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N4 Teacher Spotlight: Faisal Mohyuddin

October 14, 2016

It goes without saying, but we’ll keep saying it: N4 educators and administrators are innovative and inspirational. This week, we talk to Faisal Mohyuddin, an English teacher at Highland Park High School in the north suburbs of Chicago. Faisal has been working with N4 since 2013 and has attended N4’s last three global summits.

Like so many of our dedicated ambassadors, Faisal has been instrumental in helping N4 grow through his work with students and fellow educators. This summer, we spotlighted his former student Ashley Kaufman, who also attended the 2016 global summit. Last spring, Faisal spent two weeks in Nioro du Rip, Senegal as a U.S. Department of State’s “Teachers for Global Classrooms” fellow. There, he helped set up a photo-story exchange between 60 HPHS students and 60 Lycée Maba Diakhou Ba (Senegal) students.

This year, with fellow teachers Katie Zoloto, Elizabeth Perlman, and Paul Lusson, Faisal ran a story exchange for 200 high school juniors taking American Literature. Below, he tells us about how the story exchange builds classroom community.

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1. How did you incorporate the story exchange to fit your American Literature class?

I’m fortunate to teach in a school district that allows teachers to be very creative with lesson plans, texts, and sequencing. My four-member American Literature team started the year with personal essays, focusing primarily on the “This I Believe” radio/internet series. This was the first time we used the story exchange as a team. We felt that this would be a great way for the students to connect on a personal level, build a sense of community in the class, and set up one of the guiding questions for the course, which is about what we believe and value as Americans.

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2. As a teacher, what do you think is the best part of the story exchange?

I love how attentive, open, and energized the students become and how invested they are in doing it “right.” I love the buzz in the room during the sharing of partners’ stories, the range of emotions brightening the faces of those whose stories are being shared, and the way there is a collective sense of warmth in the room following the exchange. I love reading students’ written reflections about the exchange and seeing what worked for them and what didn’t.

Because I have them type their partners’ stories afterwards, I am able to reread their work after the exchange. I’m floored by how much stronger students’ writing is when they compose their partners’ stories and doing so for a live, authentic audience. I think it’s that word – “authenticity” – that is the best part. And a huge component of that authenticity is that they are connecting with another human being in a more meaningful and more personalized way.

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3. What are you most excited about with N4 and the possibilities of the story exchange?

I continue to believe deeply that story exchanges are a very effective way to connect people together in an authentic, engaging way, one that helps break down barriers and fosters empathy. And I continue to think about the “then what?” part. Having more colleagues to collaborate with is a huge source of optimism, as is all the great work other N4 ambassadors are doing around the world. I’m excited about expanding the reach and impact of what can happen in a few classrooms and about partnering with others to take this next big step.

The reason I have my students type their partners’ stories and reflect on their experiences in writing is so that students more thoughtfully consider what they have experienced, what it reveals about themselves and others, how it can reframe the way they look at strangers and their future, and what they can do to hold on to the “high” they feel from the exchange.

I want to do more to sustain that feel of community, to sustain that empathy and to extend its reach beyond our classroom. We have so many barriers and issues in my school and community. I feel that I haven’t yet figured out how to take that next step. I want to get my students and our community to connect more fully to the rest of the Chicago area, including the city itself, and to the rest of the country and the world.

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