The Storyteller’s Mindset

This week, I was thrilled to find the original ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ book series still selling online.  My nephew’s birthday is around the corner, and they will make a wonderful gift for the strong reader he is becoming.  You may have already seen the  concept revamped as a Youtube video remix.  I was thrilled to see Jackie Frens working on these year ago.  Check out her blog for resources on that task (and so so so much more).


The heart and soul of technology integration is about harnessing our love for stories.

So often we get caught up in ‘top ten best apps,’ or ‘standards for classroom technology’ links that we forget what our tools are about in essence: to tell, share, and find stories for a new generation.

ePortfolios, blogs, podcasts, GarageBand, and Youtube are all about amplifying our stories.  As I type this post, I am nearly done reading the fantastic book:

Change by Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation by Tim Brown

In it, Brown reminds us that:
“The best and most successful experience brands have a number of things in common that may provide us with some secure guidelines. First, a successful experience requires active consumer participation. Second, a customer experience that feels authentic, genuine, and compelling is likely to be delivered by employees operating within an experience culture themselves.”
Technology allows more voices to help tell the narrative of a given school year.  My grade nine and ten classes today will spend about 40 minutes responding to their ‘blog buddies’ most recent blogposts.  That learning experience is designed to allow students to collaboratively construct their school culture.  Every time we network our student bloggers, we are asking for the culture of our schools to be built on a foundation of the student narrative. That is the narrative that we should be most concerned with, first and foremost.  In Bill Ferriter’s post “Should we be engaging or empowering learners?” he asks:
Do phrases like ” we need to engage our students” and “the first step towards motivating kids is building buy in” hint at dysfunctional power relationship between students and teachers?  Are they just further evidence of our reluctance to give students the chance to own their own learning?  When we see engaging students as our ultimate goal, are we somehow suggesting that teachers are the only ones that can determine topics worth exploring?

What story does the technology at your school tell? Is it a story based on fear, or a story steeped in believing and trusting that students will impress and amaze us?

The stories that shape us engage our empathy and creativity, and that empowers our behavior as learning designers. Coming back to Tim Brown’s book, we are able to imagine the imagery involved at a school or classroom evoking the storyteller’s mindset:

“To find out whether a company is optimistic, experimental, and attuned to risk, people should simply use their senses: look for a colorful landscape of messy disorder rather than a suburban grid of tidy beige cubicles. Listen for bursts of raucous laughter rather than the constant drone of subdued conversation.”

In Steven Spielberg’s 2016 Harvard University commencement address, he leaves the graduating class with his thoughts on the power of story:

So to me, this means we all have to tell our own stories. We have so many stories to tell. Talk to your parents and your grandparents, if you can, and ask them about their stories. And I promise you, like I have promised my kids, you will not be bored.

Our best, most advanced tools tell stories, and provide us with access to a multitude of narratives.  When we talk about ‘technology integration.’ what we are actually talking about is yet another shift in the storytelling tradition.  The closer you look at ‘digital citizenship’ the more you realize we aren’t talking about skills apart from our humanity, but skills that are involved in all relationship dynamics.


So much of our discomfort with technology is because we mislead each other by describing it in terms meant to distort the lens through which we see it.  Technology is not about gadgetry, devices, apps, or platforms.  Technology is about weaving connections, and cross stitching new serials.

The way films look —it started with old 35mm motion picture cameras, to color with the three-strip Technicolor, to cameras that weighed hundreds of pounds and had to be on dollies and cranes — that was the film grammar of the day.

Then, we came to lighter cameras, to handheld cameras, steady cams, and on and on, all the way down to now.

There’s a unique thing to a GoPro.

There’s a unique thing to an iPhone — the way things are shot and the way it’s held. It just gives it a vibrancy you’ve never been able to have before.

I believe new film grammar is going to come from these things.

(See John Lasseter’s full piece via Medium here)

Many movie-goers love the ways technology has brought the film industry forward.  Those steps are not unlike the way technology is revamping the narrative of ‘school.’

If we see our students, teachers, and administrators as authentic storytellers, and we make time for them to share their stories, perhaps we can move away from checklists about software competencies, and instead revise the entire dialogue around our tools. The time to stop asking teachers what their favorite apps are is here.  Instead, start asking them: What stories will you spark today?

rossyyume Story
Story via Flickr

Our Collective Imagination

On one cloudy Tuesday afternoon, six teachers skipped lunch, and instead had some thought for food.  Using Sonya terBorg’s Imagine a School as our prompt, we shared our musings on the future of school.

That's Us!
That’s Us!


Teachers are futurists. They have no choice not to be, the future is the client of today’s teacher.

What if once a month, or at least once a year, you and your colleagues got together to share your vision for the future of education?

Would we understand one another better?

Would we better appreciate the values of our colleagues?

Would we create a shift in our school’s culture?

Richard Harlos Shift.
Richard Harlos


The future is built on a foundation of ‘what if’s.’ 

There is power in predicting.  There is power in collectively articulating our hopes and dreams for tomorrow’s learning environment.

The responsibility to be future-ready as a society starts with educators who want to instill future-ready skills in their students by modeling them themselves…today.

I’m reading an excellent book on the mode of thinking necessary to design better learning experiences: Change by Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation
by Tim Brown

“There is an important lesson here about the challenges of shifting from a culture of hierarchy and efficiency to one of risk taking and exploration. Those who navigate this transition successfully are likely to become more deeply engaged, more highly motivated, and more wildly productive than they have ever been before.”

Magical movements in education are brought to life in the space between reflection and conversation. 

Too frequently we wait for conversations to be started by others when the reality is we are the conversation starters.  In the words of Walter White…be the one who knocks.

John blogged about that very notion in his post here:

Stop waiting. Just do something. Try a new activity. Ask a colleague to help you with a new site. Get feedback from students on their favorite learning experiences, and model a new assessment around their feedback.

Victoria blogged about a key question for all schools here:

Is the curriculum I teach now going to make our society stronger?

Valerie’s bloggings imagined a whole new kind of school experience here:

…where kids don’t have to learn the quadratic formula.

…where kids teach and inspire each other.

…which prepares kids and teachers for the real-world.

Cate focused on the role that trust must play in schools, see her full post here

I guess it is about trust. Do we trust pupils to do what is right for them? Do we trust ourselves to sit back and allow them to experiement or fail?

Phil unpacks the significance of expectations in his post here:

…being brave enough to fail is so important – it gives us permission to hold exceptional expectations.

And I thought about moving from measuring to more mentoring in my post here.

What mini thought-experiment can you conduct this week?

Thank you Flickr for your amazing Creative Commons Images!

Richard Harlos