“The world needs stronger stories.
We’re here to live a story and we’re made to live a good one.”
– Ruth Ayres
The focus of Day Two of my district’s Teacher Summer Writing Institute was Your story matters, with the driving question for teachers: “Why is it important for me to see myself as a writer?”
The bottom line is that we grow strong at writing by writing. If teachers expect to help students grow as writers, teachers must be actively writing. And teachers must believe in the craft, in the process, in the transformative power of writing, if they expect students to. As Ruth Ayres states in Enticing Hard-to-Reach Writers (Stenhouse, 2017): “When writers believe their words matter, nothing can stop them.”
Our group of K-12 cross-curricular teachers took some time to delve into their own stories by charting “peaks and valleys” from their life experiences. Peaks meaning moments or experiences that were positive—not necessarily milestones like getting married, seeing your newborn child, etc., although these can be peaks. Exploring moments or memories that have stuck with us over the years, those that carry great emotion, can impart greater insight to why we are who we are (see Your why for the expanded explanation of this activity). One of my peaks, for example, is from 5th grade, when I saw a classmate do something extraordinarily brave. It’s my definition of “noble” to this day (if you want to read that story, see The Valentine ).
Valleys, or pits, are harder moments that have also defined who we are and why. They’re often ones of loss, but not always. Sometimes the valleys are moments of despair or disappointment, especially in yourself. Yet there’s great learning and insight attached to these moments. One of my valley-moments occurred when my mother invited a boy who bullied me to my birthday party. When I began writing this piece, I recalled only my anger at my mother and our conflict. But a funny thing happens when one continues to write . . . I learned a truth that has stayed with me, subconsciously, all these years; it continues to shape me and my relationships with other people (you may read this story, if you like: The birthday ).
So the teacher-writers explored their peaks and valleys. They watched an extraordinary Ted Talk on perspective and assumptions of others, The Danger of a Single Story,” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. They read articles and books of their choosing on writing. They studied visual texts.
“Writing about the peaks and valleys was so therapeutic.”
“I loved having the space to write. I began writing about one of my peaks and my mind hopped to something I saw recently; these two things don’t seem to be remotely connected . . . I wrote that instead because the image and what I was thinking were so vivid. I don’t know the last time I wrote like this.”
“I thought about things I haven’t thought about in years.”
“It’s so cool how writing takes you to places you don’t expect.”
You stories matter. Not just to you, but to others who may need to hear them.
Write first, Writer, to know thyself.
Find your stories and to discover where they take you, and what they mean. What they reveal to you about who and why you are.
Then tell your stories. Encourage others to tell theirs.
That’s what stories are meant for.