Amongst my reading history is an array of children’s literature, professional material as it relates to instructional strategies, and professional material as it relates to leadership. My current read is Squirrel, Inc. by Stephen Denning. This book uses a unique and clever fictional story of a failing company owned by squirrels to show how storytelling can transform a company that was once vibrant, but is unfortunately in a downturn. As I always do, I try to relate what I read to all facets of my life. Though this is a leadership book, it is and will continue to have an impact on my classroom. I have read and this book exemplifies why storytelling is one of the most efficient ways to teach: we all connect to stories. It is how our brain and our lives function on a day-to-day basis.
So, how have I used this in my classroom? I am also in the middle of a professional read by John Hattie, called Visible Learning. This read is about an array of topics, but among them is student motivation and self-efficacy. I do not have to preach to the choir here and tell you that these two things impact student achievement tremendously. But, I do think what needs to be pointed out is self-motivation and self-efficacy can, in fact, be taught. One way I taught this was through the story of Ben Carson, a real-life American hero. Ben Carson is currently a neurosurgeon and the director of Pediatric Neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital. I first learned about Carson after watching the 2009 movie Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story. He was raised by a single mother during a time when African Americans faced much discrimination. Carson was failing elementary school and believed he was stupid. His mother put a stop to that type of talk immediately and helped him turn around his academic career and self-efficacy and motivation by having him go to the public library and read like crazy. She required him to study, work hard on his school work and put in effort despite his questions of whether he was smart or not. She taught him the value of hard-work and the fact that anyone can achieve great things if they work hard. This instilled self-efficacy in Carson that allowed him to be the first surgeon to separate conjoined twins successfully—twins joined at the head. This from a student who was failing third grade at one point.
I used this story to teach my third graders that, if they work hard, they WILL accomplish great things. This lesson was more effective than any lecture I could have given about working hard. I have caught wind of my students sharing this story with family and friends outside of class. I honestly see a difference in my students now when they are faced with a challenging task, and almost every time we do face a challenge, one of my students mention Ben Carson- a student who was failing in school, but later saved the lives of conjoined babies. A story sticks with us forever. So, go forth, and use powerful stories like this to transform your classroom, your kids and yourself.