Fragments II: micro stories about the learning business

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  • David Willows

School Communications: Will Our Stories Ever Be the Same?

I have said many times that we tell stories to make sense of our lives.


Back in 1991, in his book What is a Story?, Don Cupitt goes so far to say that “our mind is made of stories” and that, in every situation we find ourselves in, we draw down upon these reference points “in order to find a way of making an intelligible story of what is going on around us, and what we ourselves are going to do about it.”


For some years now, we have been telling tales of learning that help us and those around us make sense of what has been going on in our schools. We have created, borrowed, improvised, dreamed, convinced and spun our yarns. We have helped people around us find their place in the story of our school. We have developed a common language and evoked shared values that now connect us to one another and many others across the world.


But then the world changed. Our well-loved stories - our words and pictures - were suddenly expressions of what used to be, not what is, far less what will be. And despite our best efforts to keep things stable, all of our usual reference points were thrown into disarray.


In short, we find ourselves a bit stuck, silenced and wondering whether the lexicon of learning will ever be the same.


Will we be tempted to leap into the future and pretend that we know what lies ahead?

Enlightenment philosopher, G.E. Lessing, understood this feeling very well. Like many others of his generation on a self-appointed journey towards the Truth, Lessing famously found himself confronted with an “ugly, broad ditch”. In story terms, there was nothing in his memory bank that could help him “make the leap” and reach the other side - no story that could help him make sense of things as they really are.


So the question is, what do those of us who are storytellers do as we stand and look across at the “ugly ditch” that divides what our schools have been and what they will become in the future?


We might be tempted to close our eyes to what is happening around us and press forward with well-worn and familiar tales, assuming that they will one day be relevant again. We might be tempted to take three steps back, run headlong into the future, and convince those standing on the edge that we have already been to the other side and know exactly what will be.


Or we take a moment to stop and describe what it feels like to be in this No Man’s Land - this world of learning that is a disruption from our future and our past.


Maybe by telling this story, in truthful and authentic ways, acknowledging what we have lost and our fears of what may come, we will finally discover what we need to do next.

Photo by Sammie Vasquez on Unsplash

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