Teresa Carroll, National Head of Inclusion at the Education and Training Foundation (ETF), shares her thoughts on how SEND professionals can use storytelling to understand, take action and make changes to the SEND system.
A recently published ETF report entitled “Little Powerful Everyday Things’ tells the stories of 12 people affected by the SEND system: including students, their families and professionals.
By listening to and collecting these stories, we hoped to share perspectives and discover common experiences. We also hoped to better understand the SEND system, but we didn’t expect how powerful the act of storytelling could be for those involved, or what a big impact it would have.
The power of storytelling
As we went through the process of storytelling and storytelling, it was immediately apparent that little powerful everyday things were happening. With the help of the story, SEND specialists changed their practice, students listened, and parents were given a voice.
In fact, almost everyone seemed to be positively influenced by the act of storytelling, from changes in practice and strategy, to organizational culture and well-being.
In this article, I will explore ways in which SEND professionals can use the narrative act to achieve positive change in the SEND system.
How to use stories to make changes to the SEND system
At ETF, we believe that working with stories allows us to access much more than “facts of the case”. They ask us to listen deeply to all of ourselves; to see if we can hear more than we could listen to; and enter into human relations with people.
There are many ways to work with stories to improve experiences and services. You may want to explore storytelling as a way to improve services or relationships with other parts of the system, helping to focus on people’s real-world experiences by speaking their own words. You may want to revive your core value and commitment to listening to students, families, caregivers and staff. You can work with stories collected from your colleagues, students and their families or people working in your area or place; and use them to improve the way things are done in relation to services, ways of working, experiences and attitudes.
It’s good to have a specific reason for asking people to tell their stories, such as a problem or issue you’re thinking about, but if counseling is what you usually do in this space, you need to think about how sincerely you want to hear the whole story which people may want to tell you. Narrative is not a substitute for other methods of communication or consultation – you will quickly lose confidence if your narrators feel that there is a different agenda. Really important is your intent and clarity with potential narrators as to what you are trying to do, how and why. Be prepared for the fact that people will not want to share their stories.
Take your time
People often need a little time to find their story. Usually we don’t move around the world with our stories up our sleeve, so asking a few open-ended questions about important moments or important decisions can be really helpful in supporting people in finding the story they want to tell. It can take more than one conversation.
How to write stories
People writing their own story or telling it out loud can be a good way to get started. Remember that the story belongs to the narrator. If you decide together that you want to share the story more widely, you can work together to make sure it is well shot and your narrator is happy with it.
The ETF format that we used to record stories naturally arose from trying to record them for sharing in this publication. It seemed important: the story told by the narrator, some of the real words used (quotes) that give the text real power, and the reason for the story – a problem that each narrator hoped their story would help resolve. The format of your stories may be different. Whatever format is used to present the story, make sure the narrator is happy with it and that it remains their story.
Gather the stories, talk to the narrators again about what you are trying to do, how and why. Decide on the next steps together. They may be happy that their story is coming out to the world, and if so, they may decide whether they want to be named or anonymous.
Think about it and ask for feedback
Telling stories and working with them can be a very powerful experience, so it’s important to make room for it, and to bring those ideas into the work you do. Take time to reflect on your own deep listening experience and explore what emotions it has evoked in you; what surprised you and how this experience changed your perception of the world.
Finally, ask the narrators how they found this experience and what could have made it even better. When we seek, we must always learn.
Edition ‘Little Powerful Everyday Things’ available online for SEND professionals as a resource and guide as well as a source of inspiration and reflection. In the third section, “Working with These Stories,” we have a list of helpful activities to help professionals think about how to collect and use stories, as well as how to take advantage of trauma-based approaches to storytelling in a safe and positive space. .
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