The School that Story built.

The stories that circulate in and around a school paint a picture of the school’s culture and values, heroes and enemies, good points and bad, animating the actions and intentions of leaders, teachers, students, whānau and community. By creating and sharing our stories, we define “who we are”. Our identity is intricately woven into the tapestry of the narrative.  Strong school leaders distinguish themselves by being good storytellers; voices that people listen to, are inspired by and respect.

We need stories in order to understand ourselves and communicate who we are. We use stories to help us make sense of the world and the experiences of others. By sharing stories, we can better understand the conflicts of daily life and find explanations for how things fit together in the world.

Paul Auster, once said that telling stories is the only way we can create meaning in our lives and make sense of the world.

My own learning journey has provided ample fodder through which one might understand how story can influence perceptions about learning, identity creation and identity affirmation. One thing has has been evident to me is the huge gap in our understanding of the lived realities of the kids we teach. Narrative influence how students are perceived and how they perceive themselves.

As educators, we collect copious amounts of data. In many schools, data practices are seen as Euro-centric and are rarely viewed from any other perspective. Data flows from every aspect of a child’s learning experience and plays an important role in the development of their learning story. However, data practices in many schools result in depersonalisation of information and these practices, once embedded, remain stagnant. In many instances, the challenge is centred on the notion that data, especially without meaningful patterns, is cold and with a lack of intrinsic meaning.

The problem is not with the data. The problem is with the stories. The ones we tell ourselves and our students and the stories our students figure on their own.

As a concept, storytelling permeates all cultures and is hardwired into us. We can’t help but make sense of the world through story.  Schools have yet to realise how their future might shaped by story and there is still a lack of critical insight as to how and why storytelling can make a difference. For most schools, storytelling remains an abstract concept, at best reserved for English teachers and Senior Leaders when working a crowd, at worst, wishy-washy claptrap with no real value.

For most schools, storytelling remains an abstract concept, most likely encountered in English classroom. What’s the point of telling stories anyway? What makes a good story? And how do you go about telling it so that it supports student learning? Concrete answers are few and far between.

Making storytelling more tangible is a step toward helping students, teachers and whānau further engage in Education. If stories are so fundamental to the human experience, we need to figure out how to better incorporate them into the educational landscape. The question I am left asking is how might schools turn abstract notions of storytelling into practical tools for the benefit of all? Perhaps the answer lies in the fabric of the story of each school, student, teacher and whānau. Perhaps story is the language through which learning may be explored and changed.


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