Getting in New Rhythms


#sol18- August 28, 2018

You know that feeling when you look up and suddenly realize you have hit your stride and the year is feeling familiar- you have found your rhythm? Yeah, well I am not there yet. I feel like in week 4 I should feel it, but I chalk it up to being in a new school- one day I will feel that rhythm…

Today there was a return to a rhythm of old- in KL Tuesday was at first my yoga day and then my Pilates day- today I returned to yoga.

Rika started the hour by assuring us that the session would be easily accessible for beginners (me). I was apprehensive about joining in as I am really suffering from my first cold of the school year and breathing is hard, but I decided to give it a shot. Well, Rika’s version of easier was definitely not mine, but by some furtive looking at my neighbors (which every yoga teacher always seems to say is not what you should do- after all, yoga is not a competition) I was able to sort of follow along except when I was overwhelmed by too many downward dogs and I needed to take a break because my head felt like it was going to explode. I was reminded of how terrible my balance and flexibility is and throughout my inner monologue was questioning my sanity in participating at all and debating whether this would be my last yoga session in Phnom Penh. Finally, the hour was over (okay, it was longer than an hour and I may have begrudged that extra time). As we all hustled off to our tuk tuks I was walking out with Karyn and Kelly who had attended the previous session that I had missed. Sandy commented, “I thought it was funny that Rika called that a beginner friendly session- it definitely was not that.”

And here I thought I was the only one who was thinking that. Although Sandy is ridiculously fit and a very experienced yoga practitioner I was glad she noticed.

“Yeah- it was much easier last week,” Karyn noted. Then we started sharing our challenging moments. “I always question why I am there as I look at the clock,” Karyn added. Again, I thought it was just me.

Maybe misery loves company. As for me, I am not yet committing to returning to this former habit.


A slice from a former student.


Finally Here and What a Difference It Makes!

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#sol18- August 21, 2108

AT 2:34 Friday afternoon, just after dismissal I got the message I had been waiting for:

“Dear Ms. Erika,

I got the green light to deliver your shipments. Can we set tomorrow at 10 am to deliver box 36-72 to ISPP and 3 pm to deliver the rest of the boxes to your residence?”

Wahoo- now what/ I hurried off to ask my principal what I had to do to schoolwise to allow the movers in. She sent me off to the head of facilities (never my first choice to meet someone for the first time when I was asking for something, but luckily he was kind and made it seem like no problem).

I had trouble sleeping that night I was so excited! The next morning I was at school early and the wonderful men brought all those boxes to my room and at my request dumped the contents on the tables.



There were a lot more books that you can not see in this picture, but you get the idea!

As I had to meet the movers at my apartment for the home shipment I basically just threw books into the plastic bins I use to store them in and headed home. Just before I left the principal came up to check out my room- she may have shrieked (I prefer to think it was in excitement at seeing all the books, but it may have been due to the ridiculous mess and the fact that she is super neat and tidy and this scene was definitely not).

At home, the same process was repeated (only there were not as many books). I then hurried back to school to get a few hours of sorting in so that the room was inhabitable come Monday.

Monday morning there were many excited students popping in for a quick peek before their morning play time. There may have been a few shocked faces when they saw the books everywhere. After Morning Meeting I presented the challenge. Because it is “our room” not “my room” I wanted their input as to how we started organizing the books. They voted to start with fiction picture books. Luckily we have a big open space (the grade 3 piazza) next to our room, so we lugged all the red boxes out there to get started. We agreed to sort them in bins by the authors last name and dug in.


Amazingly that part got done before snack recess. Later in the day, we began another section- the not picture books. We brainstormed categories and then students had lots of decisions to make about which book belonged where. We got a lot done, but there was still more to do. Every child was excited to borrow a book for the night.

Today we completed that section and then knocked out the nonfiction picture books. Unfortunately, I forgot to take an “after” picture. Then we reflected on our work and I asked the students to make posters about the challenge. As it happens our unit of inquiry right now is within “How We Organize Ourselves” and focuses on how we make decisions and how they can impact others- what a perfect, real-life project!

Today as we were getting ready to leave, L. remarked, “It looks so different. The classroom is really looking like it is ours now.”

Ah, the books are finally here and what a difference it makes.  I feel more at peace for sure!

Slice from a former student.

The View from Here


#sol18- August 14, 2018

I knew before I moved here that there was no way I would drive here. I am a wimpy driver and have not driven in about 10 years (did not in Malaysia, many reasons, did not need to in Germany- easy public transport, did not in India- no way!).

Before I even moved into my apartment I looked more carefully at the Google+ Community my school has for teachers. There were a few teachers leaving who had recommended their tuk tuk drivers, so I randomly messaged one. When I did not hear back from him right away I had planned to contact another if I did not hear back by the morning, but luckily Mr. Bo messaged me back.

So began a wonderful relationship. Tuk tuks are everywhere here and you can hail one on the street (with the hassle/challenge of trying to negotiate a price, use an app (like Pass App or Grab) to get a ride, or have a regular guy (I have not seen any women tuk tuk drivers yet). I started out with  the plan that Mr. Bo would drive me to school and I would use an app to call a driver after school (because my leaving is not as set as my arrival). That would have worked, but Mr. Bo encouraged me to hire him for both ways (knowing that I would be slightly more inconsistent). A price was negotiated for weekly M-F and there was no looking back.


His tuk tuk is spacious and super clean and I my ride! When it rains there are these flaps that roll down and I get all zipped in like a tent!



Every morning I pass this place and giggle. You can’t read it, but it says “Mean Mean Guest House”.


I love to see all the shops setting up in the morning- I leave the apartment no later than 6:15 and things are already getting busy.

In the afternoon I almost always see the cows crossing the road not far from school.


The traffic is a mix of cars, trucks, tuk tuks, and motor scooters with little regard for lanes, lights, or “order” in a way that I am used to, yet it all works very well. With Mr. Bo at the wheel I arrive to school safely (although quite windblown) and get home in much the same way.  I am totally convinced that I made the best decision for me to not be driving and I am so glad that Mr. Bo is helping me navigate the streets of Phnom Penh. I am a lucky person!



Slice from a former student who would love comments.

First Days


#sol18- August 7, 2018

All I can say is thank goodness for my colleagues! Somehow I always forget how tiring the first days of a new school year are- add to that being new to a school/country, being team leader, and printers being an elusive tool and you can imagine my frenzy!

Luckily I have lovely teammates, an ever helpful art teacher across the hall, new teacher friends, and a sense of humor! The verdict after two days- I am already starting to fall in love with my class! 21 students (actually only 19 so far- the other two will join us soon), an interesting mix of nationalities and personalities. One poor guy threw up yesterday before he even got to class and went home (I hope it was not me!) and another confessed he was so nervous (so was I, I freely admitted).

In just two days we have read aloud four picture books (All Are Welcome Here, The Story of Fish and Snail, The Idea Jar, and Alma and How She Got Her Name) and begun our chapter book Lulu Is Getting a Sister. The students also saw Colby Sharp’s video of him raving about his book love and giggled as he jumped up on a table- then marvelled that I did too as I proclaimed my love of books. My class library is still en route from Malaysia, so our library is quite limited right now, but they are all diving in. One wonderful student brought in two books that she had bought doubles of by mistake- so the library has already expanded. Our lovely teaching assistant is busy creating our #classroombookaday board and we are off to the library tomorrow, where we will inevitably add to our class library while we await the 36 boxes to come.

Although I may not get to everything I have planned this week I am definitely sowing the seeds of #booklove. A good start, anyway!



Slice from a former student.



First Impressions


#sol18- July 24, 2018

Apologies for a short post and the lack of pictures- it has been such a busy week! This week is a Top 5 of first impressions (in no particular order) of my new life in Phnom Penh!

  1. The food- I had heard Phnom Penh was a great city for food and so far that is holding true, not just Khmer food, but all kinds of food! Fresh ingredients and thoughtfully prepared-win!
  2. My new colleagues- I have met many of the new teachers (not all yet) and I am enjoying them. One couple I worked with years ago in Mumbai, but the rest are new  to me- nothing like figuring out a new city together to create bonds!
  3. The hotel- we are staying at a lovely hotel for up to 10 days while we find housing and it is in a great location for exploring the city and so comfortable! I will miss the breakfasts for sure and the people could not be nicer! All this getting used to a new city is sure made nicer by the temporary home we have here!
  4. The school- I had my first view of the school the other day with of few of the newbies because two of them had family in town and wanted to see the school. It is beautiful and exciting- now, must find more bookshelves before my shipment arrives!
  5. Apartment hunting- everyone had said that apartments are in good supply here and it is much easier to get into an apartment quickly. I contacted an agent and arranged to meet him the morning after I arrived. I saw about 20 places the first day. Well, turns out I am not an easy sell- poor man took me out a few more days (with only a few places each of the following days) before on day 4 I narrowed it down to tow places. I then had to decide and when I finally did I was lucky and got my first choice. Another new teacher will be in the building, which is nice. I actually have ro pictures of the place, only some of her place, as I had looked at that one before she decided to take it. Bonus for the agent I used was on the last day I brought another new teacher along and he was able to help her find an apartment too (she actually moved into the building of my second choice apartment). I move in  on Friday- the day I have to be out of the hotel.

The days ahead will be busy, busy, busy! Orientation starts Thursday, my son is in this weekend for a quick visit, and it all get real soon. These first impressions are making me excited and happy here! Goodbye summer, hello new life!

A Busy Start

#sol18 July 17, 2018

Today begins my new adventure- flying from Boston to Detroit to Seoul to Phnom Penh. Although the first flight was domestic, I opted to get to the airport very early for my 8:50 departure, as I was unable to check in online. Of course, that should have set off my alarm bells, but…

I managed to fill all my time- the easy part was repacking suitcases so none exceeded the weight limit, and paying for an extra suitcase (grateful I planned ahead for this as my shipment is not there yet). The hard part- Delta said I had to have a ticket to leave Cambodia within 30 days, as I do not yet have my work visa. The airport WiFi was not great, so my first attempt seemed to not go through, so I tried again. Luckily I was coherent enough in my distress to purchase Phnom Penh- Bangkok, so the total was less than $100 and maybe I can get it refunded. Showing the ticket confirmation was enough and after along wait at Starbucks (not their fault, the line was sooooo long) I was just in time to board flight 1.

Here I sit on flight 3- the first flight was less than two hours, followed by a 13 hour flight, and now this one at 5. Happily all of my layovers allowed me enough time to walk a little, after all that sitting.

Tomorrow I begin the apartment hunt…

Zhi Hong (former student) slices here.

#cyberpd Week 2 Chapters 3 and 4

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Ooops, my time at nErDcampmi had me too busy to post until now, but, Sara Ahmed was there in person:) I am lucky to have learned from her in person several times by now. She gave a NerdTalk that focused on living a “hyphenated life”. By that she meant all the labels attached to us (in her case, one example being the daughter of Indian Muslim immigrants). She talked about trying to get it right on both sides of the hyphen. I might have cried.

In Chapters 3 and 4 I was once again impressed by Sara’s intentional language- I need to focus on this more! She is also great at teaching me more about accountable talk and how to amp it up for students.

I found myself being hyper aware of my own biases after reading this section and it really is something to notice some of them and then purposefully shove them aside.

I have done the drawing activities with students in the past, but now I can see that we can unpack the responses much more fully. (Side note- my pilot was female only because I have recently been reading about Amelia Earhart). I am wondering what texts I might use to replace the Diane Burns poem (p56), as I am not sure if it will be approachable for my students. I will definitely use the identity statements and can see them being added on to at various points in the year.

I like Sara’s reminder to push us to go from a student-centered to a socially minded classroom (p77). Connecting identities to our news is definitely an idea I have not used in the classroom, but I think third graders can do it for sure! Sometimes I am hesitant to bring up news as I know so much can be controversial based on the diversity in our classroom, but I think if it comes from the students it is naturally something that we should talk about, as it is on their radar. I like the nudge to push beyond initial thinking in a scaffolded way. I can see this as a possible kick starter to Genius Hour.

I really want my future colleagues to read this book! I think Sara is right when she says this is worth going through as a community of adults before working with students (and for that I am grateful that we have the #cyberpd community, so if my at school colleagues do not read the book I will be able to reach out to you!). I am glad I will have this book in my suitcase with me as I begin a new school year!