Setting Strong Boundaries: Gabriel Malquisto

Our #FeatureFriday Series serves to honour educators and stakeholders of education in their ongoing hard work. Creating a more mindful, trauma-informed practice through an anti-oppression framework is not easy, but the work IS being done. Every day folk are not getting the recognition they deserve, so inevitably, we feel isolated in our grind. Our hope is that this series can be a reminder to you that we are NOT alone. Let’s connect and do this together.

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As soon as I met Gabby over video call, I knew he was something special.

There are people in this world who are remarkable without really trying to be. Gabby had this quiet wisdom about him that reached out to me from the other side of the world through the glowing screens on our computers. I longed to learn what he knew. Discussion Panel #2 couldn’t come soon enough.

Who is Gabby?

Gabriel Malquisto (he/him), who goes by Gabby, is an individual with many talents. He’s a hip hop dancer, a musician, a motorcycle enthusiast, a tattoo artist, a program coordinator and teacher with IT Tender, a pastor, and a loving father and husband.

Oh and did I mention he’s also a pastor?

It’s not everyday that you read tattoo artist, hip hop dancer, and motorcycle enthusiast, in the same description as pastor, and yet here we are with Gabby. He’s also a lover of karaoke, but really, I think it comes with the territory of being Filipino.

He’s the one crowd surfing because of course he would.

Gabby’s Work

Our next Discussion Panel in August is about the “Culture of Martyrdom: how to care without burning out”. Who better to talk about this than the people who work with the most vulnerable children in the world?

I reached out to an old friend of mine, John Coffey, who is currently the Executive Director at IT Tender in Manila, Philippines. In tandem with local Filipino staff, the mission of the IT Tender team is to empower Manila’s urban poor communities with access to education, relevant skills training, and mentoring. One can imagine how difficult it is to find life balance when doing such important work, and I knew that if the staff at IT Tender figured out how to care without burning out, then so could educators here in North America. I hoped to learn from them and invite one of their staff to join our Discussion Panel. John connected me with the best person for the spot: Gabby.

Not sure what Gabby’s looking at, but that space he’s in is mad cool. Check out Mr. Potato Head in the background just hanging out.

Gabby is one of the program coordinators and teachers on the team. He first started as a Street Educator, teaching street children how to read and write, and discovered the kind of passion in his work that dreams are made of. He knew he had to dedicate his life to this service, and to this day, he continues to work with children in poor communities through IT Tender. One of the programs he recently championed is the Sponsor-A-Child-Now Music Therapy program. Children would come to learn guitar, healing through the power of music, taught initially by Gabby himself. As the children grew and learned how to play, Gabby switched to mentoring young people so that they could become guitar teachers themselves, thereby empowering the youth to become leaders in their community.

Sponsor-A-Child-Now Music Therapy program at IT Tender.

Setting Boundaries

Something Gabby and I have in common was that at one point, we both went too deep into our work and burned out. We crashed hard. We took on the heavy burdens of the children we served, and our bodies absorbed all of the stress. We got sick, we had to take time off of work to heal, and we were forced to face what we knew all along but wouldn’t allow ourselves to reconcile.

It is impossible to fix other people’s problems. We can only offer our best, guilt-free. The rest is up to them.

What a devastating realization for fixers like us. Because how could we not hope to try and protect these kids, to give them everything, to feel as though there was always something more we could do to help them? In accepting this truth though, in accepting that we simply cannot do it all, we also found freedom. Where we didn’t know how to protect our peace, we learned to fortify so we could remain healthy. We care deeply for the children we serve, and yet there is no reason to bear the burden of guilt if it is not within our capacity to fix their problems. It’s a bit of a contradiction, one that we’ve both come to terms with.

So Gabby and I will be talking about how we came to reject the culture of martyrdom and set strong boundaries so that we could continue to do the important work that we are passionate about. It was a journey and a half, with lots of prayers and therapy between the both of us, but one that we’re grateful to have survived and from which we’ve emerged stronger.

We hope that in sharing our experiences, others will feel hopeful that it’s possible for them too.

The most important people in Gabby’s life: his daughter Raya and his wife Jizza.

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Stay tuned for more #FeatureFridays! Our other panelist for Discussion Panel #2 is next!

Until then, don’t forget to join our mailing list for updates, as well as RSVP to our next Discussion Panel in August!

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[IDs: (1) Gabby lying on his back on the laps of 2 of his friends while yelling into a wired microphone. The 2 men are laughing hysterically while Gabby scream-sings into the mic. (2) Photo of Gabby wearing a grey fitted cap looking upwards, sitting casually on a motorbike wearing black jeans and a white tee. (3) Gabby, his daughter, and his wife are lying down on their backs, looking up at the camera that is pointed at them in aerial view. Their last name, Malquisto, is in block letters on the bottom left corner of the image.]

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Centering Community: Nelson Lew

Our #FeatureFriday Series serves to honour educators and stakeholders of education in their ongoing hard work. Creating a more mindful, trauma-informed practice through an anti-oppression framework is not easy, but the work IS being done. Every day folk are not getting the recognition they deserve, so inevitably, we feel isolated in our grind. Our hope is that this series can be a reminder to you that we are NOT alone. Let’s connect and do this together.

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Nelson and I worked together years ago when I signed my very first permanent contract. I was this weirdo new teacher who didn’t quite know how to carve out a place for myself at my new school, and he was stuck with me as his new grade partner. He must have warmed up to me though, and to his credit, quickly and easily. That’s just the kind of person he is: open-minded, willing to see the best in people, and accepting of folks for who they are (unless, of course, you’re a world-class douchebag – my words, not his).

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Nelson’s Work

Nelson’s kindness was central in the way he was with our students (yes, even the not-so-kind ones). Our most challenging students have declared without skipping a beat that “Mr. Lew is like the nicest guy ever!” So when Nelson’s bio included “Nelson is also a father, husband, uncle, brother, son, and overall good dude 😁”, I chuckled at this cheeky line, but did not hesitate at all to include it. Because it’s true.

Our grade team back in the mid 2010s dressed as LMFAO for Halloween. Nelson’s the robot in the middle lol…

As one of the best music teachers I’ve ever worked with, Nelson champions the way of meeting student needs through the arts and creativity. Year after year, he prioritizes building a strong, supportive learning community that values human integrity above all else. I remember when he voluntarily put in hours after school to run a highly successful band. Kids from all walks of life participated in numerous competitions. Sometimes they lost, most of the time they won. Regardless of the outcome, the kids always felt like they were part of a team, and they always thrived in some way from being a part of Nelson’s band. There was one particular competition at our local amusement park stage, and Nelson always advocated and negotiated with school administration to make sure his band members were given time after their performance to enjoy themselves at the park for the day in celebration of their hard work. The kids appreciated his recognition.

Nelson is also a realistic teacher. He understands that he can only do what he can, and he extends that grace to his students. During the 2020-2021 virtual school year, he worked hard to remain attuned to student needs, even through computer screens. When he and I signed up to teach virtually that year, and were discussing our classroom set-up and curriculum, he always circled back to how we could keep student mental health in check. He knew there was potential for that year to be particularly isolating, and was realistic about how that would impact student ability to focus on academics. He wanted to create the same kind of community that he always did within his classroom walls to help students fight off loneliness above all else. And he did. As a result, Nelson’s students came eager to learn, engaged with their classmates, and again it was a space where they could put their worries aside with the understanding that they were cared for.

I’ve always been astonished at Nelson’s ability to create connection and community anywhere he goes, and I’m so glad that our education system has someone like him to support our students. Thank you Nelson for your dedication. Thank you also for believing in the community here with the Educator’s Coaching Network, and for being one of our very first panelists! After a year of hybrid teaching, enjoy your well-deserved summer.

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Stay tuned for more #FeatureFridays! Our next panelists for Discussion Panel #2 are next!

Until then, don’t forget to join our mailing list for updates, as well as RSVP to our next Discussion Panel in August!

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Teaching in the Arctic: Karah Kushnir

Our #FeatureFriday Series serves to honour educators and stakeholders of education in their ongoing hard work. Creating a more mindful, trauma-informed practice through an anti-oppression framework is not easy, but the work IS being done. Every day folk are not getting the recognition they deserve, so inevitably, we feel isolated in our grind. Our hope is that this series can be a reminder to you that we are NOT alone. Let’s connect and do this together.

So, this is Karah Kushnir (they/them). They were one of the panelists in our very first Discussion Panel in April. Everyone, say hello to my friend in the Arctic!


I’ve known Karah for a long time. We met during the early to mid-2010s when I was hosting YorkSlam, York Region’s Slam Poetry Show, and they were just a teen searching for community. I remember them sharing their poetry through the stage name Wallflower; I remember them creating and sustaining the York Region Rainbow Umbrella nonprofit for a while; I remember them going through school to become a teacher; and I remember when they decided to dedicate their life to working in and supporting Canada’s northern communities. Throughout the years, I’ve had the privilege of witnessing Karah develop into a remarkable individual who is confident, yet humble, in their approach to life. So when I launched the Educator’s Coaching Network through our first Discussion Panel in April, I knew I wanted them involved.

Also, it helps that Karah lived with me the summer of 2020 between contracts up north, and I got to meet their doggo: Zack! How majestic is he??

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Karah’s Work

Karah has been teaching Inuit and First Nations students in Nunavut and Northern Ontario for the last few years, and is soon moving to the Northwest Territories. As we’ve mentioned, prior to being a teacher, they founded the York Region Rainbow Umbrella (YRRU) in 2014, a nonprofit support and social group for LGBTQ+ people in York Region. During this time, they also used spoken word as a platform to talk about love, mental health struggles, and social justice issues.

Karah has always put in the work to support those who felt unseen, and to challenge destructive social norms that alienate and hurt young people. Now as a teacher, Karah works alongside students to advocate around current issues and empower marginalized voices. Make no mistake, this is no “white saviour” trope; Karah makes a point to centre student voices so that students themselves can create space for their needs to be heard – as should be our priority.

As Karah says, “We all have a story inside of us, and as a teacher I hope to help my students express it proudly.

They truly enjoy facilitating learning, and is relentless in providing empowering educational opportunities for their students – even when it seems like the country has given up on these kids in the north (more on this later). They’re a gem of a human ❤

By the way, check out Zack’s derp face. While quite obviously majestic, this is Zack at his core. A derpy boopy shmoopy boy and we love him 🙂

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Karah’s Writing

Karah is also a blogger! Here are a couple of pieces from them that they wanted to share. The articles highlight wisdom nuggets from Canada’s north, and Karah really wants the world to see the beauty of it all.

  1. 5 Things I Learned From Teaching Up North | Humans (vocal.media) – “The incredible spirit, perseverance, and connection to the land and those around, have blessed the lens in which I’ve seen my students. I’ve never felt more honoured to share spaces with folks than when I’ve taught in Igloolik, Kimmirut, and Poplar Hill First Nation. These kids are superheroes, and I dedicate this piece to all those I’ve crossed paths with.”  
  1. The Modern Inuk | Wander (vocal.media) – “It is important to teach one’s culture and celebrate it. It gives individuals a sense of place and community. Our identities matter, especially when they are presented from our own personal narratives.

Thank you Karah for being a part of the Educator’s Coaching Network! Sending good vibes and blessings to you and your family as you make your way further north to settle in the Northwest Territories.

Stay tuned for more #FeatureFridays! Our other panelist from our first Discussion Panel, Nelson Lew, is up next 🙋🏻‍♂️

Until then, don’t forget to join our mailing list for updates, as well as RSVP to our next Discussion Panel in August!

Poster featuring one of our panelists, Gabriel Malquisto from Manila, Philipines.

Humbly yours in Love, Peace, and Justice,

– Karen and the Educator’s Coaching Network

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