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.





The Gift of Time


#sol18- September 25, 2018

I am a firm believer in timing- there is a right time for everything (well, almost everything). We are in our eighth full week of school and honestly, I am feeling a bit ready for a break- not that I don’t love my job, but I can almost feel my energy reserves diminishing day by day.

Then along comes this week- Monday and Tuesday have been days off for the students and full days of PD for teachers. It is hard to get whole group PD “just right” Everybody will have different needs, background knowledge, etc. I am in my first year at this new school so I may have anticipated the days a little differently than colleagues who have experienced PD here before. When I heard it was focusing on inquiry I was hooked- this is my first year back in a PYP school and I figured it would give me a better handle on what inquiry should look like here. I also heard that our principal has known the presenter, Kimberly Mitchell, for a long time and that they had worked together to make sure the two days would be a good lead up to our team-level goal setting that will occur on Wednesday at our staff meeting.

So, here’s what I loved…

Honesty– She told us when what she said was based on first-hand experience, research, or experiences with adult learners. She did not try to sound like the know all/be all expert.

Planned– I LOVE agendas for PD because I can keep track of what is coming and when and although we did not always stick strictly to it, having one helped me be better focused.

Balance-Sure there were ideas I had heard before, but because we were trying out new things too it never felt like “been there, done that”.

Time– We had time to practice with many of the structures she was teaching us about. We had time to reflect on how we could use what we were learning. On Day 1 in the afternoon, she sent us away for an hour. Our assignment? “Do whatever you need to do to stay present.” Afterwards, a few of us shared out what we had done- ranging from exercising to classroom work to whatever. On Day 2 we had a large chunk of time (a total of 2 1/2 hours) to work with our teams on whatever felt useful to us. Before we went to a break we had to devise an agenda and inform Kimberly what we might need from her. As it turns out we were so amazingly productive in this time that we really got our whole agenda accomplished while still managing to have fun and a few off-topic discussions and extensions. It felt so great that we had time to work how we wanted on something that we could immediately see value in and our team was all pretty proud of our focus.

Respect- we were given lots of time and did not feel like we were being watched- we were respected and treated like professionals we are- something I do not always think is transmitted in every school.

Looking at Kimberly’s website while writing this it is so clear that what we experienced were what she describes as“the backbone of our work.”  We had time to “get personal” and I definitely feel like I got to know my teammates and other colleagues better. We were challenged to “stay curious” as we devised our own next steps. Kimberly modeled “ask more; talk less” as we worked- her visit to our team was less than two minutes and did not interrupt our flow. “encourage evidence” will come into play more tomorrow as we refine our team goal so that we can measure our success, but we also filled out several reflections that helped us define our own needs. The value of “extend thinking time” was so clear when we looked back at what we had accomplished. Early on in her workshop Kimberly reminded us of Ebbinghaus’s Forgetting Curve– now our mission is to fight that by using this PD to make a real change.

So being the “PD junkie” that I am this two-day change of “routine” was just the boost I needed to get through the two weeks before our October break with renewed energy.


Slice from a former student.






A Few Shining Moments from My Day Add Up to the Tipping Point


#sol18- September 18, 2018

Today was one of those days where lots seemed to click- it all added up to me realizing that I have passed the tipping point- it is official- I LOVE my class!

Moments I loved today:

  • Students are taking on more ownership in the classroom- One student commented before Morning Meeting that it looked like the boy who was scheduled to do a Book Talk would be absent again and then promptly volunteered to step in.
  • Students are making connections– last week as we finished up a fiction reading unit we discussed author’s purpose- a big shift for third graders as they go from discussing what choice a character made to what choices the author made- today we were beginning a nonfiction reading unit and students were inquiring into author’s choice there as they looked at text features and what the author was doing to support readers as they read. The discussion was animated and the thinking on high.
  • As the students came in after recess one student reported that another was crying (and then went on to tell me that tempers had been fiery). When the upset student came in I asked him what had happened. “X kicked me,” he said. “What happened before that?” I asked. “I cheated because I was sad.” After a few minutes of discussion, he was ready to clean himself up and get on with his afternoon. He brought the moment up later in a personal reflection and his goal to be a good teammate. I was impressed that he felt safe enough to be so honest.
  • After school, I was putting the end of unit reflections in a Google Drive folder and keeping a list of whose work I had so that I could remind those who hadn’t shared their doc with me to share tomorrow and guess what??? I had everybody’s who was at school today. I was shocked- I do not think that I have ever had a whole class share correctly this early in the year (okay, it may have helped that there were three other adults in the room while the students did the work, so lots of support, but everyone, wow!). I am impressed and will be sure to mention it tomorrow.
  • Really there were many other great moments today but it all added up to my realization on the way home – I know we will have our ups and downs throughout the year, but we really have already reached the point in the year where I feel like we have a really good community and I love this class! Yippee!


Slice from a former student.


And Then It Rains!


#sol18- September 11, 2018

“The Wet Season
The wet season comes courtesy of the southwest monsoon which blows from May to October, bringing with it some 75% of Cambodia’s annual rainfall. Not surprisingly, the wet season is characterised by rain, and during the peak of wet season from July to September it can rain as much as two out of every three days. However, the rainy days are usually just a few hours of heavy downpour and not all-day rain, although the latter do occur.” Source

I have to admit I love the rainy season in the tropics. Which is lucky, as it lasts nearly half the year. I have lived here just under tow months, so I can not really note patterns yet,  but here is what I know so far- it seems to mostly rain in the late afternoon.

Today it was a race against time. My first choice for a slice was a peek at our school’s butterfly garden, but it turns out it is locked up after school, so I missed that. Next, I thought I would photograph all the amazing spaces our students have to play at recess but to be honest, I was too lazy to walk out to the field and since that is the biggest space it did not seem complete, so on to plan c (also known as I had no idea what I would slice about…).

As I hopped in my tuk-tuk on the way home I made a snap decision to stop at Super Duper (my closest grocery store) before going home. I asked Mr. Bo my wonderful driver) if he thought I would beat the rain and he laughed. The sky was darkening- I was not sure, but it was only 4:25, so I went for it. Bad luck for me the traffic was not great- we were taking longer than usual and the sky went from dark gray to genuinely black in places. By the time we finally reached the store, it looked like the rain was imminent.

Cruising the aisles I scooped up what I came for- bananas and moisturizer (okay a few other things may have jumped into my basket too, but I was in and out in five minutes). Now my dilemma- to take another tuk-tuk home or chance the rain and walk (realistically only about a 7-minute walk). It wasn’t raining yet, so I ventured out on my own.

Sidewalks are inconsistent (or non-existent) for much of the walk, so I skirted the traffic- a busy combination of motor scooters, tuk-tuks, and cars. I was halfway home when I suddenly felt a heavy plop- the first rain drop!

I continued on- relieved that no more rain fell. I made it to my street and it started sprinkling- no big deal. I made it to the elevator and boom- the first rumble of thunder and the sky opened- it was pelting down and I was glad to be indoors.

Just over fifteen minutes later the sky was clear- a beautiful sunset was just beginning and the puddles were the only reminder that the rain had come and gone-until tomorrow.

A slice from a former student.