11 March 2017

Relaunching Scholastic Book Club at East-West

Back in December 2016, after receiving approval from the school admin team, I enquired about re-introducing Scholastic Book Clubs at East-West. A lovely lady in the UK contacted me, we set up an account, and our first flyers were sent by DHL in early January 2017. On 26th January 2017 packages of forms, envelopes, and covering notes were distributed to staff with the hope that they would get their students excited about being able to order books. Orders came in over the next week, and on 8th February I got all the orders entered into the computer. A total of 257 items were ordered, over $2,500 worth of books. We then received 20% of the value in rewards and I was able to order 17 books/packs for the school library/teacher resource area. It took a little while to work out our payment processes, but it eventually went quite smoothly, and the order was processed.

Meanwhile Scholastic changed shipping companies, and that was definitely a learning experience. DHL had previously handled the whole process and delivered books to the school door, with no hassles over customs or anything like that. We'd heard from at least two schools that their orders were coming through very reliably with no hassles. First there was a delay in the warehouse due to the change over. Scholastic staff were quick to respond to my enquiries and very helpful. Eventually our shipment went out on 22nd February with the new shipping company. That same morning I get a distressed message from a colleague at another International School saying she had received a quote for over $500 to have her order (similar in size to ours) cleared through customs. I quickly contacted Scholastic and they said the orders were shipped in such a way that we shouldn't have to pay that but to let them know if there were any problems. We got a tracking number and that enabled us to see where the boxes were. They moved fairly rapidly from the UK to Singapore (via Germany and China), arriving in Singapore less than 36 hours after leaving the UK. They stayed in Singapore for 4 days before finally arriving in Phnom Penh on Tuesday 28th February. We were notified of their arrival and advised that we would need to arrange customs clearance through another company since the shipping company handling our delivery didn't do that. The shipping company delivered a packet of photocopied forms to our office and then marked the delivery in their tracking system as "delivered".

Meanwhile we'd been keeping the lines of communication open between us and Scholastic and been told that we would have to pay the customs clearance since it couldn't be invoiced directly to Scholastic in the UK. Scholastic assured me they would cover those costs, even though we were going to have to pay them up front. We went ahead and got another company involved and they said it should take about 3 days to get the shipment cleared through customs and delivered to us. Then we struck another problem. The packages were addressed to me using my initial and surname, but to get them through customs a copy of my passport was required. As you might imagine my passport has my full name on it and the staff at the shipping company said that because the names were "different" it could be a problem. Thankfully customs did accept our documentation and at 7pm last night 10 boxes of books were delivered to the school. Now, as you can imagine there aren't many people around at school at 7pm, and on this occasion there were even less than usual since some staff had gone away to attend a wedding. Once again God provided. Unbeknown to me until about 6pm, a High School "sleepover" was happening at school last night. Not looking forward to carrying 10 boxes upstairs myself, I thought I'd see if I could enlist some help from the high school students attending. At 7pm, when I got the phone call saying the truck was at the school, the teacher supervising rounded up 9 boys as well as carrying a box himself, leaving me with nothing to carry up the stairs to the 4th floor except myself. A big thank you to the Grade 10 boys and their supervising teacher. 😊
The boxes as they were when they arrived in my classroom.
So now I could finally get down to the fun stuff. Yes, I got to open and unpack all ten boxes of brand new books. Those who know me well will know how much please that brought. It was fun! I was glad I'd asked the boys to bring our "backpack" table into the classroom. By the time I'd finished all the tables in my classroom were covered in books and I'd had to rearrange a few other shelves to get some extra space as well. Here they are.

Having done that, I settled down to complete one more job before heading home for some rest. There were 270 plus items that needed to be checked off against the packing slip to make sure none had gone missing along the way (when you look closely at some of the boxes you'll understand why I needed to do that. I almost managed my 10,000 steps yesterday as I covered a lot of ground tracking down titles. Happily everything was there. 👍 At that point I called it a night, turned off the lights, locked up the classroom and headed for home.

This morning I undertook the first stage of the distribution process, matching the books to the individual student orders. Scholastic made this much easier for me by providing a series of "bookmarks" which each listed up to five items that a student had ordered. These were much easier to read than the original order forms, and four hours later I had finally finished. I've already delivered one batch to a classroom (I noticed a teacher in his room when I went past to go to the bathroom so I dropped off the books for both his class and the other class at that grade level since I was running out of boxes).Here's the rest of them, ready to go out on Monday morning. There are going to be some very excited students on Monday morning!

Next, I want to share what the school has gained from our efforts. Scholastic Books offer us 20% of the value of the books purchased as a reward for our school. With that 20% plus a donation from one family I have been able to get 41 hardcover books, and 79 paperback books for our school library and teacher resource room. I have no doubt these will be received with great excitement in the library.
Finally, my classroom library is getting some new books as well. The Science Vocabulary Readers have been purchased with one of our upcoming IPC units in mind, a couple relate to a unit we've already done, and others just looked good. I could easily have spent more, but I set myself a limit and this is what I got within my budget. I confess I've already read the National Geographic "Ape Escapes" book from cover to cover and it is good.

The other good news we've received in the last few days is that Scholastic are returning to DHL for shipping to Cambodia! That means we'll be doing it all over again, although hopefully with a few less hassles. The first time of doing anything is always a challenge, but in this case I think it has been worth it. Thanks to all those who've helped, supported and encouraged through this "first" and to those who prayed those books through.

01 February 2017

One month in

Today marks the beginning of the second month of the calendar year, and having just observed Chinese New Year I thought it would be good time to reflect on the goals I set at the start of this year.

The first goal was to increase my physical activity. I'm doing okay on that one. Some days it's really hard to get those 10,000 steps in, having reached that goal only 12 of the last 30 days, however I have managed it on eight of the last ten days, so that's progress. 20 flights of stairs a day isn't all that difficult with my classroom on the 4th floor and no lift (elevator). My record is 52 flights in one day, but getting even 10 flights on the weekend is a challenge if I don't go to school. Netball resumed, and I played last week, but this week was holidays. Hopefully next week I'll be able to play again. My biggest strategy for getting my 10,000 steps in is to finish school early enough that I can walk home the long way (about 3500 steps) and get home before dark.

The second goal I set myself was reading the Bible in one year using a structured plan. I'm really happy to report that doing these readings is becoming a habit. I've managed not to get more than 1 day behind at any time, and I've got myself back on track each time. So far I've completed Genesis and am part way through Exodus, and am nearing the end of Matthew, as well as small daily passages from Psalms and Proverbs.

Alas, I have been distinctly undisciplined in achieving the third goal, and this is something to keep working on. I really do need to limit my social media and computer games time. Definitely something to keep working on, so that I reclaim time for piano practice, school preparation, and other forms of communication.

For Chinese New Year I'm adding one more goal, which is a medium term goal. That is to lose the last 5kg to get my weight back to a level that puts me in the "Healthy BMI" range. My goal is 5kg by Khmer New Year (about 3 months). so that's less than 0.5kg per week, which is a safe and sustainable way to do it. I was encouraged today by a mum who noticed that I'd lost weight since last school year, which was really nice to hear.

Now, it's time for bed! A good night's sleep definitely makes for a happier teacher.

Happy Chinese New Year.

27 January 2017

Another celebration

One of the great things about living in Cambodia is the holidays! While I love my job, it is demanding, and a long weekend periodically helps me to stay sane and enjoy life. Tomorrow, Saturday 28th January is the start of Chinese New Year. While not an official holiday in Cambodia it is widely celebrated and many business were or will be closed as people travel to spend time with their families. Today as I walked to school (by a somewhat long scenic route) I thought I'd snap a few photos of some of the decorations I was seeing.

Offerings for the ancestors.

I love this one, with the Chinese New decorations blending in with snowflakes, probably left over from Christmas!

 Here's a news report that explains a little more about Chinese New Year celebrations in Cambodia. Chinese New Year is also celebrated by many Australians, especially those of Chinese descent. Here and here are articles appearing in the Australian news media, explaining both a little of the history and some things to do or not to do.

26 January 2017

Australia Day with a Difference

Australia Day this year was not "just another school day" this year for me. This year it coincided with the beginning of Chinese New Year holidays here in Cambodia, and it was scheduled as a Professional Development Day for staff, while students got to start their holidays a day early.

I had offered to run a session on Positive Behaviour Support and Classroom Management for our Elementary staff, and so decided that a good way to get everyone there on time would be to offer some snacks about 20 minutes before the scheduled start time. In honour of Australia Day I went to one of the local grocery stores and stocked up for a highly unhealthy morning tea, consisting of Anzac Biscuits (freshly made last night), a fruit cake (Black & Gold brand - pretty good), three varieties of Arnott's Shapes, a tub of cream cheese drizzled with sweet chilli sauce, and a wide selection of lollies (Minties, Fantales, Jaffas, Freckles, jelly snakes, Life Savers (musk and peppermint), bananas, false teeth, black cats, Chickos, milk bottles, spearmint leaves and a few "party pack" lollies.
It worked, and a number of people enjoyed lollies they had enjoyed as children in the UK. I think the most popular item was cream cheese "dip". Others really enjoyed the fruitcake, evidenced by the fact that I didn't have a lot to bring home. A couple of people took some goodies home to share with their family after it was all over, and I'm stocked for lollies for a while.

With tummies and/or sweet teeth satisfied, I started the session by displaying the statement "Prevention is better than cure" and asked if that statement could apply to school. We had some discussion and then I presented the session that I developed as part of my uni studies last semester. One of the goals of the session was to come up with four or five positive statements or rules for the elementary school. The photos below show staff discussing their points.

First they all wrote their own four "Be ... " statements, then they paired up, then groups of four, then four groups of about 8 each. Finally I wrote all the words from all the groups on the board and we narrowed them down to five.
We still need to do some work on this, unpacking each of the statements and getting some specific statements about what they look like in different areas of the school, but we've got a starting point, and teachers can think about unpacking them at least in terms of what they look like in the classroom. From there we moved into looking at creating caring classrooms and some specific classroom management strategies, finishing off by watching a brief video where a teacher shares some simple and practical strategies.

Next on the agenda was relaunching Scholastic Book Clubs in the elementary school. I'm hoping there will be lots of excitement among the children when they get their forms after the holidays.

After that it was lunch time, which ended up being fruit and a baguette, then I did a few more jobs around school, making sure the guy dealing with work permits has all the information he needs from me, and meeting some people from one of our "sister schools" within the bigger organisation that East-West is part of.

About 4pm I decided to call it a day, and go for a walk. I'm waiting on some snail mail at the moment, so I took a walk up to the post office. Unfortunately when I arrived there at 5pm it was already closed (usually it doesn't close until 6pm). That was unexpected, since Chinese New Year isn't an official holiday here, but I guess it shouldn't have been, since already I'm noticing other businesses closing early or not open at all. Cambodians love their holidays!

By the time I got home I'd walked about 14,000 steps and climbed 50 flights of stairs today. Yes, I'd say it was definitely a different Australia Day.

16 January 2017

Dear Miss Karen

Recently, among the writing choices I offered my students, was for them to write a letter to me. It could be about anything they liked. One of my students wrote a huge list of questions, and since they were mostly fairly basic facts that anyone who knows me well might know I thought it might be fun if wrote an answer to her letter here and then shared it with the class.Something I've learned is that children are often fascinated by their teachers, and it really doesn't hurt to let them get to know a bit about who you really are.

First of all, her letter:
Dear Miss Karen,
What do you like to eat? Do you have a pet in your house? Have you ever been to Canada before? What country do you like most? Do you have brothers or sisters? What colour do you like most? What book do you like most? What movie do you like most? What do you like to wear? When is your birthday? How many friends do you have? Can you eat kimchi? Where is your house? Do you like to wear glasses? How many cousins do you have? Have you ever taught grade 12 before? Who do you believe? Did you have a nice Winter break? Do you like to read books? Do you like to watch a movie? Did you ever go to Korea before?
At that point I think she was told to stop writing as it was time for Khmer class. So here is my answer to her letter. Enjoy!

Dear Student,

Thank you for your letter. What a lot of questions you have. Let me try and answer some of them.

I like to eat all different kinds of food. My favourite meal in Australia is Roast Lamb with baked potatoes and sweet potatoes, broccoli, carrots, and lots of mint sauce gravy. For dessert, I like apple crumble with custard. Here in Cambodia I like sweet and sour tofu from Ms S, ginger chicken, and lots of other things. I have tried kimchi, but I don't really like it. I do like kimbap though. 

I have never been to Canada, but I would like to one day. I think I'd find it very cold. I have never been to Korea either. Maybe I will go there one day, since it is quite close to Cambodia. My winter break was very quiet, with no students, and I enjoyed going to Bangkok. I have to say that I like Australia best of all, because that is my home country, where I was born. I have a house there, in a city called Toowoomba. Sometime I might show you on Google Maps where it is.

I have one sister who is married, seventeen cousins and many friends. My family mostly live in Australia, with a few in New Zealand. Some of my friends live in Australia, some in Cambodia, and others in different places around the world. I don't have a pet in my house, but I used to have a dog. One of the families I stay with in Australia has a dog that I love. 

My favourite colour is blue, but I like lots of colours. My birthday is in January. I like wearing glasses, but only because they make it possible for me to see well. Without my glasses, I wouldn't be able to read, write, play on the computer, ride my moto, or drive a car.
I love books!!! I love reading them, and I have quite a collection of books. My favourite series is The Chalet School series by Elinor M. Brent-Dyer, and I also love The Abbey Girls books by Elsie J. Oxenham. These are books I read when I was growing up, and I still love reading them. I also like reading mysteries, especially Christian ones. The best book I have ever read and will ever read is The Bible, because it helps me to know God, and how He wants me to live. You might guess from this that I believe in Jesus. The movie I like the most is "The Sound of Music". I like to wear clothes that are comfortable and that cover my body in a way that is respectful. Mostly I like to wear clothes that have lots of cotton in them.
Next time you write to me, I'd like you to answer your own questions so that I can get to know you better too!

From Miss Karen

02 January 2017

Welcome to 2017

A new year has just begun. I celebrated its arrival very quietly in a guesthouse in Bangkok, where I'm enjoying a change of scenery. This year I decided not to make New Year resolutions, but instead I've set myself three goals.

The first goal is to increase my level of physical activity, and thus my fitness. I'm hoping to play netball at least once a fortnight at school (if we play every week that will be even better, but that depends on other people being available so I'll hope for every fortnight). I've played once, and it was fun, even if I'm not very good. I'm also going to be monitoring my activity levels, having invested some gift money in a fitness tracker. I specifically wanted one that would keep track of the stairs I climb, since I do a fair bit of that at school, and ended up getting one that I can wear swimming if I decide to get back in the water. So to make that goal more specific and measurable I'm aiming for 10,000 steps a day and 20 flights of stairs. So far I've done very well, but then I did have a very active day today. Yesterday afternoon I enjoyed taking a walk in Lumpini Park, where I snapped a few photos of the beautiful orchids in the picture below.

Today I decided to give my budget a break and get some exercise and fresh air. Well, I'm not sure the air was totally fresh, but I definitely got the exercise, along with a lot of other people. One thing I hadn't done here in Bangkok was to visit the zoo, so this morning I hopped on the skytrain and went as far as Victory Monument (see photo above), from where my sources indicated I could take a local bus to get to the zoo, or I could walk (not recommended by the sources). According to my map, it is about 2 kilometres, so I decided to take a walk. It felt a lot longer than that, but I made it, and then after waiting a while to get a bus, for which the number of waiting passengers seemed every increasing, I decided to do the return walk as well. According to my activity tracker I walked 12.36km today!

Now when I was in Singapore a few years back I visited the Singapore Zoo, the Night Safari, and the Bird Park, and thoroughly enjoyed all three. Probably helped by the fact that I had company for the Zoo and the Night Safari, but I also think my experience there spoiled me a little for today's experience. Nonetheless I did enjoy taking in some of God's amazing creations. I have to admit to thinking that God really does have a sense of humour. After all, just have a look at some of the birds I saw.

I also know that He loves to show us beautiful things, and I was privileged to enjoy the display put on by one of the peacocks today. I got photos from both in front and behind, and the difference is fascinating. From the back, everything is brown, but from the front (and side) the colours are spectacular.
The photos don't do it justice, but given that I was taking these through wire fencing I'm fairly happy with the results.

I couldn't resist checking out the Australian section of the zoo, where I was delighted to see some fresh looking eucalypts. I also saw some sleepy koalas, a sleeping wombat and a pair of cassowaries.
Here are a few more of the amazing creatures God has placed in this world. Sadly so many are at risk of extinction, thanks to humans either destroying their habitats or killing them for "medicinal" benefits. That's not a goat in the top right of the next photo, it's a Sumatran Serow. 
Finally, another example of God's amazing imagination. I mean to say, how many people do you know who would design a creature like these giraffes. They are amazing in that they are perfectly designed for the environment in which He placed them in. 

The second goal I've set is something I've set myself a number of times but not yet accomplished. This year, I'd like to read the whole Bible. Now, given the amount of reading that I do, it really shouldn't be that hard, but it is something that requires commitment to doing a portion every day. Back when I first got my Kindle I invested in a copy of the Bible that is set up to help me do exactly that. It's called "Grace for the Moment Daily Bible" and is in my favourite easy read version (New Century Version). Each day has a short devotional comment, a passage from the Old Testament, a passage from the New Testament, a passage from Psalms and a passage from Proverbs. So far I've been reminded of God's creation, man's failure, and God's plan in the sending of His Son. What a great way to start the year. I'm hoping I can stick with it, but know that God's grace will be sufficient for me if I don't get there.

The third goal is a fairly important one, and if I can accomplish it, it will help me accomplish the other two goals. Over the last few years I've found social media taking up a fairly large chunk of time. This year I want to reduce that time to no more than 30 minutes a day. That should allow me to keep in touch with those that I want to keep in touch with, without wasting time that could be better spent doing other things.

Aside from that, I've got a pile of professional reading to complete, and I hope to do some short courses in specific areas as well. I've been asked to consider an additional role at school, which I'm thinking about seriously. Maintaining a good work/personal life balance isn't easy for a teacher, but I hope that, in His strength, I can do better at that this year.

What about you? Have you set goals for 2017? I'd love you to share if you have.

19 December 2016

What my students think about me?

Thought this photo was perfect for this post.
This is what my kiddos got up to on the last day of school
while I was out of the room sorting stuff out, and my assistant was with them.
Love these kids!
One of the things that we do in my classroom is free writing time. During this time students can write about whatever they like, in whatever format they like. Today I caught up on reviewing some of that writing and thought I'd share two pieces that were written about me. I love reading my students writing as it often gives me an insight into their thinking and even their behaviour. Both these students have English as a Second Language so I have corrected a few errors to avoid embarassment. I won't name them, but I will show them this post tomorrow in class. I share these pieces because they I love the honesty in them, and because they show that I'm not a perfect teacher. It's interesting to consider the things that they notice (like my sometimes messy desk and braided hair). I'm human, but the bottom line, as share by R, is that I care about my students. Most teachers do.

Miss Karen by a student

Meet Miss Karen. She was one of my favorite teachers that I ever studied with. Even my mom really likes her. Even though I just learned with her I was starting to like her everytime I see her. Miss Karen has long hair, and she braid it to school because she won’t have lice in her hair. She likes to see us doing the right choice and completing homework on time. First when I was not in her class yet I always wanted to learn in her class. Before I get to learn with her I was scared, but then it was great learning with her. My mom says she only get mad when homework is not done. She was right. One reason that I really loved learning with Miss Karen is that she has a lot of cool stuff. She also cares about other students too, including me. I hope that she has good toys or stuff for us to spend with our tickets. She also treats people fairly in the class too. She is one of my favourite teachers of all.

Miss Karen by another student
Miss Karen is my teacher. Sometimes Miss Karen is mean. Sometimes Miss Karen is kind. In swim class Miss Karen is teaching in the shallow end. I think Miss Karen likes to wear a pink T-shirt. Sometimes Miss Karen is funny. Miss Karen wears glasses. Miss Karen’s table is a little bit messy. My mom said “Miss Karen is a good teacher.” Miss Karen comes from Brisbane. I think Miss Karen likes to eat vegetables. I think Miss Karen is a good teacher. Miss Karen is always busy. I think Miss Karen likes to say long words. Miss Karen almost all day wears a watch. I think Miss Karen is very tidy. Miss Karen on Thursday and Friday doesn’t give us homework (so I like it).