Calling an awareness to the adversity that so many of our students are bringing into our classrooms, this adversity that shows itself as an obstacle to learning, is one huge step in creating an inclusive school culture, conducive to optimal learning and promoting positive relationships, therefore improving educational outcomes. It’s also all part of social emotional learning.

And it begins with stories, because stories matter. When we educators are privy to our students’ stories; the traumas they may have because of their experiences as children, we can better support these students and provide a safe zone so that learning can happen.

Without that knowledge of their stories, without sympathy for what they’ve been through or seen (which can be awful, horrifying and unimaginable), without a starting point of a classroom that fosters acceptance, and inclusive school communities where children are respected, valued and welcome participants in the classroom, we can’t even begin to expect that they learn what we’re required to teach them.

These are my students I’m talking about. They are your students, too. They come with stories. Stories that some of us outside of education or possibly, but not always, outside of impoverished, low socio-economic areas don’t have an awareness of, maybe not even have compassion or empathy for, due to the lack of knowledge or awareness.

But with that lack of knowledge, lack of compassion, or empathy, or even sympathy, comes stereotypes, or a single story— and that’s dangerous. That threatens our connectedness. Speak your truth. But also, listen to the truths of others.

Stories matter. They can break the dignity of a people, but they can also repair that dignity. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a Nigerian novelist says, “Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign. But stories can also be used to empower and humanize.”

We must educate ourselves, educate the public, and see that everyone’s story matters. It’s about tolerance. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization defines tolerance as: “… respect, acceptance and appreciation of the rich diversity of our world’s cultures, our forms of expression and ways of being human. Tolerance is harmony in difference.” By teaching tolerance and practicing tolerance, we regain our collective resilience and our connectedness, the core of social emotional learning and emotional intelligence. This allows us all to live in a compassionate world, caring for each other’s humanity and appreciating the richness of our different identities.

We are all more alike than we are unalike. This all reminds me of one of my favorite poems by Maya Angelou, called “Human Family”

I note the obvious differences

In the human family.

Some of us are serious,

Some thrive on comedy.

Some declare their lives are lived

As true profundity,

And others claim they really live

The real reality.

The variety of our skin tones

Can confuse, bemuse, delight,

Brown and pink and beige and purple,

Tan and blue and white.

I’ve sailed upon the seven seas

And stopped in every land,

I’ve seen the wonders of the world

Not yet one common man.

I know ten thousand women

Called Jane and Mary Jane,

But I’ve not seen any two

Who really were the same.

Mirror twins are different

Although their features jibe,

And lovers think quite different thoughts

While lying side by side.

We love and lose in China,

We weep on England’s moors,

And laugh and moan in Guinea,

And thrive on Spanish shores.

We seek success in Finland,

Are born and die in Maine.

In minor ways we differ,

In major we’re the same.

I note the obvious differences

Between each sort and type,

But we are more alike, my friends,

Than we are unalike.

We are more alike, my friends,

Than we are unalike.

We are more alike, my friends,

Than we are unalike.

Author of 🦋Life is a Classroom, A teacher's journey. District Resource Specialist, & Teacher Educator who ❤s learning and advocating for students & teachers.