Telling a New Story

“But the time has come to take that narrative into our own hands.” –GOOD Magazine

Our second week in the Innovation Academy  started with a piece from GOOD magazine on storytelling. The article began with an opening paragraph that really grabbed the attention of my students:

“Stories are the truths a society believes in: Love conquers all. Honesty is the best policy. The good guys always win. We know these aren’t universally true; the real world is much more complicated. But the stories we see and hear influence how we see the world. Story is the engine that drives culture.”

This led to some interesting questions:

What is the purpose of stories? How do stories help influence culture? How do we tell new stories?

These questions resonated with me as a teacher because over the past few years I have become increasingly interested in the “story of school.” What interests me about the “story of school” is the way that it gets told and who it gets told by. Particularly, I think there is very little student voice in the story that gets told about school.  This came to mind during class as we were discussing Chapter 1 of  “To Sell is Human”. During the discussion, the topic of teachers came up and we began to discuss how teachers could sell the love of learning to their students. As we talked and students shared anecdotes about their favorite teachers, a common thread came up.  The results were not shocking, but they were telling.

What made students love school was having teachers that related to them, personalized learning to their interests, and made time to “be human”and share stories about themselves. I also found it interesting that my students almost unanimously agreed that school “doesn’t have to sell to you” or convince you to attend because you are “obligated to go.” Imagine being forced to use a product whether you liked it or not. How much time would the company put into listening to you?

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I think what most excites me about the philosophy of the Innovation Academy (IA) is that we truly take the time to get to learn about the stories of our students. Whether it is through learning plans or through daily discussions about passions and interests; in the IA we do our best to get to know each individual learner. In addition, within our units, there is also a lot of room for student voice and choice so that they are able to take ownership of the narrative as well.

The coolest part of this whole process for me has been watching what stands out to the students in “real time” through Twitter and their blogs. After class on Thursday, where we discussed “Six Word“stories, some students tweeted out their six words, while others sent out quotes from class that stood out to them. As I read over the tweets and blogs, I reflected on what brought so much excitement to the classroom and to the  IA. It may seem simple, but when you give people the power to tell their story, when the narrative is shared rather than dictated and when everyone’s ideas have a space, a new culture can emerge.  While we certainly will not always get it right, in the IA we are trying to tell a new story about school.  This story begins with the same two questions that the article from GOOD ended with.

“What change do you want to make? What story do you want to tell?”

I think that if we allow our students to answer these two questions and we can truly listen, good things are bound to happen.

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