In my last post, I described how storytelling can be a wonderful classroom management strategy to use when attempting to address those inevitable situations when many children seem to be struggling with the same behavioral issue at the same time. When telling a story, the key is to feature a student who isn't involved in the incident(s) happening at the time, who experienced something similar in the past, and who overcame that difficulty using an approach that others can emulate. That way, everyone can relate to and benefit from the story's messages, yet nobody feels as if they are being singled out, put on the spot, or made to feel guilty about something they just got caught doing. This approach is non-threatening, and kids can listen to our stories with some emotional detachment.
In this post I share an example of how I have used storytelling with my own students. Recently, a few children were having difficulty taking responsibility for their actions on the playground. When situations occurred, they tended to deny their involvement or shift the blame to others. When I found out what was happening, I immediately thought of one boy in class who wasn't involved in these incidents, but who demonstrated the type of honesty and responsibility that I wanted the other children to develop. We'll call this child Tim, and with his permission I told the following story to my class as part of our morning circle time.
I started the story by telling everyone that throughout the year, we will all have our ups and downs, and there will be times when we're simply not performing at our best. It could be happening in class, on the playground, or elsewhere. When we're in the middle of one of these rough patches, there are certain things we can do to move through it and come out stronger than we were before. I then said that someone in this class went through one of these difficult times a while back, and he handled everything so well that I wanted to share his story with you today. So, I asked his permission to do so, and he gave it to me. That student is Tim. Instantly, the kids are curious, and because the story features someone they know, I have their full attention.
Here's the story. At Tim's parent conference, I told him and his mother that after an outstanding third grade year, he was off to a bit of a rough start this year. His work wasn't quite as good as it was the year before, his writing tended to be very messy, and he wasn't showing the same level of self-discipline in class. After he heard me say these things to his mother, Tim had a few choices. His first option was to deny. He could have said, "No, Mom, this isn't true. My work is fine. I'm doing as well as I did last year, and I'm not really sure what my teacher is talking about." Tim didn't do that.
Second, he could have deflected. He could have said, "Yeah, Mom, it's true. I'm not doing as well as I did in third grade, but it's because my neighbors keep distracting me. Every time I try to do my work, someone keeps talking to me or preventing me from focusing. Plus, a whole bunch of other kids are struggling, too." Tim didn't do that either.
Instead, Tim made a different choice. After I described the situation, he stopped and thought for a moment. Then, he said, "You know what, it's true. I haven't been doing as well as I could have, and I'm going to make a change. I'm going to start working harder, being neater, and showing more self-discipline." The next day, Tim responded like a champion. There was an immediate improvement with his work and behavior that has lasted to this day.
I concluded my story by making a big deal about how impressed I was with Tim's honesty and responsibility and how much respect I gained for him after seeing how admirably he handled himself during the conference. The class listened intently to this entire story, and the ones who were involved in our recent incidents learned some valuable lessons from Tim's story without being singled out or put on the spot.
As teachers, we can't go back and change any of our students' negative behavior. All we can do is focus on decreasing the likelihood that such behavior will recur. Our goal is to increase our students' future capacity by imparting valuable lessons that will resonate with them. Storytelling is a terrific way to help us do that.