Imagine: A reality TV show for literacy?

September 5, 2011

I don’t watch a lot of TV. Or at least, I didn’t a few years ago. My other half, however, is a television disciple. I have two degrees in literature and I liken his knowledge of television and movies to my knowledge of literature. He knows just about every major television show and movie ever produced, when it was produced, who directed it, who the actors are, and what other shows the actors have appeared in. He also picks up on cameo appearances of the director or the writer. He instantly understands intertextual references between shows (except that he calls them “Easter eggs”) and can point out in a second when a show makes reference to a show or movie before it. He’s really brilliant at this stuff.

I, being a somewhat stereotypical academic I suppose, tend not to watch much TV. But because it’s important to my other half, we sit down and watch TV. He works hard to find shows I like. We have found common ground in some competitive reality TV shows. Top Chef Canada was one of our recent favorites.

Competitors who excel in their field are gathered and given challenges. They compete against the clock and against one another in order to prove their skills. They are judged by experts in the field. Their work is critiqued, praised, applauded and trashed — all in the matter of a few minutes. Every week, a chef is sent home. No competitor escapes criticism and no one is ever perfect. Even the last chef standing has experienced harsh criticism from the judges and has been trashed by their fellow competitors. Despite it all, they continue to focus on producing their best work, every single time.

Imagine if there was a reality TV show for literacy programs. An episode might go something like this:

“Competitors: Your challenge this week is to develop a 3-hour workshop to teach adults how to write a resume. You will have 12 adults in your class, with reading levels between IALSS levels 2 and 3. Your budget is $50. You have 1 hour to prepare your workshop. The winner will receive a $5000 prize to make their workshop a reality. Your time starts… now!”

There would be no whining about a lack of funding. There would be no grumbling about being overworked. There would be no complaining about there not being enough time. There would be energy, hard work, inspiration, creativity, a deep sense of purpose and a heightened awareness of urgency to produce something amazing with severe financial and time restraints.

Imagine if we worked as if we were on a TV reality show… pushing ourselves to produce consistently outstanding results under ridiculously difficult circumstances, working through the fatigue, ignoring the trash talking by others and the lack of resources, time and budget.

There’s never enough time, never enough money and never enough resources. That is, after all, our reality, isn’t it? Passion, creativity and purpose drive what we do. It’s when we expect reality to be something other than what it really is that we lose our sense of urgency and purpose, let frustration take over… and emotionally, mentally or literally, we get voted out.

Accepting the limitations of any given situation can either mean giving in or using those same limitations as a challenge to fuel your own inner drive.

Achieve the impossible because of the circumstances, not despite them.

Be the star of your own reality show.


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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

Social Media in a Family Literacy Program

May 21, 2011

Yesterday I was in Edmonton for the Food for Thought conference put on by the Centre for Family Literacy. A group of 42 literacy coordinators, practitioners and other professionals packed the workshop room to learn about how to use social media in a family literacy program. We talked about:

  • How to set up a Facebook page
  • What to put on your Facebook page
  • How to use Twitter including how the “@” and “#” or hashtags work
  • How to use Hootsuite

I gave a live demo of Twitter and Hootsuite. I showed how to mention other people and how to use hashtags to find topics you’re interested in. We also shared tips on how to use programs like Hootsuite to schedule updates and tweets and make social media more effective.

We also had a wonderful discussion about how to have a Facebook page without having it tied to a personal Facebook account. That was new for me. I have a couple of Facebook pages for different things that I do, and the only way I’ve ever built them was through my personal account.

For me, it was great learning to know that there are newer options available that don’t require an individual to have an organizational page tied to their name.

Here are the juiciest tips I shared from my own experience using social media:

Top Tips for using Social Media in a Literacy Program

Use social media as a way to reach more learners

There are some learners, particularly younger ones, who are digital natives. They have grown up with technology and may even be turned off by the idea of “old school” reading and writing. By stepping into the world of social media, you can meet those learners where they are today. You won’t reach all learners that way, of course. But it does open the doors to reaching those who might otherwise dismiss traditional literacy programs because they don’t relate to them.

Decide where you want to be on the “privacy continuum”.

Different people have different needs and comfort levels with posting personal information on the Internet. It is OK to be private… or even fib just a little bit, while still being authentic. We talked about how to figure out where people fit along the continuum and that no matter where that is, it’s OK.

Post regularly

Using a service such as Hootsuite can help you to streamline your social media activity, so it takes less time. I shared that had scheduled a number of Tweets before I left Calgary so that I was covered until I got home.

Think about sharing and helping others

We talked about how to use social media as a way to give and share resources. We looked at pages from a variety of literacy organizations. I pointed out how social media is meant to be a social, and reciprocal, activity. I recommend that people “like” pages of other organizations they support.

Avoid the “Incessant Ask” or “push”

One mistake non-profit organizations make when they use social media is to post a constant barage of requests for funding or donations, or just post about their own programs. The idea of social media is to engage with others, not push information on them, or worse yet, push unending requests for money at them. Re-posting, re-tweeting and sharing others’ information is a good thing!

Create conversations

Social media is just that – social. It’s a place to engage with others… talk with them. Ask questions. Be interested. Keeping a good balance between giving and taking, as well as giving and asking, are key points to keep in mind.

Say “Thank You”

I showed how to track “@” mentions and why it is important to say thank you when others re-post or re-Tweet your material. You may miss the odd one here and there, but overall, making a concerted effort to show appreciation when others like and share what you do, goes a long way in creating positive relationships and making you a good digital citizen.

I just loved working with this group. They’re passionate, engaged and ready to help one another out at a moment’s notice. Thanks to everyone who attended the session, shared and engaged with us!


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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

Excuses people will use to avoid learning, literacy and social media

May 16, 2011

Are you a literacy practitioner, tutor or coordinator? Have you ever heard excuses like these from your learners?

Photl - Blonde girl with book “I didn’t want to admit that I needed help.”

“I felt I was too old to learn.”

“I thought people would laugh at me for not knowing the basics.”

“It’s more important to work than to learn new things.”

“I don’t have time.”

Learners may:

  • Become agitated when they’re asked to use their literacy skills.
  • Walk away or disengage.
  • Show no interest in the situation.

These excuses aren’t my words. They’re in a nifty little .pdf handout from Hawaii literacy.

Literacy professionals work hard to help learners overcome their own personal, mental and emotional barriers to help them improve their literacy skills and experience the joy of learning new skills.

In my work with literacy and educational organizations, I’m often asked to give workshops on marketing and social media. I’ll be honest, it’s hard work.

In Guerrilla Marketing for Non-Profits, Jay Conrad Levinson, Frank Adkins and Chris Forbes make some insightful observations about marketing in non-profit organizations. They note that:

Some non-profit organizations treat marketing as something that is beneath their dignity or even against their core values. (p. 6)

I have found that to be true in some cases, but not all.

With more demand for social media marketing in literacy organizations, over the past 12-24 months, I’ve noticed something very curious. Some times when I talk with Executive Directors or program coordinators, I hear lots of reasons why they’re not “into” social media. The reasons go something like this:

Older woman“We don’t have time to market our programs or use social media.”

“It’s more important to do the work work than to learn about social media.”

“People might laugh at me for not knowing the basics. I don’t need to know that stuff anyway.”

“I’m a professional! I’m a leader. People look up to me. I don’t want to admit that I needed help.”

“I’m too old to learn this social media stuff.”

Interesting correlations, no? The reasons are the same… It’s just the context that’s different. The excuses learners use to avoid engaging in literacy learning are the same ones some educators and non-profit professionals use to avoid engaging with social media and marketing.

The excuses learners use to avoid getting help with reading, writing and literacy skills are the very same excuses I hear in my work with educators, non-profit professionals and sometimes parents, when it comes to engaging with social media.

Michael Fullan, one of my favorite educational leadership gurus, says, “Leaders learning from each other, raises the bar for all.” I encourage everyone to learn new things every day.

If you work with adults who are choose to make themselves vulnerable and allow themselves to be ripped out of their comfort zones and have the courage to take new steps into unknown territory, don’t just applaud them. Stand in solidarity with them by making yourself equally vulnerable and pushing yourself out of your own comfort zone.

Oh, and just so you don’t think I’m preaching without practicing, here’s a picture of me, last November at the Kennedy Space Centre, on an reduced-gravity training wall. It was part of a full-day of an Astronaut Training Experience Day that included getting strapped in and learning to maneuver up that wall, just like NASA astronauts do as part of their training. Saying I was ripped out of my comfort zone was an understatement. I do things like that every now and again… just for the experience. The older and more expert we become, the more important it is, I think, to remember what it’s like to be a complete novice, to throw the excuses out the window and just put ourselves out there to learn something new.

Social media doesn’t hurt half as much as that harness giving me a wedgie did. I’d put money on it.

Go on. Try something new this month. Just because you can.


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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

Panel Speaker at Metropolis 2011 – Vancouver, British Columbia

March 14, 2011

If you’re in Vancouver, BC, come and join us at the Metropolis 2011: Bringing the World to Canada, March 23-26 at the Sheraton Vancouver Wall Centre.

This National Metropolis Conference focuses on “the role of immigration in connecting Canada with the rest of the world.” Organizers are expecting over 1000 participants from Canada and abroad. The main conference website says:

A recent report by Statistics Canada projects that, by 2031, at least one in four Canadians will have been born in another country. With this remarkable feature of our society as a backdrop, the conference will discuss the scale and nature of Canada’s immigration system and the policies and practices that have emerged to foster the socio-economic inclusion of new Canadians. Immigration and emigration are transforming the populations of most countries, and in this conference we will consider the place of Canada in this global process by asking speakers from elsewhere in the world to explain the migration and integration dynamics of their regions, thereby allowing us to understand better the effects of these trends on Canada.

I’m delighted to be speaking on a panel on Saturday, March 26. Here are the details:

E4 WORKSHOP | ATELIER (English | Anglais) Junior Ballroom D – Level 3 – North Tower | Niveau 3 – Tour Nord

Family Literacy and the New Canadian

This Workshop will bring together a panel of language experts from across Canada that will outline the importance and value of heritage / international languages and illustrate how schools, academics, community organizations and government policies can assist in maintaining and developing the multiple literacies of all Canadians.

Organizer | Organisateur
Bernard Bouska, Canadian Languages Association
Khatoune Temisjian, Québec Heritage Languages Association / Association québécoise des langues d’origine


Sarah Eaton, University of Calgary
Formal, Non-Formal and Informal Learning: The Case of Literacy, Essential Skills and Language Learning in Canada

Maria Makrakis, TESOL International and International Languages Educators’ Association (ILEA), Ontario
Language and Literacy for New Canadian Families

Constantine Ioannou, Government of Ontario
Ontario Schools and Communities Can Reflect the Languages of our Families

Khatoune Temisjian, Québec Heritage Languages Association / Association québécoise des langues d’origine
Literacy and Heritage/international Languages in Quebec: An Overview

Michael Embaie, Southern Alberta Heritage Languages Association (SAHLA)
Successful Implementation of Heritage / International Language Programs in Canada: Selected Strategies and Case-Studies

Chair | Modérateur
Marisa Romilly, Society For The Advancement of International Languages (SAIL British Columbia)

Discussant | Commentateur
Bernard Bouska, Canadian Languages Association

If you’re planning to attend the conference, please come and join us at the session!


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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

Sample Forms: Language School Application and Photo Release

February 9, 2011

I’m often asked by clients how to build a registration form for a new school or program. The two most requested forms are:

  • A sample registration form for a language school.
  • A photo release form for marketing materials.

I’ve developed sample forms that you can download for free.

I’ve designed them to give you an idea of what you’ll want to include on your own forms. Feel free to modify or customize them for your own language school or literacy program.


Related posts:

Share this post: Sample Forms: Language School Application and Photo Release

Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

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