Tag Archives: meetings

Poetry, toxic cultures, being true, and YOU

20 Feb

The following is sort of an open letter to schools in transition and teachers so tired of constant improvement talk…so tired of it that they nod “yes” in meetings with no intention of contributing.

Thanks, in advance…

Part 1 Poetry
“Hope” is the thing with feathers – (314)

Related Poem Content Details

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –
I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.
I loved teaching this poem when I was in the classroom. Hope is always there, deep inside, singing to you even when you’re not listening. Hope is never not there for you. Hope is constant in all of us, regardless of the storm. We hope our day goes well. We hope our kids are well. We hope our family is well. We hope love and happiness warm our cheek. We hope the weather is nice. We hope our team wins. We hope for so many things, and yet, hope never asks anything from us. We never have to feed it, or sacrifice for it, or even thank it. Hope is always there when we need something.
Or, is it want? I think it’s time to have a talk about need vs. want in terms of improving our school. I think it’s time to reconsider each person’s responsibility in terms of contribution. Certainly, none of you “need” to feel the responsibility of school improvement is yours. Yet, I think you’d all agree that students “need” a good education which requires a high level of commitment to best practices. Certainly, not all of you “want” to contribute to school improvement. Yet, you’d all agree the school can’t improve if we’re not all contributing. So? What is this Mr. Lee is talking about?
We know what we “need” and we know what we “want”, yet we can’t seem to come to a collective agreement about actually doing it. What does that mean? Schools are no longer inspected on individual classrooms. We no longer work in private classrooms where we can lock out the bad habits of others around us. Schools are rated as organizations, as singular institutions. So, we cannot afford to behave as if that problem down the hall isn’t our concern. If it’s happening in our school, it’s our concern. We don’t feel a collective purpose right now. This lack of commitment to the stated collective purpose, this teaching in our own private bubbles, and not supporting each other is a mixture for a toxic school culture.
Part 2 Toxic Cultures
How does that work? Try to recall conversations from the last few staff meetings, or even sitting in the staff room, or standing at supervision. Who was the first to say something negative? You or your colleague? Then what was the next contribution? Did you agree and add on, or did you offer something positive or mention what works for you? When someone mentions “these kids”, what is your reaction? Do you agree and add on, or do you offer something positive? When someone mentions classroom discipline, do you mention what works for you or do you blame it on the kids, the supervisor, or administration?
You see, in a toxic culture, each person participating in it is an expert at describing how bad things are, and then deflecting the reasons why on someone or something else. “It’s the owners’ fault, they took anyone…it’s the Admin’s fault, they don’t do anything about it…it’s these kids, they’re spoiled…it’s tv, cell phones, music…” Finally, we all agree that we have described the problem accurately, and we have pinned it on someone or something else. This, my friends, is a toxic culture…and a failure of a conversation.
Part 3 Being True
What is your part in this? Are you participating in it? Are you contributing to a negativity that takes away from what we “want” and from what the students “need”? Do you say one thing to your colleagues and administrators in meetings, and then betray that information later? If so, you are contributing to the toxic culture, and in order for our students to get what they “need”, and for this school and your colleagues to get what they “want”, then you must consider one of two things:
                       1. Change your talk and contribute positively.
                          OR
                       2. Resign, and stop holding the students and your colleagues back.
Yes, I’m serious. If you are unhappy and not changing any of what you’re doing, then what are you doing? There is no “hoping” things get better.
Either WE do it together, or it doesn’t get accomplished. In a healthy school, you cannot hide amongst your colleagues and contribute negatively, or nothing. A school is a collective that is judged as a singular organization. So, if one of us is a poor professional, that affects all of us. Casting blame at others in the building may make you feel better during that conversation, but it does absolutely no good for the school.
What is our collective purpose? Think for a second. What have we talked about? We “need” to move to the next level or we will lose this school. We have looked at what that takes. YOU are directly involved in improving this school. If you’re not, then please find a place where you can contribute. Social Scientist Dan Pink broke down what drives motivation into three needs (none of which are money, by the way). 1. Autonomy-the desire to direct your own life. What could be better? If you’re here and you feel trapped, or so stagnant you can’t change, then you are not autonomous, and you will not be motivated to work. What could be more autonomous than teaching? Yes, we have a curriculum, but you can teach it any way you like. Get creative, be autonomous with it. 2. Mastery-the ability to improve at something that matters every day. Teaching is the ultimate opportunity for mastery. You can learn and teach at the same time every darn day! If you haven’t changed your teaching methodology at all this year, then you aren’t practicing mastery…and, I’d bet you’re as bored as your students are. 3. Purpose-people want to be part of something bigger than them, something that really matters. Honestly, does this need any more explanation? What job has more purpose than teaching? If you don’t feel that way about teaching, you should step back and find what really does matter to you.
If these three don’t apply to you, are you being true to yourself? Are YOU giving yourself what YOU “need”? Are you being true to the students sitting in front of you every day? Are you giving them what they “need”, and what the school “wants”? Are you directing yourself (Autonomy)? Are you improving (Mastery)? Are you contributing to something bigger than yourself (Purpose)? Reread these questions. Go ahead, do it. Think about your answers. Are you being true to yourself, your colleagues, and to your profession, your school?
Part 4 YOU
Well…you made it. As a professional and a human, that’s a lot to think about. It’s good to have and acknowledge hope, but it’s just a pretty song, not an action. Take action! Are you a participant in making the culture toxic, or do you make people think twice when airing negativity or complaining? Rather than adding on to a complaint or deflecting blame, why not hold yourself accountable for a solution? Why not collect others who feel the same and create a solution? This is the very nature of  School Development Plan Teams. Be the solution, or stop getting in the way. It’s not right.
Lastly, YOU. Who are you in all of this? Can you step outside yourself and watch what you’re contributing with a sense of satisfaction? Are you the teacher you wanted to be? What’s holding you back? Are you being true and original? Do yourself a favor. Look in the mirror, look into your eyes, are you being true to you? If you “want” to have a good time teaching, what do you “need” to do?
As always, my door is open. I watch you very closely. It’s my job. Let’s talk.
Peace and love,
Lee
No CFU this time…though feedback is always welcome.
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The End as a New Beginning, Ask an Expert it’s Cheaper, or What Goes Around Keeps Coming Around Until It Doesn’t.

9 Sep

Abu Dhabi Blog 7-13-2014 through 9-9-14

Playlist Tool–Aenima, Red Hot Chili Peppers—Transcending, Smashing Pumpkins—Quiet, Pepper—FKARND, Bob Marley & the Wailers—Buffalo Soldier, Michael Franti & Spearhead—Everybody Ona Move, Michael Franti & Spearhead—Stay Human (All the Freaky People), Cody ChestnuTT—Can We Teach Each Other, Lyrics Born—Callin’ Out, Lupe Fiasco—Kick, Push, Marvin Gaye—Ain’t That Peculiar, The Beatnuts—The Trouble Is…, Rage Against the Machine—Wake Up, The White Stripes—Rag and Bone, Bob Marley—Redemption Song, The Roots—The Next Movement, Golden Era & R.A. The Rugged Man—On the Block, Clutch—Cyborg Bette, 30 Seconds to Mars—Hunter, Novel & Talib Kweli—They Don’t Flow, John Mayer—On the Way Home, Michael Franti & Spearhead—See You in the Light, Colin Hay—I Just Don’t Think I’ll Ever Get Over You, The Steepwater Band—Dance Me a Number, 30 Seconds to Mars R-Evolve

Excuse me, too busy, you’re writing a tragedy
These mess-ups
You bubble-wrap
When you’ve no idea what you’re like

So, let go,Jump in
Oh well, what you waiting for?
It’s all right
‘Cause there’s beauty in the breakdown
So, let go,Just get in
Oh, it’s so amazing here
It’s all right
‘Cause there’s beauty in the breakdown

 Frou Frou – Let Go

We cannot selectively numb…”

Blame is a way to discharge pain and discomfort”

Brene Brown

Nothing ever happened in the past that can prevent you from being present now; and if the past cannot prevent you from being present now, what power does it have?…To see one’s predicament clearly is a first step toward going beyond it…With forgiveness, your victim identity dissolves, and your true power emerges—the power of Presence. Instead of blaming the darkness, you bring in the light.”

Eckhart Tolle A New Earth

Gosh! Hello! Wow…so much going on I just…I just don’t know where to start. This journey of life, which I am learning is not separate from me, continues to teach and astound me everyday. As you can see from the quotes above…ok, go back, I know you ignored them. (Hello!? They’re contextually important). So, yes, after looking at the quotes you can see that I have been bouncing around in my head and my heart quite a bit recently. Part of what I’m learning is that I can allow myself to bounce, or I can start and stop it. My brain is me, I am my brain. There is no separate entity. The conversation in your head is you, both voices…you. More than two? Let someone know, please 🙂 .

My Reading Spot. Every home needs one. A work in Progress.

My Reading Spot. Every home needs one. A work in Progress.

Pre-Meditation..yes, the walls are still bare...as I said, a work in progress.

Pre-Meditation..yes, the walls are still bare…as I said, a work in progress.

So, this time of year is always tough for me. I go through separation anxiety when school is out. I miss the students, the teachers, the work, the PD…all of it. I’ve been particularly anxious the last few weeks. Not sleeping, grinding my teeth, headaches, bouncing knees, sadness…all of it. It is particularly hard here because most of our students left around June 19, the rest a week later. So, it’s the slowest grind of an end to the year, EVER!

My office wall. I let the kids decompress by coloring. It also helps me track who's been in. If you have more than 3 pictures, there may be a problem. Oh...some PD stuff, too.

My office wall. I let the kids decompress by coloring. It also helps me track who’s been in. If you have more than 3 pictures, there may be a problem. Oh…some PD stuff, too.

I’m still working on being authentic…all the time. It’s not easy. For years, my internal conversation was going on while I was talking and deciding. I was constantly editing my words to make solutions as easy as possible—even, and especially, if it made more work for me. (By the way, if you do that too, I gently suggest you stop. It is a recipe for resentment and anger at yourself.) What I have realized is when you do that, you don’t give the other person the credit and respect they deserve. We hold our tongues sometimes thinking we are protecting others, or just thinking for them, all the while robbing them of an authentic conversation and learning experience.

Small bites are better. More flavor, more appreciation, better chewing.

Small bites are better. More flavor, more appreciation, better chewing.

A phrase has been haunting me lately, so I’m going to release it and see where it goes. Wanna come along? Really? Thank you, I’m glad…the phrase changes around for me, inverts, makes me furrow my brow, is sometimes declarative, sometime interrogative, sometimes exclamatory…always cautionary in tone. So, I’m having a hard time deciding which form to present it, so we’ll play with it a bit. Here it is…incompletely…

The price of being your own expert.

Or, what is the price of being your own expert? Or, Can you afford to be your own expert? Or, Being your own expert can be tragically expensive. Or, well, I think you get it. The more I toss this around, the more I see its applications. Whether it be physical, intellectual, or spiritual, seeking an expert costs much less than the possible price you might pay trying to be your own expert. Think about the dieters and everyday gym-goers who work hard, on their own, and never get the results they are looking for, or possibly, get injured. Wouldn’t some expert advice be helpful? Think about the frustration of learning Calculus without someone to interpret. What about the struggles in your own head and heart? The incessant questions and internal discussions that seem to repeat without solutions, or strategies for handling them. Or, ever try to tile a bathroom for the first time? In all of these cases, there are experts. Previously, I was my own expert in all things. When I finally slunk out of that ego-created mire, I was very near breakdown…actually, I was there. Not because I couldn’t believe what had happened, but because I couldn’t believe how much I didn’t know, how much I had avoided living, how much I cut myself out of, how afraid of not knowing I was, how much I needed…and how much everyone else had to offer…if I had just been open to it.

Less this...

Less this…

...more this.

…more this.

I was preaching love, togetherness, understanding, giving…all of it. BUT, I wasn’t participating, authentically. I wasn’t giving all of me; and that robbed me of some genuine, authentic, opportunities. (Cue the Frou Frou song above, and Watch the Brene Brown TED talk on Vulnerability…she has a moment in her research where she realizes, she can’t get authentic results, she can’t live the complete life she is looking for because she’s too busy trying to control it as an experiment. Life is no experiment, it is here, today, now. Don’t study it, BE it.). This reminds me of Carlos Castaneda’s books, which were a gift to me from an amazing friend when I graduated many years ago. Castaneda wants to learn the the way of the Shaman, see the visions, experience all of it. The shaman tells him to go away. You either Live it, or you’ll never understand it. In other words, to understand the Shaman, you have to live as the Shaman. (By the way, I was way too immature to get Castaneda back then. I just thought they were “cool”. Little did I know, I could have learned from them a long time ago. Thank you, Doc Coffey)

Created all on its own.

Created all on its own.

I’m not going into word origins and roots; I’m sure you see how being an expert requires experience. Anything else, and you’re an observer, a reviewer; a commentator.

However, I think we have to be cautious with the word “expert”. I believe an expert, in all of the scenarios above, is someone on a journey. I don’t think expertise is a goal or the final level or an end point. It is a level of a certain mastery, but the expert is still traveling, still growing, still learning, adding to that body of expert-ness.

Here’s the hardest part about all of this. Now, when people come to my office and ask a question or need an explanation, I have to take a breath, and sometime say three words I thought would disappear from my lexicon as an adult. “I don’t know.” In fact, I have never said it more in my life than I have in the last year. Aside from the language difficulties, I am in a new school, with new practices, and a totally different culture. I mean school culture, not arts and customs culture. Things just run differently here…and sometimes they don’t run, at all. In the West we spend a lot of time learning strategic planning and communication flow. They have that here, as well. But it’s quite different. A strategic plan was created 5 years ago…for the whole country. So, how does a school of 900 boys in an old-fashioned small town fit into that strategy? It doesn’t. That’s my job. How do we do that? I don’t know…yet. (Yes, I read Carol Dweck.)

Lifelines.

Lifelines.

Fast Forward through an amazing summer with my girls and friends and family to the beginning of Year Two in Abu Dhabi. The Dhabi! Get your T-shirts. (The Dhabi on the front, Mafee Mushkala on the back.)

004

Home.

004

Home, as well. See Chicago?

162

The North Shore of Chicago. They changed flight pattern while I was away. Now, we get to see this! Cool!

SO! Here we are. A new school year, Mistah Lee is excited and anxious to get started. I love the anticipation and the promise of every new school year. After last year, and the amazing effort of our staff, I came back with super high expectations and an almost PollyAnna-ic (I make up words~deal!) attitude.

They're heee-eeerrrre...

They’re heee-eeerrrre…

To be honest, it seems I forgot how things go here. My pace? Totally irrelevant, and attempting to impose it only leads to frustration. After everything I learned and wrote about last year, I find myself frustrated and going through some of the same emotions as last year. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and our school won’t change in a year. You’d think I would have learned that by now. Not the case.

In my next life, I want to be an architect...or a rock star...or an actor...hey? How many do we get?

In my next life, I want to be an architect…or a rock star…or an actor…hey? How many do we get?

I LOVE turnaround schools…hard cases, tough students, and supporting teachers who have become frustrated. I figured after all the success from last year, we’d just pick right up where we left off. Most of us did, however, we came back to black mold in classrooms, broken doors and windows, 90% of classrooms with no internet, missing teachers, extended vacations by some staff, and 2/3 of our population brand new to our school of 900. Cue inner critical voice: Hey Dummy, this is what you asked for…remember?

Six Hundred new Elementary boys. New buses. They come from cities with NO ADDRESSES. Addresses don't exist here...Hey, where do you live? Me? Over by 'dere...yes, that's real.

Six Hundred new Elementary boys. New buses. They come from cities with NO ADDRESSES. Addresses don’t exist here…Hey, where do you live? Me? Over by ‘dere…yes, that’s real.

Metaphor alert! A school is a sum of its parts. Each part important to the whole...and no matter how many times you dice a habanero and how much you sautee it, that little dude is still very spicey! Make sense? Excellent!

Metaphor alert! A school is a sum of its parts. Each part important to the whole…and no matter how many times you dice a habanero and how much you sautee it, that little dude is still very spicey! Make sense? Excellent!

The lesson for me continues…and I am grateful. Regardless of my new found, yet infrequent, ability to “let go” of things, I still find myself gnashing my teeth, painfully tense through my neck and shoulders, and frequently giving away my piece (peace) of mind. Guess how much good that is doing me. Go ahead, guess…Exactly! None. This is my life. My ability to stay present and grateful is challenged by the choices I make and still I victimize myself through blame and self-anger at situations I cannot control. I heard myself today say, “If they’d just let me take over…” For what? Then what? More stress, less strategy, even less sleep. Slow learner, I know. That’s ok. I will get it when I get it…ya know? Sa?

Night Putting...you know, putting at night.

Night Putting…you know, putting at night.

Let me tell why I love the beginning of a new school year. Everything is fresh. The kids are excited (despite their complaints), the teachers’ hearts are renewed and hopeful, and the opportunity for impact on a community is Brobdingnagian. So, teach smeach, I say. Spend time getting to know the students. Notice every darn one of them. Create the loving and warm classroom and school that burns into their hearts and minds so they have an unforgettable experience. Let’s see each other smile, dance, share, and engage. Sometimes, as adults in schools, we forget the students are watching. We get short with each other when things aren’t going as we expected. They see this. We create the environment. They react to it and absorb it, and become it. There are many things to be frustrated about right now, but we have to hide our discontent from them. Certainly, it’s not in them. It’s in us. When educators get upset it’s because our job is in our hearts. When it isn’t going well, we get down because we care. However, those are adult issues. We don’t have to shield children from emotions. In fact, we shouldn’t. We should be mindful of the source of our frustrations, take inventory of why we’re upset, and take responsibility for it. Yes, it is frustrating to have no ability to copy or print when you’re setting up. Can we control it? Can we change it? If so, how? If not, now what?

Our teachers are resourceful. The "bulletin boards are plywood. Try sticking a tack or staple into that! Some use cardboard and a staple gun, some use mounting board. They are forced to think outside---nope! Not gonna say it. They are resourceful and creative...and amazing.

Our teachers are resourceful. The “bulletin boards” are plywood. Try sticking a tack or staple into that! Some use cardboard and a heavy duty staple gun, some use mounting board (all of which they buy out of pocket). They are forced to think outside—nope! Not gonna say it. They are resourceful and creative…and amazing.

By the way…this is for me. I am writing to remind me, that my ego creates negativity when I allow it. In fact, the more I feed it negativity, the more it craves. Negativity is a dangerous addiction. In a previous position I would read an old Native American tale to my teenagers. Yes, a child’s story, but they liked it. It is about the good wolf and the bad wolf that can live inside of us. We can choose what we feed it. It will grow no matter what. So we have to be mindful of what we feed it, always aware that it is hungry. Simple. True.

Non-sequitur alert! Went to my friend Abdulla's wedding. All male, all food and tea and soft drinks...no dancing, no ceremony, no hassle, at all. Eat, talk, leave! Yes! Lamb, tikka, curry, mezza, harees ( a thick chicken/rice dish)...oh, and pasta.

Non-sequitur alert! Went to my friend Abdulla’s wedding. All male, all food and tea and soft drinks…no dancing, no ceremony, no hassle, at all. Eat, talk, leave! Yes! Lamb, tikka, curry, mezza, harees ( a thick chicken/rice dish)…oh, and pasta.

The setting at the wedding.

The setting at the wedding.

What’s my point? Yeah, Lee, what IS my point? Be. Here. Now. Yes, you’ve seen/heard/read this from me before. I have to constantly remind myself of it. Today. Today is pretty amazing. Despite the 6 seriously wailing 5-7 year olds (just today), despite the un-ready school, despite the lack of a common language, despite the many lacks we are dealing with, we have 900 bundles of potential, and, we have each other. Cliche? Maybe, but look at it. Think about it. Look at the power available in all the hearts and minds around us. I am 7700 miles from where I grew up and I have learned that people everywhere need each other. There are struggles everywhere and when we look at each other and share authentically, we connect, we create, we change, and we improve. Today, I will feed my good wolf. I will accept. I will remain vulnerable. I will see the expertise in everyone. I am human, and I am grateful.

The Word according to Bob…

One Love! One Heart!

Let’s get together and feel all right!

Love.

Lee