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Thursday, September 20, 2012

Power of Stories

When my kids were young, I developed a set of "Billy" or "Susie" stories that I would tell them at bedtime.  I was not an imaginative story teller but I was able to tell these stories because they were based on the problems and issues that my kids were having at the time.  "Billy" and "Susie" were  pretend characters who coincidentally were having the same problems that my kids were having.  These stories were my way of getting them to reflect on their problems without them becoming defensive or feeling criticized.  Ironically, they were usually very able to offer pretty sound advice to  Billy or Susie on how to best resolve their problems.  (Some of you might be familiar with the Bernstein Bears series which were a popular, published version of  these types of stories.)

We all listen better and reflect more when we are not on the spot.  Even though we know this, how many times do we end up lecturing students after they have made a mistake or messed up.  I like the analogy of receiving a speeding ticket.  When we are caught speeding and are pulled over, our first reaction can often be to deny we were speeding.  This feeling is followed by a "why me"because everyone else was doing it.  These feelings push us away from the truth-we were speeding.  When these excuses don't work and we accept the fact that we were speeding, the LAST thing we want is the police lecturing us on why speeding is wrong and irresponsibile.  When we are on the spot, we don't  feel very open to the "helpful' advice the  person is giving us.  I know that would want the police to give me the ticket without comment or lecture.  I have plenty of time afterward to think about what I did and what can do to prevent speeding again.  If the police are mean, however, I will spend less time thinking about how I need to change and more time thinking about how they should change.

Kids are no different than we are when it comes to how reacting to being caught.  If we want them to learn from their mistakes, we need to think about how we can use stories to better deliver our message.  Better yet is getting them to think about it before they actually make the mistake. 

At our school, as part of our bullying prevention approach, we created an ongoing story concerning a group of kids trying to get along on a playground.  A group of teachers volunteered to play the role of kids and would act out scenarios typical of the type of problems kids had on the playground.  After presenting the skit to the students, the teachers would ask the students to pick one of the characters and write a letter to the character offering some advice on how they could have handled their problems.  We got great and insightful letters that we later on shared with all the students.  We had kids giving advice to kids based upon them watching a scenario where they were not on the spot. 

I extended this idea to the Peaceful School Bus with a story entitled, "What's Going On Here" (p. 69 in the Peaceful School Bus manual).  This was a story about the chronic problem of the older students wanting to sit in the back of the bus.  I made the story into picture book where I videotaped the pictures and provided narration to the story.  There were guide questions for the team leaders to use with the students to discuss the story afterward. 

I have mentioned the book Switch in previous posts.  I currently reading another book similar to Switch, entitled, Influencer.  Both books emphasize over and over the power of stories to change people's hearts amd minds.   I have also read several books on how to deliver effective presentations and stories again are mentioned as prominent ways to connect to the audience.  I think that if every teacher took even 5-10 minutes a month to tell students a story from their lives about how they dealt with a social, interpersonal problem, we would be letting kids know that we care about them and empathize with the challenges they face every day.  This should make them more likely to share with us when they are experiencing a challenging situation and need our help or advice.

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