Last month I excitedly told you about accepting my first administrative position. The person I am replacing has already retired due to ill health and so I have been going to my new job one day a week to start learning the ropes. My new job is three hours from my home and so to help pass the time, I listen to books I have downloaded. This past week, I listened to the book "Wake Me Up When the Data is Over" by Lori Silverman. She includes the website www.storynet.org for more information. The book talks about and gives examples on how to use stories to get your point across as a leader in an organization. The book focuses more on leaders in business organizations, but it isn't much of a leap to visualize how this could work in education. She talks about using stories for such things as organizational change, building teams, teamwork and dealing with difficult issues. Sounds like schools to me.
As my tires kept turning along the highway, I wondered about how I could incorporate stories into my new leadership role. How could I find out what stories the staff has? How could I use stories to help change the organization, build teams and deal with the difficult issues I'm sure I'll come across? How do I even tell a story?
I tend to be someone who likes to "cut to the chase" in a meeting or "put my cards on the table" so that we can get to the issue right away and start dealing with it. I wasn't raised in a family that told stories (like some of the examples of leaders in the book) nor have I ever been one to stand around the "water cooler" (substitute "teacher mailboxes" or "staff lounge" for the school setting) to share stories about the weekend or the day's events. No, I am not a cold-blooded data-only workaholic who has no time for stories and must keep working 24/7 to be happy, but I am sure you know what I mean. Even in my current job as a mid-level supervisor for special education, my day is filled with a lot of meetings, driving to different schools, doing paperwork, answering phone calls and emails. I never consciously think to get my message across by telling a story.
But after listening to the book, I am beginning to see the benefits of having storytelling in the leadership toolbox. The author gives plenty of interesting examples of how businesses and non-profits have turned their organization around by having a story that the employees can retell, which helps them focus on their mission and vision and unites the group.
There is so much negative talk in our schools about NCLB, standardized testing, diversity, lack of parent support, violence, drugs, lack of funding and many others that I could add to this list. Maybe we need more stories to help us remember why we are in education. Maybe we need stories to remind us that we are here to serve students, no matter how they come to us, and that as leaders we are here to serve the staff and students. Maybe we need to take the time to listen to the stories of each other so that a connection is created and we can work together more collaboratively. Maybe we need to tell more stories to the parents and public officials so that they hear what is happening in our schools.
That author states that data isn't enough (Scott McLeod is my doctoral advisor, so I'm taking a risk saying this!!) and that we need to use a "whole brain approach." This means not only using our left-brain analytical thought but combining it with our right-brain qualities of imagination and innvoative thinking. This does make sense to me. I can share data about test scores to my special education department, but until I break down the data so that it actually becomes a student we know, there is not much of a connection for the teacher. Once the connection is made, then interventions can be planned to help the student achieve.
There is an art to telling a story. We all know that. We have all listened to someone go on and on and in our minds think of how we could have added a chapter to our dissertation in the time it took the person to finish their story. But as leaders, we can show and teach our staff how to tell a story. Imagine if every monthly staff meeting started out by someone telling a story of something good that happened in the school; something good between a teacher and a student.
Do you, as a leader, use stories in your daily work? If you have a blog, do you tell stories there? Do you think that using stories could help your staff and students be more engaged in their work? Do you think storytelling conjures up images of sitting around the campfire singing songs and having group hugs and therefore isn't useful in the school setting? What do you think? Tell me a story.