Category Archives: Uncategorized

Camping Out Phnom Penh Style


#sol19- February 19, 2019

Friday was the long awaited day- the grade 2/3 sleepover at school. Kudos to Ben who took charge of most of the organizing of the event.


In the end it was about 70 students, 8 of us teachers sleeping over (with several others helping out until dusk). After putting up their own tents on the field (a first for many of them) and setting up their “room” there was a bit of free time before we headed to the pool. Just as the sun was starting to set the lifeguards reminded us that it would soon be dark. Back to the field we trooped and after a bit more play time the hungry masses were fed (everything tastes better grilled- the kids devoured the sausages in baguettes and watermelon). Some of these families will be in for a surprise and a high food bill once these kids hit their teen years!

52372907_1216602098493787_1596851914186686464_o.jpg52281303_1216598165160847_42942341450825728_o.jpgAfter dinner it was campfire time. Karyn led us in a few songs, but it turns out these kids did not know many that we knew and were not really interested in learning. Next was storytime, but Ben had arranged it treasure hunt style, so groups had clues to follow to get to their next story. I was “Near where the chickens hang out.” Next to the chicken coop are two bamboo platforms. I quickly realized the chickens do hang out there too as I sat on mounds of dried chicken poop, oops! I read Flashlight Night- perfect for an outdoor adventure. One of the stops on the treasure hunt was for roasting marshmallows.


52595700_1216603628493634_2007772240216588288_o.jpg52123665_1216603038493693_4961197511944437760_o.jpgThen…bedtime. Of course, that did not go smoothly. One child went home even before the others went to bed- ah well. Some settled quickly but after many trips to the toilet, there were still many wide awake tents. One by one other teachers headed off to bed, while Courtney and I wandered around “shushing” and assuring students that they would eventually fall asleep. It was hot inside the tents and they were all sure that they had 101 mosquitos in their tents (and looking at some of the arms and legs they may have been right).

Some time before 1 Courtney and I went to bed, but neither of us got much sleep. I was up more than a handful of times and had kids visiting my tent to ask for the time (“2:30, Yuki.”).

Everyone made it through the night, but morning came much too quickly. After breakfast we had to take down the tents and fold them so that they would fit back in their bags- happily not too hard of a task, as we were all tired. 8:30 pickup time went off pretty quickly and then we all headed home. 4 hours off before returning to help out at the musical practice.

After my long awaited shower in the time off in between, I noticed my legs- covered in ant bites. I had noticed the stinging while I stood on the sandy area, but what a shock to see the spotted results- stinging turned to itchy and on Tuesday, as I write, the itch continues. I am wondering what I will get over sooner- the bags under my eyes from the missed sleep or the bites. Not the souvenirs I expected.


The things we teachers do!


Practicing What I Preach- Reality Check Time


#sol19- February 12, 2019

So, we are just over two months into 2019, so I thought that this week was a good time for my students to check in on some of the goals they set just before the end of 2018. Today we checked in on reading- where were they? Many realized they had met their goal and were ready to take on the next challenge, but what about me? Tonight I am reflecting on my own goals.

While I did set a reading goal on Goodreads (and I am currently ahead on that) I really feel like I need to oomph up my reading life! I am reading for several book clubs -(The Culture Map for our elementary leadership team, Atomic Habits for Colby Sharp’s online book club, and Educated for our school social book club. But here’s the thing- I feel like I am really falling behind in my reading that helps me recommend books to my students, so I have to get more intentional about that (uh oh, there is my olw for 2019 calling out to me. This weekend I am due for some marathon reading time, but I will spend at least 20 minutes a day this week doing some extra reading) in my living room – Atomic Habits taught me to be really specific about the what, where and when, so it will be right after dinner for 20 minutes in my living room.) I realize as I write this I should have shared this when I spoke to my students. I did tell them I needed more reading time, but I should have shared my own specifics to help them try that too.

Later on this week we will check in on other goals, but I already know where I stand on a few of mine. Already I know I have not been writing enough. I am grateful that March is coming as I will again participate in the Slice of Life Challenge. In past years part of that challenge for me has been a break interrupting my routines and the fact that I have been supporting my students in their own challenge. This year I have no break and the student challenge has moved to April, but the school musical that I am helping with is March 22 and 23, so that will add a new layer of complexity. Whoever said challenges were easy?! Just yesterday I decided to go back to setting a 7PM alarm to remind me to write. Note it is 6:50 as I write this, so I am ahead of schedule, but last night I did not write… My goal before next Tuesday is to share the SOL Challenge with teachers at my new school and try to recruit a few new slicers. I did check back in with a teacher at my last school last night and he plans to join in again this year. I am putting together a message with some links to help others learn more about the challenge. I have already signed up to be a part of the Welcome Wagon so I know I will have some new slicers to cheer on for sure.

I am of the opinion that I should never ask my students to do anything I would not do, so this chance to check back in my goals has been a great time for me to walk the walk with my own goals too. I know I have other goals I still need to get working on, so I am glad to have this nudge push to check in-.

Striking Fear in the Hearts (and Heads) of Teachers Across the World


#sol19-February 5, 2019

Sunday I got the email. I might have ignored it, but the smart mom must have known that, because in the subject she had her daughter’s name and “important information”, so although I have already been burned once this year by opening a parent email on a Sunday I broke my new (unwritten) rule about opening such emails on the weekend. Little did I know…

Let’s be honest- there are many subjects you might prefer not to read about, but one little word struck fear in my heart- and the word? You guessed it- LICE!

As I read on I noted the mom had done everything right- treated her daughter, combed, retreated, combed more, and was on a rampage to clean everything in the house. But the power of the word is so strong that across town my head was itching. All I could think of was all the extra work there would be if I had lice- no mom here to lovingly treat my hair and comb nits out- it would all be on me. I wrote a sympathetic email to the mom, forwarded her email to the school nurses, and scratched my head, while I contemplated the extra chaos that lice would bring in the morning.

C. showed up at school in the morning and I had her check in at the nurse. The students were not going to be in the classroom for lice checks when the nurses could check them all until after lunch, but I snuck in a quick check for myself while the kids were at snack. In spite of my itchy head, I was clear. The mind is a powerful thing and I am easily influenced when it comes to doom and gloom. Here’s the thing, any time I hear the word “lice” I itch- I know that. Every time one of my students has lice I am convinced I have it too. So far (knock wood) I have not had them. In my head I know really they are not that big a deal (and no reflection on cleanliness), but all I can imagine how much of a hassle it would be to really eliminate them- especially since I have not owned a clothes dryer for about 12 years.

The students took the lice check in stride- many had prior experience. It revealed two other students had lice-ugh! The first girl still had them too. By then it was too late in the day for the notice to go out, so today all elementary parents were notified about lice and the two sets of parents got personal notes informing them of what the nurses had found. Of course, my head is still itching and all day long I was worried about sitting too close to students, skeeved out by picking up hairbands, and all the other paranoid things I do whenever students have lice. After school today I got a hair cut, so my hairdresser gave my scalp another look and so far I am clear. But that does not mean I will relax.

So far the lice seem contained in our classroom-but a colleague had me laughing when she relayed that one of her students thought they were having a mice check. Hopefully, it’ll e over without too much spread and I hope the lice know how unwelcome they are. Scratch, scratch, scratch.

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).