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Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Shuffleboard, Bulldogs, and Mattering

Shuffleboard, Bulldogs, and Mattering

By Dr. Ryan Donlan
Assistant Professor
Department of Educational Leadership
Bayh College of Education
Indiana State University

As I think ahead to an upcoming vacation with family, I’m moved by the thought that my wife Wendy and I will be leaving our children with grandparents in Michigan, as we head home again for a few weeks this July, coming back to our careers which call our name, year-round.  Our children will have time with the undivided attention of their grandparents who want nothing more than to celebrate their existence with whatever Sean and Katelyn want to do, for a two-week period of time.

I’m reminded of a trip I took, which if I were to be completely honest, was the best trip of my life, even though I remember few details.  It was with my grandparents on my mom’s side, nearly 40 years ago to the Redwood Motor Lodge in Oscoda, Michigan.  On a qualitative research visit to a nearby school district a few years ago, I drove by the Lodge, only to see a closed and seemingly dilapidated property.

Warm feelings rose comfortably within me.

What I do remember is this from that trip many years past:  I played shuffleboard.  Not tabletop shuffleboard, but the real type, with old people (probably in their late 40’s or 50’s).  I also remember my favorite picture of all time, hanging on the wall of the billiards room, where upon the velvety canvas of classic 70’s artwork, a cigar-smoking bulldog is shooting pool, surrounded by other dogs interested in the game.  I hope I eventually find it on E-Bay. I think I swam in the pool as well, but I’m not sure they even had one.

What is most cherished by me, however, has nothing to do with details of the trip.  It’s being with my grandparents, a kind couple who lived in Corunna, Michigan, in a house just a tad bigger than my office at ISU. They loved me unconditionally despite misgivings about my father’s marriage to their daughter.  Grandpa and grandma took their time, talent (at grandparenting), and treasure (meager, yet immeasurable), and spent them on ME.

I mattered to them. 

My favorite trip. 

I hope Sean and Katelyn, upon recollection of these next few weeks 40 years from now, will be thinking the same of this summer’s excursion to grandpa and grandma’s. 

And “mattering.”

In reflecting on what we are asked to do each week with children in our schools, what do we do with the children who don’t have grandparents willing to spend what little time and attention they have on them?  Or those without the parents who encourage these moments?  Or even those without parents?

I would dare say that we need to provide THE SAME EXPERIENCES IN LIFE AND MATTERING to them, not necessarily on our summer vacations, but during the everyday course of what we do – which, by the way for many of our children, is a “vacation” from their awful lives -- A momentary stay against confusion, as Robert Frost would say.

Can we consider that one of our goals as we move into our next school year is to provide for our students, not necessarily experiences in which they can remember fully what they did, but those in which they remember how they were treated?  Those in which they matter.

Further, can we provide something in our schools that serves as the shuffleboard-of-connectedness with others and the bulldog picture through which they will be forever imprinted?

What’s your plan for mattering?  Who in your school plays shuffleboard with kids?   

What’s your bulldog picture?


Dr. Ryan Donlan is honored to be serving in a position where he can think, and write.  If you would like to partner with him in either of these pursuits, please feel welcome to contact him at anytime at (989) 450-0272 or at 

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