Saturday, April 27, 2019

Connecting Across Networks - Connecting Through Story

Last week Linda and I had a chance to meet with the team from NOII NSW who were visiting Hollyburn Elementary School in West Vancouver. While we were there, Nathan Blackburn joined the conversation and shared a very moving  story about how a focus on Indigenous Heroes had a powerful impact on his Grade 4/5 learners. We asked Nathan to put his story down in writing for us to share - and here it is. Thanks, Nathan. 

Connecting Through Story 

There are times when the power of a story isn’t fully realized until it’s shared out loud. For me, today was such a day. I was lucky enough to sit and learn with the NOIIE educators from New South Wales this afternoon when we began to discuss the power of “story” as a question that guides practice. Wanting to share the ways in which I’ve used storytelling in my classroom, I began to talk about a project that my grade 4/5 class had recently completed titled “First Nations Heroes”. We were learning about nonfiction writing with a focus on biography, and in collaboration with a wonderful Teacher Librarian, I developed a project where students would research, possibly interview, and write a short biography about a local or global First Nations hero. 

Many students chose hockey players, wrestlers, singers, and other globally famous stars. While hockey players are certainly heroes to ten year olds, we defined the term “hero” as someone who gives back to their community.

One of my students knew exactly who he would write about, he would write about his dad. His dad is an engineer with the local ferry system, and when he was able to share with his classmates that his dad helped to keep everyone safe when they travelled to Vancouver Island and back, he was beaming with pride. I was glad that he could see his dad in a new light -  as someone who is a hero in his own community. 

I had another student who couldn’t decide who to write about. I reminded her that her mom might be a good example of a hero. Her response was to shrug off the idea entirely, “My mom’s a lawyer, she’s not a hero.” 

The next day my student came back to school with a list of famous Indigenous Canadians. None of them were her mom, but I still thought all of her choices were great. She was excited, and promised to get to work that weekend on her research. I was surprised then when she came back on Monday with four paragraphs of research about her mom. Her mom, she learned, was not just a lawyer. She was a lawyer that worked with kids to keep them safe. Her mom, as it turned out, studied hard in school because she wanted to make sure children in our community were always happy, healthy and protected. She was proud to tell me after all that lawyers canbe heroes. 

A week later she presented her findings to the class. She told everyone how her mom was a hero, and that she was really proud of her. We hung up her poster board in the school, and for the next few weeks I got to see how excited she was whenever someone stopped under the board labeled “HEROES” and said, “Hey, isn’t that your mom?” She would beam, say yes, and proudly share her mom’s story, which became her story, which she was honoured to share with however would listen. 

I helped write the assignment, mark the biography, and staple to poster to the wall, but the power of these moments never really sunk in until I shared it. This is the power of story, and how stories connect us. Sharing my story reminded me of how stories can change the way we view ourselves, our history and each other. I wrote this down to remember it and to share it, because it's important, and it makes me proud too. 

Nathan Blackburn, 
Vice Principal, West Vancouver Schools