Becoming Narrative Champions

I talk about sharing a lot. It’s a pretty big word that means many things to many people. This past weekend my colleague Alec Couros and I had the chance to lead a conversation at Educon at Philadelphia’s Science Leadership Academy. We asked people to explore the meanings of words like sharing, transparency, copyright and openness. It’s important to have these discussions as those words are used differently and mean very different things. Unwrapping these terms led to some powerful insights for me.

Steven Berlin Johnson’s recent book Where Good Ideas Come From talks about the value of sharing and how ideas emerge not always from singular moments but from stitching together the collective ideas that we get from others. The chaotic nature of these discussions means we need to make meaning and connections on our own. As Johnson says, good ideas are rarely eureka moments but rather take a long time to incubate and mature.

So the idea that really resonated for me was re-imagining leaders as storytellers. As we discussed the barriers of sharing and telling the stories of great learning and great teaching, time and humility seem to be the two significant barriers. As leaders we can help overcome this by telling the stories of those around us. Shelley Paul helped me think through this concept and used the term “narrative champions”. I like that. We can model the kind of sharing we want for our work places by becoming narrative champions. I’ve been doing this in one form or another for many years but I think I need to be more explicit about it and show others what that might look like.

Here are a few ways I’ve tried to be a narrative champion:

Subscribe. If you have teachers and schools that have a web presence subscribe. Subscribe to them all. I have a folder in my RSS reader for our schools and one for our teachers. Whenever they post something I’m notified. While I’m not likely to comment on very many, simply being in the know helps. Leaving a comment is easy and powerful.

Retell their stories. We use our district webpage to repurpose stories from schools, students and teachers. Not only does this give them validation for their work but provides a larger audience that includes parents and other educators. Schools and teachers don’t see their spaces as anything more than informing parents and the community. When you post it in other spaces like your district page or your personal blog, they begin to see that their work has meaning and value even though their original intent was simply informing parents. I use the examples of teachers in my district all the time in presentations, conversations and postings. Point to their success and they become more willing to share.

Record their stories. For those who don’t have a web presence but are doing great work, capture it. The best way is to grab a camera and record them. For many teachers, they will fight you and suggest they don’t like cameras or aren’t doing anything special. Fight them on this one. Let them know their work needs to be shared even if it’s just locally at a workshop or meeting. We’ve been diligent as a curriculum team to fire up the camera anytime the slightest bit of goodness is occurring in classrooms. Even if nothing is published, the fact that someone thinks good work is happening lets teachers know they are appreciated.