Everyone loves a good story.
Stories excite and energize. They comfort and bond. They spread optimism and goodwill, and they take the listener unexpected places, teaching important and often surprising lessons. Stories are a welcomed and helpful departure from the routines of daily life.
Unfortunately teachers are often so busy that they don’t have time to listen to each other’s stories, much less work at developing their own. But sharing stories is a wonderful way to help each other grow, to see situations—and students—differently, to be rejuvenated.
Stories are too important to neglect, and they don’t have to be if we are willing to think about stories in a different way.
Stories as Professional Development
Stories can be an integral part of teachers' professional development activities. They can
- Take the form of humorous anecdotes that remind teachers they are real people, teaching real students, in real time.
- Present a problem in hopes of eliciting a discussion about solutions.
- Be about personal teaching goals or promising new ideas.
Whatever their content, and whether oral or written, the point of stories is to share personal experience.
The team meeting is a good context in which to incorporate storytelling. Setting aside time each week for a story or two helps integrate storytelling into teacher development.
Here’s how to introduce storytelling into your team culture.
Simplify. Begin by thinking about stories more simply. Rather than viewing them as long, complex, and time-consuming, why not think of stories as just talk that has a beginning and an end and that makes its point in as few words as possible. Teachers can tell simple stories without sacrificing the one trait that defines a good story: its ability to elicit an emotion from the listener. Stories are always about making the listener feel something.
Feel Something. Stories need to inspire storytellers before they can inspire others. Be open to what's happening to you and around you and be aware of your feelings about these happenings. As story ideas flow, you can store the most appealing in a fertile corner of your mind to grow and develop over time.
Ideas that are yours to form into a story will let you know when they are ready to be brought forward. For example, one teacher, over time, became inspired to talk about a friendship that had helped him turn a significant corner in teaching.
Reflect and Grow. After a story is shared, colleagues can consider questions to guide personal reflection. Examples of questions might be, “Have I ever felt that way?” or “How might I have approached that situation?” or “What can I learn from that experience to become a more effective teacher?” Personal reflection and discussion will determine the lasting benefits of a story.
Don't Make Participation Mandatory. Individuals should have a choice about participating in storytelling. If a team is interested, great. If interest is more scattered, begin a story club that crosses teams, grades, and subject areas within your school. The idea is to bring teachers together to share their stories and grow from them.
Carolyn Bunting is a former teacher educator and middle level administrator. She recently launched Getting Personal about Teaching: Stories of Self-Discovery at teachersgetpersonal.wordpress.com E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org