Learning to Teach, Teaching to Learn

By: Solange Impanoyimana

March 11, 2014

When I look back at my school life trying to pick out that exceptional teacher that stood out from the rest, only one name comes to mind: Caroline. She was my senior four and five French teacher and there were three things I admired about her. First was how she dressed elegantly and always matched her outfits with her purses and accessories. Second was the way she carried herself with grace and always flashed her beautiful smile like there was nothing else in the world that mattered. And third was how she articulated each word with precision and taught us how to write poetry. I tried to keep her in mind as I got ready for my week of training at the Akilah Institute for Women.

A month prior, I learned about the training from Ayla, and a flood of emotions poured in: excitement, nervousness and curiosity. Friday, during our weekly meeting, I had enough time to sit with Ayla and try to go through all of the training materials, plan each day, and practice my personal story that I would share with the students.  It was Monday morning at about 8am when I drove into the Akilah Institute for Women’s campus, and due to my nervousness it felt like I was there for the first time, even though I had been there three times before.

Arriving in class, I was immediately amazed by how the girls were energized, focused and participative. Their exceptional eagerness to learn helped me feel that teaching and standing in front of a class of 40 students is something I should have done years ago. I have always known how bright the Akilah girls are, since they are selectively chosen to join the institute after a series of tests. I knew that I was talking to the right crowd.

I could tell Storytelling for Leadership was a new chapter to all of them and by spending our first day talking about its importance and how our values are demonstrated through our action brought up different questions in class; each one of them was curious why we never take time to reflect on our values. One student said, “I have never thought that there is a reason behind any of my action or choice and I am curious to get to know that.” At the end of our first session, they didn’t want us to stop, which made us all look forward to our second session.

Introducing structure of a story – challenge, choice, and outcomes – in our second session, they quickly got how a storyteller conveys to the audience who she is and what drives her. How can help people to know you with only one story? How can you know which story to tell?  These are among the questions they had before they started the exercise of developing their stories and sharing them.

Throughout the rest of the week, we talked about how a story can be used professionally and academically. The students shared the stories of perseverance and change they would bring into their community.

One of the students, Dina, said that she now knows that stories are not only for entertainment – rather, you can use them to connect with and inspire an audience. This understanding and storytelling framework will give Dina the ability to present herself and her ideas clearly, and gain support from others. Dina’s personal story shows how much family means to her, and how hard she is working to becoming a mother to children who don’t have families – children who are orphans, like her.

All of the Akilah students shared their stories of hope and strength, and how they would use the skills they acquired in school to develop their communities. Being able to effectively express themselves publically will make them confident to do what matters to them as young women leaders.

Spending a week with Akilah students made me realize that new opportunities can surprise me, especially when they bring exciting possibilities. Here I was, empowering young girls –  an experience that seemed previously unimaginable, but that I embraced with grace and passion and a skill that I am looking forward continue to build.

Megan Madeira