Tag Archives: school culture

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 blogtorial; Self-definition; and the Monk with Sweaty Palms

11 Apr

This blog has been written and deleted and edited and written and edited and deleted. (It was not written in one sitting as I like to do, so to you chronology people, Let It Go…it’s a blog…and it’s a bit long. No quiz this month.) Needless to say, I was “stuck”. But as Robert Pirsig wrote,

“If your mind is truly, profoundly stuck, then it might be much better off than when it was loaded with ideas”

― Robert M. PirsigZen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values

Songs that influenced this work–Michael Franti & Spearhead-Thank you, Deftones-Around the Fur, The Smiths-What She Said, Middle Class Rut-Aunt Betty, Jack Johnson-Staple It Together, John Mayer-Dear Marie, Wax-Rosana, Killswitch Engage-Daylight Dies, The Beastie Boys-Nonstop Disco Powerpack, Clutch-The Wolfman Kindly Requests, Mother Love Bone-Stargazer, Cody ChestnuTT-Everybody’s Brother, Michael Franti & Spearhead-Everyone Deserves Music, Nine Inch Nails-Down In It, The Steepwater Band-Back to the Bottle, Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell-Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing, Rage Against the Machine-Killing in the Name, Smashing Pumpkins-Day Dream, Dave Matthews Band-#34, Tool-Message to Harry Manback, Ice Cube-Integration, Red Hot Chilipeppers-Pea, Deftones-Lifter, Soundgarden-Pretty Noose, The Sword-To Take the Black, The White Stripes-St. Andrew, Smashing Pumpkins-Crush, Ice Cube-When Will They Shoot, Quicksand-Transparent, Freddy Jones Band-Into the Wind, Cody ChestnuTT Enough of Nothing, Freddy Jones Band-She Said, Freddy Jones Band-Wonder, Taking Back Sunday-Set Phasers to Stun, The Smiths-Hand in Glove, Crash Kings-All Along, Marvin Gaye-Inner City Blues, The White Stripes-Conquest, Tool-Third Eye, Dave Matthews Band-Dancing Nancies, Incubus-Consequence, 30 Seconds to Mars-R-Evolve, Michael Franti & Spearhead-Listener Supported, Black Label society-Destruction Overdrive, Michael Franti & Spearhead-Love, Why did you go away

Hi!…um…How are you? This is a bit awkward, huh? We haven’t shared this space in a while. Truthfully, this space is changing. We all are. I’ve been thinking about this blog, and this place (The Dhabi), and you, and writing, and school, and friends, and family, and children, and growth, and fear, and love, and loss…hey, it’s been a long time. I think a lot.

To be totally honest, I’ve been sitting at this computer for hours, full of those thoughts, and full of hesitation…and this is as far as I’ve traveled. How much should one reveal? What is my purpose with this blog? Am I filling a role or am I being me, the true me, without ego, without pretense, without speaking words I think you’d want to hear. See, I want to relate the real me. I can’t do that if I label myself as any one of me societal roles. In terms of the blog, I just want to be Lee. I want to write from that perspective, Lee–human being.  Sounds easy…nu-uh.

Also, I’d like to entertain, show you the sights, share some of my thoughts and the miracles that occur in everyday life. They do ya know…(sidebar—have you seen “Into the Wild”? No? Wow, see it! I’ve seen it a few times and I cry at the strangest times. Tonight, I turned it on right at the section about gaining wisdom, about getting out of your comfort zone, about how anyone can learn from anyone…and I do everyday. That, my friends, is the kind of everyday miracle I am talking about.) I am getting comfortable here, so I need to stretch it a bit.

Remember “The Real World” on MTV? Is it still on? Anyway, the opening intro said it was a show about how strangers are forced together and what happens when people stop being polite and start being real…or something like that. Well, we were raised to be real polite, in fact, to be polite-r than most (yes, I make up words…what, is this your first blog?). Another sidebar—my father is asleep in my guest room right now. Love that he’s returned to the Middle East after almost 40 years. I love having him here. Your relationship as a child changes without notice until major life changes create separation or some kind of defined change. We’ve had a few. Since the loss of my younger brother in 2008, this has been a big change for both of us. I am his namesake, and his only son, and I live 7500 miles away…not easy, even for a tough guy like him. He arrived the day before his 77th birthday…wanna see?

Dad and I on his 77th in front of the Burj Al Arab in Dubai. To think, He's almost twice the age of this country--still looks good, too! Just ask him ;)

Dad and me on his 77th in front of the Burj Al Arab in Dubai. To think, He’s almost twice the age of this country–still looks good, too! Just ask him 😉

Dad's birthday meal with Aziz and Ahmed at a swanky Emirati restaurant in the Dubai Mall. Great food and great company!

Dad’s birthday meal with Aziz and Ahmed at a swanky Emirati restaurant in the Dubai Mall. Great food and great company! They give you cologne and essential oils to freshen up at the end of the meal. I smell Oud!

So, back to the real world. Work has become interesting. I LOVE what I do, and I am lucky to work with some really hardworking people…but Dorothy, we ain’t in Kansas, anymore (American colloquialism for my international reader). Life just works at a different speed here. The reform we told we were taking part in is a bit different than described. In fact, it’s way more challenging. In my interview, I asked if they had “turnaround” schools…I like a school with a strong heart that is looking for a change. Well, I got one. The people and the kids are great. They want the change, but “this is how we always do it” has prevailed for so long that the options don’t appear. The bottom line is, schools are people. Parents want what ‘s best, kids want to learn, teachers want to share their art, and administrators…well, that’s our mission, to make all that happen. All I have to do is keep those things in mind, everyday, through the discipline, the illnesses of staff and students, the 752 accountability measures (give or take a hundred), the standardized testing, and now, through the language barrier…with your students, with your teachers, with your admin team, with your parents, and with the community. Ever seen Arabic!? At least with French or Spanish, you can guess…nu-uh, not happening here. You know what, though? I freakin’ love it!

This is "the yard" before the storm, uh school day. I stand in front of this everyday. So much potential in this space. One has to see the possibilities, the opportunities for growth; lives change here, everyday. So cool!

This is “the yard” before the storm, uh, school day. I stand in front of this everyday. So much potential in this space. One has to see the possibilities, the opportunities for growth; lives change here, everyday. So cool!

So, yes, I’ve had to have some hard conversations with fellow admins, teachers, and superiors. All challenging, all uncomfortable, all growth experiences. They are teaching me, everyday. For that, I am grateful.

We are required to do a minimum number of hours of Professional Development every week. This year the accountability police are on it. Our school is out in the sticks, uh dunes, and there is a belief that “central office” never checks on the schools “off island” (out of the city)…that’s us. We’re so off island that the sign to our school is under a sand drift. ( I wanted to say it has Jed Clampett pickin’ a banjo and sayin’ “atta way”, but that reference might be too narrow.) Thus, many believe we won’t get visited. Well, the #2 man in charge showed up the second week of school and made the whole place nervous. Now, there is a new number 1, a female (YES, Sistahs makin’ waves!) and she has vowed to visit all the schools. So, I stress…grinding teeth, headaches, you know, stress. Here’s why: We are a special community and our culture is not the same as the culture in the city, yet the expectations are the same. So, that is the challenge. Meet the city numbers with rural kids on a scale set without consideration of our statistical past. Sound familiar? Yep, it happens here, too.

So, that’s all boring to most of you. I’m a total EduNerd, and I love that stuff. However, I am WAAAY behind, so let’s look at some pictures! K? MmmmmK!

Green Day Assembly. Look at the little dudes dressed as fruit! The don't eat it, but they love the costumes.

Green Day Assembly. Look at the little dudes dressed as fruit! They don’t eat it, but they love the costumes. I sometimes carry grapes around at lunch and offer them to the boys. They give me the “Gas Face”! 3rd Bass fans, ya feel me?

Overhead of boys assembling for “Green Day”. No, not the band, the day! It’s a celebration of eating healthy and staying active. Apparently, we were supposed to wear green that day. The two little ones in the foreground didn’t get the memo and had to sit out…yeah, there was no memo. There never is. We don’t have a school calendar. I hear other schools do. It’s on my to-do list.

For when you're driving through a vacuum in space.

For when you’re driving through a vacuum in space.

One might call this “overkill”. Not here, more lights, more better!

The boys love sharing their culture. Prior to the picture they parted and made me sit with them. Imagine 900 Dennis the Menaces...in Kandooras.

The boys love sharing their culture. Prior to the picture they parted and made me sit with them. Imagine 900 Dennis the Menaces…in Kandooras.

This is me hanging with the boys watching a rehearsal. Here’s an idea…let’s give them swords and heavy iron toy guns. The kids in the distance are following one boy who is chanting, from memory, for about 10 minutes. Impressive.

An amazing camping location about 2 hours from Abu Dhabi, in Fujeirah. That's Snoopy (Island) taking a nap.

An amazing camping location about 2 hours from Abu Dhabi, in Fujeirah. That’s Snoopy (Island) taking a nap.

The campsite before everyone showed up. Add about 12 more people and 8 countries of origin. Lots of charades and trivial pursuit and health food and juice and water.  Kinda.

The campsite before everyone showed up. Add about 12 more people and 8 countries of origin. Lots of charades and trivial pursuit and health food and juice and water. Kinda.

There are signs everywhere. It took me years to recognize and accept them. I've always preached love, but I had a hard time with deserving it. I do. So, do you. The signs are there if your heart is open.

There are signs everywhere. It took me years to recognize and accept them. I’ve always preached love, but I had a hard time with deserving it. I do. So, do you. The signs are there if your heart is open.

Signs. We are just visiting.

Signs. We are just visiting.

These are pathways the water takes to get back to the ocean.

These are pathways the water takes to get back to the ocean.

I love this picture. See the established pathways? That is how your brain works. On this particular day, the majority of the water will run down the larger, more established pathways. Your brain does that with problem solving and other decision making tasks. It gets accustomed to thinking through something the same way, over and over. However, these pathways don’t have to be permanent. In fact, I’m quite sure after high tide these pathways will change. So? Well, this is what we do in education. Students come in with established thought pathways and it is our job to help them explore other pathways of thought. If we continue to think the same way and use the same shortcuts, then we neglect creativity. Look at all the potential for other thought processes here. Our children need options for thought, not shortcuts to answers. The world requires creative minds.

If Smoke-flavored bacon is made over a campfire and infused with smoke, is it then double-smoked and twice as good? Yes, yes it is. Bacon good.

If Smoke-flavored bacon is made over a campfire and infused with smoke, is it then double-smoked and twice as good? Yes, yes it is. Bacon good.

 

The hairpin turn at the Yas Marina F1 track (they call it a "circuit" here). On Tuesdays you can run, walk, or bike it. Google it, it's cool

The hairpin turn at the Yas Marina F1 track (they call it a “circuit” here). On Tuesdays you can run, walk, or bike it. Google it, it’s cool

 

Crepuscular rays. Cool.

Crepuscular rays. Cool.

Spelling optional here.

Spelling optional here.

This is a rather morbid traffic safety demonstration presented by the students. Of course, they all cheer the crazy driver and the crash. I'm not sure this program is effective. Google traffic accidents in the UAE. Gruesome.

This is a rather morbid traffic safety demonstration presented by the students. Of course, they all cheer the crazy driver and the crash. I’m not sure this program is effective. Google traffic accidents in the UAE. Gruesome.

This is one of the most impressive graphic organizers I've ever seen. Plus, if you've ever heard my lecture on Emily Dickinson, then you know I LOVE concentric circles! What? You've never heard my lecture on Emily Dickinson!? Spice up your life, my friend!

This is one of the most impressive graphic organizers I’ve ever seen. Plus, if you’ve ever heard my lecture on Emily Dickinson, then you know I LOVE concentric circles! What? You’ve never heard my lecture on Emily Dickinson!? Spice up your life, my friend!

 

Movie Night at Sky Tower. A laptop and a projector (or, "data show") and Troy. Who's dreamier? Bana or Pitt? (No feet comments, please. I rarely trip over them...any more.)

Movie Night at Sky Tower. A laptop and a projector (or, “data show”) and Troy. Who’s dreamier? Bana or Pitt? (No feet comments, please. I rarely trip over them…anymore.)

 

Waves of clouds over the city.

Waves of clouds over the city.

Insanely gaudy lighting fixtures--YES! Cincinnati Fashion--not so much.

Insanely gaudy lighting fixtures–YES! Cincinnati Fashion–not so much.

I was invited to join a monthly pot luck dinner club. Last month was comfort food. This is my baked Eggplant Parmesan.

I was invited to join a monthly pot luck dinner club. Last month was comfort food. This is my baked Eggplant Parmesan.

So, the dinner club reminded me of the roles we play. While I am very proud to be an administrator or a father or a son or someone who cooks, none of these roles define me. I’ve been struggling with that lately. Who am I? How do I define me? This topic confuses many of us. What I’ve learned is I should not spend time creating conceptual definitions of who I am. How can one person carry all that around everywhere? These definitions get in the way of “me”, of self. They get in the way of being present. I spent many years not being present; trying to keep up with who I thought you wanted to talk to. A maddening practice. All of those titles are egoic. I’m trying to get away from those loaded definitions and just be…just be. So, it’s ok to not know. The hard part is remembering to clear away those titles and let me be present for every encounter. Confusion is a gathering of thoughts that aren’t your own. I find it interesting that many of Confucius’ aphorisms are about simplicity, and oneness…not confusing, at all. (All from Eggplant Parm–hey, I’m hungry.)

Uh, who doesn't want to hang out here?

Uh, who doesn’t want to hang out here?

I wonder what they sell? (Also, Houston Oilers fans, ever wondered what happened to Billy Johnson? Here's his store.)

I wonder what they sell? (Also, Houston Oilers fans, ever wondered what happened to Billy Johnson? Here’s his store.)

A really pregnant camel...for 12 months! "Get it out! Get it out, now!"

A really pregnant camel…for 12 months! “Get it out! Get it out, now!”

This just came to me during a seminar. Doctoral thesis idea.

This just came to me during a seminar. Doctoral thesis idea. (yes, my handwriting stinks–get over it.)

So, this graphic just kinda came to me. I believe this is what we do to gifted kids in schools. They are particularly under-served during the middle years. First, we have to agree on what “gifted” means. I am not getting into that with you…right now. The idea is in its infancy; I’m just not ready to develop the whole thing, yet.

His brother's place, One Kind of Burger, didn't so well. Nearby is Hot Burger. HIS brother's place, Cold Burger, did not fare well, either.

His brother’s place, One Kind of Burger, didn’t do well. Nearby is Hot Burger. HIS brother’s place, Cold Burger, did not fare well, either. (That’s Salon, not a Saloon–there are Saloons for Men every 50 meters here.)

See the Wonka-vator? It goes up a whole two stories! Don't be surprised.

See the Wonka-vator? It goes up a whole two stories! Don’t be surprised.

This is a Gorilla made entirely from wire hangars. I think I know why he's angry.

This is a Gorilla made entirely from wire hangers. I think I know why he’s angry. (Enter your “Mommie Dearest” line here…)

On your left is THE Mark C. Thompson, guru, business consultant to some dudes named Jobs, Gates, Branson...to name a few. The other guy? Photobomb.

On your left is THE Mark C. Thompson, guru, business consultant to some dudes named Jobs, Gates, Branson…to name a few. The other guy? Photobomb.

So, yes, I met him. It was an amazing evening. I floated all the way home. It is no secret I love what these guys do. I read Dan Pink, Dan Gilbert, the Heaths, Spencer Johnson, Jon Gordon, Jim Rohn, Tony Robbins, Rob Bell, all of them. I like what they do, and I’d love to do it one day. I am not ready. I have the desire, but not the experience or readiness, yet.

The Monk with Sweaty Palms

Kasan, a Zen teacher and monk, was to officiate at a funeral of a famous nobleman. As he stood there waiting for the governor of the province and other lords and ladies to arrive, he noticed that the palms of his hands were sweaty.

The next day he called his disciples together and confessed he was not yet ready to be a true teacher. He explained to them that he still lacked the sameness of bearing before all human beings, whether beggar or king. 

He was still unable to look through social roles and conceptual identities and see the sameness of being in every human. He then left and become the pupil of another master. The returned to his former disciples eight years later, enlightened.

– A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle

I am a pupil.

The pupil at wonder.

The pupil at wonder.

Thank you for sticking it out to the end. As I said hours ago when you started reading this, I was stuck for a while. I thought that meant I couldn’t think. Rather, “stuckness” is a good thing. It is a singular focus and requires action.

So, I have spent a lot of time searching…for many things. What a mistake. When you search for love, do you find it? When you search for happiness, do you find it? When you search for yourself, do you find it? No, at least, not for me. All of these things come when you’re ready. When you are you, not a role, not a title, not a job, not a state of mind. I will be trying to strip away those things that are ego-created and ego-craved, and just be me. You see, we are not our ego. We are under it, or beyond it, but we have to step back and see ourselves…new to me. Thank you for giving me that.

Peace and love to you all,

Lee