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Building School Morale
February 13, 2014 | Volume 9 | Issue 10
Table of Contents
The Power of Telling a Positive Story
Teachers don't brag. Not enough, anyway. If they did, what would happen? If every teacher told one positive story from the classroom every day, how might that change the attitude of society about teachers, public education, and the state of our youth? How might it change the attitudes of the teachers themselves?
Some teachers may believe they don't have stories to tell. I once felt the same way; however, last February, I read Sam Chaltain's Education Week blog entry titled, "How to Tell a Good Learning Story." In it, he described how he challenged educators to take control of public opinion by telling their stories. I took up the challenge. As it turned out, I had plenty to say, and I did so in the form of short daily posts on Facebook.
According to Chaltain, one of the ways to tell a good story is to "Serialize and Sustain." So, for the month of February, I told one positive story per day about my classroom or my school. After the first few, people would stop me around town to tell me how much they looked forward to my entries. I got quite a bit of positive feedback, which made me feel good about my profession, not just my posts. It also changed my attitude because I was looking for the good. In addition, teacher friends of mine took up my challenge and posted positive stories of their own, which spread the reach more than my own stories could.
I think I earned the respect of students and teachers alike by honoring their creativity and their influence on me through my posts on Facebook. Even though I do not "friend" my students, it is naive to believe Facebook goes unseen by their eyes. For instance, in one post, the one that happened to get the most likes, I talked about how I had a flat tire and students in the auto mechanics class fixed it for free. What a positive story about our educational offerings and the giving nature of our student body! I uploaded a photo my yearbook student took of two boys working on my tire, and the older college-age sister of one tagged both of the boys in my photo. It then was seen by their friends and family. By posting a photo, I reached a much larger audience with my positive message.
Chaltain said a good story should "Reshare and Repurpose." Facebook aids greatly in the sharing, but a positive classroom story also serves multiple purposes. It supports the school, the student, and the teacher involvedâ€”possibly even the community as a whole. It lifts up everyone associated with the story as well. I'm sure the two students who patched my tire got a few pats on the back because of my story, but so did their parents and their auto mechanics teacher. The story had an appeal beyond my immediate audience, and it educated the larger community about the positive events happening in my school.
Chaltain wrote, "A great story needs to do two things well: it must touch us, and it must teach us something new." I'm sure most of my stories on Facebook were not great, but some were touching and some were educational, and some may have met the goal of combining both characteristics. I described my students acting out the sword fight from Romeo and Juliet in my classroom. I shared students' written responses to activities we did in class. I posted about the hugs I saw the WWII veterans give our freshmen after speaking to them. I wrote about the dedication and care provided by our lunch workers, secretaries, club advisors, and coaches. These stories were touching because of the emotion behind them and educational because, beyond sports, many parents do not see what happens behind the doors of our school.
Every now and then, I would work in something purely to educate my community—my own public service announcement. I commented on education reform and why I believe rewarding teachers for their students' high test scores or aligning pay to performance might undermine the collaboration of a teaching staff. I talked about the 2010 Gallup study that showed how the public perception of local schools is much higher than perception of U.S. schools as a whole, and how that data show, as a whole, public schools are most likely better than we give them credit for.
"What story will you tell?" My Iowa Writing Project professor James Davis challenged me with this question back in February after reading Chaltain's article.
"I'm not a good storyteller," I protested.
Davis quipped, "The plural of anecdote is data." That got me thinking. Even though I found the prospect of telling a long story to others intimidating, I could share the little things that happen on a daily basis that prove to me our school is a great place—and maybe those stories would add up to influence the thinking of others.
So I told a lot of little stories. I provided qualitative information for my community about their district. It wasn't a book, an article, or even a conversation, but my Facebook posts got the word out that I care, my colleagues care, and wonderful things are happening in our schools. My writing reinforced the fact that I love my job, even if it isn't perfect and scary things are happening in education reform. My stories connected me to my community and raised awareness of the positive.
So, what story will you tell?
JoAnn Gage is an English teacher and yearbook and newspaper advisor at Mount Vernon High School in Mt. Vernon, Iowa. Check out their school newspaper, The Mustang Moon.
ASCD Express, Vol. 9, No. 10. Copyright 2014 by ASCD. All rights reserved. Visit www.ascd.org/ascdexpress.
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