Telling Tales

Last week I was helping to run a ‘New to Teaching’ workshop for new/early career lecturers in languages and linguistics.  I was one of several presenters during the day, and I was chatting with one of them – a Head of (a very large) Department –  over the rather basic and disappointing sandwich lunch which the (nameless) university’s catering service had deemed suitable for academic consumption.

We talked, inevitably, about the state of higher education, and I mentioned that I had done some work and research around complexity and chaos in learning and teaching. At which point his eyes suddenly lit up and he exclaimed: “I know who you are! Huddersfield. 2003. You gave a presentation which started with you holding up your taped together memory stick and telling us that it had been through the full hot wash cycle and tumble dryer and, after drying it out, it was STILL WORKING. I always remember that, and I remember your presentation about working at the edge of chaos- a notion which I still use and often rely onto this day. Thank you!”

Now, OK, it’s very nice to know one’s work has had at least some impact, but it did make me wonder about the obvious but frequently overlooked power of image, metaphor and narrative in education.

We live, communicate, interact through stories. We experience the world through stories. We are  storytelling organisms who, individually and socially, lead storied lives.  We  construct and reconstruct our personal and social stories and, in education, learners, teachers, and researchers are storytellers and characters in their own and other’s stories.

The phrase ‘telling tales’ usually has negative associations, but – surely –  great learning and teaching is inextricably bound up with the expert telling of wonderful and genuinely telling tales.

“People who understand everything get no stories.”  – Bertolt Brecht

“We’re all stories….in the end” – Stephen Moffat

“I thought about the magic that happens when you tell a story right, and everybody who hears it not only loves the story, but they love you a little bit, too, for telling it so well. – Katherine Hannigan