“S0, Why Are You Here?”

As I prepare for an exciting new semester, I also prepare for an exciting new leadership role with UR S.T.A.R.S. A group dedicated to anti-racist/oppressive education; a group of inspiring, influential, and incredible colleagues and faculty members from the University of Regina. As I began introducing myself to the Executive Director role I will share with Cassandra Hepworth, I was asked about my journey here: How did you end up here? Why did you end up here?

I believe Indigenous peoples of Canada should not have to mentally prepare how to act around Caucasians; I believe we should be able to share smiles, handshakes, and equal education and career opportunities. I believe all individuals should be able to apply to any educational opportunity-there should be no exceptions made to the individuals with autism. I believe the stigma surrounding mental health needs to be removed; no one deserves to be labeled “crazy” or “pathetic” because they are fighting an invisible illness. I believe new Canadians should be welcomed with open arms, and not expected to meet the arbitrary “Canadian” list of values defined by the same government who maintain “The Indian Act.

It is the work UR S.T.A.R.S. does for these oppressed groups in society that drew me to join and work, and now lead, alongside great colleagues to provide resources, professional development opportunities ,and open panel discussions to make these topics less awkward and to influence others to provide anti-racist/oppressive education.

My obvious passion for education, an inclusive learning environment and society provided a strong foundation to my path. As my awareness of our history and relationships with First Nations peoples increased, so did my interest in learning and working to share this important information- sharing these truths to work towards reconciliation. The wise words “once you see it, you can’t un-see it” stuck with me, and I believe this is information and learning that must be seen.

Furthermore, as a friend it is an important component of my relationships. I do this work as the work of a friend. I work towards reconciliation and and inclusive society with the constant thought of my friends who, with their ancestors, have fought for this for hundreds of years; my friend whose transgendered child was terrified to share who he really is; my friends and family who refuse to be labeled “crazy” so they silently deal with anxiety and depression.

There is a strong personal element behind every step I take; these personal relationships continue to push me through the roughest terrain on the journey. While I know my steps are small, and I will be wrong and make mistakes, “if it is worth doing badly, it’s worth doing.” If our message positively affects one person out of 1000, that is one more person taking our message to 1000 others.

There will no doubt be difficult days with resistance and frustrations; it is in these moments we must remember to continue to learn. I look forward to building and forming many new relationships, as well as sharing many opportunities to learn and grow with Cassandra, the UR S.T.A.R.S. team, and each and every one of you!




Hashtag For Change

The past year, there hasn’t been a current event that didn’t have it’s own hashtag you felt obliged to take part in because it was EVERYWHERE. Whether you wanted to or not.

#blacklivesmatter   #lovewins   #fergusson   #idlenomore   #yesallwomen   #bringbackourgirls   #amInext

Twitter is always the place to go if you are looking for social justice support. What starts with a single tweet, results in thousands of followers. We see it currently with the current police brutality towards African Americans in the USA with #blacklivesmatter and with the recent Supreme Court ruling of gay marriage and #lovewins.

The other hashtags included were created in response to the young Trevon in #Fergusson who was shot by an officer; the First Nations’ protest against the legislative ignorance towards Treaty rights. #Yesallwomen was created in response to the struggle women have in a misogynist world; #bringbackourgirls was created to support the young girls who were abducted in Africa. Lastly, #amInext was created to show support of the current crisis Aboriginal women in Canada face as there are hundreds that are missing and there is little being done to find these women.

The trouble with mixing social media with social justice is you begin to see people throw out support without fully understanding what it is they are supporting. In my opinion, a trending hashtag is social media’s version of peer pressure. I’ll be the first to admit I rarely shy away from sharing a humiliating #tbt.

Screen Shot 2015-06-28 at 9.03.59 PM

I’ll also be the first to admit I do shy away from declaring my strong stance on social justice issues on social media. Why? Because I prefer to save face. Do I support gay marriage? Absolutely. Do I agree #blacklivesmatter? Completely. Am I frustrated with the gross amount of missing First Nations women in Canada? Entirely. Do I need to blow up your Twitter feed with my tremendous support? Definitely not. Because I can support these social issues in more beneficial ways than a 140 character tweet.

How so? By spreading awareness, effectively educating friends, family and students about these serious issues, and putting my best foot forward to physically make a difference for the lives of the people who are personally affected by these issues in their daily lives. Case in point- I believe personally making a direct statement to Brandon Debert would resonate and positively impact him more than if he scrolled past my #lovewins tweet.

I understand the importance of using social media to unify our minorities and spread the word faster than we ever could in the past; I also understand that after one sends that tweet of support, he still has more work to do to as a supporter of social justice. It is more than a tweet- there must be a further, personal action of spreading education, awareness and support within one’s community.

As an educator, I value the importance of effectively educating my students of the importance of supporting social justice issues once fully understanding the issues true importance and meaning. My students must understand it takes more than a tweet with a trending hashtag to truly be a supporter of those who live the struggle every day.

The Piano Project: Paused Progression

Two weddings, a funeral, and approximately 90 goodbyes in just under two weeks had a drastic effect on my project. By drastic I mean, I didn’t have the opportunity to sit and play or to sit and read and keep up with the theory.

I fit it in where I could (my sleepless nights were filled with how-to youtube videos) however, I was not able to sit and play, leaving me frustrated as I faced the final week of class.

What did I learn during this pause? I learned that I can’t learn an instrument via online tools. My self reflection made me realize that I am a hands on, show me and I will learn type of learner. And as a result- I enrolled in adult piano lessons. To keep with the structure and routine, every Tuesday night (I have replaced this class with another!)

On a positive note, I decoded the music for my song, “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” dumbing it down for simple-minded me- despite my fiancé thinking he would rather see me walk down to an entirely different song because he doesn’t like Elvis. I have begun working through it with Chris, and I feel a bit better about playing now that I have him showing me the ropes of this magical piano business.

Feedly Finds: Spreading Awareness

It is no secret my passion is working with individuals with special needs. For 15 years, I have worked alongside some of the most amazing individuals; the past three years, I have dedicated my self to working, learning, and spreading autism awareness. Looking at my Feedly account, it is clear working with these students is exactly how I want to spend my teaching career.

This weekend I read two outstanding blogs about other individuals dedicated to spreading this same awareness,

The first article shared the story of a young student with autism who spent the month of April educating his fellow peers who bullied him about why he is different. He believed “they say weird things to me ’cause they don’t know what autism is.” He shared facts every day during announcements to educate everyone in his school. The result? He won the Everyday MVP Award” in his community and local news station.

This is so important to me because not only is this autistic child stepping up socially to stand up and make others aware of why he is how he is, but the community also realized the importance of his message and spread his message beyond the school walls.

The second article shared the innovative changes a social worker and EMS personnel are making to educate first responders on how to assist individuals with intellectual disabilities. This is outstanding and inspiring. The past few years working with autism, I have been surprised at how little fellow colleagues and friends know about this disability. While I do my best and I share all the information I can when asked, this article motivated me. It is this professional development that we need in education. With the increasing numbers of children with intellectual disabilities, it is vital that educators have an understanding of how to approach, include, and teach these children.

I am thankful for the individuals in these articles. It inspired me to get working on a similar project with the autistic student I work with in the final few weeks of school. The second article inspired me to start asking questions and suggesting developing a similar program for our city.

Feedly- thank you for again motivating me to be the change I want to see.

GenerationSext: I Want A Revolution

This past week I chose to watch and respond to the two documentaries recommended, Sext Up Kids and The Sextortion of Amanda Todd. I expected a response to flow immediately, however, what I watched and learned from both left me utterly speechless.

Screen Shot 2015-05-25 at 7.12.51 PM

Here I am, nearly one week later, still stammering over words and jumbled thoughts about the serious issues these two documentaries introduced me to.

Lingerie lines for 4 to 12 year olds? Cappers? Kagoy?

What happened to kids will be kids? Simple Barbie dolls without thong underwear? Why is sex selling to all ages, rather than just the targeted twenty somethings?

It should not be targeting my innocent, precious 4 year old niece who already looks at her reflection and says she is “too chubby” for her age appropriate Dora the Explorer bathing suit. Grade four students should not be describing and demonstrating to me what “twerking” is: “Miss Kuntz, you need to tell your nephew ‘shaking the butt’ is actually called twerking these days. It’s a lot of fun to do.”

We have some changes to make. I want a revolution. I want to change this world we are in.

While I realize it is not all up to me as an educator, I can’t ignore how important teaching digital citizenship and healthy technology use is for both the students and the parents. It is important I display, demonstrate, and help students develop a positive online presence. Furthermore, it is important I introduce and explain the importance of an online presence to the hesitant and naive parents to ensure consistent and effective assistance for the students stepping into this monstrous online universe.

It is vital students understand the consequences of their online actions. We must trust our students with technology and social media, but also present immediate consequences for misconduct online. This presents an obvious dilemma: what do we do when it happens outside of school hours? Do we refuse to get involved when it’s outside of school hours? Do we monitor and get involved in dire circumstances?

My stance I hope to apply in my classroom: if it comes into my classroom, it becomes my problem. If a student’s online misconduct creates drama, fear, or discomfort for other students, I will address the issue. I will use it as a teachable moment to emphasize consequences of poor digital citizenship. I believe it is moments like these students will walk away with greater understanding and knowledge.

It is also important students learn from tragic stories such as Amanda Todd. At first, I made the uneducated assumption Amanda’s situation was an extreme and rare case. After watching the documentary, I sadly realized her online experience is the norm for many adolescents. It is important students develop confidence and self esteem to understand they do not need to show themselves. This generation has become focused on getting “likes” on social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter that they stop at nothing to gain followers, friends, and favourites. In order to avoid negative outcomes, we must demonstrate to students healthier choices and experiences to post or like online. When students begin to place value on photos of healthy interactions and involvement rather than glorified sexual and racy content, we will see a positive shift both online and in our classroom.

I acknowledge this “sext up” situation is beyond the classroom; society is sex-obsessed. I do believe as a teacher it is possible to inform, influence and possibly even become the role model students will look up to rather than the half naked men and women singing in half time shows. Through building strong relationships, demonstrating care and concern for each student, I believe I can help my students be the change, the revolution, we need to see, and everything will be alright.

Random Reflections on the Day it Began

November 9, 2012. The day it all came together. The day I hesitantly accepted a contract as an educational assistant to pass the time as I worked my way into nursing. Little did I know that day, that hesitant first step into an elementary school would also be the first step onto the path of education I am now cartwheeling down excitedly. This week, as staff and students excitedly prepare for new fall placements and the summer holidays, I can’t help but feel somewhat sad as my days at this school, in this position dwindle down. It is a fact, at twenty nine, I am retiring from my first career to complete my degree and fulfill my career dreams as a middle years teacher.

I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I did not expect 50 crazy seven year old students to jump into my heart and ignite my passion. Nor did I expect the many colleagues to spark the fire beneath me to return to university to just do what I am meant to do and teach.

But it happened. Not a day goes by where I am not told “Jasmine, you are a teacher in every sense of the word.”  How is this so? Well, my teacher voice is phenomenal. As are the tears that well when I celebrate a student’s success, or when I identify with the student when they are frustrated.I share the excitement when a student receives an A, wins a trophy at a tournament or reads their first chapter book. I beam with pride when students include the special needs student, or when that impulsive, defiant student finally identifies with the emotions of another child. I realize the full potential each student has and I research as much as I can to ensure I can unlock that potential in each student. If it means brushing up on my hockey trivia, or watching Star Wars for a weekend, I do it. I value the importance of relationships to foster a learning environment and I stop at nothing to ensure I can reach all the students I work with.

As I reflect on my past three years as an educational assistant and prepare myself as a teacher, I am thankful for the experiences, memories and colleagues I have had the pleasure of spending the last few years with. I have gained beautiful insight working with various teachers and I have developed my education philosophy from watching my colleagues as I assist in their classrooms.

Despite feeling emotional about my departure from the staff and students I have spent the last three years with, I am also excited to think the next time I work alongside these great people I will be in my own classroom.

To think of where I would be now, if I had never taken that first step.

Another Day, Another Addiction: My First Impression of Feedly

I was not aware of the diverse digital world that exists outside of Facebook. When I first started ECMP, I was not prepared to find myself signing up for any and every possible social media outlet available, but here I am tweeting, pinning, and blogging on a daily basis. I am proud of my contributions to the online world and the digital citizenship I have established, however, as my Twitter feed and wordpress account kept suggesting to follow blogs and other people’s posts, I felt like a lost dog in an endless cornfield yet again. It was at this point, Katia suggested Feedly. My initial feeling- “ain’t nobody got time for another social media account that will leave my cell phone ringing like crazy while I am trying to learn to play piano.”

But, here I am. Postponing posting this blog post because I was frantically and obsessively finding amazing blogs in one convenient location. My passion? Autism awareness, education, technology, and current events. In 5 minutes, I was following 28 blogs that offered phenomenal advice, tips and tools I can definitely use in my future! My guilty pleasures? Wedding do it yourself (5 months to go for me!) and entertainment- because who doesn’t NEED to know what T. Swift is up to. And then there is food- cooking, baking, eating. I want it all. Again, 5 minutes and another 20 blogs showing me creative wedding touches and the crazy outfits from last nights Billboard Music Awards.

I love how easy it is on Feedly to access great content about topics that are important to me or that are distractions for me from the crazy life I tend to get caught up in. Most importantly, I can walk away always feeling better than when I started unlike other social media sites- Facebook I am looking at you.

The amount of knowledge I can gain from what other’s are willing to share on blogs is incredible. In the past three days of becoming familiar with the app, I have stored, saved and shared several posts with fellow educators. The teaching community online is helpful, motivating, and inspiring to a beginning teacher as myself. As I read through various blogs i follow, I find myself hoping to provide the same effective advice to the next ECMP 355 student learning the ropes like I am this semester.

Now, I could go on forever about this newfound love for Feedly, however, i have 341 new blogs I must scroll through as I put off…everything on my current to do list. Better luck on that list tomorrow.

Screen Shot 2015-05-18 at 9.23.09 PMScreen Shot 2015-05-18 at 9.23.31 PM Screen Shot 2015-05-18 at 9.23.48 PM