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Wednesday, April 05, 2006

BIG IDEA: Teacher Stories and Professional Development

The fact is that water and dirt make mud; however, the story is a whole lot more interesting. Sure it has to do with mud, but it also concerns a little boy with tons of energy, a school project for my nephew in New York, and the absorbent power of corduroy pants. The point is there is a story here, and nothing beats a good story.

Stories are powerful because our minds are wired to understand stories. Whenever I do a presentation, I use stories to connect abstract information to experience. I have found that people are more likely to remember a story then they are a list of facts. Therefore, integrating stories with professional development makes sense.

Unfortunately, in the data driven world of NCLB, administrators often ignore the power of stories. I have heard countless administrators ask what the data “say”. Remember dead men don’t wear plaid, and data don’t tell stories. People tell stories. Getting members of a learning community to share education stories is critical in actualizing the potential of a school.

Here is a simple exercise that can help remind us of the power of story. What are your first three memories that have to do with school? Write down each of these memories. Now ask yourself, how those memories inform your practice in the present?

I’ve used this activity in the teacher lounge, and am always amazed at the richness of the stories. Teachers don’t answer this question with a list of facts or data. They get into their stories, and they want to share them with others. Those that hear the stories often want to tell their own stories. In this way storytelling becomes contagious. An added benefit of the above exercise is how surprised teachers are to learn the extent that the ghosts of their past inform their daily practice as teachers. Engaging in this type of storytelling builds reflective practice, humanizes faculty members, and increases the cohesiveness of a learning community.

Imagine the power of having a professional development day dedicated to teacher storytelling. The focus could be on educational memories or on each teacher’s “hero’s journey”. It sure beats imaging a guest speaker or a PowerPointless presentation.

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