Maybe We Don’t Want To Tell Our Story

I’ve quoted this often and still believe it to be true. Stories are how we understand and appreciate the world around us. In the world of education, stories have always been present but the advent of Web 2.0 allowed for new opportunities to communicate with local and global audiences. I recall hearing David Warlick talk about “Telling the New Story” which was the idea that technology was changing education and needed to be shared with the public. As someone who embraced technology, this resonated with me, and through my blog, video, and social media, I have spent the better part of my career telling that story.

I’m certainly not alone in this. My good friends Joe Sanfelippo and George Couros have been imploring leaders to do the same. Joe emphasizes that if you aren’t telling your story, someone else will. The tools we have today, allow us to take control of the narrative. George has said, “We need to make the positives so loud that the negatives are almost impossible to hear”. I don’t disagree with these statements and have in my own way tried to encourage leaders to tell their stories more openly and publicly. But things seem to be changing.

As a company, ALP serves many communities and we have the privilege of witnessing great things happening all over North America. As part of our role, we attempt to capture and share that with our clients and beyond. But recently, it has surfaced that no matter how good the work we do, districts are less interested in sharing it. In fact, in some cases, they are actively asking us not to share or post. Unless you’ve not been being attention, the toxic nature of social media has skyrocketed in the past few years. Increased trolling and extremism mean that no matter what you share, you can expect to find haters. The bigger you are and the more influence you have the more this exponentially grows. No matter how seemingly positive the story, there are those waiting to twist it into something negative. The mere fact that a district has invested in professional learning comes with criticism. For individuals sharing can be even more of a challenge. As a result, individuals like myself who used to advocate for posting online are withdrawing significantly.

While it’s easy to say, “Ignore the haters” it’s a challenge for institutions knowing that nearly every post comes at a cost. This is particularly true on social media posts. They are often lacking context and soundbites of text is easier to misunderstand. I used to find social media a good place to learn about districts but that’s not the case anymore. For some, the district or school website has only ever been a place to provide basic information, storytelling was never a thing.

I realize I’m an advocate for teachers and education and find their stories inspiring and motivating. We have so many untold stories of greatness and in many cases, these are even untold within the school, let alone the district.

I have 3 ideas to consider to combat this challenge:

  1. Use longer-form storytelling. A blog, video, or podcast allows for stories to reduce the amount of interpretation and can offer nuance that shorter-form posting cannot.
  2. Combine emotion and data. This requires expert storytellers who can share the data but as importantly, find the emotional connection. These stories are much harder to trash.
  3. Broaden your community. Getting parent or community voices as part of the new story brings credibility and a less biased perspective. Continue to share stories about teachers and students but be sure to include those who don’t spend all day in school.

This is an admittedly quick post and it is more than likely I’m missing some things. That’s why I have a comment section. Go hard.