11/03/2009: "Superintendent’s Corner"
By Walt Wegener
Here, on San Juan Island, we want every person to have the best chance they can to be successful. Each person learns, each day. We have some control of what is learned.
One of the most effective ways to engage anyone is to tell a story. As an educator I have the important opportunity to share; families that take the time to talk to each other, to tell a story, are more functional and the students from those families are more literate, faster to learn than those families who do not share at meals, with a bedtime story or on the ferry ride.
In the beginning … we build a network of memories and experiences, first in the family. Every story or mental idea or mental image can connect to that web, better if the story is interesting.
Stories can pose a question, set the stage or involve personal growth and accomplishment. Stories always engage the emotional and typically feature a clear beginning, middle and ending. Some stories include extra elements (called episodes, Harry Potter began as a series of bedtime stories told for fun) and others are brief and to the point (often called jokes).
To tell a story the author must set the stage, “hooking” the listener in preparation of making a memory. Where, when, who; we are introduced to all the players, the setting and their relationships before the story can make any sense. We have to be able to make sense of the plot and have meaning in the story else, why tell it?
Stories can explain a purpose, tell about an action or a history, have a life-lesson and/or just entertain. The one thing every story does is provide a link to make a memory. One of the strongest ways we make memories is for our parents to share a story. Parents are important teachers, the keepers of the keys to the family valuables.
The oral history of your family is very important to your kids. Be as emotional as it takes to make them feel the values. Be proud �" be ashamed; share the successes and the failures. Allow each story be a lesson in life or just be fun. We often make better memories from failure than we do from success. However, we have to learn to win and lose with grace. No one has to accept failure; our effort makes the difference.
Have your child tell stories to you. Some true, some fantasies. Allow them to tell you about their day. Ask them to frame the day with who, what, when, where and why. Ask them about their day dreams. Let them share flights of fancy and imagination. Make a memory with a shared laugh.
Make a memory focused on family. Our family. Our history. Our lore. This is emotionally valuable information and, even if the stories are really quite small, very important personal info. We love to hear about ourselves. It sets the stage for more in life. Kids in poverty often cannot share a story, because no one ever shared stories with them. A limited family history is one of the pervasive value gaps poor children bring to school, limiting their future.
It is great to tell the story of marriage, with all the nice details, so kids have an idea about what is the process. In the web of time and experience a story about the direct beginnings of their life is cool, your child or children can make sense of it, it has immediate relevant meaning and they will make a memory well grounded in emotional connection.
Let them see that you were once just as young and foolish as they are. Be careful not to give them too cool ideas (the world has tightened up a bit), but let them see the passion and the fun.
Tell the story of career or even something simple like buying the family home. It is shocking, but true, we often forget that our kids don’t know the stuff we know. That old saw paraphrased and attributed to Mark Twain, “When I was 17, my Dad was a fool, and I was all-knowing. By the time I got to age 23, it was amazing how much smarter he got.” Tell the story, with details and they listen with great care.
And always, an ending …
Finally, every story has an ending. The better the ending the more memorable, it’s like a great joke. Jokes are only funny if the punch-line is on-time and to-the-point. On-time and to-the-point mean there was a connection and a memory is on its way.
Please, take the time to reflect on your life experiences and your values. Prepare yourself by that reflection so you can tell your story. And, listen to your child’s stories; they are important and best learned at home, with you.