Storytelling and Teacher Voice


I always feel like once you start paying attention to topic/event/idea, you see it everywhere. For me, storytelling has been this topic. Everywhere I look, storytelling and telling your story is there, proclaiming its worth and explaining why YOU should tell your story.

For me, thinking about storytelling started this summer. My colleagues and I were accepted to the Teach to Lead Washington DC Summit (July 2015), a two day summit sponsored by the US Department of Ed,  National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, and (recently added) ASCD.  The summit (and other Teach to Lead summits) was organized around creating opportunities for teacher leadership–each school, organization, school district, or state submitted a proposal on how to they were going to increase teacher leadership, and the two-day summit focused on providing time for teams to flesh out their ideas, through workshops, feedback, reflection, and work time.

Our proposal and work focused on creating a career lattice for teachers at our school to support them as they developed into rock star educators. So often in education, your choices are being  “just a teacher,” being an administrator, or working on becoming an administrator. Teacher or administrator–those are the two paths that people see for themselves. In addition, becoming an administrator is often seen as a step-up rather than being “just a teacher.” We wanted (and still want to) to broaden the definition of what it meant to be an educator. Furthermore, our mission statement states, “BCS inspires children, faculty and staff to reach beyond themselves to achieve full potential.” We focus a lot on making sure our students are reaching their full potential but what about our staff? Thus, we started to explore developing a career lattice of sorts, a professional pathways plan, that including options such as leading from the classroom, becoming the best rock-star teacher one could be, becoming a coach or mentor (while still in the classroom or something more full time), working in edtech or instructional design, and becoming an administrator.

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How we might develop teacher leaders and support teachers through different pathways

How is this connected to storytelling you ask? Well, when we started to discuss how to introduce the idea of teacher pathways,  it became apparent that one of the reasons we wanted to create the pathways was because we understood that people became teachers for many different reasons. Having pathways would honor those reasons as well as provide opportunities for teachers to take ownership over their own future. Telling the stories of why we became teachers would provide a space for us to reflect on our educational journeys so far and where we were going. In addition, those stories would provide a vehicle for connecting where we are with where we were going.

We decided our first step would be a storytelling workshop where teachers, admin, and staff would think about the power of storytelling, reflect and tell their story, and participate in some self-learning. Were they meeting their mission of why they got into teaching? Has their teaching mission changed? Are they on a  new trajectory? This workshop would provide a frame for the pathways and give meaning to the work we were doing.

Even though I started see articles and stories everywhere about the importance of storytelling, there were/are very few websites, articles, classes on the art of storytelling (well, other than the English/language arts classroom). IDEO has a Storytelling for Influence online class but it’s expensive and lasts several weeks. There were articles that stated teachers should tell their stories and how this helps teachers take ownership of their stories (the why) but not on the how. How do teachers tell their stories? Where do they tell their stories? 

We spent months emailing, calling, and reaching out to our connections and to organizations that focus teacher leadership. Finally, we came across an acquaintance who was passionate about storytelling, had been a teacher, and was now working in supporting teachers. Eureka!

During our search for a storyteller/person who would support us in telling our stories, I attended an I3 grantee event called Moving Innovation in Education Forward at the Medium Headquarters in San Francisco. Medium is a space for people to write stories and publish them on their online platform. It’s blogging 2.0 with greater opportunities for interaction and conversation between the writers and the readers. One focus of the workshop was grantees sharing their stories via Medium, and not just the PR stories, but stories about the journey and learning that would take place while they implemented their grant. Yes! An person/organization talking about WHY stories should be shared and some ideas about HOW to share (including a space where to share the stories).  I tucked my thoughts about this event into the back of brain to pull out when we were ready to write.

Finally, we were ready for our storytelling day (which we scheduled on a staff development day so that everyone could attend). The day started off with a community building activity since we wanted to set the tone of being a team, feeling safe, and having fun. In small groups, teachers were live action educational memes (complete with animated “GIFs”). From “When THAT parent emails you at midnight” to “When a student asks for the directions right after you said them,” teachers embraced this fun activity with enthusiasm.

Second on our list was a tinkering activity. Though at first glance this may not seem to fit, the purpose of the activity was two-fold. One was to provide a fun STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics) activity while the second was to complete an activity where most participants would exhibit a beginner’s mindset. The activity was scribbling machines, and for most teachers, circuits are not something with which they feel comfortable. So it was new activity for most, and it created a space to talk about growth mindset, working hard and not giving up when struggling, how to work together to rise above your frustrations and mistakes, the importance of reflection, and how learning is not a linear path. This became the perfect segue into how teaching can be difficult with ups and downs, but when we focus on why we became teachers and why we stay teaching, the hard work and growth is worth it.


A scribbling machine

The storytelling workshop focused on helping us understand why stories are important and how to tell stories–both as a narrative form that one might teach in school but also the importance of story in self-identity, how  stories drive who we are, and how stories influence us. We watched TED talks and YouTube videoes on stories (such as The Future of Storytelling by Paul Zak and Wired for Story by Lisa Cron). We looked for quotes on storytelling and wrote stories on why we became teachers. We reflected on barriers we’ve faced on our journeys and strengths we developed because of those barriers.


Finding quotes on storytelling

And we looked toward the future–Where is my path leading me? What is my next step? What is that next corner? What do I have? What do I need? What are my strengths? What trainings do I need? What can my colleagues help with? What do I need to take ownership over? 

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What our future holds for us–our next paths

The answers to these questions started the conversation about what a career lattice/teacher pathways might look like. (And where those of us who attended the Teach to Lead summit stopped to high five each other. Yay! Pathways being suggested by our colleagues themselves. Teacher voices being raised and heard).

From these conversations, we introduced the idea of pathways and a career lattice. Career lattice is a bit of misnomer because when I think of career, I think of guidance counselors and having one career. What is your career going to be? What are you going to be when you grow up? It’s the lattice part about it that we focused on –we have all these paths that intersect at different points, and a path may not be straight, and your path might be different than my path, and they may intersect at different points or maybe just once but we’re all focused on education and doing the best we possibly can for students. What might this look like in education? How can teachers lead from the classroom if they want? What career options are there? How can we reframe the conversation about teacher pathways?

In addition to starting the conversation about teacher pathways and a career lattice, we wanted to support teachers in publicly telling their story. In my quest for learning more about storytelling, I came across a great story: Chimamanda Adichie’s The Danger of a Single Story. This TED Talk focused on how the problem with stereotypes is that only one story is being told.  When you only hear one story, you don’t get to hear and learn about the other points of view and perspectives that are out there. These stories are only heard when  people are encouraged and empowered to speak.

So while we spent the morning writing our stories, we didn’t share them, and a lack of teacher voices and teacher stories is a problem in education today. The story of schooling is being told by irate parents, unknowledgeable politicians, and one or two representatives of the teaching professional. So, while professional pathways provide opportunities for teacher empowerment, sharing our stories also is empowering and is important. Stories of why we became teachers, stories about why we stayed teaching, and stories about our struggles and successes are all valuable. In addition, sharing our stories about reframing what it means to be an educator helps others see the different perspectives of what it means to be a teacher. It broadens the definition and doesn’t rely on one stereotype.

We needed a platform to tell our stories, a space for conversation about and documentation of where we are coming from as well as where we are going. Medium to the rescue!  Under our own Medium publication, BCS Educator Voices, we are moving beyond teacher as a static singular figure and looking at the diversity of teaching voices. We are providing a space for teachers to reconnect with why we became educators and to share our journeys as we transition to the next stage of our careers, regardless of where those paths may lead.

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Our publication on Medium

Hopefully, you will check out our stories and will interact with us. Share your stories and your own path. Interested in learning more about storytelling? Check out this article that was published the day of our storytelling workshop (yes, it’s everywhere!).


About Jessica Lura

I am the director of teaching and learning at public K-8 charter school in Northern California. I work to integrate technology and hands-on learning into the classroom. I develop and lead professional development for my school, helping teachers develop project-based learning and design thinking units, integrate technology and digital citizenship in the classroom, and create opportunities for real world interactions and projects. For my efforts, I was named Santa Clara County's Office of Education Charter School Teacher of Year for 2013 and a 2014 Comcast All-Star Teacher. I am also a Google Certified Innovator
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