What is my Personal, Plausible Future in Education?

Photo of Big Wave Bay, Hong Kong Island

Photo of Big Wave Bay, Hong Kong Island (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is better to conquer yourself than to win a thousand battles. Then the victory is yours. It cannot be taken from you, not by angels or by demons, heaven or hell

I offer you greetings, from Big Wave Bay, Hong Kong, on this Sunday afternoon. From today’s twitterverse, I read about how to plot my future in an uncertain world.  Living overseas, contract-to-contract, I write. I highly recommend that you follow the work being done on fastcompany. They force one to think deeply. Read on:

 What unique value do you bring to the world?  

Belief in myself is secondary only to my belief in others.

First of all, how does one answer this in complete seriousness? I do not think that I bring any”unique” value to the world. People tell me that I am “beyond outgoing.” I trust parents.  I believe that attention disorder is wildly overrated. I believe that standardized testing, in moderation, is an excellent teacher’s  friend. I believe that parents and students should evaluate teachers, each year.

I am optimistic in the future of education and have experienced drastic changes for good since I started earning a paycheck. I believe that teachers matter. I believe that empathy cannot be taught by lecture but through experience. I believe that kids want a structured learning environment but demand to laugh and have a lot of fun, as well. I believe that it is harmful to tell a nine or ten-year old that she has anything wrong with her ability to learn.

I believe that you cannot teach effectively when you are sick or pushed to exhaustion. I believe that we all need help to live a meaningful life. I believe in “kid language” and that sometimes peer tutors are the most effective tools in getting students to learn.

I believe that confidence is what I offer my students more than anything else and that classroom teachers cannot overemphasize  impacting real confidence among students. I believe in honoring and not fearing  “tiger moms ” for each successful person has a mom that has fought hard. I believe that “koala mom’s” deserve equal consideration and perhaps listened to even more actively.

I believe that there is little chance for a classroom teacher to  compliment a kid too much. There are just so many good things going on.

What is my life’s purpose?

My life’s purpose is to help others. For me, I try to do this through teaching. I try to do this by inspiring others to teach. I try to do this by working hard.

What is your personal, plausible future?

Hopefully, my future will be largely what it has always been: optimistic, focused, and in the moment. I am too old to think any other way.

What is your vision and plan of action?

To be determined!

How to Teach Fourth Grade: The Fantasy Reading Unit


“Any book that helps a child to form a habit of reading, to make reading one of his deep and continuing needs, is good for him.”

Maya Angelou


Mary Ehrenworth has a Ph.D. in Curriculum and Teaching from Teachers College. I first learned of Mary from her work with The Teachers College Reading and Writing Project.. I heard Mary speak a few years back on the magical power of literacy in transforming the lives of middle school students. I found her to have a bit of magic herself.  When I realized that she co-wrote Constructing Curriculum:Alternate Units of Study, I knew I had to take a more active role in developing our school’s 4th grade Fantasy Reading Book Club Unit.

Simply put, Mary is one of my heroes of literacy teaching.  If you teach literacy, you should follow her.

From Mary’s writing, our fourth grade teachers are able to teach readers to appreciate that it is ok to find a bit of empathy in villains and recognize the struggles for the protagonist.  She instructs teachers to celebrate the heightened complexity of characters and to acknowledge that we all struggle with good versus evil. This unit is powerful and my students are dripping with excitement to start their book club conversations.

Mary pushed me to realize that not only is it acceptable to teach fantasy to my students, it is wise. To wit; ““Fantasy has been a force for good in literacy” On Harry Potter, Mary writes:” Who wouldn’t love a book that has MILLIONS of children to read.” On the art of teaching: “The best things we can do is to put books into the hands of children….and let those books teach.”

Mary has helped me teach my students that experienced readers take extensive notes to deepen the engagement and to extend the book chat conversations. She helps me to acknowledge and celebrate the different ways students use a pencil to track the actions, thoughts and feelings of the hero. Mary helps me teach “those habits that let you prepare for your book club discussions.”

Mary’s work helps me connect with my students. She instructs me to push research in making up a professional sports team and then compares that work to the research that a writer needs to merge all her characters into a meaningful fantasy.Mary understands the complexity in a classroom setting: “Getting to know a new class of children each year is like getting to know characters in a book.” This quote alone makes me realize that this unit is right for my students

Next week, my students will begin their fantasy book club discussions. Today, as I took notes on their reading work, I realized that many of these kids are profoundly different readers than they were at the beginning of the school year. I am immensely proud of their growth. Alas, I realize that I am merely a conveyor of the wisdom of many fine educators.

Mary Ehrenworth is one such master educator. I am deeply indebted to her work in helping me inspire nine and ten-year olds to read.


Mary Ehrenworth

Mary Ehrenworth


Constructing Curriculum: Alternative Units of Study

Constructing Curriculum: Alternative Units of StudyRelated articles

Rethinking Education


education (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

After reading Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology by Allan Collins and Richared Halverson, I am left with many more questions than answers. The following is a sample of my written notes from the margins of my copy. I highly recommend this book.

We have experienced the knowledge explosion. The dust settled. Can we evolve, adjust and survive?

Have computers extended the human mind beyond the limits of even the finest teachers?

Is technology disrupting local community building?

Are today’s schools mostly knowledge factories where one attempts to learn what “very esteemed thinkers” believe necessary to prosper?

Will we build schools that respect the students’ innate curiosity and need for solving real-life problems? Will we change only when we start losing our client base?

Will we create an environment where we celebrate failure as a sign of pure learning?

Will we allow students to roam freely between learning spaces? Will we trust students to take control of their own learning?

Can we create schools that create organizations and systems that enhance, rather than stifle, innovation?

Am I part of the problem?

Can we recognize and celebrate all that we are already doing to satisfy our students’ far-reaching demands?

Will we allow parents and students back into curriculum development and implementation?

Are we teaching all students successfully? Can we afford to let our students live a life of confinement until they leave high school?

Can we name and end the barriers of learning?

With improved educational leadership, can the need for classroom management be a thing of the past?

Can all teachers be allowed to inspire?

So many of my students are competitive, scared and lacking confidence. Am I allowing my kids to make the most of their time in the classroom?

Can we continue to teach curriculum that we know is out of sync with what students need to know?

Can we create a system that respects students right to question and investigate their own answers?

How much of my work day is bureaucracy of one form or the other?

Why is school attendance still compulsory? Why can’t kids learn from home?

Why are kids graded by age? Never, in the past year, have I been in a room filled with fellow forty-five year olds.

Why are teachers’ editions of textbooks still used in school?  Why is so much of the school day dedicated to tradition, behavior control and consistency?

How come students, parents and teachers do not write report cards collaboratively? Why aren’t all students on an Individualized Education Plan?

Why are Middle and High Schools such pressure cookers?

Can we accept that students are much more tech-savvy and more understanding of the adult world than we are wiling to believe?

Can we pay teachers to pursue their own personalized learning?

Can we allow for more project-based curriculum?

Can we accept that a culture of lifelong learning is what we all need to survive?

Can educational gaming and simulations become more of the day-to-day instruction and not a distraction to avoid at all costs?

Will alternative certificates and “badges” replace standard issue, high school diplomas?

Is High School already an anachronism?

Again, I urge all to read this book.  Your students will thank you.


Collins, A., & Halverson, R. (2009). Rethinking education in the age of technology. New York and London: Teachers College Press


Image from Google Images

Spring Breakdown

First day of Student Led Conferences are over and I am happy to report that the parents and children were generally very happy with the results. Alas, I have to admit that Spring is upon us and I am have to adjust my teaching practice to accommodate to my current situation. The students are all lovely children, however I need from time to time pause for off task behavior. I still will value their personalities. I just need to keep my sanity and offer a more brain friendly environment that does not interfere with my teaching philosophy.

The following is a body of thought on how I hope to make the necessary classroom management improvements. I hope they prove helpful:

  • Discussion- It is time for me to have a talk with the students about “March Madness” and how this time of the year brings out the hyperactivity in children. I will talk with them about it each morning for two weeks.
  • Smile (even more) I find that this helps.
  • “Let go of the reins.” The kids are more developed and independent than they were in August. I will give them their deserved space and choice.
  • Meditate at home. I tried to schedule this at school but I am simply too busy. Teachers will understand what I am talking about.
  •  Brain Rules: I will check my copy of Brain Rules by John Medina for tips on coping with stress.
  • Library visits:I will encourage more library visits and errands. ( This tip is from Dr. Michael Thompson) Watch this documentary video!
  • Ukulele/Chess Lessons– I may offer lunchtime uke and chess lessons in return for more engagement and class time focus.
  • Banana dance: Whenever the students are sitting too long, we do the “Banana Dance” Basically, we get up and dance as silly and stupidly as humanly possible. If the kids only knew I stole this idea from Chris Elliot.
  • Brain Breaks: These look encouraging.
  • Be happy. Keep your problems at home.
  • Inspirational Quotes: Last year, we had a kid bring in an  inspirational quote to share then post on the door. Amazing how this renews a sense of community.
  • Future Focused: I plan to constantly talk about their future.
  • Make note of our remaining days together. This will help them stay on task to get the most of their time left together.
  • Plan shorter intervals of teaching, longer intervals of student thinking.
  • Dojo: I usually abhor behavior reward systems but Dojo looks like it might work.
  • Watch Ken Robinson’s video at home: This animation is good as it gets in reminding me of the overwhelming amount of distractions in this generation of kids. I gain new insight each time.
  • Review the class agreements from the beginning of the year and let the kids make new ones.


Teachers; What do you do to combat boredom in the classroom?

Please share your thoughts. I am always looking for new ideas.

Related articles

Student Led Conference Week- A Letter to Parents

“The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.”Martin Luther King, Jr.

“I have just three things to teach: simplicity, patience, compassion. These three are your greatest treasures.”Lao Tzu

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Dear Parents,

This is my favorite week of each school year and a somewhat notable week in the life of your child. This is the week of student led conferences (SLC).

I have just finished up my plans and we are a go for a marvelous week of learning. We will together celebrate social, academic and emotional growth in your child. I am proud of each student and I look forward to our continued learning.

We highly value differentiated instruction. That said, each child in our class is intelligent, thoughtful, witty, kind, caring, soulful, hardworking and optimistic.  Each is learning to lead and make a positive impact in society. All are reading and writing daily. This keeps me ever hopeful for their future.

My role during the conferences will be to facilitate the discussions between you and your child. I will also spend a little time with each of you conversing about the remaining school year and summer goals.

Each year at this time, I remind students to share their love of learning and not any particular test score. I remind them to share their personal growth and not their “rank” in the classroom. I remind them to celebrate all that they are. Please help your child in this endeavour.

Teaching, for me, is a sensitive and complex profession. It always has been. I work best when I remind myself that the students in my keep will remember little of my day-to-day instruction. Instead, they will remember the habits, both good and bad that I have taught them.  I am positive that I have instilled more good habits than bad and I am positive that your child has benefitted from our partnership. Your child is receiving a world-class, international school education

Enjoy your conversation with your child. Have a great week and see you at SLC.

Questions or comments are greatly appreciated.

Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/a/antoinedes121261.html#gqxFdF4pTJIGKLth.99

Part One: A Day in the Life of an Elementary School Teacher

Greetings from San Francisco International Airport.


First off, I am one of the luckiest teachers on the planet. My school provides me with everything that I could need to do a good job. Alas, after reading some impressive postings about teachers around the world, I decided to share my day’s schedule for all to see.

5:55 AM iPhone Alarm goes off.

5:58 AM get out of bed, stretch,shower, shave, brush teeth.

6:21 AM Kiss wife, meet Taxi Ken

6:23 AM Think of family back in the states, check Facebook, Twitter accounts. Wish I was home for Thanksgiving.

6:38 AM Say goodbye to Ken, arrive at school. Greet security in Cantonese.

6:41 AM Log on to SKYPE . Try to connect with my sister.

6:46 AM Start setting up for Thanksgiving/International Day celebration.

6:57 AM Read and reply to first email of the day.

7:01 AM Prepare my Keynote presentations for the day.

7:05 AM Greet incoming colleague. Laugh about the Petraeus affair

7:20 AM Get my first cup of coffee, eat peanut butter and jelly sandwich, banana for breakfast. Grateful to my wife.

7:31 AM First kid shows up. He speaks to me about a documentary he saw last night  about the history of tea. I look surprised by his info. Tell him about my trip to Sri Lanka.

7:34 AM Another kid tells me that his mom translates my blog posts and sends them to her teacher friends in Taiwan. I am very pleased already with my first two experiences with my students.

7:40 AM Start storing food for Thanksgiving Feast.

7:45 AM Begin to miss home big time

7:47 AM Shake hands, make eye contact and greet each kid with a “Top of the Mornin’

7:52 AM Chitchat ends, kids read silently with their log books, notepads and independent reading books.

8:00 AM Daily Devotion begins.  Recite poem of the Week “When Children Eat by Margaret Yoder

8:08 AM We begin first reading group session with A Hundred Dresses. I am highly complimentary to the four students and their ability to share their thoughts on the story. I compliment them on their work with literal understanding. I give them tips on how to think deeply when conversing. I am grateful for all my work with Accountable Talk.

8:40 AM I wish each kid to have a good recess and to enjoy each other’s company.  Remind them that we are on this earth to be good to each other.

8:45 AM Check students’ word study sorts and note exemplary work.

8:50 AM I drink my second cup of coffee.

8:52 AM I converse with fellow teacher about the ukulele.

8:56 AM Begin to input data into math progress spreadsheet.

9:10 AM I get wrapped up into a conversation comparing Hong Kong and American mathematics teaching.

9:24 AM Tested “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” DVD.

9:37 I fine-tune Math Keynote for Open Response problem solving assessment.

9:40 Students arrive from Chinese Studies class. I instruct them to take their seats to begin Math assessment. Students begin and are highly engaged.

9:57 Compliment my teaching partner’s unit reflection lesson.

10:30 I meet with kids to discuss Thanksgiving and Writing Celebration decorum.

10:38 Begin walking the students to Physical Education class. Notice that my wife texted me to call her immediately. I instantly begin to panic and worry about my folks back home.

10:40 AM High five 60 students as they are obviously excited about their strength test.

10:42 Back in my classroom, call my wife and discover that all is well. She just wanted to chit-chat and see what I wanted for dinner. I laugh and breathe.

Final cleanup before Thanksgiving. Lay out tablecloths on desks. Pass out plates, plastic knives, forks and spoons, Class looks great.

11:30 AM Begin readers’ workshop minilesson.

That is enough for now. More to follow on the other side.

I am off to Osaka, Japan.





“What are the most important stories in my life?” Teaching Fourth Graders to Write Personal Narratives that Matter

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Above all, narrative writers must “show, not tell.”  – Donald Graves

Mid Autumn Festival is over in Hong Kong and it is time to teach the craft of narrative writing to my fourth grade students. This is a great time of year for I see steady growth in the writers’ stamina, independence and ability. The students learn to bounce ideas off each other. The writers learn to take risks with their stories. They learn that their writing matters and that an audience reads their pieces.

The 4th grade student writer is becoming more independent with each day’s writing session. Students will investigate mentor texts and published authors to make their own writing more meaningful. Writers will think about moments where they have felt strong emotions and list them. The writers will think of “turning points” in their own lives and list them. The fourth graders will think about and draw upon all that they have learned about writing in previous sessions.

This unit, I aim to improve my craft by habitually asking the students to write a personal SMART writing goal for each session. I will also have the students write their overall message of their current narrative piece. Writers will post both goal and message each day on a post it note adhered to their writing space. These will become quick and simple data points as I walk around and confer with the student writers.

The students will become aware of a shared jargon from our discussions. I plan to teach that internal thoughts run parallel with external actions. I will teach that writers primarily “show and not tell.”(Graves, 1994)  I will teach students that to ask themselves “What is this piece really about?”

One area of growth that I plan to develop will be conventions and mechanics. I will distribute an editor’s checklist for each student writer and model correct use of the checklist. I will have students discuss proper punctuation and paragraphing. I intend on playing a conventions game every 8 days or so. Overall, I hope to teach the students that grammar is a piece of the writing puzzle that not to overlook, yet keep in perspective.

I will use some of the anchor charts that I found on Pinterest:

Punctuation Anchor Chart Idea
Another Punctuation Chart Idea
Even MORE Anchor Charts

Also, I cannot express the need for talk in the writing classroom. I am a believer that the students need to talk about their own growth and new understandings as they write. This is a highly structured routine of every writing session. The students engage in talk and encourage each other.  For more information on talk, check out this site: Why Talk is Important.

Another teaching point that I hope to get across is that writers practice leads. This means that they write, write and rewrite lead sentences and try them out by reading out loud to their writing partner. I have taught the students to actively listen and to politely steer each other to the best sentences.  This develops community and an understanding that risks are appreciated and that choices matter.

Finally, I will continue our habit of celebrating the ending of the unit and sharing our pieces with poetry and parents.

“My mission today is to create a sense of occasion around the upcoming author celebration, and to be sure that editing takes on a special importance because it is a way of preparing one’s work to go out in the world.” (Calkins & Martinelli, 2006)

The students will assemble in small groups of six or seven and each will have the floor. All will share two personal narratives and will share their overall reflections from the unit. All will create a T-Chart observations and thoughts from their writers’ notebook.  They will then be expected to write their reflections to me for evaluation.

Fourth grade teachers, “How do you inspire writers in your classroom?”




Calkins, L. M., & Martinelli, M. (2006). Units of study for teaching writing, grades 3-5.

Graves, D. (1994). A fresh look at writing. Canada: Irwin Publishing.