An Interview with Rabia Khokhar


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.

Image copyright – Rabia Khokhar

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.  

https://www.rabiakhokhar.com/reading-challenges

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?

Image copyright – Rabia Khokhar
From: rabiakhokhar.com

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.

Important post
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. 

Image copyright – Rabia Khokhar

Doug:  Congratulations need to be extended with your recent recognition from ETFO.
Toronto teacher Rabia Khokhar wins ETFO Anti-Racist and Equity Activism Award

https://www.etfo.ca/news-publications/media-releases/onto-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?

Image copyright – Rabia Khokhar

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.

Twitter:  @Rabia_Khokhar1
Facebook:  Rabia Khokhar
Website:  https://www.rabiakhokhar.com/
Blog:  https://www.rabiakhokhar.com/blog-1

Periodically, I interview interesting people like Rabia.  You can check them all out on the Interview Page at https://dougpete.wordpress.com/interviews/

This Week in Ontario Edublogs


On Wednesday, Brad Hughes was the guest host of the This Week in Ontario Edublogs show. It was great having him as part of the discussion. He brought a principal’s perspective to much of the conversation.


Mathematics Doesn’t Get a Pass on Racial Justice Reform

If you read one blog post about the post/yank/delete/repost issue with the new Mathematics Grade 9 curriculum, it’s this one from Jason To.

In the post, he researches and shares the critical educational issue behind the issue and does share a Toronto-centric map to support his message from the Ontario Science Table. I found it fascinating to explore, given my limited understanding of Toronto from my one year of living there.

I found his analysis very thoughtful and I left this post just a bit smarter. And angrier.

The anger comes from his research into the media response which preceded the pulling and editing of the document.

OAME released this statement on the issue


The Grey Zone: The importance of empathy & evidence in learning about colonial genocide

Discomfort is a theme that runs through this latest post from Charles Pascal.

We are seeing many extreme measures on all fronts over current issues falling from the discovery of bodies of Indigenous children. Unless you are completely void of compassion, it’s so tough to read about this and broadcast media certainly has put faces to the pain which amplifies the message.

Charles does give a good analysis of what he’s seeing on a regular basis.

He offers advice which is always good and even more important now than ever.

Listen

I will continue to try to follow my own advice hoping more and more people will feel more comfortable in that uncomfortable grey zone where respectful listening is more common.


How Do You “Lead?” Unpacking My #OneWordX12 For July.

Aviva Dunsiger has followed Beth Lyon’s lead and, instead of a one word for the year, has opted for a one word for each month. It keeps blog readers busy at least once a month reading it.

So, for July the word is “Lead”.

It’s an interesting word and inspired by her summer work at Camp Power. I smile when I hear the word; education has so many books about leadership. I still have a few on my bookshelf here. Being a Chrysler type of town, we’ve heard Lee Iacocca talk about leadership using Patton’s phrase “Lead, Follow, or Get Out Of My Way”.

Leadership, I suspect, means different things to different people. There are people who rise in leadership positions but somehow lose the spark. There are others that don’t aspire to rise within their organization and yet inspire all the time with their actions.

Aviva gives a nod to a former principal and provides a number of thoughts near the end. The one that inspires me and should be the root of all things in education.

Kids are always worth fighting for


Getting Past a Gatekeeper

I struggled with whether or not to include this post from Noa Daniel in this post. It’s overly personal and describes what would be a low point in her professional career.

But, I did decide to include it. My rationale was that it was obviously important for Noa to put her thoughts to words and a blog is a platform for all kinds of people to land and read. So here we are.

I won’t dwell on Noa’s personal story. You can click through and read if you’re so inclined. I’m intrigued with her message of principal being a gatekeeper, allowing those in their school the opportunity to move forward or to keep them behind.

It would be nice if we could live with the Dyer quote that Noa includes.

If you do worry, you can drive yourself crazy. So often, opinions can be driven by first impressions or pre-conceived thoughts from others and can be difficult to change.

Where does that leave you?

You can wake up every morning hoping that the world has changed but that’s highly unlikely. Ultimately, you need to be true to yourself. You can hope that the gatekeeper moves on or you can make your own move and get on with your life.


Once you’re a dad…

Writing on his own blog, Will Gourley writes a blog post describing the joys and challenges of being a father.

It’s a powerful post and I think that all fathers will be nodding along as they read it. Then, he replies to his post in the form of a letter to his son.

I particularly like the comparison of fatherhood today to the fatherhood that our fathers had. It was completely different; there was no self help books, social media advice, or YouTube videos about how to do this or that. It was just our fathers doing what they thought best. And taking no guff!

And it’s not a bad thing.

All of us fathers hope we do the best. You see the results when your kids strike out on their own and make their own success. Yet, it all comes back to home when they return and immediately go to the cookie cupboard.


Teacher Professional Development Podcasts

I loved reading this post from Kristy and I couldn’t find her last name. Her Twitter handle will be listed below.

I totally agree with the essence of her message. I’ve been to many professional development sessions where the topic chosen was something from a presenter’s catalogue and may or may not have been updated to reflect the current world.

With podcasts, you don’t have the costs or travel to sit and listen. When you chose wisely, the content can be as up to date as this morning and you can listen while walking the dog, writing a blog post, or just lying back on your bed. It’s personal learning at its best.

Kristy provides a list of podcasts, by subject area, that lets you immediately increase your ability to learn. Of particular interest for the summer, you might be interested in the Teacher Emotional Support section.


Luca: The Importance of Seeing Fully

I’ve been a fan of Pixar works.

According to Anthony Perrotta, it started with Toy Story and here we are today with Luca. I’ll confess that I haven’t seen Luca yet. Toy Story, many times – the DVD was a Christmas gift…

This could have been a quick and easy post to read but it isn’t. It’s actually a very complete lesson to you, dear reader, about media literacy and what you could be and should be seeing. There’s a tie to current events and how we need to be doing a better job of understanding.

There’s also a nice link to a PDF download of activities.


I hope that you can take the time to read and appreciate the wisdom in these posts.

Then, follow them on Twitter.

  • @brad_hughes
  • @Jason_To
  • @CEPascal
  • @avivaloca
  • @iamnoadaniel
  • @WillGourley
  • @2peasandadog
  • @aperrottatweet

This Week in Ontario Edublogs is live Wednesday mornings at 8:45. This week’s show is found here.

This Week in Ontario Edublogs


Martha Jez from Fair Chance Learning was our guest host on the voicEd Radio show This Week in Ontario Edublogs. I’ve known Martha for a number of years and had the chance to interview her here. I can’t believe that this was done in 2015. She was a delightful addition to the show and I learned a great deal from the interaction with her – including her being a volleyball player. She added some interesting content to the show and I’ll try to include some of it in the commentary below.


Esports: Getting Started

From the Fair Chance Learning blog, an interesting post to bring you up to speed if you’re new to the concept of esports. You’ll be excused if you wrestle with the word “esports”; it’s one of those new words that technology has brought to our language. It could just as easily be spelled e-sports or Esports and probably is, if you look in the right places.

In the post, there is a background as to the origins and the money behind the development of the concept.

Of particular interest was the section titled “Are esports important?” Read it; it might affirm what you know already or it may be a good introduction to the concept if you’re looking for a good rationale.


FC Gaming: Where Esports meets Education

After a look at the big picture, it was interesting to dig into where Fair Chance Learning stands with the concept. They’ve branded their esports with a logo and a section called FCGaming.

They’re not going it alone. The page highlights the partners in esports that they’re onside with. Click through each and you’ll see that a great deal of thought and effort has gone into the planning.

You’ll also find a link to an esports coaching clinic that you can attend later this summer.


215

This is such a powerful post from Sue Bruyns. Like the rest of us, we were not taught about residential institutions and so many of us are playing catch up to learn and try to understand. As Sue notes, she’ll “never get it”. That still doesn’t make the news of bodies found at the institutions any easier to take.

Sue wrote this post when the first 215 hit the news. You can see a premonition in Sue’s post when she says “Yet, not naïve to think that this is but a fraction of the over 4000 deaths of children while under the “care” of the residential school system.”

I’ll leave you with two things to ponder.

The first comes from Sue’s blog post.

How dare those institutions be referred to as “schools”.

The second came from Martha during the program. She had shared it in our collaborative notes and was strong enough to read it during the show. I never could have done it. She attributes it to a 12 year old student from Fort Frances.

“today I lay my ballet shoes for the little girl before me that did not have a choice.

today I wear my hair in braids for the little girl who had her braids cut from her body.

today I speak my language for the little girl who was abused for her mother tongue.

today I wear the ribbon skirt my mama made me for the little girl who was stripped of her clothing.

today I wear pieces of my regalia for the little girl who couldn’t.

today I play with my sisters and brothers for the little girl who was taken from her family.

today I hug and kiss my mom and dad for the little girl who couldn’t.

today I walk home for the little girl who never made it home.

today I offer my asema for the children before me, for my koko, my family, and my people.

today I ask for healing for the children before me, with me and after me.”

Even writing this and during proofreading, it brought out emotions in me.


Hiring in Education

Terry Whitmell applied for a teaching position at a Faculty of education and withholds the name of the university in this post.

She takes us through the steps that were required for the interview and her reaction to this. They seem pretty straight forward to me; I can’t imagine being interviewed in these COVID times but this seems to be a nice accommodation.

What will make you stop and think is the message describing how the successful candidate won out.

the candidate who was offered the position has worked in multiple university contexts in full-time roles and has a significant record of scholarship in curriculum studies

Let that sink in for a minute. Think about yourself applying for this position if you’re coming from K-12. Obviously, the first criteria is out. The second one might be possible if you take the time to research and be published. In a significant manner.

Terry points out the power and important of Action Research that happens in K-12 all the time. Does that count?

How does someone from K-12 get through the door to post-secondary positions? How can this disconnect be addressed? Do universities not value the practical experience from someone who actually worked there?


AN EPIC BATTLE OF THE IMAGINATION

Writing for the TESLOntario blog, Daniela Greco-Giancola shares a story of how she inspired some writing in her classroom. To up the game, students were instructed that this would not be graded and that they were free to use translation software if necessary.

Their inspiration? “Using YouTube, I start the soundtrack to The Chronicle of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe; I have chosen a track called The Battle.”

I’ll make a guess on the video …

So, inspired, off they went to write and share their stories. I felt like a fly on the wall as I really could picture this happening.

The thing that I was left wondering is personal. I took a lot of French in elementary and secondary school. I did alright from a marks perspective. I do remember composing and writing in my mind in English, translating it, and creating something in French. Is that the goal or is it to think, compose, and write soley in the second language?

What struck me as remarkable about the exercise was the type of words that were used in the writing. I’m guessing that wouldn’t be part of the normal curriculum.


Z is for Zen, Zoos and Zoodles

Lynn Thomas has been working her way through the alphabet with blog posts so it’s only appropriate that we talk about the last one and her focus on the letter Z.

After such a bizarre year in our lives, we all need a moment of Zen.

But don’t stop there. There’s also zoos and zoodles.

Lynn shares this classic…

along with some calming food ideas.


We need to stop calling them “schools”

Another piece of wisdom from Martha took us to the 7 Generations Education Institute and ultimately their blog and this post.

I would recommend setting aside a few quiet moments to slowly read and digest the content from this post. You’ll read a poem and some deep insights.

You’ll do a full stop at the section “Schools do not require graveyards“.

Combine this sentiment with Sue’s observation above and it’s an action item that we can all move on. Until a better word comes along, I’m pledging to use the word institution instead.


I hope that you can take the time to read and appreciate the wisdom in these posts.

Then, follow them on Twitter.

  • @marthajez
  • @FCLedu
  • @sbruyns
  • @TerryWhitmell
  • @TESLOntario
  • @THOMLYNN101
  • @7GenerationsEd

This Week in Ontario Edublogs is live Wednesday mornings at 8:45. This week’s show is found here.

An Interview with Alanna King


Alanna King is one of those Ontario Educators that you see everywhere, it seems!  On social media actively learning or at a face-to-face professional development event, you’ll find her smiling face and eagerness to help push your learning. I don’t think that I’ve ever seen her less than full speed ahead with a delightful, bubbly and friendly personality.  I’m happy to say that I’ve known Alanna for a number of years and look forward to every opportunity for our paths to cross.  Recently, this wonderful person agreed to share even more information about this inspirational educator.

Doug:  My first question in these interviews is always the same.  Do you recall when our paths first crossed?  (online or not or both)

Alanna: I don’t have a flashbulb memory but I would bet that it had something to do with either of these 2 events in 2009 when I was seeking how to further my new interest in teaching online and moving from the drama classroom to the school library for the first time.  I attended OTF’s 21C summer institute and then in the fall I attended my first ECOO conference.

Doug:  The King family has been like a second family to me and it’s always a personal highlight to see the three of you at Bring IT Together Conferences.  As we know, the traditional meetup at Niagara Falls hasn’t been happening.  Fortunately, we have social media to stay in touch.  I understand you have a new driver in the family!  Congratulations – question though – I’ve driven in your “hood” many times.  There are lots of steep hills.  How’s the learning going?  Car or motorcycle?

Alanna: Our new driver has grown up on ATVs and we go as a family to SMART adventures each year….that is the fellas go driving and I go to the spa. Although this year I’m thinking of learning off-road driving so I can go to lesser places known with more confidence.   The trickiest bit seems to be the anxiety of everyone during the pandemic….have you noticed how much drivers are forgetting the basics?

Doug:  I’m laughing here thinking of that question, Alanna.  Yes, turn signals and stop signs seem optional these days.  I thought it was just around here.

Somewhat recently, you’ve made a huge career change, leaving your Library behind for a change in teaching assignment.  Can you tell us about the decision to do this and let us know how it’s going?

Alanna: I’m really wrestling with how to answer this because there a lot of emotion and identity on it.  I thing I earned my online presence as a teacher-librarian and so this is how people define me.  Being a teacher-librarian is a great gig, if you can get it.  My job as a t-l meant a 90 minute commute each day, which was great for reading audiobooks but not much else.  I had applied for a job transfer to a school closer to home in Elora for a decade.  Most of our services for our son and health are in Guelph and Kitchener-Waterloo so Elora has been great for access, and the thriving arts community here has always made us feel at home here.  When I got sick in 2019, my principal administratively transferred me to our school which is just 7 minutes from home for full English. At the minute I have 2 library sections in my timetable for next year so that’s motivating me to try face-to-face again!  Since returning to work gradually after surviving cancer, and then the pandemic shutdown, I’ve actually only spent 3 months in the building….80% of 2020 I worked remotely from home.  I’m immune-compromised so I don’t see that changing anytime soon.  

Doug:  Wow, I hadn’t thought about the commute in terms of time.  I know the roads can be treacherous at times there in the winter.

Any regrets about the move?

Alanna: Of course! It was a great gig but more than anything I miss my friends.  But there are benefits too– I don’t run the literacy test for the school, I don’t have a headship, and my teeny tiny corner of teaching English full-time means I can set my own agenda and have a direct influence on student learning again.  As a t-l, I was peripheral.

Doug:  How does your experience and skill set as a Teacher-Librarian serve you in your new role?

Alanna: I’ll never stop innovating!  I see so much more clearly how English is a fundamental component of every classroom so I think more about skills and levelling students up in their reading, writing and research.  I embed diverse voices into everything and almost every assignment we do offers choice.  I started 2 virtual extracurriculars this year: a book club using the OLA’s White Pine program and a creative writing club….we have students from every secondary school in the board.  I’m still marveling how we never would have tried it if it hadn’t been for CoVid.  We had 130 participants between the 2 clubs!  Also I have a new appreciation for motivation and mental health and creating that safe space in the library has translated back into my teaching.  

Doug:  You’ve made connections with Teacher-Librarians that I used to work with at the Greater Essex County District School Board.  Can you name names?  How did you connect with them?

Alanna: I’m sorry Doug but everyone who is west of K-W is sort of “over there near Doug” so I’m going to get this wrong I know.  I have a great friend Johanna Lawler that you and I have in common.  Johanna and I spent 3 glorious years together serving on the OSLA council together.  Then it gets fuzzy….do you know Martha MartinDawn Telfer?  James Henderson?

Doug:  Martha was the Computers in Education School Contact at my kids’ school as well as a teacher-librarian.  She provided the whole literacy/digital literacy for them.  I’ve met Dawn from Thames Valley but I don’t think I’ve met James.  Johanna, in addition to being the CIESC at another school, always had an open door for me and offered to be a guinea pig for many district initiatives and I learned so much from her.

I know that you’re a regular attendee at the OLA Superconference and the ECOO Bring IT, Together Conference.  What idea(s) from each conference could be shared with the other to make both conferences even better?

Alanna: 1 thing that Diana and I brought to OLA when we were planners was the idea of an onsite school library makerspace which we adapted from Brenda Sherry’s idea of Minds On Media at ECOO.  People who attend the conference, who don’t get to play all day long like teacher-librarians, loved our OSLA playground.  James Steeves is a hit both at ECOO and at OLA for bringing weird stuff to try!  OLA feels more like a conference than BIT. ….I mean people are there for the whole event and are excited about the AGMs.  There is food and drink everywhere, and the social events are widely varied and massively popular.  The keynotes at OLA are a real hit because they are often authors, journalists or people in the arts who have either: used libraries to get started on a pathway or someone who knows how much their voice now resonates with the fundamental reasons that libraries are essential – democracy, expression, community, and social justice.  Until BIT has drag queens and dancing with an oxygen bar, it just doesn’t compare.  

Doug:  I’ve got to agree with you there. I’ve been to a few OLA conferences and presented twice, once with a teacher from my old board and the second time The Great OSLA Faceoff with the amazing Zoe Branigan-Pipe and two teams of amazing educators. There is something marvelous about the OLA Superconference – maybe it’s because they’re not all teachers! <grin>

You’re also an award winner – tell us about the significance of the Angela Thacker Award to you – 

Alanna: On my bad days this feels like a post-humous award and if you read my blog post of my acceptance speech, you’ll know why.  What really matters to me though ….is that it’s like winning a Screen Actors Guild award rather than an Oscar.  This award is for my leadership in the development of the profession of school library staff….so my nomination was put forward and supported by my colleagues and people who work on the field.  I sat with a team of geniuses this year to reenvision the library AQs, then donated my earnings to Canadian School Libraries.  I write a lot for our CSL journal, I have run summer institutes for school library staff, I attend Faculty of Ed days where they’re talking about school libraries and I keep pushing people to do more.  I really think that the best school librarians work to make systems that are sustainable and users independent and that there is a whole community/system/national/global focus on everything they do.  

Doug:  Your reach also extends to Argentina – tell us about that – https://www.ugdsb.ca/blog/ugdsb-libraries-provide-inspiration-to-buenos-aires/

Alanna: Well again on OSLA council I made a Francophone contact Joanne Plante who serves as Canada’s representative for IFLA (International Federation of Libraries Association) who were planning an event in Buenos Aires with UNESCO to make groundbreaking moves towards the Sustainable Development Goals.  Joanne couldn’t go because she also had to present her work at the IFLA conference in Prague (maybe?).  I was having fries at a chip truck when she emailed to ask if I would be up for it.  5 weeks later I had flown 14 hours to spend less than 4 days on the ground in Argentina to keynote, be part of a panel and to work directly with key stakeholders about envisioning how to take Buenos Aires ahead in digital literacy.  It rocked my world to bridge all of those lingual and cultural differences and to see firsthand how a developing country makes literacy choices.  When I came back I thought of nothing else!  Eventually the head librarian for teachers, Walquiria Salinas, in Buenos Aires came and lived with me for 3 weeks in time for the winter OLA conference, and our biennial research symposium called Treasure Mountain Canada.  It was during this conference that Beth Lyons, Lisa Noble and I started our podcast called Read Into This.  

Doug:  One of the things I appreciate and admire about you is your dedication to blogging.  Recently, I mentioned that blogging seems to be dropping off and I guessed it might be because of the stresses associated with the pandemic.  What keeps you going?  Where do you find ideas and inspiration for blogging topics?

Alanna: Don’t compare me to my prolific husband Tim on this one who writes daily in his blogs!  My blogs are usually either: quick reviews of something I’ve experienced or read OR they are big thoughts that have percolated for a long time….I’m a slow brew.  I’m always learning, reading, consuming and creating and I like the blog as an archive of these ideas but mostly I like to blog to unpack deep thoughts and to start new conversations with its readers.  

Doug:  When I was at the Faculty of Education, one of my placements took me to Orangeville.  I would have loved to have taught there, at least at the time.  Would that have been a good choice for a Computer Science teacher?

Alanna: Why not?  Isn’t computer science viable everywhere?  It should be!  Orangeville is a bedroom community for the GTA so your students would have all of the computer-embedded opportunities in the geographical reach for its SHSM and coop applications.  But truthfully computer science wasn’t a well developed program where I taught.  Instead students mostly got soft skills in business class, media skills in comm tech and modelling and manufacturing skills in design tech.  If we had computer science running that year it was primarily focused on coding and app building.

Doug:  Recently, we have a standing date to visit the new River Bookshop in Amherstburg. https://riverbookshop.com/  Now, I should know all about it since the Rivertown Times used to be in that location and we witnessed the renovations.  How on earth would that have crossed your radar, over three hours away?  

Alanna: I am really interested in independent bookstores. In another life, I’d run one next to a cafe and with a community space in it for larger groups….or maybe that’s a library or a museum, but you see where I’m going with this.  What I love about what I’ve seen online about the River Bookshop is that it knows the community and it is intent on being a pillar of your town. I loved the Halloween decorations they put up that you sent me pictures of.

Doug:  You’ll be please to know that they’ve purchased the store beside them and are renovating it to be a bake shop. They must have read your mind.

All educators are experiencing a new reality teaching in this environment.  How have you been handling things?  

Alanna: Like I said I’ve been teaching completely online this year but you may not know that I’ve been an elearning teacher since 2009.  So in terms of the tech, I was quite prepared.  What I wasn’t prepared for are the demands of synchronous learning! But it’s been a real intellectual and physical challenge to maintain the integrity of my curriculum in compressed time limits, and with very limited tech.  I feel like I’ve fulfilled all the roles of the support staff missing in a face-to-face situation.  I really miss our custodians! 

Doug:  Do you have any wisdom for what might happen to/for:

  1. Face to face instruction in schools?
  2. Bring IT, Together Conference?
  3. OLA Super Conference?

Alanna: 

  1. I think we’ve learned a lot this year about the disparities that families face and how much that age-old Maslow’s hierarchy of needs affects learning.  We need to work a lot harder in our public education system to be inclusive and to make space for marginalized voices.  There’s a lot of talk about being explicitly anti-racist, and acknowledging Indigenous experiences, but we are also facing local hate crimes on a heightened level.  We have to put relationships and community before curriculum….especially if that curriculum continues to be based on colonial values.  There’s a growing movement in the school library to do away with overdue fines and to dismantle Dewey.
  2. I have absolutely loved the ECOO learning series through live webinars, and also the ECOO camps.  For me, the ideal of getting face to face for 3 days in Niagara has felt less possible each year…the time and cost are increasingly prohibitive.  I think at the very least there needs to be a consistent virtual presence.  I’m surprised that ECOO hasn’t started it’s own podcast!
  3. Likewise I had an exhilarating experience hosting my first live podcast for Superconference this year.  Stephen Hurley ran all the tech for me and I loved generating hype for our online social celebration of the successes of school libraries during the pandemic, and the community we’ve developed with our Read Into This podcast.  Generally the timing of this conference has always fallen during exams so I live in hope that it can continue.  Again though, I can’t see why it needs to be fully face-to-face.  We had people tune in from all over Canada, as it is the biggest library conference in the nation.  It would be a shame to dismantle that new level of connectivity.

Doug:  I think I know you well enough to know that you’ve always been a continuous learner.  What are you currently learning?

Alanna: I am just finishing my Graduate Certificate in Instructional Design through Royal Roads University.  I’ve taken 3 course in Graphic Design, Project Management and Learning Design with Educational Technologies.  Looking at job ads for Instructional Designers in the areas that I’d like to work in, my next level might be a certificate in adult learning, and also improving my French and Spanish so that I can work with human rights organizations. I think you know that I taught in Japan for 3 years.  Now that our son will be heading off to college soon, I’d like to head off to new horizons in global education especially in developing sustainable education for all.  I almost started a diploma in curatorial work because museums, galleries and libraries are my favourite places.  I would love to develop cross-curricular educational programming.  Did I ever tell you about my student grant job at the Joseph Schneider Haus museum in Kitchener?  Best job ever.

Doug: I don’t believe that you mentioned that Schneider Haus museum but I certainly remember it from my university days.

If a person was new to social media and turned to you for recommendations, who would you recommend following/friending?  Maybe a quick Top 10 List?

Alanna: Well obviously you need to connect to Stephen Hurley @Stephen_Hurley and you @dougpete.  I love to follow @TheFOLD_ and @AmnestyReads book selections to diversify my reading.  I think Colinda Clyne @clclyne and Jael Richardson @JaelRichardson have made huge gains with their reading recommendations and book clubs to highlight diverse Canadian voices.  If you haven’t already, please follow our podcast Read Into This @into_read and my two co-hosts Beth Lyons @mrslyonslibrary and Lisa Noble @nobleknits2.  Finally I would recommend following your subject associations and mine are:  @ecooorg @oslacouncil @ELANontario

Doug:  Alanna, thank you so much for the interview.  I truly am looking forward to showing you the River Bookshop one of these days.  May it be sooner than later.  Stay safe.

You can connect with Alanna here:

An interview with Lynn Thomas


Through Social Media, I’ve made connections with Lynn Thomas over the past few years.  She seemed to be very interested in taking on a leadership role provincially and, when I asked her to take on a role on the ECOO Board of Directors, she was all in.  She remains very active online and I was pleased when she said yes to this interview.

Lynn Thomas is a secondary school English teacher at Dunnville Secondary School in Dunnville, Ontario. Her complete digital bio is available here.  https://wordsgrow.com/about/

Let’s learn more about Lynn.

Doug: My first question is always the same and helps to set the stage – do you recall the first we met – either face to face or online?

Lynn: Way back when I started writing my blog in 2017, I was pretty unaware of the broader EDUTwitter community. It wasn’t long before Doug messaged me asking to cover my blog on his podcast with Stephen Hurley, This Week In Ontario EDU Blogs. I was thrilled and am eternally grateful because it opened up a whole network of amazing educators, many of whom I count as good friends today. This initial ‘meeting’ has lead to Doug’s recurring visits to my blog series, The A, B, Cs (and X, Y, Zs) of the Class of 2030 and to finally meeting face to face at the BIT 2019 conference, after he had recruited me to join ECOO’s Board of Directors. 

Doug:  The only real job descriptor for the Past President of the Educational Computing Organization of Ontario is to recruit people to serve on the Board of Directors.  I was happy when I reached out to you and you agreed to take on a role and became the Treasurer.  Since that time, you’ve moved into the President’s seat.  Tell us about your couple of years in leadership in the organization.

Lynn: My initial reaction when you reached out to me was feeling honoured and then immediately scared to death. Never having served on any sort of Board of Directors, I was understandably feeling very out of my depth but I really wanted to learn and give it a go. The first few months on the Board were a whirlwind of learning more about the organization, the expectations surrounding being Treasurer, and meeting all the other people involved, their roles and how everything fit together. It was quite the learning curve. 

A mere 4 months into my term the pandemic hit and everything was shut down. That really changed things. The annual conference, #BIT – a major focus of the organization – was cancelled and we were left trying to navigate teaching ourselves and what we could do. How could we help? What supports do teachers need right now? How can we accomplish these things? Essentially, we remade ourselves and learned a great deal along the way which has served us well moving forward in the continuing pandemic and disruptions in learning in education. 

By this point, I knew I wanted to continue to serve on the Board and so accepted the President’s position. I’m very proud of the continual support we have been able to provide throughout last year and this year. ECOO has taken a position as a consistent supportive voice on the educational landscape and it is a good place to be.

Doug:  The past couple of years have not been ideal to take on the leadership role but you did.  What sorts of initiatives have been stamped with “Lynn Thomas”?

Lynn: The Initiatives we have taken on at ECOO have definitely been a collaborative effort. We have supported each other in learning how to and then putting together a virtual conference, ECOOCampON, last August and are hosting the event again this August and we undertook hosting a series of support sessions throughout the fall, winter and spring to continue to help teachers navigate education during a pandemic. But, the two things I feel that I have taken on a larger role in are in re-envisioning our membership and financial model and an in-depth exploration of our mission and vision statements to help guide us moving forward.

Doug:  In these times, the get together annual conference is obviously not going to happen.  Yet, ECOO is offering learning for Ontario Educators, albeit differently, including a session on wine tasting.  What’s the thinking behind these efforts?

Lynn: Although meeting face-to-face has not been an option over the past year, educators have needed to network and learn from each other more than ever.  The events of 2020 prompted a focus on Equity, Anti-Racism, Wellness, Remote Learning, and (with the Ministry’s implementation of the revised 1-8 Math curriculum for last September) Coding. These timely themes were emphasized at our summer ECOOcampON20 conference, and continued into the fall.  

As the 2020-21 school year unfolded, with the continual back-and-forth between school and home, a significant toll has been exacted from educators, and by the time we reached the early months of 2021, it became clear that we wanted to focus our Spring Support Series on educator wellness.  The Ministry’s postponement of the Spring break from March to April was a significant factor in our planning, such that social events for educators such as a garden tour, a tea break, a wine tasting, and a number of educators+family art events were scheduled for the week of the April break. Several of the events were framed as part of a virtual “road trip” to take the place of a more traditional spring break getaway.  

Planning for ECOOcampON21 will similarly respond to the current, pending and emerging needs of Ontario educators, such as the Ministry’s move to destream Grade 9 this September. 

Our efforts to focus on supporting educators with timely topics and useful resources has been well spent and appreciated by our members. An example comment: 

‘… you folks have been a lifesaver for my sanity and ability to feel like I am part of the world this year…’ and I think that says it all. 

Doug:  What support has ECOO offered to its members during these bizarre on again, off again series of teaching online?

Lynn: When the pandemic’s effects began to directly impact schools beginning in March 2020, the ECOO Board undertook a number of initiatives to support ECOO members and Ontario educators:

a) We developed an 18-episode podcast series with Stephen Hurley to share authentic voices from Ontario educators and how they were responding to the issues of “emergency remote teaching.”

b) We collated a large collection of COVID-19 resources and tools from across the province to provide educators with a crowd-sourced set of supports.

c) We determined that our face-to-face planned ECOOcamps and Fall 2020 BIT conference would not go ahead, and instead hosted a 3-day summer virtual ECOOcampON conference in August to support educators before the September return, as well as hosting evening Support Series events through the Fall of 2020, and the Winter and Spring of 2021. 

d) We hosted a virtual #vBIT21 conference in February, 2021, and will be hosting #ECOOcampON21 this August. 

e) We supported the hosting of the ECOO-CS Programming Contest in virtual format, with over 600 students again registering for the May 1st event. 

Doug:  When you look at your Bio page on your blog, you have a large collection of certifications and badges.  Are there one or two that are particularly helpful that you would recommend to others?

Lynn: Becoming a Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert was my first foray into any sort of certifications and badges outside AQs, so the Microsoft Educator’s Community is close to my heart. I have learned a great deal from the many colleagues and friends I have met and made through being part of that community – even being selected to travel to Paris, France for Microsoft’s global Educator’s Exchange (E2) in 2019. Another certification that I would definitely recommend to others because of the superior, in-depth learning offered is National Geographic’s Certified Educator program. I really enjoyed National Geographic’s program, particularly because it offered me a new way to approach topics in my English classes. Looking at themes or topics and including various lenses and viewpoints (i.e. historical, geographical, sociological, environmental, economical, etc and from the local to regional to global level) was transformative. Reframing topics in my class in this way led to far more in-depth discussion and learning and also engaged students far more because it gave students choice, engage with the topic on multiple levels and allowed them to use their voice in a myriad of ways. Finally, HP Teaching Fellows is an outstanding community to be part of. The Fellowship is guided by Digital Promise and offers phenomenal professional development opportunities in a range of formats that allow you to really foster a strong community of learners.

Doug:  You describe yourself as a Digital Lead Learner with your district.  Can you explain what this term means and how that fits into a full teaching schedule?  What opportunities are necessary if someone wishes to follow your track and become a Digital Lead Learner themself?

Lynn: The Digital Lead Learner program with my board brought together teachers interested in educational technology from both the secondary and elementary panels. As a large group we met four times per year where we undertook professional development like guest speakers, workshops and edcamp style events to further our learning and pedagogy surrounding educational technology. We were then able to share that learning with colleagues in our buildings. We were also given opportunities to lead sessions on ed tech for the New Teacher Induction Program (NTIP) and Support staff professional development. Furthermore, we were given support to attend conferences like #BIT and CanConnectEd which is how I began attending these events and becoming involved in ECOO. The program has changed over the years but essentially, an interest in learning and furthering your practice in the realm of educational technology was the key to following that track.  

Doug:  Of interest to me is that you’re a Microsoft Fellow and a Microsoft in Education Master Trainer.  Obviously, during these times, face to face events are impossible.  But, are there other opportunities for you to use your abilities?

Lynn:  There are definitely tons of opportunities to use my abilities related to being a Microsoft Fellow and Master Trainer. In fact, it has probably increased during the pandemic. The fact that webinars and virtual workshops are now normalized means that I have been able to support educators virtually – far easier to arrange than a large physical gathering and I am also not limited to my particular area geographically. Over the past year I have led sessions for audiences from not only in Canada but India, Ireland and globally. Some have been tied to larger events like Microsoft’s ConnectED conference or the Social-Emotional Learning Karanga while others have been singular events like a 2-day workshop I led in December fro teachers in India on using educational technology to support social-emotional learning.

Doug:  You’re involved with the SINGLEVOICESGLOBALCHOICES project.  Can you tell us details about this and how it applies to Ontario?

Lynn: The Single Voices, Global Choices project is a globally collaborative project for middle and high school students and teachers from all over the world who believe in the power of global connections and who want to bring the real world into their classrooms.This is done through focusing every month on one or more international events created by the United Nations and other organizations and by analyzing current events. The project’s focus on international events, like World Literacy Day for example, is universal and the fact that there is strong attention paid to current events makes it one where students from all walks of life and geographical areas can be engaged and participate. I particularly like projects like this because it offers real world issues for students to learn about and explore, engages them in taking on various viewpoints and allows them to problem solve solutions to some of the concerns raised. 

Doug:  As you know, I follow your blog “Wordsgrow” with interest and have talked about particular blog posts on my This Week in Ontario Edublogs posts.  Can you tell me the inspiration behind the name “Wordsgrow” and what you use as motivation to continue to blog?

Lynn:   I initially started a class blog as part of a class blogging project and used it as a mentor text for students while they blogged about Frankenstein. Near the same time I got involved in a MOOC/book study with George Couros focused on the Innovator’s Mindset where he strongly encouraged everyone to blog throughout the MOOC. I soon found out how much I got out of blogging and how much I enjoyed it so I created my blog site – Wordsgrow. I settled on the name because I have always loved words (go figure – English teacher here) and see the impact they can have. I also see how they can change myself and others so the idea of growth kept coming back to me which reminded me of the quote from Lucy Maud Montgomery – “words aren’t made…they grow” so  Wordsgrow seemed completely fitting.

Doug:  If you were to take a snapshot of your teaching in 2019 with your teaching in 2020/2021, what differences leap out at you?

Lynn: While I’m sure most people would say the pivot to online is the biggest difference between 2019 and 2020/21, for me I think stress actually surmounts it. I have long used blended learning in my classroom, so moving to online was not a big stretch for me. What affected my teaching far more was the stress caused by so much uncertainty, so much negative messaging to teachers, and so little real support. Don’t get me wrong, my colleagues and admin were staunch supporters. I’m talking about the wider context that we personally had little control of. The many times that unrealistic expectations were put on teachers to change teaching styles in an instant, be everything to everyone without the necessary training, adhere to teaching expectations that had little to no grounding in proven pedagogical principles, lack of financial support, and definitely a lack of the time to enact these changes and expectations. That stress definitely changed me and how I teach and it, I feel, is the starkest difference.   

Doug:  Lynn, thank you so much for the interview.  I appreciate your thoughts and the opportunity to learn more about you.  I wish you continued best wishes with all your endeavours.

You can follow Lynn on Social Media here:

Twitter:  @THOMLYNN101
Blog:  https://wordsgrow.com/

Periodically I have the opportunity to interview interesting people like Lynn.  All of the interviews are available here:  https://dougpete.wordpress.com/interviews