As the late Max Bygraves used to say, “I wanna tell you a story”. When I was younger there were two things that would publicly embarrass me but privately amaze me. The first was Max Bygraves – the East End singer, actor and comic, the second was old people telling stories about the war. These amazed me as I could never understand at the time why Max was so popular – though I have to admit some of the songs were real ear worms. I also struggled to understand why old people always went on and on with stories about their time during the war. It’s important to understand at this point that those talking about the war were not, by and large, active service personnel, but rather those who experienced the war as a community at home. Why was it that so many of them, who hadn’t lived together, all shared similar stories?
Later in life I came to understand that what they shared was not the same story but the same experience. Again, not at the same time but through the power of shared stories they could display empathy, understanding and a sense of belonging. They all belonged to one group who had broadly experienced the same things.
As they replayed their individual stories, you could see in their eyes that they were transported back to that time and that experience. Many therapists might try to explain away some of these memories as more imagining what they wanted it to be like, rather than the reality, but that’s not really important here.
So what? I hear you say. Well, once we understand the power of stories we can use that power in a number of ways. When we are working with learners we can use stories to tap into a vein of learning that may otherwise go unmined. Getting learners to see a concept or theory by relating it to something they already understand can be very powerful. Achieving that by use of story is even more so. Getting learners to use stories to relay their understanding back to us is a good way to check how much they have taken onboard, and how they can relate the learning to real situations.
Stories are also a great way to introduce yourself and break the ice. Telling someone you’re a teacher will mean different things to different people. It may cause them to align you to a bad experience they had in school, or it may place unreal expectations on you in their eyes. However, if you can briefly lay out the story that got you to where you are, they are more likely to relate to you because of that.
So the thought I want to leave you with is this. Stories are an important part of our life, and the best thing we can do is bring that power of stories into our teaching practice. But maybe leave Max Bygraves at home – that bit’s up to you.
McLaughlin Management Services
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