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Reflections from a storytelling retreat

We came from across the country, sixteen states, and four time zones. Some drove in, while others took the red-eye flight and arrived with little sleep and a full afternoon of work ahead. We hold experiences ranging from four years to well over 20. Our expertise collectively includes kindergarten through twelfth grade, language arts, math, social studies, art, and business. Included in our numbers is a state teacher of the year, a teacher in a hybrid position, and a number of us leading from within our classrooms. As one of us said, “You don’t have to have a title to lead.” We all came together at the CTQ headquarters in Carrboro, North Carolina to spend three days on storytelling. What we came away with was much, much more.

Consider this: when we first introduced ourselves, few of us knew each other well. We may have “seen” each other on webinars or followed each other’s blog posts. Possibly we engaged in a discussion in the Collaboratory or maybe even met once during our travels. But most of us had never met face-to-face. Yet somehow, in the course of our three days together, we learned about each other’s experiences and dreams. As we worked with the storytelling tools CTQ was asking us to use, we moved beyond educators attending a professional meeting to a community of friends. It’s a pretty powerful, incredible experience to be part of the evolution of that kind of community, and it’s amazing that we did so over the course of only three days.

Our work at the retreat centered on using CTQ’s new storytelling tools to help us craft stories of our leadership journeys. It didn’t take long for us to recognize a couple of things:  

1. These tools were extremely helpful and also required a good deal of thinking. There were times that I struggled with a question or graphic on a tool, searching for the right words or trying to decide the best way to approach it. But the struggle and work was well worth the effort.

2. None of us has a single leadership journey story. Among us there are easily hundreds of stories about our experiences of developing and growing as teacher leaders. By utilizing these tools and seeing the myriad ways in which we can tell them, we can narrow our focus to a single story with a focused purpose and audience. Through this process there is a great deal of potential for reaching and encouraging others.

The challenge for many of us wasn’t finding a leadership story to share, but deciding which one we would share.

Sometimes we struggled with seeing the value in our stories, questioning why anyone else would care about what we had to share. Then someone would point out, “But you care about it, and it’s made a difference for you.” At other times, we’d worry about whether we were getting it “just right.” This is when someone else in the group would remind us of one of our values:  “Don’t let perfect get in the way of good.” So we continued on, and all of us left the retreat having made progress on our stories, including ideas of how and with whom we plan to share our work.

The most powerful part of the process asked us to consider the impact of our stories. As we worked with our ideas, we all began to recognize how our leadership has evolved and the power and value our voices have. What we have experienced, and sharing the stories of those experiences, has the potential to transform education.

Now, sitting back in my kitchen in northeast Ohio, 510 miles from the CTQ offices and the site of our transformative storytelling retreat, I no longer feel quite so isolated in my teacher leadership journey. I have friends across the country connecting with me. By sharing our stories, we’re supporting, encouraging, nudging, and nurturing each other in our careers and more importantly, in our desire to make growth, learning, and education the best it can possibly be for our students. When I arrived in Carrboro, I was expecting to learn much about storytelling and how best to share my stories. I’ve left Carrboro with so much more.

 

Tricia Ebner is an intervention specialist for gifted at Lake Middle School in Hartville, Ohio, where she has been teaching for 22 years. In addition to learning from and with her gifted students, she is a blogger and VCO with the Center for Teaching Quality, an Ohio Instructional Advocate, a member of OEA’s Commission on Student Success, and an NBCT in Early Adolescent English Language Arts. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her son, husband, and two dachshunds, along with a little reading, writing, and quilting. 

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