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Telling stories beats ticking boxes

Last week I had the pleasure of checking in with several Partner Schools to hear about their progress on their restorative school journey. I listened to fabulous stories about students trying to work through conflict with hilarious gems such as: “Maybe this time I’ll start with the truth; it will be so much faster”. Teachers shared how they were astounded at how quickly their students were using a broader emotional vocabulary with words like ‘content’, ‘overwrought’ and ‘energised’ being heard in morning check in circles.

But what I noticed most… the laughter and connections. Stories brought the team together. Everyone was listening, engaged and energised.

It struck me how different this process felt compared to the obsession in education today on ticking boxes and analysing data (numbers) to measure progress. You know – chasing effect size growth indicators on numeracy or reading achievement tests. Measuring progress in students’ wellbeing by making them complete the same online multiple-choice survey every year.

While this type of data is an important way to gauge progress, our laser focus attention on these measures deprives us of the wonderful, messy, and beautiful human stories that are the reason that many of us chose to get into this profession in the first place. So why have we prioritised numbers over stories?

Storytelling is a fundamental part of being human. Stories create an emotional connection. There is no doubt that completing checklists and watching numbers grow is a great way to get that dopamine hit and feel like you are making headway. But does it fill your spirit like the story of child who gets that “Aha” moment and proclaims, “I get it!”? Does it make you laugh so hard you can’t breathe? Does it give you tingles up your spine? Does it leave your team lighter and energised at the end of a meeting?

Did you know that when you connect with a story, your brain releases oxytocin, the ‘bonding’ hormone? This hormone enhances empathy and helps to build trust between the audience and the storyteller. What a great way to foster a connected team!

So, in your next team meeting, instead of ticking boxes how about making a little more room for human connection through the power of storytelling? Share those little wins, spread the stories, and remind each other of those amazing moments that make it special to be part of this profession. Get back to the heart of why we’re all here: to connect, inspire, and learn from each other, honouring one small story at a time.