Stories: The Untold Data

if-a-story-is-not-about-the-hearer

Today, as educators, we embark on testing season.  For the next 3-4 weeks, daily schedules will implode and the educational routines students have found comfort in during the last 7 months will cease to exist to make room for The Almighty Test.  Likewise, your social media feeds will be inundated with articles and viewpoints regarding the ridiculousness of this practice.  I likely agree with all of those.  It’s barbaric.  It’s asinine.  It’s centered on governmental power to control where state and federal education dollars get funneled.  It’s dehumanizing.  So, this post is not going to be about that.

It’s going to be about changing it.

This is our world, educational and otherwise, right now:

world of numbers

Separate.  Apart.  Number-driven.  Everything is a number– A price, a time, a year.  We want the hottest gadget, now and on sale.   Everyone is a number–literally, by way of social security, but also a birth date, a weight.  You’re too old.  You’re too young.  You’re overweight.  You’re too skinny.  That thigh gap you’ve worked for?  You’ve gone too far.

You’ll never be the right number.  Whatever “right” is.

And our students feel this, too.  They become scores associated with labels that, if allowed, become ingrained in who they believe they are as learners.  This is where action must come in.  It does not matter if your score is high or low or right in the middle.  We cannot allow numbers to dominate a student identity.  Because  numbers and labels can never define us, but our stories do.

Since, I do not have the answers to breaking down entire political systems driven by money and power, I have to go a different route.  I have to think about how to bring stories into the numbers to humanize the data.  I have read Steibeck’s quote, and think,

If this is my ideal world–one connected through stories (real data), how do I bring that into my smaller, educational world?  Who is the hearer?  How can I make my students’ stories matter so it lasts beyond today and this meeting?  How can I make my student’s story about everyone?

Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

  1. Know the stories!                                                                                                                   This one seems obvious, right?  But it is the most important, thus worth the moment to pause and reflect.  Who am I about to be in a room with to talk about this student or group of students?  What’s their story?  How can I connect them with my students and the experience I want to provide to propel them forward?  In my last post I spoke to the power of listening.  Have you done that?  If not, that’s the first step.  We have to connect the people in the room!
  2. Bring your students to the meeting!                                                                                    Hear me out on this one before you roll your eyes or skip over it entirely! I always spent the first part of the year taking pictures of my students as they worked in the classroom.  This helped me get to know them as learners.  As we set up Writer’s Workshop notebooks, students would share (or not share) stories about their families.  They would decorate their notebooks with what mattered to them.  It was always telling if families were or were not present on those.  Then, in  meetings about those students I’d bring a few of those pictures.  If only to set them in the middle of the table to make sure they, too, were present in the meeting about them.  It also told the adults in the room that our charge is to not forget the student–who they are as learners and people, and what their life is outside of school.  What matters to them?  We must know the kid to develop a workable plan.  When they are looking back at you, it’s a much easier thing to do.
  3. Let stories lead, not excuse!                                                                                 Sometimes sharing stories leads to conversations laden with excuses about why students can’t or don’t do x or y. “They’re lazy” or “Their home life is horrible.” If this happens, we’ve missed the mark.  Stories should empower.  They should allow us to see people for all they are, not are not.  Knowing stories should develop empathy, not excuses.  Circumstances, just like labels, cannot define our students. The purpose of knowing circumstances is to provide insight into understanding each other.  And from there, to honor their current place in life with all that has brought them here, and then get to work to build, to grow, to succeed.
  4. Bring student work!  Don’t let the data being looked at in the meeting be the only piece that is considered.  No single piece of data can serve as the point from which to make all decisions.  When we consider multiple pieces of student work we acknowledge all the the work student does, and are more likely to see how they have developed in this content area, therefore not minimizing them to a single score.

Right now, public education means testing.  If we are a part of that system we have to find ways to rise above it, for the sanity of ourselves and the self worth of our kids.  I will keep seeking ways to do that until this is my data shelf.  Will you?  ideal data room 2

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