Do you have to be poor to work for the poor?

This morning, a friend and colleague posted on Facebook about some of the tensions he experiences as a community activist. Without posting the exact status, his words hinted to multiple issues in social justice work: making enough money, having enough influence, working too many hours, etc.

In response to this, I posted this excerpt from Carmel’s McConnell’s book.

As an activist in my twenties I believed for a long time that having cash was an inherently bad thing. That I couldn’t justify having personal comfort in terms of a nice place to live, or decent clothes while others lived in poverty. My duty – I thought – was to change the world and that could be done only while wearing clothes from thrift stores and jumble sales.

Then I read something about how your duty is to help the poor, not join them in their poverty. And it struck me that the time I was spending just trying to survive was time that I could be using more effectively to make changes in the world. So I changed how I thought about earning a good wage and got a great job… and, suddenly, I was able to do loads more… I found that by thinking different thoughts about money I was able to go from being poor and angry to tired to being relatively rich and calm and only tired because I chose to work hard on something that matters… And the best thing is by working from the heart and being passionate about social change and business success I’ve deposited both hard cash and moral dollars.

Spiritual and material enrichment.

– Change Activist: make big things happen fast by Carmel McConnell.

A penny for your thoughts? Would love to have some dialogue on this via my blog comments!

Photo by Tyheem Uno.

Teetering with technology: how I explore my own use, disuse & misuse of 21st century devices and tools

An earlier version of this post was published in the Linden School’s literary journal, House of Girls. A print copy is available for purchase at the school now; an electronic version will come out soon.

Contrary to popular belief, this technology teacher isn’t all that techie. Sure, I have a few of the latest devices, but I also place great value in some of the classic ways of reading, writing and interacting. I probably write just as often with a good, old-fashioned pen and paper than with my laptop, tablet or phone. I still call up my best friends to come over for a gabfest, even though my public social media profiles divulge details of my life. Every day I read and review web articles and videos. But ever fall asleep while reading or watching something on your iPad? Well, a glass screen bonking you on the nose can wake you up quicker than those annoying analog alarm clocks, I tell ya.

Though, I think things are a bit more complicated. You see, I prefer to order my food with a server than through an iPad, but will never step foot in a restaurant without checking its Yelp reviews first. I solicit book recommendations in online forums yet still spend hours browsing used bookstores. I probably have as many books in my library as I have followers on Twitter. I love the printed word, so much so that I chose to lug a luggage full of books home from the UK than housing digital copies of these texts in a tablet. Technically, I had some help with that heavy load of literature, but I’m sure my friends and the airport porters were muttering “Oy vey” under their breath.

In class, I ask my students to critique our learning activities using new technology or paper. Sometimes they submit handwritten reflections; sometimes they post it online. Often, I ask them to evaluate the very software used for our learning tasks. I want them to choose their tools wisely. Do we collaborate on a Google doc or do we talk face-to-face? Do you ask the teacher or do you crowdsource information? In what ways can technology support our tasks and help us meet our goals? In what ways can it complicate this? Sometimes I purposely structure problematic activities so the girls understand it is important to pick the right medium to communicate a message, the right tool to create a product, the right words to bring our ideas to life.

As someone who supports both adults and young people in learning about ‘technology’ and ‘social media’, I have to figure out how to make sense of these tools and practices – however new or old. I suppose some would argue I am light years ahead in my understanding of technology and social media. But some would say I’m quite behind.

Just the other Sunday, I was posting pictures of past travels on Instagram using the hashtag #TBT. I immediately received a WhatsApp message (instant message application on my phone) from a friend asking, “Aren’t you posting that on the wrong day?” These shared moments of nostalgia, tagged with those three key letters, were apparently part of the “Throwback Thursday” trend. I had interpreted it as “Turn back time” (shout out to anyone who knows the Cher song). D’oh. Despite being the Technology Teacher, clearly I’m behind on hashtags and social media trends. All my years of training and experience using social media, there are still more things to learn.

I remember when my mom thought LOL meant Lots of Love. Look who’s laughing now…

 

Morning conversation – Creeping my Instagram

Note: The girls call me by my first name.

SCENE: Computer lab. Thursday morning, about 5 minutes before 1st period starts. I’m answering emails on my computer in the lab, other students are in the room doing work before class.

A Grade 7 girl walks in.

Student: Mooooniiicaaaa…
Me: Yes?
Student: The Grade 8s wanted to ask you if you were married.
Me: What! Why do they want to know?
Student: Uhh ’cause you’re beautiful and we didn’t see a ring on your fingers. [looking at my hands]
[Senior students, in the room working, start to giggle]
Me: Tell the Grade 8s that I said y’all should just mind ya own biznaaass.
Student: [looking embarrassed] We’re just curious!
Me: Why didn’t you Google ‘Monica Batac married’ or…
Student: [interrupts] Well… some of us were looking at your Instagram and we saw a picture of a wedding.
Me: What! [laughs] Okay, well let’s pull up my Instagram then.

[we look at my computer and they point to the picture in question]

Me: Yeah, that’s not me.
[More giggling and jokes]
Me: Wait a sec… you all were worried about ME stalking all of y’all? Glad to know y’all are Googling my name and checking me out online.

Reviving the blog – a little update

Seems like I’ve had quite a long blogging break, but I am very excited and energized to get back into the mood and routine of writing. A little update on me… I’m now teaching at the Linden School here in Toronto. My work here focuses around 4 areas:

  1. Planning and teaching the Computer Studies courses (Grade 7-12)
  2. Revamping the communications strategy and initiatives for the school
  3. Supporting faculty and staff in technology integration and innovations
  4. Working with our IT consultant(s) to improve IT infrastructure and administration processes

It’s been a beautiful start to the school year – looking forward to sharing the stories with you.
-M

A little update [!]

Many people argue the number one factor to a school’s success is the administrative leadership and vision. Teacher friends, can you imagine teaching in a school with a supportive leader who embraces, shares, and supports your philosophy of and approach to education?

Some of you are fortunate to have this already. Some of my mentors are in these leadership roles themselves. & while I’ve struggled with the current reality and difficulty in joining these friends in Ontario schools, a unique opportunity has come up for me.

Last week, I had an amazing interview with a female principal in the UK. The interview felt more like a conversation. I spoke very honestly and openly about my practice, experience and vision. None of those scripted teacher education responses – that’s not me anyway. Very quickly, I recognized that she and I share interests in anti-discriminatory education, collaborative teaching and learning, and working in and with marginalized communities.

I’m sure many of you know how amazing it is to meet and speak with someone who understands and shares your vision for education. On that early Tuesday morning (the time difference in the UK = 7am Skype interview), I got that rush, that adrenaline, those butterflies in my stomach that flutter during such uncanny connections.

During my teacher education days, I emphasized the desire to enter my ideal school culture. My ideal is a collaborative culture – not just with student learning, but between teachers, education staff, and administrators.

I’m happy to share with you all that I am joining a new teaching team and new school in the UK this January 2013. I’ll be teaching Kindergarten and working in a 5-person JK teaching team. This school has been struggling for the past decade & the new year brings new vision, new ideas, and new faces from all across the world. It’s reopening as an Academy [think American charter school]: I can already imagine some of you will be VERY interested in learning more about this system and space… me too, that’s why I took it.

I’ll share more with you as details unfold.

I’m back in the classroom, baby!

 

 

May 26 PTAC event – photo & reflection

Can you point me out in this sea of Filipino educators? 

Photo credit: Mogi Mogado

I recently joined the Philippine Teachers Association of Canada (PTAC). Sat in on their annual workshop for internationally trained teachers/aspiring educators.

This was my first time meeting a large group of internationally trained, Filipino teachers. I’ve often heard first-hand about the struggles of new Canadians trained in other professions (medicine, engineering, architecture). Before May 26, I can’t say I’ve met many who are educators. The K-12 job market for teachers here in Ontario is arguably grim – imagine the additional challenges in obtaining certification/recognition of one’s credentials plus transitioning to a new country. Amid the optimistic and encouraging panelists, many of the people sitting by me shared their difficult lived experiences and contexts. Learn to teach French when still finessing the art and science of communicating in English? Hunt down previous employers and contact oversea registrar offices while working full-time/overtime to make ends meet? Definitely not easy. I sat in relative silence and was humbled as I recognized my own privilege. Being trained locally, I am a native English speaker with virtually no barriers to certification and arguably employment. I could feel the communal passion for education and love for teaching/learning.

As new graduates from Ontario Faculties of Education, we are often encouraged to remain positive and optimistic in this difficult job market. To me, our challenges seem relatively minor by comparison…

PTAC President Tony  A. San Juan wrote an article on the event here.

 

Building a community and culture of two-way communication: my MT experience & some thoughts for U of T

I recently sat down with Crystal Chin, a Communication Intern in the Office of Student Life, to talk about my experiences with communications at University of Toronto, my program experience, as well as my research and perspectives on technology/social media use in institutions. You can read some of our conversation here. [The selective transcription doesn’t mention my program experience, so I’ve written about it in this post]

Today, University of Toronto is hosting a Student Communications Summit. I anticipate the day will encourage fruitful dialogue and collaborations between different stakeholders here at the university. I won’t be in attendance, but I indeed look forward to what emerges from the day’s conversations.

I wanted to elaborate a bit more on two recent tweets I posted with the #listenUT hashtag.

@monicabatac: How do I share my two cents about my program? Everything from online surveys, focus group, comm committee, chats w/director #OISE #listenUT

@monicabatac: #listenUT: Search of #UofT, diff POVs & voices: acceptance/rejection letters, campus info, ?s, rants/raves, pics. Academics, social, random

The #listenUT hashtag was created to encourage students to share their experiences and recommendations regarding communications with University of Toronto. I recall reading a tweet that questioned how to engage students in Robarts (were they called study “zombies?’ or something?) in sharing/vocalizing their thoughts/perspectives.

My initial reaction is to cringe at any “Robarts” student stereotype, nonetheless my current thinking urges me to ask a fundamental question. Whose voices are represented at this communications summit? When we look to social media or voluntary focus groups to gather information about student experiences, are we only tapping into a particular group of social media/technologically savvy and/or “vocal” student populations?

If you search the #listenUT hashtag, I’d say there are very few responses. If you search #UofT instead, you’ll find a huge range of perspectives and information: everything from high school students sharing their acceptances/rejections, campus food events, students cramming and campus-wide exam anxiety, Instagram photos of Hart House, overheard student conversations, to department/faculty/research news releases.

If you already blog for some department/service for U of T, are heavily involved in campus life/student groups/extra curriculars, or engage with the university via social media, you’d know about this communication summit. You might be in attendance, you may have given your two cents via Twitter, your own blogging, or perhaps in a past focus group. If you hold a staff position where student experience or communications is part of your agenda, then you may have received an invite. What about all the other students? Other staff members? Faculty members? Sessional instructors? The list goes on and on.

I’ve sat in on a few focus groups for my own graduate program (Master of Teaching at OISE) and department, and indeed it has often been voluntary. I know for my colleagues who are single parents, married or have employment commitments, they certainly don’t have the luxury or flexibility in their schedules to come to such initiatives. Does that mean they cannot share their experiences? To counter that, we have often had the option of sending emails or responding to an online/paper survey. Though, I know for myself, a few of these important surveys have slipped through the [virtual or school bag] cracks and I forget to submit them.

For my program in particular, it has been very beneficial for students to feel not only encouraged to share their honest opinions, positive/negative experiences, evaluations and suggestions, but to be actively involved in improving our program. From cohort student representatives, monthly communications meetings, an emerging student association, focus groups, online surveys, open door policies [virtual and actual office doors] with our administrators and instructors, and even the promotion of Pepper and Twitter as collaborative communities, communication has improved drastically within my 2 years there.

I feel like my program is rapidly evolving into a collaborative community and this overall culture is mirrored in our course content and delivery, right to program planning, vision, and administration. While I am set to graduate soon, I have strong ties to the program and look forward to its constant growth and development.

An important lesson to take away from my own experience with communications within my program  – there’s no one way of “communicating.” Indeed, my program is fairly proficient in using technology to communicate and gather student feedback. However, there are also equal, if not further opportunities to meet face-to-face individually or in groups with different faculty, admin, and our program director. Heck, I spent an hour last week chatting with two of my professors [who also hold admin positions for the program] about summer plans and PhD proposals. Part of that was also spent hovering over a laptop to Google something, sharing personal stories, cracking jokes, and having the department chair drop in. Talk about accessibility.

I discussed a possible tension of communication, transparency, and accessibility with Crystal. It’s one thing for students to desire these things & another thing to provide it all together. Coming from a small graduate program, perhaps I have a skewed and biased perspective. Though at the end of the day, the foundations of collaboration, communication, and community have been built and are improving in different ways after each interaction –via email, at a meeting, each week/month/semester/year.

So that’s a small glimpse of my student experience at University of Toronto. I’m one of those social media-tech savvy, vocal students. I’ve posted it on my blog. I’ll post the link to Twitter with the appropriate hashtags. I’ll send the link to my program director and research supervisor. I’m sure another student in the program would prefer to chat over the phone or in person. Another may rather send an email response. Some may even decline the offer to share.

Communication should be two-way. The best communication is collaborative. True communication is accessible with multiple opportunities for interaction and participation. As all students have “the right to pass” (i.e. decline an invitation to the discussions), it is also important to develop and promote a collaborative, inclusive, and transparent culture in numerous ways – small and large scale, embedded and explicit. This can be a challenge for such a large institution, but student blogs, Twitter accounts, and the Student Communications Summit show great promise.

 

Social Media and Parental Involvement

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about how we engage with parents at classroom and board levels.  I recently posted about how I seek to make a clear, direct path and link between parents and myself as Trustee.

I know many educators who use email, Twitter, class blogs, websites, Facebook, and other on-line platforms to share information with parents.  I must make clear the distinction between using social media to merely transmit knowledge and using it to create, develop, and maintain dialogue.  Colleague Lorna Costantini discusses this distinction:

Are teachers using SM to ask parents what they think? Is it being used to seek advice from parents? Are we using Facebook and twitter to maintain two-way communications? Are we providing training for parents on how to respond and engage using these tools? Is it the already engaged parents who are engaging now using SM? How many parents are connected with smart phones, computers the Internet? Is there any data to support how many parents know how to use these tools. I want to hear overwhelming that SM is being used successfully to engage parents but in general I don’t think it is. I need to be bang on in writing about tools for parents of teens so can you share your thoughts on how best to do it?

I believe we must

  1. Share information with parents using social media
  2. Train parents how to use social media
  3. Develop collaborative and transparent dialogue with parents using social media

Full article by Lorna Costantini can be found here.