Professor Nancy Lory

Life Story Books: 

Windows into the Lives of Your Students & Their Families


Stories are fascinating to me.  True stories are even more compelling.  This is my story of how I became intrigued about the stories that people have to tell and why these stories can be a “window or a mirror” (Emily Style, 1996) in one’s education about children, youth, families, teachers, schools, society, and life.


My reading of life story books began slowly.  First, I started to read about the about families with children who have disabilities.  I began to use those stories in some of my courses – I Raise My Eyes to Say Yes by Ruth Sienkiewicz and Steve Kaplan, After the Tears by Robin Simons, Before and After Zachariah by Fern Kupfer, and A Difference in the Family by Helen Featherstone.  My students who were prospective teachers responded in an engaged and inquisitive manner.  They were interested in the characters’ lives and they had numerous questions; they wanted to correspond with the authors and, in fact, one small reading group ventured out to meet Ruth Sienkiewicz-Mercer who lived in Northhampton, Massachusetts.  We had great discussions about individuals with disabilities and their families.


As a college professor at KSC, I am given the opportunity every seven years to take a sabbatical leave from college teaching responsibilities to pursue myr own research, reading, and writing interests.  On one of my first leaves, my focus was to create a new course entitled Women and Education that was to be part of the new women’s studies minor program at KSC.   For the first time, I had the time to explore and educate myself about women in history, a topic that was absent from my own educational experience. 

While I know I needed to understand the larger issues of the women’s movement, I chose to explore the writing about and by individual women.  First I had to investigate a story from my own family lore; apparently my great-aunt Helen McFarland, had made some significant contributions to the Connecticut Teacher’s Association (CEA) starting in the early 1900’s.and throughout her 80-year career in education.  I learned that women were often excluded from decision making in the statewide teacher’s association and feisty Aunt Helen assertively walked down the aisle of the auditorium at one convention and made her presence known and gave voice to the concern of the state’s teachers who were mostly women.  Ultimately, she became president of the CEA in the 1940s.


I taught the Women and Education course and continued on my reading journey.  Every time I went to my local bookstore, I made my way to the section on biographies and autobiographies.  My bibliography became longer and longer. Fortunately, Keene State College hired a new professor for the education department in the mid-1990s.  Dr. Karen Abrams had extensive experience as a school guidance counselor and school psychologist and brought a wealth of experience with her.  We team-planned several courses together and I learned that she found the life story books to be an essential component of a compelling curriculum for new teachers.  We became reading buddies.  We would buy books for each other and then borrow them back to read ourselves.  Our favorite book was the last one that we read.  Over her five years at the college, we compiled an extensive list of life story books, worked with several school districts where we used life story books as a catalyst for discussion for faculty development, and wrote an article for the American School Counselor Association journal about the power of story.


During my most recent sabbatical leave, I had the opportunity to write a manuscript about the use of life story books in teacher education, which I titled Life Story Books: Windows into the Lives of Your Students and Families.  For the past several years, I have used my manuscript in my education courses as a prelude to their work as teachers.  We read the stories in literature circles and then make the characters come alive in our classrooms by role playing and sharing stories. One day, these future teachers will see their own students walk through their classroom doors and carry a story that needs to be heard and understood.

Excerpts of the manuscript are linked on this page.




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