Tag Archives: social psychology

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…



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.



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.


The Desert, an extended metaphor; perception, or Analyze, but don’t Histor-icize.

9 Nov

Playlist-The Shins-Caring is Creepy, Michael Franti & Spearhead-Do it for the Love, The Mars Volta-Roulette Dares (The Haunt of), System of a Down-Streamline, Killswitch Engage-My Curse, Tool-Lipan Conjuring, Sublime-Jailhouse, Red Hot Chili Peppers-Breaking the Girl, 30 Seconds to Mars-The Kill, Incubus-Are You In?, Miles Davis-Flamenco Sketches, Wax-We Can’t All be Heroes, Bob Marley & the Wailers-Buffalo Soldier, Michael Franti & Spearhead-What I Be.

Cool Lyric of the Day:

I remember when there wasn’t no pressure

I just do this

Before the music was part of a to-do list

I love writing, but why I’m clueless

It’s peaceful, yet deceitful,

Like a Buddhist Judas

from We Can’t All Be Heroes by Wax

Wow, a “Buddhist Judas”-that is clear and accurate…you should know that these playlists are what is occurring during the events you’re reading about. Music has that sensory trigger that marks times in our lives. Depending on what I’m going through I can be immersed in an album, a genre, or a topic. Looking at this playlist, I see a representation of many things Lee…and certainly, my dear family and friends, as you have contributed to the diversity of who I am, so have I absorbed, and reflected, the details and sum of my perceptions.

To the reader who asks, “How does that fit?”, I say it doesn’t matter. As good ol’ Uncle Walt (Whitman—not the chocolate sampler guy, either) always said, “Do I contradict myself?/Very well then, I contradict myself/I am large, I contain multitudes…I am untranslatable…” (There’s a 5 or 6 line ellipse in there; poetic license, get over it.)

Ya know, we (well, I) never consider a young Walt Whitman. He was in his mid-thirties when he wrote “Song of Myself”. I am older than him. Strange. I guess that goes back to perception. The most common pic you’ve seen of him is this old, long in the tooth, gray-bearded man, but he couldn’t be 35 or so in that pic. It’s like Einstein. Remember that college poster that sold about 15 million copies every year to hip-thinking freshmen looking to instill originality into their dorm room? He couldn’t possibly have looked like that always.

You see, perceptions are not real. They are personal and they are yours; only you have built them. You can agree upon them, but at their genesis, from where they derive, deep in your id/ego, none are the same. I think we’d all do better to one another if we kept that in mind. During the first few weeks of my stay here, the kandooras and other traditional dress seemed interesting and novel. Like a costume gives a child that special feeling and identity; I was looking at them the same way. As friendships and working relationships with locals become the norm, you start to see the people, not the perception. You know what? There is no difference. Seems obvious, right? Any self-respecting liberal, or culturally aware person will say they don’t see clothes or presentation, they only see people. Good for you. So, ask yourself; do you tailor how you greet people? Do you look at someone and reflect what you think they expect? Does your perception of someone new begin with something, anything, preconceived? Why? I think we’re reflecting our fears when we do that. I think we are afraid of presenting ourselves in a vulnerable state. We go in guarded, and spend time knocking walls down. What an interesting way to forge a relationship. Start with a fortress, and break your way in. Why not start in an open space and build together? Much of what is going on in my life right now is starting in open spaces…and the desert, and this collaboration of cultures, and this educational reform, and this exponentially expanding city being built out of vast open space, is the culminating metaphor. I am shaking as all of this falls into line. My eyes are windows, not mirrors, again (a bit blurry with emotion), and the scenery is informing me everyday.

Ok, sorry had to get that out. Whew! I feel better. You?

What do you think about when you think “desert”? (That’s one /s/, you smart—ypants!) Again, out loud and be honest, be vulnerable…desert? Three words out loud. I’ll leave you to it………………..I won’t try to match you; perception is personal (see what I did there?). I certainly would never have thought that I’d be building something in the desert, but I am…we are.

Three weeks ago (YES, I’m behind…SO!?), 14 of us went on a desert safari and overnight camp.


Needless to say, it was amazing. I’ve been putting this off because I just don’t know what to write about. The experience was so organic and personal that words can’t convey the experience for me. Like Wax says above, writing can be like a Buddhist Judas, peaceful and deceitful, all in the same word.

Desert groupDesert group2

There are seven countries represented there, oh, and Mississippi, which I hear is a country in itself. (Certainly, Twain and Faulkner thought so). The guy kneeling by me isn’t with us, we grabbed each other after we bumped to stop from toppling from the top of the dune. He was happy to join in. The guy taking the picture was with us, too (Kneeling, to your right.). He’s from Houston, via Lebanon. (Woot! Woot! Lebanon!) He took some great pictures, I’ll be stealing them for this blog. (Bro, we’re both Lebanese, mumtaaz!?)

So the 14 (2 not shown, 18 total) of us piled into 3 Land Cruisers to begin our journey. I was running late due to a cheap watch I had to buy to cover the artwork on my wrist. Truthfully, the people at work care nothing about it, but permanent ink on your body is haram (forbidden by Islamic Law-though everything is up for interpretation), and who am I to offend anyone? (Wait ’til they see the COEXIST symbol inked across my shoulder blades!) Also, no one will ask what it means as the topic is personal, and personal questions aren’t polite. People are in the business of minding their own business here…kinda like that.

So, because I was late I was put into a truck with one other westerner, and a family of Filipino tourists. The first thing the Katie in the front seat said was, “Lee, I need the front seat because I always get car sick.” Yes, she said “always” and yes, she is consistent…poor thing. More on that later. Next to me was the most stoic octogenarian I’ve ever seen. I don’t think she uttered a word or a “woo!” the whole time. Included in this family was a very young boy, a very chatty, high-pitched, young boy. After a 30 minute ride into nowhere, we stopped to do this.


Better traction in the sand. As you’ll see, we’ll need as much tire surface on the sand as possible. How these things don’t tip is a lesson in physics (which I am not qualified to deliver).

Our first stop was a camel farm.


They are very calm animals, until you get by the babies. It’s obvious to say, but I am still fascinated by the protective instinct exercised in almost every species. Oh, if ever going to a camel farm, know that they don’t have a designated bathroom area. It happens. Everywhere.

On to the dune bashing! SO much fun. Keep in mind, I’m bigger than pretty much every 80 year-old Filipino woman. So, as we were sliding down the dunes sideways, at 70 degree angles, I was clutching the overhead handle so as not to make this poor woman into poi (yes, I know I’m mixing references). There is a lot of “Hey, what’s on the other side of that ridge…oh, sh–, a sheer drop…” and your stomach is far behind your brain. As we do this for awhile, our little buddy in the backseat decided to exercise (more like exorcise) both English words in his repertoire, “…Fasta! Fasta! Go! Go! Fasta! Fasta! Go! Go!…” Which is cute…for about the first five minutes. After thirty minutes, you start to question your normally amiable spirit.  We bashed on into the desert for about thirty minutes. The normally, very polite, and warm and conversational, Katie in the front seat had become suspiciously quiet. I take a break from trying to photo the sand flying overhead to look at the driver, who keeps checking on the Katie in the front seat. From the look on his face, she’s no longer enjoying it, and he’s thinking, why didn’t I Scotch-guard this carpet, yet?


A plume of sand flying over the passenger side window as we slide sideways down a dune.

A plume of sand flying over the passenger side window as we slide sideways down a dune.

We come to the spot where the pictures above were taken. The Katie in the front seat pleads in a dry-mouthed, last breath, hard lump in the throat, gasp, “Can I get out here, please?” (Always polite that Katie in the front seat). Poor thing jets from the vehicle and does, what I later learn, she has done in every country she’s ever been; and she’s been to many, many countries. She’s a fascinating and engaging personality; which helped me come up with an idea for a reality, travelogue TV show: “Katie Puked Here!” So, we send her on adventures all over the globe, Katie in the front seat throws up, and we learn about these amazing places. Whaddaya think? TV gold, I know. Brilliant. She’s so cool, she’s down for it! Call me Travel Channel…then, pay me, um, us.

A little more bashing and we arrived at camp. Once in camp, there was a henna tent, sand-boarding (like snow-boarding, but slower), camel rides, ATV bashing, and a dress up tent…see?

A not-thrilled camel

A not-thrilled camel

Moon-rise over camp

Moon-rise over camp


That poor camel. I was probably rider 25 or so, and again, I am not average size here. I swear he turned to look at me before we started and said, “Seriously? Dude? Would one less order of hummus kill you?” For all you guys who called me camel-jockey growing up…here’s your chance. Enjoy! The karmic/God/aura orb of light behind my head is still scientifically inexplicable…unless you understand electricity and flood lights, then it’s a total coincidence.

The night entertainment was food and a belly-dancer…and, of course, shisha.

Yes, Dad, of course she's Lebanese.

Yes, Dad, of course she’s Lebanese.


Also on the tour with us were Rihanna’s back-up singers/dancers. Of course, one jumped up and danced with the professional…and got schooled. She did a great job, though. After the show was over, everyone loaded back into the trucks and headed back to the city. Everyone, but us, of course. We had the whole camp to ourselves. Really, this is when the experience started. This is where I lose my words to explain the impact of the evening. All of these countries and experiences, these no-longer strangers, these educators, these friends. The conversation flowed freely, and I caught myself more than once, staring into the desert night, trying to make sense of it. Why me? Why here? Where am I? Who are these people? How is this possible? What should I be learning?

“Lee! Lee!?…hey man, what are you thinking?” Someone brought me back…

“You know…I don’t know? I’m having a moment. A real moment. Me, all of you, all of this. I don’t know what it means, and for the first time in my life, I’m glad not to be responsible for the answers. I spent a lot of time stressing about being the answer guy only to find out the notion of being the answer guy is totally false. A perception I misled myself into. I spent too much time TRYING to manage other people’s feelings…foolish, man, foolish. Heavy, ya know? I’m allowing myself to just experience, to be genuinely touched, no context, no preconceived notions, no false expertise. I’m absorbing. I just want to thank you, all of you. For this. For me, being a part of this us. Very cool, ya know…Oh, did I mention, I’m a crier?…” Duh, right?

Turns out, many of us, especially those embarking on a life-changing journey, go through these introspective moments. The brain gets a new experience and doesn’t know where to file it. There is no reference point. You need to hold on to it, but where does it go? I do this in my professional life. Something new comes across my desk. Something for which I don’t have an already labeled folder. I keep it on my desk until I can sort out where it goes. Or, I realize it deserves a new label, and I create a new folder. I am creating new folders as this experience progresses. First, it was “New Experience in Abu Dhabi”, then “The Dhabi!” (don’t forget, get your t-shirt!) Now, there is so much more.

The conversation ebbed and flowed until about 4am, I think? The sleeping tents were surprisingly comfortable and the night air was quite comfortable. The sun rose a few hours later and breakfast was served. There was a lot of looking at each other without speaking. People processing. As humans, we don’t spend enough time expressing our gratitude towards one another. We take human interaction for granted. Let’s start sharing more. “Hey, last night was really cool. Thank you.”

That’s the cool thing about 14 strangers encamped in the middle of the desert. There is no history to reference. No playing of the name game; just sharing from that point forward. Learning. The experience is unique and impossible to replicate. We talk about going again, and we probably will, but we will be different. There will be more points of reference, folders of memories and experiences will be filled with files, and the conversation will exhibit that we know each other in ways separate from the experience. We will compare.

I’m trying to get out of the business of comparisons. Comparisons are a set up for disappointment; “greater than” or “less than”, even “equal to” becomes a let down. I want my experiences to be free from comparative analysis. CA takes the wonder out of the stars. It locks us into a perception, and locking into a perception creates shortcuts that limit our ability to be free. Remember when you studied, “When I heard the Learn’d Astronomer”? (ummmm, Walt Whitman? Hello? Google now!) The poet is dizzied and nauseated, not by the numbers and figures presented by the Astronomer, but by the Astronomer’s inability to perceive, by his lack of awareness, of how beautiful the stars actually are. (Of course, you may argue, that is my perception of the poem, and not yours–see, I did it again.)

All this knowledge we have, can get in the way of our awareness. Continue to perceive, but be aware, that perceptions are historical, and the present is a gift. Open it everyday with the wide-eyed wonder of a child.

Yes, I am way behind. This was a tough one. I’m reckoning, you know?

Just to prove that I do work, here’s a pic of me and my main interpreter, Khaled. It’s hard to be witty during a presentation when you have to stop for translation…and when, sometimes, there isn’t one. I feel like a Mormon doing stand up at the Apollo…is thing on? Hello? I can hear you breathing…crickets.

PD Presentation 007

Can you say "Engaged Educators"? Oh yeah!

Can you say “Engaged Educators”? Oh yeah!

Thank you for your enduring support and love!



p.s. There’s no new ink on me. Gotcha!