Storytelling is the oldest of all the arts.
Since the dawn of humankind we have told stories. Still to this day, we sit around campfires and tell stories.
Stories entertain and they instruct. We use stories to escape and we use them as instruction manuals. We tell stories as a gift to future generations. Stories connect the past and present to the future. Stories are a means of passing on wisdom.
I didn’t expect the school leaders to have time to share lengthy stories, certainly not via an online survey. I asked for anecdotes that capture the essence of stories they tell about school leadership; vignettes about the challenges and joys, highs and lows of school leadership.
Let’s get the lows out of the way:
“When teachers think only of themselves, not their colleagues or students, and are incapable of changing or improving.”
“Being suspended from my school, sacked and then winning unjustified dismissal, and still not being reinstated. It has changed me forever.”
“The difficulty seeing visible improvements from initiatives introduced.”
“Problems forming new teams that get results and do so with thorough professionalism.”
But, there were plenty of highs:
“Hearing from a former teacher what he has become a Head because of me.”
“Getting into classrooms and seeing wonderful learning moments taking place.”
“A student came to my office the other day, he doesn’t have a dad in his life, and wanted advice about going to meet his girlfriend’s parents for dinner for the first time. I felt like I must be doing something right if a high school kid would ask advice on a matter so personal even when I’m the Principal. I hope I can continue to protect that fine balance. For the record, I told him it was okay to bring a bottle of wine, but not okay to drink it! Also, to leave the Slayer t-shirt at home.”
“Every once in a while an alumnus will tell you how much you influenced them. It will come when you least expect it and when you need to hear it.”
“Unity. I take great pleasure from seeing a happy, performing team”
“I was principal of a large school in Papua New Guinea. The staff were all nationals. I was there for 6 years. When I arrived the school was in a poor condition — the physical structures, the staff moral and the finances. We achieved a lot during those 6 years. The pivotal point was when the old library burnt down. The staff were devastated. I just saw a glorious opportunity given the size of the insurance policy. The new facility created a resurgence of community pride in the school. The new opportunities created by the new resources opened the school to new directions. Sometimes an apparent disaster turns into a blessing of unexpected fortune.”
What’s your story?
Do you have stories that you already tell? Are there anecdotes that you frequently refer to when making a point or when trying to encourage debate? Do you have a rousing story you use to inspire students or colleagues?
If not, what might your story be?
I don’t want you to fabricate a story — stories work best when they are emotionally true. But, if you were forced to tell a story, what would it be?
The story doesn’t need to be an epic, it can be a simple as a 30-second vignettes; a neat little illustration.
With your story in mind, reflect on what makes it work as a story. What makes it interesting? What makes it engaging? Would you tell it in the same way to students as you would to staff? Do you have a long and a short version?
As a school leader, you will often be called upon to provide your own wisdom. Leaders often do this through stories. Start to develop your own bank of stories.