The Strategy: Experiment with a variety of  mechanisms for meeting the needs of diverse communities

Located in downtown Portland, The Telling Room is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the idea that children and young adults are natural storytellers. Recognized for its many programs and community partnerships, The Telling Room builds confidence, provides real audiences for students’ stories, and strengthens literacy skills. The Telling Room serves as a different kind of IIC model. Unlike the others, which consist of a school or district working with arts and other organizations in a particular town or city, The Telling Room has evolved into a community that reaches beyond its own doors to collaborate with a wide variety of local and regional partners, including a number of schools and districts, Portland Public Library, Portland Ovations, and artist educators.


Experiment with a variety of  mechanisms for meeting the needs of diverse communities (e.g., try Skype as a workshop medium; use new social media effectively for outreach or as a learning tool; expand after-school programs to fill a need; provide real life learning opportunities; follow through with high expectations.

Broaden the concept of storytelling to incorporate art, technology, video, photography, both to attract young people and to find multiple avenues into students’ abilities and modes of learning.

Molly Haley

The Telling Room keeps an eye
on its mission by partnering with organizations with compatible missions to allow for magic to happen through interesting partnerships and collaborations.
Gretchen Berg

to an audio clip
featuring a student play.

The Telling Room staff is willing to take risks with programming, start small, develop ideas that work and shed those that don’t.

Young Writers and Leaders
The Telling Room serves students from different backgrounds (immigrant or refuge families; at-risk kids) by helping to break down the barriers (e.g., “I’m not a visual artist” or a child from a refugee family that fled from a traumatic situation in a native country who thinks she doesn’t have any story to tell). Showing students that they have their own voice is the starting point for developing into a writer.

young writers and leaders

Audio documentary of Young Writers and Leaders students working with local songwriters to create their own hip-hop and spoken word pieces

Develop students' abilities to shape, improve, edit, perfect a piece of writing until it's ready for publication or presentation, all the while making students understand issues of quality and high production value by involving them in the process of creating the end-product. Then demonstrate quality work by always having an audience (live performance, published book, launched on website, etc.).

Document the high level of programming by engaging in a consistent process of pre- and post-testing, gathering qualitative data, and conducting long-term studies. Use evaluation data to demonstrate program effectiveness when writing grants or attracting funders.

When working in schools, always leave teachers with something. Help teachers see how they can take what you've done and carry it on in the classroom. Present teacher workshops at the Telling Room and at conferences.

The Telling Room is about being writers. By including visual arts, performing, video, we bring so many other students around the corner to the word. – Telling Room Staff person

I like Maine because it’s calm and lets you think a lot and The Telling Room helps me do things I didn’t know I could do. – A student from the Congo

My daughter loves it here. We have been unable to find a place that will support her writing and storytelling around where we live. We have to travel an hour to get to the Telling Room but it's well worth it. The staff is so helpful, and welcoming! The volunteers [are writers too and] just want to write and help her achieve her goal, [which] is to be a successful writer when she grows up. – Parent of a student participant

I've been involved with The Telling Room since its creation almost six years ago. From the first workshop they ever held (in the furnace room of the basement at a local public school) to today's programming that reaches over 1,000 Maine kids in a year, this organization has never lost its smart groove or its ability to connect to that sparkly little devil that lives inside all kids: unapologetic creativity. We all have a story, but here in Portland, Maine, it's The Telling Room that celebrates what we have to say and teaches us how to say it better. The world needs a lot more Telling Rooms. – Telling Room Board Member Genevieve Morgan

When I moved to Maine from Vermont about a year and a half ago, I was so excited to discover the Telling Room. I've been a writer and an educator most of my life and I jumped at the chance to be involved in TR activities. My TR volunteer experiences have included encouraging immigrant teenage writers, homeschoolers, and after-schoolers in workshop topics ranging from ghost stories to food poetry to farming. I always come home inspired. – Telling Room Volunteer Kristy Parke

The Telling Room is one of the most inspiring experiences offered to young writers and is equally inspiring to adults. I continue to be amazed every time I attend one of their functions and view, first hand, the broad array of talented young writers and performers. The energy at these events is like magic - electric! The smiles, the glances, the comments, and the crowds just tell it all. Bravo and kudos to the Telling Room! – Lorraine Martin, Freeport ME, Telling Room Donor

Suggestions for the future:
What resources are available for elementary school children to access literacy/storytelling and writing? How can this age be included in future programming?

How can the Telling Room make a deliberate effort to connect with the parents of these students to influence the decisions and their education as they establish themselves in their new community?

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