The Worlds of Harriet Henderson

The Worlds of Harriet Henderson is a quietly inspirational read that provides teachers with an opportunity to examine classroom practice and idealism as the multiple narratives unfold. Shann reminds us of the power of story in helping us make sense of our experiences, both personal and professional.

We join 15 year old Harriet in her quest to become an accomplished writer through drafting and feedback from her new English teacher. Molly is committed to offering her students a range of learning opportunities to suit their needs that ultimately fosters creativity and a positive sense of achievement. However, there are those on staff who have a closed mind set and cynical attitude towards Molly’s inclusive classroom. Max, Harriet’s grandfather, is a quiet constant of calm and reason. The Worlds of Harriet Henderson spans genres, locations, and pedagogies within a mythopoetic frame.

Shann explains

When I write a story about a classroom, I draw on many strands. I draw on my experience, which includes the insights gained through my relationships with literally thousands of students and hundreds of teachers in scores of classrooms. I draw on my knowledge of teachers’ fears and hopes, conscious and unconscious. I draw on my observations as a teacher educator, and on my conversations with my many university students. And I draw on my imagination and intuition, both of which have been shaped by the years I’ve spent working and sharing ideas with teachers and students.

Steve Shann, Mythopoetics

I found myself fully immersed in these worlds, and silently cheered for Molly as she faced disapproval, becoming lost in her emotional response to the bullying and professional attacks of others. Following the assessment task, Molly’s choice to greet the class positively by praising Seth and share Thomas Hardy’s ‘Transformations’ is a wonderful exemplar of resilience needed in today’s world of education.

Portion of this yew
Is a man my grandsire knew,
Bosomed here at its foot:
This branch may be his wife,
A ruddy human life
Now turned to a green shoot.

These grasses must be made
Of her who often prayed,
Last century, for repose;
And the fair girl long ago
Whom I often tried to know
May be entering this rose.

So, they are not underground,
But as nerves and veins abound
In the growths of upper air,
And they feel the sun and rain,
And the energy again
That made them what they were!

p. 272

In seeking to provide inspiring and practical lessons to support both skill development, creativity and critical thinking, we can sometimes find ourselves with minimal support. I have previously described my approach to teaching as a ‘guerilla style’ – I acknowledge the existence of standardised testing and results, yet offer engagement through non-traditional texts within the widest possible interpretation of syllabus documents.

This book is a must for every teacher who aims to provide the most rounded education, and works towards the development of responsible, critically thinking citizens.

cover artwork by Solomon Karmel-Shann - watch 'Creating a Cover'

As guest editor of the Writing Teachers edition of mETAphor, the journal of the ETA NSW, I invited Steve to contribute an article after being in the audience at his inspirational presentation for the AATE/ALEA conference in Canberra. I was intrigued by his marriage of storytelling and teaching. You can find his article – A Mythopoetic Project: Storytelling, Ordinary Affect & the Life of Classrooms – here, although it is only available to current financial members of the ETA.

Steve Shann has been a teacher in schools and universities for more than 40 years. He is the author of four books and many articles, and has been a keynote speaker at a national English teachers’ conference in Australia and at the 4th Global Conference in Prague: Storytelling – Global Reflections on Narrative. He is now semi-retired but continues to write fiction with educational settings.

Professional bio from Taylor and Francis Online

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