Number Sentence Nowadays:

New city + new school + new students= new adventure

Non-English speaking students= 110% challenging

DSC_0150After 6 years of PYP Homeroom teaching, I wanted a different challenge, and I definitely got what I asked for. It’s true when they say be careful what you wish for. Last August 8, I moved to Astana, Kazakhstan. I now work in an IB World school in the said city, where I teach English and International Maths to students from Grades 1-3. Inquiry with non-English speakers is my current challenge. Am I loving it? Learning to. Do I know what I’m doing? Haha, good question. But I’m excited to get better.

I survived my first two weeks of teaching. That’s a great achievement. Everything seemed to fail: classroom management strategies and engagements. I was at the point where I didn’t even know what I was doing! I thought I knew what to do but I didn’t…not with my these kids. Suddenly, I was back to my 1st year of teaching. However, I also know in my heart that it is this continuous process of unlearning, revising and brand new learning that makes our craft meaningful.

Again, I was reminded to let go of control, work on my patience, listen more and collaboratively design lessons that are purposeful and relevant. On the brighter side of life, my past two weeks of confusion proved important developmental things about children:

  • Students teach themselves and make lots of effort to make connections (usually with their own language, environment and experiences) in order to figure things out. (I love this bit, it’s inquiry)
  • Children have this great ability to adapt and resolve uncomfortable situations.
  • Children have natural inclination to learning.
  • Children naturally connect with their teachers, or elders.
  • Children, no matter what their age, race or language is, will want to understand you.

I may not spend a lot of time with my students like how I used to as a homeroom teacher, but those lessons when I and my new students try our best to overcome language barrier and celebrate language are enough for us to bond and develop many crazy, learning moments together. Yes, this is indeed the beginning of a difficult-crazy-you-got-what-you-asked-for journey. But it’s humbling and if it doesn’t kill me, it can only make me stronger. As I said, I’m excited to get better.

Cheers to a new School Year. One world, one love. Never give up. Teach.

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About the Musician and the Teacher

My sister works for a university and is also a photographer.  She couldn’t put a price on her talent and she talks more about her clients’ reactions when they see their photos more than her photography skills, technique and style.Image I find it both cute and admirable.  I get it: how can we set a price on something we love doing?  I think she enjoys photography because it gives her the amazing power to make people experience a momentary lapse of reason and sadness, making them feel genuine happiness and admiration…not for the photos, but for themselves.  And I think the more amazing thing is that she gives them something that can last forever…not the photos, but the memories.  On the same note, I just realized that I love what I do, which is teaching, because I feel that it gives me the amazing opportunity to do something to put these little people in awe….not about me, but of the world and themselves.  When we teachers give our students the avenue to question, to wonder, to argue, to voice out their opinions, to discover, to find out for answers and solutions, to help them act upon their learning, we utilize this great gift of creativity and goodness in us. All of us can teach. Gone are the days when teachers stand in front of the class to give information…for an hour or so.  Trends in education brought us to a higher level of teaching where teachers listen, provoke and establish relationship with learners.

It’s interesting how my crafts show two sides of my personality.  I’ve always felt that my love for music and performance are acts of self-indulgence,selfish.  I play the drums and make music to please myself, to express what I feel through rhythm, to make myself feel good.  I don’t care if my

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music has some following or not, I only care about how sacred the creative process and the piece itself are.  I take pride with the music and I’ll never apologize for being this kind of an artist.  But with teaching, it’s completely the other way around.  I find that the students are reasonable critics; I find wisdom in their random thoughts and humour.  They give valuable suggestions and I believe that they are the most credible people to judge what I do.  I listen to them, I believe them, and I take them seriously. I feel bad when I feel unproductive with them.  I apologize and I pray to have better days.  I think of ways to help them reach their potentials, help them enjoy something they may find difficult.  Nevertheless, both playing music and teaching bring me fulfillment and inspiration.  I guess selfless or not, when we do things that help us attain creativity, mastery and generosity, we ourselves are put in awe because we feel connected to something larger then we are: life, possibilities, hope, and creation.  It’s awesome.

One of my students is improving with her studies.  She asked me two days ago if she really improved and I said yes and that I’m proud of her.  She couldn’t believe it, she giggled and hugged my arm.  We just finished our unit on poetry and I read aloud some poems my kids wrote.  We laughed and laughed for like 15 minutes because of how hilarious our poems turned Imageout to be.  We re-visited their pre-assessments and I heard the kids say they’ve definitely improved.  They begged and begged me to read aloud their poems…even they couldn’t believe how funny they’ve become.  They’re learning about angles and points out every angle they see around them…the board, they necks, the letters of their names.  My student just shared to me that he met a family lawyer yesterday because his parents are getting divorced.  He told me it’s a very difficult moment for him.  I talked to him and told him to think about things very well because he is very much capable of making good decisions for himself and his family. I could go on and on about what’s going on in the classroom.  It’s a very exciting, dynamic, emotional, intellectual and fun place.

As a musician, an expat teacher and traveller, I may feel lonely at times living in a foreign country, and I do feel lost with new songs and genre coming out. But I know I’ve found my best friends in my students and I continuously experience the best relationships with grounded, passionate musicians, teachers and strangers I meet. I don’t know how long I’ll be playing music, how long I’d teach and travel, but I know I am doing something that gives me the opportunity for endless exploration and adventure.  And it’s awesome.

When the Feeling of Failure Strikes…

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We are about to finish our unit on Earth and Space, and here I am pouring my heart out.  Honestly, I have this ‘failure’ feeling inside me and this feeling is just making me…sad.  I learned that no amount of preparation could make one’s unit a success.  In fact, too much preparation can only lead us possibly blinded as the unit goes along. I knew somewhere along the way that I was stuck with my ideas thinking that ‘this could work, this would work…’ I guess one of the biggest mistakes we could make is being so assured that we ‘know’ the big picture. I should’ve been more observant and reflective along the way, listened more to the students and focused more on the understanding.  Nevertheless, there are things that I would really like to celebrate about the unit.  We integrated different subject areas meaningfully and beautifully, the students were really into their research, and we really saw the students thought hard and worked hard as a unit.

But it wasn’t a perfect unit…sometimes it bothers me how I get stuck with this.

Truly, it is an art to see the glass half full rather than half empty.

The reality is there’s hardly any unit that we can consider ‘perfect’ no matter how hard we try…like there’s hardly any perfect teacher or person or system in this world.  We could only makes things worthwhile.  I know we don’t want to be easily satisfied with our teaching and learning, but we shouldn’t also be drowned with negativity and pressure. It was a good time to remind myself that ‘failures’ are part of the process of being a good teacher, only if I see them as opportunities and not as shortcomings…or end of the world.  It was a good time to remind myself to be humble, to be more reflective and to listen more, especially to my students.  No ego, no ‘best teacher’ awards and no competitions in mind.  It was a good time to be reminded of our motives and our intentions as educators.

“The man with insight enough to admit his limitations comes nearest to perfection.”- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Rather than focusing on making a unit perfect, we need to refocus on what we are really striving for as teachers. Rather than focusing on perfection, we can focus on how we can make the unit successful for our students…or how the students can make the unit successful for themselves.  And I think that success for us teachers can be measured by how fulfilled we feel seeing our students grow during and after the units.  Success can be measured by how happy we are with ourselves and our growth; our capacity to endure, and how we value and act upon what we’ve learned and realized.

Little pep talk and thinking aloud.  And now I’m smiling.  Tomorrow is a new day.

Share Your Goals With Your Students!

We all know that goal setting is an integral part of our profession.  There are different ways of setting goals and different paths of reaching them.  I think however we do it, the first important step is to reflect where we are and understand why we are setting a particular goal.

Goal Setting Tool Im Currently Using:  What is Happening in Your PYP Classroom

So that’s what I do.  I choose one aspect that I want to improve on, set action plans and reflect again.  At some point, Id feel successful because I see myself improving.  However, I felt something was missing.

I thought- I make goals to improve my teaching, but how can it be just about me when I’m in class filled with these little people.  So this year, I tried a different approach.  I shared my professional goals with my students.   Of course, not all professional goals can be shared with the students, but why not do it with those goals that you can share? This time, it’s not just me working to reach my goals, it’s my whole class.  We started to have a more accurate picture of who we are and we all feel responsible moving toward the next level.   Doing this has more positive inputs for me and the class, like modelling how to set goals, reflecting and showing more cooperation.   There is more ownership for our learning and goals.

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Haha, the level of honesty of the kids is just too cute! But it’s a more accurate picture of our performance and the reflections showed how we are all willing to improve.  After all, their stars are my stars.

Are you a “Jugaad” in the Classroom?

I’m currently reading a book called Jugaad Innovation, authored by Radjou, Prabhu and Ahuja.  “Jugaad” in Hindi means ingenious solutions to problems or turn adversity into opportunities.  The six guiding principles behind the Jugaad Innovation are a)  seek opportunity in adversity, b)  do more with less, c)  Think and act flexible, d)  Keep it simple, e) Include the margin, f)  Follow your heart.  I’ve seen different jugaad-in-action classrooms and schools all over the world- from the biggest things like having a non-traditional approach to education and starting an education revolution, to the little things like using old mineral water bottles as pencil holders.     Big or small, they equally inspire me to be a classroom innovator.

As I read through the different stories of individuals and companies who succeeded through innovation, this line made an impact on me:

“When you listen to your customers, you merely react to needs; when you empathize with customers, you anticipate their needs; but when you truly love your customers, you surprise them by introducing them to products they can’t even fathom.”–  Mauro Porcini, 3M Head of Global Strategic Design

This made me ask:

  • How often do we surprise our students?
  • What do we do to make our students go ‘wow’?
  • What something new do we do in the classroom?
  • How often do we do something new in the class?
  • How is innovation celebrated in our class?
  • Are there any new ideas we are willing to fight for?
  • What ideas do we have that seem outrageous but are helpful?
  • Have you done anything risky for the betterment of the students?
  • Do we follow our hearts in the classroom?
  • How else do we show our love for our students?

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I think we educators should consider ourselves not only as people who facilitate the class, but as artists who are capable of designing and engineering to solve problems, to do something for the marginalized, and to do something…inspiring– not only for our students, but for everyone else who cares.

Maybe the true signs of love for students are not just measured by how much we listen and feel for them.  Love for students is also measured by how we apply creativity in the classroom- to think out of the box and go out of our comfort zone for solutions that will address the issues in the classroom despite limitations, risks and personal struggles.

Are you a ‘jugaad’ in the classroom?

Read aloud with a Twist!

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Last March 6, we celebrated the World’s Read Aloud Day with a twist!  My class celebrated it by reading aloud the Indian folktale “How the Summer Queen Came to Kashmir” to a Grade 4 class from an international school in Hong Kong.  The read aloud was done through Skype.  We thought that by reading aloud the said tale, it will help students from Hong Kong know more about the rich culture and places of India.  The other class read aloud poems from the book called Joyful Noise by Paul Fleischman.  We had a great time listening to the poems as they read it creatively.

It is the first time that my class had this engagement.  There were challenges like communication, arranging the schedule and the quality of the internet connection.  In the actual read aloud, it was hard to hear and understand each other, but somehow we got through the event smoothly.  Everyone seemed to enjoy, especially the part when my students and the other class were given the opportunity to say hi to each other.  I think in away, my class was amazed seeing other kids from another part of the world.

What I love the most about the engagement is that first of all, it promoted global mindedness by taking part on an event that is celebrated worldwide.  Tanja Galleti, a primary Librarian from an international school in Hong Kong, just twitted about the event.  I replied back as I was interested with it.  She had this wonderful idea of reading aloud through Skype, and I thought that was a good opportunity for my class.  Without her help and initiative, this event would have not been possible.  She was the one who arranged the schedule between me and Andrea Onken, the Grade 4 teacher from Hong Kong, despite her busy schedule.  Of course, much thanks to Andrea as well, as she was also open to do the read aloud with my class.  With this simple interactive activity, we know that we have encouraged reading around the world.

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Secondly, I like that we showed that education is border-less.  In that simple 30 minutes read aloud from both classes, my class learned how to observe and listen, how to model certain behaviour from other students from a different country, and how to use technology to help us learn.  That simple 30 minutes was an opportunity for my students to be communicators, to be open-minded, and a chance to develop self-management skills.  That simple 30 minutes gave us the opportunity to have new friends.

Thirdly, I like how the three of us- Tanja, Andrea and I- were all strangers to each other, yet are united by the same aim and love for collaboration, technology and a global approach to learning.  I don’t know them personally, and I’ve never even worked with them before, but this certainly showed that when there is a goal, openness and some sense of familiarity, strangers can be great company.  Thank you Tanja, Andrea and your wonderful students.  More and more educators are collaborating on-line and I believe that this is one of the best practices a teacher could ever take advantage of.  So thank you for all the selfless teachers out there who keep on sharing and sharing and sharing!  It’s a small world after all, and there is this simple girl in India who highly appreciates you all.

Like what I said, simple as the engagement may be, it brought things that are essential to teaching and learning.  Simple effort like this gives an opportunity for us and our students to be internationally minded.  I’m definitely looking forward to doing this again.