Thursday, December 3, 2015

The Power of Storytelling

Today was one of those crazy hectic days when I felt like I chased my tail from dawn until dusk, but it was also a day full of unexpected connections and wonderful surprises. Most importantly, today I was reminded of the power of storytelling.

My day began with a one hundred and sixty mile drive to Kalamazoo to present at the Middle Elementary and Middle School Principals Association (MEMPSA) annual conference. I was invited by my principal, Mark Morawski, to co-present a breakout session focused on project based learning. I’m always happy to talk about the amazing work our students do, so the drive flew by.

Upon arrival I was, however, disappointed to discover that I had missed the keynote by George Couros but I was lucky enough to be able to catch the last ten minutes of one of his breakout sessions. George shared a personal story about a time when he was very vulnerable and flustered in front of an audience. It was so refreshing to know that even my educational heroes have those moments too! In that moment George Couros became more fallible, more human and more approachable to me. I was so pleased that he chose to share it because the ultimate message was powerful: We need to make the positives so loud, that the negatives are almost impossible to hear. In just ten minutes I had my greatest take away from the conference!

Shortly after our session ended I jumped back in the car to make the three hour drive back to Detroit to attend an Engag(ed) Exchange event centered around design thinking and empathy within the education space. I was so happy to reconnect with some amazing educators that I haven’t seen in a while and also thrilled to make some new connections. The evening was launched with an amazing performance of Lost Voices by two students from the EMU Poetry Society. Nicholas Provenzano was the master of ceremonies and introduced us to Deborah Parizek of the Henry Ford Learning Institute, Shelley Danner of Challenge Detroit and Cornetta Lane from One Detroit Credit Union. Each presenter shared their stories about design thinking and I was most inspired by Daniel B, a student of the College for Creative Studies who even shared his grandma with us!

I heard so many stories today that inspired, uplifted and fascinated me. They reminded me of the need for us to share our own stories. We need to share our stories with our students to remind them we are human too. By sharing snippets from our daily lives, our fears, our failings our frustrations we are telling our students that we trust them, that we are fallible, that we are approachable. It’s also important for us to share our stories with our peers and colleagues. We need to share our successes, our epic fails, our struggles and our ambitions, for it is in the sharing that we build empathy and meaningful relationships.

I was also reminded of the need to LISTEN to stories. Our students are very adept at revealing only the parts of themselves that they want us to see, and sometimes they do not reveal their best selves. But if we begin to truly tune into their stories, not just the assignments they write but the snippets of their pain points or happy places that they consciously or inadvertently share with us, then we can begin to see their best selves. The courageous kid, the hardworking kid, the persistent kid will be revealed and we can come to know them. Knowing fosters appreciation, appreciation fosters relationships, relationships foster trust and trust fosters connection. When we connect, we learn and grow together.

My crazy hectic wonderful day is coming to an end but my commitment to share stories and hear stories is refreshed. What stories did you share today? What stories did you hear today?

Saturday, June 27, 2015

It's Been A Long Year Without You My Friend

"Grief is a journey, often perilous and without clear direction, that must be taken. The experience of grieving cannot be ordered or categorized, hurried or controlled, pushed aside or ignored indefinitely. It is inevitable as breathing, as change, as love. It may be postponed, but it will not be denied."
Molly Fumia

As a teacher, I spend about the same amount of time with my colleagues as I do with my family. For thirteen wonderful years I have been a member of the 5/6 team at Birmingham Covington School. We formed, stormed, normed and were performing like a well-oiled machine. The machine broke in January with the death of one of our core members.

Fitz was not only a teacher at BCS, she was also a former student and she was the heart of our crew. She was a passionate educator who strived to help her students find joy in reading and writing. She brought the same energy to our team and inspired us to work harder, push further and demand more of ourselves and our students each and every day. Most importantly she made us laugh. Oh, she made us laugh!

Fitz,your passing rocked our entire community. You touched the lives of so many parents, students and colleagues in countless ways and your impact is immeasurable. The 5/6 team shattered, so heartbroken at losing you so young, so devastated for your daughters to whom you were devoted and whose lives will never be the same. But as educators we knew we had to help our students first. We have wiped away tears, listened to students tell their favorite stories about you, understood when they lost focus, struggled to concentrate or just felt anxious or sad. In nurturing the youngest members of our community through this difficult time we have postponed our own grief and battled on to make it the end of the year. But summer is here, the pace has slowed, responsibilities have eased and now it is time.

I miss you. I miss you bouncing into school in your ridiculous spring heeled shoes with a twinkle in your eye. I miss your enthusiasm, your happiness, your capacity for mischief. I miss our rituals, our daily lunches where we shared all of the ups and downs of life; the struggles, the joys. I miss sharing books with you and spending hours on the phone discussing the themes and plot twists, the characters and how they made us laugh or tore at our heart strings. I miss your honesty and vulnerability which you were always prepared to share. I miss your courage and your fearlessness in standing up for what you believed to be best for kids. I miss your wit, your fire, your vivacity, voraciousness and vim. I miss your aches and pains, your smiles and giggles. I miss my friend and I always will, but now I am ready.

I’m ready to come out from under the cloud and start thinking and writing again. I’m ready to embrace a world without you and face the challenges it brings. I know when we return to school in the fall I will be slapped with reminders of you everywhere and there will be sudden impulses to cry as the realization of your loss sweeps over me again. But my sadness will be eased with the support and love of my 5/6 team, my work family, your work family. We will continue to work hard and be the best educators we can, forever inspired and forever changed for having known and loved you.