The power of stories to teach, guide, and inspire


Dennis SparksAs I awaited my flight from Vancouver to Toronto I fell into conversation with a Canadian man sitting near me who told me a fascinating story about a half brother from Australia who until recently he did not even know existed. The discovery of his brother was due to diligent detective work done by his daughter, and culminated a month before in a heartfelt reunion in Toronto. As we parted company we introduced ourselves and he gave me the name of a Toronto newspaper in which I could read more about his story.

As I settled into my next flight—this one from Toronto to Detroit—I again fell into another unexpected conversation, this one with my twenty-something year-old seat mate, who I noticed was reading a book on his iPhone. He said he had just begun The Count of Monte Cristo, and I shared my enthusiasm for it. We talked for some time about our interest in reading classic novels by authors such as Austen, Dickens, and Tolstoy.

My seat mate said he was a medical student in Arizona, and I told him of my hospice volunteer work. He said that he was also a hospice volunteer, and that that experience had shaped his decision to go into primary care medicine. He listened with great interest as I described the work I was doing in helping hospice patients and their families capture on video their life stories to be shared with future generations. We agreed that we have been touched and enriched by the stories of the hospice patients we had come to know.

Stories are powerful and can change lives—whether they are the stories told in blogs or novels, shared at airport gates or on airplanes, or offered by families who fully understand the finiteness of life and appreciate the importance of capturing those stories before they disappear forever.

My experience has taught me that everyone has an important story to tell, stories that define and explain their lives.

In addition, stories can persuade and influence people in ways that logical arguments and research often cannot. They can touch the human heart in ways that overcome intellectual defenses to new ideas and practices and that replace resignation with a sense of possibility and hopefulness.

Carefully-selected and well-told stories enable administrators and teachers to deepen understanding, create empathy, share values, describe a course of action, shape culture, build community, and motivate action.

What’s on your mind?

  • What’s your experience with the power of stories as a teaching tool and as a means of influence, both as a storyteller and a listener?

2 Responses to “The power of stories to teach, guide, and inspire”

  1. 1 Giselle Martin-Kniep December 10, 2012 at 8:13 am

    I very much agree with you on the power if stories especially as it relates to capturing the nuances and complexities involved in supporting teaching and learning. We need many more stories of what it means to teach so that all students can learn, lead in ways that promote continuous improvement, and learn despite significant odds

  2. 2 Don Boyd December 10, 2012 at 12:31 pm

    I totally agree that we need to take the time to get to know people and to listen to their stories. Everyone has a story they just need the opportunity to share it with others. The same in education we need to go deeper into the concepts and take the time to get to know the stories of our students, staff and learning community. I feel that the teachers are so buried in content that they do not make the time to go deeper into the topics for fear that they will not get the “curriculum” covered. Something is wrong here. We were discussing this the other day that we, (teachers) need to look at what we have been asked to do and to weave the curriculum together to form a connectedness to meet the learning outcomes and to create the time to have deep conversations.

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