Wisdom Thinkers’ story started in response to a post 9-11 arson attack. With a climate of fear stoked by the media, 4 teens got drunk, and thinking the Sikh community with their distinguishing turbans were supporters of bin Laden, decided to perform their patriotic duty and burn out the invaders. They attacked my place of worship in Palermo, New York.
Being the first such attack, it received a good deal of publicity. I responded to this hateful act with a message of forgiveness that was heard around the world uniting communities and helping to transform the lives of the young arsonists. While in prison, the young men wrote, “If only we’d known your story, if only we knew what you stood for, we never would have done this.”
And so the idea to develop a series of stories for educators and communities to honor diversity, nurture character and develop a shared narrative for peace was born. Now almost 15 years after 9-11, while much of the country is still struggling to find solutions to the divisiveness, “Stories to Light Our Way,” has been embedded into many of the districts in the county, including where the arson took place. We’ve begun to change the story!
Our goal is to provide teachers with a framework, which on one hand aligns with elementary and middle level Common Core Standards domains and modules, and yet is flexible enough that teachers can adapt it to their particular classroom settings. They can even integrate it into “extras.” The stories are short enough that they can be dropped into teachable moments, so the characters are referred to and reinforced throughout the day creating a shared narrative. The cross-cultural pieces speak to honoring diversity, a critical piece in creating a respectful and safe class climate.
With another school year just around the corner, let me share some of the ideas, which our teachers have used successfully.
Snappy the Turtle
Snappy the Turtle has become an icon in many schools, with students, teachers and staff simply mentioning him to generate an immediate response. Students themselves thrive on referring to Snappy when one of their classmates acts out – and they quickly react if teachers or staff ask – “what would Snappy do?”
After using the Wisdom stories for four years, Autumn Sutton, a lead teacher in Principal Michael Smolnik’s A.A. Cole Elementary School said, “I have found that these stories are really the essential missing piece to creating the learning environment and the motivation that is missing in today’s society. I had no behavior referrals this year because we were able to reference and use the themes of the stories and characters to deal with any issues that arose. By using them to build this environment, the academic and social development went way beyond my expectations and allowed all my learners to flourish!”
Other teachers use the stories as group work and during project-based learning days. The stories create a safe learning environment that fosters good character in and out of school. Another idea, which helps build a school climate, is having the older kids be the vehicle to deliver the lessons and morals to the younger students in the building. Some districts have used their high school kids to bring the stories to their elementary schools.
Character through Reflection
After reading stories with strong characters, it is helpful to have students reflect on the choices the character made and the lesson he or she learned. Children can be the leaders of rich discussions and then often use these conversations when they are faced with similar problems or lessons.
One Sandy Creek Elementary School third grader explained, “We hear the stories and often act them out in morning program. We think that the stories from Wisdom Thinkers help us learn to let bad feelings go so we won't hurt other people. The stories teach us to help others and to make smart choices. Once you start thinking like a wisdom thinker, you are a positive person with a positive attitude.”
Sandy Creek’s lead teachers, Jackie Hobbs, Dori Hathway, and Tricia Thomas agree, “The students were able to constantly refer to the characters and the lessons within the stories when dealing with frustrations or disagreements. They allow the children to share their deepest concerns. Then our Wisdom Thinkers student leadership groups, plan school wide, and community service projects based on the stories.”
We’ll let the students have the final word:
“When we listen to the stories and really try to understand them, we can become better citizens and better friends. We learn about wisdom thinkers in our library classes, technology, music, and physical education.”
“The stories make people think more about what they say before they say it.”
“The lessons make me want to try harder.”
“Wisdom Thinkers teaches us to think about the feelings of others.”
“We can all live in a better community if we care about others.”
Ralph Singh, is Chair and Chief Storyteller of the Wisdom Thinkers Network. He consults with and speaks at schools to create SEL/character ed curriculum tied to traditional stories to honor diversity, nurture character and deter bullying. Students then link story based PrBL to service learning projects to change the world around them. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Ralph looks forward to sharing the power of stories to change the world in his workshop– and to greet you at the Wisdom Thinkers exhibit booth at the Forum. Here are examples of our lesson plans for Snappy - http://www.wisdomthinkers.org/
Enjoy Ralph Singh's post and interested in learning more about integrating character into your classroom? Register now to attend the National Forum on Character Education to hear more from Ralph Singh at his breakout session "Changing the Story in Classroom and Community."