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RevolTeens: Helping Teens Tell Their Story in the Time of Covid, by Christine Lively

Updated: Sep 5, 2020

This is my blog post from the School Library Journal's Teen Librarian I write about Teens who challenge the "system" and change the world. I'd love to hear your feedback.

The original post can be found here http://www.teenlibrariantoolbox.com/2020/08/revolteens-helping-teens-tell-their-story-in-the-time-of-covid-by-christine-lively/

It’s back to school time here, and we’re all scrambling to figure out what to do and what to say. Everything is different in the time of COVID 19, and everything is constantly shifting and changing, too. I have a son who is moving back to college next week to start his sophomore year and a son who will start his senior year in high school in September. I don’t know what to tell them most of the time. The data, the outlook, and our awareness change day to day and make any kind of certainty impossible.

It all kind of feels like we’re in the middle of a story right now. Perhaps you’ve heard of Pixar’s Storytelling Formula. It has been written about on the internet and in books and reveals some great universal truths about storytelling. One of the best rules is the framing for the story plot that goes:

“Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.”

From 22 Tips on the Pixar Storytelling Formula  nofilmschool.com

It feels like we’re in the middle of that story right now. “Once upon a time there was a family. Every day, their lives followed the ebb and flow of the school year as their children attended classes, made friends, learned new things, and worked hard. One day COVID 19 came to their country and shut down the schools, made people sick and afraid. Because of that, nobody knew what to do or what was going to happen. Because of that, ____. Until finally ____.”

We’re in the middle of this mess of a story. We’re at the part where we’re looking everywhere for Nemo, or trying to find the core memory that will help Riley, or trying desperately to keep Boo safe and return her to her home. Everything is revolting and nobody knows how it’s going to turn out.

One thing I’ve learned is that adults really don’t know everything and teens always deserve to know that. None of us adults know how things will turn out, but we pretend we do. Teens see through us every time we try to sell them that nonsense. We hated it when our parents and teachers pretended they knew everything. Teens revolt and challenge our purported “expertise” and “the way things have always been” and become RevolTeens. In the midst of COVID 19, all of our pretense has been stripped away now. Teens have seen “behind the curtain,” and they know that adults are just making this up as we go. I hope that we’ll lean into that and keep talking with teens and young adults to help them get comfortable with the uncertainty. If we do it right, we can raise a new generation that embraces change even more fully, and feels ready to respond to it instead of feeling upended and hopeless. 

When school was first canceled, my instinct was to wait a bit and try to figure out what was going on and where this pandemic was heading. My sons were initially thrilled with the idea that they wouldn’t have to get up early for a while and would have a break. Then, we all slowly realized that this situation was not ending anytime soon and fear seeped into our lives. 

As a parent, I usually want to be able to give my kids some kind of certainty – rules, or experience, or at least guidance for “how things go.” The truth is, I don’t have any better idea of how things are or how they will be than my kids do. During this pandemic, I have been able to just be completely honest with them about that. I don’t have any idea what will happen, or how this will turn out. The kids have been fine with that answer, and we’ve had some really great conversations about our uncertainty and about what we do in the meantime as we struggle.

We’ve also learned that everything deserves to be questioned and torn apart. So many YA stories have a moment when what a teen thought was safe and predictable is taken away or changed and they have to start all over again. Often at the other side of that chaos and fear is the realization that things “before” were really not as great as they thought and the pain and fear of change has left them wiser, more wary, and ready for the next upheaval. That is definitely how I feel right now. They’re questioning the value of school, the way they learn, the expectations they’ve had for themselves, and their own ability to make good decisions. It’s been a tremendous time for reflection and reevaluation.

As educators and librarians, we’re all making the best of a lousy situation. We’re being forced to give up all of the physical structures, time structures, and relationship structures that we’ve relied on for years to ensure our patrons’ safety and access. While doing that, I hope that we’re questioning why we’ve always done things a certain way, and if change might improve or deepen our connections. School and our libraries will reopen as spaces for learning, connection, and stories. When they do, I hope that we will remember some of the lessons we’re learning now, and challenge ourselves to find different ways to connect with readers, communities, and students.

I don’t know exactly what my work as a school librarian will be like when school starts again. I do know that the way we work with students, circulate books, collaborate with teachers, and teach lessons will be different. I’m hopeful that some of the changes we make will make our work better, more meaningful, and that we’ll remember some of the great things we do in the time after COVID-19.

Right now, we’re all in the middle of the story of COVID 19. We’re in the chaos. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from RevolTeens in real life and in YA stories, it’s that the uncertainty is painful, but once we realize that nothing is as it was before, we can chart a new and better ending for our story if we’re brave enough.

I’m hoping our story goes like this:

“Once upon a time there was a family. Every day, their lives followed the ebb and flow of the school year as the children attended classes, made friends, learned new things, and worked hard, and the parents went to work, shopped, and cared for the children. One day COVID 19 came to their country and shut down the schools, made people sick and afraid. Because of that, nobody knew what to do or what was going to happen. Because of that, the family struggled and tried new things and new ways of thinking. Until finally the family put aside their expectations, lived day by day, and embraced a new uncertain but hopeful future.”

#teenlifecoach #writingourstories #lifeduringapandemic #RevolTeens

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