Workshop Notes: Telling Our Stories: Immigrant Women’s Resilience

22365445_924616858576_1573257027776351452_nParkdale Community and Legal Services hosted a workshop that focuses on the experiences of immigrant women when it comes to their immigration status in Canada, as well as introducing a graphic novel written by immigrant women to support immigrant women when it comes to violence against women.
 Here are several highlights from the workshop:

What are the potential implications for women to leave their situations after violent incidents in the home?

She can apply to Permanent Residence status based on humanitarian and compassionate grounds. She can also make a refugee claim. But she can’t make PR and refugee claim at the same time.

Humanitarian Compassionate Applications

They’re made from Canada.

H&C can take into account:

  • Domestic violence
  • Best interest of the child
  • Establishment in Canada
  • Hardships in the country of origin

There are barriers to talk about violence in our community. There’s a secrecy, a shaming, a blaming. 

The rest of the workshop focused on introducing the graphic novel: “Telling Our Stories: Immigrant Women’s Resilience”. We read the 4 stories and talked about the violent situations the characters went through, their feelings, and the support they had. If you’d like to access and download the novel to read and share it with someone who you think it might help, you can download it here.

Digital Writing for English Language Learners

Digital Writing for English Language Learners

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. You can order my book here, and leave me your address during the payment processing on Paypal for me to send you a signed copy.


Muslim Girls Making Change

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Courtesy of MGMC

I met Muslim Girls Making Change a few months ago on Twitter when I participated in #MuslimWomenDay. The team is doing amazing work to raise awareness about Muslim women and shatter stereotypes of us through their art and poetry. This is activism. They used their passion to help show the world how to be more compassionate, empathetic, and kind to people who look different than you. I had the pleasure of interviewing them and getting to know them a bit here:

Tell me a little bit about your organization, what prompted it? what are some of your goals and mission?

Muslim Girls Making Change, or MGMC, is a youth based slam poetry group that started over a little more than a year ago. As a group (us being four teens in high school), we often felt that our voices weren’t being heard or that they weren’t important. Prior to the formation of the group we had all been politically and socially involved from leading activist groups to end everything from global poverty to teen drug and alcohol usage. Two of us even led a statewide drive with Governor Peter Shumlin and many businesses to raise items and funds for internally displaced Syrians in Aleppo. However, despite our work and leadership, we weren’t being listened to what we had to say about being Muslim; being a Muslim girl; being black and Muslim; being Pakistani and Muslim; being Arab and Muslim, and what that means in a predominantly white state like Vermont. So, since we didn’t have a platform, we made ourselves one, Muslim Girls Making Change. Initially the group began so we could have a team for the international youth slam competition, Brave New Voices, but now it has evolved into so much more. MGMC now works to continue to educate and start discussions and works with several organizations to do so including the Women’s March, local school districts, Young Writers Project, etc. We want to get people thinking, but even more than that, we want people to act. For far too long Vermont has become complacent about many of these issues arguing that ‘that kind of thing doesn’t happen here’, we want to show people that action is imperative; that silence is violence; and that the time is now.

Courtesy of MGMC

Why do you believe in this work?

I think one of the main reasons was to show people, youth and adults, that youth voice and action matters. We are the future, and if we aren’t given the tools and resources we need, how can we hope for a better world?

What is the most challenging aspect of your work?

I think the most challenging aspect of our work (outside the typical junior year stress) is staying motivated and using self-care. Getting bombarded with headline after headline; tragedy after tragedy; death after death, can get, frankly, exhausting. It’s hard to feel like you’re making a difference or even matter. It’s hard to remember that 16, 17 year old girls can make change, especially with the apathy and dejection we feel from our fellow students in times like ours.

How do you remain focused and motivated to do this work?

Honestly, each other. Anyone who sees us in person or online can see that we all care for and are close with each other. While our friendship wasn’t instant, we can’t imagine MGMC without any of us. We keep each other grounded; crack a joke when we need to laugh; keep us focused when it’s time for work; and make this work fun. I think what happens to often is that this work, hard and draining as it is, goes unchecked. People don’t take a breath and get worn out. We keep each other loving ourselves and striving for excellence WHILE allowing ourselves to rest. We inspire each other to do better things by what we do and we believe in each other.

What is one advice you have to share with youth who want to get into work of activism in the future?

Number one message would be: anyone can be and should be an activist. The four of us, we’re still four teenagers who by chance stumbled onto slam poetry on YouTube and fell in love. We’re not PhDs or high ranking government officials, we’re four girls who cared enough to speak out and act out. That’s what activism is all about, taking action because it’s the right thing to do. If you’re a youth and you believe in equity and justice for all, and are willing to put in the work, you can be an activist. Ask anyone.

Find an issue you care about, reach out to organizations already doing the good work, provide your talents (because we all have some talent), speak up, bring others in, get a mentor, be a mentor. There’s so much to do and we need everyone. And getting involved is as easy as a google search and an email.

Please check out Muslim Girls Making Change’s website here and follow them on Twitter.

Writing in Education and Plain Text Flow

A great post on writing in education:

Ryan Boren

As a hacker and writer, I spend a lot of time in text editors. Almost everything I write starts in my favorite text editor. A text editor is my thinking space. It is a place for moving around blocks and tinkering with parts. It is a place to explore my mind and write it the way I want it to read. Iteration and ideation happen in my editor. My notes are not just a record of my thinking process, they are my thinking process. Text editors are extensions of mind that facilitate thinking.

All of this happens in beautiful, wonderful plain text.

I love that with plain text the focus is on the words, not the formatting. I love that it’s portable and can be used anywhere and everywhere, in any piece of software that edits or displays words. I love how easy it is to create…

View original post 7,542 more words

How teachers can support students during Ramadan


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A Malaysian Muslim women is silhouetted after reading the Koran during the holy month of Ramadan. photo by Samsul Said/Reuters.

This piece was originally published for PBS Newshour.

Ramadan is a month in the Islamic calendar when Muslims observe fasting from sunrise to sunset. And it can be a difficult month for many to get through, especially students who have to go through a normal school day without eating or drinking. This year, Ramadan will begin on Saturday, May 27, when many schools have yet to finish for the summer. For schools, it’s important to provide an environment for students where they feel safe to practice their religion, but maybe more importantly, one that ensures their well-being during the school day.

Who fasts and why

Not everyone is expected to fast. Fasting is not obligatory for children, until they reach “of age.” There is scholarly debate on what that age might be, though most scholars do recommend that fasting start when one reaches adolescence, anywhere from 13 and up. There are some Muslims who start earlier, or later. For example, I started when I was 9, but I did “half-days,” meaning I fast from either morning until about lunchtime, or from lunchtime until evenings.

Often Muslims are also exempt from fasting if they’re ill or have certain medical conditions, or traveling. Pregnant and breastfeeding moms are also exempt, as well as elderly folks.

Ramadan is considered one of the holy months in the Islamic calendar. Kindness, forgiveness and charity are recommended and often pursued as good practice in faith. It is also a time to be more compassionate and show empathy to those who are in need.

While fasting, Muslims abstain from eating, drinking, smoking and sexual activities. Ramadan is a time for Muslims to make an extra effort to abstain from lying, gossiping and other sinful acts. Many Muslims use Ramadan as a time to reset and start anew, creating new goals and improving old ones to improve oneself and rejuvenate the spirit and the soul. (Here is a quick video I made about some of the reasons I fast.)

Fasting often provides a spiritual perspective for Muslims that allows them to understand the suffering of those who are less fortunate, in poverty, and those in need. It also reminds us to not be wasteful of God’s blessings.

How schools can be supportive

During this holy month, one of the hardest things that I often hear my Muslim students complain about is the lack of space and lack of understanding. Here are several ways to support your students during the month of Ramadan:

Understanding: One of the vital pillars in creating a safe environment for Muslim students in Ramadan is to educate oneself about the month. Many teachers and classmates do not understand why Muslims fast. It’s important to try to form your own understanding about the month, and to not rely on Muslim students to educate the class.

Space: Lunchtime is probably one of the most difficult periods to endure while fasting. Many students will tell you that they don’t care if you eat in front of them, and chances are that might be true. However, hunger often worsens when you’re in a room full of people eating. It might help to have a comfortable space for Muslim students to go to instead of the designated lunchroom during lunchtime. The room can have some iPads, books, magazines and other things to keep students busy. Of course, it’s then up to the student whether they choose to go there or not, but having that as an option, even for students who are not fasting, is usually beneficial.

Physical Education: I have heard that some teachers are not very tolerant of Muslim students practicing Ramadan, and therefore are not very understanding when students cannot participate in phys ed classes. Some students have grades deducted due to their lack of participation during Ramadan. This is not okay. It is within students’ right to practice their religion, while having the necessary conditions for them to succeed and achieve their best potential. Teachers can make accommodations for practicing students, such as assigning a different task/project for students to complete that does not require them to do any strenuous work while they’re fasting.

Empathy: This sounds a bit easy, but having empathy requires one to truly understand the other person’s situation and feelings. When planning school activities and events, think about how it’ll impact practicing Muslim students. Will they feel left out? Will they need to break their fast during that time if it’s during Iftar (i.e. sunset)?

If students have the right accommodations and support from teachers and their peers, it can turn a challenging month into the most rewarding. If you’re still unsure about how to help practicing Muslim students in your school, don’t hesitate to ask them privately what they need, and how you can support them.

Interview with Education Week: Blogging for English Language Learners

Sketch 2016-10-19 23_28_38My interview with Larry Ferlazzo for Education Week:

LF: You write about the concept of “communicative pedagogy.”  Can you elaborate on it here and share some specific examples of what it might look like in the classroom?

Rusul Alrubail:

Communicative pedagogy is the practice in the classroom that centers the importance of interaction as one of the goals to help students with language acquisition. Most English-language learners who are also newcomers worry about day-to-day interactions, and communicative pedagogy allows them to practice scenarios in the classroom that would help to advance their conversational skills. For example, communicative pedagogy would create lesson plans and activities that focus on helping students interact in a supermarket, or at a job interview, or even helping them to purchase a movie ticket. Communicative pedagogy can be practiced orally or through writing.

LF: You also write about “cultural responsive teaching.”  Can you do the same—explain what you mean by that term and what it can look like in schools?

Rusul Alrubail:

Cultural responsive teaching focuses on understanding, fostering, and more importantly, being responsive in creating a safe learning environment for students to excel and succeed, while taking their cultures, ethnicity, and race into account. For example, some English-language learners in the classroom might be newcomer refugees. A culturally responsive teacher would help to understand their backgrounds and lived experience. She would probably need to be very sensitive when discussing the refugee crisis with in class, and take into account some of the trauma they may have or still might be experiencing.

LF: Can you share a bit about your personal background as a refugee and how it might inform your writing and work today?

Rusul Alrubail:

When I arrived to Canada at the age of 11, I spoke no word of English at all. It was one of the hardest things I had to go through in life, even harder than fleeing my home country, Iraq. The reason for that is because language barrier disconnects us from our surroundings and can create such a strong sense of isolation. As a result of this feeling, I want to help other English-language learners, who are going through similar experiences as I did, to recognize that their voices and stories matter.


LF: What are two or three of the most important suggestions you can make to teachers who might want to explore using digital writing with English Language Learners or, in fact, any students?

Rusul Alrubail:

My first suggestion is to explore and do some research. Ask yourself, what do you hope your students to be able to gain from the experience of digital writing?

My other suggestion is to provide choice for students. This will help in giving them the space to write about topics they’re interested in. One of the things I discovered is that often times, when you give students all the choice in the world, because they’re not used to it, they have a hard time choosing something to write about. And even when they do, they still need a bit of guidance. That’s okay. Guide them through the process, and still encourage them to keep going and write down their own reflections and ideas. The more they do this, the easier it’ll be for them to ‘free-write’ next time around.

LF: What do you see as the one or two key potential challenges facing educators who want to use digital writing and how can they be overcome?

Rusul Alrubail:

Tech sometimes can be an issue. Lack of digital access can definitely hinder teachers from introducing digital writing in the classroom. In this case, many teachers work to book a computer lab or a class in the library to write. It is not ideal, but manageable.

Another challenge is the idea that digital writing destroys traditional writing. This concept, or rather, is not backed or supported by research. In fact, research does indicate that the more students write digitally, the more teachers are able to see improvement in critical thinking and writing structure. We need to see the practice of digital writing in the classroom as the development of future communication.

LF: Is there anything I haven’t asked you about that you’d like to share?

Rusul Alrubail:

Digital writing is for everyone. And for English language-learners, digital writing can truly motivate and engage them in learning the language. It’s important to engage this student population in developing their language to equip them with the necessary tools to express and communicate their thoughts and ideas, in the hopes of being able to positively impact their generation.

LF: Thanks, Rusul!

You can order Digital Writing for English Language Learners here on Amazon. If you also order directly from the publisher website, you can get 20% off using this code: RLEGEN17.


Edit: the title of this post was changed from “why i left #Educolor” to just #educolor because we’re all brothers and sisters and we’re all growing and learning together. It’s all love.

I am writing this post in solidarity with my friend Melinda D. Anderson, who announced her resignation from Educolor this week. I am also writing it, because many loyal Educolor followers and members have questions about my own resignation now accompanied by Melinda’s.

I resigned from EduColor back in March of this year, and I want to share my story as to why I left.

I joined #EduColor in 2014 a year after I started to grow my own professional learning network in the digital space. EduColor was a space for me to speak up on issues that directly impact myself, and many other marginalized groups whose voices are seldom heard.

Continue reading

Book: Digital Writing for English Language Learners

wp-image-1861949011Digital 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.

I am really excited about the release of my book. I never thought in a million years that I would be authoring a book to help students who are going through similar experiences as I did when I was an ELL. I am so thankful to the teachers who already ordered it, and if you’d like to get a copy, you can order here on Amazon. If you also order directly from the publisher website, you can get 20% off using this code: RLEGEN17.

Please feel free to leave a review on the amazon site and tell me what you think! I’d be ever so grateful.

Intersectionality: What “Diversity” Really Means

Posters created for Women’s March on Washington, 2017. Women’s Voices for Change.


When we talk about “Diversity” and “Diverse spaces”, what do we really mean?

Do we mean to include some people, and not others? Of course, we don’t mean to do that! After all, who intentionally goes out of their way to be exclusive?

In today’s political climate, we can’t afford to think about what intentions others had in mind when creating spaces for diversity. If a conference that focuses on gender diversity in education hardly has women of colour in attendance or represented, that’s inexcusable. We also can’t afford to hear excuses and defence. We didn’t have time… the topic was not on the agenda…we didn’t know who to reach out to…

Excuses show nothing but sloppiness, inconsideration and a lack of recognition of one’s own privilege.

I get excited to see amazing initiatives that focus around inclusion and diversity, especially when they happen in Canada. So when I came across a conference about women education in Canada on twitter that highlighted women leaders, I was disappointed to see that while their focus was on diversity and inclusion, all their speakers were White, and they even had a male speaker on the panel.

Don’t we have enough White men speaking on almost every issue? It’s time for them to give that platform to people who need to be heard.

This women’s tweet struck me as strange especially considering the fact that this panel could not speak for anyone like myself, much less other marginalized groups. Where are the women of colour doing amazing work in Canadian education? Where are different ability advocates? Are there LGBTQ rights educators represented?

I just wish the panel represented “everyone”.

I am glad someone else noticed, because it’s so exhausting for people of colour to constantly be the only ones who notice and speak out on these issues.

This panel in fact is a great example of what white feminism looks like. If you’re curious about what White Feminism means, please read this list of resources created by the Women’s March organizers.

Intersectionality matters! And that’s why to me this conference and every other conference that brands itself as inclusive and focused on diversity fails when they do not have proper representation of the people.

What does intersectionality mean? Merriam Webster defines intersectionality as the following:

It is not enough to talk about gender diversity, we must also intersect that with race, culture, ability, sexuality, and other types of intersections that go along with being a human being. We must not look to these issues as Black and White issues only, or Women Men issues. There are different intersections that we need to consider in order for us to be truly inclusive.

If you’re curious, I did try to bring up the issue to the organizers of that conference:

I worry that their reaction was more on the defensive side, than willing to learn and own the areas they need to work on and grow from. It’s so important that when we do mess up, or even just not consider an angle of an issue, that we’re willing to hear criticism and learn from our mistakes. Otherwise how do we grow to be better human beings? For me, like I said above, in this day and age, we can’t afford to make an excuse of “not knowing” or “we didn’t have time”.

Diversity is more than slotting a couple of minutes to discuss at a conference. We need to work on this throughout planning, decision making, advisory, outreach, communication, and so many other elements. This issue is systemic, and if we don’t try to work within and really reach into our own systems, and organizations to improve the culture, then we’re not going to improve or change the world.

If you’re organizing a conference, your outreach is the most important aspects to get all stakeholders’ voices included in the conversation. Let’s invite everyone to participate and truly exemplify inclusion and diversity, not just make attempts.