Sunday, January 7, 2018

Stories Link Us Together

I absolutely love hearing and telling stories.  There is so much magic in them and a good story can captivate an audience.  When I work with schools, especially in a coaching role, I routinely ask educators to share with me how they are empowering students to own their learning or ways in which they are transforming teaching, learning, and leadership.  Practical examples loaded with evidence are not only inspiring but can be used to motivate others to take a critical lens to their practice and improve on it. When administrators share stories of how they are closing achievement gaps or successfully implementing innovative practices, I immediately ask how they are messaging this to their stakeholders.  

With an array of social media tools at our disposal, every educator should aspire to be the storyteller-in-chief. Now more than ever the field of education needs to hear more powerful stories that showcase all the good that is being accomplished in schools, both with and without technology.  Perception can be a morale killer as often what people assume is happening within the walls of schools is the furthest thing from the truth.  The bottom line is that if you don’t tell your story then someone else will. Don’t fall victim to “perception is reality”. Provide stakeholders with REALITY by sharing all the awesomeness in your classroom, school, district, or organization. This is something that I speak to at length in BrandED. No matter what anyone says you can never overshare how you are positively impacting the lives of kids. 

The other day I delivered a morning presentation to a large group of K-12. Afterwards, I met with smaller groups of teacher leaders and administrators in a quainter setting as a means to reflect on what I presented earlier.  It was a great opportunity to really roll up our sleeves in an effort to discuss in more detail logical next steps in their quest for meaningful change.  During the end of one of the conversations, I was asked to tell my story about how I went from basically a Luddite to a visionary principal, to a transformational guru (her words, not mine). She really wanted to know the journey and steps I took to not only lead innovative change, but also my transition from a principal to a speaker.  

Once I started drinking the Twitter Kool-Aid back in 2009 I quickly learned the error of my ways. Basically, I was a control freak who had an inherent fear of technology and did not trust what my students would do with it if they had greater access.  Thus, I worked with my district to write the policies to block social media and ran around my school taking devices from students.  The stories I accessed on Twitter inspired me to be better. Each day I read about districts, schools, and educators finding success with technology and innovative practices.  This invaluable link to work across the globe became a catalyst for change that I could never have imagined. These stories motivated me to make needed changes at the individual level.  From there I collaborated with my staff, students, and other stakeholders to scale change efforts in an attempt to improve learning outcomes while creating a school that worked better for our learners. 

Over the course of five years from 2009 – 2014 we worked tirelessly to transform teaching, learning, and leadership.  We weren’t always successful, but in the end, we succeeded more than we failed. Even though we garnered a great deal of attention for our digital initiatives, we also engaged in the hard work of increasing achievement, providing more authentic learning opportunities through the creation of our academies, improving grading practices, and ameliorating homework practices.  In an effort to improve professional learning opportunities for staff, a genius hour model was implemented as well as the creation of our own conference. As I noted during my narration, we were not the highest achieving or most innovative school. In my opinion, we were better than most at showing and sharing how we achieved success. 

I shared daily our stories of success, both large and small.  Whether it was short tweets, pictures on Instagram, videos on YouTube, or more detailed descriptions on my blog, the overall focus was to showcase efficacy in our work.  The stories that we shared resonated near and far.  This got the attention of media outlets in the New York City area and across the country.  Before I knew it, I was being asked to present at local and national conferences.  Each of these opportunities gave me yet another chance to tell the story of our school.  Eventually, I had to make a decision as it was nearing a point where I was going to be out of my building more than what was fair.  Thus, I decided to leave the principalship and grow into my new role as a Senior Fellow with the International Center for Leadership in Education (ICLE).  

Well, that is my story that I shared when asked.  As I reflect back on my transformative journey and my current work I am always reminded how stories link us with our communities.  Local stakeholders feel more connected to a school when they know about all the efforts to improve learning while preparing their children to succeed in the bold new world.  This is a great way to build relationships through trust. Transparency is an educator’s best friend in the digital age. Communities of practice also become linked as we continuously share and learn together.  This, after all, is what being a connected educator is all about.  

Your work and practice are your story. Be proud of the impact you are having and use the many tools available to promote all that is good in education.  In the end, you will only create stronger links with your community and other educators across the world. 

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