Everyone has an important story to tell

Everyone has a story to tell, and, given an opportunity, we all want to tell the important stories of our lives, stories that explain who we are and where we came from, that prove we existed and mattered, that demonstrate our resilience, and that reveal the people and events that affected our lives.

And we can all learn important lessons from one another’s stories.

StoryCorps’ “National Day of Listening” provides an opportunity to evoke those stories.

On the day after Thanksgiving, StoryCorps asks everyone to take a few minutes to record an interview with a family member or friend.

You can use recording equipment that is readily available to you, such as a computer, smart phone, tablet, or other voice or video recorder.

StoryCorps provides a free Do It Yourself Instruction Guide.

The lesson that everyone has an important story to tell has been reinforced time and again for me as a hospice volunteer who has been privileged to record dozens of hospice patients discussing their lives in conversations with family members.

All that is required of us is to extend the invitation and to listen deeply without interruption to those stories.

Once the conversation begins, it’s likely to proceed almost effortlessly, at least in my experience.

Some possible questions include:

• What elders or events influenced the person you’ve become?

• How would you like to be remembered?

• What advice would you like to pass along to your children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, or others in your life?

There’s no gift human beings can give one another that is more important and precious than our undivided attention and genuine interest in the stories we all have to tell.

When that attention promotes storytelling that is preserved with video or voice recordings, it is a gift that benefits future generations for decades to come.

Consider:

How have stories and storytelling shaped your life?

To whom would you like to reach out—an elder, a family member or friend, a veteran, a colleague, or a neighbor, for example—to invite his or her storytelling?

[This post is adapted from one first published at Thanksgiving 2012. I have updated the links.]

What is your story?

For many years I had the privilege of interviewing leading educators regarding their views on various aspects of professional learning for articles that were published in NSDC’s (now Learning Forward) JSD (now The Learning Professional).

They were educators whose ideas have proved resilient over the intervening decades (Michael Fullan and Peter Senge, for example), and the stories they shared, sometimes couched in technical terms, about how individuals learn and organizations change demonstrated the link between resilience, influence, and storytelling.

The stories these “influencers” told often revealed the people, experiences, and values that animated both their personal and professional lives.

Here is such a story from my life:

Early in my teaching career I attended an inspiring and practical 3-day workshop on what was then called “mastery teaching.” My big “take away” was that virtually all students could learn virtually everything I wanted them to know given sufficient time and “correctives,” and that their improved grades would reflect that learning.

Soon after I returned to my school, however, I realized that to implement what I had learned I had to overcome a significant barrier in the form of my principal who believed that good teachers should distribute grades more or less on a normal-distribution curve slightly skewed to the high side to show that we were making a positive difference.

His strongly-held belief posed a problem – how would I give grades that he would accept that would also reflect the higher-levels of learning I anticipated in my classroom?

We met, and he decided to allow an experiment with one of my classes if I brought all student work to him for review for the remainder of the school year. (The experiment concluded at the end of the school year when I moved on to another assignment.)

Over the years I told that story many times to illustrate:

• The power of beliefs to shape professional practice.

• That unless professional development addressed the existing beliefs of teachers and administrators the innovations would flounder and likely fail.

Stories can shape attitudes (often unconsciously), bond groups, teach important lessons, and provide guidance and motivation.

They can be used in:

• classrooms

• faculty meetings

• family gatherings

• with friends

What stories have you used or might you use to teach, guide, or motivate?

Seeing the world through the eyes of others

People act based on the way they see the world. Every single time. Understanding someone else’s story is hard, a job that’s never complete, but it’s worth the effort. —Seth Godin

There is pretty much universal agreement that empathy is a desirable human quality, and it’s an attribute often found in resilient people.

• Empathy is the basis of clear communication. Understanding the view points of others is essential to effective communication in families and work settings.

• Empathy enables us to have deeper and more satisfying relationships. Without it people cannot really understand one another.

• Empathy enriches our lives by opening our minds to the experiences and perspectives of others.

• Empathy decreases the likelihood of unnecessary conflict and even wars.

Given its importance, why is empathy so often difficult to achieve for so many of us?

• We may believe that demonstrating understanding of others’ points of view is the same as agreeing with them.

• We fear that our willingness to fully understand others’ points of view will signal weakness on our part.

• We are aware that empathy opens us to being influenced by others, which, in turn, may create cognitive dissonance that requires us to change our viewpoint and perhaps even our behavior. Put another way, we understand that empathy may be the first step on a slippery slope that will lead us to significant change.

“Tell me a story.”

In my experience the most effective way to see the world through the eyes of others is to invite them to tell us a story about an influential elder, a formative event in their lives, or anything else that seems appropriate.

Better yet, tell others a story from your own life related to the subject at hand and invite them to do the same.

Storytelling is a powerful way to:

• deepen understanding of others’ points of view,

• establish common ground for resolving conflicts and making decisions, and

• strengthen relationships with significant people in our lives.

What practices or tools enable you to create empathy with others?

How would you answer these questions?

“Farrington has distilled this voluminous mind-set research into four key beliefs that, when embraced by students, seem to contribute most significantly to their tendency to persevere in the classroom:

1. I belong in this academic community.

2. My ability and competence grow with my effort.

3. I can succeed at this.

4. This work has value for me.”

How Kids Learn Resilience

These four questions, I believe, are equally applicable for teachers and administrators.

In my experience, resilient educators: 

• feel a sense of connection to like-minded colleagues,

• believe that they can improve student learning by continuously improving the quality of their work,

• are optimistic that they can and will make a difference, and

• know that the work they do each day has significance because it is aligned with their most important purposes and values.

How would you answer these questions from the perspective of your professional community?

Can organizations survive dysfunctional leaders?

Imagine, if you can, an organization (or country) that has selected a leader who not only lacks the necessary technical knowledge and skills to do his job but also possesses one or more of the following qualities:

1. a consistent liar

li·ar: ˈlī(ə)r/noun/

a person who tells lies.

2. delusional

de·lu·sion·al: dəˈlo͞oZH(ə)nəl/adjective/

characterized by or holding idiosyncratic beliefs or impressions that are contradicted by reality or rational argument, typically as a symptom of mental disorder.

3. a tyrant

ty·rant: ˈtīrənt/noun/

a cruel and oppressive ruler

4. a plutocrat.

plu·to·crat: ˈplo͞odəˌkrat/noun/

derogatory/a person whose power derives from their wealth.

5. a bully

bul·ly1: ˈbo͝olē/noun/

a person who uses strength or power to harm or intimidate those who are weaker.

verb/

use superior strength or influence to intimidate (someone), typically to force him or her to do what one wants.

Under what conditions can such an organization have hope for its future?

• If it has sturdy structures (for instance, a respected governing document, such as a Constitution; the rule of long-standing policies or law; an effective means of holding the leader to account, such as a strong and independent press; and a resilient culture with widely-shared principles and values that are continuously nurtured),

• If there are mechanisms for curtailing the power of or removing the leader from his position before irreparable harm has been done, and

• If individuals speak and act with courage and remain hopeful because the organization has survived other challenging circumstances.

What is your experience with the resilience of organizations whose leaders possess one or more of those qualities?

Speak short

 

[Senator Chuck] Schumer told me in December that Democrats would have “five, six sharp-edged [policies] that can be described in five words,” although it sounds as if the plan hasn’t come out quite so lean.  —Dana Milbank

I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead. ― Mark Twain

Speaking and writing succinctly is challenging. So challenging that many people, even ones who are otherwise accomplished, never master the skill.

Influence, however, often requires “speaking short,” saying less rather than more, but packing a lot of meaning into those few words.

Think “elevator talk”—the ability to communicate an important message to someone you want to influence whose attention you have for only the brief duration of an elevator ride.

Think “radical simplicity.”

What important message in your personal or professional life would benefit if it were polished into an approximation of bumper-sticker length?

View life as a series of experiments

 

It’s better to look at setbacks and rejection not in the context of failure, but as the conclusion of an experiment. Indeed, one of the most resilient ways to approach the world is to see yourself as a scientist, and your actions as endless research trials in this lab called life. –Brett & Kate McKay

Because resilient people often stretch themselves to the edge of their comfort zones and beyond, they understand that failure is always a possibility.

Instead of viewing such failures as, well, failures, they instead see them as experiments from which they can learn important lessons that will inform future efforts.

The McKays describe it this way:

“Instead of making your every move something you’re wholly invested in (whether emotionally, financially, whatever) that has to work out, just see your decisions as hypotheses, and their outcomes as new data sets to study and learn from. If I do X what happens? If I do Y what happens? Why did experiment X fail? What can I change about the experiment next time to potentially garner a different, and perhaps more successful result? Form a hypothesis, do an experiment, examine the results.”

What decision or action in your personal or professional life would benefit from being viewed as a hypothesis or experiment?


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