Break = Reflection Time

Ok. I’ve allowed myself 30 minutes to blog (I’ve got the timer going)! If you are like me, then the hardest part isn’t always starting, but in all the editing you do afterwards 🙂

This year, I have joined St. Clement’s School and it has been a great change. The growth and learning is exponential. Though, to be transparent, this year has really challenged and stretched me. I may have had a couple serious, though thankfully short-lived existential crises where I question whether I can simultaneously be a “good” parent and teacher.

In our last face to face session, we were reminded that sometimes our action plans are ones we know cannot be achieved in a single year. Our HMW questions are often those that are changing, evolving and achieved over the long-term. And I find myself going back to the HMW that I posed back when I was a season 8 participant–HMW effectively implement problem-based learning?

As I reflect, I see how I was laying some important groundwork as a season 8 participant to implement problem-based learning more comprehensively. Some of what that looked like included:
-doing the research on PBL
-taking in the wisdom and knowledge of my colleagues and other Cohorters
-doing the small- and large-scale testing in the classroom
-and collecting data from students and teachers on what’s been working and what can be adjusted

This year at St. Clement’s, with the amazing support of our department leader and administration, I have had the opportunity to implement problem-based learning full scale. And wow. There are rich math conversations occurring, students collaborating with one another, students co-constructing and taking ownership of their learning, and of course, problem solving. And this is all happening while social-distancing within the classroom. I’m excited for all the possibilities when movement and physical spaces are more flexible!

There is so much that can be optimized yet, and that perhaps is a post for the future. But for now, it has been very rewarding to know that the path you started out on a few years back is still a solid one.

Breaking Silence

Han describes the collective feelings of bitterness, grief and shame that Korean nationals harbour as a result of their long history with colonialism. It is so deeply internalized by its people that this affect is often passed down intergenerationally. In “Minor Feelings,” Cathy Park Hong (CPH) points out that this range of emotions can be felt by any marginalized group that has a shared history with imperialism. For the Asian diaspora in North America, these negative emotions interact with what CPH calls “American optimism,” leaving us to navigate unrelenting tensions in “a static of cognitive dissonance.” She writes:

“You are told ‘Things are so much better,’ while you think, Things are the same. You are told, ‘Asian Americans are so successful,’ while you feel like a failure. This optimism sets up false expectations that increase feelings of dysphoria.” 

Just like han, these “minor feelings” are “non-cathartic” and deeply internalized. So much so, that to experience these minor feelings is like laughing along without acknowledging the joke’s on you. Minor feelings manifest in our quietly enduring prejudice, while simultaneously questioning the validity of our experiences. It has manifested in my exoskeleton of “okayness,” beneath which a storm of negative emotions churn.

But, we all reach a breaking point. And I think I’ve reached mine. As I watch all the gut wrenching violence against members of our marginalized communities, I feel all my rage and grief fracture and burst through my armored exterior. It’s taken me many years to realize there’s great power in sitting with these huge feelings and giving them the respect they deserve. But, the longer I sit with them, the more all-consuming they become. Until the violence is all I can think about. Until the rage and grief is all I can feel. And I don’t want to be consumed. So, I’m going to transform my han, my minor feelings, into my power. I will no longer silently endure. 

Every night for the past two weeks, I’ve read my son “A Boy Like You” by Frank Murphy. In it, there are two lines that always make me pause.

Fear and bravery are partners. You can’t be brave without first being afraid.”

The very definition of bravery incorporates fear: “the ability to do something that frightens one.” And here’s where I need to be vulnerable. Because, if I’m being honest with myself, I’m harbouring so much fear. Fear of saying or asking the wrong thing. Fear of rejection. Fear of judgement. Fear of threatening my relationships. Fear of damaging my reputation. Fear of disappointing others. The choice to be brave is not the easy path. As Brené Brown puts it: 

“You’re going to know failure if you’re brave with your life.”

My journey to living bravely will thus be inextricably linked to vulnerability. Evolving past my han, shedding my exoskeleton, breaking my silence. All this makes me feel extremely vulnerable. But it has to be done, no matter how safe my defenses make me feel. The stakes are too high, not just because of what is happening in our communities now, but because I look toward my son’s future. In the same way han can be passed from my mother to her daughter, courage can be passed from this mother to her son. If I don’t choose courage over comfort now, how will I teach my son to do the same later?

A Snowflake Post

A short, small post to wrap up the year. With 2020 ending, I wanted to compose a HMW to guide my learning in the new year: How might we become culturally responsive and JEDI-driven math educators? 

As someone starting to learn how to be a more culturally responsive and JEDI-driven mathematics teacher, I have found “Dismantling Racism in Mathematics Instruction” a very helpful reflection tool. It “…provides teachers an opportunity to examine their actions, beliefs, and values around teaching mathematics.” And also to “identify next steps in their antiracist journey as a math educator.”

Math teachers who have chosen the JEDI stream: if in the new year, you find renewed energy to dive into this and, like me, are beginning this journey, I welcome you to join me in this self-reflection. I would love to share insights and learnings, and support one another in this space.

Said I would keep it short. But, I’d like to finish by taking a moment to practice some gratefulness. I’m so thankful to each member of Cohort 21 for helping us stay connected during a time that has felt so isolating at times, creating safe and brave space for us to honestly share struggles and fears, celebrating our victories both big and small, all this in addition to the many other day to day responsibilities. You are, each one of you, such gems. Wishing you all a wonderful last week and winter break.

The Implicit Bias Test

Recently, I took Harvard’s implicit bias test and found that I have “a slight automatic association for American with European American and Foreign with Asian American.”

I was born and raised in Ottawa, where I was one of two Asian Canadian students in my entire grade all throughout elementary school (what up, Ricky Yamamoto?!). English is my first language and growing up, my parents actively encouraged us to “assimilate” into Canadian culture. Only speak English outside of the home. Make Canadian friends. Don’t hang out with Asian friends outside of school. Ok cool, I got into that. On weekends though, I was allowed to be exclusively Asian and participate in my Korean heritage and culture. Not confusing at all for a young girl! Saturdays, my mother would coerce me into attending Korean language school. Unfortunately, I was an incessant whiner (apparently, kids are really good at this?) and after enough complaining she finally gave in and let me quit (one of my biggest regrets by the way). At home though, she would often speak to me in Korean and I would respond with limited skill (“I’m hungry” “I’m full” “I’m tired” “I want to eat candy” “Why not?!”). Every Christmas, we had Korean Santa dole out gifts to all the children at our church. Wait a second, Santa was never Korean in the Coca-Cola ads! And at that young age, I prided myself on knowing early on that Santa was a fraud (I felt very mature also in that I never told any of the other kids at school that I knew the truth!). And. I also have more than a few memories of students asking “what are you?” as if I were an extraterrestrial, of young boys on bikes calling me “chink” and telling me to “go back to China!”

All that to say, I guess I’m not terribly surprised that I associate “foreign” with “Asian American.” Given my upbringing and experiences, I considered myself more than a little foreign, even if that’s not the word my young brain would have conjured. It has made me wonder how and when I have unwittingly made students in my class feel foreign, unwelcome, or less than. And though the introspection hasn’t been easy, and has revealed just how much hard work I need to do, it’s also sparked the light at the end of the tunnel. Because the difficulty with identifying our unconscious bias is just that…it’s unconscious. Having even just a bit more awareness means I can take steps to fight that implicit bias. But, a reminder to be kind to myself. Mistakes will and have been made. I will forgive myself and continue moving forward. One step at a time.

Reflections on Mindsets and Responses for Pandemic Leadership

In the past few weeks, I’ve been learning more about, and reflecting on the topic of pandemic leadership. What are some mindsets and strategies that might help us navigate the challenges of this crisis? And I wanted to share just a few key reflections and learnings so far.

1. Pandemic leadership across the board.

It’s become very clear to me that we must value and expect leadership from everyone, not just from the top. Every teacher will likely take on a larger degree of autonomy and shared responsibility in navigating the challenges of teaching this year. It’s okay and necessary to rely on one another to share the burden of the incredible amount of problem-solving and innovation that must be done.

“Distributed leadership has become the default leadership (Harris, 2020).”

“Leadership is not a title but an action, a behaviour, a practice, a doing and a way of being, and the current scenario has provided a crucible for teacher agency, agility, resilience and innovation…Teacher leadership…is happening now as teachers work to find teaching and learning solutions for their students within the parameters of their particular national, local, school and classroom contexts. (Netolicky, 2020).”

2. Dump perfection, hold onto flexibility and forgiveness.

“The current disruption to education has schools and education systems considering the humanity of education, rather than its measurable outcomes…In a crisis such as the one in which we are currently existing, perfection is the enemy of progress (Netolicky, 2020).”

I’m a classic case of “paralysis through analysis.” I feel this intense need to perfect every detail of every lesson/activity/project/etc. weeks and months in advance. My tendency is to also expect that same level of quality from others. I don’t think the right approach is to completely forego the high standards we teachers set for ourselves and our students. But, I think we’ve shifted to approaching everyday with flexibility and forgiveness in mind…I won’t be able to plan that far in advance, it’s okay for things to just be “good,” and I need to be kind to myself, my colleagues, and my students when work/focus/etc. doesn’t meet pre-COVID expectations. @kobrien‘s post about getting rid of shoulds really nails it too.

3. Wellness isn’t just a fad.

My fear is that as schools enter into a “groove,” focus will shift back towards teacher/student performance. I think we need to ensure that wellness stays at the forefront for our schools and communities, even once the pandemic is over. Only when I take care of myself can I take care of others.

4. Write a user manual for yourself.

Since opportunities to meet in person are so limited, write a handbook on yourself to help others understand how to best work with you. Add fun facts that help people get to know you. I got this idea from my husband–his company regularly uses this strategy to build trust and authenticity within their remote teams. As an example, here is the Steph Letham Guidebook (she is an amazing math teacher at my school and gave me permission to share this with you all).

5. “Subversion” might be necessary for innovation.

For whatever reason, you might be faced with roadblocks to innovating in ways that are necessary for pandemic teaching. In Cult of Pedagogy’s interview with Melinda Anderson, Anderson states that subversion can be as small an act as finding a resource that really resonates with your students. Her interview touches on how she uses subversion to bring more inclusivity and equity to her classrooms, but also rings very true for our reality right now.

6. Short and frequent check ins.

The more I level with friends, family and colleagues, the more I realize that every. single. one. of us. is struggling somehow. Speaking of time, it’s also at a serious premium right now. But, checking in with colleagues doesn’t have to take long and can make a huge difference. Short, frequent communications with friends, family and colleagues really help me feel like there is continuity to my relationships. When that closeness is retained even through the pandemic, I’ve been able to rely on those relationships to help steer me through my rough days.

That’s all for now! I would love to hear what mindsets or strategies you have found to be or think would be effective right now!


EDIT: I wrote this post before attending yesterday’s webinar with Grant Lichtman. Wow. I walked away with so many more lessons and insights on effective leadership through crisis. If you haven’t already, this is a must watch.

Frances Frei’s Three Pillars of Leadership

Bitmoji Image

I’ll start by saying I’m now a fangirl of Frances Frei (it only took a couple podcasts/interviews). She is a Harvard Business School professor with an incredible amount of grit and ambition. She is unapologetically authentic (though she admits to sometimes struggling with this) and serves as a wonderful example of strong female leadership today.


In her TED interview, Frei outlines three pillars necessary for a healthy work culture–trust, love and belonging.

  1. Trust, Frei states, relies on a triangle of authenticity, logic and empathy. We have to have faith that we are interacting with the authentic selves of our leadership, that they have a rigorous and sound logic, and that they deeply care about our success. sourceIn this Harvard Business Review article, Paul J. Zak summarizes his research on the effects of high trust in the workplace:
  2. Love is conveyed in the setting of high expectations simultaneously experienced with the deep devotion of our leaders to our success. As Frei put it, it’s not “tough love,” but rather “tough and love.”
  3. Belonging is achieved when we set conditions for more people and more varied people to achieve and thrive. The goal is not to take anything away from what already exists, but to broaden it. Frei also notes that the phrase “diversity and inclusion” should in fact be “inclusion and diversity.” Inclusion, she feels, begets diversity and not the other way around. At first, I thought she might be unnecessarily splitting hairs and thought this might not always be true of schools since, as a teacher, you don’t usually choose who is in your classroom (but I’m definitely not the expert here!).As we think about DEI in our classrooms, I pose this question to you: Do you agree with Frei’s viewpoint that inclusion must come first? Why or why not? Would love to hear your answers in the comments below.

I’m really looking forward to delving deeper in her book (co-written with Anne Morriss)
Unleashed,The Unapologetic Leader’s Guide to Empowering Everyone Around You 

My last thought on these learnings is this: The challenge right now is how to build up and maintain these pillars remotely. Following posts will contain some reflections on this.


Re-thinking How I Teach Math. Part 1: The question, the rationale and student opinion.

In part 1, I will focus on the student side and changes that have been occurring in my own practice. In part 2, I will focus on data and conclusions collected from math teachers at Crestwood Preparatory College and discuss what I think this means for the department as a whole.

I’m going to cut to the chase and pose THE Question:

How might we build capacity in math teachers to:

  1. determine the best balance between PBL/inquiry vs. content? 
  2. implement it in meaningful and effective ways?

The Rationale

If I’ve spoken to you about my journey before, then you already know I went on a bit of a research kick after attending Michael Moore’s (@mmoore) PD last year on observations and conversations. During that session, I had some of the most influential discussion to date on what math teaching needs to look like right now–that is, problem-based, inquiry-focused and student-centered. There were several teachers who were implementing what I now believe are elements of best practice in their own classrooms. I followed that up with a great discussion with Lisa Dickinson (@ldickinson) on how she implements problem-based learning (PBL) at RSG. It was from her that I looked into Carmel Schettino and that, in turn, led to me an incredible wealth of information and resources (

So, the question wasn’t if PBL and inquiry learning were important and necessary elements of teaching math today. The question was, how on earth do I do this effectively? And how do I help others start doing this effectively? On top of that, I wanted more opportunities for students to collaborate–formally and informally. So, a second major question at the time was how to infuse collaborative learning so that it became a seamless and natural part of math learning.

Subsequent information collected from conversations with other teachers (thank you Jenn Gravel @jgravel l for sharing your ideas and successes in using whiteboards in the classroom) and from additional research indicated there was a real impact of having students work at whiteboards. Peter Liljedahl found it’s easy to implement, effects are felt immediately, there is long-term buy-in and grade level doesn’t seem to affect this retention. See his paper Building Thinking Classrooms here:

So, last summer, we got all the math classrooms retrofitted with more whiteboards. Whiteboards for you! Whiteboards for you! Whiteboards for youu!!!! It was my Oprah moment.

Data and Conclusions Drawn from Student Interviews

On Collaboration:

The 6 students I interviewed all commented positively with regards to collaborative work and whiteboards. They all:

-enjoyed working in groups to discuss solutions and assist one another
-preferred working out challenging problems together at the whiteboards, rather than at desks
-felt it was a good change from lectures or independent work
-expressed wanting more group-focused whiteboard activities in a variety of capacities (problem-solving, review, homework take-up, during lessons)

YESSSS!!!!! I knew what the research said, but I honestly didn’t anticipate it would have such a positive effect on every student I talked to. I was VERY excited by this. 

On Problem-Solving:

Student comments here were less clear. The majority of interviewees couldn’t recall experiences where they really enjoyed problem-solving in math class. A few linked it back to collaborative problem-solving that they’ve done at the whiteboards (which was really good to hear). However, this general lack of knowing, pointed to a gaping hole in my math teaching. Students don’t have favourite experiences related to problem-solving because they haven’t done it, or they didn’t realize they were doing it (that messaging then is on me), or did and it was “MEH.”

So. There is a lot of work to be done here. But, also TONS of possibilities!!

Action Plan Outcomes and To do’s:

  1. Continue the course with regular whiteboard use as a means for collaboration and PBL/inquiry-learning.
  2. Take PBL in my grade 12 data management class to the next level. The plan is to have students pose a big question or take on a large problem that will guide all their learning in the second term (collecting, organizing data, one- and two-variable stats, perhaps even throw an interview with an expert in the mix). I’ll use the gold standard PBL wheel by PBLworks to guide me ( I have Robert Porteus @rporteous, Holly Jepson-Fekete @hjepson, and Anthony Chuter @achuter to thank for their guidance and encouragement in taking on this risk (I’m a paralysis by analysis person, you see).
  3. Continue tracking student opinion and insights along the way.

Final Thoughts

I kind of feel like I may have bitten off more than I can chew? This is definitely going to be a long journey, one that far outlasts the year. I need to be okay with the idea that not everything will be perfect. I also need to practice what I preach and embrace the failure as much as the success! But, despite the low key dread, I’m really excited about how my practice has already changed and how it will change in the future. 

Find out if I figured out how to blog(ish)! My Power of Three Reflection.

I just realized that this, in fact, is my SECOND post. People, this is why I gave myself a 3 out of 10 on the blogging proficiency front during yesterday twitter chat T-T Well, without further ado, I present to you, my second post!

Reflections from our first face to face:
I hadn’t the faintest idea what to expect from the first face to face meeting. It can be really healthy to go into something without any expectations though. There was no priming with the day’s full schedule e-mailed in advance and so I was made more open to the experiences of the day than I might have otherwise been. I imagine now this was done intentionally–if it wasn’t, well done and keep the new recruits on their toes next year too!

There were a few things that made a big impact on me:

  • Within the first half hour of arriving at York School, I had conversations with so many people that I can barely count them on both my hands. Everyone, both new and returning, was incredibly warm and inviting. You could tell that there was this excitement in the air for learning and collaborating. It was palpable.
  • Facilitators, coaches and mentors, you are all amazing. For every question or challenge, someone had an answer or could direct me to someone who did, zero to sixty in 2.5 seconds.
  • You guys weren’t lying about snacks, coffee and tea galore. It was a bit of a slow morning for me, but being able to caffeinate and carb-load all day really helped keep me in the game. 

A couple suggestions for improvement:

  • I would love a re-usable name tag for all the face to face sessions. That would really help out with that one or two “heyyyy youuu” scenarios.
  • A few more 5 minutes breathers between activities would be nice. I drink A LOT of water, if you get what I mean 😉
  • The large group discussion (based on how long we’ve been teaching and age) were great ideas, with a lot of incredible conversation. However, I had a lot of trouble hearing everyone and think that creating smaller sub-groups for easier conversation might be worth trying next year.

Now, for the Power of Three:
I believe the three most urgent needs for my students are the following:

  1. Learning to work collaboratively
  2. Being resilient
  3. Developing problem-solving, application, critical thinking skills

There has been a lot of conversation with my fellow math teachers. Formal interviews with students have not yet been completed. Up to this point, these are my 3 top insights:

  1. Teachers find that using the whiteboards regularly is pretty easy. Depending on how one wants to use them, incorporating white boards can be very low effort, easy to just drop into a class and flexible
  2. After visiting teachers in the classroom and conferencing with them, it seems that my original vision of a 1:1 ratio of socratic method vs. inquiry and problem-based teaching was unrealistic. For both teachers and students alike, re-thinking how we teach and learn, then also implementing that, needs to be rolled in incrementally. We also need to leave a lot of room for input, more re-thinking, and revision.
  3. Students are starting to buy-in and enjoy using the whiteboards as a way to work collaboratively. They’re starting to ask for it in class as a way to break the class up and change pace. Though, there has been some frustration voiced at not being able to copy everything from the whiteboards down in their notes. I might need to be clearer about when it is and isn’t necessary to have a hard copy of it.

I’m looking forward to finishing up formal interviews with students to get more of their input on where they’d like to see collaborative work and inquiry learning go!

My best learning experience

c21_logo_mediumWelcome to you Cohort 21 Blog. This journal is an integral part of your Cohort 21 experience. Here you will reflect, share , collaborate  and converse as you move through the C21 Action Plan process. 

This is your first post and an opportunity to share a little bit about yourself as a learner and leader. Please respond the to the following prompts below:

1) Reflect on your own personal learning journey and K-12 education. Identify one learning experience that you can point to as having made a significant impact on some element of your own growth and development. It could be that teacher and subject that really sparked significant growth or a trip that opened your eyes to a whole new world or way of thinking or a non-catastrophic failure that you learned so much from.  Briefly describe the learning experience and identify the various supports, structures, mindsets and relational ingredients that were put in place by the teacher or facilitator that directly contributed to your growth and success. 

In highschool, I learned the importance of building good relationships from my cross country coach, Coach Reeks. We had a team of several dozen students, but he would always carve out time to speak with every student and get to know each one of them. Reeks got to know me so well, and when someone knows you, you build incredible trust. So, when we set goals, I trusted that he would help me be ambitious without being reckless. And when we did those grueling double workout weeks (two workouts a day), I trusted in Reeks’ coaching plan. His style rubbed off on all of us because we, in turn, made a point to build good relationships with each other. 

2) What is the one Learning skill (MOE) or Approach to Learning (IB ATL) that you feel is MOST important in this day and age? How do you intentionally build it into your curriculum and develop it in your students throughout the year?

One learning skill that I’m focusing on building into my classroom is collaboration. I’m as guilty as the next person for not thinking “math class” as the most natural setting in school to see great collaboration at work. This year, I’m challenging myself to plan opportunities for students to work collaboratively every class, which a focus on using non-permanent vertical surfaces. A few of these opportunities include:

-inquiry prompts posed at the beginning of a lesson to have students start thinking about new concepts
-problem sets that can be on both familiar or new concepts, of varying degrees of difficulty
-group projects (e.g. creating a unique probability game, making a video that teaches a concept, putting together an assessment review)

The first two of these opportunities require students to work in small groups at whiteboards. I’m planning to assign specific roles (e.g. scribe, manager, presenter, planner) so students have varied types of interaction with one another.

I’d be thrilled if, at the end of the year, students walked away feeling that collaborating is as natural a thing to do in math as in any other class.

3) Insert an image below that best captures the essence of that Learning Skill or ATL. (Click on the “Helpful WordPress Video Tutorials” link in the left hand sidebar to learn how to insert it)

collaboration puzzle pieces

Photo from: