Saturday, February 16, 2019

#GoogleEI: Picture Books About Refugees & Migrants

As a part of my Google Innovator project, I have been making my way through books about migrants & refugees. Reading for fun is always a win in my book, and reading stories about a subject I am passionate about is even better!

If you are a teacher (or person) wanting to learn more about the refugee experience, I highly recommend picking up one or more of the books below. All have been available through my local library. If you want to go a step further, I'd consider adding some of these to your classroom library or reading them with your class. The more we share about these experiences, the more our students will build empathy and knowledge of the world! It also helps normalize conversations about other cultures, which can build safety for students who live in a world of mixed cultures every day.

Without further ado, here is the very beginning of my list, consisting of picture books that would be perfect for a read aloud!

1. The Day the War Came by Nicola Davies

Image result for the day the war cameThis book is not tied to any one specific country or story, but illustrates how quickly you can go from living a normal life to having everything turned upside down. It also touches on the challenges of being in a new place.

2. Mustafa by Marie-Louise Gay

Image result for mustafa bookThis book tells the story of a little boy in a new country, trying to make sense of a language and culture he doesn't understand, and how a simple act of kindness changed his world.

3. Dreamers by Yuyi Morales

Image result for dreamers yuyi moralesThis poetic book describes the dreams of those moving to a new country. I particularly enjoyed the focus on books & libraries, and how they can further our dreams!

4. Undocumented: A Worker's Fight by Duncan Tonatiuh

Image result for undocumented a workers fightThis is an inspiring story of an undocumented worker who worked with others to fight for fair wages and proper treatment at their jobs. It has great ties to both current issues and economic/social studies lessons!

Check out these books, and let me know what you think in the comments!

Saturday, February 9, 2019

From an Administrator to my Music Teachers

It's February! I don't know about everyone else, but this time of year was always stressful for me as a music teacher - kids were signing up for classes, and the number of students signed up for my class determined my FTE for the next year (I was never guaranteed a full-time job). That is stressful!

Now, I'm on the other side as the one who assigns FTE. And while I can't take all of the stress and anxiety away, here is what I would say to my teacher self and anyone else in this situation:

1. Do your thing, and do it well.

While this is the time of year that retention is at the front of everyone's mind, you are really working all year to give your kids a great experience so they will want to return! Don't feel like you have to change it up or track students down or do a silly little promotion - your best strategy is to make your class awesome all year long, because that is what they will think of when choosing classes for next year!

2. Don't make it a competition.

This is so hard! There are only so many kids, and elective teachers are usually "fighting" to get them in class. The worst thing you can do is to turn it into a competition and set yourself against any other teacher. Through collaboratively building each other up, we can all have strong programs! I've seen schools where that is the culture, and it works - everything thrives! I'm not sure how that works out, numerically, but it does!

3. Advocate for yourself!

Share your ideas, thoughts, and dreams with your administrators! There is no one who knows your schedule, strengths, and talents better than yourself, and you often can a creative solution to get more classes (or divide them in different ways) better than anyone else can. Don't be afraid to ask!

4. Realize you don't see the big picture.

There are approximately one thousand factors I am balancing when allocating FTE. Okay, not quite that many, but it is very complicated! There are things that administrators can't share, especially about HR issues, and ultimately, it's their job to figure it out. Please see #3 and advocate for yourself, but don't cross the line to thinking you know everything and pestering admins.

5. Don't take it personally.

This is one of the most challenging ones for me. When kids didn't sign up for my class, I wanted to take it personally (what did I do wrong?). When I didn't get as much FTE as I thought I should, I wondered why. Now, being on the other side, I can see that sometimes circumstances are such that it just doesn't work out. I know I will probably have to let good people go at some point, and that's hard. Meanwhile, in my own professional life, I am in an interim position, and I may or may not get to stay where I am - I'm gaining a deeper understanding of the fact that it may not have anything to do with me, and everything to do with the other factors around me.

6. Give yourself extra grace.

True confession: I was stressed last night. So I gave myself permission to go to the store and buy a candy bar to eat while I listened to an audiobook to chill out a bit (side note: there's something ironic about listening to Brene Brown talk about different habits to numb our emotions in Dare to Lead while munching on a candy bar after a hard day...). My healthiest coping mechanism? Not at all. And then, this morning, I've hardly done anything. And that's okay. Don't beat yourself up, and realize that you might need a little extra space in your life to deal with the extra stress.

And finally...7. I'm on your side.

As an administrator, I want all of my teachers to be successful. Period. End of story. I also have to make hard decisions that affect your lives, and don't underestimate the emotional toll it takes on me to process through these decisions. Even when the results aren't what you wish, know that I am committed to supporting you through it all and hoping that next year, we will be able to get that extra class or better schedule!

Happy February :-)!

Saturday, February 2, 2019

I Feel Like a First-Year Teacher.

This week, I came to a realization:

I feel like a first-year teacher again.

It shouldn't be surprising, right? I am just over four months into my first administrative job. I am a first-year administrator. But somehow, that never hit me until this week.

I've been reflecting on how there are so many areas that I want to grow in. I feel like I am handling situations clumsily - I am not clueless, but I lack finesse and touch. My bag of tricks is small. I have to put a lot of thought and energy into each situation. Meanwhile, I watch others who have been doing this for years handle things with grace, seemingly effortlessly, and I wish I could get there!

Here's the thing I have to remember:

It's okay.

Do you remember your first year of teaching? How did you handle things that came up then? Classroom management issues, parent communication, expectations from administrators...I know that the way I dealt with these things as a new teacher is definitely not how I dealt with them five years down the road. We all learn and grow; experience is a great teacher! No matter how well-prepared you are, there is a lot that had to be learned just through doing it. The perfectionist in me wants to figure it all out right now...but I can't. And that's okay.

Image result for learning curve

I am at the very beginning of the learning curve right now, where learning is steep. Rather than being discouraging, it's actually empowering to know that, five years from now, I will be in a much different place. I've been through this before as a teacher; now it's time to go through this as an administrator. I won't handle everything in the best way, but I will ask for grace and learn and grow a little bit every day!

As I seek to grow, I'm thankful for so many people who are helping mentor me along the way. This week, I've been challenged and inspired in conversations with Austin Houp, my Google Innovator mentor, Amy Illingworth, a PLN friend-of-a-friend, and several people in my district. I'm grateful that I can reach out and find a community around me who accepts me where I am and pushes me to go further. That's what I want!

I'll leave you with two thoughts:
1. If you are in a new job or new situation, it's okay to not be an expert right away. Take a deep breath, learn, grow, and have grace with yourself through the process.
2. If you are an experienced administrator, leader, or coach, what resources would you share to help someone who is just starting out?

Thanks for following my journey, blog-friends!

Saturday, January 26, 2019

CMEA Conference

This week, I had the opportunity to attend CMEA (the state music education conference). It was such an interesting experience - I haven't been to CMEA for years, and in the meantime, I've attended several ed tech conferences. This gave me such a different perspective than I have ever had before, and reflecting on that has been fascinating to me! One of the things that made me smile was how floored attendees were to have an app with the schedule/program on it (this was the first year with an app in addition to printed programs).

Here are a couple of my observations and takeaways.

It's a high-quality conference...

This conference featured great variety in the sessions and well-prepared speakers. There were not a lot of sessions that I attended that were "duds". I enjoyed the presentations and picked up a lot of ideas! Beyond the sessions, everything else (venue, equipment, etc) just had the feeling of being organized and well-done.

...but still a lot of sit-n-get.

While the sessions I went to were well-done and engaging, they were still primarily presented in lecture style. There was a lot of "sage on the stage" and not a lot of participant interaction. This could have just been the sessions I attended (I wasn't in as many general music sessions), but it was a bit disappointing to me. We still have a long way to go until we teach in a way that encourages the best retention (hint: it's not by talking at someone for an hour). One possible factor was the tech limitation of having no wifi in many of the rooms.

It was wonderful being in my new role...

By far, my favorite part about this conference was getting the chance to spend time with the teachers in my district! Normally, our conversations happen during a 5-minute passing period or when there is a specific need ("Do you have _____?"). It was so refreshing to be able to hang out, talk, share, and just spend time together without the pressure of needing to get something done! I was able to have so many one-on-one conversations as well, about various things that are going on throughout the district Lots of people apologized for grabbing me at the conference to talk "regular work", but I actually enjoyed it! It gave me the chance to really hear how things are going. And THAT helps me do my job so much better!

...but also a bit hard to figure out my place.

Let's be honest, this is a conference for teachers. Which is great! And it meant that there weren't many sessions designed for administrators. I felt really torn between going to sessions that piqued my interested and those that I felt like I "should" go to. I found that even though I loved the sessions with lots of takeaways, most of them weren't that applicable to me since I am not teaching kids! This continues to be a bit of an identity shift for me - I'm not a teacher (by position) anymore.

Although I have attended in the past, I enjoyed CMEA this year more than ever before. It is a great place for connections, old and new, and I was blessed to see friends and teachers from high school, college, and beyond! I'm grateful for the opportunity to attend and spend time with a wonderful group of music educators, and look forward to seeing how this all gets applied to create better experiences for KIDS!

Saturday, January 19, 2019


How often do we experience silence in this world?

[As teachers, not much!]

I have recently been reading Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott, and Chapter 7 is all about silence. [Wait, a chapter on silence in a book about conversations? You will have to read it to find out more - definitely worth your time!]
Reading this chapter got me thinking...

...silence is when we are alone with our thoughts. When we can process through things.
...silence is when we can be mindful of who we are, how we are feeling, and where we are.
...silence is essential for developing new ideas and solving problems.

I usually like to be busy at work, but over break, I had the chance for large blocks of time of silence. It wasn't really silence, since I could hear the murmur of everything else going on in the office, but it was large uninterrupted blocks of time for me to think. And I was so productive! It was a different kind of productivity - not my usual checks on the to-do list or responding to emails - but more of a time to vision and let puzzle pieces fall into place.

Although my work life has picked up since then, I continue to build in bits of time to do this silent, thinking work. When I walk to church. When I run or swim in the mornings. When I close my email and sit in my office for five minutes without a task. I often solve problems during these times, coming up with solutions that I couldn't quite piece together before, because I just have a moment to stop and think.

This has led me to an interesting thought - do we give our kids the time for this type of quiet, reflective work? I can only imagine trying this in the classroom - how can we build this in (in a way that is not b-o-r-i-n-g)?

My challenge to you this week: make time for silence in your work, in your conversations, and in your life!

Saturday, January 12, 2019

2018 Reading: A Recap

When I was teaching in the classroom, I had this sign on my door. It was laminated, and I would fill in whatever book I was currently reading with a white board marker. I wanted my students to see that reading wasn't just for LA class, it was something that I, as their music teacher, enjoyed too! I loved the conversations it sparked with my students, and they really would ask me about my book. Talk about great accountability - if I had the same book on there for too long, they would ask, "Ms. Yeh, is that a really long book or something?"

I'm not in the classroom anymore, but I still love reading! I was inspired by my friend Mari's blog and, for the first time, kept track of my reading in 2018. I finished a total of 48 books (and started three more that I am getting close to finishing now in 2019). The nerd in me really wanted to get to a round number (50) or to one per week (52), but alas, I'll have to settle for 48. Meanwhile, here are a couple of interesting stats about my reading:

  • I read 35 books for the first time, and 13 as re-reads (although one was by accident - I was a couple of chapters in, thinking it sounded really familiar, when I realized I had read it a few years ago)
  • I read 5 professional books, 4 faith-based books, and the rest (39) were mostly YA novels or biographical novels.
  • I really enjoy getting into series - this year, my series reads included Harry Potter, Ender's Game, The Beyonders, The Golden Compass, The Lunar Chronicles, The Breadwinner, and Dragonwatch!
  • I started getting into audiobooks for the first time. I still struggle to focus when listening to books, but I really enjoyed listening to books that I have previously read on audiobook. It brought a new dimension to my imagination of the story, and if I zoned out for a bit (which is not unusual), I could still track what was happening.
Overall, I really enjoy reading for pleasure, and it's a great escape from my day-to-day life! Maybe I should read more professionally, but honestly, I do a lot of other professional reading through blogs, articles, etc. As I begin 2019, I don't have any major goals for reading this year except to keep it up and continue tracking what I read. I do have quite a list of books related to refugees or migrants that I started in 2018, and I will probably continue to work through it in 2019.

One thing I am always on the lookout for is good YA novels, especially series! My favorite stories tend to be adventure, fantasy, or historical fiction. If you have anything good to recommend - please let me know!

Saturday, January 5, 2019

#OneWord2019 | Courage

Happy new year, #PLN! As 2019 approached, I spent some time thinking about what my #oneword2019 should be. For the past two years, I have chosen one word to focus on for the year, and they have both been very appropriate. In 2017, my word was lead, and I ended up getting my principal's license, leading a summer school site, and changing jobs to more of a district leadership role! Last year, my word was integrity, which was a guiding force as I faced challenges and choices in big and small ways. This year, I am following up with another word that relates to my past two...


Courage to embrace change

There are many changes coming in my work, and probably in other areas of life, too! I want to have the courage to embrace them, rather than be anxious about them.

Courage to look at things differently

Keeping with the status quo is safe. It takes courage to voice a different perspective and be willing to explore new ideas!

Courage to say no to some things and give up control

Sometimes the hardest thing to do is to say no. It can take courage to admit that you don't have the capacity for that right now, or that it just isn't what you want to be focusing on. Especially when saying no might mean that the thing you are talking about may not happen...or it may look very different. I want to have the courage to say no to some things so I can say yes to the right things.

Courage to do what's right, not just what's easy

In my leadership role, I have been in so many situations where it's just easier to let things slide. There is a temptation to take the easy route, whether that is not involving everybody in shared decision-making, shying away from pushing people to continually grow, or allocating resources in the same way they've been allocated in the past rather than really analyzing why they are allocated that way. None of these would be particularly wrong if I went a different route, but I want to be holding myself to the standard of caring more about doing things the right way than doing things the easy way.

Courage to not run from tough conversations

This is a personal area of growth for me - I don't like conflict! I want to be willing to face the tough conversations and handle them with compassion, love, grace, and sincerity while still standing firm.

Courage to step out with confidence and lead

This is another very personal area of growth - I feel like I have been placed in a position of leadership and responsibility pretty quickly (in my career), and I am still growing into it. I want to grow in my own personal confidence in my abilities and trust myself. This doesn't mean that I won't seek out help from others (at all!), but that I won't constantly be second-guessing myself and will be a better advocate and leader.

What's your #OneWord2019?