Two Words


These are the two words I use often, but seldom reflect about.

Thank you for the gift of music.
Thank you for times of rest.
Thank you for times of work.
Thank you for entrusting me to teach my students – every one of them.
Thank you for friends who can grieve with me in pain.
Thank you for allowing me to learn.
Thank you for times of failure.
Thank you for my family who don’t penalize me for these failures.
Thank you for the gift of laughter.
Thank you for the bounty fullness we can enjoy.
Thank you for our children who cause us to be better parents.
Thank you for freedom.
Thank you for allowing teachers to come together to think and make learning better.
Thank you for all of life.

Still Healing

Photo by Slagheap

Silently, students walk out of their classrooms, waiting for younger grades to file out. Many of them do not even know the significance of 9/11 that has changed the world nine years ago because they were not born yet. But even the youngest students walked in silence, feeling the weightiness of the reason why we were gathering around the flag pole.

We stood in silence, watching two students hoist the flag to the peak and then lowered to half-staff. This verse of America, the Beautiful came to mind:

O beautiful for heroes proved
In liberating strife.
Who more than self their country loved
And mercy more than life!
America! America!
May God thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness
And every gain divine!

We remember.

May the healing never stop.

For the Love of It: Sing!

I can’t hear a thing right now.

I’m standing outside of a high school auditorium during the intermission of Project Philly concert. The foyer area is filled with vibrant noise of about 500 concert attendees – they have a great reason to be excited.

One of music teachers in my PLN, @thomasjwest, had tweeted out about this group and his involvement sometime during this summer. I remember reading about its history and reasons behind this group, I wanted to attend their annual concert.

A cappella singing is brutally hard, I have to be admit. There’s very little room to hide inconsistent intonation, messy harmonic changes, or colorless dynamic levels. But a cappella singing is also wonderfully powerful as it  brings everyone’s attention to the human voice and nothing else.

The five-year old Project Philly consisted of two performing groups, Project Pewter and Project Crimson. Each ensemble had uniquely different personalities and song sets. But they shared one prominent interest: SINGING.

I know, it sounds ridiculously obvious – or is it?

Other than in popular collegiate circles, it isn’t everyday that one sees a handful of young people get together to sing. This is how Project Philly got its start: 17 singers – 17 people who missed a cappella singing – got together, making their own song arrangements, running the rehearsals, and volunteering their houses (or their parents’ since many of them look like they are just out of high school!) for weekly rehearsals. Five years later, this group has grown into membership of 75.


This got me thinking. Just like how my neighbor makes time to play in a community flag football team a few times a week, or like some ladies getting together to scrapbook monthly, these young people get together for the sheer love of singing. Songs are a part of who they are. Singing is who they are.

I briefly said hi to @thomasjwest and found out that most of these singers have sung in high schools or colleges and just missed singing so much. I am so glad that they had such great experiences in their youth that left them wanting more.

I really enjoyed the concert. The ensembles made good connection with the audience and the music. A few  arrangements were just too difficult for the group and their sound suffered because of it. But these are quickly forgotten by other songs that captivated us with beautiful balance of sounds – sounds that made us wish we were singing with them. The concert was about good music, good singing, and sharing a passion for building communities through music. One of my favorite song arrangements was Michale Jackson’s Rock with You. Great job, @tomjwest for a fun arrangement! Project Pewter sounded really good!

Music teacher in me couldn’t help, but think about the teachers/directors who instilled a love of singing in these singers. Whoever it was from their elementary, middle, or high schools, has helped them to find their passion. Gave me a lot to think about.

Check out their site. If you’re a local to Philly, come out to their concert next year. Project Philly connects well with its community by raising funds for arts scholarship and partnering with Philabundance (local food bank). After hearing them and learning about them, you just might end up singing with them.

I want to thank Philly Project for its passion and love for music and for their willingness to share it with us.

Wouldn’t it be great for my students to grow up and take up a hobby like this?

~ Yoon

You might also be interested to read:

Tom West’s blog entry: The A Capella Project Philadelphia: A Love Story

Reflection of Gratefulness

(I wrote this post as a guest blogger for The Inspired Classroom, June 19, 2010.)

I want to first thank Elizabeth for inviting me to share a little bit of my thoughts here. I am so fortunate to have people like her in my network to learn from.

I am on day #4 of my summer vacation. It’s very early – my body is still in school mode. I am enjoying the quietness of the morning and the time to think about my year.
I just finished the 10th year of teaching and it has been the most rewarding year.
I have learned the most.

It all started with working with a new teaching partner. Some adjectives that come to mind that describe him are energetic, passionate, funny, and creative. We worked together every single day, seeing each other teach, being sharpened by one another. It was amazing to watch the joy of music making grow in our school because I had a partner who passionately loved seeing children make music. I had been missing this kind of collaboration for past 5 years. I really appreciate Mr. B.

Thanks to our school’s push on tech integration, I was able to join a committee of teachers from other independent schools to learn about technology in the classroom. One of the best learning experiences happened through Twitter, yes, the micro-blogging social media platform. Through Twitter, I was able to be a part of Professional Learning Network (PLN). Following people, or having people follow me was just strange at first. I was not sure what Twitter was supposed to do for me. So my start was slow. But reading some of the tweets, I knew I had to find my way to be a part of this network: the tweets I’m talking about were of great resources, blog posts, and articles that I would not have come across easily. So my first tweets were questions. I asked questions to Twitter handles I did not know. These handles turned out to be a group of great educators and people who genuinely love sharing their knowledge and resources with tens of thousands of people. Through their generosities of time and knowledge, I learned to network. I learned to use very useful web 2.0 tools with my students. More importantly, I learned that I do live in a big world, but thanks to technology, I get to be in touch with it daily. I enjoy learning from them! I am looking forward to this summer and learning much from my PLN. To this date, I have enjoyed collaborating with teachers from many countries, working on projects online. They have shown me how great learning takes place in this community.

Excited to introduce cool apps and tools I learned from my PLN, I eagerly thought of ways to integrate them into my lessons. During this journey, though, I learned something special: that these tools really served my students and highlighted their strengths. There were many times I was struck by my students’ poignant thoughts as I read their blog posts, responses or listened to VoiceThreads. I am so proud! My students brought their imagination and heart into their projects. Many of the students have also expressed how they liked having the freedom to choose how they were going to use the tool in a project. Many of them experimented in different ways to use the tool and assessed for themselves what worked best. Projects like song-writing or storytelling (slideshow, movies, or book-making) reflected my students’ personalities, their hard work and creativity. Here are some examples:
Movie UP: Discussing life-issues presented in the movie, a study of theme and variations (sound track) and naming a classical piece used in a scene (click to enlarge):

UP Discussion on VoiceThread

UP Discussion using VoiceThread

Students’ reflection and my comment after watching Eric Whitacre’s Virtual Choir (a YouTube video) on their blogs:

What I learned by using these tools is that blogging or using VoiceThread for discussions provides additional thinking time for students. In a traditional classroom setting, I can throw out a question and expect the usual participating students to answer. In these particular platforms, however, students showed that they took time to reflect and responded thoughtfully. I am very thankful for many great discussions, listening and reflecting time my students and I had this year.

Our year wasn’t all-tech all year around! We sang a lot (I am a choir teacher), played guitars, played games through songs students are learning (fun belongs in the classroom), and discussed our role as responsible stewards of our planet. I am particularly proud of my 3rd graders who co-wrote an original song, Go Green! for our school’s Earth week. I was blown away by the way they brainstormed ideas for us to live by. While they sang, the 5th graders used their homemade vegetable/recycled item instruments. Students were proud of their work. So was I!

Now, I find my heart full of gratefulness. I am learning that when I create a breathable, fun, purposeful learning space, students’ learning experiences exceed my expectation. Learning and teaching isn’t easy. But I am grateful for people and resources that are available to me. The more I learn, I feel like I don’t know much!

I guess I better go and learn some more. :-) I can’t wait for next school year!

Celebrating You – my heart-felt words for 2 students

{I gave this speech during the 2010 commencement at our school as we recognized graduating students}

I have had the privilege of teaching this graduating class for many years. I am proud of who they have become today. So congratulations, 8th graders!

Before they graduate, however, I would like to recognize two students who have demonstrated their excellence & passion for music.

The first student is like a ninja in training. He takes lessons and learns from masters (his piano teacher, his Dad, & me) & and learns well. He practices a lot – but one would never know since he does it discretely. When he practices piano or guitar, he ends up practicing a piece until he gets it right. As he builds his skills during the practice, he would check in with the”masters” to get their approval or more of their insight.
He truly loves music.
To this student, I would like to say this: I hope you continue making music and share your love for it with a greater audience.
Music is something you love, something you enjoy, something that is part of who you are. Connect with others by sharing your music. Share it while it’s in infancy, adolescence, and maturity. You will only learn more. Thank you for sharing this part of you with me and your class. I am proud of you for singing in the concert choir for 2 years, playing the guitar in chapels and in concerts and playing Bach on the piano. I will remember you by your rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody which you learned well for your final project! You are an exceptional young man. Congratulations, _____! Here’s to a great journey!

* * * *

If I was a fortune teller, I would have failed in my business because I would have missed predicting this student’s growth.
I don’t know what started his interest in music. Was it DDR? Maybe Guitar Hero?
What ever it was, once this young man started playing the guitar, he changed.
Whatever music he could get his hands on, he persevered and practiced. He struggled with note reading and getting the rhythm correctly, but he endured. Whatever chapel or concerts he needed to prepare for, he committed fully. His learning style had also changed. Although he was once known as a “loud and wild” child in the classroom, he has now become a quiet thinker.
This quiet thinker reflects his world poignantly. Whether it is a blog post reflecting on music affecting our world or writing a poem for song lyrics, he communicates expressively.
While playing his guitar, he made a different world.
Owen, I am proud of the way you have become an ardent learner. I was so happy and shocked that you signed up for Concert choir this year. This might not have meant anything to you, but when I was home due to the accident and Skyped into your class, your guitar playing brought much healing. Yes, there is power and joy in music.

You wrote on your yearbook page, “The real trouble with reality is that there’s no background music.”
____, go from here and make the background music for us.

Thanking God for You

This is my 12th year celebrating being a mom.

My husband and I welcomed our firstborn 11 months after we got married.

I was still 24.

Back then, I was so confused. I was trying to figure out my role as a wife and then being a mom. All I can remember is asking a lot of questions and learning a lot of things I did not know before.

This post, however, isn’t about my motherhood. It’s about my Mom.

One word to describe my Mom is R E S I L I E N T. She’s had many hardships and heartaches. But she didn’t give up. She didn’t give up hoping. She didn’t give up on love. I am very thankful for that. So here’s a way I’m going to celebrate my Mom by listing her qualities.

  • Amazing Mezzo-Soprano (yup, she was a professional singer)
  • Great baker
  • Organized planner & task executioner (!)
  • The term “Mama Hand” (a term describing grand portions when someone serves food or in giving) was made to describe her. She makes things in commercial proportions
  • Corky funny
  • A never-give-up-er
  • She raises her voice when she gets upset so you will hear her
  • Grandkids-spoiler
  • Can design and make most intricate dresses
  • Funny, in her own way
  • Has a way to calm my spirit when I’m distressed
  • God-loving

Mom, you are a great lady, and I am so honored to be taught by you. Being a parent isn’t easy at all and you did your very best. I will take your best and show it to our kids. I’m learning to love you more as I get older.

I love you & thank God for you.


What is essential is invisible to the eye.

~ Fred Rogers quoted this line from the “Little Prince” in 2001 Middlebury College commencement address.

It’s our day #2 of Earth Week celebrations. As we do every Tuesday morning at 8:30 AM, we gathered for chapel*. Sometimes Middle School and early gatherings just don’t mix; this morning was just one of those. It just takes one person, though, to bring us to think and begin our day together. Mr. Bireley welcomed the students and asked the student body what they see on a small desk on the stage (a glass like this picture). Some said, “a glass half-full!”; some said, “Half-empty!”. “It’s interesting,” Mr. Bireley said, “That no one said, half-full with water and other half full with air”. He proceeded to talk about the importance of invisible traits: Helpfulness, Caring, Kindness, Courtesy and Character. It was really cool to hear him talk about practical ways to show our invisibility through being helpful, caring, kind, courteous people who show character. He said he chose to sing Michael Jackson’s Heal the World for morning song because as we celebrate Earth Week, it’s not just about reducing, reusing and recycling that makes our world a better place. As the chorus of the song goes:

Heal the world
Make it a better place
For you and for me and the entire human race
There are people dying
If you care enough for the living
Make a better place for
You and for me.

Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull Volano and Haiti earthquake (and other subsequent quakes) come to mind today.

*chapel is same as school assembly. We are non-sectarian school, but still has Christian traditions.


She turned away and said, “My tissue was spitting,” as if I demanded to know why she was wiping her eyes. She was clearly upset, crying.

I was, thinking, “Should I say something? Something profound? Comforting?”

The following is a story that is related to my last post, #MissionMonday.

She is a quiet, but tenacious, thoughtful, and strong girl. She has many things she likes, but mostly keeps those kinds of information to herself. When she likes something, she goes after it. When she knows she has to work on something, she works harder to get better. Although she is excellent in school, she is one of those kids many do not notice. She is the last one to open up and share her  feelings or let others see an emotional side of her.

What was her story?

Funny how things work out sometimes. Only a few hours after I had written my post about #MissionMonday, I was challenged to stop myself from saying the “right thing” while I was listening to this young person. This student just needed me to listen to her. What I heard was that her biggest wound came from another person who did not see her for who she really was. She was not being heard and was ignored. Her spirit was crushed.

I shared just a little. I had to.

She seemed like she was giving up hope. Sometimes, I told her, that life doesn’t always seem fair and can even be horrible. And one “storm-cloudy” person can make a situation unbelievably worse. But giving up something she loves doing now (barely a teenager) because of that person’s ill-effect means that she will never know how she could have grown…all of what she loves will stop where they are now.

I really tried to use very few words (I have a problem being succinct…).

We didn’t have much time afterward. She had to go. I was still feeling like I had to say something more, but wisdom reminded me that silent understanding sometimes is OK. I just smiled at her.

As she was leaving, she sang “Baby, there’s a shark in the water” (chorus of VV Brown’s song, Shark in the Water). She said she might just sing this song to get through next couple of days.

Something tells me, HOPE wins.

My #MissionMonday

I happen to see this post on Twitter stream this morning by @TheNerdyTeacher: #MissionMonday ~ Listen.

Here’s a short excerpt:

Today’s #MissionMonday is hardest simple thing to do. I want all of you to listen today. Listen to your students, listen to your colleagues, listen to your friends and listen to anyone else you see today. I’m sure many of you have a weird look on their face, so let me explain…[the blog post goes on to end with] Your Mission, if you choose to accept it, is to listen to people this week. Take the time and give people the attention they need and listen to them. You might be surprised and what you will hear. :-)

You see, LISTENING IS a skill I teach.

I tell my students, “listen” for melodies, phrase structures, harmonic changes, styles, rhythm, tempo changes, to their singing voices, to other students’ voices AND to every word I say. While I was reading this post, though, I had a moment to think about how much I give them my undivided attention. I critically listen to what they are producing, and I am pretty content to give them an immediate feedback.

This one question kept coming back in my head: How are you listening?”

I have to confess. I am always busy – thinking of ways to answer questions, to solve problems, to guide and help students or anyone I am with….all good things, but I wonder how much I am really giving them my full attention. I wonder how much of good conversations, learning opportunities, and  reflections I have missed by not paying attention to the people around me…

Confession: I think I have a “giving people an intense glazed” look. Translation: “Uh-huh, I am kind of paying attention, but am really thinking about something else”. Need. To. Stop. This. Now.

So I accept @TheNerdyTeacher’s challenge. I want to stop being so busy, overwhelmed by new information or anything that keeps me from getting to know people. I don’t want to just give a pretty convincing look like this cute cat, but want to really be involved.

People in my life deserve more. I am going to keep working on this after this week.

More of them. Less of me.

Check in once in a while and see my progress!

Picture: I Can Stare for a Thousand Years by eNil on Flickr, CC.

Go Green!

Earth Day 2007 - Atlantic Reflection by FlyingSinger on Flickr

Our school is celebrating Earth Week, April 19 ~ 23! We will engage the entire school for a  week-long conversations, lessons and activities around sustainability, responsibility, and awareness. I am very happy about our school community coming together to learn in fun ways! Stay tuned for my next post about what our Music Department will be presenting during that week.

For now, I thought I would share a simple song that our 3rd graders and I wrote together. Those of you who have read my previous posts know that every teacher in our school leads an assembly. One of the third-grade teachers will be presenting during that week and asked me to prepare her kids to sing an environmentally fun song. Although there was a short easy song from a publisher, I wanted to experiment and see if it was possible to write an original song with the third-grade students. As we were brainstorming, I was reminded again that my young students thrive when given an opportunity to think and create. Both sections of the grade worked beautifully (we even had a scribe from each class, taking down ideas!).

From simple ideas, singable phrases came together. I played the guitar and started singing some of these phrases together with the students. We had a great time writing this song for our school. The entire grade will teach this song to our school community. Here is our first take on the song:

Because this recording is a “first” for these young students, their singing isn’t perfect. But I heart this particular recording because it captures their personality, their sweet voices and their enthusiasm for learning. If I get a chance, maybe I will post a polished version of this song with our entire school singing…

If you who were looking for an Earth Day song and would like to use this, please feel free! You can leave me a comment if you need chords or have ideas how you might you want to use this song. And if you need some classroom ideas, take a look at these sites for great ways to get yourself and your students involved!