Notes from the Head

Among our teachers’ many talents, one that stands out is that of being master gardeners. Teachers have the amazing ability to get their hands dirty, planting seeds; nurturing young, tender plants; and giving them just the right amount of water, nourishment, encouragement, proper lighting, and a healthy dose of love. Just step on our campus for a visit, and you will see a beautiful botanical garden that is richly diverse and colorful, and of varying sizes and rates of growth and development. Some grow well on their own, displaying independence and self-motivation, while others need a bit more TLC and individual attention in order to reach their peak. Our teachers are able to cultivate some beautiful creations that grow to delight all who have the blessing to witness the beauty right before their eyes.

“What type of plants are being planted?” you might ask. Well, our teachers are master gardeners of children! With a great deal of faith, love, and hope, our teachers are planting seeds of new knowledge, nurturing those seeds, feeding them, and encouraging their growth on a daily basis. The children entrusted to our care come to us with a natural curiosity about their world. As their understanding grows, so does their desire for more seeds to be planted. Our teachers are also igniting the fire within our young charges, which serves as fertilizer for their growing minds and expanding spirits. At the end of each school year, we transplant our growing “plants” into a new fertile bed, perhaps a new courtyard, and introduce them to yet more opportunities to grow new shoots and blossom. By the time they reach the end of their time in our flourishing gardens, we send forth beautiful creations that have grown under the watchful eye, nurturing care, and strong encouragement of teachers and parents working together to bring out their best.

The seeds planted by our master teacher-gardeners grow deep roots and strong shoots and are ready to carry their beauty into the world beyond our adobe walls. They are strong in mind, body, and spirit, and they make their world a better place. Through faith, hope, patience and love, our master gardeners accomplish great things, and the seeds that they plant come together in young people who go on to change the world. What a blessing it is for those of us who are witnesses to the beauty of God’s creation right before our eyes in the classrooms of St. Michael’s. What a privilege to plant seeds every day and watch them grow!

Margaret Moore

Head of School

Notes from the Head

There are very few places where it is more exciting to spend the weeks leading up to Christmas than in a school. As one can imagine, the atmosphere is electric with visions of sugarplums, intermingled with math facts, dancing in little heads! Focus begins to wane in the classrooms as the number of distractions multiply. In contrast, we find ourselves in the church liturgical season of Advent, a time that calls us to wait, to watch, to stay alert as we prepare for God’s joyful surprise. It is a time to behold the awe and wonder of the season, taking note of God’s presence in the present moments, in things previously unnoticed.

I frequently find myself in conflict with this time of the year. With constant commercials pitching items we did not know we needed, as well as frequent reminders of the declining number of days for Christmas shopping, it is not surprising that it is a time of high stress and exhaustion. Who has time to slow down and “smell the roses” when there is a mile-long list to accomplish? Which is why I love Advent and the contrasting reminder to slow down, be in the moment, and enjoy the magical wonders that surround us.

Small children are our perfect model. They take in every detail. They can stare at the Christmas tree for hours, checking out each ornament and all the dazzling lights. Their faith in Christmas displays hope, joy, and love right before our eyes as they behold the majesty in God’s creation. They take pleasure in the simple things and are present for every moment. And right there is our reminder. Watch, stay alert, be ready because the joy of the season is in the present moment. I am reminded that the to-do list is not important; rather, beholding the awe and wonder is.

Perhaps this Advent season, we can look with five-year-old eyes, appreciating each magical moment. Watch, stay awake, and wait patiently as the season of preparation unfolds. Such a practice may just change Christmas for us as we look with fresh eyes at the beauty of our creation, intentionally slowing down for Advent. The signs are all around us if we simply take the time to notice.

Margaret Moore

Head of School

Notes from the Head

In our cycle of monthly values that we focus on with our students, it is not surprising that the values of Thankfulness and Gratitude fall in the month of November. Naturally, it is a time when we focus on the many blessings that we have in our lives, and each student can list a number of people, places, or things for which they are grateful. Through generous hearts and spirits, our students enthusiastically support efforts to reach out to make good things happen for other people throughout the year. This fall alone we have raised money for our sister school in Houston, Texas, as they recover from Hurricane Harvey. We have donated to the Heifer Project, to animal shelters, to the Community Food Bank, and to the food pantry at St. Michael’s Church. Generous spirits are reflected in the many outreach activities that take place at St. Michael’s, and we model well.

On Monday, as we concluded our conversations about Gratitude and Thankfulness, we talked about ways that we can continue to practice this value, not just in November but all year long. Andrea Husson, a specialist in Developmental Science, suggests five big things we can do to develop a habit of gratitude with children: model thankfulness; embed it; talk about it when it is there; talk about it when it is not there; and repeat it often. In modeling thankfulness, we notice reasons for being grateful, think about it, and take note of how it feels when we are grateful. Through activities that foster gratitude, such as helping others in small and big ways, the practice is embedded in our system of values. Talking about gratitude, when it is present and even when it is not, demonstrates to children why a sense of gratitude makes a difference in how we feel and relate to others.

One way to develop a greater sense of gratitude is to keep a gratitude journal. Even a young child can think of one thing each day for which to be thankful. Perhaps as part of a bedtime ritual, making note of even one or two things that a child is grateful for can help to foster that ongoing sense of thanksgiving. This in turn creates greater optimism, life satisfaction, and a healthier emotional and physical well-being. Personally, I might just take that as a challenge, keeping a daily gratitude journal for the month ahead. Perhaps doing so will keep the focus on thankfulness for all that I have, rather than making lists of all that I want. They say that new habits can be formed in as few as three weeks. So, with pencil and pad in hand, I think I’ll kick off December with a commitment to daily gratitude, embedding it and repeating it often. Sounds like a great way to prepare for Christmas. Grab your journal and join me!

Margaret Moore

Head of School

Notes from the Head

As we head toward our annual celebration of Thanksgiving, gratitude and gratefulness become routine topics of conversation. We have talked about it in our chapel services and in the classrooms. Certainly, it might be a topic around dinner tables at home as well. When asked what they might be thankful for, our students name people, places, and things of great value. Family, friends, pets, material possessions, and our school are often mentioned in the list they recite. Frequently overlooked, however, are the intangible things that bring meaning to our daily lives. The kind words spoken by a friend…the invitation to join a group or a game…the listening ear of a trusted colleague or friend…an encouraging note that affirms our worth as human beings…a phone call that comes at just the right time to say simply “hello”–all examples of actions that speak to the heart. These intangibles, for me, are what top my gratitude list.

At St. Michael’s, we do so much more than teach academics. We create community. We celebrate diversity. We honor the dignity of everyone. We extend a hand of greeting and welcome, making this a school where everyone can find a place and everyone knows your name. That is not always easy, but it is part of ongoing lesson plans, remembering that kindness gets you everywhere, remembering that the intangibles make the biggest difference. Unfortunately, our students see too many examples outside of school that demonstrate the exact opposite. Jokes that bring a laugh at the expense of a person or particular group, or social-media postings that marginalize people different from ourselves. Angry rhetoric and violence that have catastrophic outcomes. Sadly, we do not need to look far to see that our country is becoming increasingly polarized. The trenches between us grow deeper and wider by the day. All of this is on full display in the news, on social media, and in movies and cable shows that seem to have no boundaries. Our students see much of this. It becomes their model. It is hard to find something to be thankful for around that type of behavior.

Author Brené Brown suggests a better way in her most recent book, Braving the Wilderness. Speaking to an assembled group of educators at an Episcopal school conference in Houston this fall, Brown focused on four practices that might just help us to find our way back toward stronger connections and cultivating a greater sense of belonging. The first suggests that we move in closer to those we dislike or to those who might have opposing viewpoints. Rather than remaining at a distance, when we move closer, listen well, and attempt to understand viewpoints different from our own, it is more likely that respect and acceptance can grow. Second, Brown suggests that we speak the truth but in a civil way. We do not have to accept or agree with false or groundless arguments, but we can be civil and respectful in disagreeing. Third, she encourages readers to move outside of comfort zones and get to know strangers. Shake hands, make contact, and picture them as potential friends rather than enemies across a divide. Finally, Brown calls for strong backs, soft fronts, and wild hearts. As we push to be part of the solution, we will be part of bringing communities closer together, modeling civility for others who may be watching, young or old.

Belonging is a human need. Maybe, just maybe, if more people committed to move closer, listen more, and speak in a civil manner while attempting to understand and accept those that are different, our children would see a model for community that celebrates our common humanity, even through our differences. For that, we could all be truly grateful this Thanksgiving, and our world would be a far better place. As we all know, children watch our every move, and big ears hear everything.

Margaret Delk Moore

Head of School

Notes from the Head

This Sunday, October 22, St. Michael’s School and St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church will join together to celebrate our Episcopal school. Across the country and beyond, Episcopal schools and churches have been celebrating the educational ministry of Episcopal schools during the month of October. For 59 years, St. Michael’s has been committed to our mission to foster the intellectual, physical, artistic, ethical, and spiritual development of its students. It seeks to do this in a traditional Episcopal setting, nourishing a community of students and faculty from all social, economic, ethnic, and religious backgrounds. Since the Rev. John Fowler first envisioned a school that would teach the children of Tucson to read, to write, to cipher, to sing, and to pray, our school has been true to its mission. Our graduates have gone on to be game-changers, not only academically but also by the examples they set in thought, word, and deed.

I have been associated with Episcopal schools for more than four decades. As a student, a parent, a trustee, and a school Head, Episcopal schools and the people within have shaped my life and that of my children. The buildings have all been different, but consistently the teachers and staff as well as the students have made the difference. Episcopal schools are inclusive, celebrating the diversity that makes our schools special. We learn from each other, young and old, and we care deeply about one another as if we were all true family. Moreover, in essence, that is what we are. Our schools ARE family. We are villages of education in mind, body, and spirit where together we not only learn about academic subjects but how to be good people with sound moral compasses. Episcopal schools have a deep tradition of inclusion and open inquiry. Our schools:

  • Affirm the spiritual dimension of learning that values both faith and reason.
  • Create and nurture a community of leaders who foster partnerships, mutual support, and professional growth.
  • Promote personal formation through moral, spiritual, intellectual, creative, physical, and social development.
  • Create supportive communities through worship, learning, pastoral care, and community service.
  • Recognize, appreciate, and support diversity within school communities.

By gathering on a daily basis for worship, for service, for study, for reflection, and for character formation, St. Michael’s, like many Episcopal schools, changes lives. There is a deep commitment throughout our halls, and that commitment is to the people within our classrooms, our offices, our community, and beyond. There is a love that exists at St. Michael’s that often goes beyond words. The intangible qualities can be hard to express. This, however, is what makes us “Soar with Eagles.” This is what sets us apart. It is what makes us proud to say, “We are St. Michael’s.” We are learners, leaders, and friends.

Margaret Moore

Head of School

Notes from the Head

The response was overwhelming! Just as the summer came to an end and schools began to prepare to open, the hurricane season in the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico began to take form, producing three record-setting storms. Hurricane Harvey, the first of these, slammed into the southeastern coast of Texas, bringing devastating wind, rain, and floods. Houston and surrounding areas saw unprecedented flooding, which affected not only residences and businesses but churches and schools as well. The Southwestern Association of Episcopal Schools stepped up to support affected schools in Texas. Many of those schools were paired with unaffected schools from Louisiana to Arizona. St. Michael’s partner school, Holy Spirit Episcopal School, has now become our sister school. Our community has risen to the call.

Since the beginning of September, St. Michael’s has been collecting gift cards and raising money to support Holy Spirit Episcopal School in Houston. This K-8 school is similar to St. Michael’s, and so it has been easy to imagine how we would feel if a similar natural disaster happened here. Seeing pictures of the devastation and hearing the stories of community support have touched us. We have offered prayers, words of encouragement, pictures of compassion, and now gifts that will help people to rebuild. This week we will send over $2,500 in gift cards to our sister school which will be distributed to families affected by Hurricane Harvey in their community. Our carwash alone raised more than $1,500 for the cause, drawing support from both the school and parish community. Our hearts have been filled with gratitude for the generosity and compassion shown by the St. Michael’s community. Truly, it will make a difference for many.

And that, my friends, is what compassion is about. Compassion is to suffer with, to share the burden, to feel what someone else feels, to reach out in kindness and with care for another person. Our students come to understand compassion on many levels. When a friend skins a knee, one knows how that feels and can reach out with care. If words sometimes hurt feelings, we know how that feels, and amends can be made. When disappointment and loss make us sad, others reach out because they have perhaps experienced that as well. Compassion results in people reaching out to people to make a difference. It comes from the heart. Compassion reaches across boundaries to make lives better. When we can respond from the heart, healing begins. The compassion shown by the St. Michael’s community to the Holy Spirit community has now established a bond that extends beyond the immediate need. Together we have come to understand the value of compassion. The gift cards are a tangible reminder of a more priceless gift that comes from our heart. Thank you, St. Michael’s! Yet again, our community is making our world a better place.

Margaret Moore

Head of School

Notes from the Head

In a world that seems to grow more polarized every day with angry, hurtful words hurled through cyberspace at lightning speed, it is refreshing to take refuge among the community of St. Michael’s. Here we can talk about the virtue of Goodness, and our students actually try to make someone’s day better by random acts of kindness. A smile, a gentle word, an invitation to join in a game, encouragement to be a part of a circle of friends. Every day we see examples of people trying to do the right thing simply because, well, it’s the right thing to do.

In Monday Chapel this week, I shared three random acts of kindness in which people went out of their way to be kind. The first occurred when a student approached me following a school event, sadly sharing that he had lost $20 out of his pocket. Now, for most of our kiddos, that’s a large sum. I felt bad for him and told him I would keep an eye open for it as we cleaned up. In my mind, I was sure it was gone. “Oh, yea of little faith!” The following Monday, that $20 was turned in by a parent who had found it on the floor. Upon hearing that, we were immediately able to connect the owner with the lost bill.

The second random act came in the form of a call to the school. A man phoned to say that he had seen what appeared to be a binder in the middle of the road being repeatedly run over by cars. He stopped to retrieve the notebook, looked inside, and identified the owner as a student from St. Michael’s. He called the school and offered to return it. He noted that, yes, the homework was complete and appeared done correctly! Not only did he return the binder to the school; he also took the time to purchase a new one to replace the one badly damaged with “road rash.” A stranger who took the time to do the right thing made something good happen for someone else.

And, finally, following a class trip to our neighborhood library, one of the librarians found a sweater left by a student. Rather than put it in the library “lost and found,” she took the time to return it to St. Michael’s. With cooler temperatures on the way, she was concerned that the child just might be looking for that sweater and need it the next morning. Once again, someone took the time to do something good for someone else simply because it was the right thing to do.

These simple but meaningful acts of kindness and goodness went so far in bringing joy and happiness to other people. Perhaps if we keep our eyes open each day for opportunities to practice our own random acts of kindness and goodness, we will have more good news to tweet about, filling cyberspace with positive words of encouragement rather than words that separate us. It would certainly make my day a whole lot brighter. It’s a reminder that we have more that unites us than divides us. Relationships are built one kind word or act at a time, and so that’s where we begin.

Margaret Moore

Head of School

Notes from the Head

Several times a year, we place a half-day in our schedule, setting aside intentional time for our faculty to meet together, learn together, and grow together as a professional group. Although most of our teachers routinely attend workshops and conferences during the year that address their area of expertise, having time together as a faculty and staff is important.

This year we are including, as a part of our professional development, a focus on health and wellness. With that in mind, this Wednesday our topic is Mindfulness, and our facilitator is well versed in guiding teachers in better self-care through mindful practices. As we begin our school year together, this is a terrific place to launch our focus on better self-care.

So why is this important? Self-care is important because when teachers take care of themselves, the students benefit. Teaching is one of the most challenging and stressful occupations, but also one that is often the most rewarding. Our teachers change lives. They play an amazing role in guiding each student to set goals and work toward the achievement of those goals. They serve as cheerleaders, sages, guides, people of wisdom, and models of a positive mindset. Our teachers give 110% every day, all day, to the students they shepherd through the school year. Teachers play key roles in shaping young lives and leave fingerprints on the hearts of them forever. In doing so, however, a teacher’s job is never done. Work continues long into the night after the final bell has rung. And when the alarm goes off in the morning, they begin again with the same dedication.

Therefore, it is important that we encourage our teachers and administrators to take care of themselves. When we feel good, our students benefit. When we are healthy in mind, body, and spirit, we model that for our students. Health and wellness pay benefits well beyond the individual. It behooves us to encourage positive self-care because, as we say at St. Michael’s, “at the end of the day, it’s all about the kids,” and those kids are worth every bit of our effort.

Margaret Moore

Head of School

Notes from the Head

I had the realization, as I prepared for our All-School Chapel on Monday, that none of our students had experienced 9/11. This year marked the sixteenth anniversary of the event that significantly changed our country. We did not so much dwell on the events of that day in our chapel conversation but rather on the goodness of humanity that was evident as hands across our country reached out to help and to hold one another.

The same goodness and compassion that many of us saw around the 9/11 experience was once again seen in the affected areas in Texas from Hurricane Harvey and, now, in Florida and the Caribbean from Hurricane Irma. People reaching out to those in need. Neighbor helping neighbor without regard for race, religion, national origin, neighborhood, lifestyle, or political orientation. All of that is put aside and we pull together to do what we can. It is what we do well in this country. It is when we truly demonstrate that we are united states. It is when we show that we are all Americans and stand as one. Heroes rise up. Generosity flows. Differences are put aside, and compassion is demonstrated in many ways.

As we focus on the value of Goodness this month, we need not look far to see examples of the natural goodness in people. There are so many acts of goodness, large and small, that we can point out to our young students, calling their attention to the many ways they can make a difference for someone else. When our children can see that even the smallest acts of kindness, goodness, and compassion make a large difference, they will reach out in turn to make good things happen for other people. Some people can write the large checks, which certainly makes a big difference. When I see our children look for ways to be generous, kind, and good to someone else, however, I am comforted in knowing that the examples we set as adults model a way for them to change the world, one person at a time. In that way, our children then lead us.

Margaret Moore

Head of School

Hurricane Relief Efforts at St. Michael’s

In recent weeks, major hurricanes struck Texas and Florida. The emotional, physical, and financial toll these devastating storms has on families can leave lasting effects, and the recovery efforts extend long after the storm has passed. The Southwest Association of Episcopal Schools quickly responded by offering resource information to schools in our association, pairing unaffected schools with affected schools to offer support and encouragement. St. Michael’s has volunteered to be a part of that outreach ministry. We now have a “sister” school in Houston. Holy Spirit Episcopal School is a preschool–eighth grade program with approximately 250 students enrolled. We have been in contact with the Head of School at HSES and are reaching out to help in multiple ways. So how can we help?

Although the school itself had only minor physical damage, members of their school community lost much. The Head of School has suggested that the greatest help would be gift cards that could be given to families as they begin to restore their homes and furnishings. This type of donation gives assistance to families to purchase what they need to replace and rebuild. Gift cards from Target, Walmart, Lowe’s, Home Depot, Visa, or Master Card, in any amount one chooses to donate, will be collected in the School Office and sent to Holy Spirit Episcopal School in Houston, Texas, for distribution. You may learn more about Holy Spirit at www.hses.org.

In addition, our students will be sending cards, student art, and photographs, offering our prayers and support as the recovery efforts continue this fall. Our Student Council has designated the September Mass collection for Episcopal Relief and Development, the outreach ministry of the Episcopal Church. Additional donations for both Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma can be made through Episcopal Relief and Development, earmarked for Hurricane Relief, www.support.episcopalrelief.org.