I am working as a storyteller in a very diverse and difficult public school in Manhattan.  Inspired by the SALT method, that I am learning,  I asked  22 young people in a third grade class to describe their strengths. "I am kind."  "I love to read"  "I can run really fast" and so on.   They  were learning to be storytellers  to present folktales that inspired leadership and advocated against bullying.  During our session I noticed a boy who kept to himself and was avoided by the rest of the class.  I asked him for his strength and he blurted out that he liked action figures who were "really strong."  It turned out that he could not read  (because of an eye problem.)  The teachers watched him with alertness. He e often caused chaos in the classroom. His propensity was bravado.  However, I noticed that another of his strengths was his capacity to listen and speak what he heard.  After the second session - where each pair of 12 young people recieved tales they were going to learn (not memorize)  - I approached him.   I asked if one of his strengths was also listening. He nodded.  I offered to read him a tale;  then let him retell it with action figures.  I promised not to edit or judge but write it down as he spoke.  He agreed.  His retelling was brilliant.  Raven, who saves the world and learns a lesson about impermanence and heart, became an action figure with two wings and eight hands weilding terrible weapons.   However, he kept the fundamental structure of the Inuit Myth.  In the end, he concluded the story with Raven (who is a creator in culture) destroying everything with his weapons and super powers.  I told Malikai about storytellers in cultures who did not read -  "sometimes they were blind. They were revered for memory, listening and creativity, like you."   

I brought in a book and showed him fierce compassionate Tibetan Dieties and explained their amazing weapons.  "In the wrong hands the weapons could be used for destruction, but in their hands they were used to change things or save things when times were difficult."   I told him that he could change the story in any way he wanted when it was done.   He thought about it and changed the end of the story making the weapons of Raven capable of destroying or transforming what was dangerous.  In the final story, Raven saved the world. He  turned into a woman/bird and sat on a branch watching the people that he loved. 

During the next session, I asked him to tell his version of the myth.  AT first, kids listened with caution waiting for him to blow up the world and their class  peace of mind. But as the story unfolded, kids leaned in to listen.   Raven became a super hero with the power of ultimate compassion.  Everyone applauded.  Malakai received the gift of deep listening interest and respect from his peers.  He and three kids began creating a graphic novel of his new mythic story to go into the school's growing living library.  It was fabulous to see him shift when his strength was used rather than an opinion.  I focused on the energy of his love for super heros.  I heard from the school that he will tell his story at a major all grade Town Hall. 

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Comment by Birgitta Schomaker on March 5, 2017 at 7:43pm

Beautiful, Laura! The way you observed Malakai, and your continued focus on his strengths over time. What a beautiful transformation....  


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