I’ve never met Nilmini in person but our paths have crossed on social media, particularly her writing on the ETFO Heart and Art Blog. It’s been part of the discussion on voicEd Radio and on my Friday blog post This Week in Ontario Edublogs.
She is an elementary school teacher with the Peel District School Board. Her passions include Equity, Social Justice and Human Rights. On social media, you’ll find her well connected and writing in these areas.
Doug: At this point, we haven’t actually met in person but certainly through social media. I also like to start these interviews by asking if you remember when we first met and did you wonder what made our connection?
Nilmini: You were absolutely a social media connection, I remember “meeting you” on Twitter Doug when you first connected me to my PLN in education.
I loved seeing your “Friday Motivation” tweets in my words which = the “Follow Friday Ontario Educator” Tweets!
Then I started reading your WordPress blog and later on I started to listen to your educational podcasts as the years passed by on social media. It would be good to see each other in real life one day!
I would say for me the connection we have is that you understood me on social media: my positive energy, how I saw situations in a positive light always and took situations that happened in the world with positive intent when I tweet or share!
Doug: Teaching is difficult at the best of times. We’re certainly not living in the best of times with all the extra restrictions that have been placed on classroom teachers. Let me put you on the spot – forget the rest of the world, what is the most frustrating thing happening in education for you personally these days?
Nilmini: I really do have this way of searching to see the positive outcomes in the most frustrating thing that can possibly happen. So here is the deal! I would say it has been challenging teaching everyone about a deeply sensitive topic that I kind of kept quiet in my own space and now it has become public knowledge. With the new topic of a civil armed conflict coming to light; that I was born into. This conflict separated so many generations because of individuals not being able to accept differences. It is something I never thought that I would ever have to actually manage teaching about in my career as a teacher or in my personal life to my friends and colleagues but with the best interest of my students at heart, I am teaching how to stay together as a community while dealing with my personal emotions all colliding together in one roller coaster ride of a lifetime in this career. I do believe in our generation that we are the generation that will stand side by side, and work together so that we show that peace is maintained by building lasting understandings.
P.S: I love teaching…it has been a wonderful journey of growth, understanding and lifelong learning. These past years my students have been my shield that has protected me while I reflected.
Doug: I know from your writing and your internet presence that you are generally a very positive person so I’m betting that you see a silver lining in everything that’s happening these days. Please share it with us. We all need inspiration.
Nilmini: I think in life you really do have to take the opportunity to reflect on situations that are challenging, possibly foreshadow emotions we feel, embrace those situations that make you have those intuitive reactions of survival: freeze, flight, or fight and embrace ourselves as having human qualities. When we accept ourselves then we see each situation clearly and what we as individuals can bring to the table to ensure that we can find successful resolutions and problem solve.
When I saw this question Doug: I smiled which means you really do understand that I look at every situation in a positive light: I do believe with all my heart that “Silver Linings” are everywhere. Sometimes, I am misunderstood on social media for this quality by others but if they really do look at a situation then they will see that I have positive intent.
We really do have to look for them and hold on to them to aspire to have a growth mindset. In my opinion, I would hold on to the silver lining in the most challenging times so that I can overcome obstacles and aspire to do my best.
Doug: You have an extensive presence in social media – I’m thinking The Heart and Art Blog and your work on the Teach Better site. What’s your goal? Are you trying to change the world, inspire others, affirm your beliefs to yourself, or maybe something completely different?
Nilmini: To be honest, working from home the past year and continuing to teach online this year helped me have more time to reflect on education and be a reflective practitioner. I would say maintain peace and unity in my community since lots of reconciliation and conflict resolution skills are needed to heal the generations of hurt and conflicts that we have overcome. I am just being me when I write and that’s who I can be.
I would never consider myself a writer, but starting out blogging with the Teach Better Team was inspirational since I really heard my voice come out! I am usually a quiet problem solver in any given situation. I know how to strategically and invisibly find resolutions to get the best outcomes while ensuring that life continues business as usual…this could be my Superpower perhaps!
“The Equity and Inclusion” Blog series with the Teach Better Team: I would say the purpose behind it was to teach others and pass the knowledge so that I can give back to my profession. It gave me “wings behind my back” during the most challenging of times in education that I have faced as an educator. I am forever grateful for the opportunity to get my voice out and have others read my blog and reflect upon the topics.
Coming home to Canada and blogging and starting the “Mentorship Matters” Blog series in The Heart of Art Blog felt welcoming since I didn’t get that opportunity before. This series was more to inspire, teach and challenge thinking to aspire to change in the education community as an educator. Motivation to create systemic change for the greater good of the education system.
Doug: One of my favourite blog posts of yours was this one Mentoring Moments: Importance of Our Names. Years ago, a friend of mine who works in Business said that you can mess up everything else but if you get the name right, people will respect you. I’ve had a lot of teachers over the years who have called my name and I still remember being called “Dogless” instead of “Douglas”. So, you nailed it! What advice do you have for educators to help them ensure that they’re getting names right?
Nilmini: I honestly can’t tell you that I do this every day: there are names that are hard since I have an accent and I aspire to get each name right each day by building trusting relationships and explaining accents and pronunciations. I aspire daily to not make mistakes with names! Sometimes we have to accept we are trying our best by giving value to names since they are meaningful and important in the world they connect us. With me, I find the more comfortable I am ..my accent comes out and I sometimes make mistakes in nailing those NAMES!
Doug: I have fond memories of reaching out to you before talking about your blog post on voicEd Radio. It’s one thing to write a name in a blog and quite another to pronounce it correctly on radio. I think you told me that it was pronounced the way it looks!
Nilmini: Musaeus College was an all-girls private Buddhist school in Colombo, Sri Lanka. I loved that I built lasting friendships with some inspiring friends and classmates there. It gave me my foundation in education and helped me develop my leadership style and be more mindful. We had choices of electives such as cooking, dance, and home economics and had to wear uniforms- which I was very creative making mine unique to fit my personality by accessorizing!
Meadowvale Secondary School offered me a window into public education in high school but from afar and for this I am thankful. I was never with my group of friends since I was in English as a Second Language classes and soon I discovered that if I work I can be inspired so I had fun at school but really I was working in Daycare before and after school and learning at the same time. I did not understand so many things like the racial dynamics in the cafeteria…smiles who does right? But I did go sit at all the tables and talk because I simply wanted friends and it is hard making friends when everyone knows each other and you’re the new kid in the city. Overall, I went from being that quiet observant child to the teenager who planned social events in Student Council and took photographs to get to know the school for the yearbook! I missed my friendships and making new connections took all the time it took…
I would say this is the school life of an immigrant child…resilience is the word!
I did depend on my mom and dad to advocate for me when needed, which I am glad that they did: I remember in grade 10 being told to go to Basic level classes and I remember my parents standing up for me saying no she can do Advanced level. Imagine if they didn’t- I would not have been able to be a teacher; it would have cut all the options to go to University…and impacted my dream to be an educator! Those are the skills I required as a teacher in Peel. Skills to be strategic, have fun teaching (my students said we have a party every day in our class!!!) and advocate on behalf of my students while mentoring my teachers!
A delicate balance it has been.
Doug: With all your experience in blogging and podcasting, you must have opinions on the role of social media in the classroom. Can you share your thoughts on the power?
Are there any caveats that teachers need to keep in mind?
Nilmini: Honestly, I would say I follow this golden rule my grandmothers taught their way to me as a child: If you do not want something in the front pages of the newspaper then do not post it on social media!
Social media is powerful for teaching and learning alike.
If you are going to get misunderstood then you will. People who have your back will always understand your position especially when it’s from a teacher’s point of view.
Doug: Your Teaching Qualifications include Principal Certification. Do you have aspirations for moving into administration?
Nilmini: I took my Principal Qualification courses and took a road less travelled …I worked in chairing committees with the teacher federation, and worked in learning from the Peel Regional Labour Council, Met some aspiring women leaders in community organizations. I would say I have explored so many different options. I would love to lead educational organizations and build relationships to aspire students to be at the center, with parents, community members, federations/unions and parents collaborating. However, I have not seen this yet…I find my resume would be intimidating to one side vs. the other since trusting relationships need to be established and I still have to do this yet, (the power of Yet!) know how to maneuver this… Looking for a Mentor or Fementor: anyone wants to teach I’m here because it is a delicate trusting balancing relationship to manage and I am learning…
Doug: Suppose you were given the opportunity to be an administrator in a school. What sorts of changes would you look to implement?
Nilmini: As an administrator, I would say: aspire to teach your best every day, lead with your best qualities and be honest when you make a mistake so that our students are inspired to be leaders in their own way! High standards for all to be who they are going through life stages and being lifelong learners.
The only change would be to aspire to work on equity principles: teach and practise what you teach to the best of your ability when it comes to sustaining the best learning environment for the school climate with having core equity principles in mind.
Doug: Your passions as listed above would come legitimately as a young lady coming to Canada.
Nilmini: I think my passions come from being able to serve a community. I am super positive, friendly and motivated so taking time to understand the community and learn along since everyone is how I work best as a big picture thinker! Maintaining relationships I think is the most important while letting everyone do their best work in their interest! I love volunteering, I love fundraising and organizing those skills I think brought with me as a young adult and established me serving my community as an adult today.
Doug: Computer geek that I am, I have to ask you the role of technology in your personal classroom. What things are you good at and your students do well? Where do you see room for improvement?
Nilmini: Omg, this learning curve this year- mindblowing! I have never seen students succeed this well in a given time frame- in learning while I learn at the same time! We are having so much fun learning together. I have collaborated with students and parents to narrow down options on what is successful and what can be changed! Technology has been inspirational in building collaboration with the technical team at the Central Board office and working with the team at the North field office in Brampton. I would say I go in each day with a growth mindset and listen, learn and ask for help when it comes to technology- Teamwork has really been what has made it successful!
Doug: On your website, you indicated that you are available to speak to others. What sorts of presentations are you prepared to present?
Nilmini: The most recent presentation is in combination with the Teach Better Blog series. It is titled “Advocating for Students”. I am willing to motivate staff to dive deeper into equity and inclusion principles by advocating for student voices as they work with me.
Thank you for the opportunity to reflect Doug by answering these thoughtful questions. I enjoyed answering them as I typed I was smiling.
Doug: Thank you so much for agreeing to do this interview. I wish you all the best in your ventures.
You can follow Nilmini on social media.
Facebook: Nilmini Ratwatte – Henstridge
Periodically, I interview interesting people like Nilmini. You can check them all out on the Interview Page at https://dougpete.wordpress.com/interviews/