Importance of Story

As we start a new school year, I have been reflecting upon some of our students and how far they have come over the past 3 years. Many of our students who have shown the most substantial growth in the time I have known them, also seem to have the furthest to continue to grow. Yes, some of them still have challenges with self-regulation, sleeping habits, tardiness, lashing out, anger, and sadness. However, you should have seen what they were like over three years ago! The difference is quite amazing and I am so proud of each and every one of them for their hard work and determination to “improve”.

You see, some teachers may look only at what the troubling child presents as at the moment. Yes, absolutely, some of the students still struggle with many aspects of “traditional” school. But, as I would like to point out, each of our students is so much more than what they present in their current grade.  Like each one of the adults who support them, each of our students have a story. Many of them have a story of heart-ache, loneliness, loss, determination, perseverance, and resilience. To truly connect with each of these students, which will be important if we want to make a real difference with them, we need to take time to learn these stories. There is no Prescribed Learning Outcome that we can focus on that will be as important as this relationship that we will develop with our students. All students, but especially with those who may struggle the most.

photo 2My own children came home from their second full day with their new teacher with homework for mommy! Now, I must admit, when I arrived home after 11 hours at work, and my daughter (who is in Grade 4) laughed and said, “Hey Mommy! You have homework tonight! <chuckle chuckle>” I wasn’t too impressed. I thought to myself, “I don’t have time to do my own homework, let alone homework for my daughter!” And then, I was even MORE impressed (or LESS) when I heard that I had similar homework from my son’s Grade 1 teacher.  Then, I looked at my homework. I was taken aback. I was impressed by this work I was to complete!  My children’s teachers wanted to know about my children. They wanted to get to know their students. In doing so, all the parents/guardians were asked to complete a paper survey for their children.

The grade 1 survey was quite short, only about 14 very short, but insightful, questions (some of which included):

– Names of brothers and sisters & parents/guardians.

– What do you see as your child’s strengths?

– Does your child like to listen to stories that you read?

– What is your child’s favourite activity?

– Is your child involved in any organized community sports program?

– Health problems?  / Allergies?

– Is there any other information which would be important for me to know?

photo 1

My Grade 4 daughter’s survey was much more detailed. This surprised me because I’ve always associated these surveys with what teachers do in Kindergarten to get to know their students, but I’ve never seen them used with this age.  I think it is a wonderful idea! Some of the 14 detailed questions (that really made me think), included:

List 5 words that best describe your child’s character.

What motivates your child?

What upsets your child?

What are your child’s out-of-school interests and activities?

What activities do you share with your child?

How would you rate your child’s student habits? (1-10)

What study skills does your child need to develop?

Who normally helps your child with his/her homework?

Which academic subject is your child’s best?

What academic subject is most difficult for your child?

What particular academic areas would you like to see stressed?

What social skills would you like to see developed?

Does your child have any personal and/or physical problems of which I should be aware?

Do you have any other comments or concerns?

Some of those questions were really easy to answer, but some of them required me to be much more thoughtful.

I am grateful that my children’s teachers took the time to develop such thoughtful questions for these older students so she can start to understand the “story” of each of my children. Who better to start to tell the story, than a parent? This made me, as a parent, feel listened to and respected as my children’s first teacher.  It made me feel a real connection to the school, that often seems to get lost after kindergarten.

My message is really to please take time to get to know your students. In doing so, try to remember, even on the most challenging days, that each of our students is on a journey of their own, they each have their own unique story, and they, like all of us, are on the road every day to become better. That “better” is different for each one of us. We have such power as educators to see our students in a positive light and to see them as such amazing human beings, let’s try to see them in the best light possible. There is such power in story.

What do you do to develop those relationships with our students?

What do you do to learn the stories of our students?

How has learning the stories of your students changed who you are or how you deal with particular students?

How have you connected with the families of your students to learn about their story?

Published by Tia M. Dawson

There are many things that define who I am as a person. First of all, I am a mother of 3 wonderful children! I can not express how fortunate we are to have our children in our life! Secondly, I am an elementary educator who recently returned to the classroom after 12+ years as an elementary school administrator. Lastly, I am passionate about helping others, learning about abuse, helping others in abusive relationships, and helping others understand their worth.

4 thoughts on “Importance of Story

  1. Hi Tia,
    Our students’ and their families’ stories are SO important. As a teacher I made weekly calls (no reason!) to 3-4 families every Friday to just chat and see how things were going. Often through these chats the stories emerged. As a principal in an inner-city school I found that families and kids were very open about their stories and so it was easier to find out those things that would really help us to help them and serve their needs. In other places there is a degree of hesitancy to telling some stories, so we need to create a culture of openness and trust so that families can share their stories without fear of being judged.
    Most of all, I just love talking to kids! Asking them about what they do outside of school, asking about their artwork, telling my own stories and finding the common threads that connect us.

    1. Hi Carol,

      Thanks for reading and responding. Yes, it really is all about the story, isn’t it? And, building the relationships to help the story emerge, in some cases. Without these relationships, what do we have? So important to not judge others for what they have been though, or are going through. Again, you just never know what each person is going through during that particular time in their life. It takes some time for people to get over the feelings that others may judge them. Some may never get over that fear. Unfortunately, some may never stop judging. That is a problem. We are fortunate in education though, I think, because we have so many more people who truly care and want to help in a genuine way. I also feel strongly about making those personal connections that you mentioned. It is so important to see those common threads that bind us together. Those threads are really there between each one of us. You may have to look a bit harder sometimes, but those connections are there if we take the time to search for them.


  2. Hi Tia,
    I so agree. Story is the foundation which allows us to understand, to relate and share this journey called life. It is not only with our students and parents but also with staff. Each one have life experiences that create the path they follow. With all that goes on in our busy lives, we sometimes forget that. Some stories are easy to pull out, others are deeply buried. And sometimes that one connection made may make all the difference in the world without you knowing it. I find that being all present in the moment helps to focus – it is a gift offered wholeheartedly.
    I applaud your journey to connect.


    1. Hi Jan,

      Thanks so much for reading and responding. Yes, learning about and trying to connect with individual stories is so important to building and developing trust and relationships. How can we expect our families to trust us unless we take time to truly listen and try to understand their story. Being truly present is an essential part in allowing the possibility for that to happen. I wonder how many are truly present? I wonder how many try to truly understand what is happening with our students, parents, and teachers during those challenging times (or, better yet, BEFORE challenging times present themselves?.

      Looking forward to continuing the discussion.


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