I’ve had the privilege of attending one of Joan Dalton and David Anderson’s Art of Facilitation courses in Nelson over the past week. It was a truly refreshing and rewarding experience – expertly facilitated, with a group of around 30 educators from around New Zealand and Australia.
We began the week by telling our personal stories of ourselves as learners. The strategy is an oldie, but a goodie – and very powerful! In the few short minutes we took to tell our story to other group members (with the help of visual ‘maps’ we’d created – mine is to the left) the group somehow transformed from a collection of individuals to a collective with shared goals, concerns and aspirations for the week.
Highlights of those stories were referred to and reflected on through the week. In addition, other stories were told throughout the week – stories to inform, to illustrate, to explain – even to inspire. These are the moments that I can most vividly recollect from my week. This is not to say that the other things we did and learned together weren’t of any value – quite the opposite. It’s just that it occurred to me at least, that it was the narratives we created together and individually that helped weave the threads of our activity together into a more understandable and applied form.
And I’m not talking about the ‘war stories’ that often get told – often experienced when group discourse degenerates into a ‘my story can beat yours’ sort of scenario. These were stories of authentic growth and development, of the ‘aha’ moments in our lives, of the hurts and joys in our lives, and of the growth we experienced as a result.
All of this got me reflecting on the power of storytelling, and of narrative in what we do as educators, with the following thoughts surfacing about why story telling is so powerful…
- It’s quick, powerful, free, natural, refreshing, energizing, collaborative, persuasive, holistic, entertaining, moving, memorable and authentic. No-one can argue with our personal story.
- Stories help us make sense of our own lives, and of the organizations we work in/for.
- It’s is a powerful tool for change because it draws on the active, living participation of individuals.
- Story telling enables people to get the idea in a flash.
- Through story we can pass on knowledge that comes from experience.
- There’s something here about absence of control and judgement – a purposefully told story is so different from a lecture or any other form of discourse that is ‘intended to instruct’ in which power relationships inevitably play a part.
I know there are heaps of books and academic papers that have been written on the topic, so I won’t try to be definitive here – these are just my initial reflections on what I experienced to be a very powerful contribution to our week. Perhaps others have ideas they could add to my list…?