Every Footstep Leads to a Story

This is the story of my stories on Wednesday. Will I be able to find the connecting arc?

What do I mean by “story”…

8:00 AM Surprise!- “Our estimate is $435 to see if we can find out what’s wrong with your dog. How much are you willing to pay to save her?” My husband and I stare at each other in the vet’s office and no words will come out for either of us. The dog is old…over 13 years…”We don’t know?” We leave and I start asking him questions that lead down a path I know I don’t want to be on. “How much is too much?” I ask. We don’t agree. Neither of us wants to put a monetary figure on our dog. Eventually he says, “$500 is what I was thinking before we came.” This is not good, but we’re hoping to help our dog.

To me stories can be little moments of interactions and conversations. So throughout this class’ journey, I have found myself wondering if my life is just one story after another. As Alexander states in The New Digital Storytelling: Creating Narratives with New Media–Revised and Updated Edition, 2nd Edition, “Simmons recommends that creators develop skills with empathy and sensory detail in order to better connect with their readers or listeners, which aligns well with this definition from Wikipedia: ‘”Storytelling is the conveying of events in words, images and sounds often by improvisation or embellishment.’ In this sense, stories are events conveyed to an audience through the skillful use of media.”‘(pg.11). In this travel blog I try to connect the stories of my day and see if they have any connecting arcs.

The telling is listening…

8:35 AM Check-In/Check-Out Meeting: The weekly meeting to help Tier II or Tier III students who need additional social-emotional supports. The don’t cry mantra that is running through my head quickly moves to don’t laugh. The quandary is funny. The student knows if s/he disrupts class enough he/she gets out of class. S/he wants to go to the office. When it works, the behaviors are reinforced. What do we do? The strategy…ignore the behaviors. I see a movie in my mind of the story the teacher is telling… The teacher is at the front of the room, the student begins rolling on the floor towards the door, jumps up and brandishes the “help me!” sign in the window. Don’t laugh. Don’t laugh. Don’t laugh. Think. Think. Think. How can I help this teacher?

As I think back upon this moment and consider it in terms of storytelling, I am reminded of Le Guin’s article “Telling is Listening”. Le Guin states, “In human conversation, in live, actual communication between or among human beings, everything ‘transmitted’– everything said — is shaped as it is spoken by actual or anticipated response.” (pg. 188). This is what I was feeling while listening to my coworker. I didn’t want my actions to make light of the situation. This is a serious problem, one that will be hard to solve. My response to the telling of the story needed to be the appropriate anticipated response.

The telling is making connections…

During our Digital Storytelling Class Erika Horn chatted, “I find myself also telling a lot of stories to my students. As I thought about it more I realized that often those stories are used so I can form connections with them or they can form connections with the material we are learning about or with each other!” Like Erika, I also use stories to make connections with students and staff and I find that Wednesday was no exception.

9:45 AM In the office a student says s/he is ready to go to class: S/he is chatty, he/she is always chatty. But the body is calm and breakfast has been eaten. I’ll walk the student up to class. The skipping starts… “Are you ready for the day?” I ask. “Yes!” is bellowed. Well, maybe not I think. We take a left and go a less direct path as I quickly make up a story about an errand I must do along the way. “I need to stop by the library and ask about the class I will be teaching in there today.” The librarian tells me I’ll be reading a book about migration. As we leave I ask my student if they have ever seen the cranes when they land in the field by the airport and how I sometimes stop to watch the gigantic flocks eat the leftovers of the field. He/she has! (I might of known where they lived and guessed this is something s/he might have seen.) As we walk on to class I ask, “What are you looking forward to today?” “Lunch.” That was calm and we’re walking again. Maybe s/he is ready. The door opens and he/she bounds down the two steps. Oh no! What have I done? I follow and my fellow teacher looks at me with a smile, “I’ve got this,” she says. We’e done this before, the teacher and I also have a connection. She knows if she needs me, I’m here to help.

Children and creating stories…

In one of our classes read chats Erika Horn shared she had positive memories of her daughter making up stories. Erika stated, “In Vivian Gussin Paley’s (1990), The boy who would be a helicopter she states “they [children] do not pretend to be storytellers; they are storytellers. It is their intuitive approach to all occasions. It is the way they think’ (pg. 17). I thought of when my daughter Marlee was four and her favorite thing to do was check out books from the library that didn’t have any words. She would bring them home and “read’ them to me. I loved it…” I also have fantastic positive memories of my daughter doing the same thing with wordless books. She’s always loved to tell stories. I wish all of the stories children make up left me with happy memories. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work that way.

10:20 AM Walking the halls again but with a different student. Is what’s being said true? I’m just listening. After the meeting at school, did dad take the student home and not talk about the thoughts of self-harm? Has dad done nothing to get help? “I got in trouble. He sent me to my room. Well, maybe not sent me. But I went to my room and he didn’t speak to me.” This student’s stories tend to change often but are usually built on a spark of truth. They have my attention. That’s what is wanted. Is that all that’s needed? I’ll error on the side of listening, even if the story is being created as we walk. The truth is, s/he thinks they need help, and I’m the one listening. They trust that I will get them help. Oh, how I hope I can.

Listening again…

11:40 AM I’m on a quest to get 12 more copies of a great resource for Tier II students in reading. Does this teacher have extras? No but she shows me how she is using them in her group. During her reading block she’s agreed to use a Tier III direct-instruction program but has found that it’s very boring for the students. So she’s chunked her block: 20 minutes Corrective-Reading, 20 minutes Journey’s Write-in Readers. I look at all of the writing the students have done- yay! It’s fantastic. How do I help another teacher duplicate this in their classroom?

In Le Guin’s “Telling is Listening” article she states, “Each oral performance is as unique as a snowflake, but like a snowflake, it will very likely be repeated…” I plan to repeat this telling of the story to help other teachers working with a similar group of students. It won’t be an identical experience as my initial excitement of first hearing this story. It will be missing the non-verbal communication that sparked between the teacher and I during my listening, and I’ll be speaking with the purpose of presenting the idea and transferring information, rather than listening and learning. It will be different, yet the same story.

How do we tell the story…

12:15 PM How should we acknowledge Black History Month? I’m in the office working with our secretary on the Morning Show (our version of announcements). Fifth grade students read the show each morning. The secretary and I write each show the day before. We’re pondering over using short facts about influential African-Americans during the show this month. I wonder if it will feel real or like a platitude? If we don’t mention Black History Month are we missing an opportunity to help students make connections? Will we do the subject justice? These are all questions I have as we make the final decision to include the short facts.

This moment, although small, reminded me of Thomas King’s book, Truth About Stories: A Native Narrative, and his discussion of how the story of the Native Americans have been portrayed. He states, “Of course, all this – my expedition, Throssel’s images, Owens’s family portraits – are reminders of how hard it is to break free from the parochial and paradoxical considerations of identity and authenticity.” (pg. 44).

I appreciated what Chris Fliss stated in our class read chat when he stated, “We live our lives through our own lens, and other people perceive the same events differently, so therefore to be sensitive to different perspectives are very important.” As I was trying to decide whom and what facts to include for Black History Month, I felt I was the wrong person to make these decisions. How do I, a white female, decide which people and facts are important to include. This moment in my day has stayed with me as I listen to the Morning Show everyday. I still wonder if I made the right decisions.

Reading a story…

2:00 PM I’m now the librarian: I’m reading North The Amazing Story of Arctic Migration by Nick Dowson to a group of third graders. We are comparing and contrasting the migration of terns with caribou. “Which animal travels farther for migration?” I ask. “The caribou,” many students respond. Oops – I’ve forgotten the geography knowledge of third-graders is limited. The book has told them the terns migrate from New Zealand and the caribou migrate from Canada. They don’t know where New Zealand is. I grab a globe and give a brief geography lesson on New Zealand and Canada. We finish our discussion and return and checkout new books. I’ve helped the librarian who needed to be in two places at once today.

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Not all story endings are happy…

3:30 PM Return the phone call from our vet. Izzy, my rescued pound poodle, is okay and is ready to be picked up. However, the doctor would like to meet with us briefly. “Can you be here by 4:15?” the vet tech asks me. I can, but my husband is taking a class and it starts at 4:30 across the valley. I may have to make the hard decision of how much help to give our dog alone.

4:15 PM I arrive at the veterinarian’s office. She comes out and meets with me. She’s very nice and I’ve always liked her. She tells me Izzy has a complication. She has an infection in her teeth, but with the shunt they suspect she has in her liver, they don’t know if she will survive the anesthesia needed to remove the infected teeth. We will start her on two antibiotics and monitor how she progresses. Before I leave the vet tech comes out with an estimate of what the teeth extraction would be if she gets healthier. I’m not looking forward to sharing the news with my husband $700 – $1,200.

Not all days have this many emotional and sad stories. Some of my days are filled with funny and joyful vignettes. I’ve found the arc that connects my stories: helping.

Helping is what I do at work, at home, and in almost every aspect of my life. It gives me joy and sometimes it brings me sorrow.  

I don’t plan to change it. So my days filled with stories will continue.

References

Alexander, B. (2017). New Digital Storytelling, The: Creating Narratives with New Media–Revised and Updated Edition, 2nd Edition. Retrieved from https://publisher.abc-clio.com/9781440849619

Guin, U. L. (2004).  The wave in the mind: Talks and essays on the writer, the reader, and the imagination. Boston: Shambhala.

King, T. (2011). Truth about stories : A native narrative. Retrieved from https://ebookcentral-proquest-com.proxy.library.uaf.edu

Paley, Vivian Gussin, and Vivian Gussin PALEY. The Boy Who Would be a Helicopter, Harvard University Press, 1991. ProQuest Ebook Central,
Dowson, Nick. North The Amazing Story of Arctic Migration.  Turtleback Books, 2013.

7 Comments

  1. kgeuea

    Wow. I love how you chose to organize this. It makes so much sense and is very thoughtful. Your subtitles and how you connected the day’s journey with the class content is so creative. How did you choose a day? lol

    1. rwwilliams2

      I chose that particular Wednesday because I wanted to have time to work on it. I decided on Tuesday that I would do it the next day. I carried my phone around and took notes about everything that happened. When I got home I built an outline skeleton of the timeline and as the week progressed, I tried to think about the events in terms of the readings and the Slack conversations. It definitely took a while to put it all together.

  2. Kendell Newman

    Thomas King writes: “The truth about stories is, that’s all we are.” Your writing is, I think, testament to that idea. But I also notice that your stories are bounded by time — we get one day, and timestamps (brilliant!) give us the structure of that day. You could almost replace King’s “we” with “time”: The truth about stories is, that’s all time is. What do you think? Which of these speaks more to your meaning? OR: Which pushes your meaning further?

    There’s lots to admire here — the subtle structural elements that keep the story moving (timestamps and headings), the gentle integration of texts and Slack discussions, the authentic, conversational tone. You say from the start that you are looking for “an arc” to connect the stories of your day. To be honest, by about halfway through I had stopped looking and as a reader, was very happy just to “walk the halls” in your shoes. In other words, I didn’t need a larger arc to find meaning in your vignettes. I know, though, that seeking that arc for oneself can drive powerful reflection — hope that’s how it worked for you.

    1. rwwilliams2

      You have Interesting questions Kendall. The timestamps came from me using my notes on my phone to track my day. I’d type in the time and a sentence or two. When I started writing my blog I used them to build the timeline of the day and make sure I had everything down. I debated taking them out, but I liked the way they helped the reader see how I moved from story to story and I hoped that they would be able to visualize each story. So I had not thought about King’s quote in terms of time: “The truth about stories, is, that’s all time is.” I can see how he might say the passing of time is from one story to the next. For me, I prefer the original quote: “The truth about stories is, that’s all we are,” because I feel this statement puts the emphasis on the person and not just the stories they experience. The statement, “the students I work with are their stories,” is a much more impactful to me than, “I move through my day one story to the next.” I’ve always believed that it’s so important to put the human or person before the story, event, or challenge.

      Finding the arc of “helping” was very reflective for me. I’m in a position without a daily job description or duties. There are systems I’m in charge of overseeing and I have tasks like “testing coordinator”, but my days never go as expected. If someone were to look for the work I produce, it could be hard to quantify each day. Yet, I spend my days helping teachers plan and implement ideas and lessons, and I work with students who are struggling academically or emotionally. How do you have a child centered, trauma-informed school without someone available to help when it is needed? Thinking about the connections between the stories of the day led me to realize my place in our school. That’s what I do – I help.

  3. Nina

    What a way to bring your reader in! I definitely teared up in the beginning, as I connected to that story. Our dog almost died the day on January 15th. I will never forget that day because the government was shut down and the Coast Guard officially didn’t get paid. So the beginning of your story really got to me. Im very empathetic period plus post pregnancy hormones got me in the feels. For the he/she parts I found it a little hard to connect. I wonder if you gave a random name, it could pull the reader in more. Loved your blog post though! The way you organized, the tension throughout…SO creative. And it really touched me how you expressed the internal conflict you had about deciding the Black History Month topics. Wow. You are a talented storyteller! Good job!

    1. rwwilliams2

      I really appreciate your comments about the he/she part. I struggled with how to keep confidentiality and tell the stories. Could you tell the gender of the students in how I wrote it? I worried that if I chose a name, someone would be able to tell that I worked with a girl or a boy and that could lead to speculation of who it was. I agree with you that if I had a chosen to change the names the writing would have flowed better.

      1. Kendell Newman

        So interesting — I noticed this too but it didn’t distract me enough to comment. My solution would be to replace the s/he with “they”, which is widely accepted as an appropriate, singular, gender-neutral pronoun. You actually slip and do this once in the story about the student struggling with self-harm. I think that would help your flow, and if you wanted to choose gender-neutral names too, you could!

        I’m with you on being very sensitive to confidentiality. THANK YOU for that — and thank you for all you do for the kids and families in your community! Man oh man.

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