How Did They Know?

#sol23- Jan. 24, 2023

Why is it so confusing to my brain?

Yesterday we had a professional development day, so today was a fake Monday, but somehow it messed with my brain and everything felt off. All of our usual beginning of the week routines had to be transformed because it was really Tuesday. The schedule was different, the school news video we usually watch was not uploaded on time, we had double the kids to share in Morning Meeting, the list of little tweaks felt like it went on and on, including our team having to meet at recess as we did not have any time at all yesterday and we have a field trip coming up in two days.

I did not really have time to go over the math activities that my colleague had just passed on to me. I felt my shoulders rising, as they do when I get stressed. Just before we transitioned to another activity I played the school news. I was trying to get my groove back on.

“I will not be there for the field trip Thursday,” T said to me just before lunch.

“Oh, but I think you will. Your mom has volunteered to chaperone,” I reminded her.

“Well, she told me this morning that we would be going to Bangkok for a doctor’s appointment,” she said (and she is a reliable student, always knows what is going on).

So as soon as the students left for lunch I emailed mom and awaited her response, then got two emails that required me to coordinate with a colleague, so I went for a walk to search her out and burn off some of my negative energy. After consulting with her we each had a job to do, but as I found her in the early years cafeteria I remembered that I had a treat in the fridge there waiting for me (the kind music/art teacher who had been sick this weekend made treats and attached coffee cafe vouchers for all of us who helped out with the production rehearsal in her absence.

I still had that energy, so I walked the treats to my teammate who had also volunteered, since I know where she always eats lunch.

By the time I did that my better mood was gradually building. I ate a quick lunch with another colleague (somewhat frustrating conversation- not on her part!) and the went to pick up my fifth graders.

As is usually the case, working with kids makes me happy, so a mini lesson and three small groups later it was time for my planning period while the class was at performing arts. I got a few emails sent and continued to work on adminstrivia, went in to check something with my teammate and when I returned there was a mound of bracelets on next to my laptop. A colleague who had led a double pd session yesterday ended his session with asking us to take one of these brackets and tie it around a colleague’s wrist while thanking them for helping us to become better teachers. I had asked him where he got the rackets so I could buy some to do a similar project with the fifth graders. He said he had got them in Lao and had lots and would happily share. I had messaged that I would love that, but only if he would let me pay. He snuck them in while I was out- so kind (but I still sent an email asking if I could pay).

How did these two lovely colleagues know I needed their kindness today? Every night I start my notebook with what I am grateful for- today was so easily named, kindness!

A great reminder to me to be that light for others.


Taking It Old School

#sol23- Jan. 17, 2023

Sometimes I am terrible at making decisions- mostly, it turns out, decisions about what to do over breaks. I do not love traveling alone and I sometimes just wait to see what I will “feel like” closer to the time. Our next break begins February 25 and I will be turning 60 the next day, so I felt like I really should be somewhere I knew I would love. I have recently determined that I do not do beach vacations solo so well. I am a city lover. I also feel like one week is too short a break to travel too far or suffer from jet lag, so that narrowed my options a bit.

After much to and fro (in my brain) and possibly influenced by drooling over Tommy’s cooking on Master Chef Australia Fans Vs Favorites, I finally made a decision at the end of last week. I will go to Hoi An. Yes, I did put traveling to at least 6 new places on my bucket list for my 60th year, but for this break wanted comfort. I LOVE Hoi An (I think this will be my fifth visit) and look forward to visiting at a cooler time of year than before, delicious food, a very walkable city with lots to see, getting some clothes altered and new ones made, and finally seeing the Golden Bridge.

So then the “fun” part- booking flight, hotel, and getting a visa. The visa is a relatively easy process ($25 and a few day’s wait), so I decided to book the flight first. As I live in Phnom Penh, there are no direct flights. Looking around it looked like Vietnam Aiirlines had the best deals, a shortish stopover in Saigon and I would be on my way. I picked my times, went through all the steps of inputting information, got to the payment page and ugh! “This transaction was not completed.” (actually the dialogue box said not comleted, but I knew what it meant. I tried a few more times- no luck.

The next day I tried again afew times- no luck. I used a different browser, restarted my computer, then finally called my credit card company. No problem on their end, they said. I then wrote to teh airline and then thought, I’ll just move on to hotels.” I have stayed in three different hotels and while the one I stayed in twice was fine, I opted to look for a new “home”. I looked and looked and looked- reading reviews, looking at sites, comparing prices, etc. I finally made my choice and was worried I might have the same issue booking, but no- mission accomplished.

“Clear your history,” the airline recommended. I did that, restarted my computer again. No luck. I had already tried the app and another browser with no success. I looked up the airline and there was an office in Phnom Penh. I decided that if I still could not sort it I would go there on Tuesday (today).

Today after school I was feeling pretty proud of myself- I had the address and even thought to bring my passport in case they needed that. Happily the womann who helped me spoke great English, but then she delivered the bad news: “Our system does not take credit cards here, you would have to go to a travel agen for that. You will have to pay cash.”

Ugh, not surprisingly I was not carrying $325. So after getting down all the details from me I went off to find an ATM (I was not carrying my ATM card, but a friend had told me that with one of our bank accounts we could get money out using our phone- time to learn that! I went to the ATM and they even had a helpful attendant who helped me navigate the magic of getting cash out without my ATM card and it worked!

I returned to the airline and voila, I had my ticket! Okay, so I do not earn points on my credit card, but I just could not spend more time on this job. Tomorrow I have a full day of conferences, so I wanted to get something off my to do list, knowing that tomorrow will be full on. Job done. Not sure when was the last time I had to pay cash for an airline ticket (if ever), but whatever, it worked!

Testing, 1, 2, 3 (My OLW Gets a Workout!)

#sol23- Jan. 10, 2023

I told my students about my new OLW yesterday as we started the second semester (capacious, with an emphasis on being open to the wonders, joys, and sorrows of life).

We welcomed a new student yesterday also and the fifth graders are doing a fabulous job of modeling capaciousness themselves as we jump right back into everything, busily preparing for next week’s week’s three way conferences.

I was enjoying that little window of time when I felt “caught up” this afternoon after school when the teacher next door came in. “Hey, just to give you a few minute’s heads up. We just got an email that you are getting another new student on Thursday.”

To get a new student as an elementary homeroom teacher is to do 101 things in order to feel “ready.” New class list for the door, sign the family into Seesaw, the list goes on and on. I had just done all that stuff for H this weekend, so of course, I get to do it all again for S. Take down the changed list, go back to all the websites I have updated, and get ready to send out the welcome letter to the parents (although I cannot send out the letter yet because the counselor has to share the welcome template for the Padlet that my class will have to add to tomorrow).

Luckily, I have a great class and I know they will be welcoming and helpful as we get another new student settled. H sure does not get long to be “the new kid!”

I will be capacious- I just did not know that my OLW would get this kind of workout so quickly. Hurray for a OLW that reminds me of my goal!

OLW- The Big Reveal and the Why

#sol23- 3 Jan. 2023

I have chosen a OLW since 2013 (see this post for a review). For many of those years I have also had my students choose one, but the last few years I have adapted that for them- having them choose a OLW at the start of the year and then in January they decide to keep or change their word for the new calendar year.

Every year I keep a running list of possible words throughout the year. The note book I am currently writing in has only been in service since October 13, so lots of my ideas are in the three previous notebooks for this year, shelved at home. Last week I realized I would still be away from home when January 1 came and those lists would be inaccessible to me- I might have become a little anxious… What if “my” word was on a list and I missed my chance for the best word for 2023- breathe almost became my word by default.

I had zest and a few other words on my current list and I was leaning that way. Then I took a few minutes to brainstorm the other day and capacious came to me. I have loved the word since I first encountered it in Kate DiCamillo’s Flora and Ulysses. It was reinforced in her Newbery acceptance speech and again in her interview with Krista Tippett for On Being.

DiCamillo credits William Maxwell’s short story, The Thistles in Sweden, for introducing her to the word capacious. She defines it as “open, more capable of seeing and receiving the wonders of this world.” She says that reading can make us more capacious. In her acceptance speech she says “We have been given the sacred task of making Hearst large through story. We are working to make hearts that are capable of containing much joy and much sorrow, hearts capacious enough to contain the complexities and mysteries of…ourselves and each other.” defines capacious as capable of holding much; spacious or roomy

In 2023 I will turn 60. I want to be more capacious and inspire it in others. It will help me as an individual, family member, friend, learner, and teacher. I think as I age I could have the tendency to use the age card and assume I know it all- I want capacious to remind me to remain open- there is always more to learn. These last few years have been a challenge to us all and for me, it has meant that I have relied on myself more than ever. I want to be capacious toward others.

I look forward to the year of living capaciously and have started a 60 for 60 bucket list of things I would like to do in my 60th year, both big and small (and would love suggestions, as so far I only have eight ideas, ha!).

I look forward to reading about other people’s OLW choices and next week learning whether the fifth graders will keep or change their OLWs.


#sol22- Dec. 6, 2022

What goes through your mind when you hear the word “camp”?

Imagine camp with about 60 fifth graders near the coast of Cambodia- some of whom have never spent a night away from their parents or their nannies.

I can report that it was not necessarily the camp you are picturing. Studenst slept on bunkbeds in rooms of up to 9 students. Most of the adults had their own rooms.

Our stay at Shalom Valley was awesome. The kids were positive and all got along well. The activities were just the right level; of cahllenge and fun, and we all saw each other grow- as individuals and team members. On day one , after a quick lunch, all the students had experience making a raft and floating on it, completed several water obstacle course challenges, and enjoyed pool time. After a delicious dinner, story time, and s’mores, it was time for bed, most rooms got a good night’s sleep.

The second day students had choices- Khmer traditional games, nature art, collaborative games, more obstacle course fun, soccer, games, and pool time. The studenst were so easy going that we let them change when they wanted. After an early lunch we headed back to school via a 3 hour bus ride (several slept).

I was so impreeed with this group- it was great to see so many leadership skills being honed, new friendships explored, and new challenges accepted. We all came away for an appreciation for time spent together! I felt so proud of them when a few stepped up to the microphone to thank the staff at Shalom Valley.

One and a half weeks until break- we got this!

Travel with Family- Always an Adventure!

#sol22- Nov. 29, 2022

I keep telling myself that traveling with family is a gift (although at the moment I am thinking about gifts that keep on giving…).

My son moved to Bangkok this summer and he and my mother LOVE traveling together (truthfully they both love traveling, so for them traveling together is like a bonus), so it was easy for him to convince her to visit him during his long break in December. Both my mom and son are challenging planners (meaning they are not bound by time, so pinning them down to details, like what country and when is not easy! My mother is coming from the US and I live in Cambodia, so I was “welcome to join them.”

Finally, on October 30, she confirmed her travel dates (why she is arriving 9 days after our breaks start and leaving 9 days after they end remains a mystery). November 18th I inquired about their plans. My mom’s response: “He had 2 islands – choose one… is in Cambodia and the other is Thai Malaysian……both interesting….”

In the meantime, I pinned my son down to where he and I would travel first. He was going to the Philippines for the first week of his break and then had three days before my mom was to arrive, so I sorted a beachy area near Bangkok.

Finally, last Wednesday they were ready for the big reveal…

“Where in Laos?” I asked.

“We’re not sure yet,” my son answered.

Tonight after I shared the hotel. details for our beach time before my mom comes and got his ETD so I could book a car I asked about travel to Koh Lipe. Were we each booking our own or was he sorting that?

His response was, “Up to you.”

So I guess there are still lots of details up in the air. It is complicated to travel with those two, but I am sure we will have even more adventures once we meet up… My other son is probably laughing himself silly- he will stay at home and hear the stories after. Maybe before son #1 and I meet up I will know more?


Time has been on my mind a lot lately. Mostly I am wanting it to slow down. Yesterday I told my fifth graders that I had been working on their reports over the weekend.

“Already?” Y. asked.

“Already! Can you believe it is almost the end of the semester, which means you are almost halfway done with fifth grade?!”

“How does fifth grade go so fast when fourth grade went so slowly?” she asked.

“Because it’s so fun,” I teased (although in truth it IS so fun!).

“The week after next, we go on our overnight and the week after that is the last week where we will have Book Week and Sports Day,” I added.

This morning I looked at my phone for a quick time check and… ack, the numbers got all fat! I updated my phone and the numbers on the screen are big. Does my phone know I am getting older and making assumptions about my elderly eyes? Is my phone trying to show me how quickly time is passing? How can I change it back to the old, familiar font?

At school today we were ready to start our book clubs, as we are beginning our fantasy reading unit. I passed out calendars so they could plan their reading.

“Some groups will read their book quickly and probably read at least one more, while other groups may take the full time,” I noted. This is partly because the books are all different lengths and complexity, but also because the students have to agree within their group.

“Something’s wrong here, how can there be so few days,” someone commented.

“That’s all the time we’ve got,” I reminded them.

The semester ends in less than four weeks. I want my time on my phone to go back to the old way, and I want our time in our class to slow down. We will lose two of our class members at the break as they move away and gain a new classmate- change is hard. We are in our November groove.

Just like last week, I am reminding myself to slow down and appreciate the now.

Remembering to Slow Down

#sol22- Nov. 15, 2022

After a glorious week off last week, it is the last chunk of time before our long December break. We have five weeks and I am trying to slow myself down. This week started with a bang- meetings every day after school (and several recess meetings too) including Friday. A two-hour professional development. last night until 9. It’s all good and worthwhile stuff, but still, “Slow down,” I whisper to myself.

We finish our reading, writing, and unit of inquiry on Friday- before then the students have to finish research and create a podcast. The temptation was to really push them today, but just before lunch I could feel the energy in the room shift.

“Hold on, all. We are going to pause your work for now. I have just shared an Epic collection with you and I want you to browse the books to choose your next book club book.”

We are starting a fantasy reading unit next week- it will only be four weeks long (including the week before break which is our school’s book week and sports day, so bound to cut into our time. Including our two day grade trip to Kep for team building and more. Having them look over the collection and book shop was a needed energy boost- they were flicking through the books, having a listen to the audiobook options, and scheming with friends to list the same choices. It was a good way

After lunch, I used Flippity to randomly pair the students. They took turns sharing their opinion (that they will podcast) and their three to five reasons that support their opinion. They shared how their opinion has or has not shifted after researching. Then their partner had to let the speaker know what they had heard, to ensure that they were expressing themselves clearly. Then they switched roles.

“What did you learn from doing this?” I asked the class afterward.

They shared so much learning and appreciated their partner’s excellent listening. It was worth the time spent.

“Okay, now open your Chromebook and start a new doc. Name it bibliography and your topic. Now here’s how you center the title,” I said as I demonstrated for them to see on the screen. “Now open your sharing settings and make sure it says anyone with the link can view AND share it directly with me. I always change my sharing settings when I create a document, so I do not have to remember (or forget) to do it later.”

“And now it is your turn- you can work on your bibliography, remember you know how to use the Google citation tool. You can also continue researching or working on your script. You know what will help you most right now.”

With that, the students scattered and immediately got right to work. They had had some time that felt like play, practicing with each other, and now they could get on with their project in any way they wanted. I was lucky that our EAL teacher and learning support teacher were both in the room too. We were there to support these fabulous fifth graders as they worked toward their Friday goal.

We worked right up until I heard the class next door return from performing arts and then I sent them across the hall for their turn. Clean up could wait- I did not want them to feel rushed.

When they returned 45 minutes later we put away Chromebooks and baskets and gathered on the carpet to finish our chapter book read aloud and enjoy the satisfying ending,

The voice in my head reminded me to once again slow down- we did not rush to get just one more thing done but enjoyed each other’s company. In this ever-so-busy time, I am glad to have that reminder playing in my head. Slow down, even when I feel like I do not have time to- it is almost always the right choice.

Same, Same Only Different

#sol22- Nov. 8, 2022

This week we were supposed to have Monday- Wednesday off and then two days of PD on Thursday and Friday, but with the ASEAN Conference in town schools were directed to close, presumably to make it easier for those involved in the conference to get around town more easily.

Our school pivoted and decided that our PD would be online and asynchronous. They took it one step further and encouraged us to create a module that could teach our colleagues. I am one of those people who loves PD, if I have chosen it…

Maybe, I thought, I could share some of my favorite things and inspire others to give them a go. As with so many things, easier said than done.

Coming up with something to teach for an hour, with no live interaction turned out to be challenging for me. I had lots of topic ideas and then spent many hours on the weekend gathering resources for three. I was stuck, because I could only imagine a page of links that people could explore, but although that would work for me, would that work for others?

I met with our head of professional learning. He maintained there was no one way to do this, no best platform. Some were using slides, others Padlet, a website, Nearpod, the possibilities were endless.

I spent many more hours culling resources, trying to curate a list of what I thought would work best. I decided to start on one module- Building Thinking Classrooms, based on a book by the same name written by Peter Liljedahl. I read it the summer before last and had implemented many of the ideas in our math class. I ended up using slides, including my personal perspective via quick Looms. I also interviewed a few willing students and had them interview me. Then I made my second draft, revised and edited some more.

For my second module I went with reading- picture books are part of how I have always taught and I am often inspired by Jillian Heise’s #ClassroomBookaDay. I went with slides again, following a similar process- draft , revise, edit.

At a certain point I decided good enough was good enough and I was done, but then while on my exercise bike that morning I realized there was one video missing. Careful observers may have noticed my change of clothes, but ah well.

I opened my sharing settings and put them up on the doc for the world to see (well, at least the most intimidating part of the world, my actual colleagues). It went live a few days later and it turns out that I had not changed the sharing settings for the interview videos nor added a Padlet link for people to add their own picture book recommendations after looking through resource lists, but those were quick fixes once I received notice😍.

Then it was on to the real fun- learning from my colleagues. The variety of what people created to share was as diverse as our community. Since I created a module I was only obligated to “attend” five others. I worked through The Real Curriculum (the importance of play), Positive Education, The Importance of Visual Arts, Middle Grade/YA Book Sharing, and The importance of Curiosity (not the actual titles, but just to let you know some of what was inspiring me). I will definitely explore a few more, including Digital Detox, The Importance of Pronouns, and a few others that have caught my eye.

It is always interesting to learn from colleagues and I know I am lucky to have the time set aside to do so.

It was super interesting to reflect on the formats that worked for me and how I balanced learning within my comfort zone and pushing myself. It was also interesting to see that my style as a writer held true for my process creating the modules- vomit on to the page and spend minimal time “cleaning up” afterward.

I also can say with confidence that because I got to choose the sessions I attended I am ready to jump in to try out my new learning.

All of this, of course, has me thinking of the classroom, and how I could leverage the experts in the room and student choice even more…