Friday, 28 April 2017

Releasing ourselves from narratives by storying

It was gratifying to see my first blog post inspire other educators to think about their health and well-being. Thanks Karyn Gray for your support and generosity in sharing my post and responding by telling your own story. I know what a committed educator you are and the price you pay for your commitment and service to education and humanity. Thanks also to those who have expressed appreciation for our honesty.

It is definitely a time in education to be honest. A political response might be an important element in creating the change that is necessary in education. But so far it hasn’t been particularly successful, and there has certainly been a great deal of politicking. Maybe what has greater potential to create change is a tidal wave of honest stories told by teachers and principals who acknowledge the tensions and guilt we constantly live with as we frequently fail to meet the needs of EVERY student in spite of our undoubted high moral purpose and our best efforts. These stories will necessarily be highly personal at times because we are, firstly, people – human beings with hopes and dreams for our lives – as well as professional educators.

In our stories we must acknowledge that the personal and professional cannot be separated and begin to address our issues in a holistic ways – by acknowledging the fullness of our experiences including our failures, our doubts and our emotions. We need to remove our professional masks and reveal ourselves honestly as people. To do otherwise is to keep in place the very ropes that bind us.

In stories, we can pull together the complex strands of our lives and begin to make sense of them. Through telling our stories honestly, the hope is that we will gain greater understanding of them, and in doing so, begin to release ourselves from the narratives that have held us in thrall for so long; and, hopefully, evolve and grow beyond them. We tell our stories to transform ourselves and to transcend them (The Importance of telling our stories).

I have recently published two articles on LinkedIn (A Sustainable Future in Education and Funding for care: A sustainable future in education, Part 2) which are my attempts to tell stories of my experiences as a principal. I wrote them because through the process of writing I am better able to make sense of them. The thing about narratives is that though they always have a complication, conflict or problem, they also finish with a resolution. As we write or tell our stories for others, we have an opportunity to rethink the ending and commit ourselves to creating a different ending in reality. It provides us with an opportunity to describe out loud, with witnesses present (audience), the ending that we want. That action of speaking out (or writing) the words then empowers us to actually create that ending in our lives. Writing these stories helps to clarify and highlight for me the gaps between what I say and what I actually do. I then have a second chance to change things so that what I say now becomes what I do. So.... life is understood through stories and stories, in turn, create life.

I finished my second article with:

“Even as I write this, I feel the anxiety twisting in my stomach: will I actually be able to say no? Possibly not. But then, as long as I am part of the enabling the problem, how will things ever change?”

Since saying that aloud in the public arena, like a recovering alcoholic, I have been able to say NO to being stretched too far beyond our capacity to meet the needs of our students. I have been enabled to act beyond a story that has held me in thrall for so long. If we do not push responsibility back to those with the power, then change will never take place, and we will be continually wearing ourselves out for little real gain.

I cannot change the story of others, but when I stop making excuses and stop playing the blame game and front up to examine and own my own story, then I gain control of my story and I am empowered to rewrite it; and, who knows, perhaps my honestly told story will resonate with someone else and enable them to reimagine their story.