Through Social Media, I’ve made connections with Rabia Khokhar just this year. She had written a powerful blog post that I brought to the This Week in Ontario Edublogs show and this blog. The depth and the wisdom told me this is a special person that I need to follow and I was delighted to learn more about her via this interview.
Rabia is an Occasional Teacher at Toronto District School Board. (for now!) She is also a Consultant in equity, anti-oppressive education.
Doug: My first question is always the same and helps to set the stage – do you recall the first time our paths crossed?
Rabia: Thank you so much for the opportunity to do this interview, it is such an honour! I remember coming across and reading your blog/tweets on Twitter especially your #FollowFriday. But what I remember as our first interaction was your kind support this summer of my Summer Reading Challenge that centers Muslim characters. I think that’s when I got to know your work more in depth. Thank you for your support.
Doug: Now, you describe yourself as a Teacher-Librarian, but when I looked at your qualifications with the College of Teachers, you seem to be taking AQ courses in so many different areas? Is there a master plan for all this work?
Rabia: haha! No master plan really, but what I am interested in is thinking critically about what equity and social justice education looks like in different subjects so I think that’s where my passion for the different AQ courses comes from. I am really interested in learning first how equity and social justice education must be something happening all the time across all subjects and then trying to model for others as well.
Doug: It was the end of June when you wrote and published the post that really caught my attention. It was called Reading Challenge: Centering Muslim Characters.
I remember being struck by the focus – it was a collection of 25 books. Did you go out with this project in mind or had you just been collecting books all along and finally decide to publish it?
Rabia: This is a great question and something I have been thinking about as well. It was definitely a process and a project I had been working on for a while but then put it on the back burner since school became busy. Since there are so many misrepresentations of the Muslim community, I wanted to use books to counter the stereotypes and monolithic representations. But when the recent rise of Anti-Muslim hate and Islamophobia was happening, I really wanted to do something to counter this hate. My work involves a lot of children’s books, so I saw them as a tangible tool to engage in this work. So I spent some time finishing it up and then sharing it on my social media platforms.
Doug: The response to your publication was phenomenal from my perspective. I don’t know how far the spread went but I remember that you were highly sought after for interviews by both social and traditional media. Can you share a little about where you got your message out?
Rabia: I agree, the response has been phenomenal! It is definitely not something I had imagined but so grateful that this reading challenge found its way into the hands and hearts of so many people, all of different identities and backgrounds committed to creating more just and inclusive communities. It was so incredible to see the Reading Challenge travel all over the world and to do interviews/reviews for Canadian, American, South African news outlets/magazines and podcasts! I love that this connected people and I think this is the power of working together for justice. It is about coming together, building bridges and ensuring interconnectedness and dignity for all. I am humbled that my reading challenge can play a small role in this big commitment.
Doug: I went back to my notes for the show and this is what I had written to jog my mind as Stephen Hurley and I discussed the post on This Week in Ontario Edublogs.
Reading challenge for summer where Muslim characters are featured in books
Announced the interview on Facebook
It was posted 3 minutes later
The spread on social media
- People want it
- Retweeted or favourited by people from all over the world
- New people for Ontario Educators list
- Would it be important if I hadn’t gone into education?
- Shared with Lindsey
- How do kids get access over the summer?
- Little libraries – Colchester, Essex, and Leamington
To explain a couple of things from my notes –
- “New people” were folks that retweeted the #FollowFriday post where I’d mentioned her name and post
- “Lindsey” is a friend of mine who is a librarian at a local library
- Little libraries have been a go-to for us during lockdown – I find it an interesting summary of community curation
At the time, the big question for me was “how” kids would get access over the summer with schools closed. After all, this post came out towards the end of June. I’m assuming that you would see students go to their local public library?
Rabia: I did envision that these could become books kids could access from their local library and hoped they would make it into school libraries and bookstores. What I learned through this and upon reflection was the importance of accessibility of resources. I believe that all kids need books about all kids and the library is a space where all can have access and benefit. I hope that these books and even more make it to all schools, libraries and bookstores. In my own experience as I travel to more libraries and bookstores, I see things changing in terms of what is displayed and available. I feel so happy seeing this because I believe this is how we create change in communities that can create impact. Small intentional choices and actions by those who have power in these spaces (schools, libraries, bookstores etc) to curate responsively will create ripple effects!
Doug: With a return to school, the collection should garner more attention by educators. If you were to visit a school in the Toronto District School Board, how many of these books would you expect to see on the shelves?
Rabia: I think that as we push towards more justice and equity especially in terms of issues of representation, school libraries are at the forefront leading and advocating for this important change. I would hope to see quite a few of these books and I would hope that this reading challenge can be something educators can use to continue building a responsive, relevant and contextual collection in their schools that affirms as well expands student’s identities, experiences and thinking.
Doug: Have you ever considered writing or collaborating with others on a book of your own with this type of focus?
Rabia: I would love to write a book…oneday! I am learning that writing a children’s book is hard and complicated. It has to be just right! I have some ideas and hope one day they will make their way into a book.
Doug: I wish you well with that project. You’ve done the research and made it a passion so it should be a natural next step. With the new school year starting in a couple of weeks, what are your plans? Do you have a full-time placement for September?
Rabia: I can’t believe that the new school year is almost here! Postings for jobs came out a few weeks ago so I am applying to some and hoping something comes up! Overall, I am excited to work with students and to continue considering equity and critical thinking in any teaching assignment I may end up in.
Doug: Good luck with the application. I hope that you are soon able to remove “Occasional” from your descriptor.
What are your personal goals for the upcoming school year?
Rabia: I am starting a Flex time Phd program and so far have enrolled in two courses. I am hoping that I am able to manage the course and continue bringing theory to practice in the different spaces I have the privilege to be in. I also hope to continue reading and doing some book reviews on my website as well as expand my consulting services especially in the professional development category.
Doug: I see that you’re back at it. Just a couple of days ago, you curated a collection of books about families and shared it to your blog. https://www.rabiakhokhar.com/post/must-have-books-about-families
How has the response been to this post?
Rabia: There have been many people who have really shown this post love. I am so incredibly grateful for the support. In this post, I really wanted to center and show all of the beautiful and diverse families that make up our communities. I think being seen builds a sense of belonging and all people need to feel like they belong and are welcome in their communities. Family is an important and big topic we think about in schools and if we can continue to expand our ideas around families through listening to our students and then bringing forward inclusive books, I really think we can create a change by fostering respect.
Doug: Congratulations need to be extended with your recent recognition from ETFO.
Toronto teacher Rabia Khokhar wins ETFO Anti-Racist and Equity Activism Award
What does this award mean to you? Are you inspired to continue your activist role?
Rabia: This award means the world to me! It is such an honour and really a dream come true. I think it affirms for me the power of equity work and the power of bringing it from theory to practice. I feel very happy about it because equity is deeply foundational to my work as an educator but also as a human being as I consider my role to create positive change in the spaces I occupy. It also means so much to me because of my family and the wider community’s support I have received. I have always been passionate about equity and to receive this recognition is humbling and energizing for me to continue doing this work. I think this award is also really important to me because it counters the many stereotypes I experience because of my identities. In many ways it helps me make space for myself-with all of my identities, thoughts, experiences and expertise. This award is a reminder for me that equity work is deeply hopeful work, it is us coming together to create inclusive communities. It is an honour to be part of this journey.
Doug: The award should lend credence to your abilities and consulting services. Are school districts doing enough to support equity in their systems?
Rabia: I think what is positive is that in many school boards this is a central conversation and commitment that is being centered. I think this is a good start. From what I can see there are initiatives being taken to bring equity from theory to practice at all levels and for various stakeholders. I think the message needs to continue that equity is not an add on, it is really the reason we are all here. We need to continue using our positional power and spheres of influence to center and work towards this change which benefits all students.
Doug: I think your observation about “add ons” is so important. Education is bad for piling on. What additional things could/should be done?
Rabia: I think that to truly ensure an equitable education system for students of all identities and lived experiences there needs to be individual as well as systemic commitments to change. I think there needs to be policies that guide and frame our work. There needs to continue to be structures in place that ensure accountability and measuring where we are, where we need to go and how we will get there. As well as continued opportunities of professional development for educators because our pedagogy impacts the experiences students have in their learning environments. Overall, I think equity needs to continue to be prioritized and centered at all levels for all stakeholders so that the message that is sent is that it is not an additive approach but rather a shared responsibility for all people.
Doug: Thank you so much for the interview, Rabia. I wish you well with your various initiatives and look forward to reading more on your blog.
Rabia: Thank you so much for this opportunity and for all of your support! I really appreciate it! It has been so great reflecting and sharing with you. I look forward to staying connected.
You can follow Rabia on social media.
Periodically, I interview interesting people like Rabia. You can check them all out on the Interview Page at https://dougpete.wordpress.com/interviews/