I was teaching art at the time, and wanted my students to hear about her life as a professional puppeteer. Little did I know that one interest, on behalf of my students, would lead to a personal relationship I could not possibly replicate. Marilyn is small in stature, but commands any sized room as if she were seven feet tall. Her presence is not overbearing, but rather, one that is so welcoming, warm, and genuine that her smile and demeanor radiate compassion. She is on the national board of several organizations, travels all over the country as a teacher's teacher, creates programs for all levels of education from pre-school to adult learners, conducts curriculum development for museums, and is a published author.
She was a delight that first day in the classroom, sharing her craft, her trade, and her artistry. I knew immediately I wanted her to come back, despite living some 600 miles away. And return she did. Over time, our collaboration grew into an annual partnership, until one day when she was in town to help implement an extensive Fine Arts all-day program. That day, I said something, which she I'm sure could quote to you, but that I cannot recall, that was a sign from HER mentor, who had recently passed away. So clear and exact were my words that she was stunned and had to walk away to collect herself. She realized then that it was her turn to pass the torch.
Marilyn understands people, politics, bureaucracies, and relationships. She understands people's needs. She understands her audience, whether it be one teacher, or a room of thousands. She knows how to use her voice - its volume, its pacing, its subtle inflections. She knows how to use her face, her hands, her props. She is masterful at engagement. She is careful to control her energy. She is authentic at her craft. She is also honest and wise. The world would be a very different place if we all behaved as she does.
Meenoo Rami, originator of #engchat has written a book about the importance of finding mentors. Thrive reminds teachers that to sustain success, we must care for ourselves and surround ourselves with those who invigorate us and our efforts. My colleague Matt Barry recently began a social media effort encouraging those with whom he connects to find that mentor who re-ignites the passion, calling it his +1. Read more about the source here. Meenoo knew this instinctively, and makes it the first chapter in her book. I didn't realize the enormous hole in my professional experiences until I met Marilyn. She has since pushed me, encouraged me, listened to my frustrations, offered sage wisdom, and pulled into the public sphere my creativity. She is my mentor, my +1, my role model.
I am blessed indeed to have been gifted with her presence in my life. She has made me a better educator. Her impact on me has, in turn, impacted hundreds of students. I hope that someday, I will be in the position to return the favor as a mentor to someone whose spark is dimming. Maybe YOU are just the flame someone needs to be the best they can be! As we lift each other, so too do we repair the world. Be generous and light the way.