What’s in a Story?

How successful we are in transforming education is dependent on the stories we tell. The Vikings may have discovered the New World; but it was Columbus that brought back the stories that stirred imaginations in the courts of Europe. Centuries later, it was the stories of endless, fertile lands lying unclaimed in the mid-west that spurred a westward migration. Later still, stories of gold chunks shimmering in shallow streams pushed many men even farther west.

What are the educational technology stories that are resonating in America today?

Powerful stories can change the world. When I was a teenager I watched on television as Martin Luther King spoke from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. He told the story of the equality of man. The “I Have a Dream Speech” described a world that did not yet exist. Its prose was so beautiful, the ideals so uplifting, and the delivery so passionate, that it touched something in my soul. Even as a teenager I wanted to help create the world it described so eloquently.


So what is your story? If we had a few minutes in an elevator and we were shooting the breeze, or you were standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, what story would you tell about educational technology in your district?

Would you tell me you had 1200 computers?
Would you let me know that you had purchased a Smartboard for every classroom?
Would you speak about high speed, fiber optic lines or a wireless school?
Would your story be a complaint that you want to do great things with technology; but the staff or leadership “don’t get it”?
Would your story be full of hope? Or frustration?
Would your story be “Big”? Or would it be about what you think is “realistically possible”?
Would your story stir my heart? Or be a litany of “reason”?
Would it sound like a call to action? Or like a wish list of items to be purchased?
Would it have hero’s?
What struggles did they have?
How did they grow along the way?

When you tell the story, is it with conviction? Do the listeners see that you believe it so deeply that you are ready to sacrifice yourself to achieve it? Or are they listening to good ideas that may go nowhere?

Transformative narratives can’t be phony. They have to be real because listeners know intuitively whether a story is just words; and when it is alive and filled with possibility.

Stories aren’t just the domain of charismatic speakers. Our gifts may not lie in oration or in writing; but we can inspire others with our actions, for they also tell a story. If our actions are oriented to the operational details, the technology itself, or our personal gain; that story is public to all. If we hold a larger story in our hearts that will also be heard by all.

Nicholas Negroponte has created the One Laptop Per Child initiative. The story, if told from a technology point of view; is of a low end laptop for children in Third World countries. Nice; but not much juice there.

When the story is told from a larger perspective; Negroponte is changing the world by unleashing the potential of every child on earth. He is providing them with the means to learn, commmunicate, and create no matter their econimic or social conditions. A little more juice in that. Given time, we could keep refining the story until the words accurately reflected a vision that we could feel deep within ourselves. A story we could support and to which we could commit.

Some of us have crafted a great educational technology story but it isn’t resonating with people. Look to see if the story is “in your head” or coming from your heart. When you have the right story and it is delivered from the right place, the results can be remarkable.

The reality is that we are our stories. We don’t tell stories; we live them. If we live them with conviction, they will come to life in our actions and through our gifts.

It’s our story. We live it every day. Will it have meaning and impact, or will it be a small story that is ignored by those around us? It’s our choice. What story do you want to tell?



8 thoughts on “What’s in a Story?

  1. Pingback: EdBloggerNews
  2. Trying to tell a story… in my classroom… with the tools and digital information at my fingertips… loved what you wrote today. I am quite maxed out at the end of a long day struggling with the right way to tell a tough story. Reading your post and the one at think:lab allowed me to put into perspective what I am trying to do in my classroom… in a specific way, with my current project. Reading and writing at the end of this long day helps to get my brain wrapped around the complexity of the particular story that I am trying to relay to my class currently.

    To read the end of the day ramblings of a maxed out middle school teacher :)… proceed to http://laufenberg.typepad.com/living_the_dream/2007/01/telling_the_sto.html

  3. Diana,
    I’d love to know more about this “complex” story you want to tell. Feel free to share it if you wish.

    Sometimes when I try to think my way through a story with “my head” it get’s confusing. I have been taught to quiet my mind and to open my heart. When my heart is truly open, things become simpler. Later this weekend I am going to post something that touches on this. It is a real experience I had just recently.


  4. Perfect timing. Your words arrived on my “doorstep” just when I most needed them. As our district asks the big questions regarding the value of the brand new technology initiative I am leading, I found your words inspirational and comforting. It occurs to me that perhaps I have kept far too much in my head and now is the time to let my heart speak, before we lose one of the most compelling professional development experiences of my life. Words…empowering, transformative and inspirational…perfect timing. Thanks, Pete.

  5. Peter, I have a story that has “compelled” me for 20+ years:

    In the first days of “chatting”, in the old CompuSever EdForum, I had the pleasure of seeking online assistance from a lady named Georgia Griffith.

    It was only later, after reading an article in TIME Magazine, that I learned the true power of technology:

    Georgia, who was helping me, was blind and deaf.

    and I didn’t know……. and it didn’t matter
    – at least to my head.
    But in my heart.. I felt something different was coming to us all.

  6. “The Vikings may have discovered the New World; but it was Columbus that brought back the stories that stirred imaginations in the courts of Europe.”

    I am an Icelander descending from the Vikings and in our culture there have always been told detailed stories about the New World, stories almost 1000 old that are part of Icelandic Sagas. These stories stirred the imaginations of Icelanders for centuries. It was not lack of stories but lack of tools (ships, weapons to fight hostile inhabitants) that made it impossible for Icelanders to try this again.

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