Telling Our Stories, Making Our Way

Their story, yours and mine — it’s what we all carry with us on this trip we take, and we owe it to each other to respect our stories and learn from them.
—William Carlos Williams

To be a person is to have a story to tell.
—Isak Dinesen

In a few shortening days, the Winter Solstice will be upon us, marking the sun’s greatest declination south of the equator and, in the Northern Hemisphere, the shortest, deepest, darkest day of the year.

My Roman ancestors called this day Dies Invicti Solis – ‘the day of the invincible sun.’ I hope we can all take some measure of comfort in the ancients’ view that, at this darkest moment of the year, an inevitable turning towards the light begins.

At this time of year, when we observe ancient traditions and celebrate the sacred spark within us all with lights and evergreens, I find myself deeply grateful for our work at Lawrence School on behalf of different learners and to all in this profession who support the journey of our young people through school.

In his book Making Stories: Law, Literature, Life, Jerome Bruner writes about the importance of constructing the narrative of our lives, where we become both the authors of – and the protagonists in – our own life stories. Narrating these stories, to those we love and to ourselves, is the essential process in making sense of our lives and forging connections to others.

Bruner notes:

We constantly construct and reconstruct our selves to meet the needs of the situations we encounter and we do so with the guidance of our memories of the past and our hopes and fears for the future…

As we prepare to celebrate our 10th commencement this June, I am mindful of the important role Lawrence plays in helping students reconstruct their own understanding of themselves. So many of the students who find their way to Lawrence experienced discouragement and defeat in other learning environments. When they arrive at a school that understands and honors their experiences, embraces their challenges and acknowledges their strengths, they are able to imagine a bright future. As they construct and reconstruct the narrative that describes their journey, they systematically confront fears based on the past and rescue aspirations for the future. And so do their families!

The story of a school like Lawrence – and the stories of the young people it serves – has been reconstructed (in Bruner’s words) from presumptions of failure and loss to the acceptance, affirmation, accountability and advocacy we provide and see practiced daily in the classrooms, fields, offices and hallways of the school. The transformational nature of these stories is fostered by the feelings of engagement, involvement, and success students experience in their academic, social and personal life at Lawrence.

I hope you have had a chance to view our new school video, where students, parents and faculty speak so eloquently and honestly about their journey from discouragement and loss to accomplishment and hope. These are just a sampling of the stories that make up the ‘warp and weft’ of what is woven together to construct the narrative – the story – of the life of our school.

I reflect with deep gratitude on the work of our teachers, counselors and administrators here and in the hundreds of schools across the nation that successfully teach students who learn differently and make these stories possible.

One of the many blessings of this wonderful time of year is that we can take time to reflect upon, support and embrace the stories of the children, families and faculty members who keep our learning communities strong. As we do, we can usually see how their tales have touched and enriched the narratives of our own lives.

So whatever your traditions – whether you light the candles of the Menorah, or follow the light of the Christmas Star, or welcome the Winter Solstice as my Roman ancestors did centuries ago – let us keep our care and concern for our children uppermost in our hearts. Let us come together to help them confront the fears and failures of the past, and construct a narrative of their lives that envisions and embraces a bright future full of accomplishment and promise.

I welcome your comments both publicly or privately. Please feel free to share your thoughts below, or e-mail me directly at lsalza@lawrenceschool.org.

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About Lou Salza - Lawrence School

Lou Salza is the head of Lawrence School, located in northeast Ohio. Lawrence School is an independent day school serving students with learning differences and attention deficits. Students receive an exceptional education that teaches to their distinct learning styles, ignites potential, and inspires academic and social success.
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