From Collapse to Relationality Improv: High School Stories in Motion for Justice


  • Morgan K Gardner Memorial University
  • Kate Scarth Dalhousie University


Educational narratives, High school, social justice, marginalized youth, movement, Mots clés, jeunes marginalisés, récits basés sur les arts, narration, expériences d’étudiants, mouvement, justice sociale, école secondaire, transformation, recherche acti


Youth live storied lives (made up of intersecting stories of school, home, peers, and other aspects of lived experience). Therefore, the ways in which youth construct and tell their high school stories are vital for understanding their experiences as first authors (primary creators, constructors, and tellers of their own stories) and protagonists (as active agents of these stories). This paper examines the physical and metaphorical movements that a research team experienced when constructing and sharing their high
school narratives related to youth engagement in social justice educational change. Team members went from engaging restricted movements (which we, authors, have called collapse, truncation, or formulaic motions) to expanded motions (designated relationality improv, malleable formations, and the languages of the arts). This transformation reflected members becoming first authors of and meaningful protagonists in their high school stories of social justice and democratic educational change. For educators and researchers striving to support youth voice and engagement in educational change, an emphasis on movement (within youths’ story construction and telling processes) affords valuable openings to support youth in identifying and claiming their agency, engagement and change-making in high school.

Les jeunes vivent des vies bien remplies, composées de récits qui s’entrecroisent et qui touchent l’école, le foyer, les pairs et d’autres aspects de leur vécu. Les façons dont les jeunes construisent et racontent leurs histoires à l’école secondaire sont donc des éléments essentiels pour comprendre leurs expériences de premiers auteurs (créateurs principaux, constructeurs et raconteurs de leurs propres histoires) et de protagonistes (agents actifs de ces récits). Cet article examine les gestes physiques et métaphoriques qu’a connus une équipe de chercheurs lors de la construction et du partage de leurs récits au secondaire portant sur l’engagement des jeunes dans la justice sociale. Les membres de l’équipe ont commencé par des gestes limités (ce que nous, les auteurs, appelons effondrement, troncature ou mouvement mécanique) et ont évolué vers des gestes élargis (que l’on nomme l’improvisation de la relationnalité, les formations malléables et les langues des arts). Cette transformation reflétait l’évolution des membres pour devenir d’abord les auteurs de récits du secondaire sur la justice sociale et le changement éducationnel démocratique, et ensuite les protagonistes de ces histoires. Pour les enseignants et les chercheurs qui appuient la voix et l’engagement des jeunes dans le changement dans l’éducation, le fait de cibler le mouvement au sein de la construction et la narration des récits par les jeunes offre d’importantes possibilités pour appuyer les jeunes tant dans l’identification et la revendication de leur pouvoir et leur implication que dans les changements qu’ils effectuent à l’école secondaire.


Author Biographies

Morgan K Gardner, Memorial University

Morgan Gardner is an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Education at Memorial University in St. John’s, NL. Her participatory action research (PAR) projects focus on partnering with marginalized youth and low-income communities confronting social-educational barriers in the goal to foster democratic and social justice change in high school. Engaging arts-informed and narrative methods and methodologies play central roles across her program of research and teaching activities. Additional research areas include, transformative education, ecology in education, student and community voice and engagement, social justice strengths-based approaches, critical and community psychology, collaborative self-study, youth-adult partnerships and educational alternatives. She has authored the book, Linking Activism: Ecology, Social Justice and Education for Social Change, co-edited the volume, Narrating Transformative Learning in Education and published numerous articles in educational journals. Dr. Gardner is a recipient of the R.W.B Jackson award from the Canadian Journal of Education for best peer-reviewed paper.

Kate Scarth, Dalhousie University

Dr. Kate Scarth is a SSHRC Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of English at Dalhousie University where she is working on urban health and green spaces in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. She is also the principal investigator of the SSHRC Insight Development Grant-funded digital humanities project, Halifax's Literary Landmarks, which will consist of a multi-media literary tour of Halifax, Nova Scotia. She is committed to public engagement work and has been a researcher in Memorial University's Faculty of Education on various projects relating to youth, education, and social justice.