I’ve been meaning to blog for ages, writing in my head often and then putting it down, reflecting and working on how to share a train of thoughts that play on repeat being shaped by daily experience and stories shared and listened to. As ever, these are my thoughts and perspective, and I hope that I have been thoughtful about my own narration. Gareth Morewood wrote about the power of stories after FestABLE this year. The power of the possible defined by the human experience of those living stories that need to be shared to #flipthenarrative around our children and families living with difference. Indeed, our communities and our society as a whole.
Narrative – ‘A spoken or written account of connected events; a story.’
Narrative can be powerfully positive, narrative can also be powerfully negative. It can transform the whole perspective of an existence, viewed as an included or an excluded part of society – communities of difference can become communities of acceptance. Narrative can both uphold the rights of people or withhold the rights. Often those we narrate about cannot respond to defend their needs, wants, hopes or dreams, so we must walk with the greatest of respect for our fellow humans and in particular those who are vulnerable.
I absolutely love What Are The Dangers Of A Single Story? by novelist Chimamanda Adichie, it is utterly fascinating. It makes you think about the narrowness of narrative and how that can dominate thinking, and about the power dynamics contained within a story. It also reminds us to be aware of our own views of the world and that others exist too.
That resonates so much on a personal level and with regards to our story. The focus on my daughter’s difference is overwhelming at times, in written reports and meetings, and it is tiresome to constantly explain to those who do not ‘walk with her’ daily, how similar she is to you and I. I believe that by sharing her story and our journey, it can contribute to make change for all. By sharing how hope can spring from a place of tragedy – to transform a life – and affect others positively through shared human connection and understanding.
My friend across the pond Shari shared with me recently that her daughter Amy had believed it was
‘part of our job so that other families don’t have the challenges that we did’.
Wise words from a beautiful young lady whose life was so full and tragically so short. My daughter, like Amy, has dreams and hopes, a phenomenal sense of humour, and a never-ending supply of compassion and love despite her life having been anything but straight forward. I often think she waits endlessly for us to catch up with where she is in her higher-level understanding of humanity and she patiently teaches us daily about how to reach deep down into ourselves and think about difference and how to develop our own understanding of what is possible and what we need to consider and change to walk with others. Yes, my daughter might need a lot more support to be able to live her life equally as any of us do, free from imposed constraints driven by a skewed, narrow narrative which might see her as a cost first – but what must not be overlooked or overshadowed – is the rich teaching that she brings us through developing our awareness and understanding daily, of how we can make society and indeed communities more accepting and inclusive of her and her peers and the equal value that their lives hold.
‘.. I want representations of people with Learning Disabilities which see them as human beings like the rest of us. Because people with Learning Disabilities are our brothers and our sisters, our sons and our daughters, our mothers and our fathers. They are ourselves.’
Recently I had two really different days. Experiences that left me at polar ends of narrative. I was really honoured to speak to a group of Foster Carers who shared their stories with us, stories that I had at times, trouble processing. The reality of the narrative for many of them is that they are trying to move a tide that isn’t turning or moving quickly enough to support those in their care, or indeed themselves as a group of people who cannot often share their journeys, other than with one another. That resonated enormously with the stories that we read about and hear in many walks of life where difference or adversity exist. They stayed with me in my head all weekend and probably will now as part of a learning stretch to understand more about our society and communities. The stories were brave and heart-breaking, funny and full of love. They had strength and compassion and an underlining will to keep going, despite the struggle, to help shape the whole narrative around what they do into a better place – making a difference in individual lives and our communities. If you’re reading this, I can honestly say it was both inspiring and utterly grounding, thank you for sharing your walk with us.
The next day I attended Reading Rocks North with our wonderful storytelling #BSL teacher (Linda). It was a day full of energy, enthusiasm and a shared love of books and stories with a passionate group of educators. We were reminded that we as humans have been telling stories for over 20,000 years and that it is a way in which we naturally relate to one another and bind together our humanity. We share learning through not only narration, but by also learning how to become great listeners responding to our audience to develop and share those stories further enhanced by experience. Thank you, Caroline, for welcoming us into this wonderful world.
Simon Smith’s passionate workshop about picture books was really thought provoking and I found myself thinking about our children with additional needs and difference and their interpretation of stories when words are missing, or in our case when vision precludes you from ‘seeing’ the colour or pictures in their place and hearing is far from reliable. Colour, placement, action all give rise to the story in the pages. The reader is navigating through with their own experiences colouring the view, creating the story, bringing about the shape of it. The guiding hand of their teacher can take that to another level, encouraging the questions, the what’s possible, sharing the value and power of the story which helps shape learning about the world and how we contribute to that. Linda works from that perspective in ‘doing with’ my daughter on a shared walk together, ‘seeing’ the colour and the images through a powerful connection of touch hand under hand, using sign, song and understanding of the whole person to develop one another’s learning and truly enjoy that narrative together.
Mike Watson’s workshop was infused with his huge character and passion. I was drawn to his discussion on ‘Lost Words’ by Robert Macfarlane and ‘Not a Stick’ by Antoinette Portis in particular. Both reflect the need for stories to be shared and people to be empowered through them. Through imagination, through reflection about societal constraints and the importance we place upon children’s ability to develop their own views shaping their learning about the world. We mustn’t dismiss what a child is trying to say, however they demonstrate that through art, literacy or indeed through communication other than words. We need to be careful listeners and however we view that narrative playing out, it is a humble and great teacher who can walk with the child and their imagination to an unforeseen or unexpected place, brave enough to explore together.
Linda’s passion for the stories she shares is why my daughter has come alive in every sense of the word over the past year. Through her initial weekly session (and now three sessions weekly) with Linda, her love of books and stories prior to losing her sight has been able to be rekindled. It started at the point of trust, a relationship, an authentic and really brave connection. It took a long walk to get there and time to build. It doesn’t happen overnight, repairing relational trust and trauma, it takes hard work, consistency, commitment, a shared hope and belief. Linda was prepared to start that journey with my daughter. They use hand under hand #BSL to learn through stories and develop my daughter’s confidence using touch as a primary sense supported by her residual hearing. The results of such an organic approach have been quite unexpected and inspiring and developed not only her signing, speech and her understanding of the world but also given her a route back to her own story, prior to blindness, one where she was in control and she was able to share in the daily narrative.
I mustn’t forget the art they also create! (you might have seen the pictures I shared recently), that is quite something else and allows a freedom of expression and creativity that is often missed as a huge part of developing the whole person increasing confidence, reducing anxiety and enabling space to ‘be’. The real freedom to create and yes, it is possible even with two key primary impaired senses. My daughter chooses her materials through touch and smell and it is incredible to watch.
by Ella Chapple
The passion emanating from Linda when she works with my daughter is electric. Her ‘pulse of intention’ is full of integrity, powerfully authentic and entirely threaded through the story she is sharing. To feel through touch the whole sense of being in the story, transports you there. My daughter and Linda walk together through the story step by step, metaphorically and physically hand under hand. She feels what Linda feels and Linda feels what she does. It is a beautiful demonstration of human connection and trust that is rich in the spoken, the signed, the shared resonance, the imagination and the possible.
So, what have we learned from our story and journey so far? We have learned that narrative is powerful, narrative is essential and narrative can shape and build the possible. To make lasting change and keep our world moving towards an equal and whole person valued place to live in, we need to pick up our own golden thread of narrative and weave that into the holes around us, sewing back together our communities and society, cultivating the trust and humanity to #flipthenarrative from a deficit view back to a positive and possible infused view. We all have a story to share that imbues others with hope, even if you don’t see the effect of those ripples, together the threads are binding to create a powerful wave that is slowly moving the deficit view of those in our society with difference, to a really human positive view of all, equal, together.