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.

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.

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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A Snapshot of the Tibetan Refugee Crisis


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.



Three lesson ideas for teaching your class about Eid al-Fitr

This blog was originally published on The Guardian. While Eid al-Fitr was last week, these activities can work well with another upcoming Eid al-adha to help cultivate a feeling of belonging and safety for Muslim students and students of colour in the classroom.

As fasting in the holy month of Ramadan draws to a close, some 1.6 billion Muslim people around the world will celebrate Eid al-Fitr on Wednesday 6 July 2016.

When translated from the Arabic, Eid al-Fitr means “festival of breaking the fast” and traditionally lasts up to three days.

As families and communities across the UK prepare for the celebrations, teachers might be wondering how to bring the festival to life in their classrooms. Some pupils might not be familiar with the meaning and significance of Eid to Muslim students. It’s important to create a safe and mindful environment where all students to feel comfortable, and those who practise Islam can celebrate.

“Celebrating who we are” activity

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9 Tips to Support English Language Learners

72g0rndf3pIf you are teaching English Language Learners, here are some tips and strategies that you can practice in the classroom to create a safe environment and support the students throughout their learning process:

1. Speak slower, not louder: Students need to process the words separately and form an understanding, for ELL students this requires some extra time. Speaking louder doesn’t help and in fact sounds condescending.

2. Make sure to pause frequently and write out instructions on the board: This gives time for students to think about the instructions and ask questions if they have any. Use the pause time to write the information on the board in case a student has misheard a word or a sentence.

3. Provide short instructions, preferably starting with action verbs, ex: “Write 5 adjectives to describe the main character”. Long instructions overwhelm ELL students, as they will probably need to look up a few vocabulary words, as well as process chunks of information. Short instructions with action verbs are clear and concise.

4. Write key vocabulary on a word wall: The space will create a safe environment for ELL students to ask questions about unfamiliar vocabulary and as a result build their confidence in speaking and practicing their oral communication in the classroom.

5. Check for student understanding frequently: Do not ask “do you understand/is that clear?” Do ask questions about content/instruction: “will you present today or tomorrow?” “Is this list in the correct order?”

By asking the latter students usually will default to “yes we understand”. Instead, go over the material again and summarize it in the form of questions. By doing this you will see that students will start answering together and even explaining tasks/concepts to their classmates. This creates a safe and open culture in the classroom to ask questions.

6. Provide visual guides, and/or infographics: Visuals act as a supplement for unfamiliar vocabulary words as well as concepts. Using them will also support different learning styles in the classroom.

7. Use body language and gestures to express appropriate words: Don’t be afraid to do this! Body language and gestures can help in explaining words, activities and even concepts.

8. Do not correct with negative expressions: For example, “No the verb seen is incorrect.” Instead model correct usage, “Yes, that’s true! We see things differently.Many ELL students are very shy, because they’re afraid to make mistakes when speaking. By modeling correct communication skills you will be encouraging students to continue to practice their oral communication skills in a safe space free of judgment.

9. Avoid idiomatic expressions and/or sarcasm: These expressions can be confusing for ELL students to understand, because the meaning behind them is figurative as opposed to literal. Sarcastic expressions are especially misunderstood and often taken literally. That is because some cultures do not use sarcasm, and as a result the meaning is lost in translation. However, ELL students love learning about English idioms so devoting a class solely for idioms is encouraged and can be lots of fun!

This post was originally published on Edutopia.

Using Literature to Teach Social Justice

Social justceI came across a community post a few days ago that was inquiring about ways to teach students about social justice in english class. I feel very passionate about connecting the discussions in my english class to issues that have a social and cultural impact. As a teacher, I think this is how we can advocate for students to think critically about issues that concern many of us in real life, and to give them an opportunity to form their own opinions about these issues.

Here is a very short list of some of my students’ and my own favourite short stories to teach in the class. The stories below discuss social, cultural, and racial issues. These stories are relevant to everyday issues that concern all of us and therefore when discussed in class, discussions were lively, interesting and engaging.

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The Dilemma of Digital Writing

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Photo by flickr user: Property #1

This post was originally published as part of the DigiWriMo blog series. You can check out all the blog posts that were contributed here.

I became a digital writer last year. Then I realized that there is more to digital writing than revise, edit and polish. Digital writing is also about digital presence.
I figured this out only after I created my own digital presence on several social media platforms. Before that, my presence as an educator, and as a writer existed through third party mentions of my name and my title: RateMyProf, a college quarterly I helped to edit, and a few other journals to which I contributed to as an editor. But those links lead you nowhere. Other than my name and title, nobody could tell who I was, what my interests were, or even how I look like.

Then I became connected, and my digital presence started to exist.

Does this mean that as a writer I didn’t exist at all because my digital presence did not exist either?

Most of us who live on the digital realm as writers and educators experience two realities. Many might question that their actions, behaviours and interactions online are even considered a “reality”. But I think there’s more to it than us being “online” and “connected”.

People, writers, and educators are connecting everyday to digital realities that are outside their own physical reality. These digital realities come in all forms, shapes and sizes. They are digital hubs, communities, and professional and personal learning networks. They also take the shape of forums, comments, responses, highlights, live conferences, favourites and retweets. They even take form through your bio and profile shot.

Digital Dualism, a term coined by Nathan Jurgenson, speaks about our two separate realities: our digital world and our physical or IRL world. Jurgenson makes an argument that both of these realities are in fact conjoined, and are not separate from one another. So how does writing digitally impact writing?

Writing Platform

Digital writers have to consider the platform they use to display their writing. There are many platforms as well as text editors that quickly become writers’ favourite tools to use when writing. Many digital writers start to feel so connected and acquainted with the digital writing tools they use, they start to have a preference. With platforms like WordPress, Blogger, Medium, and text editors such as Sublime and Ulysses app, digital writing is now about the experience itself. Where do I write? Is it an easy to use platform? What do I like about it? All these questions come to mind for digital writers that are trying to create writing.

Social Media Sharing

When a post is finally published, after a few edits, including images, and citing, digital writers share their work on social media and their local networks. The act of sharing adds an extra layer to digital writing. We share so that our writing is read by others. We also share to start conversations, connect with like-minded people, and get recognition for thoughts & ideas. Most people do not like to admit the last point, for many reasons, but in reality, it holds a lot of truth. A major aspect of digital writing is digital audience. Who is reading my writing? What would they think? should I change something to fit their mindset? Many of these questions might be pondered when writing, but I learned to not worry about what others think when it comes to what I write about. This doesn’t come easy, especially for beginner digital writers, but eventually it’s something to overcome.

Community & Engagement

Another great aspect of digital writing that directly impacts the writer is the community and the engagement that results from writing. As mentioned above, digital presence often accompanies digital writing. When a writer joins a digital community, or professional learning network, they’ll be inclined to share the discussions that occur with the community. These discussions often happen on Twitter and Facebook in the form of posts, conversations, tweeting, retweeting etc. Many writers like to reflect on these discussions by writing their own thoughts.

Digital writing merges traditional forms of writing with the digital world. “Digital” does not refer to the tool. “Digital” refers to our presence on these tools and platforms, how we exist, behave and interact with others using the same space we are.

If you have any questions about digital writing, digital writing tools/platforms, please don’t hesitate to connect with me and ask (@RusulAlRubail)! 

Debunking the Myths of English Language Learners

communityalrubail-debunking-myths-ell-01This post was originally published on Edutopia.

Myths in the education system are important to debunk in order to build a better support system for students. The future of education depends on looking at past failures, and not just learning from them to move forward, but to rise upwards. There are several myths in English Language classrooms that are often seen as normal practice.

Identifying these myths will help us meet our students’ needs, and be able to serve them better.

Myth #1: Students cannot use their first language in the classroom

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