiscus’ Song by Atinuke & Lauren Tobia

One World Together by Catherine & Laurence Anholt

God’s Dream by Archbishop Desmond Tutu & Douglas Carlton Abrams

What are some of your favourite diverse books that you read with your kids?

 

A Snapshot of the Tibetan Refugee Crisis

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I met a wonderful lady today. She’s Tibetan from Nepal. She told me her story.

She has two kids, a 3 year old and a 7 year old. She arrived a few years ago in Canada, without them.

I asked her why.

“It’s too expensive to bring the kids. It’s easier if I come and sponsor them.”

“How much does it cost to bring them over?” I asked.

“Around 20 to 30K. For illegal passports and papers.”

“Why Illegal?”

“We’re Tibetan, so we’re considered refugees in Nepal. They won’t give us papers.”

“I have a lawyer here (in Canada), but he said it’ll take a while.” “I left and my son was 2 he’s close to 4 years old now” She tells me as her eyes well up with tears.

“But you know, I am here for my family. I hope to help them soon and bring them over.” “It’s hard, it’s very hard” She says with tears in her eyes.

I feel helpless listening to her story. My eyes tear up and I choke back tears as I look at my own two kids playing in front of me.

Please read here about the Tibetan people, and their refugee crisis.