In the spring of 1986 I told the story of my brother’s proposal as a part of my lesson on Shakespeare’s Sonnet 29 — a lesson that I was delivering in my English methods course as a senior at the University of Idaho.
Ten years and hundreds of students later, I was still teaching a version of that lesson to my freshmen at Kellogg High School, and the story had grown to be a more integral, a more intentional, a more dramatic part of that lesson. This story brought some sort of magic to my classroom. Students leaned in, faces and postures transformed, and sometimes tears welled up in their eyes. It was the best day of the school year.
When I moved to Timberline High School in the sixteenth year of my career, I was reluctant to bring my sonnet lesson to this new venue. Moving to a new school had brought an unexpected dip in my confidence. Storytelling calls for a certain amount of vulnerability, and I just wasn’t sure I had enough courage to go to that vulnerable place. One day I took the risk, and I discovered my story still had its magical power — perhaps even more power because I was more vulnerable.
As I entered the third decade of my career, I began to ask myself this key question: Could I bring the magical power of my sonnet story to other lessons? The answer is, of course, yes. I had been weaving stories into my lessons all along, and I believe those stories were effective, but I wanted to leverage the particular power of my brother’s proposal story, so it was time to determine which elements of that storytelling experience could be identified and replicated.
The pursuit of this replication became my special inquiry project this year, as a part of my involvement with the Idaho Coaching Network. I began my inquiry by studying my own habits and strategies of storytelling. I was able to identify specific and intentional moves that I make when I am telling my most effective stories. I was able to identify the how, the when, and the why of storytelling as a pedagogical tool. I then moved outside my own experience and found out what science reveals about the benefits of storytelling. Finally, I created a professional development session intended to help teachers (and any other public speakers) do the following:
- understand how our brains respond to stories
- develop an arsenal of stories strategically designed for specific purposes
- experiment with structure, pacing, content, and voice to develop an authentic storytelling style
As the 2016-2017 school year draws to an end, my work for the Idaho Coaching Network is done, but my work with storytelling is just picking up steam.
What if every lesson literally pulled our students to the edges of their seats? I am persuaded that stories have the power to do just that — the power to transform sound pedagogy into something more — something magical.