The Power Of Storytelling – How Telling Stories Created A Great School

Forbes (New York, NY) , October 15, 2012


At Prospect Sierra, a Changemaker School, storytelling is a tool for inclusion and a way to foster a great culture for learning.

Britt Anderson and her colleagues at Prospect Sierra (PS) created This PS Life, a storytelling project for students, teachers, and staff at the San Francisco Bay Area school.

Britt, Prospect Sierra’s Director of Diversity and Inclusion, first tried out her concept with teachers. At a faculty meeting, she and her close collaborator Suzette Duncan grouped teachers by birth order, creating one group of first-borns, one group of middle-borns, and one group of last-borns. Then she created one group of twins, and one group of teachers who were the only children in their families. Each group discussed what they liked and didn’t like about their role in their families, as well as what they’d like others to know about their experiences being in that position. Britt and Suzette recorded the conversations, edited them to form a narrative, added photos, and shared the resulting podcast with the student body. The project was a huge success. While learning more about their teachers, students also identified characteristics they had in common with the teachers in their lives.

Britt then asked students to create a list of stories they wanted to tell. Every few weeks, Britt, Suzette, and other colleagues hosted dialogues with students who were united by a common experience, such as wearing glasses, or speaking another language at home, or being a vegetarian. They turned each of these conversations into a podcast, which they shared with the school community at large.

As the project caught on, middle school students in Britt’s elective class started facilitating conversation groups on topics of their choice, which often touched on weightier issues like the experiences of being multi- or bi-racial, of having parents separated or going through a divorce, or of having LGBT parents.

These conversations were fun, of course, but were also much more than that. Students who previously felt isolated finally felt that they were able to connect with their classmates. Students who didn’t normally express their emotions were noticeably moved by their classmates’ stories. Students learned to question their actions and assumptions to make sure school was a safe place for everyone. And it’s not “just” talk: a whole-school This PS Life conversation spurred the creation of a new program, a buddy system that pairs new students with veteran students.

Says Britt, “It’s wonderful to have found a replicable storytelling structure that encourages everyone in our community to practice the skills necessary…to build a more inclusive community.”

Subjects Covered: diversity, education

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