Everyone has a story.
That phrase has been stuck in my mind all week, and each time I think of it, I can’t help but ponder how meaningful it is. How reminding yourself of this simple fact can make you a kinder person, a more compassionate listener, a more powerful advocate or collaborative colleague.
Why did this particular phrase capture my imagination? It started simply enough: This week I attended a few sessions at the Texas Association of School Administrators’ Midwinter Conference. Each January, thousands of school administrators from across Texas gather in Austin for professional development, learning with and from each other. The challenge for me is that I can’t make it a few steps without running into someone I know! Some are people I worked shoulder-to-shoulder with in other districts. Some were former superintendents who served as treasured mentors for me, now retired but still contributing to the education community in some way. Many were younger folks that I hired once-upon-a-time as an assistant principal or director, now serving as superintendents. I have worked in public education in Texas for nearly 37 years in almost every region of the state — you can’t have that kind of track record without meeting a few thousand people along the way!
After running into several former colleagues one morning this week, Sandra Carpenter, head of Round Rock ISD’s legal team, who was walking with me, commented: “You don’t just remember these people — every one of them has a story!” I realized she was right. For every handshake and clap on the shoulder, I would recall an anecdote about that person. Whether it was a funny story they’d once shared with me, a piece of advice given or received, or simply reminiscing about a storm we’d weathered together, I had re-lived a story with each and every one.
It wasn’t calculated or even purposeful, it’s just my default. I love telling stories. And I love learning people’s stories and then sharing them. It’s their stories that keep them alive and present for me, even when I haven’t seen them in years, and ignites that instant spark of recognition when I see them again. Sharing stories with others makes us more “real.”
But I kept thinking about that phrase: Everyone has a story. One of my fellow superintendents who I ran into this week often tells the story of one of his former students. The young man arrived at school, hoodie pulled up shielding his face, headphones in his ears, hands thrust in his pockets. Late to school again. A teacher began to harshly question the student, who responded by cursing the teacher out. My friend, who was a principal at the time, overheard the exchange, and punishment was swift and severe. The young man was sent to alternative placement.
Later, he learned that this young man was homeless, living with his mother and little sister in a Walmart parking lot. The mother was a drug addict, had been unconscious that morning, and the young man got both himself and his little sister ready for school, dropped his sister off safely at her school before walking to his. The young man made sure his sister wasn’t late, and by doing so he was late. He did the right thing but unfortunately, he was late again. But what an effort he had made to get there with no one telling him he must. My superintendent friend said he shares that story often to remind educators that everyone has a story. We don’t know what may lay behind someone’s action and how our reaction may save or damn them.
We deal every day with the world’s most precious resources. Do you know their stories? Have you made a connection? Have you heard their story? Have you shared with them your story? Remember, the more we listen, the more we learn. Getting to know each other’s stories is what makes us One Family. Better yet, knowing our students stories may assist them in being more successful, more prepared for the future, or just feel a little more important!
As fortune would have it, as I was driving back from Austin, I heard these words in an Alanis Morisette song:
You live, you learn
You love, you learn
You cry, you learn
You lose, you learn
You grieve, you learn
You ask, you learn
You live, you learn
For me, this means we are learning from every experience. In every lesson there is a story. Gathering stories to share. Stories — even the sad ones — teach us lessons and bind us together. What’s your story? Everyone has one. Live to tell it, often and sadly, many never do. I’d love to hear yours. I bet our students would too!
Be a storyteller!
Thanks for reading. I’ll write again soon.
Steve Flores, Ph.D.
Superintendent of Schools