3 Diverse Children’s Books My Kids are Reading


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


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.



How to Grow your Social Media Community

_sfjhrpzjhs-nasaA little while ago, a large publishing company consulted with me to get advice on how to engage their audience and build interest-based communities. 

Here is a snapshot of the framework I presented to them.

Your social media’s growth cycles are incremental to exponential, it embodies ripple effects to create organic growth cycles. These cycles form from your campaigns, publications, and projects.

What are these cycles?

Empower voices — Amplify voices — Engage voices.

Empower voices

Editors create opportunities for smart domain experts to create content on publications as writers. This empowers both parties’ voices as leaders.

What kind of voices do we empower? publication editors, current active writers, domain experts, thought leaders, external writers/editors/journalists, educators, students, budding writers, great ideas.

  1. Who are some of the people who would be interested in working on your platform?
  2. What kind of interest do they have?
  3. What domain do they belong to, if any?
  4. How can they help to support growth and development of communities/publications?
  5. How are they perceived in their community? Credibility/reputation/status/charisma etc…
  6. How can we leverage their support?
  7. Are there any risks involved in leveraging their support?

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Create a Safe Space for Students to be Heard: A Workshop

brene-rbownThe week before elections, I was invited to speak to The Hun School of Princeton students in New Jersey about the concepts of Grit and Resilience. The Hun School works to read 1 or 2 common books each year and have a conference about the theme of the books. This is such a neat way to get all students to connect to each other despite their grades and subject interests. It’s also a nice way to build a school community, by focusing on one theme as a school, you can see how everyone brings in their own experiences, interests and shared stories.

This year’s books that were chosen were Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand for the upper school, and Left for Dead, by Pete Nelson, for our middle school.

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Writing Tips

Image by Rebeca Zuniga, for The Writing Project

This post was originally published on The Writing Project.

Introduce your Subject:

If you are discussing a story, textbook, article, or a person, you need to introduce and mention the name of the subject and source. For example, “In the book, ‘Of Mice and Men’ the theme of loneliness is prominent to our understanding of the characters.”

Make an Argument:

Your thesis needs to be debatable. If no one can disagree with you, it’s a fact not an opinion.

Use the Active Voice:

Instead of “it has been said” tell us who really said this “The New York Times indicates…”. This is affirmative, informative and clear.

Outline Your Main Points:

This is called signposting because it signals to your reader the points that will be covered throughout the essay.

Be Original:

A thesis statement is your point of view. No one can speak for you but yourself! Be creative, inspiring, and powerful with your thoughts and ideas.

Literacy Beyond Reading & Writing

photo-1440439307159-c3afc8a8e4ffThis post was originally published on The Writing Project.

When we hear the word “literacy” immediately some of the things that come to mind are: books, reading, writing, libraries, and maybe even magazines, newspapers. But we all know that’s not what encompasses literacy. Literacy moves beyond reading and writing. It includes the process of deciphering symbols, patterns, images to understand and come to meaningful conclusions about complex contexts, cultural understanding, and communication.

Do our students know that “literacy” moves beyond reading and writing?

Most importantly, how do we begin to break our traditional understanding of literacy to include wider meaning and contexts?

It has to start in the classroom. For many of our traditional classrooms, reading and writing are the core values that are focused on when it comes to literacy. We need to show students that “Literacy” moves beyond reading and writing and can encompass: cultural literacy, media literacy, visual literacy, digital literacy and much more.

According to Media Smarts, in 1987 Ontario was the first canadian province to mandate media education. The media strand still focuses on core strands such as oral communication, and reading and writing. However, it also adds an extra layer of including media mentor texts, media audiences, and media productions to strengthen students’ learning when it comes to reading, writing, and critical thinking.

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From Education to Entrepreneurship

4c8e51a7650c6d7c24b7c4f5f6c90832Leaving something that you have done for so can be a very challenging thing to do. There is a lot of initial denial, grief, and heartache. But it can also be a very rewarding step that you take to a new beginning.

Many years ago, I wanted to become a teacher not because I loved teaching so much, but because I wanted to make a difference in students’ lives. I wanted to make a difference in education, and be part of an industry that impacts students everyday. Social justice, social impact, and equity were my core passions, and I believed that education was the most appropriate place for me to make a difference.

Growing up as an English Language Learner and a refugee myself, I related to many of my students. I wanted to improve the learning conditions for them in the classroom. As an English professor, I asked myself daily: “How can I make a difference in students’ lives today?” Luckily, I taught English and Literature, and as English teachers, we use writing as a tool to empower our students’ thoughts and ideas.

Writing can make a difference in this world.

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How to Support Students in these Difficult Times


The world woke up on November 9 to the news that Donald Trump is America’s next president.

This is a nightmare to everyone who has been insulted and assaulted by Trump and his supporters. It’s a nightmare to Black people, Muslims, LGBTQI communities, women of colour, immigrants, Mexicans, and many marginalized groups who have been wronged and will continue to be wronged so long as he’s in power.

I received many emails and messages from teachers asking how they should help their marginalized student population. Many educators are grieving. This is not to say that Clinton was the perfect candidate, in fact, she was far from perfect. Clinton has played a huge role in what’s currently going on in the Middle East and North Africa. However, Trump is a bigot, a racist, a xenophobic, a misogynist, and he isn’t trying to hide any of it. In fact, he’s encouraging it.

This is already creating an unsafe learning environment for many students. Here are some of the incidents that have occurred so far, only one day after the elections.

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Global Storytelling: How it can impact students

Image by UK Department for International Development. July 8, 2014. Alia and Basma* (right), both aged 12, tackle a maths question at a temporary school in northern Lebanon, set up by UNICEF and Lebanese NGO Beyond Association with the help of UK aid. “It’s good to have the classes here”, says Basma. “I hadn’t been able to go to school for a year before because of the conflict. “I feel much better now that I’m learning again.”

When I was in grade 6, we had a social justice activist visit our classroom from South Africa. He shared his story of being part of the movement against the apartheid, how he was imprisoned, and the massive impact the apartheid had on his family, his country, his people. I remember listening very intently to his story, with my limited English at the time, and feeling a sense of connection.

I connected with him, because his story was heartbreaking, and communicated a sense of loss and tragedy. I also connected with him, because he was not home. He was telling his story to kids (and adults) who did not share his struggle and hardship.

I looked around the room and noticed the impact it had on my peers. I saw right then and there that he was making a difference, by educating my peers on an issue they did not know about.

In my new role as Executive Director of The Writing Project, I started working directly with teachers recently to help them introduce and discuss the refugee crisis in their classrooms. For several of the teachers I worked with so far, they wanted their students to learn about the crisis, but aside from knowing statistics and facts, the teachers wanted the students to hear a story from someone who’s experienced being a refugee.

Of course, it’s never easy to share my story with others, whether they’re adults of kids. It’s always difficult and brings back a lot of sad memories. But I also struggle with sharing my story, because I don’t want it to claim who I am as a person. I continue to share my story though, because it has shaped me to become the person I am now. But I share my story, because I want to raise awareness about this issue. I hope that when the kids hear my story, they’ll learn to be more empathetic to others who look different than they do. I hope that by sharing my story, kids will understand the importance of learning about other cultures. I hope that by sharing my story, I dismantle stereotypes and assumptions that society has created about refugee, Arabs, Muslims, and the Middle East.

Global storytelling can have such a powerful impact on students, and I am lucky to be able to connect to these students, their teachers, and more importantly their reflections and takeaways from the experience of hearing my story, and learning about the refugee crisis.

Global storytelling doesn’t end with just telling a story. It’s so important to me that I connect with the teacher to figure out her goal of wanting to have the call with her class. What learning outcome is she aiming to achieve? What have the students been learning in class thus far about the refugee crisis? What were their thoughts so far about the issue?

It’s also important that students reflect on the topic and the experience. Some of the students whom I connected with were so excited to start writing about their takeaways. In fact, during our Skype call, they were so curious and had so many questions, that they guided the discussion with their questions. I was so surprised and happy to see how respectful the students were in listening and asking the questions. And most of them were very mindful that this is a topic that’s difficult for me to share.

Pernille Ripp already wrote about her classroom process and their takeaways from studying the refugee crisis. I really looking forward to reading all their responses and the teacher’s reflections from the whole experience. It’s so important that students write reflections about the topic, and if they can and are able to, to share these reflections. I believe that it is by sharing our ideas that we can connect with others and make a difference, and they can do that by writing and sharing their work with their peers and even digitally.

Working with Fabiana Casella, an EFL teacher and an ICT Specialist from Argentina, and her students on their cross-curricular world project on the refugee crisis was so rewarding. Seeing her students’ writing and ideas about the topic meant the world to me. It meant that students are listening, and are aware of this issue, and they’ll be working hard in their own worlds to make a difference. With Fabiana’s class, I recorded myself reading my story that was published on PBSNewshour. They then had many questions for me, which Fabiana recorded and sent, to which I replied to them in writing. You can check out Fabiana’s classroom project here.

When I saw that speaker, and was able to connect with him, that moment stuck with me forever. Global storytelling with students is such a great way to connect students to the issues and topics that are being discussed in class. Global storytelling is also such an incredible way to help other students feel a sense of belonging, assurance, and affirmation of who they are, and what they believe in.

Rusul Alrubail is the executive director of The Writing Project, a platform that helps to empower the voice of young learners with critical thinking and digital literacy skills to be their own advocates.