3 min read

I sat as one part of a big circle of 25 people—no matter that I was older and much hairier than myseventh grade counterparts, no matter that I was their teacher, and they were my students. Instead, as we began the new year of middle school English together, the first and most important thing that mattered is one driving question: would we be willing to see each other in deeper ways than the superficial norms of society?

This had been an overarching theme to the kind of teacher I had wanted to become. Year after year, I had seen that students could prove they were capable of memorizing rules of grammar, or using evidence to support a thesis statement, but that these abilities tended to mask deeper questions and needs they had within.

They could figure out how to play the “game” of school and pass, but they struggled to understand how to learn in a deeper, more connected way.

Enter our Scar Stories activity. I began dedicated the first week with myseventh graders to building our classroom community and to trying to find ways to help each student develop a belief in one key, underlying truth regarding the year we had ahead of us: you belong.

To do so, Scar Stories is one activity I utilized. I asked my students to sit in a big circle, and we proceeded to share a story about a scar we endured. These could be physical, mental, emotional, or social scars. I framed our activity by ensuring that this was not a contest, but a connection. This was a chance to talk about something in a deeper way and to begin to see each other in a deeper way.

I went first, sharing about a dog bite I had received when I was their age and how that parlayed itself into a lifelong fear of getting hurt, or now, of my own kids getting hurt. And I talked about how hard it is to work through fear—though deeply worthwhile.

As we moved around the room, students sharing their scars and fears, in each progressive class and year of new students, I was continually struck both by how authentic these students chose to be, and by how much the activity bonded us. Here was a chance for us to share something that school doesn’t normally touch!

Seeing how meaningful the activity was to myself and to my students, I decided to craft a book that allowed these same possibilities to emerge. Braver than I Thought is the result. In it, I profile a total of 60 inspiring, authentic, and courageous people—documenting the scars they endured as well as the ways in which they fought to not let fear overwhelm and overpower them.

These 60 individuals display the same kind of honesty and bravery I saw in my own students, and which I strive to access and find in myself. These stories show readers that we are not alone and that all of us have scars—but this does not mean we are relegated to the place where we received our scars. We can grow from them, find ways to heal and learn, and become more empowered in who we are.

My hope is that Braver than I Thought is a rallying cry to readers to recognize our own wounds—whether external or internal—and to see that healing is always possible, hope is always available. Even though our circle is bigger than a single classroom space in a middle school English room, it is no less powerful, no less real.  


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