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ONU education professor uses professional storytelling background to promote anti-bullying

Dr Kevin Cordi is the assistant professor of ONU's education department as well as a professional storyteller. He advocates being a storyteller in his everyday life to help keep the art alive (photo/Barbara Allen)

Dr Kevin Cordi is the assistant professor of ONU's education department as well as a professional storyteller. He advocates being a storyteller in his everyday life to help keep the art alive (photo/Barbara Allen)

The popularization of technology, the internet, and social media has had a dramatic impact on the way that people share things with one another. We often resort to the digital world when we have something we want others to hear. Assistant professor of ONU’s education department and doctorate of storytelling in education Dr Kevin Cordi prefers to use another method to get his messages, real or fictional, heard and shared. As the first full-time high school storytelling teacher in the country, Cordi makes an effort to advocate for the underrated art through his teaching and close relationships with his students.

“I was at Kent State and I was becoming a journalist… they said there was a storytelling conference where we could come do a week of storytelling and to learn about it. I said I would go in there for five minutes. I told the editor after I got there ‘I need to stay a little longer than five minutes’” Cordi said. “After the week long conference, it went away. I spent a year trying to find more about storytelling and couldn’t find anything”.

Coming up short was not an option for Cordi. His passion and love for storytelling lead him to use it in his own career. Cordi kept his storytelling separate from teaching until he noticed that the one thing that could bring his whole class together without fail was simply saying “let me tell you a story”. 

“Imagine you’re studying a book,” Cordi said. “You could sit and talk about the book, or you could be inside the book.” This became one of Cordi’s personal teaching methods. This teaching method is what sparked the idea of the Wonder Team.

The Wonder Team is an organization lead by Cordi that uses storytelling to help address the ever-present issue of bullying. Bullying is an issue very relevant to educators, so Cordi feels strongly about getting the anti-bullying message out. His background helped him do this in a way that you wouldn’t typically expect.

“We could sit and talk about this problem, or we could pretend we’re inside of fiction to talk about it,” Cordi recalled saying to a group of his students also interested in being an anti-bullying advocate. “We went to a middle school to visit fifth graders, and we told them ‘you’re no longer fifth graders, you’re part of a parent meeting at school’.”

Cordi and his group of students put others in the context of the novel Wonder by R. J. Palacio about a fifth-grader with severe facial deformities’ struggle to attend a public school for the first time as he experiences intense bullying. He asks them to put themselves in a parent meeting where parents discourage the child from attending the school. The initial group of fifth graders became so distressed when put into this situation that they started an anti-bullying club shortly afterwards.

“I think that Dr. Cordi is an excellent leader for the Wonder team. He has a passion for storytelling and allows the students to take a step into an alternate world where they are automatically placed in the shoes of those that are victims to bullying,” said early childhood education major and member of the wonder team Emily Wilson when asked about her experience being on the team. “I truly don't know that I could think of a better person to lead this team”.

Cordi and Wilson both agree that this issue is not just present in the education world. It is present all around us. Anyone is able to use the internet to send someone a message where they have the luxury of being behind the screen to avoid facing the consequences. Wilson is especially concerned with this issue “trickling into younger generations” continually, never reaching an end. There are ways that everyone can advocate this message in an engaging way.

“Nobody wants to just hear ‘it gets better’,” said Cordi. “And whether you’re in the medical field, the science field, or the engineering field, you’re going to have to address someone who tries to steal your rights. We’re all storytellers every day whether we realize it or not… why not study it and learn about the wonder that can happen when you truly listen to someone?”