The power of stories to influence

Dennis Sparks

Here are three things I think are true.

1. Human beings like stories and are often profoundly affected by them.

2. When school leaders attempt to influence others they almost always rely on “facts” to change minds.

3. A well-told story or two can be more influential than a tall pile of research reports or an endless procession of PowerPoint slides. (That does not mean, of course, that professional literature cannot be influential when judiciously used.)

Here are some examples of stories that can be influential:

• a story about a student who learned something because of a new teaching method he or she was previously unable to grasp,

• a teacher who had reservations about a new practice, experimented with it in her classroom, and is now enthusiastic about its benefits for students,

• a personal story about learning something important and challenging, a story in which you move from initial resistance to experimentation to mastery, and/or

• a time during which you struggled and failed to learn something and the lessons you drew from the experience.

While personal stories are usually more effective, generic stories can sometimes be useful in making an important point.

Here’s an example provided by Lolly Daskal, the details of which could be tailored to fit many circumstances.

What kinds of stories do you find most effective in influencing students, colleagues, and supervisors?

4 Responses to “The power of stories to influence”


  1. 1 Kent Peterson April 29, 2015 at 9:33 am

    A relevant, useful, meaningful set of ideas to shape school culture! But beware of stories that damage the culture, too.

  2. 3 Tagrid Sihly April 29, 2015 at 11:32 am

    I think the best stories are the ones that come from the heart. Where the storyteller is willing to share instances of vulnerability and even failure. I love hearing stories that are beaming with passion and touch our inner souls and promote empathy. Stories of struggle and overcoming challenges are quite intriguing as well. Thanks for the thoughtful post. I invite you to read my blog post, too. Thanks.


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