During the recent history book launch gathering, we took a moment to allow every to introduce themselves and their connection to Prairie Creek (alums, founders, former staff and board members etc). If they were so inclined, folks were also invited tell a favorite story from time past at our school.
Former parent Kelly, who's daughter Sofie graduated from our school in 2005 shared a special memory. Kelly told us about the time when teacher Michelle, confounded by the fact that the girls were not asserting themselves in class discussions, decided to provide a lesson in the realities of gender inequality.
Unwilling to tolerate the girls' lack of participation, Michelle posted a large sign in her room, and mine, (we were both teaching 4/5 classes at the time – she the Elms, me the Sequoias...yup, we were trees!) that simply stated the average amount of money earned by women compared to men…for the same type of work. I recall a 73/100 cent ratio back then.
Michelle's ingenious ploy worked. Her poster prompted a lively conversation with the girls, and a participatory shift ensued. Kelly talked about the significance of this event for her daughter. Apparently, Sofie credits this as a pivotal moment that was to greatly influence her development as a strong, independent young woman over the next decade of her life. Talk about teachers making a difference in the lives of their students!
It was great moment for our assembled group to hear this anecdote, and a reminder to me of the importance of story as we consider our work with children. Roland Barth, in his book Learning by Heart, suggests that storytelling is a very natural tool for educators.
I find that everyone is a potential storyteller. Storytelling may come easier to some than to others, but there is no teacher or principal, for instance, who does not carry around abundant experiences that are waiting to be told as stories to others. Our lives are made up of them.
Our progressive education mission insists that we share stories that make up the life of a child, and a community, here at Prairie Creek. Stories, as shared in narrative or conversation at conference, form a key part of our evaluation process. They help us set goals and consider the growth of the whole child. The written narrative often serves as a place for these illustrative anecdotes and observations.
It is an exhausting process for the teachers to write the narratives that tell the story of your child's experience, but it is terribly important and worthwhile work. In-depth conferences and written narratives help us fulfill the dream of our school's founders, articulated over three decades ago, who envisioned an evaluation model that was both individualized and descriptive.
As Kelly's anecdote demonstrates, it is the stories that we are likely to remember about our children's education, long after a grade or number has faded into the past. Stories give meaning to experience and shine a light on the essence of our children.