Narratives and Change


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 in it?
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?



6 thoughts on “Narratives and Change

  1. I think my story would start with the people, not the laptops or interactive boards.

    My dream is to have a school where all teachers are true believers, not last-minute hires from the bottom of the barrel. That would include principals, of course, who would have the vision and commitment to move the school ahead. (Please don’t assume I’m posting this as a reaction to my current situation)

    Those true believers would be treated as the professionals they are, given time to think and grow. Even with limited access to technology, these teachers would collaborate to create inter-disciplinary projects to allow equitable access for all students. Technology would be “out there” being used and not locked up in a room waiting for the “right” lesson plan.

    I could go on and on, but I need to go get my own school’s technology out there.

  2. I agree with your idea that change can only come from our own personal work to bring it. I think it is rather common for teachers to want for new technologies to be introduced into their school, but to never think how much simple word of mouth can accomplish. To be honest, I would never before have considered discussing my school’s technological advancements (or lack thereof) in the elevator or elsewhere, “shooting the breeze.” I also like your point about our stories needing to be real and from the heart. It is easy to be supportive of an idea like general technological advances, without actually putting your own heart into the process. And, as you stated in your post, people really can tell when the idea is nothing more than a bunch of words, and when it is something that you honestly care about.

  3. Peter:

    Teachers and administrators need to be exposed to where we are and where we should aspire to be. Your discussion at NYSCATE should be published and made available to all colleagues on your Ed Tech Journeys blog. You did a fine job. Just wanted to tell you that. You started slow and finished up very strong and comprehensive. Be proud of what you are sharing. In a year, where will we be…

    Lou Cuglietto

  4. Bea and Tink,
    The simpler the story…
    The more it taps into the concerns of those that you wish to lead…
    The more authentic it is…
    The more it helps people leave their cynicism behind
    and allows them to believe again…(they really want to)
    If it is delivered by someone that they trust might be able to make it happen…
    or someone they just trust…

    The better the chances of change happening.


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