“International Investigations in Cuban Education”

When I started my PhD last fall, I never imagined I would spend nine days in Cuba with two-dozen graduate students, conducting research, and meeting with colleagues and schools in the Cuban education system. As I continue to think critically about education in the US, I have to be aware of how education exists in other cultures and contexts. And this is what lead me to apply for the opportunity to study abroad.

If we truly care about education, the status of students (of all types), the future of our systems, and how globalization shows up in classrooms and schools, we have to consider our individual and personal contributions to advancing knowledge within the field. And so, “International Investigations in Cuban Education,” commenced.

And as I entered that space of learning and seeking knowledge, I quickly realized I didn’t know all that much about Cuba.

“Elián González. Old cars. Guantanamo Bay. Fidel Castro.”

When asked about my knowledge of Cuba before this trip, these points represented my low level of understanding. Furthermore, before this trip, I knew virtually nothing about Cuba’s education system. I grew up with peripheral perspectives, but never developed my own, formal and concrete version of what I knew Cuba to be versus what I had heard from others.

As a result of this opportunity, my colleagues and I were granted the privilege of great access to Cuban schools and educators. We spent a substantial amount of time before the trip reading and reflecting on the history of Cuba, the dark connections to the United States, and the reality of a free-to-all education system that exits from preschool to graduate higher education. Although brief, we got a small glimpse into a system of schooling that was unknown to most everyone on the trip.

“But what did you do,” you might be wondering? To synthesize some highlights, and connect to my desire to keep pursuing context and knowledge, the following thoughts and photos best capture my time on the island.


School Visits
While we had opportunities to tour, our primary responsibility was to conduct independent research on various components of Cuban education. Curious about campus environments and institution types, my study looked at the differences between one primary school and one university in Holguín Province. Over the course of three days, I had the opportunity to visit each school, and found incredible similarities between the two. Art and colorful paintings were found throughout each school, and adorned classroom walls and outdoor spaces. Gathering areas transcended from inside to outside, and historical figures were well-represented across both environments. There was no shortage of historical understanding or national pride. Natural air flowed through classrooms, breezeways, and open areas, and the warm climate felt less severe as a result of this design. We also got to experience break time, which we might identify as, “recess,” in the US. I don’t think I stopped smiling during that 40-minute break. Kids of all ages were running, dancing, singing, laughing, and engaging with their teachers and friends. This outside and common space that was so still just moments before the bell rang had become a concrete playground of joy and engagement.

Meetings with Educators
In addition to visiting schools, my colleagues and I had the opportunity to meet with scholars, researchers, and teachers from various Cuban institutions and pedagogies. We had long discussions about the differences in our schooling, and always connected back to the reality that a student-centered framework can  make a huge difference in the way we approach education. “Didactics” existed as a continued theme in our conversations, and the educators shared the ways in which this philosophy showed up as an art form rather than a style of teaching. The spirit and passion for teaching and learning was a big part of their approach. The biggest highlight from these sessions came from one of our final conversations, when the educators asked each of us US representatives to share more about our personal research agenda. This was the first time on the trip that I was asked to explain my interest in parent/family programs in education. With the reliance on a translator to articulate my idea, I had to be very intentional and succinct with how I explained my interest in investigating the exclusionary nature of these types of campus traditions. As I explained that we have many students who show up in education spaces without parents and families, I instantly felt a response that this, too, appears in Cuban spaces as well. My colleague who was translating looked at me and said, “They really appreciate your topic.” This was a validating moment, as I had just spent the past semester trying to better understand how to explain my topic, and questioned how to move toward a more thoughtful research strategy.

Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos
I hate to let Donald Trump rain on my Cuba parade, but alas, he has. And DeVos, too. If you follow me on any form of social media, you know that I have an incredibly strong opinion of DeVos and her dangerous and inexperienced approach to schooling in the US. And as much as I wanted to leave Trump and DeVos back in the US, while I was in Cuba, they continued to be a topic of conversation again and again. Outside of questions and general assumptions, Cuban scholars were well-aware of our current reality in education. They were aware of our shared questions and concerns. They were away of every tweet, and the impact future decisions can have on our country, and the countries around us. But there is power in sharing ideas and perspectives. We were in Cuba on an education exchange, but I would be remised if I did not admit that this exchange was very one-sided. You see, there weren’t (aren’t) 30 Cuban educators headed to the United States to engage in the same critical discussions as we were having. One US colleague stated in his closing speech, “The Trump administration can’t stop the momentum we have here,” and I am letting that idea guide much of my thinking as I continue to seek information, unearth new knowledge, and teach and educate those around me.

I also must acknowledge that Cuba is not perfect. And while we had a close glimpse at some of the educational entities in Cuba, we had limited time to understand and unpack the economic and social struggles that exist outside of the education system (and even some that exist inside the education system). We are not perfect either.

There can be an unsettling feeling when critically analyzing our education system in the US, especially when considering the complex nature of k-12, higher education, and all that exists between (even when simply starting with public and private differences). In Cuba, we heard, “Education is a human right,” again and again, and much of that was backed up by the literacy campaigns that existed following the revolution. With more time, I might be able to spot the inconsistencies in that mantra, though in the meantime, I feel as if in the US, we are moving away from that belief.

Do we really value education as a human right?

Are children really valued citizens, and how serious do we take their learning?

Do we take their learning serious?

Before applying to this program, I never would have imagined an opportunity like this, meeting university and education association presidents, school principals, and top scholars in Cuban education. The opportunity to engage and reflect is part of what made my time in Cuba that much more special. And the opportunity to see past what I always understood as Cuba has helped me better understand how I show up in spaces where gaps exist on others’ path to understanding.

In closing, one US colleague challenged each participant to make a commitment to “what comes next” after Cuba. If we want exchanges and experiences to be truly transformative and informational, we have to commit to life-long learning and growing, and to a reframe the idea that perfection exists without considering culture, history, and social context. Even as we ventured away from the country, we heard counter-narratives contradicting all that we had learned and began to understand. The shift became present. The balance became important.

We learned. And we are beginning and continuing to understand. As I reflect on this reality, I am thankful that the process, in this case, has become the product.

I commit,


Live your truth.

When previously asked what advice I would give people – personally or professionally – I use to say something along the lines of, “Be authentic,” or, “Take chances,” or, “Never poop at a nightclub.” While I still agree with these sentiments, I am becoming more and more impacted by the idea of living our truth.

Live your truth.

If there’s one thing I fundamentally believe in at my very core, it’s that few things are better than living your truth. And few things are better than living in your most authentic self, thus committing to make the world a better place. Representation matters. Authenticity matters. Example matters. The minute I started living unapologetically, good things started happening. Life started to fall into place. Peace happened. I learned to accept the unexpected.

In honor of a new week of being inspired, I am conscious of the individuals on my timelines and in my life who are going above and beyond to live their authentic truth. Take some time to pause today, and check out the following friends who are inspiring not only me every single day, but the communities and world around them.

Take note…

Amanda Pouchot, community builder and co-founder of Levo League


Destini Rogers, dancer and choreographer


Paul Bauer, businessman by day & Seattle hiker/explorer by life



Meg Bourne, CEO & founder of Art Feeds


Yiorgos Boudouris, community builder and creative thinker


Tomiwa Awobayiku, researcher and budding-Biologist


Zachary Pullin, activist and social change thought-leader

Zachary Pullin

Heather Graham, blogger and lifestyle guide


Nathan Box, blogger and nonprofit genius


Terren Wooten, Broadway performer and the Kizha Carr


Intentionality is everything, and as we grow and develop, surrounding ourself with individuals who are changing the world – one thought, mission, and effort at a time – is important now more than ever. And then, honoring those people who are in our lives – much like the ones I have listed above – becomes even more essential to our being inspired to create real and authentic (to our self) change.

What is your truth? How do you know it? How are you living it?

Check out the folks above, and all the clickable links included. These folks represent various capacities of change and influence, all with powerful nuggets to hold on to. A share, follow, link, or favorite are all appropriate – this is a great bunch of humans (and with many others who are not listed above). And build your own list. Who inspires you? How do they inspire you? What inspires you?

No, go. Make your own moves and waves. The world thanks you.



So, I cried in public today…


We’ve all been there, right?

Everything building up. Pause.

Lump in throat. Pause.

Voice quivering. Heart pounding.


I cried in public today.

I won’t go deep into the dark place I was navigating through this afternoon, however when I shared this moment with a friend shortly after my mini-meltdown, her response was beautiful and to the point:

“What can you take off? Because a lot on the heart is not good.”

Of course, this text only lead to more tears, and me, silently sniffling in my corner seat on the train. I imagine playing Ben Rector’s, “Sailboat,” on repeat for the past hour has contributed to this pause in stability, however I will also chalk this moment up to just simply being overdue. Crying is healthy. Gender norms tell us differently, and I will challenge those specific expectations until the day I die. Again, crying is healthy.

And while crying has its differing critics, ultimately I would argue that we are all still somewhat uncomfortable with the pain. We don’t talk about the pain. The pain is real, and raw. And perhaps there is some part of us that doesn’t want to agree that life alone is not all ribbons and gumdrops, and that validating the pain might actually represent some sense of submission to vulnerability. Vulnerability is healthy. Submit.

Hell, lean in, if you will.

I should add, there is also this unsettling reality that we don’t want to project our vulnerability or pain upon others. Consequently, we balance the fine line of over-sharing versus keeping a strict guard up. Let the guard down. Be open, be unsettled, be vulnerable. Pick up the phone and call someone. Love on someone.

People are going through some shit, some real and painful shit. Sure, a note on someone’s Facebook or a comment on their Instagram is nice, but so is a cup of coffee and a half hour of processing. So is a voicemail saying, “Hey, I love you. Know that.” So is a handwritten note. So is time spent.

Call. Write. Love. Spend.

During the most influential professional years of my life, I was raised on an understanding that the definition of success exists somewhere within the confines of a calendar and clean email inbox. But, what happens when both of these expectations are reduced to nothing? What happens when an alarm clock is no longer necessary? What happens when we are left vulnerable, open, and subject to pain?

Where is your self-worth? Do you feel free? Can you feel free?

So. I cried in public today. And, the truth is, this won’t be the last time. Here’s to a better understanding of my self, less doughnut binges, and one big Vulnerability Badge.




*photos stolen from somewhere on social media (maybe Insta or Pinterest)


Although I am a born-and-bred Oklahoman, my parents are actually both mostly from Arizona (by way of Philly and by way of Indiana). My entire life, “going to Grandma and Poppy’s,” meant going to Tucson, Arizona, and to this day, I can still recall varying moments of my life occurring within the confines of that community. But this post is not about my background, even despite recent attempts to better understand just who I am and where I come from. Today’s post is about aging and the realities which exist around watching others grow old(er).

For most of the last decade, my grandmother has called me, “her Peter Pan.” Implying I will never grow up (in the best of ways), my grandmother has been on the front-lines of watching all the trials and tribulations life has had to offer me. And like good grandmothers, she has watched with optimism and support. But unlike Peter, I did grow up. Visiting my grandmother’s house over the past few days, I was repeatedly startled by the time capsule-like environment created by photos and magnets representing the lifespan of a dozen cousins and myself. She even has photos of me that I have never seen. It was exciting, and filled with nostalgia.

The only real experience I have had in watching someone grow up seemingly “right before my eyes” is as a result of one of my dearest friends from graduate school. This specific friend had a baby when we were in graduate school, and from the day she gave birth to precious Jack, I had a front-row view of the first two years of his life (and as a side note, they still give me shit for eating a bowl of fajitas at the hospital because I was multitasking seeing the new angel baby and trying to find time for lunch). Aging, right before my eyes – physically, emotionally, mentally, intellectually. It was fascinating, and I am forever thankful to my friend for allowing me to be part of her family’s growth. And as I age and grow, I wish for the same experience with my own family.

It has been several years since I have been back in Tucson to see family, however there was a time in my life when I visited at least once per year. When I was younger, watching my cousins grow up was quite the shock, and there was no Facebook at the time to tease us with life happenings across the United States. With each year, new heights were achieved, intellectual successes explored, and ups & downs of adolescence experienced. But this past few weeks has been different. I had the opportunity to see one of my cousins in Seattle and then two here in Tucson. And as a disservice to each of them, I still remember (and refer to) them as, “my baby cousins.” Again, these trips were different. They aren’t babies anymore. They’re adults, living, working, relating, pushing, etc. They grew up. And just as my grandmother captured all of our life moments in her time-capsule-living-quarters, my mind has been replaying this growth on nonstop repeat. The 2-year old flower-girl cousin who I walked down the isle with with as a 7-year old ring bearer can now have a glass of wine with me and talk about life. And, so, I pause. Enter, “Where did the time go,” here, right?

And despite my pause for perspective, this is life, right? “Time flies,” and other related sentiments. This is life. We age, we grow, we move up/on/over, etc. And life is scary, right? In all of my independence, and throughout all of my need to grow and thrive independently, I have learned that family has been one of the most consistent pieces of my life (for those who know me well, you will agree that this is quite the ‘ah-ha’ for me). And more than my blood-family, I have also grown to realize that my non-blood family is also equally important and consistent. And both families grow, and move, and change, and develop. And if we are too busy or too distracted to stop and embrace this constant changing and evolving nature, we will miss out. And I certainly missed out on a lot. Perfect timing for a visit “home” to San Antonio, right?

And, so, another learning lesson has appeared, and I am now more than ever reframing how I can value family just a little bit more in this new year and new direction.

How are you honoring your family-family or friend-family this holiday? How are you making time to see people, and to celebrate the aging process? Does this scare you? Hell, it scares me. The mortality of family is one thing I can’t quite wrap my head around. And it somewhat haunts me. Daily. But I have the opportunity to make a change in regard to family. I can keep the, every-two-years-Michael-comes-around-before-disappearing-into-work-and-life, sentiment, or I can pause and make time for people who matter. Despite our differences, I can make family matter.

And so can you. Even with baggage and difference, I challenge you to navigate and maneuver around the crap. Because, no matter how great your family is, there’s still a fair amount of crap – some just hide it better than others. Unearth the crap. Be the crap. Love the crap. Try, and try again.

In the spirit of planes, trains, and automobiles,


*This concludes my post-China travel posting for now. Thanks to all those who joined me at varying parts of my journey – of course, with many more to come. For now, I’m off to San Antonio…looking forward to the holidays, and a bit of consistent warm weather. 


Los Angeles.

Oh, Los Angeles. It was good to be back.

As most of you are aware, my first gig out of college was in the sunny city of Los Angeles, California. And since leaving that world, I try to make my way back at least once per year. I guess this week is my once for the year.

I’m off to Tucson today, and in planning for my trip, I called my grandmother to make sure it was okay that I popped in for a few days. Of course, she was excited to see me, and was somewhat startled by my need to plan out my three days with her.

“Let’s just take one day at a time,” she argued.

I was relieved. Having such a strict agenda when visiting family can be exhausting, and sometimes low-key and unpredictable moments can help with some of the baggage I talked about in my previous post. My grandmother then followed up with a story about how her daughters (my mom and her sisters) use to get on to her for not letting things go. “Let it go, Mom,” they would argue. And her response?

“Where does it go?”

It seems that with age, there becomes less of a need to plan and plot out every twist and turn. My grandmother then went on to assert that her, “where does it go,” inquiry only made things more complicated, and at some point, we are all responsible for actually truly pausing and letting things go. And this grandmother-inspired sentiment exists as the ah-ha from my time in Los Angeles this week:

Be unprogrammed.

Although I packed my calendar with meet-ups and friend-dates while in LA, I enjoyed a relatively unprogrammed few days. I stayed with one of my best friends, who I have known for just about ten years, and there was something really calming about hanging out each night without having to program, plan, and coordinate some out-going shenanigans. That, and we are almost thirty. This alone add some sense of escape.

And while this may come with age, my precious grandmother is only giving me a glimpse into the realities of just sitting still, and letting it go (whatever the hell, “it,” ever really is). As the holidays are approaching (from the traditional sense or merely the “offs” we receive from the societally-observed celebrations), now is truly the best time to let it go. And I would argue, start with yourself.

Sure, things are uncomfortable, stressful, and at times, draining. But such is life. Move on. Move on and move forward. But above all else, be still. Let whatever needs to pass, pass, and then find some comfort in whatever the hell presents itself. As my friend affirmed me just months before the China bit ever came to fruition, “Throw your dream into space like a kite, and you do not know what it will bring back, a new life, a new friend, a new love, a new country” (Anais Nin). Hold on to that kite, and give it everything you’ve got.





I am just going to put this out there, and then we can move on…

I have never been more attracted to flannel, beards, arm-sleeve tattoos, kids in coffee shops, and the idea of jogging with a dog, as I have now following the 48 hours I just spent in Portland, Oregon. I digress.

If you are living under the same rock I have been occupying this past few weeks, you will agree that a blink was all it took for November to come and go. And let’s be honest, December is now in full swing. December is a roller-coaster of a month, and since I have returned from China and have now already experienced two major US cities, I am starting to pause and remember all the baggage that comes with this exciting month.

Yes, I said, “baggage.”

Baggage. Scary, right?

It’s real. It can be raw. And it’s comically surrounded by some of the most intended-to-be joyous holidays. We all have baggage, and it looks very different for each of us. And regardless of context or ways in which one navigates through their baggage, it’s also always there for all of us. But there is hope. And as I have been in reflection mode in how to effectively journey through my own baggage during this time of year, I have come up with a few strategies which might be the wave I ride on into the holidays.


Winter and seasonal change often bring up a lot for people. And more times than not, all we really want is for someone to stop what they are doing, be fully present, and give us their undivided attention. Consequently, we need to adapt to a need for the same response. People just want to be heard. If a friend or family member asks for an ear, listen. Pause your own moment, and give them a chance to have theirs. And, of course, this comes with the caveat that judgement is the worst strategy when providing this space for someone. Actually hear someone. Connect.

If someone wants your opinion, your experience, or your perspective, they will let you know (and if they don’t, ask). I recently had lunch with a good friend while I was in Seattle, and while we were talking about my current job search, he casually asked me, “What do you need from me while you are searching?” This was particularly relevant because said-friend is actually a seasoned and skilled career advisor. But in that moment, he knew that I didn’t need a coaching session, and rather just someone to process with. A friend. And that, he provided. It was great, because I’m in a good place, and as I shared with him, when I’m ready for the advising session, I’ll let him know. And he listened in the best and most beautiful way.


Difference often rears its beautiful head this time of year, and conversations around change and progress will more than likely take center stage. And before you freak out about the possibility of telling your parents you converted to a new religion, quit your job, are dating someone ten years older than you, or that simply you support or don’t support all things anti-their political beliefs, please remember to pause. Seriously, just pause. December and the holidays are often a time where real and raw world and life shit is/are brought up (more baggage, if you will), and families around the globe will engage in un/healthy debate around some of the very things which light a fire under our passions, emotions, heart, etc. But again, please pause.

Embrace this dissonance (as, “dissonance is learning,” and other related sentiments). Find some sense of appreciation for those who you are engaging. Learn from them. And aside from the big picture moments which will certainly be a part of this reprieve, also remember that individuals have small, subtle moments happening which should also still be validated and appreciated. Validate. Appreciate. Pause. Listen. And more than anything for others, find some sense of appreciation for yourself. Validate your own experiences and big and small life moments. Define these moments for yourself. Write your story. Paint your picture. Love yourself a little harder.


My first day in Seattle came with an attempt to bunker down at a coffee shop and work on some emails and blog posts. Soon, I realized that every plug in the joint was actually covered and that there were no opportunities to re/charge my technology. When I asked, the response was related to squatters and people who ordered a small tea and then nursed the cup all day so they could capitalize on the generously free wifi. Of course, I instantly texted my friend with frustration, and an, I-can’t-believe-they-would-take-electricity-away-from-me-I-deserve-more, aggressive message. Needless to say, he was in solidarity with the coffee shop.

Apparently, this is not uncommon. My friend went on to tell me about another place he knew near his campus in Florida, where they did the same thing. But instead of technology-blocking young writers just trying to share their experiences with the world, they blocked technology to encourage their patrons to disconnect more. They wanted people to read the old-fashioned way, to talk with friends, and to take a breather from technology. I was stunned, and obviously intrigued. How often do we do this? I have previously posted about technology and disconnecting, but in this moment, it became a reality as a result of my newfound limitation. And I was no longer mad about it. And as a result of this reminder, I am using today’s post as an additional push to live a life more disconnected from technology – if anything, around the holidays. A detox never hurt anyone. And while you disconnect from technology, reconnect with old friends and family members. That has been one of the best experiences from my travels thus far. Hell, last night, I had dinner and drinks with a friend I hadn’t seen in nearly ten years. It was a blast, and our phones were barely present while we dined and hung out with his partner and a few friends. Detox a bit. Be free.


Finally, it’s as simple as this: find some music and jam out. Music is so good for the soul, and these days, finding community around music has been a nice reprieve from all the other nutty life moments occurring for me. Several years ago, I drove around for three hours and played Tupac’s, “Changes,” over and over until I learned the entire song. It was perfect, and now I have a great go-to song when I need to feel like a total bad ass. But this moment was all about me, and there are other ways to engage with music where others can find some love and light as well. Specifically, ’tis the season to do some caroling. And for all the non-observers of Christmas, caroling as a concept is still relevant whether it is Christmas music or not. In fact, I love nothing more than gathering a group of friends and going door-to-door with our favorite early-2000’s hits (“Bye, Bye, Bye,” “Genie in a Bottle,” to name a few). Have fun. Pull out a guitar. Play music if you don’t want to sing. Just be around the moving moment which music can create.

These aren’t fireproof, however they serve as a good start. I feel satisfied, going all-in in an attempt to survive some of the December woes which come with transition and “home.” And although these points may come off as an easy reprieve from the baggage initially introduced in this post, I would be a fool to believe that all baggage is this easy to work through. And as I sift through these tips, I should also pause to validate all those friends and followers who have lost a loved one this year or any year. In fact, I even hate referring to losing a loved one as, “baggage.” This is real life, and for many, the grieving never ends. Sure, holidays may bring up individual moments which can be easily worked through, however the holidays also bring up real and raw grieving processes that may get easier with each year, yet still never truly go away.

And to those friends who are continuing to grieve: I support you, you are loved. And, although these times are tough, please find solidarity with those around you. Be supported. Be loved. And if you don’t feel as though you have anyone around you, please pick up the phone and call or text me. I am here, and will be. Be supported this holiday season. And above all else, know that you are loved.

For, “Changes,”


Photo by Paul Bauer


As you know, I am finally back in the United States of America.

I have a few weeks before heading “home” for the holidays, and I figured I would take time to treat myself to some travel and reflection. Aside from literally being “sleepless in Seattle” my first night (known to many as, “jetlag”), I am finding this city to be everything I could have ever needed for my acclimation back into the States. There is something about a manicured beard, Patagonia, beanies, and fit outdoors folk that gets me all kinds of inspired. And more so, this dramatic stereotype also just makes me feel really normal. Comfortable. Coffee.

But the learning is occurring, and I am being very intentional about trying to pause for some newly acquired life lessons. To start, I have realize just how important people are in my life. I have always been a people-person, and my entire life has been lived with the mantra, “People Matter.” I have always felt validated in that understanding, and have tried to set a similar tone for all the people who come and go from my life. Specifically, please observe the following from my latest cloud of travel ah-ha’s:

Learning Lesson, Seattle: Find people who _____.

As I was preparing to write this point, I started drafting out the varying things I need from people. And as this list grew and grew, I quickly realized it came down to a few key concepts of what I need most from those wonderful individuals in my life.

Find people who “get” you.

Find people who challenge you.

Find people who support you.

Find people who make you laugh.

Find people who will eat with you.

And for me, these people exist all over the globe. I have a few best friends in Florida, many in Oklahoma, California, Texas, Indiana, and the list goes on and on. And these people, all with multiple different backgrounds and life experiences, are exactly who I need to be able to live an active and healthy life. I thought about providing some sense of description for the five nuggets above, but in honor of my continued reflection, I am going to leave them as is, with hope for more understanding ahead as to why these are so important and impacting to me.

I had a teacher many years ago tell me, “People are the best and worst thing that will ever happen  to you.” I am inclined to agree, and of course, I am hopeful for the former. In this new month of transition, who are your people? Where are your people? When are your people your people? Take a minute today to reach out to someone who, through good and bad, serves as your _____. These people are necessary for growth. These people are necessary for self-understanding. These people are necessary. Be surrounded. Be close. Be well.

On the move,