Saturday, January 18, 2020


It's fascinating to think about how culture shapes who we are, how we think and process information, and how we act. I've been thinking about this more lately as I read Zaretta Hammond's Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain. This may eventually turn into a series, but for now, I want to focus on the first part: self-awareness.

So, who am I? How does my culture impact me? Well, I'm half-Chinese. This means that half of my extended family doesn't speak English as their first language, serves (somewhat) different food at home, and sometimes have different ways of communicating ideas (that are more typical in Chinese culture). Although I have never lived very close to them (geographically), they have always been a presence in my life, and I have always felt connected to this piece of my identity.

[On the other side of the family, I have ancestors who moved to the USA a couple of generations back from Europe. While I don't want to neglect this side of my past, it is much more similar to the dominant culture where I live, so I am going to focus my blog on my half-Asian side.]

While it's hard to pinpoint the exact implications this has had on my life, I wanted to write and reflect on a few ideas here:

  • I have always been around people, who I love, who speak English with an accent, or don't speak it fluently. I would guess that it has naturally given me a higher comfort level when communicating cross-culturally than I would have otherwise.
  • While I realize that Asian Americans face different realities than those of other races, I have still had personal experiences that demonstrate racial insensitivity (at best). Usually, I just shrug these things off - what else can you do? But I'm starting to wonder if it's an entry point to deeper conversation.
  • Something that one of the (South Asian) refugee kids I work with has stuck with me - "The bad thing about being Asian is that everybody expects you to be smart. It's worse being a stupid Asian." While there are many things to unpack in that statement (and you'd better believe we had a conversation about how different strengths does NOT mean you are stupid!), it opened my eyes to the fact that even "good" racial stereotypes can be harmful.
  • I've been thinking a lot about the concepts of individualism vs. collectivism. I'm not sure I have really concrete thoughts to write about, I see both really manifest in different areas of my life. It's given me a good lens to think about as I work with students, teachers, and especially my friends who are relocated refugees! I feel a little bad mentioning it here without really having much to say, but it's altered my perspective, albeit subtly, enough that I feel like I need to at least mention it here.
This has been a learning journey for me, and one that I have struggled with how much to say on a public blog. Examining your own cultural background, implicit biases, and thinking about how it interacts with others' is deep work - and easy to misinterpret on a blog without the benefit of non-verbal communication! At the same time, not talking about it enables current patterns to continue, so I feel compelled to write something. Curious to talk more about this? Please reach out - I'm happy to have one-on-one conversations in more detail!

How does your culture influence you? How are you building your own capacity for cultural responsiveness?

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Reading Reflections from 2019

Although I enjoy reading, 2018 is the first time I tracked the books I read over the course of the year. Last year, I am happy to say that I read 52 books - one for each week! Some thoughts & reflections are below.

Refugee Ready
As a part of my #GoogleEI project, Refugee Ready, I am trying to put together a good book list of books featuring refugees. Of course, before I include them on a list, I want to read them! 32 of my 52 books for the year were related to refugees, and it was a great way to expand my horizons and read diverse titles that normally wouldn't be on my radar.

Professional Learning
Although I like reading to learn, I generally find that I prefer to come home and escape into a good book. That being said, I read 7 books this year that drove my personal professional growth, and another 5 YA books related to my new role (working with Language Arts), because I wanted to see what the kids were reading in their classes. I expect this number to go up in the future as I continue to learn what literature for LA class looks like in 2020, which is different than when I took it many years ago! There has been a strong focus on diverse, engaging, relevant texts, which is fun for me to read!

The Rest
So what were the other 8 books? Easy reads - either children's books or YA series! As I said, reading is a great way to relax for me, so I don't like anything too heavy or hard. Something that I can cruise through and enjoy is perfect!

I always wish I had more time to read, but I am happy with the fact that I was able to spend at least some time in books this year. Maybe next year will bring more? We will have to see! I don't really set reading goals for myself, other than wanting to continue reading, expanding my repertoire, and practice good self-care by taking these quiet moments to myself. Here's to a 2020 full of books!

Saturday, January 4, 2020

#oneword2020: VALUE

As I pondered my #oneword for this year, one word continued to stick out at me. At first, I wasn't sure - rather than being one idea to center my year around, it seemed to boil down to three different concepts that are all united by the same word. As time went on, though, I continued to feel drawn to it, so here I am with my #oneword2020:


What do I mean by that?

Finding VALUE in my work

No doubt about it, the end of 2019 was challenging. As I continue to figure out how to move forward and improve, one big thing I want is to find and see the value in the work I do. When I was teaching, it was much easier to know that, no matter what else the day held, I was making an impact on a kid's life. Now that I work in central office, I am more removed, and I have to work a little harder to find the value in how I spend my hours.

Ultimately, I think all of us want to know that we add professional value to our organizations, and in a larger context, to the people around us in life. Which brings me to my next point...

VALUING the contributions of others

I want to do a better job of valuing the contributions of others, especially those who are different than me. It's easy to value those who think the same way as you do, but I want to do a better job of recognizing and encouraging those who I don't naturally understand as well.

How will I do this? Well, to start, I have a practice of trying to recognize the positive & write encouraging notes weekly, and I want to leverage that to be more intentional about where I am looking to find the positive. I'm sure other opportunities will come up, but this is one concrete action step I have in mind already.

Living out of my VALUES

When it comes down to it, times of struggle really show us what we value. As I go into this year, I want to stay centered around my faith and my values, and let them guide my actions.

It sounds really easy on a Saturday afternoon wrapped in a blanket with a cat on my lap...but I know that this intention will be put to the test in the real world!

Each year, I find that the #oneword I pick in January plays out in many ways - some expected, some not - by the time I get to December. I look forward to this journey in 2020!

What is your #oneword2020?

Thursday, January 2, 2020

#oneword2019 Reflection: COURAGE

2019 was a weird year for me professionally - a year of growth and change. I would really divide it into two parts: the end of the 18-19 school year (when I was in one position) and the beginning of the 19-20 school year (when my position changed). My #oneword2019 was courage, and I needed in both phases!

Here's what I wanted to have:

  • Courage to embrace change
  • Courage to look at things differently
  • Courage to say no to some things and give up control
  • Courage to do what's right, not just what's easy
  • Courage to not run from tough conversations
  • Courage to step out with confidence and lead

The first half of my year was all about courage and growth as a leader. I'm proud to look back and say that I did try to do what is right, not just what is easy, to have some tough conversations, and to lead with confidence. I also had the courage to take on a leading role in our district's strategic plan, something that felt way over my head! I grew so much in being willing to make hard decisions and stand behind them, yet (hopefully) deliver them with grace and compassion. I came out feeling stronger, and realizing that I really could do some things that scared me...and do them well! It wasn't all positive, but I am happy with the way I was able to put courage into action.

As I transitioned into my new role over the summer, a different kind of courage was required. I found myself often having to reflect on that bullet point of saying no to some things, because they were no longer my job...which was hard! I needed the courage to embrace change, because whether I wanted it or not, change was here.

To be honest, if I were to pick a word for the second half of my year, it would be struggle. Struggle isn't always bad, but it isn't ever easy. And it takes courage to keep going through struggle.

It's been a struggle to settle into my new role, to figure out what my days look like now, and how to work with a new team. Sometimes, courage has manifested in having the strength to look inward to figure out what really is triggering my frustration. Sometimes, courage has been being honest about how I am feeling and what I need. Sometimes, courage has looked like continuing to show up, to be present, and to put one foot in front of the other when it's hard.

In an unexpected way, through the highs and the lows, courage ended up being a very appropriate word for my year. It's something I know I need to carry with me into 2020 as I continue to hope through the struggle. But a new year is a time to focus on a new word.

What will it be? Stay tuned!

Saturday, December 14, 2019

What Do You Value?

Last week, I met with one of the families I work with (relocated refugees) and some of the teachers at their school to discuss one of their students. They would like to move forward with evaluating for an IEP. It was a great meeting - full of sharing (as much as possible across the language barrier) and building trust and understanding on both sides. One moment stuck out to me, though.

After spending a good amount of time talking about this student's (speech) challenges and mutual sharing about how it presents at home and at school, the teacher asked if the parent had any questions. She asked, "Is he nice in class? Does he listen?"

It was such a reminder to me that different cultures value different things. One could take her question as a sign that she didn't understand, or that she was looking for some good news about her kid. Being in the room, though, that was not the spirit of the question. Truly, what she cares most about is if her child is being a good person, a good student, and a good friend.

I heard a principal share something similar this week - after receiving state test scores & growth scores that were less than amazing, and sharing them with a group of parents, he said he didn't get many questions. At other schools, people would have been up in arms, wondering what changes would be implemented to get different results. At this meeting, the parents wanted to know, "Are my kids loved and accepted at school? Are they safe? Are they happy?"

These two conversations have brought cultural differences to light for me in a new way. While we all want our kids to be kind, growing, safe, learning, accepted, and challenged, there is a huge variety in the value we place on all of these constructs. And if we miss that in communicating with families, we are already starting out on different pages. Have you ever asked a question, only to have somebody rattle off an answer for five minutes that didn't exactly relate to what you wanted to know? School-family partnerships can sometimes be like that - we definitely need to pay attention to how the students are learning, but as we work with families and students, let's make sure we listen to what they value. In the end, by layering our values together, we will create an even stronger support system for the students!

Saturday, November 16, 2019

A Tale of Two Conversations

I want to paint a picture of two conversations between a teacher and a student. Both started with a problem that needed solving.

In the first conversation, they talk about the issue.
The teacher helps the student brainstorm ideas about how to solve it, or at least what next steps might be. The questions that the teacher asks sound like this: "What is the root of the problem? What would make it better? How could you get there?"
They bounce ideas around and end up co-constructing a plan. In the end, they walk out of there with a clear idea of what to do next.

In the second conversation, they talk a bit about the issue, but more about the student who is seeking help.
The teacher asks questions to help the student reflect, such as, "What do you wish you could say? How do you think this is affecting you? What would you need to be able to move forward?"
They talk through these questions, and in the end, they walk out with some ideas of what to do, but a deeper understanding of themselves personally.

Both of these conversations are helpful, but they lead to slightly different outcomes.
Which conversation is more helpful in the short-term?
Which conversation is more helpful in the long-term?
Which conversation do you tend to have with your students?
How can we incorporate both angles into our interactions?

[Thoughts I'm pondering as I think about how to teach SEL skills, with both students and adults!]

Sunday, November 3, 2019

A Little Reminder Goes a Long Way

It feels like I'm blogging a lot about my personal journey at work these days (as opposed to students/teachers), but that's where I'm at - and I know I'm not the only one who has ever dealt with a reorganization or job change!

My new role has been full of a lot of learning, which is GOOD. I love learning new things! At the same time, it can be hard on my confidence. Impostor Syndrome is a real thing, and I have found myself wondering how I can effectively support teachers whose jobs look very different than mine looked when I was teaching.

It's with this mix of overwhelmed learning + "Am I really the right person for this?" that I approached the Colorado EdTechTeam Summit this year.

The day started off with a good reminder from keynote speaker Rushton Hurley

"The only person to whom you ever need to compare yourself is the you who you were yesterday."

Are you looking in the mirror to compare, or looking out the window at everyone else?


After that, I had the opportunity to present on fun stuff: GSuite in the Arts, Spreadsheet AutoMagic, and some Google Experiment play at the playground. It reminded me (as always) that I really enjoy presenting! All of those little moments - the exclamations of "Oh, that's awesome!", "I am doing this with my kids on Monday!", and "That's so cool!" - filled my bucket. I always appreciate positive feedback (who doesn't?), but even more this year when I have felt like such a novice in my day-to-day job.

I think God knew I needed this reminder - despite all of the new, I still have strengths to bring to the table. I have a renewed sense of efficacy in being able to serve and help teachers & students. I have so much to learn, but I also have some good background to draw on.

Passing It On

Which, of course brings me to students. How often do we focus on their weaknesses, instead of their strengths? Do we recognize the background that they bring to the table as a source of learning? Do we make them feel like they are a beginner at everything, or do we value and build on their prior knowledge? These questions are especially relevant for our students who come with different cultural backgrounds that we do.

A little reminder goes a long way. Which student needs a little reminder from you today?