#sol21- September 14, 2021

I know it is not just me, and in some ways that helps. This has been the longest, rollercoasteriest 17 months of my life. Some days I feel just fine and others not so much- and that is just days- it actually varies minute by minute. I found the perfect tool to express it- a Mood Meter!

I was in a workshop this weekend and we used it as an inclusion- we could choose two words we were currently feeling and explain them or not. My moods seemed in opposition to each other…

Today at a team meeting I pulled it out as an inclusion to start the meeting and again- words that seemed to pull at each other- exhausted and inspired may have been what I chose, but after a few minutes of the meeting I could feel other moods arise. I used to feel like my feelings were more aligned, more slow to change- but for the last 17 months- not so much.

I had a lot more written here that I have just deleted, because I am sure all of you can fill in the blanks with your own story of the moment- your now, and there is some comfort in that. We are alone, together in the feelings that have felt so overwhelming off and on for these last 17 months and I know it has been more rollercoastery for many.


It Was a Monday

#sol21- September 7, 2021

It was a Monday, as all Mondays are. I am always a few minutes behind on a Monday, but somehow yesterday I was feeling “all set”.

I got to school at my usual time and greeted my teammates- both of the other home room teachers are there early this year, like me- I like that.

I knew I had a few things to do still on my slides (we are online and send out slides each Morning by 7:30 outlining the day’s work. My wifi wasn’t working, so I went through all of the obvious fixes. I turned the WiFi off and on, I restarted my computer, then I went next door to check with my teammate.

“Mine isn’t either,” she confirmed. “Let me check on my phone.”

“Hmm, not even 3G.”

“I’ll go down and tell Liz (our principal),” I said, thinking it might just be our floor.

“I’ll come too, there’s nothing I can do right now without wifi.”

On the way downstairs we confirmed with our other teammate that he also did not have wifi and headed downstairs.

Liz then confirmed that she did not either and it seemed like the whole campus had no wifi. It was coincidentally the first day our director was away, to take his daughter to university, so she had already contacted the acting director.

“I’ll let you know when I hear back about anything,” she said as we headed back upstairs.

After chatting about how stuck we felt without wifi we started to get a bit nervous- it was nearing the time when our slides had to get out and we had no way to hotspot via our phones for that, never mind the morning meeting/instructional Zoom that followed.

Not long after after a few false starts the intercom chimed. “It looks like the wifi is not a quick fix- it may be out for more than and hour. All teachers can go home to work from there today.”

Ack- then the question of how to get home. By now it was about 45 minutes after my tuck yuk had dropped me off and I knew he would be home and the drive took him nearly that long, so to return would mean I would be late for my Zoom.

Luckily, the teacher next door lives quite near me and her husband knew that their driver was still close by. We quickly grabbed our necessities- read aloud, laptop, and more and were on our way. There is definitely more traffic later, so her driver took a different way home.

I arrived home in time to send out my slides (late) and jump in the shower again before my Morning Meeting. It seemed like school was not the only place suffering from wifi issues, as kids popped in and out of the Zoom. As the TAs went home too, ours was able to introduce her two week old pug puppies to the class, so that was a great bonus! Seven sweet girls! We had seen pictures and a video, but to see them live on the screen left us all with a smile.

All in all it felt like a very frantic day, with that delayed start and change of routine, but today, I am happy to report that all was well with the wifi! It made for a smoother start to our Tuesday. Mondays can be overcome.

Firsts Can Be Hard

#sol21- August 31, 2021

Firsts can be hard and I put off this one almost as long as I could… School started August 5 and although we are online thus far (with all staff working from school) we are eagerly anticipating the on campus arrival of students whenever the ministry of education deems that safe. It has been decided that when school does start staff (and likely students) will have to undergo some COVID testing- so the staff is now doing this on a voluntary, rotating business.

When the sign up list first came out and people volunteered I was surprised they got their quota for the week. “Who would voluntarily shove a long cotton swab up their own nose and twirl it around to test?” I wondered. The weeks passed and there always seemed to be volunteers, so I secretly waited to be voluntold. Then, Sandy, who had also been hesitant signed up and afterward told me it was easier than she expected and not painful. I decided that while I had my brave on I would sign up for the following week.

Friday was my day to pick up the test kit, to test on Sunday and seeing someone walk out of the secondary school during my lunch time walk with friends reminded me that I had yet to stop by the nurse’s office. As it turned out Shay was also testing so after our walk we went over together and we got the spiel, demo, and printed directions (with video links).

The upcoming test hung over me for the weekend…We are asked to wait until Sunday to test so that it is as close to the start of the work week as possible, but I could not make myself wait until late in the day. I knew I had to get it over with.

I watched the video, read the directions, washed my hands, and prepared my test area. I was nervous. The directions did not say two nostrils, but the video did (I think), so I went for both. I had a plastic cover- now where was that supposed to go? I dipped the swab in the reactant liquid, mixed it around (at least 5 times, as per the directions) and then squeezed the plastic bottle to release as much of the liquid back into the bottle as possible. Squeezing the requisite three drops into the well seemed easy enough, until I realized I had aimed wrong, but there were enough drops left to get them in the right place. The the long wait. Okay, it was only 15 minutes and the stripe was there on the “right” place even before time was up. I dutifully waited until time was up, hoping nothing would change. I snapped a quick photo for my own records and threw that kit away.

Honestly, it did not hurt, but I was so stressed thinking I might do it wrong- worried about an invalid, or worse yet, positive result. I am sure next time I will be more confident, but this is one test I always hope ends up negative.

What a very different world we are living in right now.

If I Squint My Eyes to Make it Blur

#sol21- August 24, 2021

The day started well- we set an intention to be grateful, sang “Happy Birthday” to M, the last one to turn 10 and the continued with Morning Meeting. At the end of the meeting, after we had greeted, shared, done an activity together and worked on number visuals we could squeeze in one more thing.

“When are we going to use the book you told us to have ready?” T asked.

“You are reading my mind!” I answered. “I am going to put you in your own breakout room for you to read for a few minutes. Ms. Nhoep, Ms. Takayo, and I are going to get to as many breakout rooms as we can in the next few minutes to have quick conferences with you.”

I sent them on their ways, but they were clearly confused- a breakout room alone.

I popped into the first one and asked M what he was reading. “ Still Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules,” he said.

“Will you read me a bit from where you are?” I asked. He did and then hesitated on the word “phony”.

“Do you know what that means?”

“No, but maybe it means fake, not real,” M answered.

“You just used some real reading skills, figuring out the new word while you were reading,” I said.

We were actually having a real discussion about reading- a great beginning of the year reading conference. If I squinted my eyes to make it blurry I could almost believe he was in the classroom next to me instead of at his home on Zoom.

Those feeling like we are in the classroom moments are the ones I hang onto in these challenging times. We are not sure when we will be in the classroom together, but we are gradually building routines that will serve us well online and in person.

I got to confer with a few readers today as did the TA and learning support teacher also “in the (Zoom) room” and it felt just right.

Finding Balance Again

#sol21-August 17, 2021

New school year, new grade level, new classroom, same struggle. How to find balance?

Starting the year online again was not in my “plans” last June. This was my summer of “lying like mud” as my friend, Ellen phrases it- I did almost nothing. Bit by bit it became clear that we would be starting the year online and I “got ready” for the new school year by reading lots of books fifth graders might like and quiet things like that.

Then August 2 came and we had three days of teacher work days and there was no more quiet. I left school each day with a slightly sore throat because I was not used to that much talking (never mind the mask wearing all day again). My balance struggles center around not feeling like I can turn off the computer when the school day is over- there is always more work to respond to, emails to answer.

Today was day nine with kids and I can see them challenged by balance too. How to curtail their almost insatiable love of online gaming, Tik Tok watching, etc. when that laptop is right there. I let them know that I can often see the changing light reflected on their foreheads or glinting in their eyes. Parents warned me “Be sure she keeps her camera on, so you can make sure she is paying attention to you.” How to balance choice, community, individual responsibility?

We do not have all of our lessons synchronously and some work is completed on paper, some online- what is the right balance there? Too many Zooms? Too few? Is everyone getting what they need? Do they have what they need to be successful?

Many students do not have books available to them, so what about reading online? They can borrow books from the library as of this week, but have to reserve them so they are waiting for them at the gate- what if they do not get books this way?

I feel like in this third school year with at least a temporary component of online school I still struggle with balance- both for me and for the students and I wish there were “right answers”.

A wondering bit of what’s inside my brain right now slice.


#pb10for10 #sol21- August 10, 2021

Last year I missed writing a #pb10for10 post so this year I started thinking early. I had a theme and a list (books that make me cry), but it was too heavy. Plan b- books I can read easily online (yes, we are online AGAIN!), well, if I included books on my Kindle I could make it work…Instead I went with plan c (and on time!).

Books We Need to Start This Very Different Year

I have moved from grade 3 to grade 5 and five students were in my class two years ago, so I have to be sure that books I repeat are worth it, after all there is never enough time to read all the books I want to read, so this list includes a mix of new (to them) and worth a reread. As a bonus half of them are available, so my students can reread at their leisure online.

Outside, Inside– As we are starting online and some students have had very little “outside” lately I wanted to remind them that we are all in this together. This was our first book last week.

The Bad Seed-This book is one that a few students had read already, but we had a great discussion about fresh starts, not limiting yourself and more. (This book is available on Epic).

What the Road Said– Some people recommend this as an end of year book, but it was another great discussion starter as we talked about making hard decisions and being brave enough to go your own way.

The Word Collector– This is one students may have already heard, but I really hope to get them excited about being word lovers and excited to grow their vocabularies. We are also having the students choose one little word as we begin the school year. Three students speak English as their first language. (This book is also on Epic).

Your Name Is a Song– This group will not have heard this book yet and what a beautiful way to celebrate the diversity in our class. We have none different home languages in our group and started the year with a Seesaw post where fifth graders shared their name and pronunciation.

You Matter– I am guilty of often telling my class how much I love them and I mean it! Community is something we will really focus on, especially as we begin online and want to value all that everyone has to offer.

The Day You Begin– This book may be a repeat for some, but a great reminder that we can always support others more and be open to new friendships. We have two students new to the school and classmates have already volunteered to be their buddy and help them figure things out.

Watercress– Watercress is definitely a food that is common in this part of the world. We will soon embark on small moment writing and focusing on family traditions is always a good way to mine for stories that are important. (You can find this on Epic).

No Voice Too Small– Fifth grade is a year where students often really come in to themselves and are ready to take on more leadership. Near the end of the year in IBPYP schools like ours they will be a part of Exhibition, a culmination of their elementary years. This book is fab because it combines great mentors with mini biographies each with an accompanying poem. We can use this as springboard for so many things throughout the year. (Yup, on Epic also).

Honeybee– We have a hive on campus and bees always have fascinated me. This book will fascinate the students with its narrative nonfiction combo. Last year’s class was literally on the edge of their seats as we got to certain parts. It is a god opportunity to talk about community and “doing our jobs”. (This book is also available on Epic).

So, there is my list of books we will read in the first seven days of school (we started last Thursday). New chances, strong community, celebrating diversity, and using our voices will lay the foundation for the year ahead. These books will be mentors we can come back to in many different situations.

Wait, What?

#sol21- August 2, 2021

All school years start in a frenzy- I know that… I think I am starting year 30 as a teacher…

This year I think I am battling “purposeful unlearning”. Last year we ended the year online and I really tried to convince myself that this year would be all in person. Somehow staring up this year I seemed to have forgotten lots of what I used to know. What settings do I need to change on Seesaw? Struggle! As I start to figure it out-— all of a sudden my new class is archived (not by me)…I cannot face redoing all my settings now- that will be a tomorrow job.

Okay, so let me look at Zoom again. I do not want last year’s students coming into the room by mistake, so I have to change the password. Ack, update needed. Guess it’s lucky I am looking at this now.

Okay, I’ll print off all of my student passwords to keep handy. Hmm, one of them has the wrong year of graduation (they all have that as part of their user name). “Good catch!” the tech coach says, but I wonder how it wasn’t noticed last year…

We are starting with an elementary unit, Who We Are, centered around community and wellness. We had 90 minutes to work on this as a team, but once again there were things that made this challenging due to settings and sharing. We got a lot done, but it never feels like enough.

Tomorrow we will “meet” our new students on Zoom and then Thursday morning it is back to online school for real- a new classroom, a new team, a new grade level. Five of the students are students I taught in grade 3, so maybe that familiarity will inspire me to remember how I do this online teaching again:)

It’s almost that time- a most wonderful (though stressful) time of year. I know I will sleep well Thursday night after I check off that first day.

Books Make Me

#sol21- July 27, 2021

Last week as part of the fabulous Book Love summer book club Penny Kittle talked to Kwame Alexander and the stars aligned so that I was able to “be there” on Facebook Live. I could listen to them all night long, but we only had about half an hour. One idea he left us with is community poems. He has done this for NPR, where he gives a starting line and people send in their responses and he puts them together into a poem. Our starting line, via Ann Marie Stevens and Kwame Alexander was “Books make me…” so that is what I am writing from today.

Books Make Me

Books make me a better person,

Opening windows to new ideas,

Challenging me,

Yes, sometimes also comforting me, as I find the familiar.

Books make me a better teacher,

As they coteach with me every day,

The class library reflecting opportunities, dreams, challenges, and more,

Transforming readers one page at a time.

Books make me discerning- there is never enough time to read a meh book when so many great books are on deck,

They connect me- to authors, illustrators, other readers,

They take me far beyond their pages.

Books make me spend more money,

How hard it is to not buy all the books,

I wait (impatiently) for each order to arrive,

I know it is almost always money well spent.

Books make me who I am today and inspire me to outgrow myself!

Thanks to Kwame, Ann Marie, Penny, and Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop (who first talked about books being windows, mirrors, and sliding glass doors)

Win x Almost Infinity

#sol21- July 20, 2021

This is yet another summer of quiet for me. Due to quarantine requirements here and the uncertainty of rapidly shifting guidelines/requirements I made the decision to not go “home” (again) this summer. I was determined to make “good use” of this summer and interpreted that in many ways. I need 6 graduate credits every 5 to recertify, so that was goal one (I do not need to recertify until the summer of 2024, so that is some forward thinking!). I took care of that in the first two weeks of summer because I am an expert procrastinator and I did not want that hanging over my head.

This, as it turned out, was perfect timing, because two of my favorite summer pd opportunities were set to start the next week, Kate Messner’s Teachers Write and Penny Kittle’s Book Love. I have participated in both for years and look forward to them, as they are great professional development and available to dip in and out of at your own pace and time.

But, on to my small moment… Imagine, if you will, chubby, little Erika in February of 2020 realizing the little daily exercise she got was going to be eliminated by working from home. My impetuous COVID purchase was an exercise bike. I am not an exercise kind of person, but I dutifully assembled it, and sat on it once or twice before the end of the school year. Near the end of that school year I decided it needed to be used for more that a place to hang my clothes, so I started with 15 minutes a day, on level one- a good beginning. I have now worked my way up to 30 minutes a day at level 11 and I am a little less chubby.

Yesterday someone on Twitter posted something about their 40 minute ride while listening to a podcast, so today’s next step was to move on to 40 minutes. Conveniently Clare Landrigan had posted her discussion with Laura Jiménez in the Book Love Facebook group and it was just over 40 minutes- talk about multi-tasking, I could do something I (still) do not love while listening to something inspiring. Minute by minute I pedaled and listened, but then came the problem… Those smarties kept saying things I wanted to remember-grr! Still I pedaled on. I usually bike before breakfast, so my stomach may have been rumbling, but that was dulled by the food for my brain. Laura was talking all about graphic novels and marginalized identities and throwing out names and numbers I wanted to have at hand to pass on to skeptical colleagues or worried parents. Still I pedaled.

I will admit I did glance down at the timer function on my bike a few times, as I wiped the sweat from my eyes, but the 40+ minute conversation sure made the bike ride more pleasant. These conversations are often broadcast live for those in convenient time zones, so questions can be asked and answered, but the conversation always continues afterward. There are more than 1300 educators in 15 countries participating and the content is always thought provoking. There are two groups- one for elementary and one for middle/high, but you can access all content. Each group has 4 books that have been selected and over the course of the 5 weeks there are author/illustrator interviews, discussions with thought leaders, ideas for how to use the texts in class, so many extra resources, and so much more. This morning as I pedaled I was thinking of Book Love and how doing the work is the only way to make change and it was doubly so today. I am so grateful for the opportunities I have to learn with others and work to be a better teacher even in this summer where I really need lots of down time to mentally prepare for the reality that we are likely starting school online again in two weeks. I know some teachers are committed to no school work over the summer, and if this is you the good news is that all of the material is there for you for a full year. If you are finding yourself getting a little restless you can dive in now (or wait until you are ready). I also love that the $60 it costs me goes right back to getting great books in the hands of kids! Every summer I think that THIS time Book Love has really outdone themselves- and then the next summer comes along. I am glad I joined again! Doing the work of thinking and growing as an educator in the company of so many others while also being able to achieve some of my own personal goals (I am looking at you exercise bike) that is my win x almost infinity in this cloudy Tuesday morning.

PS You can still join! Click the Book Love link above! I know this may read as an ad, but not my intention- just thinking about goals and working together even while apart. Now I need to watch that video again to get down the wisdom in my notebook!

So Many Books and Still Too Little Time!

#sol21- July 13, 2021

I have long been known as “that book crazy lady” and I am totally okay with that, even though I would argue that I have other interests as well. When I found out last spring that I would be moving from third grade to fifth grade one of my first thoughts was, “But what about my library?” I buy a lot of books and my book buying dollars do not go nearly as far here in Cambodia because I pay at least double the price to get books shipped here.

Realistically, I knew that plenty of my third grade class library books would work in fifth, but I also knew I was going to have to really bulk up my middle grade selection (and would be able to bring in some books I had at home that I had bought and loved that seemed “too old” for third graders. I put out a plea on Twitter and asked just about anyone I could think of that would have an opinion for their recommendations. I started a to buy list and semi carefully checked out what I already owned to prevent duplications (except when I duplicated on purpose). Bit by bit I started reading, because I want to know as many books to recommend as I can.

As summer break approached I looked at my stacks and shelves. “No worries,” I told myself, “I always like to try Donalyn Miller’s #bookaday in the summer and with me not traveling this summer that gives me more time than ever!”

I counted the days of break- 51 days. I looked at my piles- hmm, way more than 51 books… solution? I kept ordering more books. This was not helping my dilemma. I just counted- I am on day 32 of break and I have finished 36 books, which sounds great, until you look at my stacks still waiting (and until you look at the books that are “on their way” and due here soon).

I started a list of the chapter books I wanted to be sure to read aloud this year – umm, it now numbers 18. Knowing that I will also read a picture book a day I feel like I will be lucky to get to 5 chapter books… and I still have many in my piles that book lovers describe as “perfect for grade 5” to read!

Then there are the 34 picture books that I brainstormed for “first days/identity” without looking at what I read last year (so that surely means that list will grow). Yesterday when I saw Cathy Mere put out the reminder that #pb10for10 is coming on August 10 (see the hashtag on Twitter) I cheered- I know my list of books to buy always grows as I explore other readers’ lists!

So now, I put the call out to you- any books you think I MUST read before school starts? Any books I must add to our fifth grade library?