This is the second installment of a series of posts on storytelling – Know your story, tell your story. My hope is to share a few anecdotes that have shaped me as a person and as an educator in order to connect and grow.
As I mentioned in my opening post, my grandmother and her stories were instrumental in my youth. Living only a block away from me, I was able to spend a lot of time with her throughout my childhood. The fact that she was retired and I was little gave us the luxury of time. On many occasions she talked about the fact that she and her two sisters (one of them a twin) were school aged during the great depression. She would tell me that as kids, they didn’t realize this era was so different from other times in history because it was all they knew. Families were struggling, but it didn’t seem that way at the time – it was just their reality. Kids were kids, attending school, playing, socializing, and spending time with family.
This story gives me pause to think and reflect. Reality for our kids is wherever they are – much smaller than our reality as adults. They may not fully realize how different things are outside the world they live in (I am guilty of this sometimes as an adult!). Whether living in poverty or an affluent community – kids are kids. We tend to be more aware as adults of the increased struggle that some of our students face day-to-day.
This story also reminds me that the definition of opportunity and accomplishment varies from community to community. There are some students who arrive to kindergarten already knowing their educational expectations include post-secondary schooling, whereas others are from families where they could be the first to graduate from high school. By sharing stories outside of our students’ realities, we can introduce inspirational ideas that could potentially change their future.
Her story was and continues to be part of my story as I grew from a child to an adult and into my profession as an educator. I recognize that students bring their varied stories to school. We have the gift of opening their eyes other realities through everything from novels to science experiments, from mathematical applications to diverse cultures and history, from physical education to the arts. We encourage sharing of stories to further understand their worlds and honor their personal realities. When reality gets too emotional or personal, we engage with kids one on one and listen. We show compassion for difficult situations and provide support or guidance to find additional help. Their stories become part of ours and the vital connection of relationships to learning is strengthened.
How is your reality reshaped when you connect with your students and listen to their stories? For me personally, this is one way I know I learn…every day.
Recently I had the fortune of being invited to and attending the ECET2 (Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teaching and Teachers) National Convening. This along with the #semicolonEDU movement inspired the following post. I hope to do a small series of posts related to this that share some stories that have shaped me as an educator and a person.
“Humanity’s legacy of stories and storytelling is the most precious we have. A story is how we construct our experiences. At the very simplest, it can be: ‘He/she was born, lived, died.’ Probably that is the template of our stories – a beginning, middle, and end. This structure is in our minds.” – Doris Lessing
Storytelling – this is powerful stuff. A quick look back into history gives us pause to the importance of storytelling. Generations upon generations have built their stories to teach, to laugh, to connect, and sometimes to cry. They are invaluable. I can remember as a little girl sitting with my grandmother as she would tell me story after story about childhood with her sisters during the depression. She told me about when my grandfather went to war. She told me about my dad and aunt as children. She told me about motherhood, jobs, and how she eventually landed as a librarian for her career. She was unafraid to tell me not only about the good times, but the bad as well. She knew her story and realized the importance of telling it. I carry my grandmother’s voice with me and I am stronger for it.
The longer I spend in education, whether working with kids or adults, the more I recognize the power of storytelling. Stories stick with us and touch our hearts. The stories that myself and other educators tell are at times hilarious (you really can’t make this stuff up), and other times heartbreaking. The importance of sharing them rings true when connections are made with our own lives, our own students. These stories have staying power; they are taken forward and recounted. They are as important for us to tell as they are for others to hear.
Stories generate strong feeling and emotion – the good, the bad, and even the ugly sometimes. A good one has us so engaged that we forget whatever else is going on at that moment. I know in my classroom when I would recount stories of my travels, of my family, or even of previous classes I had everyone’s attention. Of course students love to be the tellers as well – how many of them walk in each day with ‘Guess what happened…’? How many of them will better engage in the rest of class if given just thirty seconds to recount one?
Each day my story grows and develops. It is being constructed by me and all the other stories that connect with it. The more deeply I know my story, the better I can tell it. And telling it is what matters. If I keep my stories to myself, no one else can benefit from my successes and failures. No one can laugh or cry with me and let me know they’ve been there. It takes courage to tell the stories, but the value far outweighs the fear.
Know your story…tell your story.