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Tell More Stories: Learnings from the PL Summit

Tell More Stories: Learnings from the PL Summit

Personalized Learning

Stories compel us:

Last week Education Elements hosted our 4th national Personalized Learning Summit. The event included more than 750 leaders from schools and districts across the country.  Our opening session featured George Couros, author of The Innovator's Mindset. His sixty-minute keynote was jam-packed with ideas and inspiration, but one idea stood out to me the most: we need to get better at telling stories.

Couros modeled this advice by sharing stories from his personal and professional life that made hundreds of us cry, laugh, reflect, and deeply engage with his message. He quoted author Daniel Pink, who has asserted, "Stories are easier to remember because stories are how we remember. When facts become so widely available and instantly accessible, each one becomes less valuable. What begins to matter more is the ability to place these facts in context and to deliver them with emotional impact." Pink elaborates on the importance of stories in this short video. Whether to drive action, sell products, or make authentic connections, stories matter.

Neuroeconomist (yes that's a real thing!) Paul Zak conducted a study with the U.S. Department of Defense to understand the impact stories have on the brain. The team found that, "in order to motivate a desire to help others, a story must first sustain attention – a scarce resource in the brain – by developing tension during the narrative. If the story is able to create that tension then it is likely that attentive viewers/listeners will come to share the emotions of the characters in it, and after it ends, likely to continue mimicking the feelings and behaviors of those characters. This explains the feeling of dominance you have after James Bond saves the world, and your motivation to work out after watching the Spartans fight in 300."

Thinking in stories:

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I've been working on being a better storyteller for as long as I can remember. My Irish father and grandfather are captivating storytellers, thanks mostly to their liberal use of hyperbole and sarcasm. They can take a simple trip to the grocery store and weave a breathtaking tale, full of life lessons and gut-busting comedy.

One of my new year's resolutions for the past two years was to get better at telling stories. Last month, at Education Elements we set a company-wide goal to build our storytelling skills. The KikiBrief is an attempt to better share stories that bring ideas to life. And yet, despite these efforts, I still easily let a day pass without taking the time to capture or share a story.

I know I'm not alone. Many of us struggle to synthesize our experiences into compelling stories. I recently sat in a day-long workshop where innovative principals and teachers shared how they had redesigned their schools and classrooms. Slides were presented, videos were shown, but not a single story was shared. The audience numbly listened to the presentation- never really shifting their emotions or engagement level. With Couros' words in mind, I couldn't help imagining how much more impactful these presentations might have been if they used a storytelling frame.

  • how it was then, how it is now
  • the problem, our solution, the impact
  • how I felt then, how I feel now, how I feel about the future
  • this is something you already know, this is a new way of looking at it


6 lessons for storytelling:

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Image credit: Nancy Duarte


Plan an opening story:

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Leading a meeting, conversation, or workshop this week? Take 5 minutes to write down a story that you can use to open the session. It can be personal or professional, but should relate to a key theme of your session (comfort with ambiguity, how to win people over, being able to laugh at yourself, etc.). I've found it helpful to use this sentence starter "as I was preparing for today's workshop, I was reflecting on the last time I had to deal with an unexpected challenge..."

If you want to learn more about being a better storyteller check out this article and short video from Nancy Duarte (her visual is featured above); this article from Fast Company; or this blog post from IDEO's Nicole Kahn. You can also join me in conversation at @kearaduggan.


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This post was originally published on The KikiBrief.

About Keara Mascareñaz

Keara is a Managing Partner at Education Elements who focuses on how to build and scale a culture of innovation in large systems, how to create national communities of collaboration, and how to keep laughing when pursuing daunting, large-scale changes. She was lucky to collaborate with co-authors Alexis Gonzales-Black and Anthony Kim to design the website and toolkit for The NEW School Rules: 6 Practices for Responsive and Thriving Schools.

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