Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The Power of Storytelling

New England is full of snow. I mean FULL of snow right now. Today is my 4th snow day in 2 weeks, and I've had a lot of unexpected down time, much of which was filled with aimlessly scrolling through social media, alternating between rewatching videos of the interception that won us the superbowl (woo hoo!) and reading articles about great teaching, which I find myself unable to stay away from even on days off. The power of social media and technology is one thing I've explored a lot on my blog. School culture and the importance of teaching empathy is another I've explored often in my writing. While aimlessly scrolling over the past few days, I kept coming back to one of my favorite photo-blogs that seems to be a combination of the two, Humans of New York. 

If you haven't had the chance to check it out, it is an amazing compilation of photographs of people from all walks of life in New York City, along with a few sentences capturing those people's lives in that moment. It's a blog that has captured the side of me that is endlessly curious about people's stories, and what brought them to where they are.  For example... 

The picture just above is a boy named Vidal, whose words about his principal's positive impact on him went viral, and has sparked the generosity of people all over the world. Humans of New York is a glimpse into the stories of people who grew up all different sorts of ways, and are heading in all different sorts of directions. I've read about individuals who have circumstances incredibly similar to my own, and individuals whose lives couldn't be more different. 

How cool would it be to do something like this in our schools; to photograph students and teachers in the building, and share a sentence or two about their lives in that moment? It could be an amazing and relatively easy way to build community and teach empathy. It would remind staff and students alike that everyone has a story, and that everyone has something going on underneath the surface, whether it's graditude, frustration, excitement or otherwise. It could offer a small bit of positivity to someone having a bad day, or remind a student or teacher to be a bit more sensitive and patient in frustrating situations. Or on a smaller scale, it could be a great getting to know you activity with a new group of students. We could ask them to select just the right words to capture their lives in that moment, and use the Humans of New York blog as a model. We could perhaps do this once at the beginning of the school year, once in the middle, and once at the end. Students could then write a reflection on what's changed over the course of their school year, and how far they've come. 

I can't help but be fascinated and empowered by people's stories, and due to the number of followers it has, I'm sure I'm not the only one! If you haven't checked out Humans of New York, give it a chance. If nothing else, it will cause you to take pause, and momentarily see yourself in another's shoes, something we hope all of our middle schoolers take the time to do.

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