Community project showcase: Summer KAMP in Vancouver

So many of you know that back in Summer 2017, I was facilitating an awesome program in Vancouver. I brought an awesome colleague and program leader from Sariling Gawa Hawaii, and a youth leader from Toronto. My capacity building work was supported/funded by the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation through the RECODE at Ryerson program.

I’ll be sure to update you on all the details, including where the project is at now… but in the meantime…you can learn more about this awesome inititative in Vancouver by visiting

Photo by Mark J.L. Orayan

Reviving the Filipino Elderly Wellbeing Project

They say enthusiasm and positive energy are contagious. Especially in the case of the Filipino Elderly Wellbeing Project, I would definitely agree.

Little did I know a casual chat over coffee with Frank would move into some community mobilizing in a short matters of days.

Some of you may know that some of my work and research is with Filipino skilled workers and Filipino youth. After hearing about some of the community-based research happening on Filipino elderlies/seniors through Frank, I was happy to get involved in reviving the Filipino Elderly Wellbeing (FEW) Project. Who would have known it would’ve led to an impromptu deputation at a Town Hall meeting, then at Toronto’s City Hall?

Much has happened since my deputation. On January 19, 2016, Frank Villanueva, Fritz Pino and I hosted a community meeting to revive the project. The slides of our presentation can be found here.
Excited to share more details with you soon!

2016-01-19 16.51.09 2016-01-19 19.29.12 2016-01-19 16.50.50 FEW project revival - small

September starts & the turning of leaves: orientation with the incoming MPC cohort

I love September because it invokes all the excitement and anxiety related to going ‘back to school.’ For Orientation Week this year (2015), I spoke at both OISE and Ryerson about transitions.

For this post, I’m sharing the script for my talk to this year’s incoming Master of Professional Communication students at Ryerson University (Class of 2016). As I just finished my research paper for this very program, I was feeding off both my elation and exhaustion!

Shout outs to my supervisor, Dr. Charles H. Davis (RTA/FCAD) and Graduate Program Director, Dr. Wendy Freeman (ProCom/FCAD), I mention them a couple times in this piece.

Not too long ago, I was sitting right where you are now, on the other side of this boardroom table. I was half-asleep, awkwardly frozen from the air conditioning, exhausted from the summertime work hustle, and frankly frightened about putting my career on hold to start the program. Professional communication? I remember thinking, like what does that even really mean?

Yet, despite the worry and nervousness, I knew why I wanted to take this program. Of course, little voices in my head had me second-guessing this choice at various points in the year, but now, in retrospect, I have to say choosing Ryerson and choosing the MPC program were two of the best decisions of my life.

In August, when we did our round-the-table introductions, it was very clear that our class was a diverse bunch, each of us unique in our life contexts, mixed academic and professional paths and plans, and like yours, we had a colourful assortment of research interests. Fast-forward twelve months, it’s incredible to recognize our transformations and soon, celebrate our achievements. I’m equally excited for what comes for you.

My advice may not be revolutionary, but I’ve had quite a remarkable year. Each of you will carve your own path, each one equally extraordinary in its own right.

My first point of advice: Be open to change.

I’m a planner. I strategize for a living & I had a neat plan for my year in the MPC program. I had plans to continue my work in technology innovations in education, but that prospective supervisor – Wendy – was going on sabbatical, unbeknown to me. The seemingly amazing internship I lined up over the summer had a long, long list of tasks I already knew how to do. And a couple months into the program, my research interests were changing, shifting – morphing in unpredictable ways.

While it’s nice to have plans and expectations, I think the best learning and experiences emerge when you’re receptive to new opportunities, new ideas, thinking and doing outside the box. Ryerson is an interesting place for this. Be receptive and responsive to the opportunities that will surely come your way.

Point 2. Find your peeps.

I’m sure you’re all off to a great start, getting to know your fellow students. That social component is so key. Yet, word from the wise (and this is my second Master’s) – graduate study can be awfully isolating and lonely. In a few months, you will become fully immersed, almost obsessed in a particular topic. Soon your knowledge of this topic will exceed that of your attentive peers – and perhaps even your supervisor. Find organizations, groups, and people who share your interests – having conversations with them, receiving their mentorship and guidance, and leveraging their networks and expertise will accelerate your own learning.

So whether it’s tech start ups, classic communication, entrepreneurship, advocacy for a particular cause, whatever the case may be – find people whose ideas and practices resonate with you. You will find you won’t have to go through this year-long academic journey alone. Go to conferences, attend events, not with the goal of obtaining the most business cards or writing copious amounts of notes, but to meet new colleagues for your promising career. These relationships can really “make” your career. Spend the time cultivating a new community.

Point 3. Related to the last point… In time, your path, perspective, and position in the program will become increasingly clear. Own your truth, and pursue your goals with no apologies. It can become increasingly stressful to see what your fellow classmates are doing. Be your own yardstick.

Some of you will have clear goals for the workplace. If that’s the case, go after that wholeheartedly. Some of you want to explore, need more experience, or desire something different. That’s completely alright.

When my peers started to apply, interview then secure awesome new positions, I started to think, ‘Oh gosh, I should be doing that.’ But my supervisor, and Wendy for that matter, were very keen to remind me of my goals and plans. It’s really easy to be overwhelmed, get off-track, and lose sight of what you wanted to do. Surround yourself with people who will keep you in check, push you when you need motivation, direct you when you need guidance, and support you when you need help.

Lastly, the big picture piece of advice.

Run, don’t walk, but remember to smell the roses.

Someone once described the MPC program as a sprint, not a marathon. It’s tough, it’s quick, it goes by in a blur. The first few weeks of September will be your warm-up period – after that, it’s off to the races.

Smelling the roses, to me, is all about self-care. It’s a busy year and it’s easy to lose yourself in the work, stress out, and feel grossly ill-equipped and overwhelmed.

Give yourself the latitude to learn. You are here to build your expertise. Own what you know and own what you don’t know. It’s OK to not know. That’s why you’re here to learn, develop, and grow.

Despite the constant reminders that the MPC is a sprint, a hustle, a hectic year… you will have some spare time. Carve time out to yourself, to do things that make you happy. Make time for things and activities you love. For some of you, that will be breaking a sweat in the gym, going to the spa or mall, going to the awesome new brew pub, or taking sweet, sweet naps.

Despite your desire to live a balanced lifestyle, you will likely have some long nights. You might feel a little tired. Borderline exhausted. Maybe even completely spent. Recognize when you’re overextended, and find a way to pause. Remember to reset and recharge – it needs to happen more than once a term. I am a ball of energy, I’m naturally high strung, and it takes an army of close friends and mentors to keep my work and my personal life in balance and in check.

All that being said . . . the introspection and reflection will come in twelve months. Just a few weeks ago, I probably would not have been able to write these same speech. As a close friend of mine always says about graduate study, it’s all about process.

By the end of the program, you’ll look back to everything you’ve accomplished; that moment of achievement and recognition will be yours to savour. Good luck!

Best of luck, MPC Class of 2016! 


Photo by Steven Depolo via Flickr

Supporting school transitions – some thoughts before September

As a student and teacher, I’m sensitive to the ways we transition and socialize students into K-12, postsecondary, and postgrad education. Heck, perhaps that’s why I’m so keen to cultivate connections and communities for support, mentorship, and friendship. Most recently, I’ve recognized how important it is to REALLY support my former students and mentees during their current learning curves, whether it’s choosing prospective schools, starting a new program, figuring out funding and finances, changing majors or programs, or choosing between multiple options and opportunities.

I’ve been on both sides of it. I’ve called friends and family for emergency phone calls to support that moment I open an email or letter holding seemingly unbearable news. I’ve also had to listen in and participate in the communal shrieking [I can’t even mimic this sound haha!], shouting [No, I told YOU so! AHHH!], or slamming [“You didn’t get it? Well, they don’t know what they’re missing!”]. Navigating school and scholarship application rigmarole or working to finesse the rhetoric in grant applications, I’ve met with professors late into the evening, emailing back-and-forth over the weekends to finalize proposals (and sometimes they’re last minute!). I recently had to do the same thing with my former Grade 12 students, writing several letters of recommendation while on a 6-week travel stint for data collection and conferences AND writing my own applications. Now I know how it feels when I ask faculty for last minute recommendation requests! Oh gosh, and do you recall your first few events . . .where  you find yourself in the same room with your academic or professional role models and don’t know how to deal? I’ve been there numerous times myself and when it’s for my students or friends, I’ve encouraged them to say hello and shake hands.

This year, being on both the supported and supportive ends, the experience has been quite rewarding. During the last few weeks of my program at Ryerson, I’m making the time to see off my former students and mentees for yet another September. I love this time of year.

Of course. . . this was originally just supposed to be a sharing of a NYTimes article, but it seems like I had a lot to say…

I wanted to share this article from the New York Times: readers submitted helpful and honest tips to incoming college/university students:

“Plain and simple: Don’t be afraid to ask for help! Seriously, life happens to all of us. Professors are people. T. A.s are people. They understand that “the struggle is real,” and sometimes you just need a helping hand. And whenever you’re feeling alone or overwhelmed, just remember that all the other freshmen are in the same boat. You are not alone.”

Read the article: NYTimes: Readers share back-to-school tips for incoming freshmen.

Photo by Jessica Lucia via Flicker.

The teachable moment that took me out of the classroom: how 12 brilliant young women taught me about myself

In education, we often talk about teachable moments – those impromptu invaluable lessons that change our perspective. Often, we the teachers recognize, facilitate, and maximize those special and unexpected opportunities. I want to tell you about one particular teachable moment – this time, it was a huge epiphany for me, the teacher.

This past year, I worked at a very special place called the Linden School. I taught a Communications Technology elective for Grades 10-12. I facilitated this small class of 12 students like a typical university seminar, complete with Friday morning breakfasts and an emphasis on critical discussion.

I focused the year’s learning around personal branding. Grounded in the easy-to-read text by Dorie Clark, Reinventing You, the girls and I conducted focus groups. In our safe space, we talked openly about each other. We shared what we observed to be the strengths and weaknesses of our peers. I too was the subject for a focus group.

Listen here to my focus group

Direct link: Monica focus group

For most of you, some of the content requires insider knowledge to which you are not privy. Most people don’t know about the little quirks of my classroom. But if any of my former students actually listen to this, they’ll likely laugh at the jokes and may recall particular references. But I think anyone can gather that the girls allude to and directly talk about me working in spaces outside the classroom. While they said all this, I quietly took notes and listened as they independently managed the focus group.

After the focus group session, during our class debrief on the process, this was when the teachable moment happened for me.

The girls looked a little agitated and they began to ask many questions about my former work and education. After I turned off the audio recorder, my student Adriana probed some more, “So why are you here?” – here being at the school, teaching them.

It took me a moment to think of an answer that still validated my work, my investment in them, and my choice to be at the school. The girls knew about the various ‘big’ projects I was working on – much of it had to do with recommending improvements for communications, marketing and recruitment, fundraising, and technology. As much as I tried to manage the work, they noticed I was spread too thin across major – and competing – priorities, teaching being one of them.

I remember telling them how I consciously left the UK for this particular role and how I was excited to be back in the classroom. But in my heart, I knew they were recognizing something in me that I wasn’t quite yet ready to consider. What exactly, you ask? Well, that perhaps I am better suited outside the classroom.

Many of my students enjoyed the course. A few even had similar epiphanies about themselves and  noted the 2013-14 year as one of tremendous personal growth. That makes me feel fantastic.

But truly, I will forever remember the TGJ course, those students, and that particular day of my silly and serious focus group session – it sparked a shift in me and my work.

I write this now as I embark on a new journey. I’m beginning a second Master’s – this time in Professional Communication. And I owe it all to those girls. Thank you.

Main photo by Tobi Firestone via Flickr

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.

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!



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.