How to Lose Your Focus


#sol17- December 12, 2017

I will admit it, I was a little grumbly about last week’s special events (we had Christmas Around the World afternoon, a music rehearsal, a music assembly, and our swim carnival all disrupting our schedule last week), while this week (our last week before break) our schedule is pretty “normal”. Here’s the truth- the worst disruption I did to myself.

It started as a “must do”- I got a reminder from the company that I have booked part of my travel with that I was responsible for procuring any necessary visas. I was able to apply for the visa to India online, but I had to get all kinds of things sorted for that, including scanning a passport picture, and a copy of the data page of my passport. I needed to do this at least 4 days before travelling, but I did not want to wait that late in case (for whatever reason) the visa was not automatically granted. So I applied for the visa last week, when I really had no time, as I was finishing up reports. If you apply for a visa it turns out you have to list travel dates and contact information in the country, so I dug that out. The visa is supposed to take 72 hours, so I pressed send and waited.

Less than 24 hours later I had an emailed copy of my visa, so of course, I felt like I had to print that out right away. Better do it while I remembered, right? Since I was printing that out, I rationalized, I might as well print out everything else I would need for the break (flight information for my trip to Vietnam to meet up with son #1, hotel information for that trip too, itinerary for the trip to India-to match the visa, flight information for that trip too). Sadly I was too early to check in and print boarding passes, but the damage had been done- I was by then totally excited about my upcoming trips and unfocused on the day ahead  (never mind all the other days between then and the trips). It definitely made me focus on something other than my grumpiness about changed schedules, so for that, I was grateful. It also made me feel more empathy for my students who are definitely feeling ready for the break (but not so much for the three who left a week early).

The calendar has also conspired against me. This weekend was a long one, as the Sultan of Selangor (the state that one campus of our school is in) celebrates his birthday on the 11th. While long weekends are a treat it made me even more excited for days of relaxation (so I warmed up this weekend by going to a movie, eating out, getting a massage, and more).

This morning I had to corral my long lost focus to help my students prepare for our upcoming parent share- still more work to do. I know we can do it! I am not usually a “count down to break” kind of person, but I am going to blame it on printing out my travel details too early! As I write this I realize it is by now close enough that I can check in for trip one and print out that boarding pass. Trip 2 of break will have to wait. Maybe my focus is not so much lost as it is redirected.



*Former student, Zhi Hong, still slicing.


The Choice Is Yours


#sol17- December 5, 2017

Today was one of those days, in one of those weeks. This morning 6 of the 18 students were going to be out, at a performance rehearsal for an hour (okay, so in reality, it ended up being an hour and a half until they all returned). Understand that this is the week before our last week of school. This is a week filled with special events (Christmas Around the World was yesterday, the performance is tomorrow, the swim carnival is Friday).

So what to do with the remaining 12? I decided to give them time and choice. We have a parent share next week, so we are trying to get a few more projects finished, so they are eager for time- that part was easy.

They could: publish their nonfiction chapter book (and within that they had the choice of fancying up their draft, recopying in book form, or publishing it digitally), working on research reading to learn more about the ecosystem/human impact issue of their choice (what they will do with this learning the class will determine later this week), recommend books via Flipgrid (as a year-end collection of recommendations that we will share with other third graders).

What I loved was the independence they showed. There was no priority list made for them, so they divided their time as they wished. They had access to lots of choice- digital and analog options for everything they were working on. There was a hum in the room (which you can hear on the videos), but it was, almost entirely purposeful. Students moved from one activity to the next without pause. It was a slow-paced morning in our frenetic week where students could get some one-on-one support (teaching students how to format a Google doc, insert page breaks, search the online resources we have for more information, enter the password to access Epic on their laptop vs the ipad, and more) and work in a way that worked for each one of them.

Watching the Flipgrid videos tonight made my heart fill with pride. The videos were an option, not a must. You can definitely see their love of books and their growing confidence in sharing their reading lives.

Finally, it was time for our classmates to return, so we put away what we had been working on and went on to something new. I was thankful for this little break in our busy week and the reminder of how much these students are growing!


Former students are slicing still:

Zhi Hong


An Empty Mailbox Tells a Story


#sol17- November 28, 2017

Today I walked with a colleague through the faculty room and he stopped to pick up his large, white envelope. Contract day was yesterday, the Board had approved the details of the new employment package, and new contracts were ready for signing. Although every school does it differently at this school contracts are renewed for two years usually, with people who are trying to keep their options open opting for a one year renewal. Contracts were issued yesterday with a due date back of December 4. This is when the whispered conversations at may go into high gear. We already know who used the “early tell” deadline in October to get a $1000 bonus if they announced at that early date that they would not be returning next year. The interim period between then and December 4th is fraught with nerves. Some people know they are staying (always the great majority), but who would be seriously looking for a change vs who would be sending out feelers “just in case”?

This year I opted for “soft recruiting”- which meant I would be having a look around but was not willing to commit to actually leaving. I knew I could be perfectly happy staying another year at my current school, even though some people I really value were likely moving on (including a couple who used “early tell”). Recruiting in international schools is a huge process and starts with the decision of how you are going to look (there are various agencies you can sign up with that offer services that include hosting recruiting fair, giving you access to lists of schools with openings, online portals for references, etc.).

As luck would have it (and helped along by a colleague with some knowledge of my wants and needs) my short list was short (but so was my timeline as I was not willing to take a chance on a job happening after the contract due date at my current school).

So today, as my colleague retrieved his contract from his mailbox there was no white envelope for me. Two weeks ago I signed a contract with another school- my future home- and although it feels good and right, it feels a bit sad too for sure. It is a time of mixed emotions- some colleagues are still looking for their next job (and may decide to stay in the next few days), while others are already sorted (heading to other parts of Asia, North America, South America, Europe, and Africa), or staying right here happily. The good news is that this is all way in the future shifting and we have more than 6 months left together. But today my empty mailbox gave me pause and made me think about how much I need to cram in these “last 6 months” to soak in all the good that is here. I am not ready to be gone yet!

Pub PD Anyone?


#sol17- November 21, 2017

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I am a creature of habit (usually). On most Tuesdays after school I host “Book Love”, an after-school activity, then head to Pilates, then home to write my slice, well hold the presses- tonight I am shaking it up! I am skipping Pilates (insert guilt- I do soooo little exercise!) and after dropping off my school bag and making my overnight oatmeal to take to school in the morning I braved a monsoon (literally) to get picked up by a friend- we were off to #PubPDAsia.

The premise is simple- educators all over Asia were to meet in a pub, in the city where they live and take social networking back to face to face. We had a question scheduled every 15 minutes for an hour (all centering around student voice). For the first ten minutes (of every 15) we were to talk to the people with us and then tweet out our big ideas. In the end there were only four of us in the Kuala Lumpur location, but due to the set up we had a good discussion- both in person and online. Going out on a school night is rarely in my plans, but an hour was a perfect treat (although we then spent more time at a great local Indian restaurant). It was fun to “see” friends (and former colleagues) checking in from all over Asia all chatting about the same topics. We are already making plans for the next meet up and thinking about a more convenient location (KL has so many schools in a big area and horrible traffic, so location is everything). I am grateful for a PLN- live and online!

Sharing the TC Love


#sol17- November 14, 2017

While I am a self=professed PD junkie and I love to share what I learn I shy away from sharing at more formal opportunities. When I lived in Germany I did present a few times at the Association for German International Schools Teacher Conference, but I warned all my friends and colleagues away. I have also presented at a few EdCamps and nErDcamps, but those felt okay. We have a tradition (off and on) at my current school of TTTs (Teachers Teaching Teachers sessions)- some years there are whole school versions and I even did that once (again, asking friends to stay away- one disobeyed). This year the elementary school has revived these sessions at the ES campus, and since it was partly at my insistence I felt like I should offer a workshop. Last summer a colleague and I both had the opportunity to attend the TC Advanced Writing Institute so we could share together. We signed up in September and were assigned the first spot- in November- comfortably far in the future.

Fast forward to last week and we were scrambling to find times to get together to plan this week’s share.  We met twice (complicated by me completely forgetting one meeting due to meeting overload) and decided on a “Top Ten Takeaway” format, with each of us responsible for five, as we had attended different sessions and teach different levels. When planning separately we found our ideas built on each other’s well and it seemed manageable- after all, it is report writing season and our colleagues would be grateful if we kept it short and sweet. The TTT sessions are optional, so we knew we would not have a huge crew there, but still, I maintain that presenting to colleagues is the most intimidating kind of pressure. I assumed Araceli was a confident presenter because she is so outgoing, but she admitted her apprehension as well.

In the end, we had had about 15 colleagues show up, including our principal and vice principal, ESL teachers, LR teachers, and classroom teachers from grades 1-5. We shared our takeaways, answered questions, and then breathed a sigh of relief- we had a very supportive audience (and we were done). As we spoke briefly afterward we both appreciated the experience- it had helped us remember what we had learned and spread some tips we wanted to share. It had also pushed us both outside of our areas of comfort, which is almost always a good thing (in fact Araceli says she wants to present again).




Zhi Hong (student from last year) keeps slicing and would love some comments!

Joy Writing (and Reading too!)


#sol17- November 7, 2017

My afterschool activity has morphed this year and it has been so fun to watch it evolve. For the last few years, I have offered an ASA I call “Book Love”. The premise is that we start with a read aloud and/or some book trailers and then we read or write (or both). Usually, most of the students have read.

This year I have 18 students from Grade 2-5, 12 boys and 6 girls. Six of those students were in my homeroom last year (and one of them said sweetly today, “I really miss this room!”). This year more of the students than ever before are choosing to write – the numbers being more or less even. What I notice is that many of the boys are enjoying writing collaboratively- either planning a series together and writing separately, or choosing an idea and each writing their own spin. What I also notice is that some of these students really want to share their writing (and sadly today we did not have time for this in the end- that will be corrected next time). I love listening to them as they write- talking about the influences on their writing (“You know, just like in the book…”) or what they will write next. There are lots of great graphic novels being created and many other forms as well! One little girl (who is a prolific writer) spent the entire hour without putting a word on the page once she made her book, but she was busy the whole time, watching others, engaging in the conversations, and thinking.

Then there are the readers, often sprawled out on the floor, calling out thoughts as they come (“Why is this line, ‘I am your father’ so well known?”, “Do you have the most recent one in this series?” “Did you get Dog Man back yet from whoever had it?” ). A few of the fourth grade boys take turns having “The Pigeon” sit by them as they read.

I love this no stress hour each week where we can come together as readers and writers and just do what we want! It is easy to see the joy.



*** Zhi Hong and the emergency room.

I’ve Got (No) Rhythm


#sol17- October 31, 2017

Today we looked at report card deadlines for first semester and I died a little inside. Sure, first semester does not end until December 15, but deadlines come much sooner than that. This first semester has been filled with holidays, which sounds nice in theory, but has wreaked havoc on my love of flow.

We started school on a Tuesday (August 8). Now I prefer to have the first week start on a Thursday (or a Wednesday), but all went well, so it was fine. That was followed by a complete week of school and we were starting to build routines. Malaysia is a country that has three main cultures (Malay, Indian, and Chinese) and then the holidays started.

Days off so far:

  • Thursday, August 31- National Day
  • Friday, September 1-Hari Raya Haji (the local Malaysian name for the Muslim holiday of Eid al Adha, “the Feast of Sacrifice”)
  • Monday, September 4- public holiday declared by the prime minister because Malaysia did so well in the South East Asia Games that had just concluded (this was announced just a few days before and a PD day that we had scheduled in second semester has been rescinded as a result)
  • Friday, September 8- King’s birthday
  • Friday, September 22- Awal Muharam (the beginning of the Islamic new year)
  • Monday and Tuesday October 9 and 10 (Parent Conferences)
  • Wednesday, October 18-Tuesday, October 24 -Deepavali (teachers had a PD day on the Monday)

So, last week we had just three days of teaching and this week we begin a stretch of 5 day school weeks (but only four such weeks, because December 1 we have the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday and December 11 it is the Sultan of Selangor’s birthday).

Now if all this sounds peachy to you I ask you to consider this week. Today was Halloween and although it is not really celebrated here you would not know it from the malls! The students are allowed to come to school in costume although we are not allowed to have parties. Suffice it to say excitement was high! On Friday we have Deepavali Cultural Day at school, where the students can come dressed in traditional Indian clothing. We have an assembly highlighted by some dance performances and a time set aside to visit the “hallway activities” where students get to try treats, make crafts, etc. We also have a cultural day like this for Malaysia Day/Hari Raya (celebrated already this year) and Chinese New Year (still to come).

Lots of excitement happening here for sure, but it sure makes it hard for me to find my rhythm (and I know at least some of the students feel the same way). I am already getting stressed and nervous about all the semester one common assessments that have to be done in time for reports (never mind writing the reports). Holidays are a good thing and I love this multicultural country, but it sure has made for a choppy first semester. Anyone with timeshifting talents please feel free to send tips my way as I try to get it all done (and find my rhythm too)!


*Another slice from Zhi Hong (former student).