Storytelling lessons from the Camino de Santiago

I live in Colorado and — like most Coloradans — love hiking.

A few years ago, after hearing inspiring stories of those who had been there, I took some time to hike the Camino de Santiago. Though it was only for a week, it inspired me in all of the ways I had hoped it would and challenged me in ways that I could not have anticipated. 

Reflecting on that experience revealed some parallels to the storytelling work that we do at CTQ.

The clock is ticking, the world is changing, and our schools need to learn and evolve — tell your stories now. 

Stories inspire others to act

Inspiring stories of emotional and spiritual transformation are what motivated me to walk the Camino de Santiago. I knew of the rich history and the many miles of road that led to Santiago de Compostela, but it was the inspiring stories of those who had made the journey that motivated me to act.

We live in a world that is changing rapidly, and the systems in which educators work are having challenges keeping pace.Yet, there are innovative educators and systems leaders who are driving changes that inspire students and prepare them to live and lead in this evolving world. When educators share their stories of leadership and innovation, they let others know that innovative work can be — and is being — done. We NEED to hear more stories of those successes so that others can be inspired to act in similar innovative ways.

Stories allow others an insider’s view of the experience

I would love to say that my experience was entirely buen camino (the common greeting among those walking), but that is just not true. While I had amazing experiences walking the countryside and interacting with people from around the world, my experience also included exhaustion, frustration, and the not-so-pleasant Camino limp. (Not surprisingly, those who walk long distances day after day can develop a limp caused by any number of foot ailments.)

The telling of stories of innovation and change taking place in your school allows others to know and understand the triumphs and tribulations that are associated with your journey. As we work to transform our schools so that all students are prepared to thrive in the world around them, it is imperative that educators know what worked and what didn’t so that we don’t get stuck repeatedly reinventing the wheel. Providing an insider’s glance into your experience can help to accelerate change by helping others know what pitfalls to avoid and what triumphs lie ahead.

Stories allow others to learn from our experience

In recent years hundreds of thousands of people have walked the Camino de Santiago for their own reasons and experiencing it in their own way. Yet there are commonalities to the experience that allow those who have not yet walked to learn from those who have. Blogs and websites abound with advice about the best places to eat and rest as well as what to take and what to leave at home so that you can be fully present to the experience.

Stories of what worked and what didn’t in schools can provide insights into what is effective and for whom as well as what innovations worked and which did not. Our students cannot wait for each of us to learn the same lessons about what works and what does not over and over again. They need for their schools, their classrooms, and their teachers to share their stories so that they can learn from each other and accelerate their learning. The clock is ticking, the world is changing, and our schools need to learn and evolve — tell your stories now. 

Getting started on your storytelling journey

So how do you start? At CTQ, we work with educators to tell their stories of leadership and innovation so that they can inform the field of education and accelerate change. The following three steps can help you get started:

  • Take the journey together. While some go alone, the shared experience of walking the Camino de Santiago with someone else made it more powerful. As you set out on your storytelling journey, connect with colleagues who are familiar with the story you are sharing. Invite them to share their perspectives about what was done and the impact it had. The input from colleagues will likely add texture and nuance to your story as well as provide additional details that you might miss if you go it alone. We worked with the storytellers from Pomona Unified School District (PUSD) who all chose to work in teams. Here are their stories of teacher-led learning
See the PUSD stories here.
  • Go at your own pace. Having a shared experience does not mean that you travel lockstep along the way. Rather, the shared experience is made richer by each person going at his or her own pace along the way. Stories are made richer when we can learn from the different ways that individuals mapped and experienced their own journey. For instance, participants in the National Education Association’s Teacher Leadership Initiative (TLI) all had a collective learning experience. Yet they mapped their own leadership journey as they identified and addressed a challenge in their local context. While each leadership story is an example of how teachers can lead change, their collective story is made more powerful because of their individual experiences. 
View the TLI stories by clicking here.
  • Define and share success. Those who walk at least the last 100 kilometers are awarded a compostela (certificate) as a testament that they have done the Camino de Santiago. As you share your story of leadership and innovation, be sure to clearly articulate what you were trying to accomplish as well as the evidence that demonstrates that your efforts were successful. We worked with educators in Talladega County, Alabama, to help them articulate and share their stories of leadership and innovation (click the images below to see the stories of success).
Check out the first set of Talladega stories here.
Click here for the second set of stories.

If practicing educators are going to lead innovation in schools, then more educators need to share their stories of success. Your stories can inspire others to action by providing insights into your experiences. And those insights can help others learn and improve their own efforts.

We invite you to craft and share your stories of leadership and innovation at #CTQcollab or in the comment section below. Maybe we can all learn from each other.

Buen Camino!


Interested in reading more about storytelling? Check out the blogs in this roundtable.

Want to learn more about CTQ’s storytelling tools and processes? Click here.