Robert Hillmer Award 2010: Zenobia Omarali

Zenboia Omarali Hillmer 2010

Zenboia Omarali with President Karen Bond

Zenobia’s Speech

I am both honoured and humbled today to be in the presence of my Business Studies colleagues, friends, and family to receive the 2010 Robert Hillmer Award. And to make a great moment even more auspicious is being introduced by my mentor, Lennox Borel, who won the Hillmer Award in 1988.

I can’t believe that I have been teaching twenty years. It just feels like yesterday when I received that early morning call for my first supply teaching assignment. The day started with a Typing class, where students typed as fast and accurately as they could from a passage for five minutes then they manually counted their mistakes and calculated their words per minute; then I taught a Shorthand class, it called for a Pittman shorthand drill, I recall that their notes that looked so much like hieroglyphics rather than a quick note taking medium. My final class for the day was an Economics class. How things have changed. Our technology has developed from typewriters to computers, from storing information on floppy disks to flash drives, from black boards to overhead projectors, data projectors and now smart boards and from short hand/dictaphones to MP3 and smart technologies! In addition, the Ontario Ministry of Education has now revised the curriculum to, unfortunately, reclassifying Law and Economics courses out of the Business Studies curriculum.

Madeline Dennis introduced me to the Ontario Business Educator’s Association. She was my associate teacher with whom I volunteered with while I was at the Faculty of Education at the University of Toronto. Each and every Wednesday during that year at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE), I would go to L’Amoreaux Collegiate as her intern and learn to develop classroom management techniques and strategies to engage students for success. Here I learned those practical strategies that were not found in textbooks. A couple years later she selected me as her Assistant Head of Business and later, we worked together as Instructional Leaders in the TDSB program department. I will always fondly refer to Madeline Dennis, who won the Hillmer Award in 2003, as my career coach.

And now that I have reflected upon my career as a Business Studies Educator and upon receiving the Hillmer Award, I would like to share with you my observation that, “All I Ever Really Needed to Know to be a Business Teacher, I Learned from the Ontario Business Educator`s Association”.

ALL I REALLY NEED TO KNOW about how to effectively teach, engage students and how to keep Business Studies curriculum exciting, practical and relevant, I learned from the OBEA. These are the things I learned:

Share your Lessons & Teaching Strategies.
Share with your colleagues either through the OBEA conference, workshops, meetings, or just in conversation.

Make Curriculum Connections by Staying Current.
Engage your students by using information and data from all mediums and integrate trends, events and relevance into your Business lessons. We know what is inside the box, now, think outside of the box! Distinguish your lessons and activities to have that 360 degrees approach.

Integrate Co-Curricular Contests in your Classroom.
Create a win-win scenario in your classroom by using expectation based competitions as your culminating activities. This would allow students a chance to win by getting an opportunity to compete and being recognized for participating in a provincially sponsored contest and you win by using an OBEA endorsed learning activity, and to top it off, you get a relevant evaluation for your mark book.

Incorporate Financial Literacy.
Establish financial awareness into your classroom activities. Financial Literacy is a vital cross-curricular, co-curricular, and practical lifelong competency that is integrated in everyone`s everyday life.

Build Friendships.
Initiate dialogue with the colleague you are sitting beside and share an insight, lesson or strategy with them, you will surely find a gem that you can take back to the classroom. Keep that friendship and look for that person at the next OBEA conference or workshop.

Learning is a Journey both literally and figuratively with the OBEA. Attend the OBEA workshops that are held in different schools, universities and colleges throughout Ontario, you will meet a variety of people and gain a better understanding of the dynamics of our province and your peers. Learn though the travel, the sessions, and the people.

Live a Balanced Life.
Learn from the OBEA curriculum sessions/workshops, eat lunch with your colleagues, attend the gatherings, talk and listen, play and socialize with your colleagues and make friendships that will last a lifetime. Involve your family and let them explore the different locations that OBEA conferences are held.

Give Recognition and be Kind to People. 
Show gratitude to your colleagues when you use their learning activities, ideas or strategies, just like how I would like to thank Robert Fulghum for his book, “All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten”, which inspired this speech.

I first attended then started to present at OBEA as a teacher at Woburn Collegiate, then as an Assistant Head at L’Amoreaux Collegiate, and Business Director at West Hill Collegiate. One significant memory I have was at a Spring Conference after I presented my workshop, a good looking man helped me pack my resources after my presentation. He kept attending my workshops and assisting me. Within a year we were married and since then, Nabil and I have never looked back.

Adam Omarali, our son lives in a household of teachers, both of his parents are educators and his grandmothers, Phirosa Omarali or Nani Jan, (grandmother in Urdu) and Georgia Velos or Yia Yia, (grandmother in Greek) are teachers. Between all of us, Adam is living with over 100 years of educational experience, so you can imagine, every adventure he has is always complemented with a teachable moment. And, in turn, I have the advantage of having a captive audience of generational educators for feedback for any task that I have to complete.

In 1999, I was promoted to the position of Instructional Leader for Business Studies at the Toronto District School Board. I don`t mean to rant, but, one of my more difficult tasks was to introduce a new curriculum that was totally void of any exclusively University designated Business Studies courses and a reduced course selection that entirely eliminated keyboarding. The new University-College bound designation was especially difficult to deal with considering the fact that OAC Accounting was established as equivalent to first year Universities Accounting in Higher Education Institutions including University of Toronto Scarborough Campus. Both high school and university used the same textbook, the same curriculum and evaluation, just ask Lennox Borrel. Just as puzzling is that as Business Studies teachers we hold degrees in Business which required us to complete courses in both microeconomics and macroeconomics as a degree requirement, however, Economics was no longer taught under the Business curriculum. It’s just hard for all of us to understand some of the rational behind the Ministry’s revised Business Studies curriculum.

Later, as the Business Studies Co-ordinator for the Toronto District School Board I was able to lobby for funding to develop the interdisciplinary course such as Financial Securities, IDC4U, finally a University designated course! We also developed other interdisciplinary courses in Sports and Entertainment Marketing and I was also able to obtain funding to develop subject specific Business Studies posters for each of the 100+ high schools at the TDSB. Later the OBEA re-printed the same posters and distributed them provincially to promote Business Studies. I smile every time I see these posters and remember how many of my teacher colleagues gave input in the development of the posters. Promoting Business Studies, delivering in-services and hosting area meetings for all our Toronto Area High Schools kept me very busy. At the program department, I was able to implement Business Studies Week, a week created to bring awareness of Business Studies to students and practical resources to teachers. This week was just timed just right to coincide to option selection day – proactive marketing at work! Each year Business Studies Week got bigger. Sponsors such as the Investor Education Fund and Enterprise Toronto provided funding for T-shirts, posters, and student conferences held at Toronto Civic Centres.

As the President of the Ontario Association of Business Educator Co-ordinators (OABEC) I was able to network with other educational leaders to obtain funding from the Council of Ontario Directors of Education (CODE) to develop curriculum and advocate on Business Studies issues at the Provincial Ontario Teacher Federation subject area meetings.

Over the years, our initial team of five Business Studies experts at the TDSB program department was now reduced to one, just me. That’s when I had to rely on the liaisons I made with my OBEA colleagues to assemble a Dream Team of Business Studies teachers who volunteered their time and expertise to introduce the Revised Business Curriculum. Leaders like Kathy Atherton, Nabil Velos, David Thairs, Karen Beutler, Martin Herbst, Elliot Scolnik, Wendy Hanninen and emerging leaders like my OISE intern Kari Peters were vital to the success of this initiative

I worked on the initial team to develop the Business Studies Specialized High Skills Major certification program, having the Ministry formerly recognize a Business Studies designation was a step in the right direction. Unfortunately, in 2006, the Business Co-ordinator position was eliminated at TDSB and Business Studies is now under the umbrella of Experiential Learning: Business Studies, Technology and Co-op Education. This was a provincial trend, and today, the once well attended Ontario Association of Business Educator Co-ordinators (OABEC), the provincial Co-ordinators association for Business Educators ceased to exist. So, now, more than ever, we need the Ontario Business Educator`s Association to advocate for Business Studies issues, support curriculum, and foster excellence in Business Teachers.

“No man, or in this case no woman is an island, entire to herself”, I feel I have been fortunate to work with leaders, mentors and superb educators who have supported me and my initiatives throughout my career. I would like to thank my mentors including George Mavraganis, my principal, Susan Seidman, from Phi Delta Kappa Educational Leadership Association and my colleague Chris Allum from the Investment Education Fund for their support and advice. In addition, I would like to thank the OBEA executive and Linda Brown for always organizing quality professional development events of highest caliber that always enhance the Business Studies educators teaching and learning practice. And most of all I want to thank my life coaches, my parents, Dr. Unus and Phirosa Omarali who had the insight to not only uproot themselves to immigrate to Canada for a better life but also, the numerous sacrifices they made to give me opportunities that they never had. And finally, I thank my parents for always supporting me in my endeavors.

I will always be dedicated to Business Studies causes and curriculum enhancements. I share this award with my colleagues, mentors, and family. Their support and kindness has enabled me to achieve. To join my Business Studies mentors who have received this prestigious award is truly the highlight of my teaching career, and as I look forward to new opportunities in education and administration, I will always look back and remember to thank you, Business Studies teachers from Toronto, Peel, Near North, London, Niagara, Upper Grand, from all the school boards for being part of the synergy created by the OBEA because All You Ever Really Needed To Know to be a Business Educator, You can Learn from the Ontario Business Educator’s Association!

Thank you to the OBEA for bestowing me the honour of the 2010 Hillmer Award.