What's The Story We Carry?
I am back after a lovely holiday and I am now in the process of preparing 3 pieces of work for major educational conferences here in Sweden. They all focus on Leadership and the ability to develop and share the story of the differing organisations.
The first conference is for SFI (Swedish For Immigrants) teachers. The irony here is that presently, I am an SFI student. I am the only native English speaker in my class with most being from Syria, and almost 97% having Arabic as their first language. I have learnt so much since starting in April, not only about Swedish (I just gained a B in my National Test which means I move up to Course C - I have no idea what this means!) but about teaching and group dynamics. The class is for 3 hours every day and it starts at 8am. I know that those receiving benefits from the Swedish Government must attend as part of their package, nevertheless it is a huge commitment. As a student I am lucky enough to have been able to develop friendships with some of the others in my class and I have heard their stories and with many I am stunned that they are able to turn up to school at all and still function after what they have been through. Many of them have suffered trauma and still more are constantly experiencing stress regarding housing and money. One woman from Djibouti was in class whilst not knowing if she had been evicted and whether her belongings would be out on the street when she got 'home.'
It is obvious this will impact on cognitive functioning and the ability to take in information, however some teachers, (mostly supply teachers I will admit,) still teach these people as though they were in secondary school, telling them not to speak in their mother tongue or sit next to those that do. I know the reasoning behind this but it was not explained and many resented being treated like this, as well they should.
So where does this leave the teacher? They come into the class with their own story too remember. Many will feel threatened by these groups of students (often men) who speak a language they do not know and who are physically imposing and noisy. Some will deal with the 'disorder' by becoming more controlling, some by avoiding confrontation or control and then there are those who meet the students in the class and deliver their training in a playful, engaging way, these are the 'stars' and I was lucky enough to have one teach me on my last course.
However I believe that if teachers or leaders within organisations are not asking the question - 'what stories are being carried in here by myself and my staff/pupils?' - then true growth cannot take place and there will be no movement forward.
The best way of finding what stories are being carried into a space is by using stories themselves. One of the best and most enlightening exercises we did in class was talking, in pairs, about our school experiences. We then shared in the main group. We were the experts in our knowledge and it meant something, thus we wanted to share. My classmates were shocked when I spoke of corporal punishment in my schools when I was young, they had thought this could never happen in England! We all listened to one student share the story of an amazing teacher who had taught them in Eritrea and suddenly we were closer to each other and to the teacher who shared their story too.
By using story we can allow students and staff to unload the stories that might be hampering them from learning, to put down the burden, to rest and share. It is an invaluable tool. So when you next walk into your office, classroom, surgery, ask yourself what stories are being carried in, especially by yourself.