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This Six-Word Story Changes as Focus Becomes Student-Centered

Linda Murveit, Minc-fl teacher / RECC ITL, Atholton ES

Linda alters her six-word story from "Young girl starts school already broken," to something far different by listening to her students.

Have you ever heard of the 6-word story challenge? Rumor has it that Ernest Hemingway made a bet that he could write a 6-word story that could make people cry. What he came up with was: “Baby shoes for sale never worn.”

He won the bet.

I recently had the opportunity to write my own 6-word story. Mine is: “Young girl starts school already broken.”

I have an idea that all students are reachable. First, we need to treat them with respect, kindness, and understanding. Then we need to ask authentic questions and listen - really listen - to their answers.

I had the opportunity to run a professional learning community (PLC) for teachers last year. The theme of our PLC was student engagement, productive struggle, and buy-in. As a group, we quickly realized that that there wouldn’t be any buy-in without trust and we couldn’t form trust without building relationships. We decided to create a student voice questionnaire to learn more about who our students are and what makes them tick.

We came up with five questions which were adapted based on the age of the student.

  1. What would it look like if you got to do your best every day at school?
  2. What would it look like if you had fun while you were learning?
  3. What could my teachers teach me that I would find interesting?
  4. Do you have goals? Do they give you hope about the future?
  5. Tell me one thing that your teacher doesn’t know about you that you want them to know.

As we developed these questions, I considered how I might have answered them when I was 5 years old like our students. The following is the way I would have answered these questions, and these answers might help you understand why I’m so passionate about reaching all children.

Do you want to do a good job at school? “Yes, please help me.”

What things would be fun for you at school? “It would be fun if people talked to me and didn’t yell at me or ignore me.”

Some things I want to learn about are: “How to make friends and how not to feel so wrong and all alone all the time.”

Something I want to do when I grow up is: “Be more happier.”

I want my teacher to know that: “I’m so sad and alone. Please just be nice to me. Also, I’m not acting this way to make you sad or angry. I’m acting this way because I’m broken and I need your help.”

“And I wish my kindergarten teacher knew that I remember the day you allowed me to climb on the chair and use the pointer in front of the class. I soon realized that everyone was laughing not at my comic routine but at me because each time I pointed, they could see my underwear. Thirty years later I still remember seeing it in your face that you knew and made the choice to not do anything about it.”

So clearly, not just as a teacher but also due to my own experience in school, I believe that we can listen to, learn from, and lead with all students by asking the right questions, listening to the answers, and applying what we learn to improve relationships and instruction.

I need to highlight two important words from my 6-word story


What this means is that school did not break me. But some of us do arrive at the front steps of your school already broken in some way. While school did NOT break me, it also did not reach me.

Those of us who struggled and who have experienced challenges in our early years are harder to reach. This is because in order to keep ourselves safe, we learned not to trust others. Some of us express our wounds internally and others externally, but either way we represent a challenge to you.

We challenge you by being too quiet, by calling out, by daydreaming too much, by throwing things, and by crying or screaming.

We challenge you by not doing our work, doing our work wrong, not trying, not working up to our “potential”, and by not listening or paying attention to YOU!

We think...

Have you noticed that I am struggling?

What have you done to try and reach me so that I will want to listen to you?

I’m broken

Do you care about me?

Do you see me?

Our PLC asked these questions of our students and their answers led to tremendous impact on teachers and for students in the classroom.

Teachers, I want to you to IMAGINE what your year might look life if you took the time to listen to, learn from, and lead with your student by asking the right questions and really listening to and responding to their answers.

Administrators and parents, I want you to IMAGINE what your schools might look like if the teachers and students were listening to, learning from, and leading with one another

Students, I want to you to IMAGINE what your life might look like if you had a voice in the 18 plus years most of you spend in schools.

Imagine the 6-word stories you could write

I’ve gained so much this year from listening to, learning from, and leading with students and teachers that I’m going to RE-IMAGINE my 6-word story

“Young girl starts school and blossoms.”

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