Sunday, August 31, 2014

Storytellers or Story-Listeners?

As  Media Specialists and Librarians, we are in the business of meeting needs. Needs of our students, needs of the teachers and administrators, needs of parents, community and others in our districts. It's what we do. We're good at it. We can find a book, resource, troubleshooting tip, or reading reward better than anyone else. Kind of like the old "Name That Tune"..."Yes, Billy, I can find that baseball book with the orange cover and the kids on the front with the scribbling inside in 10 minutes!". Sometimes we are so focused on meeting the needs that we lose sight of the people we are working with and why we're there. We aren't evaluated on how many distressed students we lead to the right book or magazine, we can't measure the frustrated teachers who we miraculously locate 20 copies of the same book for; there isn't data for "Number of parents who you took the time to lead to a just right book for their child when they feel lost in a sea of too much information". Yet, it's just this human factor that is so vital today.

I've been reading a life-changing book, "The Insanity of God" by Nik Ripken; one of a few on my summer reading list that somehow didn't get finished in the summer. However, it is not one to hurry through. It's the true story of a man who has extensively researched the persecuted church in nearly 60 countries. In one heart-rending story after another he tells the story of how faith survives and even flourished in places that are overcome with the darkness of sin, despair and hopelessness. One particular account cut me to the quick. He was with a relief group in Somaliland trying to help people who were living in incredibly horrible conditions. His focus was on what basic needs they lacked. One day, he approached a bent-over, shriveled-up woman with the usual list of questions: "Do you need food? Is your baby sick? Do your children need clothes? Do you have shelter? Do you need a burial cloth?" All of the items needed to meet her physical needs could be provided. She replied by sharing a story with him about her background, how she came to be in the desperate situation he found her in. It began as any of our stories might: normal family, working father, good marriage and children...but then turned to events that we only see on the nightly news: The war came, the militia came through the village stealing, slaughtering beating and destroying what they could. She was able to escape, but a drought came, her children died or were stolen. She was now in the city, knowing no one, and having nothing. Ripken slowed down long enough to find out what she needed most. He realized that what these devastated people needed was for someone to sit for awhile, or stand with them and let them share their stories. He was amazed to see the power of human presence. In his pride, he thought he knew exactly what these people needed, but he would never have thought to put "Conversation" or "Human connection" on his list.

How about you? Is "Conversation" or "Human connection" on your list this year? Will you have or make time to learn more about your students than the fact that they have 3 overdue books from 3 different schools? There has to be a reason...don't assume you know it! Will you be able to lead a new teacher, obviously overwhelmed,  through a one-on-one lesson in how to locate a book in your library...or just hand them a brochure because you're too busy to give them the attention? As I was meeting with our Intermediate classes last week for their Orientations, I had a few letters with overdue notices attached, for books from both out media center or others in the district. I had the usual assortment of reactions: they had the book in their bookbag, they returned it at their old school, they lost it and wouldn't pay for can supply some more, I'm sure. But the majority were pretty blasé about the notices. However, as the classes were dismissed to go browse for books and checkout, one new student, Shyann, sat quietly looking at the paper. An unwanted tear started forming in one eye, which she tried to dismiss. This outwardly tough and tall fifth grade girl was reacting to more than receiving an overdue book letter. As her table emptied, I approached her with my usual response to crying students, I had to fight back the tears myself! I sat with her and asked if she wanted to tell me anything. With a little coaxing, she opened up and I, like Nik Ripken, was humbled to make a human connection with this girl  in the midst of a busy and hectic class. We both wiped our eyes and I led her to the shelves where she was able to select a book to checkout. "Conversation"? Check. "Human Connection"? Check.

As Nik Ripken said, there was much more to the suffering Somalis than their overwhelming physical needs. Their stories convinced him that it would never be enough merely to feed and shelter them. We do that much for animals. Can we find time to meet some of the deeper needs: conversation, a few minutes of listening, some human connection...that will enrich not only their lives, but also ours?
Without that, we're missing something valuable.

I hope your year is starting off with some meaningful human connections. In our busy, jam-packed days that don't seem to get any easier, it's something worth taking time for. It helps keep me stay grounded. It will do the same for you, friends!