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The Power of Storytelling

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Javier Mora, Hornedo Middle School Teacher

Philip Pullman once said, “After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in this world.” People like Walt Disney, Steve Jobs, and even Tupac Shakur knew this and were able to translate this innate ability of telling meaningful stories into successful careers. Disney was masterful at making magic through storytelling on the big screen. Jobs was magnificent at getting people to tell his story, making Apple such an amazing success embedded through so much of our lives. Tupac was adept at relating to the younger crowd and still today continues to be mentioned in my classes by young people that were born many years after his untimely death. If you want students, at any level, to be engrossed and committed to learning, then storytelling has to be an integral part of your teaching toolkit!

From the very first day of class, I start telling stories. Whether I’m going over rules, expectations, and rewards and consequences or discussing ethical implications faced by a character in any of the novels and articles read in class, stories will be one of my tools to cement in my students’ mind anything I deem important. Precisely, what kind of stories do I tell/share? I do all of the following throughout the year:

  1. Stories about last year’s students (always maintaining confidentiality and never divulging any names).
  2. Stories about my children when they were in school.
  3. Stories about myself when I was their age.
  4. Ask students to share their stories.

Number 4 on the list is, in my opinion, the most important one. Why? Because it allows me to create a safe environment for them to share, it allows me to know my students and their personalities and peculiarities, and because they start learning and knowing about each other. Additionally, it enhances listening skills, increases verbal proficiency, and encourages active participation. Our classroom becomes our “special, safe place” where it is ok to share.

Storytelling, simply put, makes you more down-to-earth and relatable. When your students figure out that you do care about them at a personal level, that you want to hear their stories and what they have to say, you’ll become more persuasive. Furthermore, you can more easily lead them to want to commit to excellence and strive for success. They will voluntarily allow you to take them to that Promised Land and to the top of the mountain. I have seen it happen in numerous occasions; it is contagious.

Leslie Marmon Silko once said, “I will tell you something about stories…They aren’t just entertainment. Don’t be fooled. They are all we have, you see, all we have to fight off illness and death.” She was probably referring to the illness and death of a vapid, insipid, and somber classroom where children cannot share their stories.

Javier Mora is an outstanding 8th grade teacher at Hornedo Middle School in El Paso, TX and a favorite teacher of many students long after they graduate. He is highly skilled in developing a positive, trusting classroom climate and a true education hero. Thank you Mr. Mora for sharing your guest blog post.