A Journey Paved with Stories

My posts about writing (#whyiwrite and Sharing the Love of Writing) have lead me to think about storytelling. I realize more and more the role of storytelling in building connections. Fostering global citizenship has become a passion for me and I place it at the heart of much of the project work I do in my Master’s courses. Lately I have been exploring how storytelling fits into global citizenship by creating context, unity and hope. Wade Davis’ TED Talk “Cultures at the Far Edge of the World” inspired me to look more closely at this topic. Davis underscores the need for us to hear the stories of people from all around the world as a means of understanding different ways of knowing and different realities. The hope is that we may then come to treasure a “pluralistic, multicultural world” and truly value its diversity. A multitude of voices sharing their stories enables us to reach a new level of awareness, discovery and connectedness.

The world in which we live does not exist in one absolute sense but is only one model of reality. ~Wade Davis

In Chimamanda Adichie’s TED Talk “The Danger of a Single Story” she stresses the importance of knowing many stories. The consequences of only knowing one story or different versions of the same story is that it creates only one image in our mind about someone or somewhere. Within the limited framework of one image we then define others, make assumptions and broad generalizations. In doing so we are unable to see the possibilities for connections and similarities.

Many stories matter…they empower, humanize and repair broken dignity. ~Chimamanda Adichie

Storytelling can change the world. ~Wade Davis

I love this quote. It captures so beautifully the connections we can form when we listen and when we share. A year ago the Grade 3’s at our school heard their first stories about Q’enqo, a small indigenous community in Peru. These initial stories led us on an amazing journey of inquiry, connectedness and global citizenship that continues today. My colleague was traveling the world with his family and through video conferencing he connected with our 125 students in Calgary to share his experiences in Peru but more importantly the stories of the people he met. The power of those stories lit our students on fire. The days following were bubbling with questions, wonder and the strong desire to know more. His stories fueled a passion for discovery and understanding, and so began our own story.  Our story that is woven together with the stories of children living over 7000 km away. One that is rich with authentic learning, engagement in the curriculum, compassion for others and above all a desire to contribute to a positive change in the world. It is a journey paved with stories.

I have come to realize that Global Citizenship is a way of thinking and behaving. It is an outlook on life, and most importantly a belief that you can make a difference in this world. ~ Angela Maiers

I am calling for your stories. I have created a Google Doc to collect stories of global citizenship happening in your classrooms with your students. I would love to be able to post your stories on the Global Citizenship Wiki I am creating to showcase the power of connecting our students with the world. I also have a Google Form in which I am looking for online tools that support the development of global citizenship. These will also be added to my wiki. I will roll out my wiki in its early stages next week, again eager for suggestions, ideas and contributions. Thank you for taking part in the storytelling and the journey.


Sharing the Love of Writing

Writing. As a teacher I spend a lot of time thinking about writing. It seems to be a giant topic for discussion and wonder amongst teachers every school year. How do we teach writing? We investigate writing during professional development sessions, it is embedded in our school development plans, we spend countless dollars on resource materials, and it drives the work in our professional learning communities. It can feel like one of the great mysteries of teaching. How do we really and truly inspire students to write?

I always have many questions when it comes to teaching writing. How do I hook them into the process? How can we break the infamous writer’s block? How do they learn to express their ideas clearly and vividly? How should they organize their writing? And the list goes on. But what I have realized over time is that at the core I think students need to see themselves as writers. How do they do this? Ironically by writing. Writing something they feel good about because they created it, own it and it came truly from them. It is their voice and theirs alone, unedited and untouched by others. I believe by building a history of successes, and in this case writing successes, students begin to see themselves in a different light. They start to see they are capable, they can create artifacts that reflect who they are, and they have a voice that matters.

So much of not being able to write is fear. Even though I love to write I am fearful every time I sit down to write a blog post. What if it isn’t “right”? What if I have nothing to say? What if someone doesn’t like it? What if I sound like I don’t know anything? Writing when others may see it makes me feel exposed and vulnerable. I would guess many of my students feel the same. However a great realization I had today was although writing these blog posts isn’t easy at all, it is now easier. In this I have gained so much more empathy, understanding and perspective toward my students and their evolution as writers.

Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED Talk captures the human phenomena that pairs writing and creativity with pressure and fear. Can we reframe “the relationship between humans and the creative mystery”. Can we use these ideas to cultivate opportunities for students to  positively experience writing?

The beauty of teaching and learning in such dynamic times is that we are surrounded by rich online resources that provide endless possibilities for writing. Now when we want to write we have choice, flexibility and access. I think we need to help students find an outlet for writing that excites them and build their successes from there. I don’t think the venue or the genre or style matters if it means we get children hooked on writing. If they discover they can express themselves by tweeting or creating comics or writing from photos in Flickr then we are on the road to something special.

Online tools have broken the traditional molds of where, when and how we write. These tools give us platforms to express, respond, collaborate, debate, challenge, question, publish, and discuss. We can now so easily connect with other people through our writing. Suddenly there are engaging, exciting and dynamic opportunities that are rich with inspiration and creativity.

I stumble across many amazing tools for writing on Twitter and on other educators’ blogs. Tools that make me want to jump in and get creative, and ones that I really hope will inspire students to write. Perhaps inspire them to take another step and experience another writing success. I have been bookmarking these tools in my Delicious and Instapaper accounts. I thought I would create a Delicious stack to share with you and I encourage you to add to it. Let’s pool these links together and inspire our students to write!

It is an amazing time to be a learner and it is an amazing time to begin to see yourself as a writer.

Please share your favourite writing tools and resources in the Inspire Writing Delicious stack or leave them in the comment box and I will add them for you. How do you inspire your students to write?

Write Often, Write Bravely

I would like to make a confession. There is a blog I follow above all others. I believe my commitment to it could qualify as a “blog crush”. I anticipate the daily tweet that a new post is waiting (and if the stars align it’s twice daily). I savour the words, the meaning, the message, the delivery…everything. Oddly the topic of the blog is completely unrelated to the majority of blogs I follow on educationleadership, teaching, learning, and technology. Quotes from this blog that resonate with me are scribbled on the whiteboard in my office and pasted into Evernote. My husband has come to expect that over the course of dinner I will utter:”Today Seth was talking about…”, “Did you know Seth thinks…” or “Seth says…”. Indeed the object of my affection is Seth Godin’s blog.

Seth’s blog is about marketing and publishing but truly these topics are a vehicle for much broader themes about life, risk taking, leadership, ideas and change. Seth’s posts encourage shaking up the status quo while looking at ourselves and situations from a different angle. He is skillfully observant of human nature and advocates for movement forward. I am quick to apply his ideas to education and teaching but I believe his writing can be interpreted through many lenses.

Last week, as so often happens, one of his posts serendipitously spoke to my moment in time. Just as I am wrestling with how to write openly, out loud and reflectively in my blog Seth comes through for me. In “Talker’s block” he discusses how we never lack for anything to say but when it comes to writing we can hit a wall, a standstill. Why is this? What differentiates the ease of talking from the challenge of writing? The answer according to Seth is practice.

We get better at talking precisely because we talk. We see what works and what doesn’t, and if we’re insightful, do more of what works. How can one get talker’s block after all this practice? ~Seth Godin

Seth offers a great reminder for overcoming writer’s block-just write and do it regularly. The more you write the better your writing becomes and the easier it will flow. There is no quick fix or magic spell…get to it and keep at it. Again it comes down to practice. Naturally the message is the same for any style of writing and Seth strongly promotes writing publicly:

I believe that everyone should write in public. Get a blog. Or use Squidoo or Tumblr or a microblogging site…Do it every day. Every single day. Not a diary, not fiction, but analysis. Clear, crisp, honest writing about what you see in the world. Or want to see. Or teach (in writing). ~Seth Godin

While reflecting on Seth’s sage advice and agreeing that frequency is key, I panicked wondering how I was going to blog daily. These four posts that make up my entire blogging history didn’t come together in the carefree fashion I envisioned at the start of this journey. The behind the scenes of each blog post is a mashup of several days worth of ruminating, playing with ideas, 3:00 am musings, and testing content out on the dog (who is a tough customer). It isn’t pretty. And this is all before a word is typed. It is such a process and the thought of creating a daily post at this stage seems far too daunting. But then I realized I am indeed writing daily if I take into consideration my online course discussion boards. It is writing that is reflective, responsive, honest, and it centres on big ideas. The ideas are perhaps more focused as they are moderated and related to course content and the public nature is limited to my classmates but the thought and the process behind the writing is similar.

Thank you, Seth for pointing out the simplicity of “Write like you talk. Often.” You have reminded me to honour the daily writing that I am doing as it will move both my writing and my learning forward. It doesn’t have to be perfect or profound, it just needs to happen. It is a process, another journey.

Whether or not you write well, write bravely. ~Bill Stout

I’d love to know: If you write daily what shape does it take? Where are you writing? What are you writing about and how do you collect ideas for writing? Do you follow a blog that speaks to you (aka a “blog crush”)?