At the high school we were recently treated to a couple of lessons on "real talk" by one of our own teachers. Real Talk describes his practice of communicating with his students in way that is meaningful for both parties. Thinking of the way that we talk to our students forces us to ask a couple of tough questions like; what are the do the words we use matter and are there shared experiences we can draw upon to resolve conflicts.
To give us a sense of his methodology the teacher Geoffrey told us a couple of stories from his experiences; one was from an experience he had in college and two were experiences from his classroom. Each of these stories had all of us on the edges of our seats!
Geoffrey has the reputation of being an excellent classroom teacher. I know him a bit personally and find him to be delightful and engaging. But I've never been in his classroom so I don't really know that much about his practice. However, when he started telling us (the whole faculty which is around 80 teachers) stories from his experiences I had an immediate sense of the power of his teaching.
Now, I fancy myself something of a story teller. I love to tell stories to my classes that highlight certain physics principles. The kids love them, remember them, and often site them during class discussions and even on tests!
This got me wondering; what is it about Geoffrey's story telling (and story telling in general) that makes it so (anecdotal-ly) effective in the classroom. In reflecting on Geoffrey's stories I realized that he opened up to us and shared part of his history with us; he let us into his world. By connecting us to his past he's allowing us to share an experience with him. By providing that context he is creating a bridge for us to move forward together in shared understanding.
Stories allow us to give a part of ourselves to the kids - which allows them to give a part of themselves to us.
One of my favorite movies is a 1987 Joe Mantegna film called "House of Games". It's a con man flick. To me the most interesting part occurs when Mantegna's character is explaining the origin of the term "con man". According to the movie the term comes from "confidence man". He says that the key to gaining someone's confidence (in order to dupe them) is to give them your confidence first; to put your trust in them.
Not that I'm saying teaching is a con game, but if you expect kids to be themselves with you, being yourself (open and honest) with them is a good start and telling stories is a great way to do this.