About megangraff

I am currently a PYP-MYP-DP teacher-librarian in Busan, South Korea. In August 2019, I will be moving to Shekou, Shenzhen, China to be a PYP teacher-librarian. It will be my fourth international school (the others were in Singapore and Switzerland). Between my previous international school positions, I volunteered at a school in Tanzania for one year and with an NGO in Bolivia that sets up village libraries for 8 months.

Agency in the ELC Library

Our ELC (Early Learning Center) Library serves our students in preschool, kindergarten, and grade one (though the grade ones also visit the Elementary Library regularly). The students in our junior preschool class can be as young as two years old at the beginning of the school year. (And unlike at some schools, they do not have to be toilet trained when they start to attend but it turns out you can check out your own library books even if you still wear diapers!)

I’m starting my third year at this school and the ELC Library runs like a well-oiled machine. I open the library at the start of the day Monday to Thursday. Each day one of the four classes has a scheduled time with me and students in the other three classes are invited to exchange books or read in the library before or after the class of the day’s session.

We have a large collection of amazing books and students are allowed to check out up to 10 books (and sometimes an 11th book if they already have 10 at home and it means tears can be avoided). This has an added perk of helping with basic math facts to 10. “I have 6 books. That means I can take 4 more books!”

We have Follett Destiny which we open on a touchscreen laptop set on a low table and we use the circulation by homeroom option and we have uploaded a photo for each student. Students touch their photo to get to their account. There are speakers hooked up to the laptop and the volume is turned up high. I remind the students to listen for the “happy” sound and to stop when they hear the “grumpy” sound. Not all do but I am usually close enough that I can hear it anywhere in the library. I tend to stand within earshot of the circulation desk (or the teacher or an assistant does). With the start of the new school year, I’m hovering a bit more to make sure returning students remember what to do and new students learn. For the youngest students, I tend to help them out by touching the Select Patron button after each student so it is back to the whole class for the next one. The three-year-olds and up figure this out and start to do it independently. If I have students from more than one class in the library, I do the switching between homerooms. I find the students help the class teacher and assistants if an adult gets stuck. 🙂

Here are some photos and a video to give a better idea of what it looks like in action:

And here is a video that was taken by our Senior Preschool teacher back in January 2017 that gives an idea of how the library is set up.



The Best Job in the World

Back in August 2008 (!!!) when I started my first school year as a teacher-librarian, my mentor told me that I now had the best job in the school (or possibly the world) but that I shouldn’t tell people because then they would all want to be librarians too. I’m sorry, Lisa, but I suck at keeping secrets and I need to shout it from the rooftops right now.


Last week staff was back at school (students come back tomorrow). Two new and two returning staff kids spent most of the week in the Elementary Library. One of the new students is going into grade six so she will be in Secondary. On Friday, she checked with me to make sure that she will be allowed to borrow books from the ES Library even though she will be a middle schooler. I reassured her that students can borrow from any of our three libraries. She then told me that the ES Library is the best library she has ever been to in her life!

On Friday morning, new students and their parents were invited to come to school for an orientation session. After introductions in the gym, they toured the school. The library was part of the tour and I told the parents and students that they were welcome to borrow books before they left. Several took me up on the offer and amazingly I had all of the authors and titles that they were looking for! (Including Dork Diaries, Dog Man, Ghost by Jason Reynolds, Andy Griffith’s Tree House series.) It made staying late one-night last week to create library accounts for the new students completely worth it.

I was also visited by a mother who has a child already at the school and another starting. She wanted to let me know how much she and her daughter appreciate our library collection and my book recommendations. Another older sibling who gave me a big hug when she came around with her younger sister.

I’m so excited for the first day of school on Monday and the chance to reconnect with all my returning readers!

This year is going to be busy (as they all are) especially as we are starting the school year with one of our library team members covering some classes for a teacher on medical leave. There will be long days and long lists of things to do. I will get tired and frustrated by the lack of hours in a day. At those times, I need to come back to this post and remind myself that no matter how hard it gets, I really do have the best job in the world.

Photo credit: Paul Kang

PYP Exhibition – Student Relationships

Working in groups is a big part of the PYP Exhibition. Lots of learning takes place about how to collaborate, resolve conflict, negotiate, compromise and more. There are often bumps along the way.

Before the launch of our PYP exhibition (see my previous post for more about how we did that), our grade 5 teacher, Monique Donahue; our PYP coordinator, Michelle Roland; and I met to create the groups in which the students will be working together. Monique has been working with the students since school started on identifying passions and issues and using “the former to find the latter and make meaningful connections”. 

Using responses to a survey, the whiteboard, and different coloured markers, we identified similar passions and issues and began grouping the students. We took also took friendships, English level, learning needs and more into consideration. Our goal was seven groups because seven staff members had initially volunteered to be mentors. When we finished, the group sizes ranged from 2 to 4 and we were reasonably sure of our selections.

During the PYP Exhibition kickoff, all seven groups seemed to be working well together and continued to do so over the course of that week. This past week, Monique was away on a school visit for the first few days and some issues came up with one group of two. The parents were in contact with Monique while she was away and when she returned to school she spoke with various staff members as well as the students and wrote this amazing email reply to the father of one of those students (posted with permission):

Dear Mr X,

I am following up on your email from Thursday. After speaking with A yesterday as well as with some of my colleagues, I got the impression that A has given up to keep trying to make the collaboration a success. I strongly believe that it is actually possible, but it is a matter of determination and positive presuppositions, on both sides. At this time J is still committed to working together. It appears that the collaboration has been a frequent topic between your family members, maybe more so between A and his mother. I hope this is not a case where a child is trying to get his parent to do for him, what he cannot (yet) do for himself.

However, the whole project should not be a source of unhealthy stress, rather a source of curiosity and enthusiasm. In my experience the PYP Exhibition frequently leads the students to feel empowered to face challenging situations in their own lives and the world around us with reflective hope put into action. For next week, I propose that J and A keep working on the same topic, as this is their first choice, but that they work side by side, rather than together. I will support them individually when necessary, and so will Ms Graff, their mentor, who knows them both well.

I would really appreciate it if you could have another talk in your family to speak about this challenge. Maybe there are personal stories you can share about when you had to work with someone you didn’t like and how you dealt with it. Both A and J are not used to dealing with demanding peer family members, the way many of us are prepared for situations like this when we grow up with siblings, so I expect it to be hard, but definitely possible. Much of the challenges have to do with controlling impulsivity. Some understanding and developing coping strategies might be useful. Here is an article that might help. 

Another strategy I would like to propose is to make an effort to get to know J’s family, as a family. I believe most families in my class share more with each other than they realize and that differences are minor, and don’t matter anymore when you get to know the story behind people’s lives.

I hope you find this information useful. I really do care about the children’s success, but I cannot make things happen for them. I merely create the environment. They are ultimately responsible for believing in themselves and others, as well as understanding their own role in the process. And just in case you were wondering, please rest assured that at no time will the academic result of a group negatively impact on a child’s score.

I found this interesting article in the Harvard Business Review about how to work with people you ‘hate’ You might find there are some similarities.

Please let me know if you have further questions or concerns,

Wishing you a wonderful weekend,

Monique Donahue


PYP Exhibition Launch

Nearly two weeks ago, we launched this year’s PYP exhibition at BIFS. We chose to follow a very successful model that was created last year. All of elementary was off timetable for the morning to permit the specialist teachers to work only with grade 5. We began the day in our school hall where after a welcome and briefing from our PYP coordinator, students were informed of the members of the groups they will be working with during the exhibition. As soon as the groups were formed, students then rotated to stations throughout the school run by specialist teachers and administrators. At each station, they explored an aspect of the Approaches to Learning (previously known as the Transdisciplinary Skills).

At my station in the library, students brainstormed sources of information they thought would be useful for the research.

Both this year and last year, it helped the groups to bond and allowed the teachers to discover which students were grouped together and to observe how the groups of students worked together.

The morning took planning and time but it was a valuable experience for all.

We are a small school. Last year we had 8 groups for the exhibition and this year we have 7. At my previous school, we had close to 30 exhibition groups but I think with some creative planning, this activity could be scaled to be used by schools with larger cohorts as well.

This document outlines the logistics and has more detailed information. 17/18 PYP Exhibition Kick Off (Shout out to Leda Cedo for all her hard work last year! It certainly made it easier this year.)

Now to guide the students through their PYP Exhibition journey which will culminate on April 26, 2018!


Students Helping in the Library

For several weeks before our holiday break, a group of 4-5 middle school students volunteered in our Early Years Library for 30 minutes at the end of the day on Wednesdays. They would arrive halfway through kindergarten’s weekly library lesson and book exchange. They would sort out the returned books and reshelve them and some of them also read with students.

Today none of the volunteers showed up (I guess I probably should have sent them a reminder…)

However, completely independently, one of the kindergarten students asked me if he could check out his books straightway and then sort books. (The Tuesday MYP student volunteers hadn’t been able to make it either this week so the return boxes were overflowing.)

He got straight to work making piles of picture books sorted by letter and nonfiction by Dewey number. He even came to ask me for clarification about an early reader that didn’t have a letter or number label on the front because they are shelved differently. As the table filled up, he started putting piles on chairs.


I had no idea he had even taken note of what the student volunteers were doing when they were sorting the books. What an incredible example of student initiated action!

PYP Action (or Why can’t more adults be like these children?)

In PYP schools, we talk a lot about action and in particular student initiated action. I had a brilliant session today with a class of grade 4 students during our first teaching block of the day that was an example of just that.

Before school I popped into their classroom to touch base with the homeroom teacher. (Due to a meeting of the upper elementary teachers, I see his class without him present.) I told him I was planning to share the picture book Four Feet, Two Sandals by Karen Lynn Williams & Khadra Mohammed. 


We agreed that in light of what is going on in the world, a picture book set in a refugee camp was appropriate. The teacher mentioned the recent meeting of President Obama and Alex, the six year old American boy, who wrote to him offering to adopt a young boy from Syria after he saw a photo of him in an ambulance and suggested I show the clip to the students as well. He also told me that some of his students were taking action to raise funds for technology for students in Kenya. He showed me their poster and I noticed the link for the image was from Kiva. A short discussion about micro-lending ensued.

I decided to start by showing the students the clip of President Obama and Alex. (I found it on the BBC website.) I had it set to fullscreen and projected on the wall as the students entered the library.


One student recognized it and said “I watched this. It made me cry.” We discussed different emotions that make you cry and then passed around the box of kleenex for anyone who wanted to be prepared. We watched it and then watched the following video which was of Alex writing the letter.


(I stopped it before the third video which was about Omran Daqneesh, the five year old Alex had seen in the news. I explained it showed the boy in the ambulance and I would show it to anyone who asked on my computer but I wasn’t going to project it on the wall.)

We then talked about action, refugees, and the war in Syria. I asked for more information about the fundraiser. We also talked about the difference between lending money to someone on Kiva and donating money. I talked about how I have made multiple loans with the same money on Kiva but that I also make donations to organizations and that one of those is UNHCR (The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees,, also known as the UN Refugee Agency).

Then I read the book. More kleenex.

As the students went to select their library books, one of them came and asked the name of the refugee organization I had mentioned. I wrote it on a slip of paper for him. He showed it to the other students who are involved in the fundraiser and they spent some time discussing it.

At the end of the class, he came to me and told me they had decided that they will lend the first 100,000 KRW ($85 USD) that they raise and donate any remaining funds to UNHCR. He said if they raise less than 100,000 KRW, they will lend it and donate it to UNHCR when the loan is repaid. 

There are some adults making a mess of the world but there are some amazing children who are working to make a difference already and I hope they get to be in charge when they grow up.

Following the Dinosaurs

This past weekend, my friend Ken (who has lived in Korea for a very long time) came to visit. Saturday we headed out on an adventure to find some dinosaur footprints and visit a dinosaur museum.

We started by taking the subway from my place to Busan West Bus Terminal (by the Sasang subway station). There we bought tickets for a 2 hour intercity bus ride to Sacheonpo. In Sacheonpo, we had some lunch and then took a local bus (bus 10) towards the Goseong Dinosaur Museum. The bus doesn’t run very often and it drove right by us at the bus stop but then it got stuck a red light trying to turn and we managed to get across the street and to the next bus stop before it. Phew. (If we had missed it, we could have taken a taxi.) Ken told the bus driver we wanted to go to the museum and when it was our stop the driver told us to get off and walk along the road.

The view as we got off the local bus.

The view as we got off the local bus.

Once we were down at the beach, we discovered a boardwalk that followed the coast. It had interpretive signs in English and Korean and you could go down on to the rocks and walk around just like the dinosaurs did! (Except that they walked in mud hence the footprints.)






More footprints!

Another footprint.

And another footprint!

After walking the length of the boardwalk and stomping around the shoreline pretending we were dinosaurs, we headed up to the museum. Along the way there was a playground, topiary dinosaurs, dinosaur statues, a maze and gorgeous views out over the sea and islets.

Heading up towards the museum.

Heading up towards the museum.

Dinosaur along the way.

Dinosaur along the way.

The museum had very little English signage but it had fossils, skeletons, models and even some animatronic dinosaurs! (And the admission cost was only around $3.)

Gory scene outside the museum entrance.

Gory scene outside the museum entrance.

After the museum we decided to walk along a different road back to the main road to catch the local bus.

The sign for the museum from the parking lot.

The sign for the museum from the parking lot.

Looking back up at the museum from the road.

Looking back up at the museum from the road.

When we got to the bus stop, Google maps told us the bus wasn’t going to be along for awhile so we decided to start walking. We ended up walking all the way back to the bus station in Sacheonpo. We caught a bus back to Busan, found a yummy Indian restaurant near the bus station and then took the subway back to my house.

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The red marker is the museum location.

I was impressed by how far we traveled in a day (and how easy Ken made it seem). The following day it poured rain but we managed to go to Changwon (on a bus from a different bus station that was less than a kilometre from where I live) to catch up with a friend of Ken’s who was showing some of his paintings in a cafe there. Thanks for coming to visit Ken. I hope you come back soon!

Spelling is Hard

Posted by Goodwill Librarian on Facebook 10 Feb 2016

Posted by Goodwill Librarian on Facebook 10 Feb 2016

I learned to read before kindergarten but I just memorized whole words, I had no decoding skills. When I started grade one, most of the class did phonics work but since I could already read, while they were cutting and pasting words and syllables I had a different text and workbook (it was yellow and was called “A Duck is a Duck”, the second in the series was green but I forget the name – a Google search has come up with “Helicopters and Gingerbread”). Somehow I was able to read most anything but I couldn’t spell to save my soul. In third grade, I started to cry when I was placed in a high reading group – not because I couldn’t read the texts but because I didn’t know how to write the words to fill in the answers in the workbook. I managed to convince my teacher to move me down a level. (She was a very experienced teacher so now I’d like to think she was on to me but if so, she didn’t let on.) In fourth grade, my dad helped me study for my weekly spelling tests and I became a good speller.

We moved to Canada just before I started grade 5 and I was faced with some new spellings and pronunciations. I remember a spelling achievement test in grade 6 and being baffled when the teacher said “left-tennant” (interestingly the google doc spell checker knows what that is supposed to be…). Perhaps seeing my baffled look, she then said it was also pronounced lew-tennant. I heaved a sigh of relief but then realized I might not know how to spell the word but hey at least I had heard of it! (That teacher was also the first person I ever heard call the black and white stripy animals ze-bras rather than zee-bras though for a long time I was sure she was calling them zed-bras.) Going to school in Canada, I adopted Canadian spellings – colour, neighbour, mould, recognize, centre. Some of these were reinforced as I learned French and French also caused me to regularly misspell certain words – filtre, litterature.

I once read that to cope with Canadian English’s mix of American and British spellings, most spell checkers just accept both spellings if you have it set to “Canadian English”.

Since I leaving Canada 10 years ago, I have been surrounded by English speakers from a variety of countries. This has had an impact on my vocabulary and also on my spelling. For the most part I stick to Canadian spellings but at some point my Google language setting ended up as UK English (I have just switched it back – interestingly for Gmail display language you can only choose between US English and UK English.) However even with it switched, Gmail is still insisting on UK spelling and as a slave to the red squiggly line, I usually give in.

This morning I went to write skeptical but wasn’t sure if I was spelling it correctly so I Googled it and it came up as sceptical. I did some further research later and realized it was one of those words. Apparently the k spelling is more common in North America. Suffice it to say that I am thankful for spellcheck but even then I have doubts about which spelling I should be using!

As for vocabulary, I discovered the “Not One-Off Britishisms” blog this morning and it seems to be that my use of English expressions that are not traditionally American won’t be as noticeable as they once would have been. Then again some of these “Britishisms” are also “Canadianisms” – ex. in hospital – and reading the index of entries, I would be hard pressed to tell you for many of them if I used them when I lived in Canada or if I have picked them up in the last 10 years…

Ten Years Overseas

Me, Cathy, Malcolm, Lizzie and Sue

Farewell dinner in Ottawa, January 2006

Saying goodbye at the Ottawa Airport, 13 January 2006

Saying goodbye at the Ottawa Airport, 13 January 2006


10 years

4 countries on 4 different continents

2 paying jobs

2 volunteer positions

Too many flights to count

In January 2006, Facebook was not yet open to the public, YouTube was less than a year old, Twitter hadn’t been founded, iPhones hadn’t been released yet. Skype existed but computers didn’t have built in webcams. It wasn’t the dark ages but it was sure different from the always connectedness of today.

Before I moved to Singapore, I had lived in and/or visited 15 countries. I have now up to 51 and I have been back to about half of the original 15. I now have friends in many countries and on all continents except Antarctica (at least as far as I know…)

I have met lots of people, seen many places, eaten some weird things, and made many memories. I have had amazing times with friends new and old.

I have missed some weddings, several funerals, and it has taken me awhile to meet some  babies that were born.

Long plane journeys have become commonplace (and long bus journeys may soon be as well).

I have learned and forgotten words and expressions in many languages.

It has gotten easier to keep in contact with faraway friends and family but it is never quite the same as spending time in each other’s presence.

I wonder what the next 10 years will bring…

Sunday Afternoon at Parque Bolívar

Parque Simon Bolívar, a long, skinny park that is not far from my house, was originally a private park for a princess. Now it is a popular spot for runners, couples and families. I wandered by last Sunday afternoon and marvelled at the variety of activities taking place.

In addition to running (and walking), there are many other ways to do laps of the park (but most are for children).








In the middle of the park is an Eiffel tower that was designed by Gustave Eiffel himself. It was shipped from France to Sucre in 1908 and was used as a weather tower for the first 16 years. It was moved to the park in 1925 and you can climb up the spiral staircase if you like.


Around the tower runs a waterway and you can rent paddle boats or try out the “Splash O Balls”.




There are plenty of bouncy castles set up and a painting station (where you buy pre-printed outlines to paint).




There are also plenty of items for sale (including food).


Gelatina is a favourite among Bolivians but I usually just go for a bag of popcorn.


At the far end, there is a fountain and rose garden. Apparently the fountain is turned on and there is a light show at 7:30 pm on weekends but I haven’t yet been there for it. (And I didn’t take any photos at that end last Sunday.)

At opposite end there are two large arches and a couple of pillars. Here is one of the arches.


Along one side of the park there is a tennis club, a swimming pool and a large playground with a dinosaur theme.

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It is a busy place!