The significance of storytelling

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…?

2 thoughts on “The significance of storytelling

  1. My class is never more attentive or interested than when I tell a story- they help develop more of a perception of the whole person- beyond the schooliness of the classroom. It’s the relationships between the people the makes the learning stick.

  2. Aha! That’s exactly why digital storytelling appeals to me. I’ve explored Digital Storytelling with a range of people – new entrants class, early childhood teachers, parents, 3-4 year olds and youth. And it always without a doubt moves people. I run a workshop entitled ‘Ko Wai Ahau?” very early on in my mentoring programmes disguised as a digital storytelling workshop where we learn to use Photo Story 3 or Kid Pix. Teachers or participants are required to use photos/images to present to their colleagues ‘Ko Wai Ahau?’ – Who am I? A short story sharing what they are happy to share through digital media. Almost always there is something that colleagues weren’t aware of, it takes the relationship deeper and has a profound impact on relationships. When I start a workshop with people I have never met before I always share in some way my ‘Ko Wai Ahau?’. Thanks for the affirmation Derek. Storytelling rocks!

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