Friday, September 4, 2015

Community Through Story, Revisited

One year ago, I blogged on a class assignment in which my students needed to share significant stories from their lives.  One year later, and another class is in the process of sharing their stories.
When I told some students from the class of 2016 that the 11th graders were doing this assignment right now, they replied that this was one of their favorite assignments from Junior year and that it had made a big difference in the way they started the school-year.

Once again, we are hearing all kinds of stories, but the thing that really amazes me about all of them is how open and vulnerable the students are willing to be.  Though some students are telling amusing stories that are important to them, the majority are baring their phobias, their deepest struggles, their insecurities, pain that they've felt and pain that they've caused and now regret, for all to see.

I cannot think of a better way for the students who are listening to practice our newly-minted classroom rules and policies--this is where trust is either built or broken, and indeed before the first students presented their stories in each of my classes, I shared this reflection on trust that I wrote in 2011.

So far, the students have been amazing listeners--attentive, encouraging, respectful.  My Humanities class has only one student left who needs to present, and my 1st period English class is more than halfway through.  I hope my students will keep up the maturity and kindness they have already shown in the first two days of story-telling.

However, the building of trust and the shattering of old assumptions is only the beginning.  Even more than last year, I am learning a lot from these stories.  I had taught the Class of 2016 when they were in 9th grade, and so I knew them fairly well when they returned to my class last year for English or Humanities.  The class of 2017, on the other hand, is brand new to me.  I'd coached a few in Middle School Cross Country several years ago, and worked with a few more on the yearbook staff, but that was it.  So, the past two weeks have been a whirlwind of learning names (done!) and getting to know personalities (making progress!).  With nearly every story I have heard so far, I have found myself going, "Ah, okay... I'm glad I know that."  I'm discovering about learning struggles, perceptions, past experiences with school, both good and bad... and I'm realizing that it might have taken me all year to learn this information without the storytelling, if ever.

Once more, I feel affirmed in this choice of a first major assessment--it not only has the potential to set a good tone and break down barriers, but it also helps me to get to know my students on a deeper level.  This was an aspect I feel I underestimated last year, but which I'm sure will be tremendously valuable in coming years.

As I settle down for a much-needed weekend (read: time to work on Master's homework, grade the first round of AP essays I received today, and maybe rest a little bit, too), I am looking forward to the week ahead, and hearing the rest of these stories.

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