Friday, July 3, 2015



So after 17 days of my first “real” solo travel and my first time to Asia, what I have I learned? I learned that I am stronger than I thought, that I can rough it and tough it more than I believed possible, that I love adventure, and that, in the end, it’s all about relationships. An interesting concept to ponder in a country that has seen war after war and, on the flip side, still has much self-admitted corruption. War breaks apart relationships, while corruption can bring people together based on their own needs and wants.

As I was in Vietnam during the horrific tragedy at Charleston's Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, I was able to reflect a lot on the discussions I had and the people I met, who didn't look like me and who didn't act like me, but who I felt innately safe and comfortable with and who taught me so much. On this journey, I came to understand it’s the relationships that are built or that are broken which make our lives meaningful in either positive or negative ways. It’s the relationships of trusting or distrusting one another. It’s the relationship built by a simple act of kindness, smile, or fit of laughter (even if you don’t speak the same language). It’s about connecting with people over common or uncommon ground. Relationships are more important than money, education, or status. Either feeling connected or disconnected to each other can make people hurt each other or show love and kindness. In this adventure, I have come to realize, it’s all about relationships. Not always long lasting relationships, but sometimes a simple unspoken glance can help in a moment of frustration or help to celebrate a moment of joy that may otherwise have only been felt in solitude, but is so much sweeter when experienced with someone else, even a stranger. 

So kindness to our fellow people and kindness to this beautiful land we live on goes a long way, my friends. I know I am able to cultivate my own hopes, goals, and dreams, but in the end, those goals don't matter much if I haven't connected with others. I have learned that only I can choose how to act and only I can build relationships. So in the craziness and sometimes confusing moments of solo travel, I came to realize, ultimately, how I act towards people, whoever they are and wherever they are from, is truly the only thing I can control-for everything else, I must just enjoy the ride!

Please view my slideshow: Vietnam Slideshow  for pictures and videos. 

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Where I Put My Feet in the Sands and My Head in the Clouds

Cairns (Cans): 
Where I Put My Feet in the Sands 
My Head in the Clouds
Cairns, Australia, home of the Great Barrier Reef, is not only rich in beauty but a wealth of talented teachers, innovative schools, and supportive professionalism. 

While I was able to put my feet in the sand, my mind was whirling in the clouds from my tantalizing school site visits. 

I had the fortunate opportunity to visit Cairns through receiving the Fulbright Professional Development Grant. I visited three very different schools, each with unique qualities, however all with progressive thinking professionals. 

I was warmly and openly welcomed into each school. It was interesting to visit three school settings that are quite different from any of my school visits that I have done in New Zealand or even any schools that I have been to in America. These Cairns area schools are: Freshwater Christian College, Cairns School of Distance Education, and Trinity Anglican School. 

Head in the Clouds
Upon reflection, my craft of teaching has been effected by each staff member, administrator, and instructional coach that I met with and observed in the Cairns area. Some key take-aways from my school visits are as follows:

WALTs for each subject area (Mrs. Dee Wells, Year 1, TAS)
  • Student goals: Students have specific goals that they are able to utilize during their learning process. For example, Johnny (prep/kindergarten student) has a card with three targeted goals for writing. These goals might be “Always use correct spacing”, “Put a full stop at the end of each sentence”, and “Check the word wall for words I know how to spell”. The student then will bring the card to his table when he is working on his writing to remind him of his specific goals. 
  • WALTs- While I have seen these used in New Zealand (“We are learning to”), I noticed that many of the classrooms in Cairns had WALTs in each subject area. The learning goals for reading, writing, math, social/emotional, history, and science are all listed separately with student work samples attached.
  • Students as interviewers and interviewees- In one particular classroom (year 1), while the students were working independently, another student was given permission to “interview” their classmates. The “interviewer” went around the room asking students (with a play microphone)- “What are you doing? Why are doing it? How are you doing it”. This allows students to verbalize what, why, and how they are working on a specific goal/task. 
  • Students need to be in-charge of their learning. I observed students working independently, in small groups, and whole class. I saw students starting the day by reading math vocabulary. I also observed students working collaboratively and supportively with one another in small groups to brainstorm ideas for writing, and youngsters turning and talking about what they would create in their literary reflection window.
  • Students in charge of their own learning- Putting on hard work shorts! (Mrs. Shannon Rankin, Prep, TAS) 
  • Cross-curricular units work! Again and again I observed cross-curricular units of science, math, and the creative arts as springboards for responding to texts and writing prompts. 
  • Collaborative coaching: Using the GROWTH Model (or similar), is imperative to productive and effective colleagueship and conversations. This allows for problem solving using one’s own schema  and allows for teachers to positively make changes for student growth. 
Specific Student Writing Goals (Mrs. Shannon Rankin, Prep, TAS)
  • Of course, the use of assessment is critical to student growth. Specifically, I was given an Emergent Testing Kit at Cairns School of Distance Education that was created by the Far North Queensland Department of Education, Training, and Employment. This will be useful to Kindergarten and Grade 1 teachers within my school district, as well as for students with significant needs and/or who are nonverbal. (A big thank you to Erica Green for all her efforts in the creation of this document). 
  • Affirmation that guided reading is the most effective strategy to teach the process of reading and reading comprehension. I saw the extensive use of book rooms with many different leveled readers. I did not observe and have not observed in NZ any teachers using a basal reader that is published by a big conglomerate- Differentiated Instruction and Guided Reading are the way to go.
Book room selections for guided reading 
  • Support from strong administration that set high expectations for students and teachers is critical for the success of students and for the innovative thinking of teachers. For example, one administrator told me she would like to have her teachers make connections internationally. I started to think about this as a powerful professional learning platform. This same administrator supported an exchange between a teacher at her school and a teacher in Scotland. What an amazing opportunity for educators and for students!
    More WALTs (Mrs. Shannon Rankin, Prep, TAS)

Feet in the Sand

Kuranda Village
Cairns is a wonderful platform that offers visitors the opportunity to be minutes from the rainforest and minutes to beautiful beaches. Cairns, itself, has a lot to offer with shopping, restaurants, and a beautiful Esplanade. There are a lot of backpackers but also lots of very nice hotels and places to get some R&R (which I didn’t really do because there was too much to do!). However, I was able to squeeze in some tourist site seeing between school visits. 
Cairns Infinity Community Pool, The Lagoon- Seamless into the ocean- on the Esplanade

Hot spots included: 

Kuranda Village- 
A village that was started by “hippies” and has grown to a larger village with markets and restaurants. Also,  it is home to a few wildlife sanctuaries. I was able to get up-close-and-personal with kangaroos while they rested in a patch of grass that was not gated. I also was able to hold Frank, my koala friend. Other native Australian animals abounded: wallabies, wombats, crocodiles, gliders, native snakes…

Click to see Kangaroos

Crystal Cascades- 
A short hiking path to swimming holes and amazing waterfalls. The water was refreshing and crystal clean; an amazing opportunity to swim in the rainforest! I could not get over the large old trees with their trunks that wrapped around looking like something out of ‘Alice in Wonderland’! 

Port Douglas- 
An hour drive from Cairns, along some of the most beautiful coastline that I have ever seen, is Port Douglas. This is where the “rainforest meets the coast”. After getting out of Cairns, the road opens up to a magnificent view of blue, turquoise ocean….just stunning. Port Douglas is a very quaint town with some upscale shops, many restaurants, and lots of resorts.

It is also home to 4-Mile Beach with its warm, dive-right in water. 

Great Barrier Reef & Green Island- 
I was able to take a day trip to Green Island (about an hour boat ride) and then over to an outer reef of the Great Barrier Reef. What a trip! Green Island has a resort on it but is also a national park that is protected. It has a few shops and a restaurant but also a breathtaking beach to snorkel and explore.  

Unfortunately, that was the end of breathtaking scenery for a while…the boat ride to the outer reef of the Great Barrier Reef was horrific. Being raised on the water and being on some pretty treacherous seas on all size boats, I didn’t think anything of it when the crew announced it would be very rough seas. I even laughed to myself as the crew started to hand out little white seasick bags…until I had to take one myself. I have never experienced anything like this! I really thought “This is how it is going to end: American teacher dies among Great Barrier Reef tourists”. I mean, there were things falling from the ceiling of the boat, people were incapacitated, passing out, and getting violently ill. A fellow American decided she would not be able to take the boat ride back and paid $350 to helicopter back to Cairns, and I didn’t fault her one bit…it was THAT bad! 

FINALLY, we arrived and although it was not as sunny as I would have liked…I was in the Great Barrier Reef! I dove in and snorkeled as much as possible. There was one resident fish that I was  able to get close to and touch. He was so close I wanted to kiss him, but I held back! Even though the boat ride was pretty gnarly, it was well-worth the trek.  There is nothing like it in the world!


Click to see the video of Great Barrier Reef Snorkel Video 1 and Video 2

One place I did not get to on my trip was the Daintree Rainforest. This is the oldest rainforest in the world! It is an hour and a half from Cairns and I just did not have time. However, do you know what that means? I’ll just have to go back!

Good morning, Cairns!

Crocodiles threatening the swimming

 You've been put on my plate for dinner
(straight up crocodile)!

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Everything I Need to Know I Learned From 
Marie Clay (and Beverley Randell)


Assume Nothing
In working with our hardest-to-teach children, we must regularly assess students to move them forward. One needs to assess, so that there is knowledge about what, how, and why students are learning and acting in certain ways. While concrete evidence is crucial, professional judgements are also profound. Use this evidence and overall teacher judgement to know precisely how to respond to students. 

Roam Around the Known
In life, while it is important to continue to push forward, it also extremely valuable to wade in what one feels confident in-there is a time and place for stretching oneself and there is a time and place for floating in what is comfortable.  In Reading Recovery this is called “Roaming Around the Known”. It is important for students to feel successful and confident. One way to create this is to review and focus on what a child can do, allow him or her to be successful and, at times, allow the activities to be easy. We all need it to be easy sometimes! 

Utilize Strengths
It is important to understand what students know, see these strengths, and build on their current knowledge. From the slightest strengths, a teacher can take small steps to build on learning. (“You know how to hold the book! Hooray! Now let’s think about turning the pages the right way!”).

If What You’re Doing Isn’t Working, Do Something Different
Be humble enough to know when your teaching is not effective and is not allowing the child to be successful. Change your ways, ask for help, allow others to model and observe. Marie Clay’s Reading Recovery requires that teachers visit each others’ classrooms and are observed by their colleagues when they go “going behind the glass” (two way mirror). Reading Recovery teachers are then able to discuss lessons, students, and strategies in a hands-on and real-time approach.

Let People In
Let people into your classroom to observe and give feedback. In a collaborative environment, with positive relationships, this can be extremely powerful. Marie Clay was a pioneer in promoting Professional Learning Communities. ‘Continuing Contact’ is still a requirement of Reading Recovery, which allows teachers to collaborate on a monthly basis, learn from each other, read articles, and discuss students. 

It Takes Every Ounce of Intelligence  (Beverley Randell)

During a recent five hour interview with Beverley Randell, she clearly stated “Teaching reading is hard, it takes every ounce of intelligence you have to think outside the square”.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Research, Research You Are So Fun, 
Research, Research You Should Be Done by Everyone!

OK, I may be an eternal nerd, but the process of completing research has taught me many things, some that just may be applicable to other parts of my life.

It’s tough and sometimes boring: Over the last several months there have been times when I just didn’t want to see that pink highlighter anymore, look at those yellow sticky notes (which are quite expensive here in NZ: $3.99/package), or glance at my pile of articles and books to be read. It seemed like the last 40 pages that I needed to read just lingered (but I did it! I finished the last 40 pages of  "A Third Chance to Learn" while hiding out in bed way too long this morning).

It’s exciting and dynamic: Throughout my two graduate degrees and now researching my capstone project, I have found that reading, questioning, and connecting creates a fervor in me. As I look over all of my readings, the evidence of this excitement is portrayed in multiple underlinings, 10 to 12 exclamation marks after a specific quote, and even an occasional, highly technical, smiley face :) When I can relate to or predict a strategy or outcome (and then when my thoughts are affirmed in the text), that’s when I feel my eyes pop-out-of-my-head and a smile melts across my face. 

It provides eye-opening realizations: I knew I had a passion about teaching youngsters to become literate. I felt the above mentioned happiness during my undergraduate and graduate years as I read course textbooks regarding this topic (again, self-proclaimed nerd). Recently, I was reading about management, creating a positive culture in schools, collaboration, and leadership, and I, again, felt that positive energy. This leads me to questions about my career path, what I am passionate about, and where I see my professional path leading…(PhD, leadership, curriculum work…)

It provides reflection: As I read, read, read, and observed, observed, observed, I also was able to reflect, reflect, reflect. I quietly pondered my own professionalism. Do I provide that support to students? Do I help to create a positive working environment? Do I have high expectations for my students?  Am I that kind of teacher and professional? How will I improve this come September? This provided a nonjudgemental way of individualized professional development. I didn’t need to discuss these questions or my own very blunt answers with anyone. I came to the realization of what I need to do differently and completing this research allowed me to really look at myself and know how to make changes. I also believe this is critical to becoming a better, more refined professional and overall person. 

It’s a never-ending web: My initial inquiry question seemed straightforward, in a nutshell: “What do New Zealand teachers and administrators do when students are not achieving to the appropriate early literacy levels? What is the process of intervention? What support is given to teachers? What strategies are implemented?” While that seemed pretty direct, I came to discover many other aspects of New Zealand schools and started to look at those areas, thus the pile of reading and data grew. I went from the above questions to wondering about teacher collaboration, administrative support in creating a trusting collaborative environment, teacher expectations, differentiation, and even to looking at the history of the New Zealand educational system! As you can imagine my apartment is now labeled and piled with journals and articles on each of those topics. 

Accomplished, But Now What? So I’m feeling good! I spent countless hours reading countless pages, dried up my highlighter and went through several packages of sticky notes. I have compiled more piles, broken down articles, journals, and books into subgroups, labeled everything, copied books, listened to lectures and interviewed gurus, teachers, principals, specialists, interventionists, Ministry of Education professionals, university professors, and curriculum leaders, BUT WAIT! What am I supposed to do now?

While it is quite scary to be at this stage, I am also extremely interested and excited to see where all of this work is going to lead me. I just have to trust that it will all come together and something good and meaningful will come of it; sort of like this little thing called life- I’m not sure where’s it’s going, but I’m trying to make it as meaningful as possible.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Solo South Island Soul Searching: Soul Found

Solo South Island Soul Searching: Soul Found

Ka pū te ruha, ka hao te rangatahi.

(The old net is cast aside, while the new net goes a-catching)

As I set off on a 10 day journey, I did not realize that part of my 'net' or self would be left along the winding roads that I drove for hours and that a new 'net' would be found. When I left my friends at the Franz Joseph Glacier, after stopping to say a few prayers of gratitude at a small Catholic church, and driving through the bush, there was a distinct moment when I found me. At 33 years old, I literally said out loud, "I've found myself" and felt suddenly whole, stable, and sure. Finally, after many years of being alone, I embraced being quiet with myself,  figured out how to truly be kind to myself, and how to enjoy solitude. I warmly accepted the power to decide when and how to spend my time. I sang at the top of my lungs, sat for picnic lunches, stopped for a quick hike, and halted the car 50-odd times to to take one spectacular picture after another... and it didn't bother anyone, just added glory to my experience. Along the way I had enriching conversations with people from around the world: The Netherlands, Scotland, England, Ireland, France, The USA, Malaysia, Japan, and from all over New Zealand. I talked with people who had traveled throughout Southeast Asia, Egypt, Australia, South Africa, Western Europe, Eastern Europe, South America, Nepal, India...The world suddenly became small and attainable. 

                                Sometimes it's frightening to not see the road ahead...

Additionally, around each corner I gasped from the beauty. The pictures in no way capture the stunning grandeur of this 'land of the long white cloud'. Rainbows connected mountains, crystal blue lakes were at the basin of jagged backdrops, waterfalls bellowed over green hills, and lush ecology abounded. 

...But the sun always comes out and guides you to where you are going

As I traveled to the Doubtful Sounds, along the most expensive road in New Zealand, the tour guide explained the new growth of the trees, mosses, and greenery in this way... "What you see is what was here, what is meant to be, and what will forever be" and "The earth will take care of itself, it will nurture itself, rejuvenate, and reinvent itself". What a perfect metaphor for my first solo trip. 

Please enjoy the South Island Slideshow I have put together. Please let me know if you have any questions about the places and pictures. (Slideshow is best if it's not full screen). 

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Ki a Māmā me te aroha nui

Green Lake
Have you ever felt so excited that you quietly smile to yourself in anticipation or you feel radiant as you await an event? This is how I felt as I waited for my mother's arrival. 

Some Island hike (Wellington)
My mom and I visited some stunning sites, and while we may have had a few moments of frustration after several long car rides, I am grateful that I was able to explore beautiful New Zealand with my mom. I am blessed to not only have visited some amazing awe-inspiring vistas, but also to do so with my confidante and friend. We have been very fortunate to have traveled throughout the world together, however the experience of being in a country that is just about as far away as you can go before hitting Antarctica was once in a lifetime! 

When my mom first arrived, she settled in and we explored Wellington a bit. Of course, she planned a birthday celebration for me, we visited with friends, and we planned our Wellington to Auckland trip. 
Hot springs, photo-bombed by some Aussies (on our drive to Rotorua)

This was a different kind of trip, as we weren't visiting buildings from Before Christ or museums that held artistic masterpieces, but we were able to appreciate the magnificence of the world around us. Hiking on Somes Island, swimming in hot springs, walking in the Humarana Springs, tramping in the Okere Falls, all allowed us to enjoy nature in its purest form.  I was proud of my mom, I know these were all things that she has never done before, however she really showed me that she is a woman who will try anything! She also showed me that she appreciates the gifts that Mother Nature has bestowed to us.We haven't spent a large amount of time exploring nature together, therefore it was wonderful to spend a significant amount of time observing the natural world together.
Humarana Springs (Rotorua)
Okere Falls (Rotorua)
After spending a week in Wellington, we began our drive from Wellington to Rotorua.  While in Rotorua highlights included a stop in Lake Taupo, seeing the Huka Falls,walking the Humarana Springs, swimming in hot springs, tramping in the Okere Falls, witnessing the boiling mud pools, experiencing the Mitai Moari Village 
Yes, it was delicious!
and visiting the Blue and Green Lakes. 
Green Lake ~ Blue Lake

After staying in Rotorua for two nights, we traveled the twisty, curvy Pacific Coast Highway to Otama Beach on the Coromandel Coast. Although this road seemed like an endless path, it was well worth the journey. Remote... peaceful... bliss. I'm convinced sleeping to the lapping waves, and on one evening, falling asleep to the pitter-pat of the rain against the tin roof, is the world's way of hugging you. Each day I woke up with a smile on my face. The pure natural beauty refreshed our souls. 

We spent our time collecting seashells, reading, being quiet in the earth's grace, and, of course, solving all of the world's problems! 

View from our bach (as in bachelor ) 

We were sad to leave, but we packed the car and drove to Auckland. On our way we stopped at Cathedral Cove, Hahei, and Hot Water Beach. 
 Hot Water  Beach...when the waves roll in and your feet sink down, it is hard to stay for very long, hot, hot, hot.
 Cathedral Cove- Quite the "tramp" down and back, but well worth it!

Dare I say, I fell in love with another city? We stayed in the charming neighborhood of Ponsonby, in Auckland. The people were helpful, cheerful, and extremely friendly. Although this is a large city we found it to be clean and very easy to get around. There are stunning sites of turquoise water, while also being a very cosmopolitan city. We very much enjoyed Auckland.
                                                   View from lunch on Waiheke Island
On our first day in Auckland we took the 30 minute ferry to Waiheke Island. A charming village, magnificent views, and chic vineyards abound. After wine tasting, we sat on the hillside and marinated in the view of the islands, sea, and the city in the background. 

On our last day, we were able to explore Auckland city proper~ Sky Tower, take away lunch on the waterfront, the Auckland Arts Festival, and an afternoon cocktail whilst listening to live music at America's Cup Marina~ We finished our stay with a lively concert and dance performance in the evening. 
<-----Sky Tower (tried to convince mom to bungee with me)

                                       Auckland Arts Festival

   America's Cup Marina
Moorish architecture of the Civic Theatre
Thank you, mi madre, for visiting, and bringing your energetic and kind spirit with you. Thank you for experiencing new challenges and for witnessing unspoiled natural beauty with me. 


He kotuku rerenga tahi
A white heron flies once
Something very special and unusual has taken place