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Starting Out With a Collage of Examples

Now that you have immersed yourself in a few of the student stories that grew out of the Herstory project, imagining how you might use them in teaching your subject area, and have worked with the concepts behind “Becoming the Stranger Reader,” imagining how you might rearrange the stories that you hear in your daily life so that they might draw in the most indifferent or hostile reader, it is time for you to work with a partner or a small team to begin to construct your own Page One Moment where you would like a reader to begin to walk in your shoes.

  • Would the reader find you in the middle of a teaching or counseling day, when what you learned from a student would change your whole outlook going forward,  or make your own parallel journey come rushing back to be shared on the page?  

  • Would we meet you during an emergency, when students were being herded out of the school, or in a moment of quiet reverie?

  • Would we meet you in the middle of a student protest, when you realize that if you joined them your job might be at stake, when there was something that made you take a chance?

  • Would we meet you talking to a student’s mother or grandmother, or finding a secret message from a student rolled up in a spitball, crying out for help?

  • Or would you be counseling a group of students who had been out of control, when you suddenly realized that all of them, like you, had been growing up without a father?  

  • Would we meet you as an adolescent child who suddenly discovers that the mother who has encouraged you to do well in school is unable to read or write?   And would that take you forward on mapping your journey, chapter by chapter, one scene at a time?

  • Or would we meet you as a second-grader sitting in the hall with a student who couldn’t talk, just keeping that other student company, while your mind wandered to what you would want to do when you grew up?

  • Would we meet you when a guidance counselor told you that you shouldn’t dream about a four-year college because most likely you will end up cleaning houses like the other women in your family?  Or when you suddenly discovered that you didn’t have the legal papers to allow you to go to a state school? 

  • Would we meet you dealing with your own learning disability, as you stand in front of your middle school class unable to write the right answer on the white board?

  • Would we meet you at a moment of triumph when you overcame an obstacle equal to those obstacles that your students are facing every day?  

  • Would we meet you when you were first discovering how racism or unfair treatment of immigrants made you start to hate the schooling you once loved?

  • Would we meet you at a moment in your home country when your grandmother encouraged you to take the journey alone, promising you a better life?   

These are just a few of the Page One Moments that grew out of the work we have done with school counselors and teachers over the past dozen years.  

Defying Direct Questions and Fixed Assignments

In order to learn the Herstory method so that you will be able to use it with your students, we ask you not to reread the examples we’ve listed above, or to think about them too carefully.  If you approach this too rationally, trying to extract a clear assignment or set of directions the magic will be lost. You will have returned to a more traditional assignment to write about what brought you into your teaching or counseling career, a question that we all have learned to answer, but a closed door to new discoveries or taking a reader on our journey in a moving and dynamic way.

As if playing a game of musical chairs

The Page One Moment Exercise, at the heart of our Herstory approach, functions like the game of musical chairs, through the sharing of possible opening to stories, playacted aloud, one after another in rapid success, we put out students into a kind of a trance in which their minds shuffle whichever parts speak to them around and around, and then suddenly when we stop talking, or when the student speaking previously stops sharing, everyone runs for chair– that moment when her or his story will begin.

Playing into the madness of multiple examples to inspire each persons' unexpected creative spark

If we give just one example, or even three or four, it will feel like an assignment,  but if we give 10 or 11, in a rapid collage, those who hear them or read them will be too overwhelmed to process them clearly, and thus forced to come up with a 12th page one moment that will be truly their own.

Why Do This Work with a Partner or with a Team?

More and more, schools are adopting a family team model in which there is more than one teacher in the classroom. It might be a collaboration between an ENL teacher and a teacher of social studies, science or math.  Or it might be a teacher and a teaching assistant. If that is your situation, we suggest you do this work with the partner with whom you will be working.  


If you will be teaching alone, we recommend that you join with one or two other teachers or counselors who are interested in exploring the approach. 


As you work with your partner or work team, we invite you to practice introducing yourselves, as you might if you were implementing the approach with a new group of students,  and to practice the first Herstory command “If your words had the power to change a heart, mind or policy, what transformation would you like to see?”   


If you are doing this with your students it might lead to a whole separate lesson or even a whole week of lessons using some of the stories in this curriculum as examples from which to draw essential questions and enduring understandings in your field.


For now we ask you to imagine the Page One Moment you would like to share with your students, to evoke answering moments in them.   This will allow you to show them that you also have skin in the game, as you prepare to model the Page One Moments that will help them to model their own. 

We invite you to listen to one of the first stories that came out of our formalized teacher training, written by Renata Anqa who headed the English as New Language program for Uniondale High School on Long Island during the year we started working with the teachers there.  As you listen, let your mind wander freely back and forth to your own teaching and counseling experiences, as you start to pick out a few opening scenes in your mind. 

What images came to you when you saw her in front of the 20 sets of eyes, holding the crying student in her arms? 

Did you notice the way she her memories came flooding right back? 


Is there a moment in your teaching or counseling when that happened to you?  

Understanding Your Journey
in a New and Deeper Way

When Renata finished writing this piece she understood in a much deeper way what had motivated her to work with newcomer students.  What she wrote was something she was able to share with the other teachers and students in her program, connecting her to them in a much deeper way, while giving them courage to imagine their own futures within their own stories.  


Before going on to the next story we ask you to pause for a moment to ask yourself what part of your story might illuminate your motivation in teaching or counseling?  How might you transform it into a scene as vivid as the one Renata created?

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