Principles and Stories

One of the great things about working on a team is hearing all the stories.

One of the difficult things about working on a team is hearing all the stories.

Storytelling is a strength of the professional learning community. It is what allows teachers to achieve a multi-faceted view of a student in weeks rather than quarters.

Storytelling allows younger teachers to learn how to handle students in a few quick anecdotes that would take months of individual experimentation.

During a weekly meeting we call Intervention Day, stories are the death of us. Not that they are bad but they are limiting the number of students we can impact. My first thought was to reduce the number of students we discussed each week. Maybe we need to have more time to discuss each student. Teachers and counselors need to unfold their experiences with the student so that we can all understand what steps are next.

But I’m starting to think differently. In order to respond well to students who are struggling in our building, we need the principles these stories represent and not necessarily the stories themselves.

Here are some definitions of “principle” from Merriam-Webster. The BOLD words address this idea of what stories represent and why principles are important.

Principle –

: a moral rule or belief that helps you know what is right and wrong and that influences your actions

: a basic truth or theory : an idea that forms the basis of something

: a law or fact of nature that explains how something works or why something happens

The stories that teachers tell are meant to illustrate principles about students. Can we get to the principles faster? Can we as educators think through the story and communicate the principle without telling the story?

This is a very difficult task in that telling stories helps us to arrive at principles. Great literature is the vehicle for principles about life. The literature is necessary; however, in a meeting designed to create an action plan for a student in crisis, how much story is necessary and can we as educators get to the principle of the matter more quickly?

It’s the principles, those things that are true about students, that drive our actions.

I am leaning on the team and the counselor to get to the point, wrap up the conversation, and develop some kind of action that will benefit the learning of the student. It feels rude sometimes as I push toward a principle. There is a haunting sense that if we don’t hear the story we will miss something.

As we progress through this year, the tension between story and principle will have to continue. Principles and stories are mutually dependent. Efficiency is needed. Accuracy is needed. Time is needed. And students need the guidance and direction that can come out of these meetings.

May a desire to arrive at a principle not be undermined by a failure to comprehend the full story.