A few last words for a Report to the Community, Spring 2013

Around 12:01 AM each January 1, millions of people begin to hum a tune derived from a poem by Robert Burns’ from the late 1700s. The lyrics for auld lange syne are translated in a variety of ways with most of them referring to memories of the past. These few words are grounded a chapter I will fondly entitle Times Gone Before.

For 25 years I have walked into the halls of the St. Joseph School District. Although my heart has chapters full of memories of events, successes, failures, regrets, celebrations, and sadness in times of tragic loss, mostly my heart is full of faces. There is a special page reserved for the colleagues with whom I served this great community. Their faces reflect love and care for those precious lives that join us six-seven hours a day, intensity of purpose, and unwavering commitment. Not one of my colleagues (educators and all of those who provide educational support services) takes lightly the job they have to do for the sake of educating and caring for kids. I can see and feel their stories. Words will never articulate the fullness of heart I feel in having worked alongside such professionals for a quarter-of-a-century. It’s a story yet to be written.

After reading this short message, I hope you find yourself humming along with me – let’s raise a cup of kindness, friend, for the sake of times and people gone before. I take my leave from the SJSD with a prayer of gratefulness for this chapter that mostly includes the names of people who taught me what real collaboration for the sake of kids means. My experience in the SJSD is punctuated through stories that are exemplary of the measure the commitment to integrity, excellence, purpose, mission, and partnership that are framed through the life of a SJSD child’s future. And mostly moments of laughs, love, and labor in service of children and youth in St. Joseph with friends I love is the repeated theme that finishes the last line. What a blessing it has been! To those who make it happen? Keep on keepin’ on!  It’s time for us to turn the page…and write the next chapter as Larry and I continue to support you through our commitment to the St. Joseph community. Godspeed to you, Friends.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And auld lang syne!
For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne.
We’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.

Robert Burns


Last week I tooled through Missouri heading south from St. Joseph to the Ozarks. I make this trip south about ten times a year and bask in the pallets of each season. But the autumn drive is glorious! I could hear the Byrds singing… Turn, Turn, Turn, a musical rendition of Ecclesiastes 3:1 –  to everything there is a season and a purpose. Metaphorically, seasons have represented growth, change, and the time between life and death (literally, of ideas, of hopes and dreams, of relationships, etc.). Changing seasons invite us to take a fresh look at what might be considered mundane. [experienced in October 2010 and October 2011]

Well, here I am sitting at Panera’s with really smart SJSD leaders almost a month after I drafted the paragraph above. So what stopped me from finishing the piece? Why did I abandon www.melodysmith.edublogs.org for weeks? Hmmm…I think I again abandoned the promise to myself that I would write every day even if it was just a paragraph. [October 2010] But I didn’t keep the promise! Oh, I wrote everyday, but I didn’t blog everyday. [October 2011]

The great news is I am forgiving. Yesterday as I backed out of my driveway, I noticed that the season had changed in my front yard. The radio DJ was blaring out his “good news” that warm weather in Missouri was really over. Rain was going to drench St. Joseph and the blaze of color that graces our northern Missouri existence every October and November. [October 2010]

So here is a pic that is inspiring me today. [October 2010] Seasons pic autumn 2010

[October 2011] I am amazed at how transitions can lift us up or set us back. Seasonal changes are transitions. Change may be subtle, or it may be explicit. Change may impact how we do our work and may require us to tweak our approaches. Change can be the undoing of us, or it can be the view beyond the horizon. Life itself is in transition; life itself is the metaphor for change. We can embrace the newness change offers and celebrate that which is to come, or we can dig into a rut that buries hope and reality as we anticipate the death and coldness of the loss of what’s normal and routine. Seasons remind us of change…one of the few remaining constants in our universe.

I have to admit that my commitment to blogging isn’t consistent. It’s the case of I have really want to write thoughts about my journey, but I just don’t. So, when I wake up one morning with some burning thoughts, I better act on the opportunity by writing them down. Commitment!

Summer allows time for meditation and reflection. Although, this summer was busier than those years of attending graduate school, preparing for the next year of teaching/leading, and trying to remember to take a vacation. this year proved to be most challenging. There was no space this year. One school year ended and the other one encroached on space and time of summer. Public education is a busy business. To that end I began to reflect on why I do what I do, which is to lead and educate in the public school system.

The commitment to show up in life and at work can be framed in response to 3 questions posed by Max Lucado in a daily reading resource entitled Grace for the Moment: What do you love to do? What brings you joy? What gives you a sense of satisfaction?

What do I love to do? I love people and the idiosyncrasies we bring to relationships, our work, and the community. I love to garden — to get my hands in the dirt and muck around with roots which eventually produce fruit or flowers. I love to swing. Really, the most peaceful setting I know is swinging on the patio swing and singing, gazing at the perennial garden at my feet, and enjoying the entertainment finches, cardinals, doves, wrens, and sparrows provide as they compete for a place at the bird feeder table. I really love a good book that forces me to turn pages and finish, while it inspires or challenges my thinking. I really love being a grandmother! Words just aren’t needed — enough said! And I really love walking into the world of public education each day.

What brings you joy? Besides everything I love, finding my way through this maze we call life brings me joy. Keats alludes to how we experience joy in Ode to Melancholy when he explores the challenges each of us faces when experiencing sadness, failure, defeat, exasperation, frustration, confusion, pure hurt and all of those other emotions that drag us down. He suggests that melancholy is overcome by finding joy and unless we have tasted the bitter juice of those feelings that drag us down, we cannot know the sweet taste of joy. Well…I think I just found a reason to celebrate! What brings me joy as a public educator? People bring me joy: kids who walk through our doors each day — literal untapped potential I Was Herewaiting to discover and be discovered; teachers, principals, administrators, volunteers, and educational support personnel who get up each day knowing they are facing the challenge of (cliche’ as it seems) making a difference in the life of someone else — fulfilling a personal mission in tandem with their work toward meeting the Mission of public education. What can bring more joy than that? Mission is a powerful, driving force that cannot be dissuaded by the likes of pointing fingers from critics, high-stakes test scores that don’t meet an arbitrary mark, lack of appreciation from society as a whole, and the feeling that another day goes by for a student (child, youth, or adult) and when they leave that day from our halls, the reality of their life hits them square in the face. And then…the next day, we begin again! What greater joy is there than living out your Mission?

What gives you a sense of satisfaction? Learning and watching others learn brings a smile to my face and contentment to my heart. I noted above that grandmothering is what I love to do! Our 4-month-old granddaughter is an expert at mimicking sounds and facial expressions. Recently, she learned to mimic her big brother’s fake cry. Not only did she mimic the sound but sight unseen, knew to pucker up, turn those little lips down, and belt out a heart-felt cry…that is until he stopped and looked at her…and then she stopped too. Think about what was learned in that minute or so: she learned empathy (value), mimicking (which admittedly we use our whole life), decision-making (to engage or not to engage), performance (because she kept looking at the camera without emotion between cries), and a host of other skills we use each day. It was all a learning experience. Likewise, as I talk with kids, parents, teachers, principals, community members, other administrators, and anyone else who has a vested interest in our work as public educators, I am quite satisfied as I, along with them, figure out next steps so that we maximize the moments in our days. It gives me satisfaction to be counted among those who are driven to respond to the need at hand; to empathize, to share our thinking and respond (because we are part of a team working together with the same mission), to make tough decisions (that are judged as both right and wrong by critics), to learn together, and to leave knowing we effected change for the better in the lives of individuals and our community. Learning from a four-month-old gives me a sense of satisfaction.

So where does this all end … or begin since school starts soon? It begins and ends in commitment to something that we love, that brings us joy, and that gives us a sense of satisfaction that we were here. Lady Antebellum’s I Was Here says it best:  And I know that I, I will do more than just pass through this life. I’ll leave nothing less than something that says “I was here.”

Commitment: Show up!

My Story: Franke

January 14, 2011 | Uncategorized  |  1 Comment

Recently our local newspaper published a human interest story about the neurosurgeon who led a team to save the life of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Her surgeon was born and raised in St. Joseph, Missouri, and was a 1976 graduate of St. Joseph Central High School. In reading about one of our own, it occurred to me that as educators we have many stories; we have stories about ourselves, our classrooms, our work, and most importantly about our kids. Here is the first of several entries entitled: My Story.

It was 5th hour Language Arts at Benton High School. The WORST time for teaching and learning was just after a split lunch period — go to class — eat lunch — go back to class. After lunch that day there was a somber huddle in the corner of Room 206 as friends gathered around Franke. Her mother was dying of cancer. Soon her mother died from cancer. I watched this little girl — a dedicated, grief-stricken daughter who didn’t quite understand what was happening — become the center of our classroom experience that second half of the language arts period as we focused on community and communicated mostly nonverbal support for about 20 minutes.

At 14, her strength was far stronger than her age was old. Franke’s experience led these young freshmen across a bridge of sorrow — a rite of passage honoring how precious life really is and exposing the vulnerability of what normal should be with a mother nurturing a young daughter through the most fragile time of her life. Her experience touched many lives that year in freshman language arts class. Franke credited St. Joseph Benton High School students and staff for supporting her during this sad, frightening time in her life.

Franke’s experience continues to touch many lives. She moved through the tragic loss of her mother. A year or so ago I read in the newspaper about Franke Majewski McDowell who was organizing a benefit walk to Paint the Parkway Pink in support of cancer research. She was the same Franke who was in our learning community a decade or so ago. Franke is now a young mother who hasn’t allowed her own loss to break her spirit. Franke understands how to change tragedy into triumph.

My story is to honor Franke Majewski McDowell who lives out the ultimate hope we have for our students — that they become citizens with a cause and a passion and will to overcome heartache and loss by doing what is good for others. They are citizens who make a difference in our community. I honor Franke Majewski McDowell in My Story of why education matters.

What is your story?

First things first — PLN? Okay, so I didn’t follow instructions. If you visit the Saint Joseph Schools Digital Express, you will see a bunch of PLNs from really smart instructional leaders throughout the SJSD. Check it out!


So I started Tweeting!

October 21, 2010 | Learning, Writing  |  7 Comments

Professional development is contagious! New learning draws us into a community in a variety of ways. In this case, our leadership team began to stretch into a new technological medium.

A new nomenclature related to tweeting entered our PD world this year. It started quickly. It saturated conversations, moving through the airwaves without effort. I didn’t get it; how did I find myself behind the curve of learning in the SJSD world of PD?

At first I just wanted to be someone’s twend (not sure about spelling but a word I saw posted @DrDial) but I couldn’t risk the dumb question yet — how do I tweet? So I opened an account, tweeted to a couple of people because I knew they tweeted, and wondered why they didn’t tweet back. Forget that, I thought. I didn’t want to tweet anyway!

DrDial and nashworld must have a sixth sense because they put out a teaser email, probed a bit, and then showed up on my calendar for a “tweeting.”

After about an hour of “why not?” I succumbed to peer pressure . I listened to two really smart people who know me well. So I set a date (literally) to start blogging and Tweeting!

Detour — In the mid 90′s I read Even Eagles Need a Push, given to me by a retiring colleague who greatly influenced my values for teaching and leadership. Check out www.EaglesTalent.com/David-McNally. It’s a reflective read about taking risks. Somehow that came to mind today.

I don’t feel like an eagle, only a tweeter. However, I do feel like I am on the edge of a chaos cliff in learning this new medium. And that’s a good place to be. I can report at just under 24 hours, I have followed many and have several followers. I have learned to block, to accept, to communicate, to collaborate. DrDial and nashworld have pushed me to the edge. ‘Not sure, but I think I might try to fly this morning.

Whether or not I contribute much through the medium, my learning links and professional connections have grown exponentially in a short 24 hours. So professional development is contagious and I have caught the bug. Kudos to our SJSD leadership team for leading the way and drawing a reluctant learner into your community.


October 20, 2010 | Writing  |  5 Comments

Everything has a beginning. This is the beginning of my blogging experiences…brought about by really smart people who work alongside me every day in a learning community that can’t get enough of each other…or learning for that matter! Hello, world.

Oh, and thanks, nashworld.

It takes a village

October 20, 2010 | Learning  |  Leave a Comment

It takes a village. Learning doesn’t occur in isolation…cliche, you say? It probably is in words but not in action. Learning is communal. My genesis into blogging took a village to get me to this point. First…the conversation about why. Second…the mediation of my metacognition. Third…the internal fighting of why I shouldn’t. Fourth…the I CAN speech. Fifth…the conversation and demonstration about how. Sixth…the post. Seventh…on my own. Eighth…who knows…maybe the midnight call to one of the villagers who got me to number eight. Anyway…it isn’t cliche. It’s the truth.