This week, it sure would have been fun to be at #ISTE13 ! Again, through the power of Twitter and blogs, I was able to access much information that was shared in conference sessions, and that access to ideas and resources still amazes me. The parts I was missing the very most, however, were the face-to-face conversations and fun with those I’ve had the good fortune to meet (and karaoke with) and the opportunity to meet more people from my PLN. I could tell I wasn’t alone as the #NotAtISTE hashtag started trending as those unable to be there lamented, shared humor, and talked about the elements of their life that kept them home this time around from babies, to plays to budget cuts. Sure reinforces the philosophy that social media can really enhance our human connections rather than limit them, doesn’t it?
Monday morning, though, I got to experience a different type of human connectedness as the Oswego community gathered in remembrance of Kerry Anne Engdahl, a district teacher and parent who passed away after courageously battling ALS. It was very sad to see Kerry Anne’s husband and daughters follow her casket both into and out of the mass. While the service was so thoughtfully prepared, those moments really jumped out at me. I couldn’t help but think of the joy that must have accompanied Kerry Anne and her husband’s trip up the aisle getting married with no inkling of this eventual sadness, and how their next family walks up the aisle should have been for their young daughters’ weddings or other happy milestones. Not for this.
At the same time, it was impossible to ignore the positive connections Kerry Anne inspired. The picture above became the mantra for her journey, as she chose to define ALS as “Always laugh and smile.” In her years as a teacher, she developed many strong friendships with colleagues and families, and, though I didn’t know her for most of those years, it seems she had many laughs and smiles to share along the way. It was a privilege to see her volunteer in her middle daughter’s classroom this year and to be part of the team that supported her family in their journey. And that team was amazing; the social worker and classroom teacher that supported her daughter moved forward with grace and with the honest, firm, yet loving hearts that their little girl needed and that they as parents needed to move forward.
She was a teacher to countless kindergarten students by choice. During her illness she also chose to be a teacher to many of the high priority we should place on our time with one another, on selflessness, and on the power of optimism and hope. It is SO hard to capture that in words without sounding trite and oversimplifying something that is really so powerful. From family to friends to teaching colleagues to school social workers to her children’s teachers to the people that cut her hair, I looked around the church and saw sad yet determined people committed to carry Kerry Anne’s memory onward. Collectively, we knew that despite the many ways she was supported and honored in life, important work on her behalf was still ahead.
Again, my words don’t really do this justice. If you want to honor Kerry Anne, start by honoring those around you in the moment. Who does your work honor? How do you inspire others? Do you take time to enrich the human connections in your life? I know I can do better. How are you doing? What needs to change? Much to think about, for sure.