Monthly Archives: January 2019

My Teacher’s Heart Grew!


#sol19- January 29, 2019

So, today I had many choices of what I was going to write. I could have written about my great weekend at the Hong Kong International School Literacy Conference (where I got to meet up with a friend I have not seen in 10 years and learned from Sara Ahmed, Carl Anderson, Penny Kittle, and Kim Yaris). I could have written about my recent frustration that the books I ordered in November for a Mock Caldecott and Sibert Smackdown had STILL not arrived. I could have written about so many things. But instead, I am going to write about two tiny moments…

Yesterday, as I was waiting with a few students at parent pick up TH came up to me. “I used my word today.”

I wasn’t sure what he meant, but I smiled, willing him to say more.

“Ms. S. asked me to join the Khmer dance for International Day. I didn’t want to, because it might be hard and embarrassing, but then I remembered my one little word is ‘brave’, so I said yes. I decided I could do it.”

“I am so proud of you, TH,” I beamed at him, now fully understanding what he meant and what a big step this was for him. We chose our 2019 “one little word” a few weeks ago, and many students are referring to their word when they make decisions.

Moment two came this morning while I was in the classroom working before school. As usual, students were coming up to drop off their backpacks before going out to play before the bell. “Which book won the Caldecott?” Y. asked from the hall. Bear in mind this is a student who does NOT identify as a reader- he aims to be the next Ronaldo, spending every spare moment thinking about soccer. He is in almost constant movement and started the year as a hard sell- it was challenging for him to find a book he would read all the way through- sitting still just wasn’t his thing. A turning point for him may have been when he and another student sat up front with me taking on the roles of Jack and the narrator in It’s Not Jack and the Beanstalk. He still sometimes abandons books, but he loves read aloud and reading aloud. He remembered that the awards took place the previous day and he wanted to know if the winners were books we had read.

“We’ll watch it before snack,” I assured him. As the school day started many other students had the same question and I reminded them we would watch before recess (the ceremony started at 11PM our time, so we were not going to be watching it live). At first, that was enough, but as the time passed the buzz in the room became more noticeable. I finally gave up what we were doing and we watched the last 15 minutes of the YMA video. There were cheers for books they knew, groans when favorites were passed over, and “that looks good!”, “we need that!” when other books were shown.

Ironically I got confirmation just a bit later that my book order was finally in- I would head off to the bookstore (about 45 minutes away) right after school to pick up the books. Happily, between what we already owned and what was in this order we now own the Caldecott winner and the honor books too. I know what I am doing as soon as I hit ‘publish’. I also know what we will do tomorrow- gather together over a few great books!

Truly my teacher heart has grown a few sizes in the last two days. I am a lucky teacher to be able to see kids grow every day!


Former student, Zhi Hong, slices here.

New Learning Can Be Hard!


#sol19- January 22, 2019

Last Wednesday our staff meeting was a TTT (teachers teaching teachers). The last session I was going to was billed as an inquiry into ukulele, but Danielle quickly cautioned us that it was not so much an inquiry, but rather some direct instruction followed by practice.

Well, I was game- in fact, I had encouraged Danielle to work with us on this. I have long admired the energy and enthusiasm people I see when people pay the uke (Emily Arrow even writes songs about children’s books she plays on hers). Danielle teaches ukulele to all the fifth graders and they are working on a belt system, where each level is a higher standard. I had joked that gold level should be the students have to teach me to play, as I am notoriously untalented when it comes to music/tune.

Fast forward to Wednesday and we were only going to learn two notes (chords?). From there we would be able to play a few songs. I proudly strummed. I could play two notes! Then came the hard part playing them in the right sequence and switching between them to actually sound like I was playing a song… After just a few minutes my fingers were sore and I was feeling a bit frustrated- I was not ready to make the quick switches required, uh oh. Luckily the whole session was only 20 minutes long so I could not dwell on my challenges.

By the end of the session, I joined the group asking Danielle where I could buy my own ukulele. I knew a few weeks ago when I chose my olw “intentional” that I was going to challenge myself to learn some brand new things- here was an opportunity. This was a reminder to me how hard learning can be, but also how learner dependent. I know I will not make much progress on the ukulele knowing my past experiences with music, but I also know I want to challenge myself, so bam- let’s see how it goes!


That’s me on the left! Photo credit to @paulabaxter67 (my principal) and thanks to Danielle for being a patient teacher!

I will report back once I actually get myself a ukulele and welcome any tips.

Former student, Zhi Hong, keeps slicing.

From Sunrise to Sunset I Love Home

Returning to Phnom Penh last week after three weeks away I was struck by the change in the sunrise – turns out it is still rising later here and I really noticed it on my morning commute. I love watching the city wake up- cleaning up from the previous night, sweeping up- sometimes into the street, sometimes into bins. People setting up their shops- hauling products out front. I pass innumerable KTVs (Gooogle it- karaoke is big business here), tons of cafes, tiny specialty shops selling anything from floor tiles to tires. When I leave home just after 6AM there is very little traffic- the city is just waking up.

Contrast that with this afternoon. Today I left school a bit earlier than usual and headed to the Russian Market area for a pedicure. It is a bustling area with a mix of old and new- small boutiques stand side by side with traditional workshops. I opted to walk home- walking in Southeast Asian cities is always an adventure- sidewalks come and go, traffic is BUSY, motorcycles do not bother themselves with lanes- they zig and zag everywhere. You find your self having to walk far out into the street in places, as vehicles stop and/or park at will. I have a bit of a sense of direction in this part of the city- generally, even numbered streets run east- west, while odd numbered streets run north-south. I knew as I headed out I would hit a cross street that would take me closer to home, or if I was heading in the opposite direction I would be on a street with lots of restaurants and I was hungry. As it turns out I headed for home and weighed dinner options as I dodged danger. The streets were crowded and I had to be on full alert. As I got to my street the construction sites were just closing down and the city was heading toward nighttime mode.

It is easy for me to love this city!

Zhi Hong slices too!

Remembering and Celebrating


#sol19- January 8, 2019

I was in Berlin recently and my very good friend’s husband (also a good friend!) passed away. A year ago he was diagnosed with ALS, so his family had months of grief already. When it was time to plan the memorial service, as usual, Lisa worked to make it an inclusive event. Part of her invitation read:

“We invite and appreciate your contributions to the memorial service, be it in words, in music or any other form.

If you would like to participate, please let us know by Thursday.

Following the program part of the celebration, we hope to stay together with everyone and talk, sing, make music, eat and drink and do all the things Erasmus liked to do.

If you like, please bring instruments with you, we will provide you with notes from Erasmus’ favorite pieces and anyone who wants can join in some spontaneous music-making.

Also bring stories and photos that remind you and us of Erasmus. We will create a space for written words and photos.

For planning purposes please RSVP if you are coming. However anyone who decides

spontaneously to join is still very welcome!”


There were many people who wanted to be involved. There were 19 parts in the end. There were musicians Erasmus had worked with who wanted to play a range of music- a testament to Erasmus’s talent at playing and arranging. There were also speakers- both friends and family members-in German and English, who spoke with love about Erasmus through the years. There were several songs where everybody was asked to stand and join in, including Seasons of Love. This song had me thinking long afterward even though I have heard it many times.

Everybody agreed it was just the kind of evening that Erasmus would have loved.  A few of my takeaways from this celebration of a life well lived are:

  • people are complicated- it was lovely to hear more about facets of Erasmus’s life that I did not know much about
  • #lovewins (it was so moving to see and hear the range of participants (and taste the food that was also prepared with heart). Lisa’s parents and siblings flew in from Minnesota to be there.
  • sometimes you can choose your family (I am so lucky to have found this framily)
  • how do you measure a year? A life?

I will remember Erasmus as a steadfast supporter. Although a talented performer he was not about the spotlight. He quietly found ways for others to shine. Erasmus helped me personally with his skills in translation, his knowledge of how things work in Germany, his driving skills when I had to get rid of things before I moved away. his muscle when I moved in, his friendliness when he included me in various events, his ease. I appreciated the way he shared his family with me and am grateful for these forever friends. He was a listener and taught by being a strong example. He really lived his life aligned with his beliefs. I know that he will be missed by so many.


Zhi Hong keeps slicing (former student).




#sol19- January 1, 2019

For the last few weeks, I have been seriously contemplating the word I would choose to guide me through 2019. I have been talking about it with friends, reading tweets and blog posts about already chosen words, and quite honestly, dithered. Yesterday being the last day of 2018 I carried my list around all day looking it over waiting for the choice to be clear. I had my list “narrowed down” to ten, but then another word came to mind that seemed to push its way forth to the top of the list. I then narrowed the list down to four and saw how that one word sort of encapsulated the other three. Thus, at midnight I chose “intentional” as my one little word for 2019.

2018 began and ended with loss- my cat died as the new year was just settling in and my great friend’s husband, a truly inspirational man, died on one of the closing days of 2018. Challenge was the right word for the year for so many reasons- I was tested in new ways- sometimes of my own choosing, other times by circumstances beyond my control.

Recently I took a foundational course in mindfulness (which was in my top four of choices for my olw) and in 2019 I am going to take the next level course designed for educators. This has helped me to start to live with more intention. I want to be more intentional in the choices I make both professionally and personally. I aim to align my beliefs and actions more carefully so that I live more sustainably (knowing that this word has many meanings- I want to make new choices environmentally and within my own systems to make changes I can sustain). I also want to work with students in ways that better reflect all of my intentions- as a teacher, I am always inquiring into ways to be a better teacher so I will continue my professional development (beginning with a literacy conference in Hong Kong at the end of the month).  I know that I am more intentional when I write more, so that is something I will prioritize- my notebook has been untouched for weeks. Personally, my time in Berlin has reminded me that I need to be more intentional with friendships. I tend to be a hermit and do not easily develop friendships, so I really have to focus on strengthening and valuing in all sorts of ways the friendships I do have (I am currently reading Text Me When You Get Home, a really interesting book about women and their friendships through time).

As you can see, this is a fairly random beginning list of the way that I think “intentional” will guide me in 2019, but as it is day one of the year I know there will be more connections ahead. I look forward to seeing what other people have chosen for their word and what my students will choose for theirs once school starts up again.



Zhi Hong (former student) still slicing.