Core Idea #1: Storytelling as Advocacy

Storytelling is how we interact with each other about values; how we share experiences with each other, counsel each other, comfort each other, and inspire each other to action.   — Marshall Ganz

The work of Marshall Ganz is particularly appealing to those of us who teach English / Language Arts. Here’s why:  Ganz focuses on the idea of a public narrative as the means by which an issue comes to be understood in a community, a narrative that draws upon the story elements we know so well: plot, characters, setting and morals.

Ganz focuses on the idea of a public narrative as the means by which an issue comes to be understood in a community, a narrative that draws upon the story elements we know so well: plot, characters, setting and morals.

For Ganz, this public narrative is complex, though.  It is much more than the telling of an individual story, a trope teachers (and others) storytelling-as-advocacytoo often rely on to help the public understand the story of education (i.e., the story of Teacher X who overcame great obstacles to reach these difficult children or the story of Teacher Y whose classroom practices shows us the “true” story of urban education).  Ganz’s public narrative has three parts:  the story of self, the story of us, and the story of now

Story of Self: Ganz believes in our individual stories but sees them as where we begin—not where we end.  The story of self—our own story of teaching and learning—helps us begin to identify the values that inform our understanding. And for Ganz, understanding the values that underlie our story is what’s truly important.

Story of Us: Ganz’s next step is for us to talk to other like-minded people about all of our stories of self.  As we talk and share our individual stories, he suggests, we can then identify the values we hold in common, the ideas that cross these idiosyncratic stories.  The story of us becomes more powerful than an individual story as it places our unique anecdotes in a larger context, helping us claim, for example, that the stories of teachers everywhere have commonality, have inherent values, have meaning and purpose.

Story of Now: This is the action step, where our stories lead us in order to move forward and make change.  The story of now asks us to think about what we do with this collective knowledge, and how this knowledge can help us to change the current narrative into one that is truly public.  The story of now relies on the expertise that exists in both individual and collective stories and puts the onus for change not  on a heroic individual but on the collective efforts of an entire community.

This transition from individual story to public narratives gives us a way to see that individual anecdotes—while necessary to us as teachers—are not enough.  The power of story is that it helps us recognize and articulate the values  we share as a community of teachers. That identification is the first step in making change.

If you want to learn more about how to introduce teachers to these ideas, read In Practice: Storytelling as Advocacy.

Read More: Core Idea #2: Identifying and Framing an Issue