Innovation Here in Phnom Penh


#sol18- November 13, 2018

We were feeling bad- we had not yet been on a field trip this year, so as we started our unit focusing on innovation we arranged a trip to a nearby spot- The Factory. If you read the linked article you will see the original concept and it has developed since then.

Just after snack/recess, we met our students at the edge of the field, piled into three buses and we were off. Happily, it was a short trip with no traffic, so we were there in just about ten minutes. We walked past active construction in our search for our guide, Kobe. In just under an hour we saw the coworking spaces, restaurants, performance/exhibition spaces, amazing street art, a trampoline park, a skateboarding area, and more. We learned about collaborations with groups that help street children, plans for the future (including a new art museum and more), and peeked into buildings not yet renovated where we glimpsed the past as ghostly remnants of the abandoned garment factory remained. All in all a perfect start of unit trip- many of the students had visited the trampoline park, but the rest of the place they had hardly noticed. As for me, I continue to be impressed by the innovation I see daily in Phnom Penh! Now I look forward to seeing where our third graders will go with this unit.



A slice from Zhi Hong.



I am a part of our school’s Elementary Leadership Team because I am the third grade team leader. As a team we meet each Monday and I really appreciate that we are co- create agendas, select readings, take turns as chair and minute raker, and more, even though it is extra work.

Once our principal announced she was leaving in June the search was on for her replacement. In the end the current assistant principal was appointed, which, of course created another opening- actually two because it was decided that the position would be split into assistant principal and PYP coordinator.

When it was announced that the ELT would have input I knew it would be a big job, but I was glad to be able to have a role. The principal and AP would cull the resumes, do the first round of interviews, and follow up on references, then we would do a second interview.

We started our part last week. Yesterday was a double header- an interview followed by our regular ELT meeting . Today we had two more scheduled.

Phnom Penh has been plagued by internet woes the last few days. While we tried various configurations to get Skype working one of the team kept mumbling “snacks.” The interview finally worked out thanks to a colleague using his phone as a hot spot, we debriefed with our principals and then had a bit of a break. Our snack craving teammate offered to go get coffee, but had no takers. Imagine our excitement when she returned a few minutes later with giant cookies for us to share! Just the treat we needed to keep going.

The internet proved even more problematic with the second interview but we creatively found a solution. At the second debrief we shared our thoughts.

It is interesting to go through this process. Three of the seven of us are new. It has definitely a bonding experience- we have shared lots of laughs, gone in more depth about our own philosophies, worked hard to come up with questions that could help us find the people who will lead us next year, and it has also helped us consider what the challenges and rewards are at our school.

The hiring is not decided yet, more work to do, but I already can appreciate the way our team has grown in the process. We still have most of the school year ahead to work together and most of the team will still be in place next year too. We definitely know each other better and that can only help us in our work. Schools are always talking about building community and this is even more true in international schools where so much of the community is living away from “home”. This process has helped us build our micro community.

A slice from Zhi Hong.

Butterfly Garden


#sol18- October 30, 2018

My first day visiting my new school back in July I fell in love with the campus for many reasons, but I have to admit the butterfly garden had me captivated! In Kuala Lumpur, there was a butterfly park, but I had never felt the urge to visit- it was not in my neighborhood and while I like butterflies, a trip there never made my must-do list.

Then there was the first day tour. I was a new arrival in a fairly busy city and the butterfly garden just seemed like an amazing oasis. I am terrible about taking pictures, but for weeks I have tried to remember to bring my phone while visiting the school’s garden. It seems like I always remembered after school and it turns out it gets locked after school, so several Tuesdays I jiggled the entrance door handle only to realize that I would have to think of another slice.

Finally, one day last week I remembered to take my phone with me and took a few minutes to visit during a morning recess when I had a few minutes. For the first few minutes I was the only person inside but then a few young students joined me and we marvelled at the beautiful butterflies darting around. Because I was pressed for time I did not manage to get any great shots, but I love knowing that there can be many next visits and maybe one day I will take a picture there that really conveys the peace and beauty there. Our ES principal’s office looks out on the garden and she says she has spied secondary students snogging there, but such are the hazards of a school for all ages.











It makes me happy to know that there is this lovely space just outside the building I teach in! Don’t even get me started about the fun I have watching the free range chickens!



A slice from a former student!

Drop by Drop


#sol18- October 23, 2018

Moving to a new school this year has been challenging (in a good way) and fun. One problem that I knew would be a problem beforehand is the lack of viable bookstores. True confession- I am a book buying addict- I struggle to stop myself from buying all the books I want. In Kl my weekly routine was to visit the bookstore each Saturday and add to my class library this way. As I have already made clear, not buying all the books is a hard thing, so my excursions were supplemented by online ordering which was great because those books were then delivered right to school- nothing as exciting as carrying a big box of books up the two flights of stairs to build the suspense.

Before I moved here I noted that Book Depository does not yet deliver here, but Amazon does (for 50-100% additional cost with uncertain delivery dates). There are some stores here that sell books, but I am a newly published book lover and that is hard to find.

Enter Kinokuniya- a Japanese chain that I frequented in KL. They have opened in Aeon Mall 2 very recently. True the mall is more than 30 minutes away (but only a $4 tuk tuk ride is how I prefer to think of it). I set out 7 weeks ago for my first visit. I bought a few books and ordered a few more and then waited (rather impatiently for them to let me know the books were in- no direct delivery offered). After a while, I kind of gave up, no word from them.

Last Wednesday my phone vibrated in my pocket and I ignored it- nobody I know would call during a school day. A bit later it was recess time and it went off again.

“Hello,” I said- preparing to say, “I only speak English,” my standard phone answering refrain.

“Hello, this is Kinokuniya. Five of the books you ordered are in. We need you to come this week,” the man stated.

“Okay, I can come Saturday,” I promised, although I was really ready to walk out the door midday and go get them.

“This week?” he asked.

“In three days, is that okay?”

“Yes, okay,” he confirmed.

It was one of those conversations that I often have here. Was he really understanding me? Would my books indeed be there?

Saturday after my haircut I made the long ride out there. After running a few other errands at the mall I headed upstairs. After some initial communication snafus, I made my message clear and got my stack, but of course, I still wanted to look around and pick up any other worthy books. I messaged the librarian and asked if she wanted a copy of the new Dog Man I saw on the shelves and of course, she said yes.

I walked away with 10 books in total for $148. One of the books went to the school library and the rest came to our class library. There may have been shrieks of joy when I shared them Monday morning- which made the long ride and the lighter wallet worth it. But seriously, I miss my weekly book shopping trips- there are so many books I want to add to our class library!



A former student keeps slicing!

When You See What You Are Teaching Everywhere!


#sol18- October 16, 2018

It always happens, doesn’t it? You start studying something in school and you start seeing it everywhere! I love this and I hate this. I love it because it makes me realize again and again how relevant what we are doing is and how there are so many natural connections to explore. I hate it because it means my brain is always on- I snap pictures, take notes, send myself emails to try to keep track of all that I want to add to our units.

Our current unit of inquiry has the central idea that communities contribute to the responsible use of resources. So, of course, while on my break in Vietnam last week I was noticing all kinds of things. I took pictures of all of the wonderful uses of bamboo, coconut shells, and more. But there was one scene that puzzled me.

IMG_0625.jpegI always notice trash cans- some cities seem to go with the philosophy that if they do not have the bins people will keep their trash with them to take away- that does not always work. But why I wonder are these bins labelled for tourists? I understand that they need to detail what is and is not organic waste (and it is super helpful that the labels are in English in addition to Vietnamese), but are these bins really only meant to be used by tourists? If so, why? Is it because locals are expected to take their waste back to their own home? The city (Hoi An) was remarkably clean, so whatever they were doing seemed to be working. Then there is the actual title- I think that may be a translation error, as I am pretty sure none of the waste left in these bins is destined to be recycled, but maybe I am wrong.

Regardless, this scene made me pause- and then had me imaging bins in a city where people could actually recycle food waste- what would that look like? An inorganic waste recycling center? I wish that all of the inorganic waste could be recycled!

Tomorrow I am going to share this picture in class as a conversation starter. I have a class full of thinkers, so Iook forward to their thoughts.

Noticing Love and Light As We Move Beyond “The Honeymoon Period”


#sol18- October 9, 2018

We have officially finished the first term at school, sometimes referred to as the honeymoon period. I am at a new school and I have made a conscious effort to be present with my eyes wide open, but to be sure to focus on the good. I am making it a point to notice love and light. Yesterday, as I sat down to write my list of positives the ideas flowed easily. Sure, transitions are challenging, but they are also exciting, so I am focusing on that. Here’s the thing- my attitude has definitely positively affected my experience (as well as the way new colleagues perceive me- people have commented on how smiley I am).

Here are a few things I have appreciated about the start of this school year:

  • My class- we have spent LOTS of time building community and it is paying off- they are really showing growth. We have spent time on collaborative projects in the days before break started and the energy and enthusiasm that the students approached each other and the work was impressive.
  • My teammates- they have been super kind about answering my seemingly endless questions and have enthusiastically tried out new ideas I have shared. I include in here our TA (the school is clear about the TA being a teaching assistant NOT a teacher’s assistant and our class is lucky to have a full-time TA who is fab!
  • Learning from colleagues- from our school’s version of Pineapple charts to Teachers Teaching Teachers scheduled for four times this year (this first time it was kind of like speed dating with each session only five minutes) to informal discussions on the go, there are a lot of people to learn from here!
  • Choice- one of the first things I noticed about recess at school is how much freedom the students get- they can eat wherever they play at morning break and have soooo many places to play. I also love that K-5 kids mingle, as they have the same recess and lunchtime.

Now after nine weeks of teaching and learning, I am doing my best to soak up love and light  (of different kinds) while on holiday too- here are a few pictures from the last few days in Hoi An, Vietnam (lots of wedding pictures being taken and Hoi An is famous for their lanterns).




A slice from a former student.



I Can Almost Smell You…


#sol18- October 2, 2018

Ooh, I can feel it in the air. Can you? No, not the damp feel of soggy leaves that permeates my October childhood memories. Not the nip of chill that meets you in the mornings. Not the spicy scent of pumpkin wafting through almost everything (at least in the US at this time of year) ready to satisfy your sweet tooth.

What is it? The long-awaited hug that October break promises. October break was not anything I ever experienced until I moved to international schools years ago and now I acknowledge them as my constitutional right (which was challenging at my last school as it wasn’t a whole week). Well, this year it has an extra necessity. There are no school holidays in our calendar between August 6 and this Friday (bearing in mind that I actually got here July 17 that seems a long stretch- don’t tell me about all the non-teachers in the world who go far longer between breaks. We started school on a MONDAY and this is our 9th week (the students had last Monday and Tuesday off while the teachers had PD, and although I enjoyed the PD I am ready for a little break)!

So last week as I saw the calendar was almost to October I knew it was time to finally book my break. Solo travelling is not always my thing, so I had put it off, but the reality was staring me in the face- I needed a getaway.

Summoning up Expedia and a travel recommendation doc from my last school I narrowed my choices down to only a few and then I made the call. Half a week in a city I know and love and half the week at the beach- a win-win! I decided to go back to Hoi An, Vietnam- which to me is a perfect small city- great food, relaxing massages, lots of beautiful art, and I can get a few dresses made. I am looking forward to more banh mi and other yummy treats. I also plan to visit a few bridges. The dragon is lit up on Sunday nights and the hand bridge is new to me!!


Then, it is off to the beach- an eco-resort, no less, where I will do very little, but relax (and fact check, I will be working on reports).

So, October break I feel you waiting in the wings- there may be 100 things on my to-do list between now and then, but I can almost smell you- and your promise is keeping me going.



A former student still slicing.