Some Stories Never End

“What unites people?…Stories. There’s nothing more powerful in the world than a good story. Nothing can stop it.”

-Tyrion, Game of Thrones, “The Iron Throne”

As another school year at The Willows winds down to a close, it’s worthwhile to reflect on the journey we’ve almost completed and to look ahead to the next school year.

Our schoolwide theme this year was “Story,” which means we’ve been thinking quite a bit about the power of the stories we tell each other all school year (even watching the Game of Thrones finale I couldn’t escape it!).

We started the year out welcoming the master storytelling collective The Moth to our campus, where they shared valuable ideas about how to craft powerful stories and what makes certain stories resonate with audiences. As a theme, “Story” was easy to integrate into almost every aspect of our curriculum, including Writer’s Workshop, Middle School Core, RULER integration, and even into STEAM and maker projects along the way as well.

8th Grade Core teachers used one powerful story, Angie Thomas’ novel The Hate U Give, as a springboard for several powerful conversations within our community about race, diversity,  equity, and inclusion. Multiple panels were led by Willows teachers and parents about the book and several of the sensitive issues the author deals with, and middle school student affinity groups were also formed and met to continue the conversation.

As with every Intersession we hold each year, the schoolwide theme was woven into all of the projects DK-8 students devoted a week of effort and creativity towards completing. Some highlights included projects like “The Story of a Meal” which prompted students to consider the role that personal and cultural experiences play in cooking and eating, and “Choose Your Own Adventure,” where students created their own digital versions of the beloved choose your own adventure books many of us read as children.

All stories are open to revision or reimagining, according to the needs of those telling and listening to them. At The Willows, our community is engaged in regular, ongoing revisions to our story and to our educational program. Besides bringing the Moth to our community, our faculty engaged in several other thought-provoking professional development opportunities that have caused them to revise certain approaches to teaching and learning in their classrooms. In January, a large group of teachers attended a workshop at Crossroads about the Harvard’s Right Question Institute (RQI) and techniques for improving the questions we ask during inquiry-driven projects. Onsite and on-demand professional development was embedded into one Middle School Intersession project, where Catalyst Institute founder Jean Kaneko came to lead students and teachers through a project entitled “Biomimicry and Battle Bots: A Story of Survival.” Over the course of the one-week project, we developed expertise with using our new Glowforge laser printer and with research-based systems of critique and prototyping that Jean uses with various school groups she consults with.

After our workshop with the storytellers from The Moth at the beginning of the school year, one important takeaway for me was that it is our job as educators to regularly try to improve upon telling our own stories. Two important upcoming events represent different manifestations of this idea, as we prepare to tell the story of The Willows as best we can for a variety of audiences. First, next school year, The Willows will welcome a visiting team from the California Association of Independent Schools (CAIS) as part of our process to renew our accreditation. Currently, we are in the middle of writing and revising several documents that comprise a self-study of our entire operation – educational program, facilities, development, alumni relations, and more.

Finally, next school year we will be celebrating our 25th year anniversary with a large celebration that we are currently in the process of planning. To commemorate this important occasion, we are bringing back our very first schoolwide theme, “The Ties That Bind Us,” which in many ways is a natural extension of this year’s focus on story. More details will be forthcoming regarding all of the ways we will be celebrating this important milestone!