Reflecting Is Where the Learning Is

#sol22-Sept. 20, 2022

Today I had day 3 of a 4-day professional development (actually it was day 3 of 8, because days 5-8 will be in February on Cognitive Coaching. The website says:

“Research indicates that teaching is a complex intellectual activity and that teachers who think at higher levels produce students who are higher achieving, more cooperative, and better problem solvers. It is the invisible skills of teaching, the thinking processes that underlie instructional decisions, which produce superior instruction. Cognitive Coaching is a research-based model that capitalizes upon and enhances teachers’ cognitive processes.”

I am part of the second of at least three planned cohorts our school is having trained (with 30 people in each group) so obviously, this is something that is highly valued at our school. I heard such great things from colleagues who participated last year that I signed up this year, even though it means I will be involved on two weekends (the course is running Sunday-Wednesday) and I have to write 6 days of sub plans.

It has been very good so far- very engaging, practical, and worthwhile. I am especially appreciative that I get to go through this with colleagues, so we can grow together and support each other (this is why I always love pd with colleagues!).

Today for much of the day we were learning about how to coach for reflection and one of the facilitators mentioned that reflection earns a bad rap with students- they often see it as drudgery they have to complete after the learning. Instead, he intimated that it was the learning and offered us this quote to contemplate:

This might explain why I often feel I need to learn the same lesson over and over- I have not thought about it deeply enough initially… I love learning which gives me lots to think about and this course is definitely stretching me!

What’s in a Name?

#sol22- Sept. 13, 2022

It started at lunch time. I was looking at the menu of the day to choose my dinner- did I want “Balsamic Chickpea Avocado and Feta Salad” or “Chinese 5 Spice Chicken/Tofu Bowl”? Both names sounded good, so I had to read the descriptions before I made a more informed decision. I knew that I would be satisfied with both, knowing the cooks, so I had to go with what I felt like eating.

On the way home I passed a sign- “Mega International Commercial Bank”. I made a snap judgement-either scammy or trying too hard. Would a true mega international bank name themself that or was it a new startup?

Then, in typical “Tired Erika” fashion I wondered and worried. Do I often make quick decisions like this based on something as superficial as a name or title? Are many of my biases so hastily made? How can I slow myself down to be more mindful and open-minded? Do names, in this example, matter at all? (Okay, I know advertising people are paid plenty to get the right names and slogans, so maybe I am not alone.) Would someone else think that bank was amazing because of it’s name?

Obviously, my work with our school’s DEIJ team and our current grade 5 unit about how people’s outward appearance can lead to perceptions and misconceptions is heightening my awareness of all kinds of biases and maybe that is a good thing!

The Energy in the Room

#sol22-September 6, 2022

It is the fifth week of school and we are starting our personal narrative writing unit after an open genre unit designed to get the fifth graders t experience the joy of writing, There was an audible gasp in the room as I read from the third read aloud of the day:

“They caught their breath on the other side but little did we know that we had one more obstacle to face. We had to get to the buses. which were on a field, Holdup AN OPEN FIELD! guards rushed over with umbrellas. and escorted us to our buses. We came to our buses with Squishy, wet and cold shoes, and this time in years I actually took comfort in the ripped rubber seats and went home>”

Some of the students told me afterward, I think I remember that day!” They very well may- the mentor text was written by one of last year’s fifth graders and the current grade five students would have been in first grade when the story took place.

Earlier we had read a picture book (Watercress) and a short story (Eleven) and now it was time for some further immersion in the unit. Yesterday they had written their own personal narrative as a start and now they were building their schema- noticing and noting what characteristics they encountered in personal narratives.

The students took some notes and tomorrow we will read and share some of our initial findings. This afternoon was a cozy read-in. The learning support teacher took a small, self-selected group into the piazza to read aloud more texts to them, while. the EAL teacher and I remained in the class. Students had access to an Epic collection I shared and a stack of books in the room. The other teacher slid into a seat and talked through one student’s thinking.

A few minutes into our exploration E came over and asked me to read aloud because the audiobook on Epic was hurting his ears. Eventually, three others joined him as we read through a few more books together. One student noticed:

  • makes you feel the emotion
  • what they think
  • not the exact truth, but based on their life experiences
  • different senses
  • first person
  • emotion from character
  • how they get past the problem

I look forward to tomorrow already when we will start generating ideas- this group is filled with stories to tell!

Students Teaching Students

#sol22- August 30, 2022

We are in our fourth week of school and wrapping up a unit on Who We Are focusing on “Appreciating diversity helps us to understand ourselves and others”. We have done work on identities and community and decided a great end would be for students to identify a strength they have and teach others about it. The strengths the students identified varied, from paper folding to game playing to sports skills, and much more. Each student had the choice to work alone or with a partner. They then created a “business card” advertising their skill and contact details, then they justified how they knew it was a strength, how they acquired the skill, and why someone else might want to learn/use this skill.

Yesterday they picked their teaching day and made their teaching plan. Today they signed up for what workshops they wanted to attend. The first teachers taught this afternoon. Solo teachers had 2-4 students and co-teachers had 3-8. The teachers were detailed and specific and had models and specific steps for success. The students were attentive and had a go at the skills being taught. Over the course of the four different time slots the next few days there are more than 40 workshops offered, yet fifth graders only teach one 15-minute lesson and attend three others.

You may have “Teachers Teaching Teachers” sessions as a regular part of your professional development. I can assure you that everyone came away from the first day sessions with an appreciation for their peers today. In a reflection at the end, they readily identified what their peer teachers had done to make their lessons successful. I can hardly wait for tomorrow.

It’s Getting Real

#sol22- Aug. 23, 2022

Today was our 12th day of school with students, and, as I said to a colleague as we commiserated on our exhaustion, “It’s getting real, now.”

The year by the numbers so far:

* My 31st in a classroom

* 22 students (although I have yet to have all 22 at school on the same day so far)

* 5 of these fifth graders I taught in grade 3

* Yesterday was the first Monday that all remembered to bring their swim things for swimming (and only one left the wet things at school last night)

* We have read 16 picture books and 11 chapters of our chapter book read aloud

* No less than a dozen times today I was asked, “May I work on my writing now?”

I can feel the classroom community growing day by day. The display of treasures shared in our display window and the family photos hung on our 5EV Community board keep us company.

This is the first time since these students were in second grade that they have started the year in person and almost all of them have said, “ I hope I make more friends this year.” I can confidently say that we are off to a great start. The start of a new school year is always exhausting, but it is also exhilarating as well (thank goodness, because, yeah, I am so tired!).

It’s getting real here… and I love it!

OLW Update

#sol22- August 16, 2022

On the last day of 2021 I chose my one little word for 2022. It was a tough call- I did not want the word to sound too strident, but I did want it to challenge me. FIERCE can take on different shades of meaning, depending on the context, but it felt right to me.

Sometimes this year I have felt I have not been fierce enough, whereas others may definitely have disagreed. Thanks to Heather for the nudge to reflect on my word today as we are discussing choosing a word for the first semester with our students.

Recently fierce has meant I wore a mask for the four weeks I visited the US this summer. I was often the only one masked, but… I felt I needed it to feel safe. Being fierce can mean taking the safe path.

I also had fierce supporting me on the various airplanes that got me to and from the US. On the airline I chose (Emirates), masks were still required, so I politely asked people to put on their masks when they forgot to. Being fierce can be polite too!

I also needed fierce while creating boundaries this summer. While at my mom’s house I sometimes said “No thanks,” to some of the activities she invited me to join in. While I appreciated the invitation, I also sometimes needed a break from peopling, so was fine to be “left behind.” Saying no is not always easy for me.

Last May a colleague and I agreed to co-facilitate our school’s DEIJ (diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice) committee. We hoped that DEIJ would be a whole school goal. We talked to the assistant director and while it wasn’t to be, we did feel listened to and got the go ahead to have an all school training during orientation. T and I successfully reached out to a facilitator and two weeks ago our faculty was engaged in a very successful session. Our next step is to meet with the directors to see how we can carry this momentum forwards. I feel like fierce is giving me the determination to help find ways to move things along, even when challenges may come up.

This week I am working with fifth graders and asking them to choose their own one little word. I shared the book, I Will Be Fierce, as I talked a bit about my word and the words I have selected in the past. We will spend a few days brainstorming possible words and then each will choose their own. My list of possibilities for 2023 is already ten words long and I am sure when I hear some of theirs I will be inspired to add on.

Fierce is serving me well so far and I have more than a third of a year left with it. I look forward to seeing where else I may feel or need this influence. My version of fierce is a little gentler than some, but still standing up for what I believe. I know that boundaries are not always easy for me to set, but the reminder that I can be fierce is helping me along.

Check, Check, Check

#sol22- August 9, 2022

✅ Awake before my alarm

✅ Ready before time!

✅ Butterflies in my stomach

✅ Excited to meet them all

✅ Time just races by

✅ Getting to know a new class

✅ I *might* have told some I love them already

✅ Sore throat

✅ Bleary eyes

✅ So tired- is 6:30 too early for bed?

✅ Teammate just asked the same in a text.

The first day of school (yesterday) was successful but exhausting!

Hope Is the Thing…

#sol22- August 2, 2022

How can it be that I am beginning my 31st year as a teacher? So many school years, yet here I am excited, nervous, and feeling not at all ready to meet the class I will get to learn with.

Our school has decided that this year our focus is community and today our meetings echoed that. We had an interactive session on empowering conversations, another on our child safeguarding/protection policies and procedures, and then an amazing two hour Zoom with Margaret Park on “An Exploration of Identity, Privilege, and Power.”

Tina and I are the new co-facilitators of our school’s Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice committee. We had some great all-school professional development centered around microaggressions and implicit bias so wanted to build on that and as identity is so important as the year gets started it seemed a perfect fit.

Margaret was so wonderful- you would never have guessed it was 2 AM her time. She had the perfect balance of asking thoughtful questions, sharing definitions, and giving us time for self-reflection, along with breakout room time to discuss in small groups. I am in awe of the way she paced things so that everyone felt heard, nobody felt put on the spot, and left feeling like they had grown. We were left with our brains buzzing and hearts full!

“How can we use our privilege and power to learn about and affirm identities that are below the surface?” she asked at one point as we considered the visible identities we all carry into each day. The beginning of the school year is the perfect time to have started these conversations and I am excited about the ways we can develop our grow our school community in the months ahead.

As Tina quoted Joel Llaban, “We plant the seed knowing we will not sit under the shade of the tree.” I am excited to work with colleagues who want to (quoting Maya Angelou here, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

Hope is the thing that keeps me going. Every school year I hope will be even better than the last. I hope I will be able to be a better teacher. I hope the students feel seen and successful. Here’s to a fresh start and hope.

Follow Margaret on Twitter at @MargaretLPark.

With Fresh Eyes

#sol22- July 26, 2022

I love having the opportunity to look at something with fresh eyes- part of the joy of being a teacher is the fresh start each year brings. In international schools, it is common for 20-25% of the staff to leave each year, which means there is always a crew of new to the school teachers joining.

Today I had the pleasure of showing M and M around. M1 is moving into my building and M2 has already moved in a little south. This was their first walk around the neighborhood, but not their first international move, so the fact that there are no sidewalks did not faze them.

I showed them my favorites:

*the massage place ($20 for two hours and they also do manicures/pedicures, etc.) There are many, but One the best!

*delicious restaurants, Cambodian, Greek, Mexican, Japanese, barbecue, burgers, healthy salads, and more

*grocery stores and convenience shops


*furniture and houseware shops

* the “Russian Market” -also the nickname for our neighborhood

and we added apps to their phones for grocery delivery, meal delivery, and more. We talked about the social enterprises here and how many places disappeared during the height of Covid when no tourists were allowed in. We didn’t talk about school. I loved visiting these places through their eyes.

These last days before school starts back are magical days- my to do list is long, but time still feels amorphous. When I took a cold shower upon my return home I opened my laptop to work on some of the school things I could do bit by bit now to ease my transition on Monday. I was happy I had a new appreciation for our neighborhood where I feel happily at home and I admired my to be read pile of books that I am working my way through also and cracked the spine of the top one.

I look forward to a fresh start and feel pretty refreshed before our teacher orientation starts in six days:)