First, a little background. Writers are best familiar with the concept of a throughline (formerly spelled “through-line” or “through line”, but coined “throughline” by scriptwriters sometime in the ‘90s and, within writing circles, the compound use stuck). Put simply, a throughline is why a story exists and how it provides the narrative arc. It is the motivation, desire, or idea that serves as the driving force behind a story, giving it momentum and pushing it forward. I find it interesting that throughlines are considered especially important in books written for young readers, as they help bridge the understanding between a character’s motivation and plot, and bring young readers along on the character’s journey. Think of stories as deceptively simple as The Little Engine That Could or as complex as the Harry Potter series; both have narratives built around distinct throughlines.
The application of throughlines in education work in the same way: When a throughline is tied to a school’s mission or core beliefs, it becomes a defining concept that reinforces everything from the curriculum shared in the classroom to service-learning projects and school events. As Bishop notes, it’s important that a throughline has a “stickiness” to give it “a staying power that’s really relevant.”
“Throughlines are powerful … and anchor the content that students are synthesizing, but also provide a lens through which our students can find a common thread,” said Stansbury. “Throughlines promote meaningful connections and [help students] better understand the meaning behind their learning … the throughline makes students think more deeply about connections to their learning.”
As a community-building element, throughlines also give the School a way to define and articulate its purpose or goals for the upcoming academic year, thereby creating an environment in which everyone is equally as involved or responsible. This year, as the world struggles with the significant life changes brought about by the global pandemic, and with the trauma social justice and inequity issues too long ignored have wrought upon Black communities and people of color in this country, it is vital we made this year’s throughline one every faculty and staff member had the opportunity to decide. It’s fitting, then, that the first time students hear the throughline Discover Your Voice is within the classroom. As Stansbury notes, this year, in particular, the Discover Your Voice throughline can help faculty and families alike frame vital conversations with students around current events by asking questions such as, Why do people discover their voice in certain moments? What may have happened in the beginning, or what is at the root of this issue, that ends in this type of expression or this particular use of voice?
“Discover Your Voice isn’t just about making statements, but about asking questions,” said Bishop. “Schools are great at teaching kids how to answer questions, but we need to always work on teaching them how to ask really good questions. Questioning the how and why of their learning will better help them not only navigate the world they’ll one day be a part of but, hopefully, lead.”
“The onus is on [Dawson students and alumni] to tackle the challenges and inequities that are being created by this pandemic,” said Stansbury. “It’s a huge undertaking, and we need them to be empathetic and ethical leaders who are digging deep and using throughlines [like Discover Your Voice] to do what’s right at a time when having a ‘brave voice’ or ‘discovering your voice’ may not be popular, and I want them to have that confidence … Students are continuing to try on ideas and discovering what they really believe based upon their experiences and conversations. They leave Dawson with the capacity and capability to make their voices heard.”
Discover Your Voice is just as powerful when navigating student-peer relationships. As Bishop states, “It is a seminal moment in a young person’s life when they realize that their voice sounds different from their favorite teacher’s voice or their parents’ voice.” When students experience conflict with peers, teachers and families can help them work through these challenges by asking, What would it look like to “discover your voice” in the relationships in your life? It is an empowering moment for any child when they learn to confidently express themselves – their thoughts, feelings, ideas, and perspectives – to others.
“It’s important that parents understand that we are not here to tell our students which voice to have,” said Stansbury. “We’re here to create the space and the opportunities for our students’ to find their individual voice ... which will shape who they become and how they show up in this world.”
This year, as we continue our journey as a Dawson community – working together to face challenges, find solutions, and committing more than ever to care for one another – Discover Your Voice will be our rallying cry and defining call to action.
“At the end of the day, it comes down to this: Do our students, teachers, parents feel like they belong when they are on our campus?” said Stansbury. “Until we can make sure everyone’s answer to that question is yes, we are never going to stop taking on more action steps that will help us find any root causes that are preventing others from feeling that sense of belonging.”And so I ask our Dawson community to reflect: In a year of tremendous social, political, educational, environmental, and economic disruption and upheaval unlike any other, what will you do to Discover Your Voice?
Learn more about Dawson's 2020-2021 throughline in our latest Zoomcast.
By Megan Gray
Chief Communications Officer