Giving Students Space to Map their Stories and Process their Inner-Voice

At all times, we carry our story and inner voice with us. It’s a part of who we are. We have the opportunity to use this truth about ourselves to map the greater picture.

My former undergraduate college professor, Dr. Taiyon Coleman (Ph.D.), played a remarkable role in teaching me this. Her open minded influence began with a humble invitation to call her “Tai” and was later accompanied by her subsequent teachings on the power of storytelling. She eloquently frames stories as maps towards human potential. In this TED Talk, she states: “if you think about a map, it locates, provides evidence and provides a record.” In my junior year of college, I have a distinct memory of sitting with Tai in her office after a passionate class discussion on hip hop music (poetry and rhythm) and social justice discourse. I was drawn to her clear intention to engage everyone in the room, and her deep listening skills. Out of love, she asked powerful questions and listened intently. Through intentional guidance, Tai encouraged me to map my story and follow my inner-voice.

To this day, I take Tai’s teachings to heart. By giving students space to reflect on their stories: where they come from, their value systems, and what they want to do in the world -- we encourage them to map their human potential.

By turning towards their roots (who they are) and their inner-voice (their intuition), they can build upon their narrative from a perspective of authentic self-understanding that we, as their guides, can’t even begin to comprehend.

Chinese symbol of Listen Photo Credit

This Chinese symbol digs deeper than the English word “Listen”, challenging us to listen with our ear, eyes, undivided attention and heart. With growing consciousness of my own socially constructed (privileged and oppressed) identities, lived experiences, and my internal voice, my aspiration is to create spaces for students to process and self-reflect. This is a critical service, where as always, Compassionate Listening is key (CLIK). We can support students by being willing to listen deeply to their individualized experiences and providing insightful guidance.

Here are some ways we can support students with this significant self-reflection process.

HONOR THAT STUDENTS HOLD THEIR OWN ANSWERS

In my role as a career counselor with college students, I aspire to guide. Like Tai, we must acknowledge that each student holds their own map and voice. My goal is to ask questions that allow them to listen to their internal voice as they navigate their personal pathways. This might mean providing students with exercises to explore themselves, their varied (social, cultural and personal) identities, strengths, life experience, belief systems, and ways they experience privilege and oppression in to unlock insights about what they need to do. Asking them to reflect on their stories might allow them to connect to themselves, and make sense of the world they exist within.

If we tell them what to do and how to do it, we run the great risk of pressuring them to socialize to a system that we may not even fully understand ourselves. We run the risk of failing to honor their inner voice. We run the risk of makings assumptions that they are not capable of authoring their own lives.

As Baxter-Magolda says: “We have a responsibility to help young adults make the transitions from being shaped by society to shaping society.” By encouraging students to share stories and pay attention to their inner voice, we might allow them to seek answers they hold within.

ASK POWERFUL QUESTIONS, PRACTICE DEEP LISTENING

As Tai did for me, we can ask students questions that will encourage students to deeply reflect. For example:

  • “What’s your story?”
  • “What does your intuition tell you?
  • How are you feeling now?”
  • “What will you share about yourself when making new connections?”
  • “What are your core values? How will you apply them?”
  • “What do you want to convey about yourself when you meet someone you’re inspired by or feel compelled to talk to?”

There’s a whole list for you here!

When students process answers to these questions, listen carefully. Pay deep attention to what they’re expressing with you. Remember: Compassionate Listening is Key. If they feel safety with you, let them discover, explore and express the emotions they are feeling. Understand that this is a great honor to be a listening ear. Give affirmation, and remind them of their deep value in the world. Hold them accountable, out of care to see them map their journey.

As students develop a deeper relationship with themselves and of the world, it might be beneficial to offer some career-specific insight.

REFRAME CAREER TERMS

Career terminology, like “networking” and “elevator pitch” might sound a bit uninspiring for some students. These terms, built in Western U.S. social constructs, might need some reframing in order for each student to find purpose and meaning in this life-long process of relationship building.

How science and technology (LinkedIn) allows us track data, and visualize the width and depth of our human connections!

As students prepare for interviews or networking opportunities, knowing parts of their story and paying attention to their inner voice might support them in making authentic connections. They may feel compelled to approach someone at at networking event, or reach out to someone because they feel a need to connect. Students may want to exchange information with people working in business, education, engineering, science, technology, social work -- you name it. Remind them that these all of these new connections are forms of “networking” and sharing their “elevator pitches.”

Support students in preparation for job interviews and networking events by asking the questions mentioned earlier: “What’s your story? What do you want to convey about yourself when you meet someone you’re inspired by or feel compelled to talk to?” Try this exercise with students. Questions like this might encourage college students to explore who they are and how this connects to their greater picture. Building more connections and depending relationships with people they can see themselves working will lead them to greater insights, ideas, and even opportunities.

In our efforts to support students with their own self-development, it’s critical that we remain aware of our own self-work.

COMMITTING TO OUR OWN SELF-WORK

Remain humble. We are still learning. Stay committed to learning about your own roots. Pay attention to your intuitive nature (“listen to your heart”). Ask yourself the powerful questions that you might ask students.

Drink from the cup of self love!

Coffee Photo Credit

We are contributing to systems of oppression human social laws the second that we make assumptions about a students’ desired pathway based on what they look like, who they are and where they come from and how they express themselves.

In order to give students space to map their own human potential, we have to understand ourselves first. We have to build a practice for challenging oppressive systems that deny our students the right to fully express themselves, their ideas and aspirations due to social laws (oppressive systems).

We must provide our students with equitable support that uniquely acknowledges their individualized strengths, lived experiences and value systems.

As suggested earlier, our role as guides is argumentatively to guide students towards their own authentic pathway. In doing this, we must practice mindfulness in they way we support them. This might mean asking ourselves questions like:

  • Who am I?
  • What’s my story?
  • What’s at the heart of my work with students?
  • How did I use my inner voice and story map to get here?
  • What are my own lived experiences? How has this impacted my own consciousness development?
  • How do I respond when I feel someone deeply listening to me?
  • What social systems privilege me and oppress me? Why?
  • What does the word “professionalism” really mean to me?
  • How am I challenging dominant cultural expectations that oppress students’ needs to express themselves, their ideas and who they are?

Asking these critical questions will allow us to bring mindfulness into our interactions with students. It will allow us to empathize and more deeply connect to our students.

It’s important for students to explore their own lived experiences, identities strengths and values in order to see the greatness in following their personal map and inner-voice. This will support them with understanding who they are, what their needs are and who they want to connect with.

Remember: Compassionate Listening is Key (CLIK!). Giving them space to explore their internal voice can allow them to unlock their own insights about what needs to happen for them, in powerful and life-changing ways!

Giving them space to explore their internal voice can allow them to unlock their own insights about what needs to happen for them, in powerful and life-changing ways!