In September, two grade 5 teachers from St. Andrew's Episcopal School in Austin, Texas, wondered if they could create a digital storytelling platform that would create deep learning and engagement for students as well as awareness and action in the school community. Three months after their initial idea: the launch of Impact, a purposeful and powerful digital storytelling hub for students, teachers, parents and other members of the St. Andrew's community.
Michele Turner and Mark Garcia, the two educators leading this initiative, care a lot about their students and about the state of affairs on planet Earth. Advocates for peace, environmental sustainability, equity, inclusion and belonging, Michele and Mark are passionate about helping students engage with global issues, the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals, and principles of sustainability.
Michele (a teacher at several top international schools in various parts of the world before returning to the US in 2020) had contributed to a digital storytelling platform at her last international school and could see it was a way to build community and tell success stories about what was happening in innovative classrooms. She wanted to bring this storytelling approach to St. Andrew's to create a space where students would be thoroughly and actively engaged. Mark, a language arts teacher who loves storytelling and who brings a social justice lens to many units of study, was keen to join Michele. Together, they tackled the tech aspects of creating a website and managing posts, and the results - even in the first month of publishing content - have been powerful.
"I am excited to see my students working on their Impact stories," comments Michele. "They really want to get their work published because they care about the issues they're learning and writing about. You can see they're very motivated to succeed, and a lot of that has to do with their emerging passion for what they're learning about the world. I can see their communication skills improving quickly, as well as their critical thinking skills; having Impact as an end product or goal is really pushing the students to see how their learning in the classroom is connected to bigger issues in the community and world."
Mark agrees. He says that in his current novel study (of Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan), students can connect themes in the novel to the Sustainable Development Goals and issues of migration, socioeconomic inequalities and belonging.
"Michele and I came up with the three categories for posting on Impact - people, planet and perspective - as a way to help students understand they can communicate about what they're learning in a way that leads to positive change," says Mark. "Our school community cares about working towards a more just, equitable and kind world, and we think Impact can help with that mission."
To get started in realizing their goal of creating a digital storytelling platform, Michele and Mark partnered up with me and my husband Brian (international educator and tech wizard). We met online for four 2-hour coaching sessions where we supported Mark and Michele in designing and planning the site, and navigating the tech side of creating a site and posting a variety of media. As well, we spent time each week discussing mindsets for purposeful global citizenship, and how to help students engage with ideas and action in ways that would be open, fair, humble, curious and respectful.
The coaching partnership was rich, fun and positive, and equipped Michele and Mark with the time, resources and support they needed to achieve their goal and launch Impact. That happened at the beginning of December, with school administrators and parents attending a class launch event that celebrated the power of storytelling.
"We're excited to see how Impact will grow as we continue to post articles, videos and photos," says Michele. "Already parents and administrators have contacted us to engage around ideas, and we think this can be a powerful way of living out our school's mission."
You can visit Impact HERE.
Below is a video interview with Michele and Mark where you can hear them talk about the creation of Impact and how it's possible for any educator to get started with digital storytelling. If you're interested in creating your own digital storytelling platform for your classroom or school, get in touch and I would love to partner with you as a coach. By sharing your stories, you'll be participating in creating a culture of global awareness and citizenship at your school: what a powerful way to build authentic and meaningful global competencies for all. I'd love to hear from you!