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What, how, why: Finding your voice as an educational storyteller

For all of human history, storytelling, through means such as images, language, and writing, has been an essential cornerstone of culture and connection. We tell stories to explain who we are, and we engage with others stories to better understand where we fit.

As an English teacher, I am particularly drawn to a good story and love to help my students learn about who they are through the stories that we read. Teaching allows me to be a part of my students’ stories just as they get to be a part of mine.

Almost two weeks ago, I began my fifteenth year in the classroom. Each year has followed its own unique narrative creating a chapter in the ever expanding novelty of my career. My students have both changed dramatically and remained stereotypically teenaged. They have shaped me into the teacher I am today and given me motivation to become a better teacher in the future.

Over the past few months, I have had the joy of engaging in an online roundtable discussion about the art and power of storytelling with other educators from across the country. Each of their contributions to our roundtable has reminded me how essential it is for educators to share their stories more broadly.

Each year, we craft a new narrative based on the students we have the privilege to work with.

Each year, we craft a new narrative based on the students we have the privilege to work with. As I begin to draft this coming year’s narrative, I invite you to consider the what, how, and why of your own story. 

What

When I talk to teachers about sharing their stories, many do not feel that their perspective is worth sharing. The thing is, though, that no one ever knows who a story might impact.

Stories don’t have to be complicated. Take for example Brian Curtin’s story of how a simple shift in thinking helped him to manage challenging behavior while celebrating the much more prevalent positivity he encountered.

Stories also don’t have to have a nice, neat lesson, either. Tricia Ebner’s tale discussed the importance of broadening our perspective. Using her own experience, she shared her ongoing learning her ongoing journey towards better insight into the needs of her community.

As is the case for many teachers, it is hard to imagine that the insights we gain from spending countless hours perfecting our craft could have impact. However, as Ann Byrd reminds us, not telling our stories “leaves the general public with a skewed view of our country’s single largest profession.” 

How

In my classroom, we spend a great deal of time analyzing how authors craft their messages. Considering the art of how to create argument, or synthesize information, or develop narratives allows us to understand the many pathways each writer takes towards achieving their intended purpose.

As you consider what you want to share, it is also important to explore the many options for sharing. Paul Barnwell lays out a path for would be storytellers, emphasizing  that how we tell our stories can be unique to both our situation and our purpose.

Perhaps you want to write a blog about a cool classroom strategy or present about equity issues to your school board. Perhaps you, like twin sisters Sarah Giddings and Kelly Cusmano, want to organize likeminded individuals and inspire them to jump into educational leadership and advocacy.

If this sounds daunting remember, your story has power, especially if it is shared with the right audience. Once you know what you want to say and who you want to say it to, think about the format that will ensure the most connection between you and others. 

Why

Why should we tell our stories? This is simple. If we don’t, others will attempt to tell them for us.

For example, when private interest groups tried to take over a local school board in the suburbs of Denver, Shawna Fritzler shared her concerns publicly, found others who felt the similarly, and organized stakeholders to protect her daughter’s school district from harm. Had she let others tell the story of her school district, negative accounts of education would have been perpetuated. Telling her story was a key step towards unifying parents, teachers, and students to the cause of supporting strong public schools.

Similarly, John Holland shared how four teachers pursued their own style of leadership. Had they allowed others to tell them how their story was supposed to go, none of them would have the sphere of impact they currently have. Each of these teachers realized that telling their stories was essential to breaking free from the traditional pathways of leadership towards something much more powerful.

The power of story is that feeling of “hey, me too!” that we get when we read or hear about teachers who struggle like we do or are passionate about the issues we care about.

Hearing the stories of my teaching colleagues from across the country has brought me to where I am today. The power of story is that feeling of “hey, me too!” that we get when we read or hear about teachers who struggle like we do or are passionate about the issues we care about. Stories help us to feel less isolated and to feel the strength of connection.

Each of the stories shared in this roundtable demonstrate how important it is for us to share our stories publicly. As we prepare for this coming year, I challenge you to craft your own educational story. Not sure where to begin? Join us next Thursday, August 31 at 7 pm ET on Twitter to dive into the #powerofstory and share the what, how, and why of your own story with educators across the country.


Jessica's post is part of CTQ's July/August blogging roundtable on the power of story. Join the discussion by commenting on this blog and checking out the other blogs in this series. You can find an updated list of all posts on this page. Follow CTQ on Facebook and Twitter to see when each new blog is posted and use #CTQCollab to chime in on social media. 

 

 

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