Sunday, June 21, 2020

Fighting the Good Fight

As the country has found a renewed sense of duty to the ideals of equity and equality, I've been pretty quiet on here. Why? Well, 1) I'm exhausted after a long school year, and 2) Social media is typically not my first choice for where to have these conversations. Meanwhile, I've been fighting for equitable treatment for the refugee students I work with locally.* Based on these experiences, I would ask anyone reading this to consider a few things, all of which have occurred in the past month for my kiddos.
  • Not all of our families know how to use email, even if they have an email address. If you get the sense they aren't connecting that way, or if you find out that it is not a good form of communication for them, please be willing to consider other options.
  • Not all of our ELL families speak Spanish. Putting information out in English & Spanish does not mean that it has been made accessible to every family. Along these lines, don't assume that every kid with darker skin is Mexican and give them Spanish copies of everything without even checking to see if they speak any Spanish!
  • Not all students live with their parents, sometimes other family members speak better English, and many other cultures are more extended family-oriented than Americans tend to be. Please recognize and value that extended support system, and don't just see it as a negative that the parents aren't the ones in contact with the school.
  • Please spell names correctly, and if you can't figure out how to pronounce them at first (which is understandable at times!), take the time to learn to say them correctly. It makes me so sad when teachers my kids have had for months still don't know how to say their name...and sometimes even avoid calling on them for that reason (which is not good teaching/learning practice).
  • Be aware that there are a lot of untold stories. Did you know that, according to the CDE EL Guidebook, Karen is the 18th most popular primary language among our students in Colorado? Yet most people have never heard of it! Due to the news, more people have heard of the Rohingya, another oppressed minority in Myanmar, and sometimes I hear responses such as, "Oh, they are from Myanmar, so they are Rohingya." Yet the Rohingya people are just one of many groups that is being driven out! I don't expect everyone to know this, and I probably wouldn't if it weren't for my work with these families, but just be aware that there are a lot of stories out there that you may not know about.
Finally, I want to say that I have made each and every one of these mistakes myself, and I never want to judge, because most of us are just trying to do the best we can. However, as Maya Angelou says, "Do the best you can, and when you know better, do better." I am writing this in hopes that more of us can know better and do better!

*Note: I am not trying to compare anything, this is just where my energy has been focused.

Looking for more information about how to support refugee students? Check out refugeeready.msayeh.com!

Saturday, May 16, 2020

To the 2020 Senior Class

Seniors,

Congratulations! I am so excited for you to graduate and go off to your next adventures! I wish I could be in the audience, cheering and clapping as you walk across the stage, but in lieu of that, I will have to share my excitement online.

You were the first group of students I got to teach for four consecutive years. I watched many of you start your instruments in 5th grade, and followed you through 8th grade, whether you continued in orchestra or not. As you moved into high school, I tried to make it to all of your concerts (only missed a couple!) and smiled with pride as I saw you taking leadership, helping younger students, and growing into thoughtful, fun, caring people.

You are a special group of students. Every group is special, but some just come together and there is magic there. You are like that. I have images running through my mind of all of the times you volunteered to help in big and small ways, the ways you generously gave to others, and the silly moments of being on the bus after String Camp.

I will miss seeing you around town, but I know you will do great things! I'm sad that I can't be there in person for you today, but I hope that we can do something in July. I know that many of you won't remember your elementary or middle school orchestra teacher, but I remember you - you have already made an impact on the world.

Congratulations, class of 2020, especially my Eagle friends! Oh, the places you will go!

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Teacher Appreciation Week 2020

This week feels strange this year. More than ever, I think that society is showing appreciation for teachers, which is great! I think that teachers can use every bit of encouragement right now, because teaching remotely is HARD!

I also want to encourage us to not forget all of the educational professionals who make things happen for kids every day. The paraeducators, office professionals, custodial staff, food service providers, nurses, and other school professionals play a huge role in welcoming our students and helping them feel safe and supported all day long!

Beyond the school, there is a whole network of support people at the district. You may not know their names, but they are keeping the lights on, the technology working, and making sure employees get paid. These people may not be teachers, but they are an integral part to making sure kids get a great education!

Whatever you do, wherever you are at, I hope you can take a moment this week to say thank you. Say thank you to a teacher, a staff member, or someone in education who is working to make a difference for kids. It doesn't have to be fancy - a quick, personal email can go a long way.

And on that note, to all of my friends in education:
I appreciate you

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Coming Together

Quick blog tonight - I've pondered what I want to write all day, and have finally settled on a topic that has made me smile over the past couple of weeks: community.

We are working on some amazing initiatives in my district to bring people together. Two that I am heading up are the art & music initiatives.

Art
We have one week left in "The HeART of Our Community," where people are submitting a photograph of something they've created that is either in the shape of a heart or includes a heart in it. We've seen over 200 responses come in so far, full of heart shapes and anatomical hearts, beads, chalk, and paint, nature and found objects, and so much more! I'm also excited to see that they are coming from 36 different schools and every grade level from PK-12th grade (and staff) is represented. Each new picture makes me smile, and I love reading the artist statements.

A recent submission included a photograph, and the statement said that it was made to honor the student's grandparent who had recently passed away. I was struck by how meaningful some of this artwork is to the students - and I hope that the act of creating brought a small measure of healing. I can't wait until we put the final product together to see a beautiful compilation of our community's creative talents!

Music
Meanwhile, we have been making preparation for a collaborative song, where anyone can submit a video of themselves singing along, and we will mix it all together into something amazing (*fingers crossed*)! This has taken SO much prep work, and just this week, we started having submissions coming in from teachers playing on the instrumental accompaniment track. It's so much fun to see our teachers as musicians, which we don't see often enough, and to feel the synergy as the parts begin to come together. I sure miss being around people right now, but listening to recordings of us all playing together makes it almost feel like we are around each other.

In other music news, a friend and I have been recording socially distanced duets together (aka we both record ourselves playing and then mix the videos). It has been such a blessing and a highlight to do something that we love - making music - and take a break from both work and all of the news about the virus.

Coming together while being apart is powerful. How are you coming together with others?

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Tired.

Friends, I'm tired. I'm tired of all of this - staying at home, staring at screens all day, and knowing that the next day will be pretty much the same. I understand and support why we are doing this, but I'm tired!

Our kids are tired.

Our teachers are tired.

Our whole educational systems are tired.

So, what? Clearly, I didn't need to write a blog post just to say that! My focus is on what we can do about it. Here are a few easy ideas that have brought me joy recently.

  • Send a hand-written note, letter, or card. It's been so much fun to receive notes, and I've enjoyed the opportunity to return the favor!
  • Host a virtual FAC or social hour. Although sometimes I feel like the last thing I want to do is to stare at a screen, sometimes just having time with work friends with no agenda, and the ability to share in this crazy world we are all in, can be refreshing!
  • Do something different. I think that part of my tiredness is feeling like all of the days stretch into each other. This week, I decided that I needed to have some fun and different, so I looked for a YouTube playlist of Just Dance videos. Whatever it is for you, try something small and new!
  • Organize something. I wish I could say I've organized my house, but in all honesty, it's been maintaining control of my email inbox. Having things labeled & put in order makes me feel like I have control over something in this time of uncertainty :-).
  • Be gentle with yourself (and others). Most of us are not at our best right now. I want to be able to do more work, to be nicer, to keep up my regular workout routine...but I just can't do it all. In fact, I can't even do as much as I usually do. Understanding that this is normal helps me cut myself some slack, and I want to extend the same grace to others!
How are you finding joy these days?

Saturday, April 18, 2020

On Grades, Motivation, & Ownership

My brain is all over the place, with it being day thirtysomething of social distancing, but in keeping with my commitment to blog through this time, I thought I would write a few snippets.

During this time, for the majority of our students, grades are no longer a motivating factor (we are handling elementary/middle/high school differently, but the majority of our students really can't fail classes or see their grade go down). Some students and teachers are really struggling with the "why" question now - "Why should I do this work, if it doesn't count for a grade?" It's really showing who loves learning for the sake of learning! On the other hand, I have a (straight-A) kiddo who is freaked out about going to pass/fail because there is no in between.

Motivation is another interesting roller coaster. I'm feeling it, just like the kids are - this is hard, it's tiring, and especially for our kiddos who are socially motivated, it's harder to want to get things done! On the other hand, some kids who struggle in the classroom setting are actually loving the motivation of "spend a couple of hours working really hard, and then you have the rest of the day free!" We are definitely learning more about what works for each individual kid.

Finally, I think we are really seeing dividends with the teachers who have given their students a lot of ownership of their learning, because now, we are relying on that! I even felt it myself, in my private violin teaching - when a student's E string is way out of tune, I usually just grab the instrument and tune it myself (with the peg), because it's so easy to break that string. This time, though, I had to coach my student online, and she did it! It was a great reminder to me that even though it's easier and faster when I do it, the better payoff is to let our students grow into independent learners who can handle themselves. This time is both a growing opportunity for them, and a time when a spotlight is shining on those who do or don't yet have those skills.

Hope you all are staying safe, healthy, and motivated!

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Love One Another

I have been disturbed by the reports I've heard recently of violence and hate against Asian people, on account of the virus. As a person who is half-Chinese myself, it feels close to home! I also know that there are other groups who experience this regularly, and I am just now getting a taste of how they might be feeling.

In a strictly clinical way, I get it. Stress is high right now. People are dying. It's easy to want something to blame. The virus was first detected in China. It's not that much of a leap to see how people would misplace their anger and lash out at anything that reminds them of this virus that seems to be defining our lives right now.

But, oh, how it feels! Friends, how can we be doing this? In a time when we have seen so many amazing examples of communities coming together, how are there still strands of hate running through it all? It's easy to think that we are "past" this as a society - of course are intelligent enough to know that the person of Asian descent on the trail next to us is not to blame for the virus, right? Then why are these things still happening?

So I'm writing today with one message: Love one another. On this Easter weekend, that message seems especially poignant. Please, please, spread love in your community, not hate. The world needs it right now!

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Working from Home...

...is not my favorite! But it's our reality right now, with good reason. Three weeks in, I wanted to share three things I'm noticing, three challenges I'm facing, and three benefits I'm seeing.

Three Things I'm Noticing:

1. My schedule is later than usual. I am waking up later, working later, and going to bed later.

2. My eating habits are really different. Rather than eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner, I am snacking or eating smaller meals all day long. Still trying to find the balance on this one - I don't think the different habits are necessarily bad, but I need to re-calibrate how much I should eat for larger meals, knowing I am snacking more in between.

3. I now know what my pet does all day. I say this tongue in cheek, but seriously, I've gotten the chance to observe my cat's habits like never before! At least, her habits with me being home - I wonder if it's different without any humans around? ;-)

Three Challenges I'm Facing:

1. It is really hard to "shut off" work for the day and move onto "me time". I mean, my work (computer) is sitting in the middle of the kitchen table, staring me in the face! But it's better than a couple of weeks ago, before I was able to get my work computer, and I was doing all of my work on my personal device - talk about no separation!

2. I'm tired of my chair! Sitting all day is hard, and especially when it is in the same chair, day after day. I noticed that my back was hurting this week due to some of the ways I have been turning to work on my double monitor (which I am SO thankful for), so I adjusted my setup. It helped, but still, I think I might have to find a couple of different places to with and work so that my body isn't in the same position all of the time.

3. So. Much. Screen. Time. I have never been a person who focuses too much on screen time (I believe that what you are doing on that screen is far more important than counting minutes), but by the end of the day/week, even social things like happy hours via Zoom feel like one too many activities on the screen.

Three Benefits I'm Seeing:

1. No commute! Seriously, this saves time and mental energy, leaving more of both for doing the things I really want or need to be doing.

2. More flexible hours! I've often found that I do well when I wake up early, work for a couple of hours, take a long break, and then get on with my work day. Right now, I can do that, and I've taken advantage of that several time!

3. More collaboration! As counter-intuitive as this sounds, we have been collaborating so much more. One of the barriers to this during "regular life" is time and space - it's hard to all be in the same place together. When we are all working from home, that barrier is instantly removed, and it's easier to get together virtually! I've been so energized by seeing how communities are coming together.

I know we will continue to get through this - here's to week #4!

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Bringing Out the Best in Us!

The teacher who has rarely (if ever!) used technology to teach before, finding that Google Slides is fun!

The team that voluntarily worked all weekend to dismantle Chromebook carts, disinfect every device, and wipe the profiles so they could be ready to hand to students who need a device at home.

The unlikely new teammates that are quickly learning to collaborate and work well together from a distance.

The teachers who made a video compilation to say that they miss their students...and the students who replied with a video compilation of their own.

The hundreds of teachers who showed up in optional professional development sessions over spring break to learn how to do this well for their kids, and continue to ask for me.

The staff who are calling families to make sure they know how to access food, technology, and learning.

The operations staff who have spent hours cleaning, disinfecting, and making sure our buildings will be safe when we return.

The community members who are donating money, food, and time to make sure our students and families are taken care of.

I'm not trying to be falsely positive or make light of a very serious situation. It's true that there are a lot of things about this virus that stink! But I want to take a moment to be grateful for the good -- the way it is bringing out the best in us!

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Teachers, We've Got This!

Teachers, we've got this!


Over the past several weeks, we've spent a lot of time talking about everything that has changed. Indeed, our world looks different than it did a month ago! But what if we focus on the things that have not changed?

Our relationships

We are in this profession because we care. About students. About families. About learning. None of that has changed! We still can find ways to show our kids how much they mean to us, and how much we care. Those relationships can't be stopped by 6 feet (or more) of distance!

Our creativity

We have been functioning for years in less-than-ideal circumstances. Lack of funding = purchasing our own supplies, larger class sizes, and generally being asked to do more with less. You could almost say we are experts at adapting to the situation and making do! Here is another chance for our creative selves to shine. "Necessity is the mother of invention," and I know we will come out of this having invented new (and sometimes better!) ways of thinking about our instruction and what really matters in a class.

Our perseverance

Standardized testing. Educator effectiveness. Unfunded mandates. We are all-too-familiar with the number of things that get added to our plates, yet we persevere. That all-important "grit" that we talk about with kids? Just like always, we are going to keep going when the going gets tough and work through hardship.

So you see, even though a lot has changed, the most important things haven't. We will work through this next chapter of education, together, because our students are worth it. The tools might look different (hello, Hangouts/Meet and Schoology), but the core of education will stay the same - helping our students learn and grow into happy, healthy, and well-rounded human beings.

Teachers, we've got this!

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Keeping It Simple

I know I've been on a bit of a blogging break. I just had so much going on, and this was one thing I could let go of for a few weeks to give myself some breathing room! But in this world of wow-things-are-moving-quickly-with-coronavirus, I thought it would be a good time to return!

I'm here today with one message: Keep it simple.

Those of us who are active in the ed tech world probably have lots of ideas for how to implement home learning. Some of our favorite tools are now being offered for free (due to the pandemic)! Our expertise in designing blended or flipped lessons is paying off! Everyone is being so great about sharing resources, so we have a whole world of ideas at our fingertips!

We need to be reminded: Keep it simple.

This is a huge change for our students. It will feel weird to them. They will be balancing other things, like siblings vying for use of the technology, the loss of their usual social outlets, and feeling cooped up at home. Along with that, we are kidding ourselves if we think the kids aren't feeling the undercurrent of stress running through society right now. We need to not overwhelm them and keep it simple.

This is a huge change for our parents. They are dealing with childcare issues, figuring out how to continue with their jobs, and for some, how to continue to put food on the table. They may be thinking about elderly parents, having enough toilet paper, and access to medical care if needed. We need to not expect that they will be sitting next to their students, helping them with schoolwork every day. For their sake, we need to keep it simple.

And this is a huge change for our teachers! Some teachers are ready and building lessons as we speak! But I bet each one of us has a face that comes to mind when we think about somebody who is not as excited about technology. All teachers, no matter what their level of comfort with technology is, are probably feeling a little intimidated and worried about their students, how they can teach online, and what will happen with tests/graduation requirements/evaluations/etc. We live in this wonderful world of sharing, but let's not dump too much information on our teachers who are adjusting - let's keep it simple.

So what does simple mean?

  • Relationships first. Connect with kids. Connect with each other.
  • "Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind." ~Brene Brown. A little clarity goes a long way.
  • Communicate. The unknown is scary. Hearing from each other makes us feel a little less alone.
  • Don't neglect self-care. One of the downsides of the internet is that we are all connected, 24/7. Step away and take care of yourself, too.
  • Above all, let grace and compassion reign. We are all in uncharted waters, and we are all figuring it out together. Some of us will adjust more smoothly than others. Let's put our differences aside and be gracious as we try, take risks, fail, and try again!

Saturday, February 8, 2020

The Ripple Effect of Our Actions

I vividly remember a mistake I made one year when I was a summer school principal.

A teacher had come to me, letting me know that another staff member was consistently coming in late (right as the kids were arriving). This teacher didn't want to be a "tattletale", but did feel like it was affecting the kids and the rest of the team.

Instead of addressing it directly with that staff member, I sent out a general email to the whole staff with a reminder of our hours and when we were supposed to be there in the morning. "I'm protecting the teacher who told me," I told myself. "Now no one will know who snitched."

Later, I found out the ripple effect - a couple of different people came to me, looking unsettled, and asked if that was targeted at them. "I feel bad, I know there was one day that I had to juggle daycare dropoff because my spouse was out of town and I was a few minutes late, but I will make sure that doesn't happen again." "Have I done something wrong?" "Was that about me...is there something we need to talk about?" Yikes - I felt bad! This reminder had NOTHING to do with them. Instead of addressing the issue where it was happening, I had created a sense of unease and guilt among my staff. That is the exact opposite of what I meant to do!

What did I learn from this incident? I took the cowardly way out. I didn't want to deal with conflict directly, so I found a way to avoid it (and even justified it in my mind).

Okay, I know this wasn't a huge deal in the grand scheme of things (one email about showing up on time), but it taught me an important lesson about dealing with conflict and how, as a leader, your words & actions can be magnified. This lesson is now coming to mind as I am on the other side, feeling a little anxious, and being 99.9% sure it's not about me (but is it...?).

Being a leader is hard. You have so much power, and something small can turn into something big. People are quick to interpret things, and they may interpret them differently than what you intended. As leaders, we need to be careful, and mindful of how our actions affect others. As followers, we need to be gracious to our leaders, because they are human too!

If there's one thing I've learned, though, it's that shying away from healthy conflict - accountability, honest conversations, and tough love - is not helpful. I'm hoping for more of that in my world, because even though it can be harder in the short-term, it leads to better relationships and a healthier environment in the end!

Saturday, February 1, 2020

An IEP Meeting...from the Other Side

This past week, I went to an (initial) IEP meeting for one of the kiddos I work with. I know the teachers at this school pretty well, but my role here was to support the parent & family. I was on the other side - literally, when the meeting started, I physically moved from sitting next to the teachers (where I was) to the other side of the table (next to the parents).

We had a great meeting and walked away with some concrete goals and a lot of support. But, as is often the case, doing things with my friends from a different culture gives me a new perspective on our educational system - even something I've done dozens of times, like attend IEP meetings! Here are some of my thoughts:

  • IEPs are ridiculous. Don't get me wrong, I am so glad we have laws and protections for some of our more vulnerable students, and I am grateful that they have access to the help they need! At the same time, the number of forms, the lengthy process that must be followed exactly, and the number of sections on each form...it struck me that they were probably all added because something had gone wrong or ended up in court. It was hard to try to explain to my friend, whose life as a refugee did not allow her to spend time in a consistent education system and comes from a culture where teachers are honored and valued, why she had to sign the consent for evaluation, the consent to release information, the consent to bill to Medicaid, the eligibility determination paperwork, the IEP, and more. And why the same information was listed on the evaluation report and the IEP. And why there were so many sections. Just trying to explain that made me think...this is a little ridiculous. It's all there for a reason, but when it comes down to it, the stacks of paperwork can't distract us from the heart of the matter - helping the kiddo we all care about!
  • Disabilities are viewed differently in different places in the world. The kiddo we were there for was identified with a (fairly mild) speech-language disability. In talking to his mom, she spoke of another person who had a similar issue, but he grew up in the camps and nobody really thought twice about it. It was just the way that person was. We are all excited to be able to help this kiddo, and I think it will help improve his quality of life, but that perspective made me remember that we are all human. In the education world, this label is a ticket to services and supports, but on other places, differences are viewed as just that - differences. Not things that make a person better or worse or more or less likely to succeed. (I also know that, in other parts of the world, disabilities are a reason to cast someone out or drown a child in the river - it's not always pretty!) It was a good reminder to not let the specific labels take away from the basic humanity that defines us all.
  • Parents matter. In this case, we were looking at an emerging bilingual student whose first language is not English. In fact his first language is not something that we could formally test in (it is a tribal language). Because of this, it became imperative to check in with the parents about their observations of their child. Through interviews, we were able to determine that the speech issues were present in both languages, not just English. (Formal tests were also given - it wasn't just based on interviews - but they played a key piece in understanding the intersection of a disability and an English Language Learner). While this situation was unique, it showed just how important parents are as a part of the IEP team.
  • A good team makes a world of difference. I have been nothing but impressed by this particular group of teachers and how thorough, thoughtful, and caring they are. As a result, this kid has been growing by leaps and bounds! In the end, what makes the biggest difference, from the school system, is a kid's teachers. Their relationships with the student, expertise in knowing when and how to challenge the student, and the way they see the whole child have made a HUGE difference for this child!
It's easy for me to think this way when I am on the other side of the table, sitting next to parents who speak a different language than me, but how will I bring this perspective in the next time I attend an IEP meeting as an educational professional? I guess we will have to wait and find out - but I definitely have learned some lessons this week!

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Colorado Music Educators Association Conference (CMEA) 2020!

I'm just returning home from CMEA 2020, full of good food and good memories (but running low on sleep)! I think this is the most I have ever enjoyed the conference. Why? Mostly, it comes down to purpose - I knew why I was there, I knew what I wanted to get out of it, and that helped guide me toward a great conference experience!

Here's the thing about being in my position - most of the sessions are designed for current music teachers. I struggled a little bit last year trying to figure out what to go to - should I go to the things I am interested in (which mostly align to my strengths)? Or places where I need to learn and grow? It's awesome if a session has "strategies that can be implemented in your class on Monday," but without a class of my own, what was I supposed to do with these tips?

This year, I made it simple. I wanted to go where the teachers in my district were going. My purpose in being at the conference was not to take in a ton of great learning for myself (although that is always a benefit), but to allow me to better support my teachers. Obviously if they were presenting or performing, I was in that room, but beyond that, if one wanted to go learn how to start a mariachi group, I wanted to be right there beside her, hearing the same things so I could be a thought partner as she starts out! Knowing we just implemented full-day kindergarten in my district, which doubled the number of minutes of music, I wanted to be in the kindergarten session to get ideas for how to engage our youngest learners for an extended amount of time. And if a teacher wanted to talk for a bit in the lobby, outside of a session, that is where I wanted to be.

It ended up being a great balance! I still went to a couple of sessions that I just wanted to experience personally, but they were ones that didn't conflict with anything that I felt really compelled to be at with the teachers in my district. And, after going to sessions with teachers, we were able to have some great instructional conversations because we had a common base to start with!

All in all, this clarity of purpose helped me evaluate and prioritize my schedule and not feel guilty about choosing one thing over another. It made me wonder - should I be thinking about this for any (large) conference I attend? How much better would my professional learning be if I invested a little bit of thought ahead of time about what I wanted to get out of it?

It was great to see people from all walks of my musical life. It was great to learn a lot. But, most of all, it was great to build relationships, appreciate the talent in our district, and see how excited everyone was about offering the best possible instruction to their students! I may be tired, but a little bit of purpose goes a long way in making this an extremely successful conference!

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Culture

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:

VALUE

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!