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The Power Of Stories

Frequent Commenter

Everything is held together with stories.  That is all that is holding us together, stories and compassion.


- American author and poet Barry Lopez.  


How can we leverage the power of stories with students?  How do we go from a place where “You’re not trying to figure things out; you’re trying to enter into what’s there”?


That’s what Eugene Peterson said of his work to help people open their minds and imaginations.


A quick story about stories


Like many of you, my graduate work required a course in statistics.  I dreaded it, since I’d heard horror stories about that subject for those who didn’t have a background in the subject.  


The actual experience was wonderful, though, thanks to a teacher who knew the power of stories and students.  He took time to get to know each of us—at least to get a handle on our stories and how we might use statistics.  He based the whole course on using what he taught us as tools to investigate the Civil War—a story he knew well and enjoyed. 


The use of stories from the teacher and the students made all the difference. Got an “A” by the way!


Here are some ideas that may help:

  1. Consider how you both tell stories about yourself and your subject to your students. 
    • Do you first explore their world and listen for clues about their stories?
    • Try this: Meet each student personally (if possible) before class and ask them about themselves. “What ‘s your degree?”  “ Are you also working outside of school?”  “Where are you going with your learning?”  Takes time, may take several attempts, or just have each one jot this on a piece of paper with their name. 
    • Are you telling the same stories to every class? Are they fresh?  Do you sometimes ask “Have I told you about…?”—that may be a clue to refresh your story bank.
  2. Prepare name tags yourself for each student. It demonstrates this: I want to know you and your story. It sets a tone for the course, no matter what it is: This is about us—bringing the ideas and stories about this course together to improve both of our worlds.
  3. Think about the human problems your course encounters.  Try this question: “Someone tell me a story from your experience that’s come to mind on this problem.” (And yes, I’ve seen Ben Stein in the movie “Ferris Beuller’s Day Off”!....”Anyone?….Anyone?…”) Make it a conversation, not a lecture
  4. Finally, remember the word “compassion” in the opening quote. Stories are sacred ground.  No matter what the story you encounter, have compassion on the teller, and perhaps they, in turn will have the same for you and me and our stories.

I can TELL from this brief post that you are a compassionate professor and great story teller!!!

Frequent Commenter

Thanks, Sandy--you are very kind!  I'm going to LinkedIn to connect and learn about your story.  Much appreciated!




My Story, huh?  I see we are both retired AF Lt Cols!


Navy dependent, moved every two years of my life, attended 3 different 5th grades, lots of overseas time (which helped me grow to love travel). Went to High School in Hawaii with Barack Obama..:).  Recruited to swim at USAFA so I thought, why not?!  One of the best decisions of my life - 3rd class of females and I think EVERYONE should go through bootcamp.  


Married a Navy guy, hard to get stationed together so I did reserves for 22 years - 3 daughters, two went to USAFA!  Air Force sent me to Academic Instructor School as a Captain so I could teach AFROTC at UF in the mid 80s and fell in love with teaching!  The rest is history...  I'm a Fitness freak and Computer geek; love my family and love to travel and I love teaching!