The Power of Story

I have not given myself an opportunity to blog for some time now, but a recent event particularly inspired me to commit myself again to reflecting about recent activities and learning experiences.  Our E-Learning team facilitated a leadership retreat (#MSLR18) earlier this month for district leaders in Lake Placid, New York.  Leaders were challenged to relax, reflect, and expand their individual horizons through the retreat’s learning activities.  School leaders are not regularly afforded these opportunities – so an event in the summer in Lake Placid was a great place for this type of engagement.

The atmosphere in Lake Placid of tranquility and peacefulness was a perfect setting for recovery, reflection, and personal & organizational introspection.

Our theme for this year is “Building Bridges with Your Stories,” which we carried through the day.  As my team is well aware, I have always been a proponent of “story.”  We are consistently challenging ourselves internally with crafting our vision, initiatives, and projects within the context of story.  What is our narrative?  How do our activities fit together within the overall story of our broader direction?  The story connects to your heart rather than your head – making stories more meaningful, impactful, and memorable than a series of facts, figures, slides, and data points.  In an age of information overload, I have found stories to be particularly helpful in assisting my understanding of vision and direction.

What struck me more than anything at this retreat though was how story can impact in so many different ways and on so many different levels.  My colleague Hilary Dee had a sense of this when the theme was originally developed – but I don’t think even we could predict how the leadership retreat would expand on the power of story.  The presentations and conversations were far beyond how to create and deliver an effective story.  They were about finding your organizational story, your students’ individual stories, your personal story – and then how to internalize these stories to positively influence your actions.  Keynote speaker Paul Reynolds posed the questions below to educators at the retreat – questions that can be framed on so many different levels.

FablePaul questions
Important questions for educators to consistently reflect upon across many different levels.
Paul Reynolds
Paul Reynolds kicks off a day of reflection & learning.

Pete Reilly took it even further when he challenged leaders to look into their heart and find their own story deep inside themselves – as a building block to improving their abilities as school leaders.

The day ended with powerful self-reflection from three talented and introspective educators from our region – Jan Tunison of Scotia-Glenville CSD, Jerry Griffin of Malone CSD, and Dr. Brian Bailey of Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk CSD.

It was during their presentations of their individual stories that it fully hit me how personal story can be.  The day has led me to reflect about my own story.  I’ve been looking at the progression of my own career and reflecting on how my thinking and direction has evolved – with previous personal experiences serving as building blocks for new directions and experiences.  (How did my thinking evolve to where it is now? Perhaps another topic for a future blog?)

Paul Reynolds summed up the day best when he said “the power of story can be transformative.”  What I hadn’t internalized until the day’s activities was the transformative story is on many different levels and it can (and should) be more than organizational.  It is personal – to each of us, to our teams and colleagues, to our classrooms, and to each of our students.  Each of us has a story and, as both Hilary Dee and Jan Tunison reinforced in their comments at the end of the day, it is what makes us human.