#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.


Time Travel


#sol18- December 18, 2018

Today I am writing from Berlin, Germany (well, actually Kleinmachnow, a small town outside of Berlin). It is so strange to be here- I lived here for a total of 11 years spread over 12 (with a year in Mumbai in between), but have not visited for 2 1/2 years. I have some very good friends here and we are all cozied up (with others coming from Atlanta, Georgia and myself from Cambodia). It is a funny combination of familiar and new. So far we have visited our favorite massage place (highly recommended respite after a day of travel) and eaten doener. We have spent time chatting, cooking, playing games. Later today we will visit the school I taught at to be a part of their end of term holiday party and I look forward to seeing old friends and colleagues (and hopefully seeing some former students beforehand too). Wednesday is the last day of school for my friend still teaching here and then we will have even more time together. I am so grateful to be here being a part of this group- but still feeling mother guilt that I am not spending time over the holidays with either of my sons… Yet, I know it is important for me to be here now too. My friend here is juggling lots, as her husband has ALS.  I am grateful to be able to spend time with this amazing framily (friends + family) who supported me so much through all my life’s trials and tribulations when I lived here and continue to be such an important part of my life. It will be a different kind of Christmas, but one that reminds me of the importance of togetherness, traditions (old and new), and celebration. Family comes in so many shapes and sizes.

Here’s hoping you all have time travel opportunities over your break.

Checking in with My OLW- Challenge


#sol18- December 11, 2018

I chose my OLW (one little word) because I knew I would need it. I knew I was making another move- and by the time I chose my word I knew where I would be heading, but there was still so much unknown. I had visited Cambodia once before but had never been to Phnom Penh, only Siem Reap. Everybody who had been to both only told me how different they were.

Moving is always a challenge and although I have done it many times it is what it is. Moving from a country can be tricky- and there were hoops to jump through leaving Malaysia, but mission accomplished. Challenge accomplished!

Moving into a new country is its own challenge, but I have to say the school did lots to make it easier- including greeting us at the airport with a sim card. Sure there are aspects to living in Phnom Penh that are challenging, as there are in any city, but I have to say Phonm Penh has far exceeded my expectations- I love it! Still sure to have more challenges, but…

Finding housing was supposed to be easy- turns out I had a lot of expectations- I saw more than 25 apartments before choosing the one I am in. It is great, but I would like to be in a more centrally located neighborhood. Am I up for the challenge of house hunting again?

Settling into a new school is bound to be a challenge- and it was, but I was lucky to have a super supportive team to help me along the way. Happily, I love my students and that makes every day fun! I know the challenges in getting used to a new school will ease up bit by bit, but it is a challenge I chose and I am all in. Challenge ongoing.

Traveling alone has continued to be a challenge for me. I traveled alone a few times this year and continue to find ways to make it work for me. More challenges ahead!

I think that having challenge as my word helped me to see all the change as a chance to challenge myself, which helped me to focus on the positive. Having the word as my computer screensaver has helped me to remember this focus and concentrate on the positive aspects of the word meaning.

I am already mulling over words for 2019. Which word will be the one to move me forward in new ways? I always share my OLW with my class and in January they will pick a word each as well. This reminds me that I should look back to see what I have chosen in the past to have them all in one place!



Zhi Hong currently.




#sol18- December 4, 2018

Our current unit in third grade is part of the theme Where We Are in Place and Time and has the central idea that innovation creates change and can lead to new possibilities. It was a new unit this year and looked like the perfect time for our students to really inquire into an idea of their choice. We started by looking at a few innovations and considered the positives and negatives of each. Students then considered their interests and identified a question or problem they wanted to address. Then they had time- time to research/investigate, develop their ideas, create, and evaluate- often toggling among all of these in the course of a few minutes.

Flash forward a few weeks and here we were today! The students probably had 10-12 hours to work on their innovation. I loved the variety of their ideas and the forms they took. We learned about global warming and the need to buy local, saw contraptions to make students feel more comfortable in their high bed, learned how to make bags from used t-shirts from a student concerned about too much plastic and more. Other students were also clearly impacted by our previous environmental focus and made baskets and chairs from cardboard, designed a combo trash/compost bin, reused markers, and tried to teach about the importance of not wasting food. Other students considered their own interests or needs and came up with a podcast to help you sleep, a book to teach about how to cope with stress, an umbrella hat with a soda can holder, taught more about various animals, made a prototype of sunglasses that morph into binoculars, combined an interest in Yoda with teaching children about bullying prevention. There were some boredom busters, ways to make your room more beautiful, and toy ideas for children who do not have much.

This is the kind of unit that I think will stay with the kids. They have had so much independence and really were so engaged. Their reflections were honest and sincere and their work was 100% theirs! As for me, I learned a lot too. Not only did I learn more about their interests, but I really saw their work ethic, perseverance, problem-solving, and more (sometimes less admittedly). This is definitely a unit we will keep for next year (and hopefully find ways to make it even more awesome).

Now to find ways to get that innovator mindset into more of our days!


Zhi Hong slices.

Ordering Frustration


#sol18- November 27, 2018

Today was a busy day, as so many are, but after school, I had a meeting with two colleagues, and it went something like this:

“Let’s just get rid of this entire page.”

“No, we can’t get rid of that!”

”I agree, let’s just keep all of these!”

”But how are we going to trim $2000?”

“Ack, let’s just each take a page and…”

”I’ll highlight what I think must be saved.”

”I’ll cross off what we might be able to eliminate.”

”How about we take some of these down to 1?”

”How are we going to share these? The kids love these?”

“We cannot get rid of this- so many kids will only read this.”

Yup, our order was 100% books and it was killing us to delete any of the books.

It continued on and on like this and the internet and/or the website we were using was NOT helping! Eventually after much to-ing and fro-ing, and a few unuttered choice words (okay, a few may have been said aloud too) we were finished, sort of, but all left with a heavy feeling. Such is ordering season (for next school year). I can’t even get into what happened two minutes later.



Zhi Hong is still slicing.

Calendar Fuzziness


#sol18- November 20, 2018

You would think that after 4+ years in the tropics this time I would have it sussed, but no! Somehow the lack of real weather change makes me totally unaware of time passing. Couple that with not having holiday decorations in your face in every interaction and it just gets confusing. Some days I honestly have to stop and think as I put the date on the whiteboard, “What month is it?”

Somehow my calendar confusion is worse than ever this year- I blame it on the frenetic pace of acclimating to a new school. Usually, I map out my report writing dates faaaaar in advance because I know I write and type slowly. Usually, I allow one weekend for each section of the report, so it all gets done in time. Usually, I start early and finish in plenty of time.

This year my new principal requires our unit of inquiry sections to be finished shortly after each unit ends, so in theory, I had a running start as the first unit in mid-September. New teachers had to wait until a report writing meeting at the start of October to start writing, so I did. Eventually, I got my first unit reports in thanks to working on them over October break. The second unit ended at the start of November, but it wasn’t until last weekend that I got those comments written. They have now been peer edited and await the principal’s okay (and believe me when I say she reads them carefully) before I can put them in Managebac (a not so straightforward experience).

But here’s the thing- I have yet to start the other parts of my reports- that means the child as a learner, math, and language sections are all undone- not one word written. Which does not seem like a problem until I look at an actual calendar and see that math comments are due to the principal in just a week (which means they need to be written and peer edited before then). The language comments are due just 3 days later, the child as a learner sections are due four days after that. Which, now that I look at an actual calendar gives me all kinds of stress!

But then, there is the gift of time. Today is Tuesday, but it is a fake Friday. Here in Cambodia Water Festival is a three day holiday, so we have a five day weekend ahead. While other people are heading off on relaxing (or busy) trips, I will spend the bulk of the next five days here in my apartment-writing reports. While I am grateful for the gift of time I would have preferred to plan my time better (note to self- I have to write in my report writing weekend deadlines for the second semester now to prevent this frenzy next time). Tonight I will set up my work schedule (and plan in reward treats for myself for goals achieved). Darn calendar- time has flown, now it is time to get it done! How can there just be three weeks left in the semester when we go back on Monday?!?


Zhi Hong continues to slice.

Innovation Here in Phnom Penh


#sol18- November 13, 2018

We were feeling bad- we had not yet been on a field trip this year, so as we started our unit focusing on innovation we arranged a trip to a nearby spot- The Factory. If you read the linked article you will see the original concept and it has developed since then.

Just after snack/recess, we met our students at the edge of the field, piled into three buses and we were off. Happily, it was a short trip with no traffic, so we were there in just about ten minutes. We walked past active construction in our search for our guide, Kobe. In just under an hour we saw the coworking spaces, restaurants, performance/exhibition spaces, amazing street art, a trampoline park, a skateboarding area, and more. We learned about collaborations with groups that help street children, plans for the future (including a new art museum and more), and peeked into buildings not yet renovated where we glimpsed the past as ghostly remnants of the abandoned garment factory remained. All in all a perfect start of unit trip- many of the students had visited the trampoline park, but the rest of the place they had hardly noticed. As for me, I continue to be impressed by the innovation I see daily in Phnom Penh! Now I look forward to seeing where our third graders will go with this unit.



A slice from Zhi Hong.