Tag Archives: school improvement

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.

Everyday a New Day, School Improvement is Real, or Life is Ordinary; add some Extra.

6 Mar

(No Playlist this month…I’ll reinstate it, if you’re interested  Please enjoy!)

If I could be the leaves, then like jade I would stay evergreen

and Spread my limbs out wide and pull love so close to me

and If I could be the roots, I would dig deep like ancestry

and If I were the fruits, you’d make the sweetest cherry pie from me

and If I could be the night, my moon replace all electric lights

and Magic music would transmit from outer space on satellites
If I myself could be the ocean, you would feel the motion all the time

and If I were the words, then everything that everybody said would rhyme

Michael Franti – What I Be

Too many shadows in my room
Too many hours in this midnight
Too many corners in my mind
So much to do to set my heart right

Oh, it’s taking so long
I could be wrong, I could be ready
Oh but if I take my heart’s advice
I should assume it’s still unsteady
I am in repair, I am in repair
John Mayer – In Repair

Through excessive reliance on thinking, reality becomes fragmented.” Eckhart Tolle

So much contradiction in my day today, I don’t know where to start. (Can’tcha tell from the lyrical selections? Hey, it’s been an interesting day. Gotta love that!)

Typical Day in Mista Lee's office.

Typical Day in Mista Lee’s office.

See! PLCs are fun!

See! PLCs are fun!

I am writing on 14 February (that’s how long I’ve been in The Dhabi, I’m inverting dates), Valentine’s Day. I woke up with a sadness. Normally, I spend the day, or night, with my girls. We cook their favorite meals, pick up a few bottles of bubbly (sparkling grape juice) and have a “date night”. I love it. I miss it. I miss them. I love them.

I love the architecture here. This is the pool at the Intercontinental in Chicago. I stayed there with my daughters over winter break for a Christmas shopping trip.

I love the architecture here. This is the pool at the Intercontinental in Chicago. I stayed there with my daughters over winter break for a Christmas shopping trip.

The John Mayer lyrics came to me before I even turned on my music this morning. There were shadows in my room, there was a darkness feeling that lasted too long. I was spending too much time in the corners of my mind (umm, I think I still am)…and I am working really, really hard to set my heart right.

The Michael Franti lyrics fueled a really good walkabout the other day and they stuck with me. He is really adept and pointing out the Whitman-esque beauties in the world that we tend to overlook. I am really grateful for Michael Franti’s music. (Check him out if you haven’t yet, you will love it…no matter who you are.)

So, back to my brief, heavy heart from this morning. I felt some homesick pangs today. I have many, many more good days, than bad, but there are some holidays that get to you when you’re 7700 miles from home. School (work, as some might call it) is awesome. It’s an amazing challenge every-darn stinkin’-day. Our school is seriously improving by leaps and bounds. The teachers are banding together and bringing us up to competitive heights. We have solid lesson plans, learning centers in classrooms, visible behavior management systems, testing strategies, PLCs…yes, the Al Bawadi Unicorns are on the brink of legendary improvement. THAT, is a serious source of joy for me.

Yes! Grade 6...in a line...without their teacher! THAT is amazing!

Yes! Grade 6…in a line…without their teacher! THAT is amazing!

PD Gallery Walk, outside. A luxury when it only rains 5 days a year.

PD Gallery Walk, outside. A luxury when it only rains 5 days a year.

Senior Leadership Team--doin' some strategery.

Senior Leadership Team–doin’ some strategery.

However, there are setbacks…for me, away from school. There are struggles. There are obstacles to growth. You know who puts them there? I do. I find that my resistance to things happening stops me from learning. I rarely ever say “sh*t happens”, but it does. There’s nothing you can do about it. You can resist, put up a fight, complain to anyone who will listen, tell people “should this/shouldn’t that”…but, it still happens, so acknowledge it, have your emotions, but see it for what it is. This is so basic to how we learn.

Not as strange as one might think.

A lesson in adaptation.

Recently, I watched a TEDtalk by Tom Wujec (Build a Tower, Build a Team—see it!) I won’t give it away, because he does a much better job of explaining this phenomenon…you will never get everything right, the first time you try it. Children know this. They build, and play, and make up games, and they don’t always work, but children don’t focus on the failure, they focus on the process…the game…the creation. This is why project based/inquisitive-based learning is so important. Tell them to memorize the right way to do something and they’ll have to succeed at it a number of times before it is perfected. Let them discover their own way to learn it, and it becomes their practice. This should be applied in all arenas of our lives.

Our Current PD Project. Do what we do...better. Use our expertise to help each other raise the bar.

Our Current PD Project. Do what we do…better. Use our expertise to help each other raise the bar.

As adults, we sometimes fail, and we let that failure discourage us. Really, that failure is a way of getting a mistake out of the way. Or, we use something that happened to us to stop us from attempting something. Imagine as a kid, if when you fell off your bike for the first time, you never got on it again. “Hey, well that didn’t work…so much for bikes!” Ever see Adam Sandler’s “Mr. Deeds”? There’s a scene near the end where he reminds a room full of millionaire stockholders that as children, we believed in our dreams and nothing (but growing up) could stop us from believing in them. As adults, though, some of us let “what happened” stop us from getting back on that bike, or from the beliefs we once held. John Mayer also writes, “Is there anyone who ever remembers/changing their mind/from the paint on a sign?” No, belief is stronger than that.

No Old-Timey Horns! These are around the hospitals in the Dhabi.

No Old-Timey Horns! These are around the hospitals in the Dhabi. I wonder if the paint on this sign makes people change their mind?

So, what happens? Life happens. Things out of your control slow you down, create problems, create resistance. Sometimes, we focus on those things, and we let them slow us down. (Ego…again.) If you resist what happens in your life then you put yourself at the mercy of it, and you let something, or someone, else determine how you feel. I’m talking about things that happened, not future choices. Of course, we can’t just let go of making good decisions. That could be disastrous.

What’s my advice…for me? Sometimes life presents you with limitations. Like physical distance from loved ones, or impossibly small budgets, or…ya know? I’ll spare you the advice. To each his own, correct?

One of our boys expressing his freedom to choose....incorrectly.

One of our boys expressing his freedom to choose….incorrectly.

Soooo, I wrote everything above this paragraph 14 days ago. Here’s what’s strange. I don’t really like it, but I’m sticking with it. The other strange thing is I saw “Boyhood” today. If I had seen it 14 days ago, the first half of this blog would have been totally different. Well, not totally different, but from a different perspective.

You see, I think the advice I held back was to live each day as it’s own, to stay present, to appreciate what you have in front of you, right now. In fact, that advice is doled out in the movie, as well. Here’s the thing, though…balance. I need to balance my thinking. Yes, today is…well, whatever today is, but chances are, today might not be memorable. It’s a string of todays that really become a life…many non-memorable, though we’ll characterize them as “good”, days. Life really is dominated by good days.

TED Talk The Case for Emotional Hygiene. Please watch this. It’s really good. 

Anyway, as I watched “Boyhood”, I went through it all. I watched as a boy, as a brother, as a boyfriend, as a student, as a son, as a husband, as a father, and as a father away from his children. Needless to say, there were some tough moments. However, I can’t put my finger on any one of them and I just saw the movie today. Why? I know I went through the emotional spectrum watching it, but I can’t recall any certain scene and the emotion it evoked. None were remarkable or extreme, but all were special. There’s that balance.

The need for...

The need for…

...balance

…balance.

I kept watching and waiting for some tragedy to befall the family. My instinct as a parent, and as an avid watcher of films, was to look for the cringe moment when something really bad happened to anyone. Ya know? That urge to protect the kids as they grow. Yes, some bad things happened, but there was so much more life around than the bad things.

So I asked myself…”Hey Lee, I have a question for you?” (Yes, I answered. Yes, I know that’s an issue.) The question is, why was I waiting for something bad to happen? Why did I expect it? Does a story about life require a tragedy in order to be life-like? Has my lifelong study of literature boxed me into formulas? Do we assign the word “tragedy” to life events that really should be called “learning opportunities” or, just “life events”. Really, that’s all they are…events that happen during life. So, change of thought for me. Life is not like in the movies…even the really good ones. So, the next time someone says, “…ugh, my life is like a movie…or soap opera…or bad sitcom…” remember, you’re making it that. It simply isn’t true, unless you let it be.

Love the architecture and the landscape architecture here.

Love the architecture and the landscape architecture here.

Symmetry.

Symmetry.

I know you've seen this before. Sun Tower on your left, Sky Tower on your right.

I know you’ve seen this before. Sun Tower on your left, Sky Tower on your right.

Ok, so, that one question became 4 questions…that I can remember. Do we require tragedy to “begin” the life we’re really looking for? I don’t think so. Certainly, we’ve all had our tragedies. I could list the loss of people and events that were traumatic, but did I require them to grow. No, I didn’t. I don’t.

You see, we have the freedom to start the life we want right now. There’s risk in that. There is fear; self-generated. What’s the alternative, though? Living the life you don’t want? Is that an option? In my past, I didn’t take the emotional risks, or make the changes I needed to make. So, the problems stacked up, and so did the obstacles to happiness. The obstacles I made. However, I wasn’t expecting them. I didn’t feel they were necessary; they were definitely part of the plan. However, problems are not the definitions of your life. You face them, you breathe, you live.

Space to breathe. The Campers of Abu Dhabi ride again.

Space to breathe. The Campers of Abu Dhabi ride again.

That’s the beauty of the film. With a scope of 12 years as the setting, the tragedies and their impact seem to diminish in emotional damage because, frankly, life is too busy and too short to cling to them. Watching these lives as they grow over 12 years creates an emotional balance. Life is bigger than the tough moments; they fade and life gets more…more…more everything.

Ya think these dudes are focused on tragedy? I doubt it. They climb over the top of a 76 story building, then slowly work down it hanging by two lines of knotted together rope. Yes, connected by knots. That's trust.

Ya think these dudes are focused on tragedy? I doubt it. They climb over the top of a 76 story building, then slowly work down it hanging by two lines of knotted together rope. Yes, connected by knots. That’s trust.

So the family in the film they just lived. They weren’t extraordinary people, they didn’t fight some Goliath, there were no severe, extreme measures to take in order to survive. They just lived. No typical story arc, none of the stuff I forced my poor English students to remember that every story had…just life. That’s why I think I liked it so much.

So, where’s the balance? Life is long, but made up of moments that are characterized by the choices we make and the labels we attach to them. If we take the tough moments and pick and pull at them like skin on a hangnail, they will get bigger and bleed. We run the risk of making those short bad moments into a life. Then one day, a switch flips and you say, “…life’s too short to hold this or that grudge…” But really, life is long, and you chose to string short bad moments into one long one. I’m choosing to balance my perspective today. I will appreciate the extreme moments as catalysts for growth and change. I will keep in mind that life is long enough to get over anything…as long as I choose to get over it.

AWOD-dhabob=fog. It can be so thick that school is delayed or cancelled. Don't dwell on the fog, appreciate the clarity that follows.

AWOD-dhabob=fog. It can be so thick that school is delayed or cancelled. Don’t dwell on the fog, appreciate the clarity that follows.

Thus the Tolle quote way up at the top. Analyzing a moment over and over again suspends you in that moment, and you lose reality. I bounced the first half of this blog off a friend who is a writer and extremely intelligent. She said, “It’s like you’re not even here!” Six words that stopped me. She was right. All this “now” talk and I was sitting here discussing the past. I felt it, I acknowledge it, and today is a new day. Thanks for the kick! 

Sunrise and Snoopy. (Fujairah, UAE) A new day...everyday. What will you do with it?

Sunrise and Snoopy. (Fujairah, UAE) A new day…everyday. What will you do with it?

Do you know the Serenity Prayer? I do, and I still forget.

We are an impressive work in progress.

Peace and love to you, my friends.

Love, Lee

Speaking of Hygiene-yes, there are sporks here. I am not going to tell you that this boy did not and will not wash his hands. Licked clean and dried on his pants. Eat well, my friends!

Speaking of Hygiene-yes, there are sporks here. I am not going to tell you that this boy did not and will not wash his hands. Licked clean and dried on his pants. Eat well, my friends.