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Friday, February 8, 2013

The Key to Positive Change? Change the Story

If we really want to make progress with bullying prevention or for that matter any change initiative, we need to step back and ask ourselves what is the hidden story in that change initiative.  Some stories fail to account for the 5 simple truths of helping that I described in the last post.  These stories “freeze” the change or even prevent it because the people who hear them resist these stories.  Other stories attract not just attention but go to the heart of the people who hear them and then transform them.  We don’t have to look very far to see what stories freeze or repel and what stories attract and are embraced. 
Currently here is the hidden story being told about bullying prevention.  This is the story that people hear (and really don’t want to hear).  It goes like this:

Bullying is a bad thing and it shouldn’t be in schools.  We don’t care if you believe this or not or if it matches your experience, take it from the experts that it is bad, it exists and it has to go away.  You probably caused it.  You haven’t done a good job in getting rid of it (just like you haven’t done a good job with many other things.)  No you have no choice it is the law and you have to get rid of it.  It you don’t get rid of it, you will be in trouble.  Here is the way you have to get rid of it and all you have to do is follow the program.  It is as simple as that.  If you do what you are supposed to do everything will be fine.  The goal is to stop this bad thing (remember you probably caused it and you have done a good job before now in doing anything about it.)  The best result is stopping the bad thing and making sure you don’t break the law.

 This story is one I would put in the category of retelling your experience with root canal, colonoscopies and for those in public schools, your annual Right To Know meeting informing you of the effects of toxic chemicals in your environment.  No wonder some principals feel like they are (excuse the pun) pulling teeth when the stand in front of their staff and talk to them about bullying prevention.  You no one wants so here these stories-our mind naturally resists them.  They are tolerated at best because those with more power are telling them and people don't like to disrespect authority.
This doesn’t have to be the story of bullying prevention.  It can be story of a heroic, noble endeavor propelled by a deep moral purpose, the same moral purpose at the heart of people’s career choice to be an educator.  This story accounts for the 5 simple truths of helping.

Here is how it can go:
Bullying is bad and shouldn’t be in schools because goes against our common values and principles.  All people need to be treated with respect and care.  We respect and care deeply about students and each other.  Bullying is no one’s fault-it is a constant struggle and challenge that we all face together.  We have done a lot about it but it is an insidious, elusive problem.  We need to learn about why it is so challenging and we already know a lot about it from our experience, so we can teach each other and learn more about it together.  With this collective and shared knowledge we can increase the knowledge, skills and dispositions of all members of the school community to work together to make our schools better places for everyone. We can make decisions together that will fit the needs of our community.   If we do this positive change is not just possible but is inevitable.  This is a journey, one that we all share and need to make together.  There will be problems along the way, bumps in the road, but going on that journey is at the heart of what it means to be an educator-it is noble quest that can affirm what is best in all of us.  It can be more than solving a problem, it can transform us for the better.  This is the surprise and happy ending.

People don’t resist this type of story.  They don’t need to be threatened for not embracing it or rewarded for following it.  They are attracted to it; deep down they want to hear.  In fact they will pay money to hear these types of stories-just look at any PIXAR movie.  This can be the story of bullying prevention. Stories can and should be told in different ways; they don’t have to be stuck in one way.  Stories need to inspire and can be ones that people aspire to.
School leaders cannot expect people to hear the first story and expect them to respond they way people would as if they heard the second story.  The first and most important step for school leaders to realize they are storytellers, they need to decide on what the story is and then tell it in the best way possible.  Ironically once the story is changed, those who hear it will be involved in creating their own version of it in their lives.
If you have any doubt about the power of stories ask this simple question of yourself and those in your community: Would you rather have a root canal or go to a PIXAR movie?

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