Resources for uncertain times


Every March, the forsythia tree near our driveway transforms, seemingly overnight, from a brittle bundle of sticks to an explosion of sunny yellow. This year, the bloom corresponded with an onslaught of troubling news about coronavirus, resulting in the closure of our schools and much else in our community.

Like millions around the world, I am mostly homebound for the foreseeable future, compulsively checking news updates, worried about those who are suffering and those who are medically and financially vulnerable.

As I write from my dining room table on the first day of spring, I can see a branch I’ve cut from the forsythia. During this most uncertain of times, that branch in bloom provides me both visual stimulation and some welcome stability. It reminds me of the cycles of nature and the hope of brighter times ahead.

Below I’ve collected some resources that I’ve found useful this week as I’ve searched for ways to help out, support students, and find peace and purpose. Contact me to suggest more…and be well.



Shattering Stereotypes

To continue the progress we’d made on teaching civil discourse earlier this school year, we challenged students to reflect upon and shatter stereotypes.

Our jumping off point was “The Lie,” a powerful video produced by students at a local elementary school, examining untrue stereotypes about religious, racial, and gender groups.   Read more about the video’s production and perception here and here.

After viewing the video, students listed unfair labels or judgments that they had experienced due to their gender, age, religion, race, appearance, national background, or any other characteristic. They completed the sentence “I’m not…” with a label they’d heard, and wrote it on an index card. Here are a few:

I’m not…weak because I’m a girl/from the forest just because I’m African/stupid/unable to speak English/dirty/a terrorist/overly sensitive/ashamed of who I am/mixed-up

Using an activity adapted from one developed by this Alabama teacher, students then displayed the index cards anonymously. Each student selected one of their classmate’s cards to reflect upon in writing, describing how they could help shatter the stereotype by showing the world the truth.

As a school, we created a “We Are” display, filled with characteristics that do describe us. The display is located in the main hallway, greeting guests as they enter the building. We are…proud to be a diverse, accepting school!




I shall return

I am back in the land of reliable Internet, bright lights, functional crosswalks, dependable air-conditioning, consistently flushing toilets, and water I can drink straight out of the tap.

I am missing the land of crazy jaywalkers, uncomfortable “comfort rooms,” boku halo, warm smiles, ubiquitous Jeepneys, endless coastline. I miss being greeted with a smile and a “good morning Ma’am,” pronounced with an accent that made it sound just like “Mom.” I miss feeling that everyone is family.

I am already plotting my return to the Philippines, but I plan to make a few changes next time. During my next trip to the Philippines, I will:

Visit some more places

Even the youngest Filipino can rattle off the “must visit” places of their country: the beaches of Boracay, the unspoiled paradise of Palawan, the mountains and rice terraces of the Cordilleras.

Beautiful Palawan

Beautiful Palawan. Image source: Flickr

Cordillera rice terraces. Image source: Flickr

Cordillera rice terraces. Image source: Flickr

Engage more directly with students

Much of our time was devoted to official meetings with government representatives and administrators. Next time, I’d bypass most of those meetings in favor of interaction with students. Less schmooze, more kid time.

Selfie with students

Selfie with students

Spend longer in one school

I appreciated the opportunity to see the range of public and private schools in the Philippines, but I longed to spend more than a few hours at a time in one school. Ideally, during my next visit I could spend most of my time getting to know the students of a single school better.

Leganes students (picture by Sana Mahmood)

Leganes students (picture by Sana Mahmood)

Shoes outside the classroom at Leganes National High School (picture by Sana Mahmood)

Shoes outside the classroom at Leganes National High School (picture by Sana Mahmood)

Be more cautious about food

All of the endless meals and snacking in the Philippines finally took their toll. I ended up combating tummy trouble during the last week of my journey. Next time, I’d heed the advice of medical professionals and stick to cooked foods and bottled water only. Raw fruits and vegetables are tempting but are probably to blame for my distress. Don’t worry – a dose of antibiotics when I returned home cured me!

Hold the halo?

Hold the halo?

Learn more of the local language

I visited the Philippines believing that most residents spoke Filipino and English. While it’s true that those two are taught in school, in reality the languages of the Philippines encompass a much more diverse range. In fact, over 100 languages are spoken at home. In the area we visited, most residents speak the Ilongo language. While learning a few words and phrases of Filipino was helpful, even better would be mastering enough Ilongo to navigate a conversation.

Students writing in English, their third language (picture by Sana Mahmood)

Students writing in English, their third language (picture by Sana Mahmood)

Visit old friends and make new ones

I will never forget the friendships I made in the Philippines, especially the kind teachers and students of Leganes National High School. I want to visit them once again, and I also would like to meet more of the friendliest people in the world.

During World War Two, General Douglas MacArthur made a promise to the people of the Philippines: I shall return. And he did. And I shall.

With new friends

With new friends in Leganes

Saying goodbye...for now

Saying goodbye…for now



Among the students at Makati Science High School.

Among the students at Makati Science High School. Can you spot the teacher?

We have now been in the Philippines for three days, but it feels much longer. Each day is jam-packed with experiences. In our time in the Manila Metro area, we visited three schools. Each offered a warm welcome and a different perspective on education in the Philippines.

St. Paul College Pasig is a Catholic all-girls school with over 4000 students in grades K-10. Everywhere we saw encouragement and a positive attitude, from an English teacher who radiated joy to the students who spoke eloquently about a school where they felt loved and inspired. The school’s mission statement, which each staff member could recite by heart, summed it up perfectly: nurture giftedness, shape character, fire excellence.

St. Paul College Pasig welcome sign.

St. Paul School welcome sign

English teacher at St. Paul College.

English teacher at St. Paul School

St. Paul students

St. Paul students

At Ninoy Aquino Technical High School, over 5000 students learn trades such as dressmaking and electronics. Students and staff repeatedly commented that the school was like a family. We saw evidence of close and nurturing relationships both in the structure of the school and in the interactions between and among students and staff. The students and staff even had a habit of finishing each other’s sentences, like many a family around the world!

"I love this school so much."

“I love this school so much.”

English lesson at Ninoy Aquino Technical High School.

English lesson at Ninoy Aquino Technical High School.

Across town at Makati Science High School, we met students who passed competitive entrance exams for the chance to attend a top-notch public school with a rigorous curriculum. In some cases, the students commuted up to two hours each way, stretching out an extended school day even longer. One student I met described how she had trained herself to study on the Jeepney (jeeps converted to small city buses), no matter how crowded the vehicle or bumpy the ride, during her 90 minute commute. Again, we witnessed encouraging, engaging, energetic teachers. A smaller class size, around 30 compared to 50 in the other two schools, allowed teachers to incorporate more movement and interaction in their lessons.

Science lesson at Makati Science High School

Science lesson at Makati Science High School

In a panel discussion with local educational leaders, one of the TGC fellows asked what strengths the leaders saw in their teachers. They cited dedication, resilience, and teaching from the heart. From what I saw, I couldn’t agree more.


Philippines questions

The past two weeks have focused on the end of the school year and cleaning out my classroom. An abundance of snow days this winter extended our school year to June 15. Once we said our farewells to this year’s students, it was on to Project Move-Out. After twelve years in Room 203, I will be relocating next school year.

Down to just a few essentials

Processed with VSCOcam with k1 preset

Room 203, all cleared out007

Although I will stay at the same school, I will now teach just one class and will spend the rest of my day coordinating our school’s Middle Years Programme (MYP). My new role offers many exciting opportunities to integrate the knowledge and skills I’ve gained over the last year through the Teachers for Global Classrooms Program. I depart for the Philippines in just three days! I will spend three weeks visiting cultural sites and schools in the country, both in Manila and Iloilo City on the island of Panay.


My students in the United States had many questions about life in the Philippines. I invited my students to write down questions and a little bit of information about themselves to share with students in the Philippines.

Questions for Philippines students

We were fortunate to have five experts among us – students who had lived and attended school in the Philippines and were willing to tell us about their experiences and teach us a little Tagalog. We look forward to learning even more about daily life, school, similarities, and differences.