How to Use Storytelling to Build Belonging

How to Use Storytelling to Build Belonging

Storytelling has always been a way to share, engage, and entertain audiences, but it is also a very powerful tool to help students connect, make difficult conversations more approachable, and leave a lasting impression. Beyond Differences is harnessing the magic of storytelling to provide tools, tips, and turnkey activities to build belonging in the classroom, throughout school communities, and online. 

The Beyond Differences Summer of Storytelling series:

  • Explores how to utilize storytelling to build belonging and end social isolation
  • Shares decades of experiences gleaned from experts across the country
  • Examines what highly influential nonprofits do to promote diverse student voices 
  • Shines a spotlight on cultivating student agency  

Providing a safe space for students to share their own experiences about who they are and what makes them unique gives power to their voice and helps build understanding and connection. 

Beyond Differences Director of National Youth Programs Sally Matsuishi reveals how storytelling can be used as an antidote to social isolation and help students celebrate their superpowers.

“Many students feel silenced and that their stories don’t have value. And, as an educator, it is the most important place to be, because the moment you start teaching storytelling and validating those experiences, students can shed all of that isolation, that otherness, and begin to connect and uplift those around them.”

Other experts in the storytelling space agree that it is a vital tool to build confidence and leadership skills in students, and transform schools into places of belonging. 

According to Emily Janssen, Director of Learning & Engagement for StoryCorps, “Storytelling empowers students to know that everyone has a story to tell and everyone’s story matters.” 

“Storytelling teaches you how to use your voice, how to use the space that you’re in, relate to other people, and utilize your memory,” adds Keesha Dixon, Youth Program Co-director for the National Association of Black Storytellers. 

Dixon’s Co-director, Elisha “Mother” Minter, points out, “If students know where they came from, they know where they are going. Storytelling is a major part of what brings that to life.” 

Beyond Differences’ National Teen Board has been sharing their origin stories to connect and inspire youth across the nation. The key elements of their stories provide a narrative that gives life to all of the lessons that Beyond Differences offers schools throughout the year. 

Operations & Programs Director for Out Youth Jaryn Holbrook Janeway adds, “Especially for marginalized communities that storytelling piece is kind of at the heart of agency. It’s being able to tell our own stories, in our own way, on our own time.”

At a time when technology overrides personal connection and communication is often limited to a few words or emojis, storytelling opens a world of possibilities for deep, meaningful conversations.

CEO & Founder of Sculpted Clay Productions Ayesis Clay also notes that storytelling helps young people connect on a more personal level. “Through storytelling, students have opportunities to talk without the barriers of technology and you find a hesitancy to go back to tech,” Clay says.

And, Meghan Bridges, Executive Director of StoryArk, drives home how important storytelling is for students to evoke change. 

“Storytelling is the means to dream and hope and create the worlds that they want to see.” 

Throughout the summer, Beyond Differences will be spotlighting storytelling tips, insights, and strategies from key staff at StoryCorps, The National Association of Black Storytellers, Out Youth, Sculpted Clay Productions, and StoryArk on LinkedIn, Instagram, and Facebook.  

Summer of Storytelling is part of Beyond Differences comprehensive complementary Foundations of Social Isolation training series that delves deep into:

  • Neuroscience of Social Isolation & Connection
  • Identity & Creating a Values-Centered Classroom
  • Belonging & Boundaries 101 

Sign up for Beyond Differences monthly newsletter, Above & Beyond, to receive the latest news about ending social isolation and making classrooms a place of belonging for everyone. 

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The mission of Beyond Differences® is to inspire students nationwide to end social isolation and create cultures of belonging for everyone. We envision a world where all youth are accepted, valued, and included and all of our differences are celebrated. Beyond Differences® offers FREE SEL curriculum, lesson plans, supplies, and professional development training to middle school educators all across the nation. Bring our programs to your school today!