Tag: narrative

Maybe The Trees

Since I started teaching throughout each term and at the end of the year I’ve been asking students to think about and to share their ‘take aways.’ A take away is a complex notion. It is more than the one thing a student has learned; it is more than the one thing that will resonate with a student tomorrow, in a few months, or in five years. A take away is all of that and more. It is a knowing students and I search for and want to come to understand. Perhaps a take away is that care-forward piece or the restorying of our experiences piece that a student might come to be able to understand. A take away is our way of naming the experience of our story. It’s tricky. It’s different for each one of us. It’s messy. And it’s beautiful too.

For several years I’ve made certain to share my take aways with students.

This year, I asked my online learning network to share their takeaways. I had four responses.

I admit, naming the resonance of experience is akin to #lifemaking

Here’s mine.

#compassion

Okay, here’s what I tweeted:

 

2014-06-30, 10:41 AMMy Take Away from this year: #compassion I learned to listen, to attend with my heart, to listen to the story I am retelling, gently.

 

When it comes to compassion don’t all of us educators feel, in some way, that when it comes to our bucket of character traits, this one overflows?

And that’s a beautiful thing, right? We are in a caring profession.

Three years ago while working with a group of grade 9 & 10 students I had my first real glimmer of true compassion. Then, with that group, I learned to respond with kindness. We had been faced with a sticky sort of change to our classroom family. The change was made to our family. The decision was made, hidden behind closed door educational discussions and off-campus narratives. The change led to silence and the silence brought confusion and pain. Silence was not the way we were used to doing things. We were used to sharing our stories of experience. As a unit we felt like we were the very bits inside a snow globe, swirling away, and that everyone outside our classroom space were the forces shaking us.

We were tired. We were silenced and we were sad.

I spoke to this group about those months, and the experience of this story at their grad this June. I shared how one of them, one day during a silent, silent reading, just tossed her journal on my desk and said, “Enough. We will respond with kindness.” And as a family we did. We pulled together, found our voice and healed.

And kindness is a starting point. It became the switch that each of us needed to bring our snow globes to rest. But kindness isn’t compassion.

In many of those moments years ago, though we forged ahead, we had simply silenced too the stories swirling around us.

And lately I’ve been thinking about trees.

Tall trees. There are tall pine trees that line my home in the Avenues. The pines are 110 ten years old. 14 years ago, during one of the most swirling snowy moments of my life, after looking at 28 houses, I stood in the back yard of this place. The wind played with the pines. The pines sang to me. There are five giant pine that reach towards the moon. They are taller than any house on the street; they nestle me into this tiny yard and wrap me safely here. The trees sang and I was home.

Sometimes I feel love can changed the world.

Recently I heard Gabor Mate say we need to ask ourselves how it is we feel about the person we are working with when we think of what we believe possible for that person.

This spring the kids and I were sitting in our sharing circle. We were sharing in that back-n-forth beautiful way. The kids were sharing about the connectedness they have with people in their lives. I shared the connectedness I felt with my Dad. Two of the boys in the circle asked about my connection. The others listened. I remember the conversation clearly. I remember feeling tired and being abrupt with the boys. I remember asking them if their others would be there if they got sick. I mean not just visit, I mean care for them. One boy answered no. One boy met my eyes, smiled at me, stood up and tossed his journal rather too forcefully into the bucket.

I can not say if the words were like me or not. I do not care for comparisons. I am blunt, though. And I sure do care about kids; I really care about the kids that sat around the table that day. I was “Imagaining what it is like where … they become gradually conscious of what it means to make connections in experience” (M. Greene, 1995, p. 55).

At the moment I am writing a letter to the boy who met my eyes. He is in custody. We’ve been writing letters for a while.

March 26 my Dad had a stroke. And I’ve been thinking a lot about trees.

I missed some school those first few days after Dad’s stroke.

When I returned, every day, every single day, the student who met my eyes would ask about Dad. Then, he would ask me how I was doing. Most days we’d have heart to hearts about ‘family,’ commitment, friendship, loyalty, and love.

The biggies.

Those were long weeks. You know that line ‘when you’re in the room, be in the room?” Those two months after my Dad’s stroke, I wasn’t in the room. Well, not when I was at school. I was tired and sad and I think I cried a few times, sitting on the piano bench while he worked the heavy bag, or did arm curls. I liked our chats though. And I think he did too.

He asked many questions and shared many stories. I did too. I was tired. So was he. We’d both had had a long spring.

He asked about Dad every day, first thing. Did I mention this? Every day as I said goodbye, I told him how much it meant that he had asked. So many people are afraid of crisis, pain, grief, sadness… Oh, how he honoured me by hearing my story.

When Dad had his stroke Mom who lives more than an hour from the city moved temporality into my house to live with Jess & me. Mom hadn’t been to my house, not more than to sit in their van as Dad ran in, in three years. We had squabbled over my trees – out of kindness one day she had had Dad trim them – though the squabble ran deeper and taller than trees.

Its roots reverberate every time I returned to circle with students; I am a teenager again, unable to find a way to communicate with my Mom. And I so want to share the stories of my experiences with my Mom.

“We inform our encounters by means of activities later obscured by the sediments of rationality… We can only become present to them by reflecting on them” (M. Greene, 1995, p. 73).

I am so similar to both my parents. Navigating a connection with my Mom though has never been easy. As an adult, I hid behind the guise of ‘caring’ for myself, and allowing the space between us to carry forward and the years to tip toe by.

Valleys are real though.

In the evenings as I would return from the hospital my Mom, having spent every day – and every, every day since with Dad – and I would curl up on the end of her bed, sometimes Jess, my daughter, would join us and here, my Mom and I would share stories.

There was hope in the late night shadowy moments on the futon. The compassion I found that was most profoundly needed was for a sense of rootedness, with my Mom, with my family and within me.

In June Dad moved into long term care, closer to Mom, but an hour away, and Mom moved back home.

I took time one afternoon to work in my yard. I discovered that sometime during the previous two months the neighbours had cut down one of my pine trees.

Sigh. I stood on my back deck a long time. I felt betrayed. I felt lost.

Then I asked “How important is it?” & “How do I feel about me?”

I still live here. And Here is Home.

Then, I mowed our front boulevard.

When the student who smiled at me was charged and sentenced, I shared with staff the stories of compassion that I had felt from him: asking after my Dad, attending to my stories, the hugs and tears when he had returned to us months before.

And this is what I am writing to him now. Oh, and that I miss him.

And maybe this too; when I was his age and I had gotten into trouble, my Dad would take me for long walks. He would stop at every plant and share stories. I’d taste rose hips and smell sage. I would sit for long moments on the prairie, listening to the wind. I used to find this mind-numbing. Now I know that I’ve taken every group of kids I’ve ever taught hiking, listing to wind.

My Dad would say there’s a teaching there. If I’m really listening, if I’m really attending, so would my Mom. Or maybe, it’s the trees.

Piano Stories

“I tell stories not to play on your sympathies but to suggest how stories can control our lives, for there is a part of me that has never been able to move past these stories, a part of me that will be chained to these stories as long as I live,” (King, 2003.)

~

Mid-morning Saturday, a friend sat at the graffiti-covered piano in the classroom and tapped out a melancholy tune, “I am afraid of your past.” The words weren’t meant for me; they were sung in response to the tensions that live in attending to stories.

He shared stories of his childhood mentor and shared stories of his summers at the lake. What resonated were his messy stories.

Long ago a student had sat at that same piano and shared similar stories, his hands too lingering over the piano’s out-of tune keys…

This is a story I know.

piano photo

~

Several years ago as part of an identity project a student, James, painted a piano with graffiti. His father wanted him to study classical piano. James wanted to compose his own music. More than that, James wanted to write poetry. The piano is covered with James’s story and his poetry. The piano’s wooden shell is pulled off to reveal its keys. The piano was one way James found to give voice to his story, to come to honour his own story. When he graduated he entrusted me to continue to care for the piano.

This week I’ve been feeling the messiness of my own piano stories.

Saturday night, while my grade-eleven daughter, Jess, and I relaxed at my Mom’s and Dad’s home, I received a message from James; he was having a difficult weekend. For many folks around here, last weekend was Thanksgiving, a time of gratitude and of being with family.

Though James has left home, his stories linger. Though James has spent a great deal time thinking deeply about his messy stories, coming to honour his stories, he is still learning to retell them.

Saturday he messaged, asking for the second time since I’ve known him, “Don’t give up on me.”

I am beginning to learn that coming to retell our stories into stories to live by takes time.

I remember when I first began to learn the depth of the messiness of James’s story. I can still see him standing in the doorway, a big kid aching to live a story of confidence, asking me to do more than hear, to do more than listen. James was asking me to attend to his messy stories.

James was asking me to honour him. And he asked me not to give up on him.

This was a request for trust.

What I learned as I came to attend to James’s stories, I learned that I was at the same time, learning how to honour my own stories. “The curious thing about these stories was I had heard them all before, knew them, in fact, by heart.” (King, 2003). For so long I had forgotten to listen to my own stories.

Together, James and I were life making.

~

Friday I sat alone in a car dealer’s office. I was about to purchase a new-to-me car and I was wiping away tears. Six week previously, my car had been stolen. Weeks afterwards I had settled with insurance. The day before the car dealer, on my way to an educational conference, I stopped at the salvage yard to gather my personal items from the retrieved car.

The person at the gate warned me about what I’d find, “Honey you’re gonna drive down there and I’m gonna turn off the security cameras ’cause you’re gonna have a little cry.”

“I’m not going to cry.”

I drove through the compound. Two days before my car was stolen it was my best friend’s wedding. I had given her a ride to the church. When the car was stolen I told the officer that the police could identify my car from the wedding dress glitter in the front seat. There was no visible damage to the car, inside or out, yet it took me more than a minute to get out of the rental car. Grasshopper remains coated the vehicle. I was not prepared for what I’d find inside, rubble: bottle-caps of used dark maple coloured adventure, baggies dusted and discarded.  Sour scent and earth comfort and sweat stank clung to the fabric; attacking the closed doors of my memories like sealed papers locked in safety deposit boxes and packaged away perfectly in 12 step programs. Angrily, with some sort of misplaced power, I began to gather strewn paperclips. I pulled them from under seats, between cushions, under mats. Then I found the seven beads from the discarded key chain a student had made for me during my under-graduate degree, the first student with behaviour challenges that I had taught. Seven beads. Strewn. The security guard had warned me.

“I don’t tell this story out loud because it’s not much of a story. No plot. No neat ending. No clever turns of phrase. And because I always end up weeping… But for myself,” (King, 2003).

In my fancy teaching garb I crawled over remnants, lifting my shovel and my soccer chairs from the trunk.

My thesis advisor recently asked, “Why this work? Why now?”

Stories matter.

Okay, maybe I am afraid.

Tears came that afternoon. They were not the ones I’d expected. Life is messy. The prairie wind danced raw across my face. A salvage yard tow truck in the distance dredged up steel and more steel like stories. Inside that car lived the messy stories from which I had walked away. The experiences that had led me to pick up my daughter and to retell our narrative into a story to live by. Standing in that compound I know I am still learning to live with the messy tellings. Standing in the salvage compound, I ached to share my story. I ached to have my story honoured.

Stories matter. I am beginning to wonder if it is the messy ones that need the most attending.

All those years ago a scared grade ten student stood in my doorway and asked me to attend to his stories.

Wiping away tears in the car dealer’s office, I heard over and over the comfortable, common story of trying to be like steel. It is a difficult story to live by. Sometimes… It is messy.

~

When I think about James standing in the doorway and asking me to attend to his story, it was James who was courageous. I am beginning to realize that it takes so much faith to trust another person with our stories.

Stories matter.

 I am beginning to understand that attending to stories takes time…

Opening Doors

Stories Matter.

Lately I’ve been studying the work of Thomas King. He asserts, and I agree with him, that once a story is heard, it cannot be unheard. Yet there is more to the ‘cannot be unheard-conversation.’ Certainly, in King’s work he digs deeper. In classrooms, however, though stories are heard, they are often made silent or kept hidden. I don’t think the single responsibility for silencing stories lies with educators and/or education systems. I have felt the ripple effects of silenced stories in every community where I have lived, in every school where I have worked and with many kids I have taught. I know the stories I too try to keep silent.

I often think it is the silenced stories that most alter a journey; it is the silenced stories that are given no voice that become stories to leave by.

I have a sense that some stories are so painful that today, even today, I can only come to live alongside them, in the clenched-molar-spaces as I grind my teeth at night, waking Jess one room over. Perhaps sharing the reverberations loosens their bite.

“[A]n education that is about knowing differently rather than knowing more may be humanity’s best hope” (Davis, Sumara & Luce-Kapler, 2000, p. 9). I hope knowing differently, means honouring all stories. I’ve been thinking about the stories schools keep silent. I been thinking about the stories I’ve listened to my community keep silent. I’ve been thinking a lot about suicide-stories. These stories are the stories that have focused my work, and that have storied my community and me. Yet, these stories are the ones most hidden, most silenced. These stories are my stories. Yet perhaps out of ignorance, perhaps out of nervousness, and sometimes out of fear, I shut the door. I often silence suicide stories.

Stories matter.

I live in the midst of the reverberations of suicide stories. I want to share differently, know differently, I want to honour stories. I am tired of closing doors.

Stories matter.

Last week a student sent this message:

“I’ll make you a deal. I’ll talk [publicly] about the suicides in my life …and you do too.”

My first response was nervousness. Afterwards, I felt like I wanted to share. I wrote to my teacher, a person with whom I have a trusting relationship:

i paused to wonder if the focus of my work should be singularly on suicide-stories. i struggle, i silence myself everyday to share, to share differently, more or better. my pause was months in the making. however, there are other silenced stories. i never knew how loud my silent puzzling months had been. i never knew how beautifully kids listen.

You see, three years ago my friend lost her son to suicide. She was one of the best moms and best teachers I have ever met. Later, standing in a parking lot, I held her hand as she told me she had to leave her home-city because this place kept retelling her story as a story to leave by. My friend’s son had a best friend name Sam (pseudonym). At the time, Sam lived next door to me and my daughter, Jess.  Jess grew up playing with Sam, inventing games on the front steps and on the bumpy streets under the protective overhang of the giant elms trees. When I came home that first day after learning about the suicide, I remember the sound of the trampoline as Sam’s repetitions finally ceased and he coming over to me to share. I held his hands through the latticework of the fence while we whispered stories back and forth.

I remember that first day in my classroom after learning about the suicide, and being told it might be best not to return to my classroom being upset. I remember that the students were already living in the midst of the suicide-story; they were already confused and worried and upset. I remember returning to our safe storying space and not knowing where to begin or how to explain. I remember that I told the kids these things. I shared my feelings. I shared that I was grateful we were together. I shared a personal story; I shared all I know about my friend as wonderful mom and as wonderful teacher. I remember I had begun with story.

Two and a half years later, I remember wrapping my arms around Sam during a Halloween event as he learned, for the first time, that his best friend’s family had moved away.

Stories matter.

A few days ago, when Sam’s family also moved, Sam was unable to come and say goodbye; next door is a long way. Stories to leave by are loud. Jess too was unable to cross the silent property line to say goodbye; reverberations run deep. The next morning the moving truck pulled away. It was all so normal and so calm.

Stories matter, for all of us.

dear Sam

i know you are happy to be away from [here] and that’s good. i want you to know how much you and your family have meant to me and to jess every moment we have lived here. jess is in tears right now, though im certain she’d not want me to tell you so. and likely in tears aching for the days gone by.

days gone by are the hardest to say goodbye to. and maybe we never do say goodbye, or never really have too. some memories are harder than others. i think the best of love & of life is suppose stay with us.

sam. my whole life i will never forget the amazing young man you are. you remind me of my dad; jess saw this in you too, sam; the kindest and best of people.

be happy. take care of you. and someday, someday, stop in. come home.

most of all. be very very happy.

much, much love. cori (& jessy lee)

~

I am so tired of closing doors.

Stories matter.

Okay, I’m nervous, but let’s try…

Nothing Left Unsaid

IMG_8126

I have been thinking about trust and loyalty. I have been thinking about my Dad.

I have been thinking about family spaces.

Snuggled on the sofa last night with Jess, my daughter, we shared about my Dad, Albert, and about family spaces.

This story is for you, for Jess, for me, for Alec & George, for my Dad, for the kids now and the kids who came before, and certainly, for the Snow Shoveling Five.

This is for us.

This is for our family. This is for our family-story. Please, share your family-story…

 

Greg’s How? – A Guest Post

Friday was my last bus trip with the senior basketball team. Greg, the grade 3, 4, & 5 teacher at the school, is the coach; I just kinda tag along because, although we are a ‘senior boys’ team made of two schools and many kids, hence the ‘need’ for both a male and female supervisor.  I’ve miss coaching basketball this year. I usually coach junior boys’ basketball. The first year I was at my current school the junior boys’ basketball team made it to conference finals. This year, we had four students who signed up to play junior ball. This is the nature of sport at a small rural school. So I ride the bus. I play ball at recess, on weekends and in the wee hours on overnight tournaments with the senior kids.  

Many of these students will graduate in June. Last Friday, even more than other times, I needed to make the bus trip. June and graduation are fast approaching. These are the times I value most with kids, when we laugh and tell stories away from formalities. It’s a time for the kids and I to play hide and seek, stay up well into the night sitting in the staff room drinking tea at overnight tournaments, and I especially like the bus rides. These kids are the stories of my life.  

Greg understands my basketball-story and he understands my educator-story.

“A key in negotiating relationships as narrative inquirers is our collective sharing of stories of experience. In the shared vulnerability experienced in this communal process, the space negotiated in the meeting of stories becomes filled with complex understanding of lives, understandings with significant potential for shaping cultural, institution, personal, and social transformation” (M. Young et al, 2009).

Greg attends to my narratives.

Because of this, I like visiting with Greg.

He smiles easily. Friday we lost by 60 points. Our team laughed the entire game, much of that was because of Greg’s lead.

I’ve never heard him raise his voice. Greg reminds me of my Dad’s ways of being with kids: easy going, organized, project based. My Dad always listened to kids, and Greg does too. Because of this, I feel Greg is able to see the whole court, to see the play develop.

I like that he teaches younger kids and shares their success stories all the time. I like that he seeks feedback about the kids he teaches. I like that the senior kids and I have been invited into his room so often I’ve lost count, and that I’ve collaborated with him so often that the senior kids reflected positively on those moments with the younger grades in their term final projects. I like that the stories of his kids and their families are honored.

I learn from Greg every day.

Bus rides are times bouncing, talking about how to make learning fun.

We share project ideas, dream up ways we can collaborate. We talk about what schooling should feel like, look like. We share our families too.

However, we are both deeply reflective, enjoying our silence, our books, our writing.  Friday on the three hour regreg and kidsturn trip, I interrupted his writing and asked him for a favour. See, I am often asked how relational narrative inquiry works in a classroom. For the senior students in the Language Learning courses (ELA) whom I live alongside, stories come rather easily. Greg teaches an eclectic and active group of young learners’ with grades 3 to 5 in the same room. Usually, by the end of the bus tip, we’ve each jotted down a few educational ideas.

Friday I wrote about the professional role he sees for me, and the similarities between Pre-K and senior ELA courses.

However, Friday I also asked him to share the notes I had watched him make over the six hour bus trip.

His class is the kind of learning space that attends to students’ passions (relational narrative inquiry) and is where I’d like to hang out. I think you’ll understand why once you come to know the ‘How’ of Greg’s relational learning space.

Bus trips with Cori are always inspiring to me. She loves education and that is contagious.

We believe in so many of the same things regarding the well-being of our students and at the same time she challenges me with her perspectives. I think we have the same passion but different experiences brought us to the same bus.

On the long trip home I began to write about my dream 2013-14 school year teaching my grade 3, 4, 5 class. My dream seems realistically within arms length.

I received a Christmas gift from my wife Lia, The Dalai Lama’s Little Book of Wisdom which I read passages from often. Today I read: …I consider hatred to be the ultimate enemy. By ‘enemy’ I mean the person or factor which directly or indirectly destroys our interest. Our interest is that which ultimately creates happiness. This passage struck me because I had to think about what His Holiness meant. Then I got it. This is the entire crux of what I try to do with my students. In education speak we replace the word interest with engagement. So being engaged in what you are learning about equals happy, eager learners.

From my experience this is one hundred percent accurate. I went from a Kinesiology D student to an honours grad in International Studies. I was the same person, with the same brain, same attitudes about education, same values, but I found interest and value in International Studies and not in Kinesiology.

What are you interested in? I’m interested in having a happy day…aren’t you? What makes my days at work happy are smiling faces, chatter, playfulness, and above all the questions I get when my kids ask, “when are we going to work on __________?” The blank is anything, but more often then not it is a project we are working in. This is interest, and engagement.

These are some of the notes about my next year I wrote on the bus ride last night:

Inquiry projects.
New project every 10 days.
Each would have written and presentation component and would be tied to either ss, science, or health.
There would be a big idea presented by me, then they would come up with the questions which would drive their learning.

Maybe the first couple days of each project we could focus on the ELA aspects of the project, the conventions of the different products we are going to be doing.

A key resource I should try to utilize would be families of the students. At beginning of each project I could send a homework note home informing parents of what the class is learning about and the. Have the students go through the KWLH chart with their parents to see if they have anything to bring to the table (expertise, resources to share, know of someone who could come and speak on the topic, insight into the topic other finding info).

There would be self, peer, and teacher evaluation for each and sometimes we could have an outside audience evaluate as well

We would not have time slotted for ELA and the other subjects we would have inquiry project time.

I need to remember to keep things simple. Simplicity and challenge is the key to engagement at this age.

Flow of ELA products I would like. What would be the best progression?  Skit. Formal essay. Narrative. Poetry. Slide presentation. Comic. Graphic novel. Online story.  Paragraph. Model/diagram. Song or rap.  Podcast or radio show. Poster.  Formal letter, resume of famous Canadian scientist/FNIM/other

Math could also be driven this way as I’m trying to do with the 5s right now.

Now I also need to figure out how to do this for 2 different groups at the same time.
Might not be too hard if they by into it and they could all collaborate on each others subjects/big ideas/driving questions.

Engagement piece at the beginning. You are going to be in charge of your education, in charge of what you learn, in charge of what this year is going to look like for you.

At the end of each project we will check in on how things went and do shout outs and suggestions to motivate for the next one and keep improving for the future.

Questions about inquiry project structure.
How to know if you’re going deep enough into the content area. You present a big idea and let the students take it where they want. But how do you get them the info to want to ask the tough questions. Like if the topic is light science, students think of light and they have never thought about it before, light is just there we use it, big deal.
How do we get them to ask the probing questions?  What is the hook? It has to be connected to an interest area, something they have prior experience with so they have a jumping off point.
And what about those things that students should at least be familiar with, like the names of the provinces and territories, does it really matter or is that one of those things that some kids will pick on and some won’t no matter how Canadian geography is taught?

What about the reading aspects of my ELA program? How do I integrate that with the resources I have at school? My current resource is reading A to Z which has some connections but not a lot. How do I make this happen, I’m fine with working with my librarian but she is not a teacher librarian.

Outdoor education, I would like to do this stuff outside. Have a place outside where we can sit, share ideas, learn, write. Maybe around the ball diamond. Could we make seats like the one I have that you lean back on?

So planning before the year: project big ideas. Diving in points or ‘hooks’ to get the unit going. Reproducible (calendar, rubrics to start with, templates for notes- 4 squares, sequence of ELA products.)

Day 1. Big idea
ELA project
Expectations
Rubric for ELA part and maybe for other subject area too
Write note to parents as class
KWLH and have parents do their own on the subject!
Day 2. Review homework thoughts and build on them to come up with driving questions and project ideas.
Focus on ELA stuff again today
Think up supplies needed

Day 3. Dive into project
Still spend time on learning the ins and outs of the ELA components.

Greg Kotschorek

~

Greg is Dad to Bodhi, and partner to Lia. Greg teaches and learns alongside students in grades 3, 4 & 5 at Mortlach School, Canada. Greg coaches senior basketball and many other sports. If you get the chance, chat with Greg, play ball with Greg. You’ll have fun. Find him here.

Verb? Chatting with Zac

Stories are complex; “They are beautiful” (Lugones, 1987).

Recently I was chatting with Zac Chase. During our conversation for #LearningGrounds he asked a few questions. I stammered while I answered some questions, yet others I answered well enough. However, when we were done chatting, I had the feeling that I had sounded like a text book. I don’t like jargon, but sadly I often use it. I prefer clarity. As I write this now, I know I am also not keen on regret. Besides I liked sharing and I liked that Zac had asked about stories. I liked that he had asked about what is important to me. I felt honoured. Next time, I’d like to listen to Zac’s stories.

Zac asked me to elaborate on why I use the word story as a verb: to story and storying. I don’t think I answered his question.

I story. I say and write and do and live storying often.

Interestingly, Zac also paused to wonder about the citations popping up in my posts. There is no separation between the two questions Zac posed.

The first time someone said these words to me or, said them so that I heard them, I was 29 years old. I was standing near a doorframe on the second floor of the university. Though I don’t think I was near a corner, I felt pushed that way. I had been explaining why I needed to separate my personal narratives from my teaching philosophy and practice. I was storying a narrow dominate narrative. Kumashiro helps us understand dominate narratives as oppressive stories and practices, “masked by or couched in concepts that make us think this is the way things ought to be” (2009). I remember feeling the ‘there is no separation’ lighting bolt and being so affronted by the assumption in its meaning. “What gall to imply there is no separating between past, present and future? What gall to imply that all that I have tried to keep hidden is actually visible, connected among us?” There was no one actually speaking then. It was terrifying. It was messy. It was beautiful. It was a retelling. Sean Lessard calls this a teaching. (2011).

To try to add some clarity to the first question, I’ll begin with Zac’s second question. Citations are easy. I adore what I am reading. I enjoy what others are writing. Why wouldn’t I share? I share with the students I live alongside. I share fiction. When Munro wallops me with crude truths so that I interrupt classroom silent reading by tossing a novel across a table and onto the floor, you bet I share. Why wouldn’t I share all literary treasures? There’s another reason too. I am selfish. I want to share the beauty that students and I find in honouring our narratives.

As well, Zac asked me, and perhaps a bit hesitantly and too happily, if I worry that others view this work as lesser work, easier work? Heck, even my own family has been known to refer to narrative inquiry as navel gazing. My mentor/instructor at the university where I am doing my graduate work, a colleague to many instructors who discount NI says she receives at minimum of two emails a week challenging the authenticity of narrative inquiry; my mentor is a tenured doctor at the university specializing in narrative inquiry. Questioning is part of story.

I am deliberate. I need to be.

I’m not so naïve as to assume narrative inquiry fits everyone, nor can it be understood comfortably by everyone. Stories are messy. Yet more difficulty to understand is that storying (openly attending to narrative) is even messier. My grad writing group meets every second Tuesday. One of our common bonds is our research methodology – narrative inquiry – we are storytellers. Last Tuesday after I shared from my work-in-progress, one of the group members leaned over, grabbed my hand, thanked me and said that no matter how much she wants to, she will never be able to share openly. And she is one of the few who invites storying into educational spaces. Storying is “the attitude that carries us through the activity, a playful attitude [that] turns the acidity into play” (Lugones, 1987). 

Storying is boundless and resonates with each telling, retelling and reliving of our narrative. Through our connected storying spaces, place is created. This connected way of living and being is the creative process of storying. This is the beauty of the complexity of stories. (Massumi, 2002).

Stories are beautiful. (Lugones, 1987).

I story because when stories are not honoured my narrative becomes someone else’s way for me to live and be in the world; I become someone else’s agenda. Not easily, but in time, if our narratives are silenced, we begin to tell a story to better match narratives others tell for us. Kumashiro writes, “What students learn depends significantly on the unique lenses they use to make sense of their experiences” (2009). Most of us have these told-for-us stories. The stories when family, community, friends or teachers have tried to or succeed in storying us. Often within school spaces, when students begin to tell, retell, and relive their own narratives they do “not identify” (Lugones, 1987) with dominate narratives. Often, students are “coaxed, seduced” (1987) through dominate practices to tell a dominate story. Students, marginalized by told stories often find a “profound desire to identify with” (1987) these dominate narratives.

The trick here is “to understand a loving way out of it” (1987).

Stories matter.

I need to be deliberate.

A few years ago I began to pay attention to online work. I began to note the work, not the authors, which gained notice. Certainly, but not exclusively, citations set many apart. Sometimes, even with citations, the work felt fantastical. However, folks seem to listen.

I’ve been researching narrative inquiry in my undergrad and graduate work for a long lime. I’ve lived in relational narrative spaces my whole live. I’ve learned to trust listening spaces. So I’ll cite some of my work so that you will be better able to live alongside narrative too, first here and later with student narrative. I can try.

I want this work to matter. I want this work to matter – without me.

The playfulness that gives meaning to our activity includes uncertainty, but in this case the uncertainty is an openness to surprise. This is a particular metaphysical attitude that does not expect the world to be neatly packaged, ruly. Rules may fail to explain what we are doing. We are not self-important, we are not fixed in particular constructions of ourselves, which is part of saying that we are open to self-construction. We may not have rules, and when we do have rules, there are no rules that are to us sacred. We are not worried about competence. We are not wedded to a particular way of doing things. While playful we have not abandoned ourselves to, nor are we stuck in, any particular “world.” We are there creatively. (Lugones, 1987).

Stories are all that we are. (Thomas King, 2003).

So I story. I create. And like Zac, I listen.