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Today I happened to step into a classroom in which students were watching novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED Talk. It was the starting point for a writing lesson about stories. If you don’t know it, it’s worth 18 minutes of your time. We all tell stories, and of course try to make them interesting for the listener or reader. What makes a story interesting? What makes a story balanced? Why do we have a need to tell stories?

Most of us probably don’t remember the first story we heard or the first one we told. We are surrounded with stories from the beginning of our lives, probably shared with us by loving family members. Some are the stories in beloved books. Others are stories handed down through our families, perhaps through generations. Through this sharing, the stories may have evolved to be somewhat different from the original. However, they are shared over time and become part of the way we define our lives. They provide comfort and add to our identity as we grow from childhood to adulthood and often repeat the same stories and share the same books with the next generation of little ones in our families.

Stories matter. As Chimamanda Adichie shares in her TED talk, it is the single story that is most troubling. When we share stories, whether of family history or in books, we need to recognize that there are other dimensions to the characters and other points of view to consider. If we only consider people in one dimension, we are missing so much and confining them to one definition of themselves. This is critical in schools. We see children every day, get to know them and hear their stories from parents, caregivers and previous teachers. We pride ourselves in this knowledge, in understanding their needs, motivation and more. We are educators; we care. However, think about your own life. Does anyone truly know everything about you? Do they understand your struggles, accomplishments and motivation? Are you a single story or rather a compilation of many different stories?  

As we continue to share stories and hear stories about the students we work with every day, we need to remember they are more than the story we may have been told. They are complex humans with a variety of experiences that continue to build the story of their lives. We need to welcome the opportunity we are given each day to begin to understand all that contributes to who they are and to offer opportunities that allow them to explore, continue to grow and add to their story. I’d hate to think that I am defined only by my childhood, adolescence or young adulthood experiences. We all continue to evolve, and so do our stories.